Sunday, May 30, 2010
Doron Ofir Casting and MTV are seeking the proudest, loudest, and wildest to carry on the legacy of the smash hit series JERSEY SHORE. On Sunday May 30th 2010 tanned and toned fist pumpers have one last chance to prove that they dominate the gym, tear up the dance floor and rule the bedroom by attending the only official Memorial Day Casting Calls. Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City will host the open call from 11am to 8pm.
In short, any of the Tenants should easily qualify. There's still time to make it if you want to roadtrip (or you can interview at The Mirage in Vegas if the open road has already lured you out west).
P.S. By way of preparation for the audition, you may want to have a nickname already picked out, courtesy of the Jersey Shore Nickname Generator. In case you were wondering, Jane Austen's would have been "Sunny."
Friday, May 28, 2010
Congratulations to MFA alums Emily Watson ('10) and Matt Buchanan ('09) on the birth of their first child. Hart Matthew Watson took his sweet time, but finally "arrived on the scene," as Emily said, on Thursday, May 27, a mere 12 days late (!). He weighs 7 pounds, 9 ounces, and measures 20 1/2 inches. Welcome, Hart, and is that a cute photo or what?
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
I have never liked this Kurt/Finn plot. When the episode that introduced Kurt’s plot to set up their single mom and dad Parent Trap style aired last month, I found conveniently trite. It’s an awful lot of work for a kid to go through just so he can share a room with his crush. Although I was emotionally affected by Kurt’s jealousy of his father’s conventional male bonding with Finn and thought it was a refreshing way to depict the relationship between a single straight father and his gay son, I have still not been able to shake the idea that this plot really just weighs the whole thing down, character development set aside.
Then came last night’s episode and the scene that provided the emotional center of that character development. In the show’s pivotal moment, Finn and Kurt’s sexual tension reaches an explosive resolution when Kurt redecorates their room in the home they now share with their parents. Caught off guard by the décor of a flamboyant Hollywood hotel set from the 1930’s, Finn’s anger over the changes in his personal life explodes when he lets loose a stream of anti-gay slurs – and Kurt’s father overhears. He tells Finn that he is disappointed by his behavior toward his son, and takes Kurt’s side by kicking Finn out of his house and acknowledging that he is willing to sacrifice his relationship with Finn’s mother for Kurt’s comfort. The scene is brilliantly performed by all involved, a moment where the dramatic undertones of the series viciously rose up and sucked me in.
What this pivotal moment proved to me as a writer was this: we might not always know where a story is headed, but we need to trust the author. Too often, Glee’s seeming digressions and non sequiturs loop back around, connect with something, and surprise us. In this case, a conflict is resolved on two levels – Kurt learns once and for all that Finn isn’t going to happen, and Kurt’s father reaches an emotional threshold in his ability to accept his son’s sexuality and stand up for him. For further evidence of the power of this moment, I submit that “Kurt’s dad” was a trending topic on Twitter for hours after the show ended. Perhaps the episode that introduced the Kurt and Finn parent trap was poorly written and executed. But its payoff was enough for me to forgive the writers for that snoozefest. It’s just another lesson for us to take away from that writing – surprise your readers. Have the tension build and build, until the moment where it all spills out, and leave your readers stunned when the break – be it a break in the page or a commercial – cuts into the action and leaves us hanging.
On the subject of breaking away from conventions, it’s worth mentioning Rachel’s mom yet again. I don’t know what I was expecting from their reunion when I saw the clip on the previews. As I watched Shelby Corcoran sing “Funny Girl” and saw Rachel gradually link the voice on her mother’s tape to what she is hearing in the rehearsal, I knew that there would be no cliché reunion – as Shelby herself even acknowledges, there was no “slow motion,” no “running into each other’s arms.” Instead, as they discuss the ramifications of their reunion, they are sitting several seats apart in the empty auditorium, and their attempt at this confrontation radiates awkwardness. Even when Rachel tries to forge a closer bond by asking Shelby to make her a Lady Gaga costume for the Glee club’s deliciously campy and overproduced cover of “Bad Romance,” that awkwardness remains, as if Shelby decides to attempt being Rachel’s mom and play along with Rachel’s commitment to her. And in the end, the reunion fails. Shelby and Rachel won’t be going to the mall or driving around blasting showtunes from their car. There will be no boy talk or advice on when to have sex. As Shelby says, “We don’t have anything like [the moments Rachel has shared with her dads]. It’s too late for us.” It would have been easy to go the sappy, expected route. Instead, we’re taken to a place that is heartbreaking, leaving Rachel alone with the realization that her dream has not lived up to its expectations. It’s unfortunate for her, but for audiences who delight in Glee’s surprises, it leaves us deeply moved.
Last week, I wrote about the theme of parenting as a thread through the show. Between Kurt’s dad, Rachel’s mom, and even a brief scene where Puck drops his tough guy façade to connect with Quinn over her forthcoming delivery of her baby, this episode gracefully united these plots to make a statement about the decisions adults make, and the way they affect their children. Maybe these plots won’t rear their heads again. But that doesn’t mean the emotional aftershock won’t remain. More than ever, we are left with a clear sense of who these characters are and what they want – and what happens when the things they want are unachievable.
Now to the previews: Will singing a sultry, ass shakin’ version of “Tell Me Something Good”…to Sue? It’s going to be a long, long week.
Other non writing related notes:
Best Sue Sylvester Line: Sue is noticeable absent, so I’ll instead off what was perhaps the most hysterical, intertextual line of the show:
Rachel (on calling the Glee pianist onstage to accompany Shelby and Rachel on their duet): “He’s always just around.
Best Song: Shelby and Rachel’s transformation of “Poker Face” from a fierce pop song into a quiet, moving duet.
Best Gaga Costume: Quinn’s Scarlett O’Hara goes neon pink ensemble.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
You can read the entire press release, complete with a nice photo of Jane, here.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I applaud the Glee folks on how its exploration of parentage came to a riveting and emotional climax last night. It’s been largely buried beneath fake pregnancies, Babygate, teen relationship drama, and lots and lots of dance numbers, but at its core, the show is about what it means to be a parent, spouse, or a son or daughter, and the way that teenagers relate to the adult figures in their lives when things go wrong. So far, we’ve seen a wife go to extremes to save her dysfunctional marriage, a daughter deal with the rejection of her parents over her decision to go through with an unplanned pregnancy, a father trying to find middle ground with his homosexual son, and the ways that Will Schuester serves as a support figure for his troubled students when things become difficult for them. However, the elephant in the room – or maybe the phrase “phantom of the opera” is more appropriate – has always been Rachel’s home life. We know from the plot that she has been raised by her two gay dads and was the product of a surrogate pregnancy planned by the couple, after a seemingly eugenics based screening process of various women for attributes of talent and beauty. In the first thirteen episodes, Rachel’s family background was largely on the periphery of her character’s narrative. However, her recent storylines with boyfriend Jesse and her failed attempt to use “Run Joey Run” as a way to project herself as sexually experienced have set up a need for a female presence in her life. Enter Vocal Adrenaline coach Shelby Corcoran (Idina Menzel) and the master plan that’s been unfolding since Glee returned last month – to use Jesse as a way to get closer to Rachel, her daughter by birth.
The major accusation critics have made against this revelation is that there’s little to no shock value. Lea Michele’s eerie resemblance to Menzel has been a subject of discussion since it was announced that Menzel would be joining the cast for the rest of the first season, and the possibility of a biological relationship has come up more than once as a potential plot twist. And yes, maybe this is true – maybe there is something slightly predictable in bringing Rachel’s mother into the story by way of a perfect casting opportunity. But Shelby’s story of how she came to meet Rachel’s fathers and her original plan to use the surrogate job as a way to make money to head to New York is heartbreakingly told on the screen, and the climatic moment of the episode, where Rachel imagines herself singing “I Dreamed A Dream” alongside her mother brings these issues of childhood and parenthood to an emotional watershed for the series. In spite of the potential for predictability, I’m excited to see what will unfold next week when, according to the previews, Rachel will confront Shelby. And still, no matter how sincere Shelby may seem, this is still Glee – which means there’s still a chance someone could get hurt. And most likely will.
But here’s why it doesn’t quite work. Although Rachel references the dads multiple times throughout the series, but although they obviously seem to be important figures in her life, we have never actually seen them. The legend of the two gay dads has always fascinated me as a viewer – although one might argue that there is a gigantic layer of stereotype between Rachel’s over the top personality and her background, I’ve always wanted to see her interact with them. From what we know, it’s a safe assumption that they’re helicopter parents on steroids – they’ve raised their daughter to believe that she is perfect, exceptionally gifted, and worthy of respect, and when these things don’t happen for her, she emotionally craters. But assumptions aren’t enough. When the parents of the other Glee clubbers, such as Finn, Quinn, and Kurt, enter the storylines, we are able to sense the ways the characters’ family relationships create the conflicts and insecurities they deal with on a daily basis. We sense their drive to please their parents, to live up to the expectations they believe they have set for them. But what exactly are Rachel’s expectations, and aside from spoiling her rotten, what do her fathers want for her? In last night’s episode, she claims that she never asked about her mother because she “didn’t want to hurt their feelings.” Why not? Surely they are aware that eventually, she would want to know.
That said, this week’s rule of thumb could be summed up as “Don’t let phantoms haunt your stories.” That’s exactly what’s happening here and why this latest plot development might end up tanking. If we haven’t met the gay dads, we don’t know what Rachel has, and if we don’t know what she already has, we don’t know what there is to gain from a relationship with her real mother. Simply put, the stakes are still largely undeveloped. At the risk of entering into dangerous theoretical territory, the absence of Rachel’s fathers also calls into question what it really means to be an “absent parent.” Shelby has been out of Rachel’s life since her birth, but now that she has a physical presence on the screen, has her image effectively pushed the fathers out of the story? I could understand potential anxiety on the part of the authors about portraying gay parents with a female teenage daughter – but Glee has committed so many other acts of political correctness deviancy that I doubt this is the case. Maybe Rachel’s dream is to find her mom, but my dream is to find Rachel’s gay dads.
Other non-writing related points:
Best Sue Sylvester Quote: “I got a room upstairs. Like Letterman.”
Best Song: Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Morrison go head to head in a rage filled duet of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
Additional Notes: Artie’s cover of “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats adds to the previously explored lack of comfort with disability by altering the lyrics to the song. I believe the line is, “It’s the safety dance”, not “It’s safe to dance.”
Monday, May 17, 2010
News of Student, Faculty, and Staff Professional Activity
Issue 2010 No. 2
CARI CARPENTER's book Selected Writings of Victoria Woodhull: Suffrage, Free Love, and Eugenics was published as part of the Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers Series (U of Nebraska P).
MARILYN FRANCUS presented "Stirring Up Trouble: Rowe and the Politics of the Blended Family" at the national meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (ASECS), held in Albuquerque in March 2010. Marilyn was a panelist on the "Organizing, Managing, Developing, and Building an Affiliate Society" roundtable, and represented the Burney Society at the annual ASECS Affiliate Society meeting. Marilyn also served as an ASECS mentor to Kate Parker, a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis.
Marilyn Francus's article, "Austen Therapy: Pride and Prejudice and Popular Culture," was published in Persuasions Online, Vol. 30, No. 2, Spring 2010.
LORI H. ZERNE presented "Observing Only Her Dress: Fashion as Performance and the Plausibility of Identity in The Wanderer" at ASECS, and she was a panelist on "The Age of Burney" roundtable.
MARY ANN SAMYN published a poem, "At Glen Lake vs. The Birth of Anger," in Colorado Review.
On April 8, 2010, IRINA RODIMTSEVA presented "A Deadly Planet: New York City in Iva Pekarkova's novel Gimme the Money" at the 24th MELUS Conference at the University of Scranton, PA.
On March 27, 2010, Irina Rodimtseva presented "The Land of Jazz: America in Russian Imagination" at the Annual Conference of Chesapeake American Studies Association at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
VLADIMIRA DUKA presented a paper entitled -Language and cultural translation as a "new American space" - at Chesapeake American Studies Association ( CHASA) "New American Spaces" held on March 26th and 27th 2010 at Georgetown University in Washington DC.
NEVENA STOJANOVIC presented two papers:
“The Jewish Actress: Staging Power and Enacting Change in Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask.” An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Jewish Woman and Her Body.Youngstown
State University, Youngstown, OH.March 7-9, 2010.
“ ‘I will not submit:’ Entrapment and Death in Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal.” The 2010 Chesapeake American Studies Association Annual Conference. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. March 26-27, 2010.
DONALD E. HALL gave a public lecture titled "Is There a Transnational Queer Studies?" at the University of Hong Kong on March 31. His talk was sponsored by their cultural studies and sociology programs. Donald also presented a paper titled "The Unspeakable" at the Good Sex/Bad Sex Conference in Prague on May 5.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
RH: shopping, gift bags, tickets are comped
Bowlathon: a wide assortment of raffle prizes, including attractively potted houseplants and some stunning
RH: clothes, houses, competing fashion line launches
Bowlathon: The Jacket (the prize for the highest bowling score, with the EGO logo on the front and "Bowling Champion" embroidered on the back, either by French nuns or Rebecca Schwab)
RH: a key plot element--someone does not come to something they said they'd attend, giving a barely plausible excuse later
Bowlathon: Mary Ann claims that she was unable to attend because she had to travel to "a banquet" in another state
RH: another key plot element, evident in nearly every show
Bowlathon: Teresa Pershing keeps changing the eligibility requirements for winning The Jacket
RH: "Tardy for the Party"
Bowlathon: "Smack That"
RH: nouveau riche, tending toward the baroque
Bowlathon: Sycamore Lanes, tending toward carpeted walls
RH: the predominant psychological mode
Bowlathon: Bryan Coyle wins The Jacket and a thousand cellphone cameras go off at once. I can only speak for myself, but yes.
Bowlathon: not yet, but give me a few more days
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
So even though I am no longer a Tenant of Colson Hall as of last Wednesday, Dennis has graciously asked me to stick around for a few more weeks so I, as a new MFA fiction writer, can treat you to my analyses of current Glee episodes. Although I originally poo-poo’d the hit Fox comedy because the previews bore a frightening resemblance to High School Musical, several months of enjoying its edgy situations, satire, and surprisingly endearing characters has made me think about what it can teach us as graduate students about effective writing. It works for all disciplines – it’s a work of creative writing, rhetoric, and ultimately is a critical theorist’s nightmare (or dream), embodying portrayals of gender studies, psychoanalysis, queer theory, cultural studies, and much, much more. Ultimately, the show has a lot to say about how to write - and how not to write. This and posts that follow will attempt to present both.
Glee’s writing advice for 5/11:
DO give your characters interesting reversals of fortune. So many friends who like the show tell me that they find Rachel super, super annoying. To me, her colossal ego and severe case of melodrama give her a sense of humanity, especially as she tries to put her selfish tendencies aside in favor of considering the needs of others. In this particular episode, though, a case of tonsillitis that sidelines Rachel’s singing (complete with a wonderfully awful cover of a Miley Cyrus song) gives her a much needed wakeup call. Although she is told that she will indeed sing again, she seems to completely ignore this prognosis, and instead nosedives into an epic poor me trip, walking the school in a disheveled bathrobe. It isn’t until Finn introduces her to an old friend from football camp whose life was changed by a devastating accident that she is able to gain a sense of perspective, realizing that his passion – sports – has been taken away from him forever. Her voice will come back, but he will never play football again. As he tells his story, she turns away and tries to leave the room, saying that she never should have come, as if it isn’t Finn’s friend she is afraid to look in the eye, but herself, and by the episode’s concluding scene, there is an obvious change in her. She speaks and moves in a way that is quiet and humble, a stark contrast to her usual larger than life diva personality. Will this change in her keep up for the rest of the season? I doubt it. Writers have a responsibility to lead their characters to the arcs of their lives, but an even greater responsibility to keep them flawed and edgy. A balance between weaknesses and strengths makes for fleshed out characters that are a pleasure to watch evolve.
DON’T resort to creating characters purely for pity’s sake: As much as I enjoyed Rachel’s character reversal, the circumstances by which it comes about left a sour taste in my mouth. Forcing her to confront Finn’s friend, whose accident left him a quadriplegic, holds a mirror up to Rachel’s selfishness, making her see that her situation is barely a problem at all. However, it makes me question Glee’s repeated use of characters with disabilities to reinforce the theme of each episode. In past installments, we’ve met the recurring character of Artie, a jazz guitarist confined to a wheelchair, a girl with Down’s syndrome who joins the cheerleading squad, and the deliciously evil Sue Sylvester’s sister, who lives in a care facility. While Artie’s disability has gradually become an important part of his character, the other two figures merely seem to come and go as props. The show is clearly able to function without them, leaving their characters to serve what seems to be only a sentimental purpose. In the same way, Rachel grows as a result of speaking to Finn’s friend– but at what cost to the show’s integrity? As a writer, I spent a lot of time after the episode finished thinking about what other situations could have led Rachel to that same watershed moment without the use of a disabled character. Perhaps one of her friends finds him/herself in a very serious situation that forces her to reconsider her priorities, or her self-proclaimed “vow of silence” could be dramatized, letting her realize in the absence of her voice how she has treated others. In the end, focusing on interior self examination of our characters and finding ways to dramatize it is the way to make their reversals even more dramatic. Using stock characters does not.
Other Non-Writing Related Moments:
Best Sue Sylvester Quote: “Just because you like showtunes doesn’t mean you’re gay. It just means you’re awful.”
Best Song: Kurt makes “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy his own by changing all the words and adding in some very Rob Marshall-esque staging.
Additional Note: For those who would like to see the original super awful video for “Run Joey Run,” parodied by Rachel and company last week, here’s a link. Don’t miss it. It’s so bad it's almost good.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The grants provide awards of $250 each to assist Ph.D. students as they prepare manuscripts to circulate for publication and are made possible by contributions from faculty, alumni, and friends of the English Department. The English Department would particularly like to thank Emeritus Professor Dot Sedley for her generous contribution this year.
TCH would like to welcome Francine Nita Stuart-Dolmage (shown here with her parents, Jay and Heather).
At six pounds, eleven ounces and only fifteen hours old at the moment, Francine is currently the youngest and most petite of the denizens of Colson Hall.
It's been quite a year for Ethel Smith. As TCH has already reported, she hung out for awhile with Ruby Dee last October, and now she's been featured in Lisa Belkin's column in The New York Times. You can read Ethel's reminiscence about her mother here.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
So this is it: the end of sabbatical and the beginning of regular old summer. And yes, I have been keeping up with my reading, including the very amazing Finn Family Moomintroll as recommended by Lara Farina. This is a novel for “all ages,” as the cover says, and if you like magical hats one minute and unexplained gloom the next, then you’ll love this book. And yep, that’s them (above), as made in the 1950s by Atelier Fauni, “probably the first original Finnish troll maker” (!).
I’m not entirely sure that I’m following the plot (I’m a poet, after all; plot is not my main concern), but I do know that the muskrat, a philosopher who is reading a book entitled The Uselessness of Everything, fell out of his hammock and was very embarrassed. Also, the Moomin family and their friends found a sailboat and christened it The Adventure and sailed off to Lonely Island where the earless Hattifatteners just happened to be. A ruckus ensued and Hemulen (I can’t explain who he is, so don’t ask, but I do know that he used to collect stamps until, sadly, he collected them all) took the Hattifattener’s prize barometer as a war trophy.
See what I mean? You can’t really follow this, can you? And yet you want to know more. And no, I’m not making any of this up. The book really is a page-turner.
So what have the Moomintrolls taught me? Um. That was pretty much just a teaser. Or, better answer: this book is time-release, just like all truly important experiences, including sabbatical. I’m sure I’m learning things—I just don’t know what yet. Ask me again in a few months... by then, I’ll have written the poems that will answer all your questions.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
This is a terrific achievement.
Sarah joins faculty members Jim Harms and Mary Ann Samyn, as well as MFA graduate Sara Pritchard, as recent Pushcart winners.
Although it is a major award, the Pushcart does not, alas, come with a large silver bowl, though WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher Dennis Allen is rumored to be willing to rent his out.
Great work, Sarah!
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
Just in case you didn't see it on the listservs yet, consider yourself--you, you tenant you--invited to a department-wide end of the year party! EGO is hosting an event at Sycamore Lanes in Westover to congratulate our graduating grad students and to celebrate the end of the academic year.
Ph.D. Representative to the GPC, who typically also serves as president: James Holsinger
MFA Rep, who typically serves as vice president: Rebecca Schwab
MA Rep: Jason Markins
MA-PWE Rep: Allison Hitt
Three Activity Chairs: Lisa Detweiler-Miller, Kate Ridinger, Doug Terry
Saturday, May 1, 2010
It’s been such a busy week in River Heights—er, um, Morgantown—we nearly missed a very important occasion: the 80th anniversary of the publication of the first Nancy Drew mystery, The Secret of the Old Clock. Thank heavens Professor Rosemary Hathaway alerted TCH to this important event. The actual date was April 28, but any day is a good day for sleuthing, so keep on celebrating.
And if you’re a diehard Nancy Drew fan (and if you’re not, why not? what’s wrong with you?), you might consider the Nancy Drew Challenge, which is to read the first 56 books—the ones with the yellow spines—in 2010. It’s not too late to start.
If you’d like to cheat, check out Bookshelves of Doom, a quite wonderful blog that includes plot summaries and various “what’s up with that?” moments for many Nancy Drew mysteries. Here, for example, is everything you need to know about Nancy from that first book: "She's not just good at changing tires. Nancy is also generous—she buys groceries for an old lady. And she's an Emma-style meddler—she finds out that a girl wants to sing and tricks her into an audience with a premier operatic voice instructor who just happens to live in River Heights. She may be rich, but she's no snob—she loooooves to help poor people. She has an excellent appetite, can cook, is well-versed in first aid, loves hiking, can repair an outboard motor, is athletic and knows how to use a lever, is very responsible, and maybe most importantly, has fantastic women's intuition."
Wow, huh? Especially the part about the lever. Who knew?
And if anyone wants to play Nancy Drew this summer, please speak with Professor Dennis Allen or me. Professor Allen will be purchasing a roadster very soon and we intend to drive hither and yon sleuthing and allowing people to admire our brains and good looks. After all, Morgantown is very much like Nancy's hometown of River Heights, a town in which "everyone knows everyone" and yet a mystery lurks around every corner. Think about it. It's kinda true.