Be True

Good morning Dear Readers and welcome to another pseudo-JNGReads post!

Today I’ll be posting a quote, but it’s not from a piece of literature that I’ve read (or at least not recently)…it’s from a piece of literature that I saw acted and performed.

Yesterday, my brother, my boyfriend and I went to a local movie theatre to watch the National Theatre Live production of Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve seen NT Live performances before, most notably the staging of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall which will undoubtedly get its own blog post sometime very soon, and I have never been disappointed by the experience! I think the whole concept of the NT Live screening is brilliant: as a viewer, you get the opportunity to watch a live screening of a play or musical or ballet or opera or any such similar event from the comforts of your nearest movie theatre. So, for example, yesterday afternoon, BBG, SS and I were able to watch Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet from our suburban town in Canada, all while he was performing at the Barbican Theatre in London, England. Isn’t that just incredible?! Obviously I would’ve loved to be able to go to London and see the production live, but that sort of spontaneous travel isn’t possible for most people, and the NT Live screenings give viewers from all over the world the opportunity to participate in monumental theatre events with the utmost convenience. I already have a whole list of other NT Live screenings I’m hoping to see before the end of the year!

Now, on to a review of the play itself…

Make It So

It was just as incredible as you would expect with an actor as talented as Cumberbatch fronting the whole ensemble. He was a remarkable Hamlet! I’ve only see Hamlet performed once before, but it was a university level production…and although it was quite good, it was nothing compared to the production yesterday. Cumberbatch absolutely lived and breathed the role of Hamlet – he was so believable as the tormented Danish prince, and I could not comprehend how easily he would burst into tears and then how quickly he would collect himself and become effortlessly composed. I believed him instantly as a young man who had gone mad with grief and anger, and he was also able to infuse humour into many parts of the story. I haven’t actually read Hamlet since my final year of high school (more on this later…), but I have always loved the play and so many of the quotes replay in my mind on a regular basis. But, to hear those quotes spoken and expertly articulated by someone as skilled as Cumberbatch was truly enjoyable! Here’s one of the quotes that spoke to me so vividly yesterday (as it did when I first read the play years ago) and that was so precisely articulated by Cumberbatch as to make it more poignant than ever before:

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

Isn’t that line just so true? Part of what I love about Hamlet’s character is the fact that he really recognizes the power of a person’s own mind – he fully realizes that the mind is a place where thoughts and worries and doubts and fears can replay constantly and without cease, and it is up to the person themself to work through these thoughts, to frame them in a way that will either be beneficial and easily overcome or in a manner that will be totally detrimental and destructive. I just love this idea! I’ve always been an introspective person, and I spend a lot of time in my own head, working things out, revisiting the same ideas over and over to get control over them and manage them…and a line like that just makes this sort of activity seem normal and necessary and healthy. It’s also helpful in that it encourages a person to be optimistic, to remember that if something seems insurmountable and difficult, it can be got over and dealt with if you just take the time to think about it and spin the negative into a positive within your own psyche. What a profound piece of advice from a troubled prince!

Silence…

…is not something that there was much of in this production of Hamlet. The actors were loud, the music was forceful and the staging was lively. Every single one of the actors was so committed to their role, and the actresses who played Ophelia and Gertrude really stood out to me because they were passionate about delivering their lines and fearless about portraying their emotions. There were multiple moments when these women wept (I don’t think Ophelia ever stopped crying, to be honest!), and in moments of intense feeling and anguish, all of the actors would scream and rage in the most realistic display of emotions I’ve seen in a long time. Nothing was quiet about this play, or calm, or subtle. The stage was even filled with dirt for the entire second half of the play, and I was amazed that the actors were able to sludge around in the mud and still deliver their lines perfectly. The cast was comprised of some extremely talented professionals, and they all held their own opposite Cumberbatch…there was such strength in every performance!

Papa Polonius

And finally, I should get to today’s main quote and explain the reason why Hamlet has always touched me so deeply.

Okay, yes, Polonius is a bit of a ridiculous character. Most of the time, he’s just raving about random stuff and he makes some of the most terrible decisions in the entire play (which is saying a lot!). He’s basically like that father or grandfather figure who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but you listen to him to be polite…and then, occasionally, he does say something really truthful and you can’t help thinking that maybe he really was brilliant all along.

Well, I really like Polonius, and I happen to think that he provides some of the greatest moments of wisdom in the whole play. My absolute favourite quote comes from Polonius, and it is definitely a motto that everyone should live their life by.

Be True

“This above all: to thine own self be true…” – Hamlet, Shakespeare

When I first read Hamlet during grade 12, I was struggling with who I was and who I wanted to be. I had some not so supportive “friends” at the time who made me feel really guilty and insecure about a lot of aspects of my personality, and I knew that once I entered university, I had to figure out what parts of myself I wanted to keep and cherish, and what pieces were better left inside my high school’s walls. I wasn’t a partier at all in high school, I definitely did not like the idea of “hooking up”, and I still only drink on very rare occasions these days, and I found myself being criticized almost constantly because I allegedly didn’t know how to have any fun, was too obsessed with school and my grades, and thought I was too good for everybody else because of my desire to always be as responsible and mature as possible. I don’t know if as a girl in grade 12 I owed it to myself to “live a little” and go to a couple parties and not focus all of my energy into my tests and essays…I don’t know what my life would’ve been like if I had chosen a different path when my “friends” critiqued me. What I do know is that, at the time, changing my personality felt utterly impossible. I just couldn’t fathom doing things any differently because I wasn’t comfortable with the idea whatsoever. Yes, I felt tormented and there were many moments when I was even fed up with myself, almost wishing that I could’ve been the type of girl who didn’t care so much about the future and who was willing to take more risks. But, it wasn’t in my nature, and even when I desperately wanted to spend my night partying and meeting guys rather than studying, I knew that there was a reason my heart (not yet fully green, but getting there) wanted me to stay home. When I got to school on the Monday mornings after party-filled weekends, I always discovered why: I wasn’t overly fond of the stories I heard about what went on at these parties, and I was always grateful that I hadn’t been around to witness my friends or my crush or the girl or guy I had to work on a project with acting in a manner that I could only describe as foolish.

I don’t want to sound stuck up (lest my “friends” actually turn out to be right!), but I just didn’t understand the point of getting drunk and making decisions that you’d definitely regret in the morning, and I still don’t. But, oh, how I struggled with being the girl who always turned down invitations to parties, who arrived at prom by herself instead of pre-drinking (Is that what it’s even called?), who had no event to go to after graduation. I wasn’t alone without choosing to be so – I had “friends”, but I just didn’t feel like I could be 100% true to myself around them.

And, that, I was learning in my English class through the wise words of Polonius, was what I needed to do. If I wanted to live well and live fully, I had to be true to myself 100% of the time, in every circumstance. I held onto Polonius’ words as a sort of mantra – I had to believe that if I just stayed true to myself, I would one day find my niche, the place I was meant to be and the people who would love me with all my formerly unpopular opinions. And, I’m pleased to say, I did. I thrived in university, I met people who loved studying as much as I did. I was able to say proudly, No, sorry, I actually don’t drink, without seeing looks of disdain and annoyance. And, when I was invited on a trip to New York City during my third year of university to study Chaucer manuscripts at establishments like Columbia and Princeton University, I stumbled upon a beautiful silver necklace in the gift shop of the gorgeous Morgan Library with Polonius’ words engraved elegantly on it (pictured above). I knew right away that I needed the necklace – I had remained true to myself, upon Polonius’ instruction, for so many years, and I finally felt happy with and confident in the woman I was becoming.

To hear those words spoken yesterday…well, it meant a lot. Now, I’ve fully become the woman I always wanted to be and I know that it’s all down to the fact that I have always known myself.

Happy Sunday Dear Friends – stay true!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

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Lady Janille and the Green Knight

Hello again Everyone!

I’m back! I’ve returned home (only a 50 minute train ride, but never mind that) from my Toronto staycation and…I’m just as depressed and upset as I expected to be. I had the best 4 days in the city with my boyfriend and it was so amazing to be able to explore and go to many different sites without having to worry about trekking all the way back to the suburbs. I’m more than a little nervous about returning to work tomorrow and getting back to reality, but I’m already daydreaming about trips my boyfriend and I can take in the future!

Although I hadn’t intended to write a post today because I didn’t post any #JNGReads/#JNGListens quotes this past week, something happened during my staycation that was too much of a coincidence not to feature on the blog. My boyfriend and I decided to go to Medieval Times on Friday night. SS is a HUGE fan of the show Game of Thrones, and when I found that out on our first date, I agreed to marathon the show with him over our Reading Week last year since I had never even seen an episode. When SS’s birthday rolled around, after only just over a month of us dating, I had to come up with an appropriate present idea and I immediately thought of getting him something Game of Thrones related. That’s when Medieval Times came to mind, and I thought it would be cute to get him a gift certificate so that the two of us could pick a date and go watch the show together.

Cut to a year later and we still hadn’t used the gift certificate. Last summer was super busy and we did various little day trips, but we never found a time to go to Medieval Times. It’s also a bit out of the city (by Exhibition station, which is quite a distance from Union and the heart of downtown), so when we planned our staycation, we thought it would be the most perfect time to go as we wouldn’t have to travel to our separate homes after and would only need to make it back to our hotel. So we chose Friday, the last night of our staycation, and we went to the 7:30pm show.

I had no idea what to expect because I had never been before, and neither had SS. I thought maybe it would be more geared toward children, and it was definitely family friendly…but it was also so well done and extremely exciting! Everyone who worked there was so committed to their roles and to making the whole thing an unforgettable, unique experience, and the jousting and fighting was actually quite realistic and really fun to watch! SS and I absolutely loved it…and we really got into every aspect of the tournament! I should also say that the food was INCREDIBLE! It was awesome to eat without utensils, and the chicken, potatoes and corn were ridiculously delicious! I wasn’t expecting the meal itself to be so good, and I was pleasantly surprised! And, at the end of the whole night, SS and I ventured into the dungeon to take a look at the museum of torture they have there – needless to say, this attraction was geared more toward adults, but it was really interesting and informative.

And the best part of the whole experience and the reason why I had to feature it on my blog today? Well, as some of you may know, when you enter the castle at the beginning of the show, the employees randomly select a knight for you to cheer for. As soon as we walked in, I declared that I wanted to be on the Green Knight’s team. Obviously I figured it would be incredibly poetic, what with the theme of my blog and all, but I’ve also been a huge fan of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight since I first read it in my British Literature class in second year university. I even wrote an essay on the poem, and it was the first English essay I wrote in university where I felt that I truly developed my academic and critical voice. So, I wanted to cheer for the Green Knight and wear a green crown, but SS and I didn’t have a choice in the matter, so I didn’t know how likely it would be.

But guess what! As we approached the “wench” (she called herself that) in charge of the seating arrangements, she handed us a GREEN card and said we would be cheering for the Green Knight! It felt like Fate! I was so excited and I didn’t take my green crown off for the whole night. I also made sure to get some pictures of the Green Knight in action…and a picture with him after the tournament was over!

Medieval Times #3

Medieval Times #4

Lady Janille and the Green Knight

Lady Janille and the Green Knight

All in all, I would definitely recommend Medieval Times as a super enjoyable, creative way to spend an evening. It’s perfect for kids of all ages, but I also think it makes a great date idea and it’s much more entertaining than any movie you could go and see. It’s right up there for me with some of the theatre performances I’ve seen, and it’s certainly a delightful atmosphere to be in!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

PS – SS is actively considering applying to be part of Medieval Times – and I think he would look pretty good in those tights, if I do say so myself, so I’m going to encourage his ambitions! 😉

Medieval Times with SS

How to Dress Like a 20th Century Phonetics Professor (ie- Henry Higgins)

‘Ello Guvnas!

Okay, that was awkward, but I can explain my Eliza Doolittle-esque greeting! Today I am proud to present a blog entry that I’ve been working on for quite some time! I’ve had these photos saved on my computer for months, and I thought it was high time that I shared them with you. I’m so excited! 😀

I’ll try to calm down for a second and elaborate further. I’ve ALWAYS been a fan of the musical My Fair Lady. Seriously, when I was just a wee little thing, my grandfather introduced me to the movie adaptation with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn and it was LOVE at first sight! This movie is absolutely incredible – hilarious, emotional, rambunctious, educational, beautiful. It’s just everything you could ever want in a film, especially if (like me) you love British things, you enjoy 20th century speech and clothing, and you have a particular fondness for curmudgeonly older gentlemen. I have to admit, I fell in love with Henry Higgins from the opening of the film, when he starts his diatribe about the English not being able to speak properly. I don’t want to say outright that I’m a bit critical of peoples’ grammar, but, okay, I am…I can’t help it, I’m an English “Master” after all! So, like Professor Higgins, I’ve always found myself saddened by the fact that people don’t talk like they used to, in the good ol’ days! (Sidenote: I’m also very critical of how people text these days – in my opinion, there is NEVER an occasion when it is okay to say “u” instead of “you” or “r” instead of “are”! The English language could be so beautiful if we let it be!)

Anyway, I pretty much put Henry Higgins on a pedestal (I’m sure he would’ve been very proud to be there!) and reading George Bernard Shaw’s original text Pygmalion in my university years did nothing to take him off. He’s even better when you read him, because then his witty rejoinders and critical comments really take full affect. I get it, many people find Henry Higgins sexist, and sure, he is! But he’s also a classic portrayal of the 20th century professor, and I think that if you choose to find him a little bit ridiculous, you can actually have a good laugh with him! I believe that Rex Harrison steals the show from Audrey Hepburn (who is very loverly, no doubt, and I do adore her!)…and I’ll admit again that I’ve had about a dozen crushes on professors over the years just because I thought they were all surely exactly like Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins in real-life. I also took linguistics courses in university mainly because I was convinced that I wanted to be a professor of phonetics – imagine my pride when my first year linguistics mark turned out to be my highest in all of my university career, all thanks to the fear that My Fair Lady would be forever ruined for me if I didn’t put 1 million % effort into the course!

Now, the inspiration for this post (to get to the point) comes from one of Professor Higgins’ most famous questions to his bestie Colonel Pickering: Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Sexist, I know…gender stereotypes galore, I get it. But bear with me here; Shakespeare played with this idea too, in his famous comedy Twelfth Night (my absolute favourite Shakespearean play), and I have always thought it would be so fun to dress up like a man for a day. Sadly, our society does subscribe to traditional views about male and female dress, but it is for us to break these molds and be a little more creative with fashion, so that’s what I tried to do with the outfits you are about to see below. As I’ve said time and time again, I’m an academic at heart, and I love the way male professors seem to dress in every pop culture representation (and, honestly, often in real-life), so I chose these outfits lovingly and with excitement to try to emulate one of my favourite professors and literary characters of all time.

It all began when I wore the outfit below to work. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought: I could totally see Henry Higgins pairing a white dress shirt with a sweater exactly in this way. I was immediately more confident, so I simply had to take a picture.

How To Dress Like A 20th Century Phonetics Professor

Then, my mom and I found this navy cardigan. I was sold as soon as I saw the arm patches…classic Henry Higgins! I had to buy it straight away!

The Sweater of a 20th Century Phonetics Professor

So, I had a number of tops that would befit my dear friend Henry Higgins. But what about something to wear on my feet? Well, I had just the pair of shoes, what I like to call my Oxford shoes, perfect for strolling around campus or sitting at a desk conducting research or typing lecture notes.

20th Century Phonetics Professor Shoes

Now, it’s literally just occurred to me that many of you may not know what Henry Higgins looks like (a travesty – GO watch the movie ASAP!), so before I do my big reveal and show you an entire outfit, here’s a photo of the movie cover on my bookshelf. You can see Professor Higgins in all his glory in the bottom right corner.

My Fair Lady

Keeping that image of Henry Higgins in mind, take a look at the final outfit I constructed to make myself look like a 20th century phonetics professor.

IMG_1900

So there you have it: a little How To. I hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think of my outfits in the comments below please!

Now I’m off to go do a dramatic reenactment of Henry Higgins singing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” in my bedroom. Like actually, not kidding!

Toodles!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

A Man to Marry

It’s time for a much-delayed update and I think it’s also time to reveal a very special part of my “personal archive”. I mentioned in my first blog post (Salutations!) that I wanted to be able to post some more creative reviews of my favourite literary works. I came up with this idea because I had already written several adaptations of my favourite novels, plays and works of poetry (which I may share here at some point if I can muster up the courage!), and I had always enjoyed making use of my own creative impulses and imagination to expand the stories I had grown to love and to get to know my beloved characters better.

It was because of this desire to get closer to my most idolized literary characters that I wrote a letter to Prior Walter, of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, during the summer after my second year of university. I was reminded of this letter just a few days ago when I visited the Distillery District in downtown Toronto and saw that the play was being performed. I vividly remember my reaction to Kushner’s award winning play. I remember wondering whether I would like the reading list for my Jewish Literature class because most of the works were American, and I have never been a particular fan of American Literature. I remember reading the premise of Angels in America and thinking that it sounded too far-fetched, a little random and altogether too religious for my liking. I remember sitting down in E.J. Pratt library, at the University of Toronto, and flipping eagerly through every single page, desperate to get to the end. I remember tears streaming down my face as I devoured the story of Prior Walter and his lover and his friends and the marvellous cast of intricate and unique characters that surround him. I remember being moved, I remember being violently emotional, I remember being obsessed with this modern prophet…I remember wanting to marry him despite the fact that I knew he was gay and, probably more importantly, fictitious. I remember wanting to help him, wanting to jump into the play and save him from a disease that I hadn’t known much about and from a love that seemed to be destroying him. I remember wanting to give myself to him, to heal him.

And so, my only option was to write Prior Walter a letter, to pour my heart and soul out to him in writing, the sole medium through which we could speak to each other. I wrote this letter with more tears streaming down my face…and as I documented my more articulate thoughts about the novel in my journal, still more flowed. I love Prior Walter, to this day, and I will never forget him…he gave me insight, he gave me knowledge, he gave me compassion. He gave me the will to be a better person, and he opened my eyes to issues and ideas that I hadn’t considered before. I am the woman I am today because of Jane Eyre and Margaret Hale and Shirley Keeldar and so many other strong female characters – but I possess this overwhelming capacity to love because of Prior Walter.

With the biggest and warmest of hearts,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


A letter to Prior Walter of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.

“Fuck you.  I’m a prophet.” – Prior Walter

To my favourite prophet Prior,

Throughout history there have been countless alleged prophets, most of them religious, but I must begin by admitting that of all of them, you are my favourite. No disrespect to Jesus, who I grew up learning of, but you, Prior, seem altogether more real and tangible than any prophet that I have ever heard of. Perhaps I am most drawn to you because you are not religious, because you are so bound up in the secular. Among the characters of Tony Kushner’s awesome, awe-inspiring work, you stand out as the one so totally free of religion, so non-denominational and non-conformist. You don’t have all the answers, and you don’t care to find them. I respect that. I respect you more than I respect Roy Cohn, who is evil despite his Jewish heritage, or Joe Pitt, who does everything in his power to contradict his Mormon upbringing. The angels that appear to you are orgasmic, not spiritual, and their god is a traitor unworthy of devotion. You are untouched, unaffected by them, and you even have the guts to reject their prophecy, to scorn their Book of Immobility and their offers of immortality. You are a prophet with balls who I believe to be severely under acknowledged!

I was also drawn into your world and I began to (rather vividly and viscerally) adopt your sentiments, especially your mixed affection/anger toward Louis Ironson. I was half insane with devastation when Louis left us battling AIDS alone and abandoned. I was enraged and crazy when he returned and begged for our forgiveness. I was astonished and proud when we held firm, demanding his blood and torture before accepting his apology. I became a gay, fatally ill man and I fell hopelessly and helplessly in love with a cheater, a traitor, a criminal. I wept with you. I swore and cursed through you.

But, there were of course some critical differences between us. I had a strong, healthy body, free of sores and lesions. I didn’t shit blood or cough and wheeze after minimal exertion. I could see clearly; no woolly patches clouded my eyes. I didn’t have AIDS; I wasn’t facing a death sentence. I could only read as you limped along, in and out of the hospital and consciousness. This fact only served to increase my fury. You were lonely, helpless, uncared for. I was lonely, companionless and dying (not quite literally) to soothe your pain. I wanted nothing more than to jump into the thick, worn pages and marry you, Prior. I am not delusional; I knew that you would have no physical attraction to me whatsoever. I knew that our relationship could never be sexual and that I would always be more attached to you than you would be to me. Regardless, I felt, I believed inwardly, that I could easily accept a less than reciprocal engagement if you would only let me heal you. I would be your nursemaid. I would administer your medication, wipe your sweating forehead, tuck you in at night. And, I would lie beside you, listening to your tired ramblings, letting you call me “Louis” if you needed to. I would be your angel, your Book of Immobility, your key to peace and calm. You would not be the first literary character with whom I formed a relationship, and yet I would give up all the others to take away your torment. I became inexplicably attached to you. When you cried, I cried, my heart breaking. When you screamed in frustration, my chest ached with silent sobs. My only peace came when I saw you happy, surrounded by friends, and when, in the end, I heard you declare that you would fight your disease without cease. You gave me the will to fight too, to conquer my own demons here, in the real world. You gave me strength and courage.

And, simultaneously, you scared me. You still do. You are beyond intriguing. You are developed, intricate, multi-faceted, the perfect character. You have a voice; it is yours, not your creator’s, and you use it well. You have a spirit and, as I said, you are so real, so realistic. Having said that, you are above me. I don’t know if I could ever create a character quite like you. I don’t know if I have the talent to envision a prophet, and then inflict torment and torture upon him. I don’t know if I can create a Pulitzer Prize winning story, if I can surpass or even match your narrative. I don’t know if there is enough passion in me…yet. I only know that you, Prior Walter, have helped to increase my passion, have left an imprint on my soul. You are permanently lodged there, and your presence encourages me, inspires me to write and imagine and see. You make me want to prophecy my own work, my own story.

I shudder to think about what has become of you since I last saw you, in February 1990. I know instinctively that you are dead now, as you can only fight such a tremendous battle for so long. This thought saddens me, and yet it seems somehow fitting. You will always belong to that period of change and anxious anticipation. May you rest forever in that peaceful time, just before Millennium approaches.

With love and admiration,

JNG

July 27, 2011

I have many loves in my life, my most recent being Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America. I will admit, I am completely obsessed, and after seeing the film adaptation I am even more affected. I cannot talk or write about this amazing play enough. Don’t misunderstand, I love Shakespeare but Kushner is a truly breathtaking playwright. Angels in America opened my eyes to so many controversial issues: religion, sexual orientation, the American legal system and injustice, the AIDS epidemic. After reading, I realized just how little I know about the world and its suffering. However, after reading, I felt more informed, more knowledgeable, more aware. I was most touched by the character Prior Walter (even thinking about him now, I could cry) and his battle with AIDS. I have never witnessed suffering first hand, but I feel like I lived through AIDS with this man. At times, I could hardly control my anguish, and I was severely overcome with sympathy and the desire to help somehow. I was moved by every aspect of the play, and I can honestly say that I feel I am a better person for having read it.

Prior Walter is now one of my dearest companions. He joins a list that includes Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester, Johnny Wheelwright, Owen Meany, Duke Orsino and Viola, Erik the Phantom, and Henry Higgins. I have already conversed and will continue to converse with him as I do with Milton’s Satan and Abdiel, or Munro’s Del Jordan. I seek refuge in his company as I do with my own fictional creations. He is, for me, more real than many people I know.