Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Straight, Conservative, Evangelical Fledgling LGBT Activist

Okay, so today the LGBTA had a fundraising bake sale to get funds to bring in a speaker to campus, and since I've been hanging out with them,  I said I'd help out.  (If you're new, I've talked about how I ended up in this situation before.  Jesus takes me strange places-- just run with it.)  I didn't have the time to sit at a table hocking homemade brownies, so I offered to make some stuff for them to sell. 

(Easter at Home, originally uploaded by jellybeanjill13.)

Anyhow, I make these awesome little cookies (or candies, actually) that sell really well-- you take a grid pretzel, stick a Rolo candy on top, and pop them in the oven at 250 for 4 minutes, just until the Rolo gets mooshy.  Then you slap a pecan half right on top of it and smash them together.  They're like little pecan turtles with a crunchy pretzel base, and they're amazing.  (Try making some and see for yourself.)  I made about eight dozen of them for the LGBTA bake sale the next day.

So, there I am, surrounded by cookie sheets of little candies, putting them in little baggies to sell the next day, and something about the whole situation just struck me as outrageously funny: I'm turning thirty in a month, I'm a hammer-headed evangelical Christian, and I'm baking cookies for 18 year old lesbians.  I turned to my husband, who was desperately trying to get a computer analysis program run for his dissertation research. 
"Um, Honey?"  I asked him.  His eyes drifted up to see me surrounded by little packages of baked goods. 
"What's up?"  He asked.  I held up a baggie full of cookies.
"Am I turning into a homosexual den mother?"  I asked him. 
Silence.  His eyes got a strange light in them. 
"Do you really want me to answer that, Jackrabbit?" He finally said with a grin. 
 "Nah," I decided,  "I guess not." 

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Revenge and Forgiveness in Laramie, Wyoming": Stephen Wang writes on TLP

How on earth does one person forgive another? And, in the face of terrible violence against the self, how does the individual (and a the community) find healing?  These are questions that lie at the heart of The Laramie Project, and questions that, apparently, at least one of the writers struggled with as they crafted their play. 

 Stephen Wang served as a draumaturge and writer for The Laramie Project in its various forms, and he has done some sophisticated thinking at a critical distance from the play about the nature of forgiveness.  This article appeared, along with three commentaries and a reply, in the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues.  Looking at both the psychoanalytic tradition, the theatrical tradition, and even religious groundings for forgiveness, Wangh gives his readers a fascinating look inside The Laramie Project at the company's understanding of forgiveness and how that, in turn, crafted the play they all created.   What I really like about Wangh's approach is that he's extremely open about how Kaufman and the other writers approached their documentary material, and he's willing to be honest about where the members of Tectonic might respectfully disagree.  Definitely pick up this issue of Psychoanalytic Dialogues if you're at all interested in the The Laramie Project, the writing process, or its social impact.  I will probably be coming back to these articles at a later date because I want to read Frommer and Sandage's critiques to see what other insight they might give us.

Sometimes a Fruit is Not Just a Fruit

It seems that my campus has been having some race-related issues recently, which came to a head last week when somebody chucked a banana at a group of visiting African American students and their parents.  I am absolutely steamed.  I found out about it from an e-mail sent out by our university chancellor a couple days ago.  Here's what I read in the Chancellor's own words:
We have had an increase in the number of reported incidents of actions and language that reflect bias on our campus. These actions include derogatory and racist language found in our dormitories. We also had an incident where someone threw a banana at visiting African American students, their parents and guidance counselors. This incident was witnessed by some of our own UT ambassadors.

I am saddened and outraged by this behavior because it does not reflect our campus values or the mission of this great university. We will not tolerate disrespect, racism or bias on our campus.
I have to admit, the more I think about this, the more outraged I get. 
Okay, so it's a college campus full of undergrads, and it is in fact a huge land-grant university in the American South; things can get crazy here. I know that.  I've seen things get crazy here before.  They'd get equally crazy at home, too.  I mean, I've had fruit thrown at me by stupid, hulking boys running on Wild Turkey, testosterone and instinct, too.  Heck, somebody even left a butchered elk leg on the Honors house's front lawn once.  But there's a huge difference in this case.  When a couple PKA frat boys threw that orange at me and the other honors students in Laramie, it was just an orange.  It was rotten and smelly, but just an orange.  When that jerk tossed that banana at a group of black students visiting the campus, it was a symbol-- and in this case, the symbol hit a lot harder than the object itself.   That symbol said, you are one step lower than a human.  It said, you don't belong here with rational creatures. GTFO. 

Right now, I just absolutely burn with shame for those kids and their parents, mostly because a sacred, long-standing illusion about college just got ripped away from them: they can't think of the campus as a safe haven anymore.  I went to high school in Wyoming, and when surrounded by the stupidity, racism, sexism and intolerance typical of your average group of sixteen year-olds, I'd say to myself, only two more years and I can get out.  I had seen friends harassed or pushed into fights, and I'd count down the months: just 18 more months to college...  then I went to college and somebody bludgeoned a gay student to death with a pistol two months later.  I never again had a feeling of having a safe haven at college.  Laramie was a battleground instead, and it wore me out.  Everyone has the right to a space where they can feel safe, don't they? 

I was talking about this incident with a co-worker, an undergraduate, the morning after the letter went out, and his frustration was palpable.  For him, that act shattered the illusion of safety for him, too. "Look," he told me, "I was one of, like, three black kids in my entire high school.  I always kept telling myself that things would be better once I got out of town, and I got to college.  You know, that not every place was like my high school."   He said that he wasn't angry so much as deeply disappointed.

Maybe we don't get to pretend this kind of ugliness in the world doesn't exist when we're on a college campus; maybe we don't get to be that naive, to live in our nice, cushy ivory tower and be more enlightened than everyone else.  But in the words of my co-worker, if you don't get to open up and feel free from that kind of humiliation and bigotry at a university... is any place safe?  Where can people just be ourselves? 

So, I would just like to say to the jerk who threw that banana: if I find you, I'm going to throw something at you, too, but it isn't going to be a piece of fruit.  It's going to be a copy of the student Honor Code.  Oh, and it's going to be wrapped around a dead skunk.  Read into the symbolism of that all you want, you bastard. 


"it is not a banana," by/from -eko-'s Flickr photostream:

"Keep the Dream Alive," by Drew Myers:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jackrabbit's conference paper on TLP, sort of

A few days ago I posted my initial reaction to presenting something vaguely academic at a scholarly conference; I figured that it was a lot easier to actually post the damn thing to let you see for yourself what I did than to try to reinvent the wheel-- especially when inventing the wheel the first time seems to have consumed a good portion of my sanity.

I have to give this with a caveat or two: first of all, this is not the final draft I presented.  I had to make a lot of handwritten changes to this before presenting, and now I can't find the stupid thing to type them in.  So this is simply a draft-in-progress; as such, it doesn't have any of my citations in it, either.  Besides, that will keep lazy undergrads from plagiarizing this for a research paper.  (For those who were considering it: shame on you, lazy undergrads.  Go to the bibliography page for sources and write your own.)  

So, please treat this for what it is: more of a sketch of my research than anything actually presentable or scholarly in of itself.  You can also view my Powerpoint presentation (oh joy.) to fill in the quotations, evidence and critical background, if you're that masochistic, here.  (hint: right-click the file on that page and click "save," otherwise your browser will try to open a Powerpoint file, with hilarious results...)

So, without further ado, here's a look at Jackrabbit's mediocre first attempt to act like a grown-up and treat The Laramie Project like a scholar after the jump!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Jackrabbit Goes to the Academy: and I survived!

This past weekend was the bi-annual NEXUS interdisciplinary conference at the University of Tennessee, focusing on the theme of "Trauma and Testimony." Yours truly presented a paper on The Laramie Project dealing with testimony and community identity, which went... interestingly.  I wasn't entirely sure I was going to be able to pull the damn thing off, but after a lot of hair-pulling I managed to get a paper written, and the presentation went off with just a few minor lumps, bumps and bruises.

Actually, I discovered that getting this paper together challenged a lot of my previous ideas about why I resent The Laramie Project so much, and that was a good thing.  Essentially, I didn't like what the play was doing to my ability to define my own existence, but I also realized that it's that destabilizing of Laramie's idea of community that allows the LGBT community to speak.  Secondly, I never liked having to allow certain people (who I will not name because of their litigious personalities) to speak for me.  That's the same argument that a lot of TLP haters use about letting gays and lesbians speak out against them, and I have to wonder...  I think that Tectonic did a great thing by allowing my gay friends and neighbors the agency to speak of their life in Laramie, and in doing so they challenge the way that the "majority" have defined the community, and they feel the same press of being "defined" by a society external to their own.  Is that why I'm so ambivalent for this play-- because now I have a vague idea of what it feels like to be a voiceless member of the GLBT community, defined by the center and unable to speak back?

Anyhow, getting to that realization took a bit of personal wrestling.  Due to exams and other concerns, I couldn't actually write the presentation until the week of the conference.  Even though I had loads of time to do it, I kept staring at a blank screen, tapping my fingers, reading friends' blog posts, doing some creative writing.  Finally, the night before I had to give the paper, I stared at my terrifying, blank computer screen and typed out a single phrase:
a strained and sometimes fractious relationship
 I stared at that phrase for about two solid minutes, and once I had the source of my writer's block on the page, the paper I had been writing in my head for the last month and a half sprouted out from under my fingers.  I stayed up all night writing the stupid thing.  

 The other three papers in my panel were freaking awesome, and there's one in particular I might write about, if "Annie" will let me, that is.  She wrote about her family's personal experience with a personal trauma and the weird position families get into, rhetorically speaking, as they try to urge the press to act as an outlet for their personal testimony. Since she's interested in the ability of victims to speak, as am I, it seems like a good fit...

And, Laramie made its presence known in an odd and interesting way once more to me at the conference.  The website for the conference is illustrated with images of trauma and violence of the sort that the presenters research, and this picture was one which one of the organizers (whom I don't even know) had found on Flickr:
Never forget that Laramie, Wyoming is a town scarred by more than just the Matt Shepard incident; every town's psyche shows the scars of a parade of grief.  The roadside memorial which stands at Tie Siding, Wyoming was erected after eight members of the UW cross country team were killed by a drunk driver just a week after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.  They were traveling to a meet at the time, and the man who killed them was another UW student.  At the time, I had been attending school at my new college in the Deep South for a little over three weeks. 

When I saw this photo on the website, it stopped me in my tracks.  I mean, I was at a conference to talk about how Laramie has tried to speak through a moment of tragedy, and here I was being confronted by one that I haven't even thought about for years.  What makes one tragedy seem so indelibly burned into our collective consciousnesses and others, like this one, must remain silent except for eight pairs of shoes and a peeling marker at a deserted crossroads?  It sometimes seems so unfair, but that's just the strange way that collective memory works.  Somethings remain, others don't, and all will eventually be forgotten.  Perhaps it was good for me to step back a little from the Shepard tragedy and put it in this larger context-- in comparison to those Laramie tragedies whose presence scars just as deeply but whose stories don't get told: James Merritt, Kristen Lamb, Cindy Dixon, the Tie Siding accident, the 2006 double murder-suicide...


1) The 2010 Nexus logo, used with permission.  You can view the full conference description here.

2)  The roadside memorial at Tie Siding, Wyoming, taken from gregor_y's Flickr photostream:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Piece of Rope

I've been thinking a lot recently about what we learn in the Epilogue from Henderson and McKinney about Matt's murder.  I saw some interesting things come out of those two interviews, such as McKinney's sociopathic lack of sympathy and the way Henderson believes he's eternally helpless over his own fate.  Tonight I guess that I'm interested in something else entirely: in the Epilogue, Henderson and McKinney's stories about who tied up Shepard to the buck fence simply don't line up.  This isn't entirely surprising; it would make at least the second time that McKinney has changed his story about that night.  It's easy enough to just assume that they're both lying, but what if one or both of them are sincere?   If we picture that scene eleven years ago, who was holding the end of that piece of rope? 

Getting into the vagaries of personal memory usually makes me want to beat my head against a wall because the more I read into the psychological and philosophical perspectives on memory, the murkier it gets.  Right now, I tend to side with St. Augustine; in his view, all of our experience, past and future, only exist on the "knife's edge" of the present.   Since the past can never exist except as a memory in the present, we can only access them in the present-- by reaching through our current perspective and experiences to grasp at the point in the past.  The past becomes, in a sense, eternally colored by all the things which proceeded from that point and our current, present experience.  When it comes to memory, you really can never go home again; just as our present eternally changes, so does our perception of the past along with it.

But what can this tell us about the extent of Henderson's culpability in Matt's murder?  Probably nothing factual; but we might, however, tease something out about the narratives McKinney and Henderson have told themselves over the last ten years since their convictions.  This single piece of rope, stretched through ten years of retrospect-- tied by whom, and in what manner-- can tell us a lot about the nature of our memories, and perhaps how McKinney and Henderson try to understand their own histories as well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bibliographic info for "The Laramie Project": Lit Crit and Theater

After the jump on this page is a list of major works that I've been able to find that focus on The Laramie Project to some degree in the MLA Bibliography and the International Index to the Performing Arts.  I tried to stick to presenting scholarly articles that were both in good journals and were of some length.  The IIPA, for example, has a ton more, but a lot of them are just short news blurbs or show announcements.

Note also the number of these that are by TT members, interviews with TT members, or about their practices.  There's not as much on the literary side of The Laramie Project as I had expected, strangely.  The articles vary both in focus and in quality, so definitely check these out for yourself when using them. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Failure to Engage: The Robbery Motive

Looking back, one thing about The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later that interested me are the lengths that they went through to in order to try and reinforce that Matt's death was a hate crime.  I mean, they go so far as to get a folklorist to explain why the rumor that it was a "robbery gone awry" is so popular.  Personally, I've never really questioned that it was a hate crime; robbery was a major motivation (come on, they paid for a pitcher of beer with spare change,  and they did in fact rob the guy), but McKinney's confession speaks for itself: he has a deep-seated fear and hatred of gay men, and the force that drove him to stave in a helpless man's skull wasn't the twenty bucks in his wallet.  It was something else.  Matt was kidnapped and robbed because he had a full wallet, but he was bludgeoned to death because he was gay.  For me, it's basically been that simple.  

But, why did TT spend so much time on this?  Obviously it's a troubling trend in the community, indicative of a larger need to try and repress or forget the larger problems that Matt's death revealed.  But there is something about TLP's previous engagement with the robbery narrative that does bother me a little bit, however, and that's what I'd like go over now.

"As much as, uh, part of me didn't want the defense of them saying that it was a gay bashing or that it was gay panic, part of me is really grateful.  Because I was really scared that in the trial they were going to try and say that it was a robbery, or it was about drugs.  So when they used 'gay panic' as their defense, I felt, this is good, if nothing else the truth is going to be told... the truth is coming out. "
--Prof. Rebecca Hilliker, in TLP (2001): 91
"Aaron's done that thing before.  They've both done it.  I know one night they went to Cheyenne to go do it and they came back with probably three hundred dollars.  I don't know if they ever chose like gay people as their particular targets before, but anyone that looked like they had a lot of money and that was you know, they could outnumber, or overpower, was fair game." 
-- "Jen," a friend of McKinney's in TLP (2001): 61-62

Both of the quotes above from the original TLP  are probably from sometime in 1999, and I would assume before the conclusion of the McKinney trial. Both of them bring up the robbery motive. The only reason I bring this up is because in the Newsweek article, Kaufman and TT refer to the robbery excuse as a newer development in the way people talk about the Matt Shepard murder:
"A real cause for concern, however, is the emergence in Laramie of a narrative that has gained many proponents in recent years: one that states that Shepard's murder by two local residents, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, was only 'a robbery gone bad' or 'a drug-fueled murder' and not a hate crime...  One hypothesis is that because Laramie was portrayed in the media as a backward town where hatred and bigotry were rampant, forcing the citizens to question their identity as an idyllic community, a "good place to raise your children."
 In his post on the play on Newsweek's website, Carl Sullivan likewise claims that "many Laramie residents seem to have concocted a revisionist version of what transpired."  As he goes on to explain, "Residents could accept that Laramie might be home to drug crimes (what town isn’t?), but mindless hate? No way."

Now, forgive me for saying so in direct address, but that's garbage, Mr. Kaufman: there was no "emergence" and it's been popular for more than "recent years."  It's always been here.  People have been talking about the robbery motive from the day of the arraignment and we learned about the credit card and shoes in McKinney's truck.  In fact, the earliest outcry against the robbery motive I can find is Oct. 12 in the Cheyenne Wyoming Tribune-Eagle-- the day after Matt died.  Laramie residents even talked of the robbery motive to your people--  it's all over TLP like half-smudged fingerprints on a water glass.  Rebecca Hilliker didn't invent that worry out of the blue; she'd heard the rumors and responding to a real fear that robbery would be used as an excuse in court.  Even one of your own interviewees, that damn limousine driver, told Newsweek he thought it was a "robbery gone wrong" two months after Matt's death. Those are his exact words.  

I would maintain that this is not a new development; rather, it simply has a new and more devastating purpose-- erasing the memory of an event that's too difficult to address without severe self-reflection.  Robbery is the narrative we're used to telling ourselves because the GLBT population in Laramie is largely invisible and hate-driven violence in our community has largely gone unnoticed.  It was therefore the narrative many of us defaulted to when the attack first happened-- before the media blitz really got underway.   So I would accept TT's assessment of why the robbery motive is so prevalent now; I cannot, however, accept that it sprung up sometime later, in response to the media blitz.  

Why would this motive be so popular in Laramie so soon after the crime occurred?  I don't think it was principally due to homophobia-- at first.  When it first took off, it was actually part of a much larger, longstanding tension between the Laramie community members.  Matt, you see, was relatively wealthy, and he was from the campus.   Aaron McKinney was essentially from West Laramie, and Henderson lived out by the cement plant; they represent the working-class and poverty-line residents of Laramie.  These two parts of Laramie have never really seen eye to eye, and West Laramie in particular has suffered from unfair characterization as being uneducated, crude and intolerant by some of the more so-called "open-minded" intellectuals on the campus.  Pointing out that McKinney was a poor, high school dropout and intolerant and that Shepard was a gay college student just played into the same class antagonism in Laramie that had existed long before Matthew Shepard walked into town.   Then, when the media waltzed in and portrayed the whole town of Laramie as closed-minded and  intolerant, the robbery fable probably gained a lot of ground among others who might not have taken a side. Take a look at Shannon and Jen's interviews: that "moment" is all about this class antagonism (like calling Matt a "rich bitch") and they focus on the robbery and drugs angle too.  In their minds, the robbery angle and their resentment for Matt's social class are linked

So, why did TT never directly engage the robbery narrative in the first play?  There could be lots of reasons: maybe it never came up in interviews, or they were too busy establishing the hate crime basis of the murder, or maybe they were even uninterested.  I don't think it can be #1 because, after all, Hilliker spoke of the robbery defense, and "Jen" hopped all over it, too; it's all she could talk about, practically.  I can't speak to whether or not it's because "Jen" actually thinks that Matt's murder was a robbery, or if she's trying to help McKinney by playing up the robbery angle. 

But for the sake of argument, let's go ahead and assume that TT had heard of the robbery argument when they were in Laramie from '98 to '99; it's the only thing that makes sense to me, seeing as it's mentioned in extant interviews and everybody was talking about it.  Why not address that motive more fully?  From an editorial standpoint, I think I can understand why the writing team probably didn't want to touch it.   It's hard to even bring it up without somehow legitimating it as a possibility.  After all, McKinney and Henderson did in fact rob Matt Shepard when they beat him.  That's easy to prove; motivation and personal prejudice, however, are much more slippery matters.  The play has to work very hard to make it clear that Matt's murder was a hate crime, to the point that no other reasonable possibility is even considered.  After all, when you have a play built largely on personal opinion and personal reminiscence, how do you bring up a false motive in interviews without making it seem as reasonable as anything else people say?  I would respond that they did the same thing with the suggestion that Matt hit on McKinney, and that was pretty well refuted by the way they layer other people's testimony in with McKinney's confession in order to discredit his claims. 

 Another possibility-- again, assuming they did in fact know of the robbery defense--  might be that they failed to engage the robbery motive because it fails to engage so many of the play's central questions.  Robbery does not address the issues of tolerance and sexual orientation important to the play's organization; rather, it brackets them and sets them to the side.  That's exactly what makes this narrative so attractive to the nay-sayers: you don't have to worry about self-examination and self-doubt anymore.  It reduces Matt's murder to the simple economics of greed, and there's nothing left to discuss. Thematically, it therefore makes no sense to bring it up in the text of The Laramie Project

Could that be one of the reasons that TT spends so much time in the epilogue dwelling on the grisly details of Matt's murder to disprove the robbery motive is because they're fixing a previous oversight?  I don't know if it's true; I just know that that's what I want to believe, because that explanation speaks to a sincere regret I've harbored over the original Laramie Project: I wish that they had more directly acknowledged, challenged, and dismissed the robbery motive back in 2000.    When this rumor was ignored, it grew exponentially because people thought it was being suppressed. If TT had addressed the robbery motive then, it might have kept it from seeming like it sprouted out of thin air, and it would have dismissed an alternative explanation of Matt's death that really needed disproven.  Would have it made a difference?  Probably not.  There's still that awful 20/20 program to consider; that did plenty of damage on its own.

It does raise a larger, more interesting question, however: how much should we see the epilogue as an attempt to finish or "fix" things that Tectonic  Theater felt like they couldn't or didn't do in the first play?  A lot of the new material-- talking to the Shepards, for one, and the killers for another-- sort of have that feeling.  These are all things that they could not reasonably do in 1999, but they can now.  Could the robbery motive in the Epilogue be another piece of unfinished business?   I'd be interested to see what other people think.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Little Bibliography: Op-ed statements on the Shepard beating

Matt's beating and murder in 1998 couldn't have come at a more timely point in terms of stirring up some seriously wicked national debate on GLBT rights.  When you look at some of the national discourse at this time-- questions about DOMA, Trent Lott's comparison between homosexuality and kleptomania, the ex-gay movement's advertising campaign--  Shepard's death was like dropping a piece of hot slag in the middle of a munitions plant.  That's where my frustration with the politics surrounding the Shepard case comes from: once everything exploded, there was no easy way to sort the productive from the non-productive dialogue, and for every passionate and reasoned call for change, there were so many others just spewing about their own brand of incandescent hate on both sides.

In a real way, even though I adore him as a playwright and I understand the source of all that fury, Tony Kushner's response to Matt's death was just as frustrating to me as Trent Lott's: neither seemed to think far enough beyond their own concerns to see the real human beings on the other side.  The fulminate rage in Kushner's rhetoric in his editorial makes me flinch.  For all his condemnation of those "savor[ing] the unsavory details" of the Shepard murder, Kushner just seems to me to use Matt Shepard as a grisly trope, a blunt object he can hit back at the Republicans with in retaliation.  If you're arguing for human rights and the equal dignity of all people,  I don't see the point of slapping somebody upside the head with a real human being.  I have the same problem with anti-abortion activists driving around in trucks with pictures of butchered babies on the sides: neither approach provides space for compassion, understanding or forgiveness-- and it certainly doesn't uphold the dignity of the real human beings whose lives are at stake. 

In any case, a few of the more notable responses I have attached here as a short bibliography if you're interested.  From a literary standpoint, obviously those by Kushner and Vidal will be of the most interest.  But the one that piques my own curiosity is Paul Capetz' meditation on the church as a ground of reconciliation between gays, lesbians and straight Christians.  His response is provocative, unwavering, and, knowing what has happened within the Presbyterian church (my current church home) since this was written, it's an interesting bit of prophecy.  He also recognizes the humanity on both sides of the debate and speaks in love even as he calls passionately for change.  Please, no matter your personal conviction, give his argument a fair read.  Full bibliography (with references to Wyoming letters, too) after the jump...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's official: I've been delcared competent!

I got the news about two hours ago: I have officially passed my first PhD field exam in medieval literature! In other words, I have just been officially declared competent in something! Woo-hoo!  (Who would have figured?)  Actually, my advisor called it a "very strong pass."  I am so freaking happy

Anyhow, how hard was it to study for and pass this exam?  For your viewing amusement,  this stack of books represents all the books I had checked out of the library, which was about 60% of the material.  The rest are things I already own and are sitting on a shelf somewhere.

My first PhD Field Exam: Medieval

Thank the Lord that's over. Now, just two more to go!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lost in Translation

You'd think that, as a literature major, I wouldn't be as resistant to symbols and abstraction as I am. I live in the realm of abstraction; it's a comfortable place, they know me here. I'm getting a degree in it, even. I'm so used to dealing with the realm of the metaphor and story, actually, that it can be really hard to turn that part of my brain off sometimes. "Will you just sit back and enjoy the movie?" my husband occasionally smirks at me. (Other times, he's worse than me. We laugh it off.)

It's not really myth or symbol itself that bothers me. It's seeing that process of myth-making firsthand that's been so disorienting. When a deceased person passes from a living, imperfect being to a myth, to me it almost feels like an annihilation of the individual who once lived but now can't speak for themselves. And yet, I'm a medievalist, for crying out loud, I've read saint's lives.  Sanctification, many times, is a process of forgetting; when the imperfections that made them a mere person are gone, then someone writes a text to exemplify their holiness. And that's how you make a saint in the early Middle Ages: forgetting, coupled with a narrative. No wonder that some of my favorite holy people are often the tenacious ones, the royal pain in the asses who spoke for themselves or left a record of their frailties: Perpetua, Augustine, Boniface, Leoba; Thomas á Beckett; Julian; John Donne. 

Abstraction anxiety?

And a lot of it is my feeling that the media is portraying Matthew Shepard as a saint. And making him as a martyr. And I don't think he was. I don't think he was that pure.

-- Sherry Johnson, in TLP (2001): 64

Although thinking of what has happened to Matt as a translation to sainthood is admittedly anachronistic, the process that Sherry dislikes above is nevertheless a good fit: forgetting, coupled with a story, makes Matt something more than human and less than human at the same time. He's a symbol or a myth. When that happens in a story like TLP, where's the real person? To where, and as what, does he get translated to?  And I also wonder: where does that very human impulse to translate the flesh and blood of a real person to symbol come from? Sherry Johnson fears that impulse, I would say, for all the wrong reasons; she merely believes that Matt isn't a good candidate based on the slander and hearsay she's picked up around town. I'm just as hesitant, but I'm more concerned about the ethics of making a man into a myth in the first place. Is it fair to the deceased? Or, is it what they would want?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hinting at Spring...

Female Cardinal, originally uploaded by Wyoming_Jackrabbit.

March is already here in Appalachia, and already the trees and birds are itching for a spring that never quite seems to arrive. The swollen buds on my magnolia Jane out in front of my house are straining at the seams, but we've already had two snow flurries this week and may see more. Most of the wildlife-- myself included-- seem a little impatient for warmth, for flowers and greenery.

This female cardinal is one of my co-vigilants waiting through the last of the Lenten veil of snow to melt and for Spring, like Easter, to arrive with the dawn. On Tuesday we had already gotten about a half an inch of snow, so she was hiding out under some shrubbery next to the library looking for berries. I hope you enjoy her!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

20/20's exposé on the Shepard killing online: blech

If you'd like to get a taste of what that 20/20 piece mentioned in The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later actually said, ABC has graciously left the website for the program up so you can read for yourself right here.  I haven't checked this against my transcript of the actual news program yet, but it makes the same argument.  Since this program aired,  Bill O'Reilley has repeated it, Newsbusters has promulgated it, WBC has run with it, congress people have referred to it, and many Laramie people feel this is the true version of events.  Feel free to see what you think.

Not to prevent you all from thinking for yourselves on this one, but I obviously think it's all pretty terrible; the reporting is awful, I'm not sure I trust their motives, and they're a little too willing to take McKinney and Henderson's story as truth (which has changed since the report, I might add).  There are, however, a few important points brought up nonetheless.  Shepard wasn't an angel; he was a kid battling his own personal demons, something his mother's been pretty open about.  The police did focus on robbery as a motive for a little bit.  And McKinney and Henderson really were that lousy of human beings.   Those facts, however, don't change a damn thing about the reality of how or why those two men thought that bludgeoning an openly gay kid for his shoes was a good idea. 

Oh, and I also found a very, very interesting academic article on the 20/20 program as well.  If you have access to JSTOR you can download it:

Charles, Casey.  "Panic in the Project: Critical Queer Studies and the Matthew Shepard Murder."  Law and Literature 18.2 (2006): 225-252. 

It's heavily over-theorized and a LOT of fun.  Check it out!

Stable URL:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fear, Loathing, and "The Laramie Project": Hindsight

He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despite, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
--Aeschylus, Agamemnon; tr. Edith Hamilton

Okay, so all bets are off: this is memory stuff no longer any fun.  It seriously sucks.  

Just like I did with my first posts on my personal memory, I wanted to look back through my memories of 2000 to 2009 and see if I could find any similar lapses in memory like I saw in my first stories.   This little exercise, however, has led to some seriously personal introspection that I didn't want to have to do.  If you therefore don't want to read any extremely personal and depressing revelations about the Jackrabbit, then by all means read no further in this post.  Consider yourself duly warned.  

 Anyhow, I figured that, since these memories were more recent, I wouldn't have quite the same problems of recollection I had earlier.  I discovered that this wasn't necessarily the case; the more recent memories have just as many vagaries, and regarding one very important omission, there's more.  Here are some things I discovered that I fudged, left out or misrepresented in my previous recollection: