Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Creation, the Play

A few weeks ago my English class went to see a fantastic play at the NAC. It's called Creation, and it's a retelling of stories from Genesis. With music. And a woman playing God. And a million other little touches that made it fantastic!

Anyways, about a week later we were told to write a essay on one of the stories we'd read so far this year. But while I had appreciated the craft and message behind a few (especially The Yellow Wallpaper), none of them called to me the way Creation did. It was a pleasure to watch, and to analyze afterwards, the way so few works we examine in English class are.

So I decided to write my "New Historicism"* essay on Creation. Once big problem: I didn't have the script, and I needed to quote from it. I am so grateful to Karen Gilogo at the NAC for sending me the script, and then subsequently putting me in touch with the playwright, Peter Anderson.

I sent Mr. Anderson a scatter-brained email, and he replied in depth to my questions, touching on things I hadn't even realized would be perfect for my analysis. I am so grateful for his help, without which I would not have had an essay.

So this week, I'm going to shameless steal my blog post from a school assignment. Without further ado, my essay:

The New Story of Creation 

Creation, a play by Peter Anderson, reinterprets stories from the Old Testament through a modern lens, and the retold stories sharply diverge from the original biblical tales. Anderson's life and the modern times during which he wrote the play clearly influenced the changes he made to the stories and the subjects he chose to critique. This influence of social context is particularly evident in Anderson’s treatment of the role of women, environmentalism and the power distribution over different social classes. 

            There are many differences between the place and power of women in the Bible and in Creation, and these differences are the result of Anderson's modern upbringing. Anderson grew up in a household with two educated and working parents, and learned that a marriage was a partnership. This view is evident in the play when one of the angels asks of the nameless wives of the many ancestors of Abraham, “How come the women got forgot?” (Anderson, Creation 55). In the original biblical stories, women are chattel. For example, a man's wife is among the possessions that others are forbidden to covet (NIV Bible, Genesis 20.17). This reflects the cultural values of the time, as does Anderson’s demand for the recognition of the women. Anderson's modern and feminist views are also visible in his assertion that an all-powerful creator need not be male. Having attended “University of Michigan from 1968-72 during... the birth of the Women's Liberation Movement,” Anderson was exposed to the fight women face for equality in a society that is patriarchal to the core (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay”). In his play, Anderson chose a more inclusive interpretation and questioned the assumption of a male God by saying that “God is both Father / And Mother” (Anderson, Creation 9). He contradicts the legend of God as the Father that is told again and again in the Bible, a legend which reflects its creation during a time when men ruled absolutely. Thus, Anderson’s representation of female power and importance in Creation stems from his life experiences in a society where women could fight for and hold power.

Anderson, influenced by modern environmental awareness, stresses the need for harmony between humans and nature in Creation. Having read The Silent Spring, a book which shows the widespread negative effects of pesticide use, Anderson was well aware of the harm humans can cause nature when he was writing Creation. In the Bible, God causes the flood due to "man's wickedness," but in Creation the cause of the flood is people's mistreatment of the environment (Genesis 6.5). Naomi tells the unheeding townspeople that "All of creation God gives humans to use, / But if this privilege is misused / God's justice permits Creation to punish us" (Anderson, Creation 31). Here Anderson alludes to the disasters humankind can bring upon itself if it is not careful of the environment – disasters which were just coming into public consciousness during his youth and writing. While writing Creation, Anderson was influenced by the concept of Creation Spirituality, which holds that humans and nature share a holy relationship. In Creation, Abel holds a similar view; he "hug[s] trees / And roam[s] around with beasts," and proclaims that the “land is God’s, not Cain’s” (Anderson, Creation 24). Abel is portrayed as sensible and sympathetic, while his brother Cain is cruel and proud. The argument that ends with Cain killing Abel begins over the brothers’ differing views of the correct treatment of the land. In the Bible, written in a time during which environmental awareness was undeveloped, the only motivation for the murder is Cain's jealousy that Abel has God's favour. The cultural context in which Anderson wrote Creation changed the reasons he gave for events which are mirrored from the Bible.

Anderson’s personal experiences with the social divide motivated his portrayal of the character of the ass named Working Class. As a young adult, Anderson “was acutely aware ... of the fact that those drafted and fighting in Vietnam were from the working and lower classes. Those more well-off (like [him]self) who could afford to attend university, received a student deferment from military service” (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay”). This experience of the rich leaders of the country using the poor as tools shows itself in Creation when the ass is renamed Driveshaft by Cain, who sees him as a tool. According to Cain, the poor are put on earth by god "To ease our workload / And clean the commodes / Of our humble abodes / While we live life more" (Anderson, Creation 26). Cain's unsympathetic portrayal as a cruel master is evidence of Anderson's dislike of those with insensitive attitudes towards those lower in station. Growing up as the 'rich' middle class kid in a working class neighborhood, Anderson was exposed at a young age to the unfairness of a class structure in which the poor have no voice (Anderson, “Re: Creation Essay). In Creation, the humans eventually lose their ability to understand the ass, mirroring the way in which the poor and working classes are often ignored by those of higher status in modern society. Anderson’s modern outlook on class divides motivated his attempt to critique them.

Peter Anderson's play Creation is a thought-provoking and intensely entertaining work of art. Although the shape of the stories is drawn from the Bible, the underlying messages and ideas clearly demonstrate a modern perspective. The context of the writing obviously influenced the choices Anderson made with regard to his portrayal of women, the environment and social classes, much as the context of ancient society influenced the content of the original tales.


Works Cited
Anderson, Peter. Creation (playing version). 2012. PDF.
Anderson, Peter. "Re: Creation Essay." Email to the author. 25 Feb. 2012.
Fox, Matthew. A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity. Inner Transformations, 2006. Web.
NIV Adventure Bible, Revised, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Print.



*To be honest, I'm not sure if it actually ended up being a New Historicism critique - that's just the only one of the options we had that it might fit in.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Stories Behind Two FAWM Songs

For all those NaNoers who want something with a little more rhythm... this is the month and the challenge you've been waiting for! I'm a bit addicted to deadline-oriented creative challenges, and so for February, I write songs. This year, most of them even have halfway-decent original music!
 
It's February Album Writing Month, where the goal is to write fourteen songs in 28 days (or 14 and a half in 29 days this year). I hope you'll check out my songs and give me some feedback.

Anyways, en guise de blogpost aujourd'hui, I'm going to talk about the process that led to a couple songs that I'll also post tonight.

Death song (temporary title)
The first is a rather sad song that I haven't been able to find music for yet,
because the subject matter is hitting too close to home. A friend of mine, someone who doesn't have a lot of friends, has recently revealed to me that he's dying. He's in a lot of pain, but no one knows what's wrong. So I was trying to express the uncertainty I felt, and the fear, and the regret that perhaps I haven't been the best friend to him, that I haven't valued him as much as I should.

Wrong
Recently in English class we read a short story called "The Yellow Wallpaper," by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's a critique of the "rest cure" that was supposed to cure women of their "hysteria." In the story, the lack of mental stimulation drives the "patient" mad.

The story incensed me within the first page and a half with the husband's behaviour. He's horrible and "looks after" his wife in ways that treat her as a child, someone with no mental capacity to make decisions or even offer opinions on her own mental state - not just a child, but a mewling infant!

When we talked about the story in class, a huge divide was evident. Most of the girls saw the author's message about the rest cure and men taking power from women. But many of the boys didn't. Some even defended the husband as a caring man who did his best for his frail wife - even though he ignored her whenever she voiced an opinion! 

As it turns out, the author was herself subjected to this "rest cure" as a young wife, and only saved herself from insanity by leaving her husband and going back to work as a writer. That discovery shut the misogynist comments right up, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, reminding me that even today there is often a huge discrepancy between the reality boys see and the reality girls live in.

Inspired by all these thoughts, I wrote 'Wrong' as a sort of message to my sister. I wish she would be a lot more independent of what she hears, and not look at me like I'm crazy for not listening to all the messages about who I should be as a girl.
 

Anyways, I hope you'll check these two songs out and comment there if you're a fawmer or back here if you're not. Thanks and enjoy the week!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 10 Links for Writers

There are tons of websites and blogs purporting to have the secrets that will make you a bestselling author - or at least teach you how to write a fantastic story. I claim neither of these things. What I can do, however, is direct your attention to some websites and articles that I have found useful and/or neat. Without further ado, I present my top 10 links for writers:


Realism in fantasy...

Three great articles dealing with the practicalities of magic systems, armies, and religions.

http://www.writing-world.com/sf/magic.shtml
http://www.writing-world.com/sf/hordes.shtml
http://inkwellideas.com/worldbuilding/worldbuilding-religion-design


A little help with names...

http://nine.frenchboys.net/index.php - a whole bunch of name generators, tailored to particular genres, species, time periods etc...

http://www.behindthename.com/random/ - will generate a random name based on (potentially very detailed) parameters. Those of you with Scrivener should also check out Scrivener's built-in name generator

http://wordoid.com/ - will generate real-sounding words, for several different flavours of real (so you can build several fantasy languages!)


From start to finish...

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/06/writing-advice-database.html - An organized list of writing advice articles written by Nathan Bransford

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ - Literary agent Janet Reid (aka the Queryshark) accepts query letters and tears them apart. It's a great resource to see how other people have messed up the delicate art of query-letter-writing.

 
Practice makes perfect
 
For day to day practice and motivation, why not join FictionPress.com?

And for longer tests of willpower and creativity, join all the other crazies writing a novel in a month: NaNoWriMo.com


Important Side Note: As of about a week and a half ago, I'm officially on Twitter, as @amethystars, aka Morgan Hyde. If I didn't screw up anything when I was messing with the code, there should also be a Twitter widget to the right of my blog posts now, to tempt you into following me. Please do!


Bonus Link!

I'm just beginning to work through it myself, so I can't testify as to it's efficacy, but Holly Lisle's free plot outline course seems pretty neat so far!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

J'accuse

In my French class this year, we studied "la literature engagée," writing that makes a commentary or a criticism on an issue of the time, often with the goal of provoking change. 

The best piece of writing we read, and indeed possibly one of the best pieces of writing I've ever read, was an open letter commonly known as "J'accuse" (I accuse), written at the end of the 19th century. The author, Émile Zola, was writing to to the president of the French republic, concerning the "Dreyfus Affair" in which an innocent man was condemned to prison due to antisemitism and a lot of negligence.

I read the letter in the original French and I couldn't stop being amazed at the intensity of the author's language, the precision of his diction and how he lays everything out to come perfectly to his conclusions. It's the strongest beat-down ever, in the most polite of terms. I was smiling and laughing as I read it, to the incredulity of my peers. The best part is definitely the last page, a list of accusation after accusation, simple and to the point, followed by an uber-polite closing. If you speak French, I recommend reading it, despite its length. It's available on WikiSource here.

We also listened to a rap song take-off of "J'accuse", which similarly was addressed to the president. The ADHD of the internet generation will probably prefer the song, here on YouTube.

For my final project in the same class I did a presentation based around the question "Did the feminist revolution truly benefit women in France?" My research into this subject made me realize something scary: my belief that society is inherently biased against women is not merely superstition. It's fact. Scary, scary fact. I can only imagine how much worse the situation is for women in minority groups.

I remember one day in art class in middle school, all the kids at my table were arguing about something, I don't remember what. It wasn't going my way, so I asked a new question, whether we should have a matriarchy. The boys would have had us by one vote, but I got my boyfriend to vote with me, since he didn't really know what matriarchy meant and he trusted me. The original argument was then completely forgotten as the rest of the guys began to tease him for his vote.

I laughed then, but now I thinks it's sad. Those boys didn't (and still don't) realize that women and girls have to deal with living in a patriarchy every single day of our lives. Every time we have elections practically, we vote to support that patriarchy, electing leaders from the small demographic of well-to-do older white men. (In the United States, I think the stat is that most federal leaders come from roughly 6% of the population - rich white males with an elite education. But I've lost my source for this, so if anyone comes across it, please let me know).

Here in Ontario, a media-frenzy "honour killings" trial ended recently (the Shafia trial). I kept hearing people from the Muslim community on the radio, arguing that honour killings aren't part of Islam. Other (Christian) commentators kept mentioning the patriarchal nature of Muslim culture - as if Christian culture and indeed all of western society isn't patriarchal as well!

I accuse the world of standing by, complacent, while women everyday, everywhere, are oppressed in silence.


(And I accuse myself of taking myself way too seriously - I just can’t help but rant on this subject.)