The Light Missing from Tacitus’ Darkness

Tacitus’ Annals make for a rather depressing read. They tell of wicked person after wicked person, of men and women consumed by lust for pleasure, power, and wealth, caring nothing for what is right. Private murders and murders through false legal cases abound. Those in authority are either corrupted in their own right or so weak, like the emperor Claudius, that they allow others to be the real rulers. Vice and greed seem to be the norm, from the imperial palace through Rome and out to the eastern provinces and subject states. I have recently read of very, very few upstanding figures in Tacitus, and they are far overshadowed by the bad ones. Oh, how fallen, how changed, the Rome of the Annals is from the Rome of Livy’s early History. Where is Horatius now? Where Mucius? Where Cloelia? Where Cincinnatus?

Livy’s history, indeed, has its dark spots as well as its light. His noble, brave, virtuous characters are needed because of base, cowardly, vice-filled actions. To Lucretia there is Sextus Tarquin; Brutus’ own children turn traitor; and I think there are few things more against the Roman honor and ideals than the young men going up into the capitol and leaving their aged and unnecessary fathers behind them to welcome the barbarians. But even in his darkest places, Livy gives us examples of virtue to love and rejoice over as well as examples of vice to abhor. Tacitus’ Rome, on the other hand, seems to be made up only of Tarquins and Tullias.

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Chapter One, Attempt One

You can’t just write a novel once—I can’t, anyways.  It takes a whole lot of removing and rewriting and editing, especially if one wants one’s book to be a decent one.  I wrote almost two whole drafts for Genevieve of Alea, but within that some sections saw more drafts than others.  Chapter One was one of these sections, counting four drafts altogether.  This is Chapter One, Draft One, written over April 14-22 of 2016.  Some of it is surprisingly good, surprisingly to me anyways.  You’ll notice that some of the book blurb is from this.  However, it’s also very bad!  I’ll just note that my heroine does now enjoy dancing; and that I would rather you read the final Chapter One to decide if you want to read this, than the other way around.

My great grandmothers are named Isabella, Eleanor, Dawn and Rapunzel – but you might know them better as Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and, well, Rapunzel. Also, my Grandma Bianca is Snow White, and Grandma Adeline and my mother were the beauties of ten kingdoms. That honor now belongs to my eldest sister. All these fairytale heroines in my family may not seem like a bad deal at first glance, but all that princess-ness creates expectation that the daughters of the royal house will live up to their foremothers. It’s not like they’re long gone legends of centuries past, either – all of them are still alive, and have aged very well. In fact, they are all remarkably beautiful elderly ladies with personalities to be reckoned with. The lovely-princess expectation is not limited to a vague and indirect ‘society’; my mother and father, and grandmothers and grandfathers, and great grandmothers and grandfathers, and even my four sisters, all expect each of us young princesses to be models of royal perfection. I’m the only one left out in the cold.

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Genevieve of Alea, Chapter One

All I wanted for my seventeenth birthday was to go out riding by myself.  That was all.  No big party, no ball, no jewels, no stuffed peacock, no obscure manuscript.  Well, that was because I knew that my grandfather had collected all the obscure manuscripts there were to collect.  Still, the point remains.  I didn’t want anything fancy for my birthday.  Nothing outrageous.  It wouldn’t even require any effort from anybody else.  All it would take would be for me to go down to the kitchen, early in the morning, armed with my father’s approval, and get some food.  The cook’s fetching bread and cheese for me would be the climax of other people’s involvement.  Then I’d go out to the stable, get my horse, groom her, put her saddle on, and ride off.  I wouldn’t even trouble a groom.  So effort was not an objection.

No, objections were made about propriety and safety.  Which I thought—and said—was ridiculous.  After all, I was seventeen, or would be by the time I was taking a ride on my birthday.  True, I was a girl, and a princess, but that wasn’t nearly as important as everyone in the world except me seemed to think it was.  To my knowledge, not a band of robbers, not a pack of wolves, not an assassin, had done anything very notable in Alea for at least twenty years.  And that was a lifetime!  My lifetime, anyway.

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Fireworks Proclamation: Genevieve of Alea is Published!

Dear friends and family:

Maybe, in the last two and a half years, you’ve asked me “What are you working on?” or “What do you like to do?”

If you have, I’ve probably said something like “Well, I’m trying to write a book…” after which which I would try to explain what it was about with varying levels of detail, clarity, and awkwardness.

But now, I get to tell you: it’s done!  After two and a half years, four grades, two drafts, something over 150,000 words,  and much writing growth, it’s done.  (About the 150,000—don’t worry, the final book is under 67,000 words)

It’s done, and it’s published—I chose to self-publish through Amazon, so now you can get Genevieve of Alea either for Kindle or in paperback.

Here’s the official blurb:

She would rather read than sew, ride a horse than look in a mirror, and quote old poetry than new gossip.  Jenny is a princess who loves the idea of adventure—and adventure, it seems, just might be the present she gets for her seventeenth birthday.

Forty ells of black scales
Cut men off from telling tales.
Wings of iron, claws of steel,
Make wounds none can heal.
Eyes of fire full of ire,
A snake’s tongue with poison hung,
A heart of hate that governs fate,
Spines of horn, laugh of scorn,
Fire breath and iron teeth,
The dragon will be brought by Death.

Jenny has always longed for adventure—but can she handle as much adventure as the mysterious message will bring her?

Thank you all so much for all your love and encouragement throughout this long adventure!  Whether you’ve given me a few encouraging words or read one of the story’s iterations, all of your kindness has really helped me reach this point.

How to Memorize Shakespeare: Part 2

This post is part of a series on memorizing Shakespeare.  Last week, we talked about getting ready to memorize—how to understand what Shakespeare means and how to pronounce it.  Next week, we’ll discuss practicing Shakespeare and getting ready to perform.

At this point, you should have read your part over aloud a few times, and you should have a fair idea of what it means.  Now it’s time to memorize!

Memorizing conversation

The main thing here is speaking aloud and repetition, plus repetition and repetition.

Let’s imagine that you want to memorize Hamlet’s part in Hamlet I.ii.  Your first few lines will come in this chunk of dialogue:

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How to Memorize Shakespeare: Part 1

I love Shakespeare: I love reading Shakespeare, I love hearing Shakespeare, I love watching Shakespeare, I love costuming Shakespeare, and I love performing Shakespeare.  And I know I’m not alone in this—Shakespeare’s work is eminently delightful to tongue and ear, and a great deal of fun to try to bring to life.  Before you can perform, however, you need to memorize.  And memorizing Shakespeare can seem very daunting!

If you do it right, though, memorizing Shakespeare can be interesting and enjoyable.  I’ve memorized several hundred lines of Shakespeare, and in this series of posts I’ll share some pointers on how to memorize both conversations and monologues.

This week’s post is about how to understand Shakespeare and get ready to memorize it.  Part 2 will be about memorizing the lines, from dialogue to monologue.

Read and understand

You can’t do a good job performing what you don’t understand.  Part of your job as an actor is to interpret the play, to come before your audience with the words and show their meaning.  Shakespeare is quite often confusing.  However, when the lines are well delivered, the actor can help the audience to understand what they mean.  Besides, though it’s possible to memorize by rote without knowing what you’re talking about, you’ll have a much better—and more entertaining—time if you understand what your lines mean!

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Arius, Smoke, and The Cave

On Thursday morning, there was a great deal of smoke in the air—so much smoke that when the sun rose, we could look at it. Not just when the sun’s edge was a golden gem on the horizon, glittering through the trees: when it was half an hour up, we could still look at it, like a dull red light in the grey sky. It was small, strangely and almost frighteningly small, when it was revealed to be only the apparent size of the moon.

But it reminded me of the physiological impossibility Plato describes in the Allegory of the Cave. In this allegory, Plato tells of a people trapped inside a cave, able to see only shadows on the cave’s wall. One of these prisoners is freed, and forced to turn so that he can see the fire and puppets which were making the shadows. At first, though, he is dazzled by the fire, and does not believe that the puppets are half so real as the shadows he has known all his life. Yet despite his resistance, he is brought up out of the cave and into the daylight. Gradually, he is able to see the things of the upper world; shadows first, later things in moonlight, and at last the sunlit world. Then, says Plato,

Last of all, he would be able to look at the Sun and contemplate its nature, not as it appears when reflected in water or any alien medium, but as it is itself in its own domain.

Plato, The Republic, Book VII, trans. Francis MacDonald Cornford
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Motion-Picture Illustrations

According to my mother, there are people who think that, because they have seen the Narnia movies, they do not need to read the books. They know what happened. After all, it’s not as if the White Witch wins in the book, or a major good character dies. Mrs. Beaver does come out better by a sewing machine in the book—but that sort of thing hardly seems important enough to change that once you have watched the movie, you don’t really need to read the book.

Viewing this as very untrue, my brother and I have the opposite problem. While recently watching the movie versions of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we have never quite suspended our criticism: I think it is part of our Vanderpol Family Pride and the way that we consider ourselves as seeing books. Throughout both movies, we have been commenting to each other, our eyes often meeting as we both react to the same egregious incident—‘That’s not the way it really happened!’ ‘What are the Death Eaters doing? They can’t fly without broomsticks!’ ‘It wasn’t like that!’ ‘The Witch’s castle isn’t that close to the Beavers’ house!’ ‘Peter wouldn’t say that!’ ‘It wasn’t Cho—that was completely unnecessary!’ ‘That definitely—did—not—happen in the book!’ ‘They skipped good stuff there!’ ‘Not polar bears!’

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St. Thomas Aquinas to the Rescue!

Grandpa Gary recently found a newspaper article which he thought might interest me, an article about an essay contest sponsored by the Nevada County Bar Association.  The annual contest is open to all Nevada County high school students.   This year’s topic is the separation of powers as framework for freedom, with an emphasis on party affairs. They gave some questions to consider, and on Monday (that being the due date), I set to work on some brainstorming.  The prompt page gave some questions to guide essay development, and I tried writing down a short answer to each.  When I came back after doing math, there seemed to be most promise in the question about whether our political muddle would be assuaged by reallocating senators based on population.

Eliminating the electoral college or reallocating senators by population would decidedly not help. If we did this, the states wouldn’t all be as represented. The large states would be in control of all the government, leaving the small states with little say. Whatever parties were dominant in them would have the power—it wouldn’t really matter what parties were dominant in small states like Rhode Island.

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Concerning Jugurtha, King of Numidia

During the Second Punic War, there was an African king called Masinissa. This king aided the Romans, and when Scipio Africanus had subdued Carthage he allowed Masinissa to add a large part of Africa to his kingdom, Numidia. Masinissa grew old and died, and his son, Micipsa, became king. Micipsa had two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, and a nephew, Jugurtha. Though Jugurtha was older than the princes, he was reared with them. Growing into manhood, Sallust writes, he was endowed “with physical strength, a handsome person, but above all with a vigorous intellect.” Racing with his fellows, “although he surpassed them all in renown, he nevertheless won the love of all.” In hunting, “he distinguished himself greatly, but spoke little of his own exploits.” Seeing how much the people loved Jugurtha, the king grew to fear for his own sons. As Numidia now needed to aid Rome with wars in Spain, Micipsa decided to send Jugurtha as the leader of the Numidian force. In Spain, Jugurtha would probably “fall a victim either to a desire to display his valor or to the ruthless foe.”

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