Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Time to Worship the Goat Skull

"I only ate two meals yesterday, walked three miles, and I gained three pounds? Oh, that’s it. Screw you, science. I’m not listening to you anymore. I’m listening to the goat skull. It lets me eat whatever I want, and it’s thin! It’s my friend. Wise and mighty goat skull, please tell your loyal servant how to get rid of these love handles.

Any time now."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Narration 2, OR, The Accidental Epilogue of the John's Tale

This one's a true story, no assuming ironic voices here - just assuming a Middle English voice. I took this class in Geoffrey Chaucer in college, partially because I thought we were going to find his corpse and huddle inside of it, and partially because he's one of the funniest writers to get admitted to the English canon. Comedy is sorely underrepresented in academia. We worked with a $100 hardcover that contained the original Middle English works of Chaucer, including every scrap of The Canterbury Tales that's excluded from lesser versions. There was no modern translation. We were forwarded to several scholarly websites to listen to clips and practice how the 'y' sounded when it followed an 'r' sound – this confederate consonant had at least four different vowel noises it could make given context. “He” sounded like “Hay,” and 'k' was only a silent letter when you thought it wasn't. You were expected to know how every vowel sounded naturally from the dialects of centuries ago, and to independently research the thousands of outdated words. Otherwise you wouldn't know what you'd just read for class.

This was particularly difficult for me, as I'd been calling him “Chow-sir” for the last decade. I'd even gotten his name wrong, and now we were reading aloud from his works every class, in proper pronunciation. To get even one syllable wrong meant the knowing gazes of your peers and public correction by the professor – a normally wonderful woman who hardened up on the spot, especially if you were still screwing up by Week 7. I was. I was mortified to learn we'd have to read a minimum of ten continuous lines aloud at the end of term, and that it would seriously effect our report.

I knew what I wanted to read, though. The accidental and untitled epilogue to The Pardoner's Tale, when he ended his didactic story and went straight into a sales pitch for fake relics and premium absolution. The “Hoste” got so pissed that he threatened to cut off the Pardoner's testicles and enshrine them in pig crap. Classic literature. The Knight (“Knyght,” or “kin-neecht”) had to step in and keep them from fighting. I loved it because it reminded me of photos of then-President Bill Clinton at Camp David with leaders of Palestine and Israel. He was taller and broader than both of them, and would put his arms around their shoulders, at once as though to make peace and to smilingly threaten to throttle the bastards if they weren't nice. A Jewish friend reproached me for besmirching the best time in Israeli-Palestinian relations. I put an arm around his shoulder.

In classic John Wiswell fashion, I decided to read the whole damned thing – some thirty or forty lines where ten were acceptable. Not that I could read one line properly. But I had to redeem myself – God holpen, to get a Pardon. I returned to the scholarly websites and listened to each vowel and special pronunciation over and over again, then began translating the page from Middle English to phonetic. It took to 1:00 AM, and then I got to practicing, ten lines at a go. I got up early every day that week, and made sure to go to bed late. For an hour I could do anything – play a videogame, watch anime, stare at the clouds, but every five minutes I would have to glance at the phonetic translation and read the first ten lines I saw aloud. By Wednesday I was glancing at the Middle English manuscript and doing the same. By Thursday I was going a little nuts, and started to put personality into the Pardoner, Hoost and Knyght. The Pardoner had showmanship, and the Hoost somehow became a stereotypical Italian. Doing a bad Italian accent in modern English is offensive, but especially at 7:30 AM, a bad Italian accent in a Middle English threat to cut off your testicles is hilarious. To this day I will screech, “shul be shryned in an hogges toord” for no apparent reason.

The brave Knyght sounded a little Russian, though his syllables were technically sound.

I remember three things from my recital. I remember the professor exclaiming, “Oh God!” when she realized I wasn't stopping at the end of the first stanza. I remember my Jewish friend laughing and asking how I'd fit Latin in there. And I remember receiving the only round of applause of anyone the entire semester. One out of three isn't bad. The Knyght was my favorite.

I still love Geoffrey Chaucer. He's undeniably one of the greats in our language, profane beyond belief back before profanity was overdone, and a deep thinker of nuanced characters who could make each of dozens of tales questionable and interpretable. I wrote a modernization of his Monk's Tale, wherein his Monk delivered awful Cliff's Notes versions of classic stories like the fall of Satan and the death of Achilles. Mine took a pick-axe to nearly a hundred pieces of classic literature, from Ovid's Metamorphoses to Kafka's Metamorphosis. The Canterbury Tales was included. It was all to express my deep admiration for Chaucer. I still get his name wrong, though.

Heere is ended The John's Tale.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: TV Show Ideas

-John Wiswell's Celebrity Skiing
-John Wiswell's Celebrity Parachuting
-John Wiswell's Celebrity Shark Hunting
-More Ways John Wiswell Tricks Celebrities into Hurting Themselves
-A well-animated cartoon drama that doesn't rip off anime

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: “Is that the subject of Elizabeth Bishop?” –Jim Lehrer, News Hour

What is the subject matter of a woman? Or of a man? Might a woman’s subject be a man? Or a woman, if she were a lesbian? Or herself, if she were a narcissist? Or might she have more than one subject, if she were a real person like the rest of us, complex beyond words? Ms. Bishop wrote a mere ninety poems in her life, few for a popular poet in our time, yet to have all ninety be preoccupied with the same words or subject would be redundancy on a level beyond even Gertrude Stein’s tolerance. No, couldn’t a poet, shouldn’t a woman have as many subject matters as her mind and soul could absorb? Could not love and loss cohabitate in her synaptic pathways? In her meager (and mighty) ninety compositions, could not patriotism and prejudice, geology and epistemology, the universe and an acorn all be subject matters a mind might say to matter, to truly matter, beyond a trite explanation that they were all related to the same subject, to some holistic subject matter, like a human condition or an everything? Please don’t tell me a woman was interested in everything just for the sake of a little oversimplification of her mental lifetime. It would sell a woman short, and sell everything far shorter.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Narration

Getting me to read Chaucer aloud with proper Middle English pronunciation is like getting Godzilla to follow the traffic laws in Tokyo. He can’t even fit both feet on one side of the double yellow line.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: All That’s Old…

In comparison to the New Age movement, the Old Age movement gets little attention. Everyone’s heard of the New Age infatuation with crystals, healing vibes and postmodern concepts of the divine. The New Agers even have sections in bookstores. The Old Agers? It’s a cruel joke that they share shelf space with the Mythology section. Patrons of the Old Age movement have shaggy hair and crazy beards similar to New Agers, but they wear togas with their Birkenstocks, and that funky smell on them isn’t B.O. It’s slaughtered goats.

These backwards-compatible spiritualists are significantly forward-thinking. They point out that Hera was a pioneer of women’s rights long before Susan B. Anthony or Saint Joan. Regardless, the National Organization of Women has voiced concern over some of the rights they espouse for women (including the primary right “to walk in on their husbands mid-adultery,” also called “The Medea Clause”).

Other organizations are synergizing with the movement. McDonalds intends to market on-site vomitoriums, similar to how they introduced in-door playgrounds. While the Independent Film Channel has denied Old Agers' request to play Jason and the Argonauts during Documentary Month, they say they will invest in more ancient Greek-oriented programming. Old Agers also own significant stock in several “green” energy companies, and are fast at work on channeling the north wind to reduce our need for oil. The Old Agers are very sensitive to our conflicts with the Middle East thanks to something about “the Peloponnesian War.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Quite Human

Their grandmother makes the best snack, a combination of Cheez-Its, herbs and some type of oil. All her grandkids love it every time they visit. Every couple of years one will ask for the recipe, yet they never make them when they go home. Like seasonal dishes, part of the attraction is their rarity (and like seasonal dishes, part of the attraction is someone else doing the work). Her grandkids will miss them when she passes. Her grandkids will miss a lot, and miss these, but won’t realize they miss these and all the moments this snack is connected to until a week after the funeral, when her oldest granddaughter breaks down crying in the supermarket cracker aisle.
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