Catwoman Vs. Antwoman
By Susan Middaugh
In her movie, Catwoman, Halle Berry looks Amazonian fabulous. Her performance is a working endorsement of kick boxing, tight-fitting leather pants and halter tops.The story line supports the idea that felines are not only her friends, but they also possess magical powers to transform Halle’s timid character into a powerful woman.
My experience as Antwoman was different. Unlike Halle’s feline friend, Midnight, who rescues her from drowning, the small brown ants in my kitchen and bathroom may only be described as pests.
Alone and in groups, the ants crawled across my counters, floor and dining room table. Crawl suggests subservience. These ants were bold. If I sprayed them, many stopped dead in their tracks, but others returned another day. Some have traveled down my arm and up my leg. I felt invaded.
My sister, Tricia, would probably say it was my fault. You could eat off Tricia’s floors. Housekeeping is further down my list of priorities. Once a week is fine, sometimes every two. The occasional dish in the sink, a quick swipe of a sponge tends to be my MO. When I asked Scott, my neighbor, a single dad raising three daughters, if he had ants at his house, he said yes, but they went away after he cleaned up the kitchen after every meal. Oh, I thought. Personal responsibility. If he could do it… A change of habits was in order. Out came the bleach, ammonia, and another can of Raid to spray the back door and yard. Not exactly a 12-step program, but I felt I was making progress. The house was cleaner, but the invasion continued. Where were my weapons of mass destruction?
In Catwoman, Halle fights with her feet. She jumps over rooftops, slides down drain pipes and generally kicks butt. Halle also uses a whip with dramatic effect.To get rid of ants, it’s best to use your fingers to squish the critters one by one, a defensive technique when they stroll across the bathroom sink. After awhile, though, this method had limited effect. The body count was piling up. It was embarrassing to see stacks of what looked like raisins in the corners of my kitchen and on the bathroom shelves. I could sweep them away with a broom, but the ants had cousins.
It was time for desperate measures. I went to the public library, then to a local hardware store in Paradise, a section of Catonsville, Maryland, for my new weapon of choice: boric acid. Halle would have snipped the container with her sharp nails. But I used a scissor and started sprinkling the white powder on the floor of the kitchen, on a ledge above the sink, and in the bathroom. It seems to be working.
I’d like to say Halle was my inspiration to get tough with these intruders. But it was really the ant that hiked across my toothbrush.
Copyright © 2012 Susan Middaugh.
Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.
Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at email@example.com
On and On
By Jacquie Roland
I’ve lived to be older than my mother. My most vivid memories of her are from when she was half the age I am now. Little girl stuff. (Memories are funny things, selective.) I didn’t know her as an old woman because I left home very young, moving to that far off country I had been struggling to get to since leaving her womb, I suppose. It’s what a girl does. What this girl did at least. Lately though, just in the past few years, I see my mother — the woman I remember — half reflected in my car’s side mirror, or a store window. Sometimes she’s just passing by as I gaze out the dusty windows of a bus in a town she’s never been to. It’s her. She’s still the same age she’s ever been. We’ve switched places in some way. She’s much younger than I am now, her hairdo charmingly old fashioned, her clothes much brighter than the ones I wear now, as I prepare for old age. (Or pretend to, at least) How strange. These glimpses of her — and it IS her — have made me realize that somewhere, in years to come, I’ll be seen shopping in another town, walking along a sunny beach, or standing on a street corner, under an awning, perhaps, protected from a sudden spring downpour as YOU go driving by. The windshield wipers will “whick” “whick” “whick” and suddenly, I’ll be there, younger than I am now, brighter . . . no longer grey. I’ll be like her — like my mom — always looking for smiling eyes in the rain. Forever. The woman who brought me into the world before I knew what the world was, has returned in some weird way, perhaps to help me leave as my time draws near. It goes on and on. She taught me that. She’s still teaching me.
Copyright © 2012 Jacquie Roland.
Jacquie Roland is a painter, assemblagest and cartoonist. Her past lives include Art Director, Graphic Designer, actor, jingle writer, playwright, photographer and clown. Lately she has been entering HALLMARK Card Contests. Her two wins so far, both of which were chosen to be sold in stores, are also available on their website. Two other submissions, one poetry, one prose, won a place in the Hallmark book THANKS MOM, which will be published next year.
Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces of up to 1000 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. We have a bias for the lighthearted tone, but good writing is more important. And if need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Isabel Perl
(Click images for larger views.)
The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.
Copyright © 2012 Isabel Perl.
As it happens, two of my favorite cartoonist’s are Roz Chast and William Steig. Here we find them together for — as far as I know — the first time. (And what a team!) I lifted this piece from the “Drawn!,” website (to which you can link from the sidebar on this blog). “Drawn!,” in turn, picked up the item from The Paris Review blog, where it originally appeared on September 1, 2011. (You’ll find a link to Paris Review by tapping Ms. Chast’s name, below.) If you love these two artists, you’ll enjoy — and learn a bunch of interesting stuff — from this short essay.
Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies & Clowns
September 1, 2011 | by Roz Chast
I first noticed William Steig’s covers and cartoons around 1970, when I was a teenager and would page through my parents’ New Yorker magazines. His drawings didn’t look like the rest of the cartoons in the magazine. They didn’t have gag lines. There were no boardrooms, no cocktail parties with people saying witty things to one another. His men and women looked as if they were out of the Past, although I wasn’t completely clear as to what era of the Past they were from. Sometimes the drawings made me laugh, and sometimes they didn’t, but I always wanted to look at them. I had a sense that these cartoons were made by someone who had had to create his own language, both visual and verbal, with which to express his view of the world.
His subjects? Animals, both real and imaginary. Also cowboys, farmers, knights on horseback, damsels in distress, gigantic ladies and teeny-tiny men, grandmas, clowns of indeterminate gender, average joes, families, old couples, young couples, artists, deep thinkers, fools, loners, lovers, and hoboes, among other things.
Steig’s drawings seem to flow effortlessly from his mind to his pen and onto the paper. I doubt he ever looked at a blank sheet and thought, “I have nothing worthwhile to say today,” or “I can’t draw a car as well as Joe Shmoe, so why don’t I crawl back into bed and wait for the day to be over.” Steig gave himself permission to be playful and experimental. One of the many wonderful things about looking at his drawings is their message, especially to his fellow artists: Draw what you love and what interests you. Draw it how you want to draw it. When we are children we do this instinctively. But somewhere in our passage from childhood to adulthood, the ability to be truly and fearlessly creative is often lost. To quote Pablo Picasso, Steig’s favorite artist, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
William Steig produced more than fifty books, from early collections like Small Fry (1944) to children’s books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) and Shrek! (1990), which he wrote and illustrated late in his career. Unlike many artists who find a style early in their lives and then spend the rest of their careers perfecting it, Steig changed his style over the years. His work from the forties and fifties is fairly conventional. In the drawings of his middle years, his style is more angular and geometric. And in his last decades, his line becomes very fluid and playful, and there is an explosion of color, especially in his children’s books.
Steig, who was a follower of Wilhelm Reich, was deeply interested in psychology. Much of his work looks at society from an outsider’s point of view, observing with humor and compassion the compromises we make when we grow up and try to conform to society’s expectations. His earliest collection (and one of my favorites) was About People (1939). Each page contains a drawing representing a different emotional state, with a caption written underneath in his handwriting. Some combinations of drawing and title are fairly obvious, like the man sitting in a chair calmly smoking a cigarette. Behind the chair is a huge octopus with four tentacles wrapped around the man. The caption is simply “Poise.” But some of the drawings are not of people at all. One contains a roughly drawn spiral, and in the center of the spiral is a black blot with a tiny white dot in the middle. The caption is: “Father’s Angry Eye.”
These are not your typical cartoons, and especially not typical of cartooning at the time. They’re offbeat. They’re also about something otherwise intangible: actual emotions.
Steig’s interest in psychology continued with Persistent Faces (1945), which explores a variety of visual types, like the “Hostess,” who has alarmingly twinkly eyes and teeth, and a worried man’s face, captioned “Straw in the Wind.” The Agony in the Kindergarten (1950), which he dedicated to Reich, is filled with drawings of children and accompanying statements like “I need that kid like I need a hole in the head,” and “Stop asking so many questions.” Perhaps Steig’s most famous cartoon of this period is “Mother loved me but she died,” from The Lonely Ones (1942). These demonstrate Steig’s ear for language, and also demonstrate his ability to look at life through a child’s eyes.
Steig was an exceptionally gifted colorist, and he used color in a luminous, instinctive, and expressive way. Even when the goings-on are terrifying, as they often are in Rotten Island (1984)—my favorite of all of his children’s books—they’re never depressing. His dark colors are about a gleeful darkness, the darkness children feel when they know their most trusted adult is going to tell them a spooky story. The color isn’t over-fussed or second-guessed or muddified.
Steig loved pattern. Rugs, sofas, chairs, wallpaper, ladies’ dresses, and men’s shirts were all miniature canvases where he could make up designs—diamonds or flowers or spirals or something that looks like an upside-down banana peel. Even a sky could be patterned with lines or brick-like shapes or decorative cloud puffs.
In the preface to his collection Dreams of Glory (1953), Steig writes, “We can laugh at the pretense and pose and foolishness of an irrational ideology and at the same time feel the pity and love—for a living being—that should be ingredients of all humor.” Sometimes I think of the Cartoon World as a big house with a Magazine Panel Cartoon Wing, a Newspaper Daily Strip Wing, a Graphic Novel Wing, an Underground Comics wing, a Superhero Comics wing, an Animation wing, and lots of other wings I don’t know about yet. Steig’s drawings throw open a bunch of windows and let in some fresh air, for which I am deeply grateful. He saw the world of human beings as absurd, hilarious, terrifying, mystifying, and infinitely worth observing.
Roz Chast’s cartoons have been published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Scientific American, and Mother Jones. Her next book is What I Hate: From A to Z. A longer version of this essay will appear in Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies, & Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig.
Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright
The New York Times, May 26, 1985
I like writing women very much. I have shared the confidences of women more than I have of men. Men are more close-mouthed about their real feelings, whereas women, if the situation is right, open up. It’s exotic for me to write about women, because they are so different.
But it always amazes me — when I get a director I like and who likes the play, he understands everything I mean, where the actor doesn’t. The reason I won’t direct a play is that I will watch what a director does and say, “I never thought of it quite that way.”
I have a number of directors that I work with frequently. I haven’t worked with Mike (Nichols) in a number of years, but I did do four plays with Mike, and I did four plays with Gene Saks and other people. You find someone that you have shorthand battles with — you know, you don’t have to have long discussions about it, because they know what you’re looking for. I don’t like to sit at rehearsals all day long, so I like to feel that I am being well represented.
I was going to say that as good a relationship as you can have with a director, and maybe even having had great success with him, it still depends on the play you’re doing. It’s like casting and acting.
I find that actors relate much more to the director than they do to me. I tend to sit back quietly and occasionally will throw in something to the director — less often to the actor. The actor is to me a peculiar person. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s one I don’t fully understand. They have a much different approach to the material. In the first place, most of the actors that I’ve worked with, they open the script, take the yellow pencil and go through all of their lines — which means to me that that’s what they think the play is about — the yellow lines, their part.
I just have to watch that process, and I see the director able to communicate to them in a way I can’t. I am much more direct in my attitude — if it were up to me, and they said, “How was that?” I would say, “Well, that just stunk. I thought it was really lousy.” I have to say that, because I say it to myself about my own work. It’s hard for me to be diplomatic and hands-off and know how to work with the actors. So I tend to shy away from them.
I’m naive and optimistic enough to think that plays will always be here despite the fact that it’s been a fairly grim season, and we’re losing more and more playwrights to films and to television — places where they’re guaranteed to make money. And the price of tickets makes it so difficult to put on certain kinds of plays that don’t promise to be a big smash hit.
Whenever I go to speak at a school, it’s rarely for the drama class. It’s always for a film class. There are so few drama classes that are interested in the theater. There’ll be about four kids in the group who are interested in plays, but most of them want to know about films. And they all want to direct — the cliché.
This is one in a series that will post on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.
Birds of New York
By Isabel Perl
(Click images for larger views.)
The “Hip Shots” series of Doodlemeister.com photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise being to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method, the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting—a related series that can be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own pictures, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. Meanwhile, click on these images for a larger view, and click the “Hip Shots” tag above for more examples. For another post in the series, tune in next Friday.