What You Always Cut


So yesterday I was talking to my MIT colleague Jane about–you guessed it–writing! I know you were expecting anything else from me, to wit:

  • My plan to join S.H.I.E.L.D. so I can learn to be a badass from Agent Melinda May
  • My cat, Musashi’s, plan to learn to play pingpong soccer like Pele
  • Our joint plan for world domination

It’s true, I have many plans. But mostly when I am not thinking about such things I am thinking about writing. One of the things I thought about quite a lot a while back was how annoying it is especially when I am writing nonfiction (insert loud sucking noise here), it always seems that there is a huge chunk that I end up having to cut before the end. Many writers I have worked with at MIT also experience this and they always want to know how to avoid what appears to be the wasted time of writing and then cutting this stuff.

After a great deal of soul searching, cuz yeah, I apparently write at least in part with my soul, don’t know what that’s about, I finally realized that this part of the process, though it sucks in lo these many ways, is probably unavoidable. But then I think about my mom’s pea soup. See, she always puts a hambone in as it’s cooking. It adds a meaty, smoky flavor that I have never been able to replicate when I have made vegetarian pea soup. But when she serves the soup, she takes the hambone out. I figure that those annoying bits in the writing are like the hambone: they get you, the writer, to the ideas you need to keep but then no longer serve your readers and have to get cut.


That’s my two cents, anyway.

Shipping . . . Sort of


Okay, so I have really got a thing for what Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy call Athena’s Daughters: the just woman warrior as portrayed in our popular culture. Buffy, Xena, Agent May. But as I pointed out when I talked about Tennyson’s Ulysses, one of the things I find most intriguing about these women is the relationships they are in with other women and sometimes with men. Generally, this is less about romance and more about Getting the Job Done, but I find I would love a working relationship (or the other kind) with the kinds of friends these women are portrayed to have. I especially like the chemistry between Agent May and Agent Phil Coulson. Some examples of their dialogue:

Phil Coulson: This is fun, right? Isn’t this fun? Look –
[Holds up his sleeves]
Phil Coulson: Cufflinks!
Melinda May: I will pay you $500 right now for a pair of flats.

Skye: [Hears a noise over the comms] Wait. What was that?
Phil Coulson: Yeah. That’s May.
Skye: Is-is she okay? Is everything okay?
Phil Coulson: Yes. She’s laughing. I think the worst of it’s over now.
Melinda May: [Walks up to Coulson] My face hurts.

Melinda May: Coulson, it’s a solid plan you’ve mapped out, but it hinges on a gamble – a big one.
Phil Coulson: And back up isn’t coming. It’ll be just the four of us. We’ll be outmanned and outgunned. But Fury always said… a man can accomplish anything when he realizes he’s a part of something bigger. A team of people who share that conviction can change the world. So, what do you say? You ready to change the world?
Melinda May: No. I’m ready to kick some ass.
Phil Coulson: That works, too.

Phil Coulson: Go ahead, say it.
Melinda May: I don’t do petty.
Phil Coulson: But you called it. I trusted my gut even though you said she was a risk.
Melinda May: When someone breaks into my house, I usually don’t invite them to stay. But that’s me.
Phil Coulson: That’s me too. Then that alien staff went through my heart.
Melinda May: Sure it didn’t go through the brain?
Phil Coulson: You really don’t do comforting either do you?

Dynamic Duo

a sestina for Agents May and Coulson

If we judge people by the company they keep,

Then what are we to say of you, trusting and calm

Through all of life’s calamities, explosions and

Betrayals? You have beside you someone to call

The shots or take the shot when she must, an agent

Willing to stand between you and whatever may

Come. Such partnerships are rare, not like May-

December, but more August-August. To keep

It going, you must respect each other’s agency,

Take advantage any time there is a brief calm

Before the next storm to rest and roll the dice. Call

Me an optimist, but I think your odds are good and

Solid, your chance to make it through alive and

Well, if not unworn. Who knows? You may

Even save the world for a little while. Your call

In this life, to shield the innocent and keep

The powerful honest, requires above all a calm

Head and a steady hand, like those of Agent

May. She is a rock in a spinning world, an agent’s

Agent, a superhero not in spandex, but in leather and

Aviator sunglasses. We only ever see her in black, calm

As midnight, or silver, hot as the heart of a star. May

Punches, kicks and flips her enemies, but keeps

An enigmatic stare for her friends. You could call

Her Chuang Tzu’s “uncarved block” or call

Her the Cavalry, but you know when you did Agent

May would bring the unvarnished truth to keep

You from getting yourself killed (again), and

Sometimes the truth is discretion…valor. May

Will retreat in good order to come back, calmly

Swinging, the next time. No wonder you’re calm.

With someone by your side you know you can call

Upon, day or night, from September to May

(But not during the summer hiatus when agents

Slumber and actors travel, smile for cameras and

Take long naps). You both know the drill. Keep

Hydrated, calm and poised under pressure: agents

on call, ready when the innocent need Agent Coulson and

Agent May, good friends and badasses playing for keeps.

Susan Spilecki © 2015

Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy, ed. Athenas Daughters: Televisions New Women Warriors. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2003.

A Ming of Beauty


Thinking about heroes and kickass women on the day before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes back to TV from its winter hiatus naturally has made me think of another unusual piece of sheer poetry, the actor Ming Na Wen, who plays Agent Melinda May, also known as The Cavalry. You might recognize Ming Na’s voice from the Mulan movies and her face from The Joy Luck Club and ER, among others. But this gorgeous 51-year-old Chinese-American actor (and martial artist) is now playing the Best Role Ever. She gets to deadpan everybody and then shred the enemies and then say something terse, like, “Wheels up in ten.” And go off to fly the super cool black spy plane that now has cloaking.

Best yet was an episode last semester in which she danced with Clark Gregg and then fought a clone of herself. I have seen some cool martial arts choreography, but this fight totally rocks. She and her stuntwoman must have been EXHAUSTED afterwards, and probably a bit bruised.

Another great fight scene was at the end of the first season, when her casual love interest, fellow SHIELD Agent Grant Ward (played by handsome Brett Dalton) turned out to be a spy for HYDRA, a Nazi-originated secret organization out for, you guessed it, world domination. Thing is, you do NOT betray the Cavalry. She. Will. Waste. You. Possibly with a nailgun, among other things. The following video is a fan tribute video of May’s badassery.

Clearly a poem. Probably free verse.