[FICTION] Wishing for a Squirrel

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*FICTION*

Wishing for a Squirrel

I was reviewing proposals for final papers. Although in reality I was staring at the tree outside my window praying that a squirrel that had been playing on it last week would come back and distract me again. I guess I was already distracted. Michelle wafted in, clear voice a half step ahead of her long skirt.

“Just look at what they’ve done, Andrea! Can you believe it?!” She shoved a sky blue blouse in my face.

It took me a moment to adjust to just what the hell she was talking about. My brain had just been marinading in British Empiricism, juxtaposed by the wish that one of Mother Nature’s whimsies would take me away from all of this and now there was a discolored sleeve held up before me in offense. I looked at Michelle, hoping for just a little more assistance in orienting myself to this new circumstance.

“The dry cleaner! Look what they did! Ugh!” Michelle ran her fingers over the discolored spot.

Reassurances that everything is going to be okay are not my specialty, especially when the person who seems to need reassuring is not done losing her shit.

“I should sue them, don’t you think?” Michelle slammed the blouse down on the desk, hard enough to make the flowers in a narrow vase next to my laptop shift and the water swish somewhat worryingly.

“Uhm…” was as far as I got before I heard a knocking on my door. A student. A student with something on his mind, if the agitated rhythm was anything to go by. Another faculty member would have knocked twice and called my name before coming in. Or like Michelle, simply made herself known upon entering my office.

The agitated knock repeated itself and then the knob was tried. When found unlocked the door was opened. It was a young man from Western Enlightenment. Anthony– Anthony, something.

“I’m sorry, Dr Falconer, I know you have your office hours right now and I don’t have an appointment but I was hoping I could talk with you for a little bit. It’s just that I have a proposal for my paper but I’m not sure how to review it. I mean, here it is,” his verbal cascade not slowing one bit as he thrust a stapled set of printed papers at me, “and I have a conclusion on it and everything, but I just think that I don’t know if I have everything summed up just right because I feel like I could keep on going deeper and I’m not sure how to stop, you know?”

Anthony took a moment to catch his breath and look between Michelle and me. He inclined his head to Michelle, “Dr. Klein.”

She smiled but Anthony took a deep breath and continued on before she could greet him. “So I’m just trying to figure out how to really give this paper some scope. I thought investigating natural rights versus human rights would be a good place to start but I keep thinking about the Declaration and how we can’t pin down ‘inalienable rights’ from the natural world when the natural world didn’t come with any language. And if that’s the case then it also carries forward that the concept of ‘American’ is invented, and if that’s so then isn’t it arbitrary when our laws would apply, and do they apply to someone who is in the country but not an American and/or should they apply to someone who is American but not in the country? For instance, if I travel to France and break into a store and rob them, theft is against the law, but why would it only apply if I rob an American or American holdings? And why wouldn’t America’s laws that benefit us, like Freedom of Speech, benefit people in America who aren’t citizens? And if I drill down into that idea I find that country borders are also invented. After all, isn’t a border only what is held by concensus and physical might? I mean, the Native Americans weren’t unified and thinking this is ‘their land’ but once it was taken away then they recognized that, and even we’ve recognized that we ‘took’ the land from them and that means that there was a sense of possession in there somehow, and if I drill down into that it means that the whole concept of possession is also invented. Like that computer on your desk is yours and if I took off with it that would be theft, but we only have that idea if we have the idea of possession, but isn’t annexing basically taking something away from someone else and claiming it for yourself and being able to hold onto it? It’s like jumping a claim in the Old West and then shooting anyone who comes to take back and then, therefore, it was just accepted that now it was yours. So how can we say that owning something means anything, or claiming identity is anything but assuming an invented label? Why can’t I say that I’m Irish, then, when I feel a lot of affinity for the Irish people but I have no genetic relationship to them and I’ve never even been to Ireland. I mean who can say that deep down inside I’m enough like an Irish person that forbidding me from claiming that identity doesn’t become a cruel limitation to my self-identity. What am I taking away from anyone else? What impact does it have on the world if I include this affinity in my self-identity?”

Through his speech Anthony had gripped the chair opposite my desk with a tighter and tighter fist, knuckles losing all color. The color evidently went to his face, as his words had come faster, more frantically, his nose and cheeks had become pink and then red and now a burnished rust was spreading to his chin and outward over his ears. Arms were stiff and shaking, and when Anthony paused to suck in another breath I could see his legs were about to buckle. My guess was the boy hadn’t slept in at least two days. It was anyone’s guess as to how long it had been since he had a proper conversation with anyone.

“It’s just that, that,” he sounded frustrated. “There isn’t a natural trend toward justice or morality, is there? We didn’t naturally come to human rights, to equal rights, we came to them from out of some human invention and recognition for their need. So how can it be that we were endowed with them? And even if we look at it through the assumption that there is no God then aren’t we in even more trouble when we try to justify the reality of a moral universe, a just world that requires equal regard for every man, woman and child? Even if we skip that part and just begin with the premise that everyone can grasp treating each other with dignity and therefore we understand the possibility of refusing to do so as a failure of character, whether or not we call it a sin or a crime, even if we do that, today we have expanding human rights in our country for gay people but narrowing of the same in other countries. And yet we can’t say we understand humanity better when we have corporate personhood, particularly when corporations are allowed the benefits of the Bill of Rights but suffer none of the limitations, the way an *actual* human would. So if we say that a corporation can be a person, but not a human, why is it that human American is limited but a corporate American is not? Is that Jefferson meant? And even if it wasn’t, does that matter? I mean, never mind jurisprudence, isn’t a corporation an invention, just like a country’s border? I was born, as any human was. Doesn’t that mean something for whatever is inalienable to me? I mean… I mean…”

And there Anthony’s left leg wavered and he fell to a knee. A hand on the carpet, he coughed and spit. His breath gone, his voice continued in a soft wheeze, “I’m not sure they get it out there, Dr Falconer, money is something that has value only because we say it does. It isn’t real. It’s the same for countries. It’s the same for laws. In the end might is the only thing that really makes any difference but I would hate to live in a world where that was true. Don’t you think so, Dr Falconer?” His voice shook terribly. “Dr…?”

Michelle tried to smile sympathetically and glanced at me.

I sighed and called over my shoulder, “Katie! Katie, could you come in here, please.”

After a moment the side door in my office opened and my assistant came in. At the sight of the distressed student she put a hand on her hip and clucked her tongue. “Not another one.”

She didn’t wait for instruction, she simply stepped forward and hauled the sophomore to his feet. “Come on, let’s go get some coffee and talk it out.” She practically dragged him out to her office where there was a coffeemaker and small refrigerator.

Door closed Michelle blinked at me. “Does that happen often?”

I drew in a breath and let it out slowly. From the clock on my computer screen I still had 45 minutes left to my office hour. “Every semester there’s at least one.”

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Author’s note: This is what people who haven’t studied Kant or Hume sound like to me.

Rather Loud Music Sampler Pack Part 1: Industrial

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A few days ago I got into a conversation with a friend about industrial music when he asked me more or less how to define the sound and what artistic themes run through it. I get the feeling that frequently people who don’t have a lot of familiarity with this rougher side of rock music tend to assume that Nine Inch Nails and maybe some of the louder rock groups (Metallica, Slipknot) can be filed under industrial. The problem is that while Nine Inch Nails (NIN) definitely includes sounds pioneered by industrial groups, thinking this is what constitutes industrial music skips the experimentation fundamental to the musical movement.

(This is a short playlist I put together on Grooveshark. Of the 11 tracks only three are what I would call industrial. You can have this playing in the background as you read…or not. I’ll also include YouTube videos for these tracks (and hope they don’t get pulled) at relevant sections.)

Before I go much further I want to qualify this and hopefully future posts. I want to offer some education on the different kinds of music found at this edge of the spectrum, but this is hardly exhaustive. I’m not an educated musicologist, really just a talkative fan with a lot of time on her hands. I’m offering only an introductory look and focusing on a very small sampling of what is available. Also, I’m a bit sloppy about nomenclature. I do want to explain the difference between industrial and heavy metal, but I see very little reason to expound on when and how industrial became post-industrial. So if you’re reading this wondering why I left out your favorite Industrial Records or Wax Trax! (RIP) group in favor of some major label upstart it’s just because this is meant to explain the artistic themes of the sound as a whole. I don’t want this to be a retrospective of industrial music and its offshoots, plenty of people have already done that and probably better than I could.

Now, having said that I should give respect where respect is due. The whole category began when the English group Throbbing Gristle needed to put out their music somehow and other labels had no idea what to do with their sound. So they started Industrial Records.

 (This Throbbing Gristle track is not on the playlist.)

So, if you’re new to the idea of industrial music and you find this more or less unlistenable, know that Throbbing Gristle started doing their thing in 1975, when all this noise probably sounded louder and more confounding to ears used to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. While the punk sound was starting to take root in the late 70s (which a lot of music’s gatekeepers also found completely unlistenable), the wall-to-wall noise that came from indistinguishable sources was almost less startling than the intentionally garbled vocals deliberately set in juxtaposition any possible harmony the backing instruments might present.

Obsessively exploring the prurient and violent impulses in humanity didn’t start with Throbbing Gristle, of course. But they established the musical territory.

In a way, industrial was the sound of stagnation and decay in the midst of plenty. It came out of the first world, the Western side of Europe in the midst of the Cold War. The primary players were first out of England and soon also coming from West Germany (West Berlin, to be exact) and America (notably experimentalists Boyd Rice from San Diego and Frank Zappa from Los Angeles). Neo-futurism and fashion’s avant garde had gone by in the 1960s along with the explosion of rock n roll and the sexual revolution. What was left now was a bit of a hangover, not only socially, but economically as England suffered from recession and turmoil leading to underemployment.

The sense of fumbling around without direction, of losing ground economically and the only reprieve coming from vice may be recognizable to anyone who has been poor while living in a rich country. (ahem) Furthermore the theme of disconnectedness, whether from the natural world or from each other persists through industrial music, once noted as “industrial music for industrial people.”

For those who know the rudiments of industrial music, there is a distinctly Germanic feel to it. Something stompy-booted, with the precision of a well oiled machine. A large, grinding, brutal machine. Einstürzende Neubauten, for example, have been one of the standard bearers for industrial music for over 30 years. Their experiments had them building instruments out of scrap metal and intentionally organizing or sampling noise into harmonies that frequently mimic mechanical or technological sounds.

Even though they were formed in West Berlin, there was always something of the oppressive to them, a feeling that I find resonates with the Künstlerplakate of East Germany. Where often times West German artists felt overwhelmed by the race toward the future, as sold to them by various consumer products advertisers, East Germans typically struggled to express themselves free of censorship by government apparatchiks.

From the press release for the exhibit linked above: “Künstlerplakate function both as advertisements for cultural events and works of art in their own right, with most printed either by or in the presence of the artist. Limiting the editions to less than 100 copies, painters, sculptors, and graphic artists were, for the most part, able to bypass strict GDR censorship boards. While painting—with its associations of bourgeois conspicuous consumption―was discouraged by Communist officials, printmaking and graphic design―with their emphasis on reproducibility and visual communication―were encouraged. Artists’ posters thus provided a potent vehicle for individual expression and experimentation.

On both sides of the Wall, however, artists challenged the mainstays and assumptions of art, knocking down rules wherever they encountered them, then writing new ones and knocking them down as well. One of the posters at the exhibit linked above (the fifth one down) that really caught my eye is by Volker Baumgart. I liked that it throws a post-modern monkey-wrench at photography.

Band as Performance Group

The challenges to arts establishments have proceeded throughout the career of Einstürzende Neubauten. Early on they were sponsored by arts institutes and played in venues explicitly for the arts, such as for Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts’ 300th anniversary in 1992. Of course, Einstürzende Neubauten weren’t the first musical group that created live shows that looked like performance art – Throbbing Gristle came out of the performance group COUM Transmissions, after all.

Canada’s Skinny Puppy have cultivated a completely electronic sound and use audio samples extensively. Their stage shows favor horror themes with Nivek Ogre typically dumping stage blood on himself. Unlike shock rockers, whether Ozzy Osborne or Marilyn Manson, these performances aren’t with a wink to juvenile perversity but with a drive to investigate the danger and immediacy of life and instinct. Skinny Puppy have also been known for their politics on animal rights, drug use, torture and the environment and have consistently expressed these positions from the stage.

The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, Ilya Kabakov, 1981-1988

Their musical M.O. reminds me of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the ideals behind bludgeoning the audience’s senses until the raw subconscious is exposed. Skinny Puppy have assembled their sound through heavily sampling from movies and audio tapes, distortion and “found sounds.” The music comes from such a variety of places it becomes like an aural mixed media piece of post-modern art.

 

Now it may be all well and good that there is noisy experimental music in the world. But what the heck can you do with it besides let it occupy your ears? Maybe, like any good art, there is nothing much you’re supposed to do with it, just let it reside in you. But hey, it’s music. Even if there’s no dancing to it, it’d be nice if you could at least nod your head and tap your toe to it, right?

The answer, my friend, is rivethead. Well okay, if you want to be picky, a Rivet Head is the person who dresses up in fancy vinyl gear and steel-toed boots on six inch platforms to go to a club and dance/stomp around to electro-industrial rock (or, depending on how picky you are, EBM (electronic body music)).

Former DJ Rudy Ratzinger of Munich began making his own music in 1991 under the name :wumpscut:. It quickly found a home in goth clubs that appealed to the sensibility for morbidity and decay. This eminently danceable music simply married techno with industrial; the samples are clean and layered but still favor minor keys and a threatening ambiance. :wumpscut: made industrial music slightly more accessible by fitting it to a somewhat more typical rock structure.

Ratzinger may have set aside some of the experimental aspects of industrial in order to smooth up the sound until it shone like form fitting of PVC pants, but the end result is a crashing sound mixed with samples from horror movies, set to hard pulsing beat. Just right for the clubset adrift in multiple media interfaces – watching movies on game consoles, listening to music streamed over computers and playing games on their smart phones.

 

…next time we’ll get into some prog rock.

Never Explain, Never Apologize

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A woman tries to hide her anger from a man who could determine the fate of her family.  Another woman loves her husband perhaps too much, and takes his vices on, perhaps too deeply.  Another woman suffers under her cruel husband but fights herself to keep from showing her fear and pain.  Another woman travels the world while unknowingly carrying a desire so mighty she can’t see it or say it until some uncontrollable grace forces her to recognize it.

The world of SEX & GOD is entirely internal.  It is truer than true.

The narrative of the lives of four working class women of Glasgow, Scotland over the course of the 20th century works at  level beyond the first person.  They allow us to see through their eyes, but their words do not explain their circumstances.  Rather, the words illuminate the world, the material, the emotional and the spiritual.

From Sex & God at Son of Semele Ensemble

From Sex & God at Son of Semele Ensemble (l-r, Sarah Rosenberg, Melina Bielefelt, Hilletje Bashew)

It’s a world that’s rarely ever shown.  And when we’ve seen it, it has come by way of explanation, perhaps an apology for why women may seem so mercurial, mysterious, etc.  But not here, not this time, not under Linda McLean’s pen.

More than one audience member has left the show confused as to the order of events and the specific details.  And I know very well just how hard the work was to decide exactly what each woman was experiencing externally.  The only clues we have are the words that come from women under duress – or ecstasy – words spawned to fill in an immediacy that doesn’t have action or environment, cause or effect, only feeling.

As I said, it illuminates, it doesn’t explain.

The illumination is unrelenting.  It flows without slowing for any stragglers, and it certainly never entertains making an apology.

Think about the descriptions of stories of working class men, their broiling anger, the great stress they face to provide for their families, the abuses of power they suffer and the destructive escapes they undertake.  The women of these stories are unseen, or mysterious…  or called “strong” and never studied any closer than that.

Over and over what we’ve heard is that the woman’s experience is to be borne, preferably with quiet dignity and definitely without complaint.  A woman who accomplishes anything notable is admired because she rose above the challenges implicit in being a woman.  But when have the basic, grueling, violent challenges of the working class life been notable for women?

There is a consistent elegance to SEX & GOD that is not forced or sought, even while a woman is beaten or raped, or when economic instability puts her in a crucible or when war touches her life, and there is grievance aplenty even when solace is taken in religious communion, addiction is indulged, education is sought or exotic experience displaces heartbreak.

The experience of this play can be agitating and troubling.  It is not easy to digest, but when should the truth of any person’s life be soothing?

Separated by a Common Language

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She says something to me and her face looks kind.  She’s trying to help me – us – though we didn’t seek it.  But I don’t quite understand and without realizing it I just smile and nod and back up a bit.  A companion is with me and he has the same cognitive disconnect.  She looks between us, polite smile fading, and says (perfectly clearly) in her lilting brogue, “do you not speak English?”

For that brief moment when I cannot speak English I feel keenly my alien-ness, the solid fact that we are lost in a foreign country.  But then other companions step up and assure her that we do speak English and she explains how to get back to the Water of Leith Shore.

Up to that point everything about being in the UK that was different was delightful – money with the queen on it, cars driving on the left side of the road, the legal drinking age, bobbies, haggis, lifts, knapsacks and hundreds – if not thousands – of years of human history under our feet.  For days we let ourselves think we were walking through a funny looking glass where things worked only slightly differently from what we were used to.

Now, no one will ever accuse me of looking Scottish (although my dad would be highly amused), but as a kid in Southern California I did go to the Highland Games and other Scottish cultural festivals in the area.  For heaven’s sake, when I was in high school we put on the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON.  My dad has a certain appreciation for the Scottish character and he used to tell me stories about the “Ladies from Hades,” Scottish regiments marching boldly into battle, bagpipes wailing.  Many of my classmates, neighbors and fellow church parishioners could have been taken for being of Scottish descent.

And so it was when I happened to tour the UK and ended up in a bank lobby trying to make sense of a bus map while it rained outside.

I’m now safely home in Southern California and hunting down tidbits of life in 20th century Scotland.  Overwhelmingly this is over the Internet because the questions I have don’t work in the vertical direction that books typically do, but at cross sections, threading different facts together to understand how religious, economic and social factors would affect a particular character in a time and place.  It’s difficult and at times incredibly frustrating because history tries to leave Scotland in the 19th century and insists that modern American history is all that I need to know about the 20th century.  Any other place should simply be considered as a variant to America….

Even as my research went along for the first chunk of considering the play I didn’t realize that that assumption was in the back of my mind.  I can separate out the much older history as a fascinating story of a people from long ago – Robert the Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath – from modern life.  If an event is well in the past it belongs to people quite unlike me.  But the life that happens now, to people who look like my friends and who speak a language that (despite occasional difficulties) I speak as well, must therefore be somewhat similar to mine.  When that assumption proves unfounded and I can only take the facts as they present themselves, without orienting them relative to facts about myself and my world, it’s then that I feel I am really learning something new.

It’s the same feeling that I get when I really listen, very, very carefully to men talk about themselves.  But it’s only when they’re being as honest and vulnerable as they rarely get.  We understand machismo, we understand self-reliance…we’ve seen it every second of every day.  It’s as intrinsic to thinking “man” as it is to think “fellow wearing a plaid skirt” when we think “Scot.”  But when I finally have the insight to what might be under the bravado the point of view is disorienting to me, and therefore fascinating.

But it requires listening, really, really listening.  It takes removing every ounce of my own ego, every expectation that I might have to in order to hear what someone else is truly saying about his or her experiences, and not merely hear how their life might vary from mine.  I do love exploring people’s lives in other times and places.  I have a continual hunger to learn how other people do what they do, why and where they end up.  But I let myself think I know that we have enough in common; when that commonality is taken from me receiving a foreign culture and point of view is no longer reflexive assumption but an active observation.

It’s not a variation from the American lifestyle that today a child in Scotland has approximately the same chance of being born to an unwed mother as to a married one.  American births are only at a quarter unwed-to-wed mothers.  Maybe in another generation that will become 50%, but who knows really.  Scottish women aren’t living a variant of American priorities, they are making their own choices in their own society in a time known as “now.”

Linda McLean‘s play Sex & God is entirely concerned with women living their lives over the course of the 20th century in Glasgow, Scotland.  The details of their life and times are intrinsic and barely worth the mention as they proceed through their experiences…and yet it’s those prosaic details that make their lives so different from what I know.  We know the proud, strong Scotsmen, we know the tartans and bagpipes, we may know the factories and mines, the economic difficulties… but we don’t necessarily know how the women lived.  How it affected how they loved and what work they did, we don’t know their internal lives, their thoughts, their spirituality, their motivations.

So it is that my mind is turned again to this far away land that has people much like you and me living their daily lives.  And so it is I feel like I’m relearning how to speak English.

Sex & God plays with Lamentations of the Pelvis for an evening of theatre called WOMAN PARTS.  Opens at Son of Semele Ensemble on Saturday 26 April, running Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and some Mondays.

[essay] The Tiger Behind the Fence: Introduction

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You’re out in the yard and movement past the fence catches your eye. Something is on the other side, you tell yourself. An animal, large, fur rippling in jagged orange and black patterns. You can only see it through the interstices between the slats so you can either see a leg and paw, or musclebound torso, or a section of tail. You start to think it could be a tiger. Bengal. You’d know for sure if you saw its face. And you think with a start that you do not want to see the face of an adult Bengal tiger staring back at you between the slats of a wooden backyard fence.

But even if you see the face you haven’t seen the whole tiger. You have put together the parts you’ve seen and filled in the gaps with educated guesswork and constructed a theory for a tiger. Think about that. There are parts you haven’t seen – fangs, claws, a killer instinct – but you are certain they are there. You don’t even think of them separately, they are part and parcel of the thing we call tiger. There’s no such thing as a tiger without fangs and claws, right? So if that creature really is a tiger you have to assume it comes fully equipped.

Basically, you believe in things unseen because they fill in the gaps between the things you can see. That which we perceive must necessarily be filtered through what we think we know and how we see the world. It’s how we identify animals, it’s how a mess of vocalizations becomes speech, it’s how we recognize patterns even when sections are slightly modified or missing entirely. Sure, sometimes we’re wrong. Sometimes what we thought was a real tiger was just an amazing throw rug recent from the wash and left hanging outside to dry.

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Korean Spa to Walla, and Dallas to Dallas, with a layover in the kitchen; and what I learned there.

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If I put together all the voice over that I did this year that wasn’t in a class, it would probably take three or four, maybe five days.  Maybe six, when counting email, the Web site, business cards, etc.  But the last professional thing I got done this year, before holidays and overeating killed all forward movement, was a walla session.  So I am doing stuff.

I just need to do more.

It’s been a hell of a year, huh?  I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been figuratively booted in the head at least once in the last 12 months, and plenty of us were still reeling from previous sucker punches from life.

I knew it would be trouble from the moment I decided to stop stage managing FOOTE NOTES through yet another extension. It sucked up my January and I really wanted to get going on my goals…  The problem immediately manifested as how was I doing to get anything done without any structure to my days.  To say nothing of the added chaos that comes with living with someone who is schizophrenic.

Though, the truth is I did start to get somewhere. And it started on my last day at FOOTE NOTES.  (The two one-acts were located in a small town outside of Dallas.)  After several good-bye whiskeys and hugs to the cast, I met M and we went to a spa in Koreatown.  I’d never been so I had a few minutes to get used to the idea that the “co-ed” section one wore the facility-provided uniform of t-shirt and shorts, making it look like a bus station overflowing with Korean tourists to Disneyland, and in the women-only section one wore only one’s birthday suit.

I’ll skip over the details – which I remember keenly – and get to what I’ve taken with me.  And it’s that I’m enough and there’s nothing really wrong with my body.  And if I change it’s just a change.  In the years to come I’m going to lose as much as I could possibly gain when it comes to physical looks, and the point of that is it doesn’t mean jack when I’m laying down on hot clay marbles and my mind is wandering while impossibly insane Korean TV shows are playing in the background.  From the tiny little naked girls chasing each other around to the old grannies pushing walkers and letting it all hang out, we’re all here.  It’s all good.

The last trip to Dallas was aboard DALLAS NON-STOP, stage managing with a tiny bit of voice over thrown in for shits and giggles. I’ve always loved theatre for the chance to see the world through different eyes and this was something new and different still.  It was all located in the Philippines and imagined and realized by Filipinos and Filipino-Americans… and as much as it reflexively touched on the realities of Filipino life and culture, it was situated so that it looked squarely back at America.  I found I was looking at my own country and my own (Western) culture through their eyes.  Quite a heady experience.

Layovers are such a pain in the ass.  Enough time to not know what to do with yourself, not enough time to really go find an adventure.  That’s what it felt like this summer.  True, I was hitting a patch of depression by late spring, so I was forced to get up and take care of things when my mom had surgery.  Nothing else was getting me to productivity.  But some two-three months of pretending to be mom, cooking and cleaning, etc, at the same time that mom was around being mom and no one else was helping it out…  It just put on pause any attempts to work for myself while I couldn’t do anything to get away and relax.

And at the end of all that? My sister moved in and I started sharing my bedroom with my niece.  Hey, I love these people, even my asshole schizophrenic brother, but this house is ready to pop.  I was staying up until the wee hours before simply from being nocturnal, but as I tried to rearrange my life so I could get life moving in a more productive direction, I was starting to make good on getting some decent sleep during the night.  Now I’m back to nearly fully nocturnal because it’s the only time I can hear myself think.  This is the hardest part.  Making the life I’m aiming for work while the place I live in is slightly completely crazy.

At the least I have awesome friends who are generous with their resources.  S let me crash at her house while I worked on DALLAS and on a few occasions I got some recording done there.  It maybe that I have to do all my recording there.  It’s still not a studio, but it’s far calmer than my house.

Those are just the places I landed.  Spots where my feet touched the ground and I saw clearly what I was trying to get done, whether I was close to or far from my goals.  I coasted over fitness & weight loss, sometimes going to the gym regularly, and sometimes taking a month or more off.  I skimmed some Japanese without serious demands that I improve and commit more to the long-term memory banks.  I’m trying not to get too frustrated about these.  They’re important to me but I can have only one No 1 goal.

Walla is a term for the chatter produced when a group of people in a sound booth fill in the background conversation for scenes on TV or movies.  I can’t get into detail about the ones I’ve done, but I can say it’s a fun exercise in semi-free form improv.  Anyhow, I like that someone thought of me and called me in.  Next up: getting someone to think of me and pay me to come in.

A List of Books

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Books that permanently altered my brain-workings:

Borderlands/La Frontera

 

I didn’t know I could have this kind of relationship with my culture and race. A mix of poetry and essays, first hand stories, dreams, hallucinations, bilingual and unrepentantly anarchic, this book left me shuddering, breathless and in hysterical ecstasy.

 

 

Alice in Wonderland

 

One of those instances where the movie (the 1950s Disney version) was so amazing I didn’t hesitate to crack open the dusty tome on my dad’s shelf. Not that dust on a book ever stopped me. I love Wonderland, I love pulling out the stops on the imaginative, I love tossing expectations on their ear and I *LOVE* celebrating unbirthdays!

 

A Wrinkle in Time

 

Like a gateway drug, Madeline L’Engle got me on the road to fantasy and scifi when I read WRINKLE in third grade. (‘Course I also read THE HOBBIT that year so…) I went on to read everything else of hers that I could get my hands on and I came to love the entire Time Quintet. But there can be only one shattering, one first time venturing into the truths beyond reality.

 

The Three Musketeers

 

I like my buckles well swashed, thank you. By far the best movie adaptation was the one that starred Gene Kelly, accept no substitutes. Seriously, there’s been about a dozen versions, and most of them are crap. (Notably not crap just goofy, the Mexican version that starred Cantinflas!) Even Kelly’s elided a lot of the more *ahem* sexier parts. But this fits my occasional need for high adventure that is totally reckless, irresponsible and amoral (or even immoral – have you guys read this thing?!). As to the book – translation matters a lot if you’re not up for 18th century French. I highly recommend this version by Jacques Le Clerq.

Sandman

 

Sometimes I feel like I hold onto The Sandman series so tightly because of all the pop-love for these graphic novels. Even if I hadn’t stumbled over them in the mid-90s I would have had to read them just to understand what everyone was talking about. The truth is, these are some fantastic stories told with a flavor that definitely works for me (a mopey central character? a gothy big sister? gods acting like children? YES please) In a way Sandman is more a realization of Things I Dig in Stories that have their seeds in other works on this list, so it doesn’t always feel like it has the personal weight. But it’s one of my favorites that is also a favorite with tons of other people. It’s nice to have one of those.

The Passion

 

It can get tough to find the hardcore *good* writing as an adult. I mean I can enjoy a great story (HARRY POTTER series) or appreciate clear-eyed reportage (LOAVES AND FISHES), but a really intense story told in a take-no-prisoners righteous prose… that’s something that has to get pushed into my hands. I really just can’t say enough good things about Winterson’s writing. The story alone is daring, but I started reading long sections of this book out loud just for the pleasure of having the words in my mouth – and this was years before I would be assigned reading aloud on a daily basis! Read this freaking book! I need more people to talk with about it.

The Catcher in the Rye

 

Like what I assume must be most Americans, I read CATCHER when it was assigned in high school. But it was one of the very few that came with a lot of hype that wasn’t a specialized girls-in-the-period-of-petticoats type of literature. I knew I was supposed to like it before I read it and so I was cautious. Maybe even cynical. But then the fucking thing got me. Somehow, I don’t really know where exactly, but it got through and it got me. What I remember is the last section was very moving. There was something of a whisper or rumor of light at the end things. Hope is too strong a sensation, maybe more like the possibility of accord.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

 

The second time I read R&G it was as an assignment my senior year of high school. I had read it the year before when an older student pointed it out and thought I’d like it. I loved the fucking hell out of it. I love it still, but with a little tempering that comes from thinking about something for a good 20 years straight. It’s actually hard at this point to recall what it was like to encounter this sort of weird metafiction-y existentialism for the first time. At this point I just call it my mind. This *points* is how my brain works now. (The Stoppard-directed movie starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth is Darned Good Stuff, taking just the right liberties, cutting out what you can only do in a theatre and bringing in what you can only do in a film. }:>)

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

 

I read about the first third of this book in one night. I had just moved and my apartment was in shambles, I read with a battery powered lamp, in a nest of blankets on the carpet. It was Christmas Eve, it was the only present I allowed myself to open and it exploded my brain all over the place. I tried to be friendly and happy the next day with the family etc, but I just wanted to get back to my book. It’s… I can’t even… There’s just nothing like it. I wish more people would read this so we could talk about it! It both is and isn’t about the end of the world, it’s about thinking and it’s about being… augh! Read it!!

El laberinto de la soledad

 

Okay, so here I’m singling out the essay “Máscaras mexicanas” from the collection titled El laberinto de la soledad, by Mexican poet and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. I haven’t read all of LABYRINTH OF SOLITUDE, but other sections I have read have been pretty dang strong, so it’s going to happen one of these days. Anyway, I read “Máscaras” as an assignment in high school and it really gave me a strong reference for looking at my ethnicity and the part of my culture that I didn’t see in mass media. 2G kids of Mexicans really, really would get a lot out of reading this, I think.

Kabuki

 

If we could construct madness as a contained thing, to be suffered along the way to greater enlightenment, then this is what it looks and feels like. A passage through darkness, with assaults to everything we think we know coming from all dimensions. This is not a real mental disorder, that doesn’t bring wisdom only psychosis, but it’s the sort of deeply troubling crisis that profound questioning can bring. There are pitfalls every inch of the way and freedom from the darkness is not at all assured. These comments are specifically about “Metamorphosis” as I haven’t actually read the entire run of KABUKI; earlier novels were also intriguing, but none fucked me up quite like #5.

This list of books was originally posted to facebook as part of the meme of “10 books that have stayed with you.”  I’ve copied it all over here because there is actual archiving here (kind of), so I can pull up this entry whenever I like.  Obviously, there are more than 10 entries but not all are books…  The instructions for creating the list said something about not thinking much about it, but the fact is that I’ve been moved a lot by just little bits here and there, articles and essays and reflections.  But these books (mostly) have been powerful from cover to cover.

I kinda want to step over to my bookshelves and pull them down now….

Staged Truths

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I have to spend a lot of time as a stage manager as little more than a glorified time keeper.  That’s during rehearsal.  My work is really before and after rehearsal – and I do what it takes to make performances go.

Luckily, my reward for sitting still for four hours at a time, six days a week, is a little bit of cash and a front row seat to watching talented actors give performances that only the director otherwise gets to see.  And I don’t have to sweat having an opinion.  I just get to sit back and watch.

I get to observe humans twisting themselves into emotional pretzels to find out what they’re trying to bring to light.  I see the successes and failures and the amazing, illuminating truths in between.

Actors do this emotional heavy lifting, over and over, on a scale unlike any other.  I find the work fascinating, as much to observe as to do myself.

Obviously, I’m someone who is capable of watching something over and over again.  I know people who insist they find that impossible.  I only find it unpleasant when the show itself is not to my taste.  But when the show is good I can watch it repeatedly until the cows come home.  Or the run finally ends, whichever comes first.

There’s a lot to stage managing that’s a bear, and I’ve dealt with actors who are a handful.  But I’m glad whenever I realize I get to watch an artist I like go to work.  Not many other jobs like this that I can think of.

Thanks, talented actors, for bringing it.

The Thing as It’s Become: CIVILIZATION

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At Son of Semele Ensemble we’ve just put the play CIVILIZATION by Jason Grote into production.  The thing it’s pretty much entirely about is my life and yours too. (Also, I was the dramaturg.)

Through the last few entries I’ve been leading to a point of trying to explain the sensation of balancing my life on the toes of one foot.  My safe ground has fallen away until now there’s just a patch under me where I can be without feeling like I’m imposing on other people.  I feel hemmed in, compromised and stressed out.

And there’s nothing really special about me.  All around me, every where I go, people are getting squeezed in much the same way.  I don’t have to work hard to find people stressed out by bills, unable to get ahead in their careers, unable to find full time work, unable to get to a point where they can take a full, unencumbered breath and stand on two feet like a fully realized human being.

Even as a society we look around and easily people who have it worse than we do.  We’re not in a war zone, we’re not living in the midst of toxic material (actually, we created that toxic material, most of the time), our strife is nothing like slavery or institutionalized sexual exploitation or a lack of access to education or mass censorship.  We can learn whatever we want, say whatever we want, say yes or say no to sex whenever we want and in theory merit is the only thing that lands or limits employment – not race or creed or gender….

And yet.  And yet… and yet it’s so fucking hard.  how?  Why?  What the hell happened that got all this chaos going, and not in the ordered way of society that we were told we’d get back when we were in school?

We ask those questions and self-appointed authorities try to step in and explain it all.  They promise pathways out.  They claim they’ll teach us how to anticipate things that could go wrong.  Or tell us who or what is to blame.  (We really like that last one.)

But in actuality the questions are rhetorical.  It doesn’t matter how we got here, or it doesn’t matter that much.  Because asking that question betrays the longing for things to “go back to normal.”  And that is never going to happen.

What the thing is, the thing IS.  More importantly, the course of events aren’t going to slow down and wishing they would go in reverse is so ridiculous it’s almost insane.

KAREN: Do you ever feel like you’re made for something different than everyone else.

DAVID: Everyone feels that way.  That’s why life is so disappointing.

But when we’re upset – okay, when I’m upset – childish reactions are to be expected.  I pout and blame others and ask unhelpful questions like “WHYYYY??” and complain about life being unfair.

Our civilization seems to be made of supposed adults running around not at all sure how things got to be like this and holding on to the deep seated feeling that it’s not supposed to be this hard.

CIVILIZATION is a terrific look at life this very minute, on the last patch of ground we feel we can own.  We’re all losing our balance in real time.  Our civilization is falling apart and the only good thing about it is that we’re now allowed to make up whatever the heck we want about what is next.

Floundering, Drowning Life

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I was trying to stop crying.  But that just made it all worse.  God, trying to cry quietly just sucks.

Even when I’m doing things I like (theatre, voice acting), there’s still biding shadows in the back of my mind.  I can rather forget that they’re there.  I can even get so that I forget what it’s like and end up criticizing other anxiety-ridden depressives like a normal, non-messed up person.  The thing I can’t forget, ever, is that stress really brings on the bad brain.

When I’m okay it just pisses me off because it kills so much of my time and energy.  On an okay bout like this one, I lose maybe a day.  But I’ve lost months if not years barely able to get out of bed.

I’ve got *so much* that I want and need to get done that laying about, staring off into space ends up feeling like a cosmic insult I’m giving myself, after all the other abuse I’ve already laid on me.

Everything I’m good at, everything I want more of, is totally crippled – I can’t think creatively, I can’t tune into good art or other people’s feelings.  Every effort feels hobbled; productivity slows way down, assuming I can get anything done at all.  And I feel like every single thought has a giant boulder that it has to go around in order to come together in the real world.

There’s no real reason to tread all this ground – Allie Brosh already did the job spot on.  I mean, the line “No, see, I don’t necessarily want to KILL myself…I just want to become dead somehow” is perfect (and in context, hugely funny).  But maybe only folks who know what depression is like can get that, and everyone who doesn’t know it should count their damned blessings.

What’s on my mind is two things:  The difficulty of trying to build a life at the same time that stress triggers anxiety and depression.  As well as the frustration and pain that comes when a bad episode gets written off as angst, to say nothing of being accused of attention whoring while getting slapped around by self-hatred.

Whatever I do with my life, no matter where I go or what company I keep, this disorder hangs around.  If I’ve got an episode going then all of my measurements for situations between people are completely distorted.  Clear thoughts are almost impossible, and even when I think I’ve got one, I rarely actually do.

After decades of measuring myself and whatever I create, all I can say is… I dunno.  Am I good at anything?  I dunno.  Am I smart?  I dunno.  Am I talented?  I dunno. Is what I made any good?  I don’t know.  I can only go by what other people say because when I rely on my native judgment, folks and I regularly part ways.

Can there be more frustrating conditions for trying to make a go at creating art for a living?

But like I said, that’s all a part of my life.  I make art because I have to.  I’m to the theatre like the ocean is to water.  And I’ve found voice acting spurs everything I like bringing into the world.  It’s stressful making these happen as my body of work.  And of course all the rest of life – sharing living space and getting dinner on the table and finding the time to be alone and paying bills and dodging debt and just trying to keep even more things from breaking…  All of it piles on the stress until something finally breaks my last resolve to push on and all I can do is choke and gulp and wipe my face before anyone notices I’ve been crying.

I’m not sure what the hell else I’m supposed to say for myself when these are the circumstances through which I view the world.  But… I think… I think, I’m a pretty good actor.  Maybe.

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Title was taken from one of the poems in Birthday Letters, written by Ted Hughes, better known as Mr Sylvia Plath (to whom the poem was addressed).

“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give.”

Rough to read, but you know who really doesn’t want that “strange glitter?”  The person who’s too fucking depressed to swim to shore.

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