Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sign the Card

I’m not a fan of birthdays.  The ones I tend to remember most clearly are the let-downs, the disappointments, the elevated expectations of the milestones (16, 18, 21, 30) and how the reality just didn’t match up.

More than that, birthdays just feel strange to me.  Perhaps it’s to do with the longer I spend as an artist; every year people are recognized and rewarded for something specific they accomplished during the previous year (or, more likely, they spent years building a venture that culminated into a finalized form during the previous year).  Not everybody gets the trophy, but the few who do have earned it.  And the few who do aren’t publicized for an entire day, they’re publicized for 30 seconds, given another 60 to say thank you then they get out of the way for the 27 other people also being recognized for their accomplishments this year.

Expecting other people to celebrate my birthday feels like being handed an award I didn’t earn.  I didn’t do anything different or special that day, it’s just my turn.  Everybody gets one. 

Perhaps the best birthday in my life was followed up by perhaps the worst.  Six years ago I celebrated my last birthday before I moved to Chicago.  I knew it was my last in Dallas, and so did everyone else, so it was more than a celebration of the day – it was a celebration of our friendship.  I had worked with these people for nine years, and two or three dozen people came out (many of whom wouldn’t have otherwise) specifically because I was going to be leaving in a few months.  Of course I wasn’t close with all of them, but nonetheless there was great mutual affection, and a precious few made a special effort to make me feel good to simply be in their company.

A year later I turned 30 in Chicago, and I made big plans.  I owned a grill and lived 300 feet from the lake.  I filled a grocery basket with food and booze and invited the 30 or so people I worked with for the previous eight months to come celebrate the milestone with me.

Of the thirty I invited, eight showed up.  Of those eight, only four stayed for more than half an hour.  Of those for, only two of them knew one another, so the other two felt a bit isolated and out of place and rapidly things got quietly awkward and I grew quietly homesick.  The people Back Home who meant the most to me sent me a message, but it was a pale shadow to substitute for their company.

Strangely, the following year was even MORE of a letdown when Facebook started advertising birthdays.  For about half the day I felt good when the messages started coming in.  Then I started getting messages from people I hardly knew, whom I had barely met, but we worked in the same office and had a conversation once and then became Facebook friends then never talked again, but here you are wishing me happy birthday…

…and I came to realize they were just signing the card.  In some workplace scenarios, the person at work you’re closest to buys a card and passes it around.  Your friends will sign it.  Other people sign it because they’ll feel like an ass if they don’t, and you know that because you know how many times you signed a card, not because you were friends with the person, or even knew who they were exactly, but because you’d feel like an ass if you didn’t.

Facebook birthdays feel just like that, only I’m the one who bought the card and passed it around for everyone to sign.  I just feel dirty.

I don’t mind people knowing my birthdate or how old I am.  I’ve been physically injured too many times to let my literal age make me “feel old.”  But every year, during my birth month, I remove the date from my profile.  There are people who know, or remember, and those are the birthday wishes that make me feel special.  This year I was wished a happy birthday by about a dozen people who know and like me well enough to say so, and that made me feel better than the wishes of 200 people I might have met once.  Or less.

And thanks to my Lady Love, this birthday was easily the best one I’ve had since I left Dallas.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dirty Laundry

Sometimes the consequences of finding a thing are greater than the consequences of losing a thing.

It was many years ago now that a particular relationship ended for me.  It hadn’t lasted long, but long enough that she’d stayed the night on a few occasions.  Sometimes she’d leave a piece of clothing behind, and I’d put it in with my laundry and set it aside for her so she’d have something clean to change into for the next time she stayed over unexpectedly.  So naturally, when we broke up, she came over to pick up her things on her way to work.

I do remember that it was a Wednesday, because one of my dearest friends and I used to spend every Wednesday together.  I was grateful for the company, because I knew my ex was planning to come over that day and I needed a friendly distraction from the awkwardness.  The anticipation was uncomfortable, but it was readily dulled with whatever Anime series we were plowing through at the time.

In my hope to make the handoff as rapid as possible I’d bundled the few items – a t-shirt, one or two pairs of socks, one pair of underwear – into a single wrapped object, and tucked it so nothing would come loose.  There was a knock at the door, a quick “Hey there, here ya go,” and she was gone in less time than it takes to deliver a pizza.  It was in the awkward stage of more than anything wanting her to stay, and more than anything needing her to leave.

Brief as the exchange was, I was still reeling when my phone rang ten minutes later.  Caller ID told me it was her, and I immediately started planning my responses to the things I’d hoped she’d say.  Probably it was something she couldn’t say while my friend could overhear.  Something about how she missed me, that giving these things back seemed too final and maybe she didn’t want it to be over after all.  Maybe she wanted to plan to meet for lunch, or dinner, or to hang out after work because a clean break was just too much to handle at once.  Lost in my hopes of what she might say, I squeaked out a weak, “Hello,” wholly unprepared and flattened by what she did say.

“These are not my panties.”

Not, “I want you back.”  Not, “Thanks for my stuff.”  Not even, “Hello,” or even a more casual, “Hey there.”  These are not my panties.

I forgot how to breathe.  I didn’t understand how this could be possible.  I had certainly entertained no other company who had removed her underwear in my apartment; there was simply no one else they could have belonged to. 

“Whuh…what?” I managed.

“These panties.  Are not mine.”

She had a history of fucking with me.  Was she fucking with me?  Was this a prank to throw me off guard?  I realized I hadn’t spoken.  My stunned silence was precisely how I would have responded had I been horribly, horribly guilty.  I needed to say something, and now.

“Yuh . . . yeah they are.” 

“No.  They’re not.”  I’ve never heard such calm intensity in a voice before.  It could have sliced raw meat.

Whatever conversation followed lives in a blur of confused near apologies mixed with utter bafflement.  She had to get off the phone and start work, so she hung up before I could get anywhere near a conclusion as to what had happened.

Over the next couple of hours I finally realized what must have been the case.  This apartment was the first place I’d lived that had a community laundry area.  I was in the habit of checking the washer and dryer to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind, but I had always taken it for granted the person before me had done the same.  I ultimately had the conversation with her that explained my theory, but it was absolutely one of those times in life where one is totally innocent and looks horrendously guilty.

I’ve no idea whether she finally believed me, or simply pretended to and moved on.  We’re still friendly to this day, and she’s never thrown that occasion back in my face, so it doesn’t affect me either way.

Except now I always remember to check the washer and dryer before just as carefully as after.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

World's Finest

Emmitt Smith, known for the time he spent as a member of America’s Team,  has the world’s most rushing yards.  When he first hit this record he got some criticism from people who complained that the only reason he beat the previous record was because he didn’t retire as early as other men.  They were missing the larger point – he didn’t retire.  He stayed in until he broke the damn record. 

If you know nothing of architecture or engineering you could suppose the same is true with a building.  You want the tallest building?  Then keep building!  You’re upset that it’s not the tallest building?  Put more building on top of that building, if that’s what’s important to you.

The building they’re building at One World Trade Center is being bragged about for all the wrong reasons.  In fact, everything they DO brag about highlights everything that it’s not.

The building is trying to raise its 408ft spire, but that spire sours the accomplishment of the 1,368 feet of actual building.  They wanted the whole structure to be 1,776 feet, fine, we dig a bit of symbolism.  But the enormity of the spire makes it look like we couldn’t actually build anything that high, so we’re holding up a long stick to make up the difference.  It’s like that kid in class who really wanted to be called on, so he held up his pencil by the tip of its eraser in hopes of getting noticed, only to be trumped by the douchebag next to him who did the same fucking thing with his ruler.

The current boasts are that it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere – but wasn’t the point to make the height symbolic?  It shouldn’t matter whether it’s the tallest.  It may not even be the tallest, because the spire raises an issue of what you should measure and where you should measure from, which makes it neigh impossible to ignore the parallels of phallic worship.  Every red-blooded American man did, at some point in his life, hold a ruler up to his business and had a moment of hesitation when he couldn’t figure out where to start the ruler.  (If you’re a woman reading this, please turn to the man nearest you and ask what that means.  Even if you already know.  His reaction will probably be awesome.)

Supposing the spire officially counts in the total height of the building, are we really proud of having the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere?  Are we bragging that we can build shit taller than Bolivia?  By pointing out it’s the tallest in the Western Hemisphere you’re just highlighting that it’s the tallest building ever as long as you don’t count the places where there are bigger ones.  In that case, fine, Chicago is home to the two largest buildings in Chicago.

Yes, it’s a tremendous feat of engineering, but that’s not why it should be celebrated.  We didn’t build this because someone knocked over our Legos.  It wasn’t our architectural standards that were being attacked.  Nearly a dozen years ago, a new generation had reason to answer the question “Where were you that day?”  The last time a tragedy hit us that hard as a nation was nearly forty years earlier.  Visual coverage then was relatively minimal, so the events of November 1963 aren’t as viscerally remembered, nor can they be so vicariously revisited unto further generations and lived anew.  This was bigger.  This was harder.  This scared us in a way we’d only been theoretically scared before.  When the shit was still raining down that morning we didn’t know when or if it was over yet.  Maybe this was just stage one, a distraction from the next thing.  Colorado high school football teams loaded up their pickup trucks and headed off to the mountains in case the Commies paratrooped their way in through Mexico. 

In the long run it didn’t just take lives, it took our unity.  It made us fight each other over the best way to respond, widening the gulf between those of us who had difficulty agreeing with each other in the first place.  To this day the people with the loudest voices are the ones who are subjugating and de-humanizing anyone with a passing resemblance to the people who attacked us that day.

Building the tallest tower doesn’t replace what we lost.  It won’t revisit the better angels of our nature who have since became demons.  Indeed, the whole enterprise has become rather anticlimactic.  Two wars were started, then screwed up to the point that everyone in that administration has been nothing but a punch line.  It’s been two years since we got the guy who was ultimately responsible.  So now, nearly a dozen years later, we almost have a tower which may or may not be allowed to be considered the symbolic height paralleling the founding of our country.

In any case it’s still a year away from opening, and it’s kind of an afterthought, like the guy who gets insulted at a party and doesn’t think up a really good comeback until three days later when it suddenly hits him on his lunch break, but now no one could possibly give a shit.

We responded to that day in a lot of ways.  In the minority are the ways which resulted in creation rather than destruction.  Hopefully the legacy of One World Trade Center will be less about what it literally is and how it measures against unrelated projects with unrelated purposes and more about what it means to build ourselves back up instead of tearing something else down.

Also, let’s also be glad it’s no longer called the “Freedom Tower.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Enemy's Gate

 
This piece was originally written - and performed - for The Paper Machete at The Green Mill Tavern on April 6, 2013.

videoIf you’re excited about seeing Ender’s Game when it gets released in theatres this November, your long-awaited elevated dopamine levels may be blinding you from every reason it’s set up to disappoint you.  The two most (admittedly subjective) positive qualities are the casting of (holy shit) Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, the latter of which fans of the novel will recognize as a something of a spoiler right out of the gate. 

If you’re planning to see Ender’s Game, chances are you’ve been waiting for it since before George Lucas consistently and repeatedly started disappointing fanboys with altered special editions of his original work, contrived prequels to force-feed us into believing those stories were compatible with the originals, and then altered the altered special edition originals to be compatible with material he came up for the prequels with twenty years later.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just do a quick Google search for “Boba Fett’s Voice”, “Anakin’s Ghost,” and “Han Shot First”.  That’ll get you started.

If you DO know what I’m talking about, you’re either pissed off or an apologist.  Either way, you’re prepared for the same level of shoehorned storylines and revisionist history you might not have noticed within the “Enderverse”.

To date, Ender’s Game is one of fifteen novels that function as sequels, spin-offs, sequels to the spin-offs, prequels, interquels, and midquels to the original story, some of which are still in development nearly thirty years later.  And when Card changes his mind about how the story unfolds, he changes the source material along with it.  In the afterward of the 2008 novel Ender in Exile, Card admits an inconsistency with how Ender’s Game ends, complete with justification: “Why should I be stuck now with decisions carelessly made twenty-four years ago? What I've written since is right; those contradictory but unimportant details in the original novel are wrong.  Therefore I have rewritten chapter 15 of Ender's Game, and at some future date there will be an edition of the novel that includes the revised chapter.”

Sound familiar?  Consider what someone recently said about Lucas: “A few years ago George Lucas made and ate a sandwich. To this day he's still throwing pepper and mayonnaise down his throat to 'improve' it.”

Sometimes the changes are more subtle.  The first copy I read of this book was bought from a used bookstore in about 1997.  I don’t know when that copy was published, but the most striking memory for me was use of the N-word (once, in one scene).  The way it was used and laughed off was stunning, because I believed Card was portraying a world that had evolved to a level of enlightenment beyond racism.  That our social evolution was moving forward in tandem with our technological evolution.  It turns out that’s not exactly what Card intended at all, but my point is in later publications the word was omitted, and thus the scene altered, and thus the point lost.

It may be you don’t give a shit about storytellers changing their stories.  It happens.  And when the story switches mediums, you recognize it’s the same story told by a different storyteller; just like when you and your significant other describe last Valentine’s Day.  If you’re going to care about this movie at all, then much like The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you have to be prepared for two things.  One:  it’s not going to be just like the book, and two: people are going to be complaining incessantly that it’s not just like the book.

But if none of that bothers you, consider this.

Spend enough time enjoying art made by a particular artist, and sooner or later you’ll come to discover their biography as well as the facet(s) through which they view the world.  Within music and poetry this breakdown can be rather obvious, and if a musician takes flak for a controversial opinion, it’s not uncommon for him to cry “satire” and pretend he really meant the opposite of what he said. 

But a novelist will always write through the voice of a character, so it takes greater time and determination to discover the values, beliefs, and opinions of your favorite writer.  Read enough Stephen King, for example, and it’s safe to assume he’s personally familiar with substance abuse, infidelity, and has a fondness for radio serials of the pre-television era.  Read enough Neil Gaiman and you come to believe he’s actually from another dimension.

Some novelists make it easy on you.  Orson Scott Card tends to have main characters with similar values, temperaments,  and familial relationships.  They’re kind souls with big hearts, boundless determination, and so vanilla you could choke.  But Uncle Orson makes it easy on you to find his viewpoints, because he’s written freely available essays as well.  One shoots down the recording industry claiming they’ve been screwing recording artists harder than pirates ever have, and another calls JK Rowling “a pretentious, puffed-up coward. When I have a gay character in my fiction, I say so right in the book. I don’t wait until after it has had all its initial sales to mention it.”

And that’s why it feels like such a betrayal when, in 2009, he joined the board of directors for the National Organization for Marriage, which is exactly what it sounds like it is, which is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization providing “organized opposition to same-sex marriage… …to impact state and local politics in a coordinated and sustained fashion.”

This is no accidental association, like signing an on-line petition and getting 37 emails a day from MoveOn.org.  He’s on the board of goddamn directors.  The site has a page of Marriage Talking Points which provides paragraphs to memorize and recite when someone asks you one of the Frequently Asked Questions like “What’s the harm from SSM?” , “Why do we need a constitutional amendment?”, and “Are you saying gays cannot be good parents?” 

Whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage certainly we can come together and recognize that this organization doesn’t teach people how to think for themselves, but rather how to perform half of a script without reflection or introspection.

If seeing this movie scratches an itch, go into it with eyes open.  The supreme court is supposed to rule on same-sex marriage several months before the release, so Card’s personal views and organization affiliations may not even matter by then.

But there’s no fucking way those kids are only five years old.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Mystery Guest, Sign In Please

I've been wondering this for months.

There's a statistic count that comes with www.blogger.com that shows traffic sources.  I can view who looked at my blog using what operating system, or web browser, or country.

The bulk of my readers are American.  I assume they're all my personal friends, as I myself am American.

Two people in Canada read my blog.  I've met them.

Three people in England read my blog.  I can only think of three people I know who live in England, and I've met them, too.

Sometimes I get hits from Slavic nations, like Ukraine.  On rare occasion there have even been hits from Russia, and I have myself BEEN to Russia and made some friends there.

Some of my hits are coincident with unusual reference sites, which (when I visit them) are obviously spam sites.  When I visit them my virus detection software flares up more alarms than my mother did on prom my night.

But there is one source that kind of boggles me.

It is a country.  I have never been to this country.  I don't recall meeting anyone who speaks its dominant language.  I don't know if I know anyone who has ever been there.  Yet nearly every time I post a post there is one reader who is supposedly reading my blog from this particular European nation.  Every time I post a new post, there is one - and only one - attribution to this particular country.  When I view the all-time breakdown views by country, your country comes in at #2 behind the USA.  In the last 24 hours, you've nearly doubled your viewings of my blog.

I see this statistic, and I ponder:  Who are you?  Have we met?  How did you discover my writing?  Is it a matter of an IP address being misattributed?

And I wonder whether I actually want to know, or would I rather keep the mystery alive? 

So I proffer this plan.

Contact me.  Tell me any amount of information you wish to tell me.  If you can read this post, you have access to my email and my phone number.  Send me a message, and tell me which country you're from, and - pretty please - how you found me.

If you send an email, put the title of this post in the subject line.  Also, do include in which country you live for verification's sake.  I have other plans to prove it's you, and we'll get to those as time permits.

But really, for the record . . . I love the idea of having a conversation with a stranger.  Especially one who seems to enjoy my writing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Laws, Sausages, and Porn

Two things you never want to see get made are laws and sausages.  Yet we consent to someone doing our dirty work for these things because – even though we may have different definitions of this – everyone loves a version of civil justice or some tasty, tasty pizza, even in their cheapest possible versions.  Maybe you wanna spend an afternoon sucking down Papa John’s during a Judge Judy marathon.  Go for it!  But at least have the decency to peek behind the curtain and see who’s pulling what in order to satisfy you.

For example, last week the reactionary reality-TV version of pornography called Girls Gone Wild declared bankruptcy after running for 15 years, and frankly, that’s surprising.  Not surprising that they went bankrupt, mind you, because who the hell pays for porn anymore?  People quit buying newspapers around 2008 thanks to the internet.  And now the preponderance of internet subscribers have speeds fast enough to make full use of free resources like RedTube, XTube, ExtremeTube,  YouPorn, PornHub, PornMD, SpankWire and Peeperz, just to name a few.  Yet Ironically, the existence of these entities seems to have nothing to do with the reason GGW founder Joe Francis took the company into Chapter 11.

Rather; the hand trying to flush this turd comes in the form of lawsuit after lawsuit, the biggest ones coming from Steve Wynn, a multi-billionaire Las Vegas hotel and casino owner.   There’s been some back and forth as to allegations of unpaid multi-million dollar gambling debts, but the real victories have come in the form of slander suits Wynn filed against Francis for talking about angry emails supposedly sent by Wynn.

Francis claims to fear for his life when he was emailed a death threat written "In all caps, and then exclamation points – like a crazy person's e-mail”.  He then tried to give credence to this claim by invoking the name of Quincy Jones as a witness to the message.

First of all Mr. Francis, you seem to have no concept of what it’s like to argue on the internet.  If someone threatens, as you claim, to hit you in the back of the head with a shovel and have you buried in the middle of the desert, caps lock and exclamation points are not the dividing line between crazy and rational. 

Second;  there’s already a generation of people who know to call bullshit when you say something like, “No really, don’t take my word for it, Quincy Jones saw it, he’ll vouch for me.”  It’s an email.  All you had to do was print the email.

Finally; heads up, jackass.  You’ve been raking in millions of dollars exploiting the knee-jerk, drunken reactions of people’s sisters, nieces, and daughters since 1997.  If you’re trying to give the impression that this is your first death threat, you’re as ignorant as you are evil.

Now – why evil?  Aren’t the people in these videos consenting adults, whether explicit or implied?  Don’t they know what they’re getting into, and isn’t it their fault for making a bad decision on the spot?

Consider this; one woman, Tamara Favazza, with her full knowledge and consent was dancing in front of a Girls Gone Wild camera crew.  While being filmed, a member of the crew lifted up Tamara’s shirt while Tamara could be seen mouthing the word “No.”  The video was published and sold anyway.  She sued the company and was awarded $5.8M but only after the judge gave her a re-trial after the first jury sided against her in spite of what the judge called a “preponderance of evidence.”

Now consider this – in 2000, while on Spring Break, one particular woman bared her breasts on camera for two men who offered her beads to do so.  Then those men sold that footage to GGW.  GGW not only used the footage in their video, but put her face on promotional materials.  She was recognized not only by fellow students, but her teachers and coaches.  On the one hand, yes she made a dumb mistake she later regretted.  On the other hand, dumb mistakes later regretted are regularly made by 14-year-old middle schoolers. 

That’s right – the woman in this example is named Lindsey Bullard.  On her Spring Break trip in 2000 she was 14-years-old, and not yet in high school.  She’s been trying to sue the company since 2004 claiming she never gave her consent for its commercial use.  Lawyers on the other side of the case are arguing no wrongdoing, she did give her consent at the time, and because it was in a public area, they didn’t violate her privacy.  All they did was purchase a video somebody else took.

The case is being argued in the Georgia State Supreme Court because federal law proved too vague for a clear verdict.

Girls Gone Wild has declared bankruptcy now, but not becausethey’re out of cash.  A statement from GGW equates their company to American Airlines and General Motors, filing Chapter 11 to seek reorganization to “re-structure its frivolous and burdensome legal affairs.”

“Frivolous.”

With knowledge and forethought they’re making profits off the ill-considered actions of drunk people at parties.  Sometimes they’re violating those people for the purpose.  Sometimes they’re purchasing and re-selling child pornography.  They only face consequences when they get caught, and only then when they lose the argument, which they can only do when the law is clear and specific enough to tell them how they’ve done wrong.

Perhaps Steve Wynn will use the nearly $50M awarded him in judgments – and maybe some of his own extra billions – to fund a lobby that creates a law that doesn’t make it so easy for Joe Francis to reap rewards from the exploitive shame of others.  Certainly there are large numbers of mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and allies who wouldn’t mind watching that particular law get made.

You’re on your own with the sausages.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Be Not Proud

I’ve always considered myself lucky that death tends to stay pretty far from me.  I could probably name a dozen or so people I’ve known who later died, but it was someone from whom I had been estranged for a number of years.  Even then it was never someone I knew very well.

A few weeks ago I awoke to a message from my oldest friend:

“So my car wouldn't start this morning, and also one of my oldest friends (and first serious girlfriend) died of cancer early this morning. You probably remember Kristin.

“Is it too early to start drinking? Can I get a ruling?”

My first reaction was, “I would have that drink, but only if you do not - for one second - pretend it's because the car wouldn't start.”

I do remember Kristin, and well.  I first met her when I was 16; she was dating a newfound friend, and when I became adopted into his social circle, naturally she was one of them.

She was certainly the most unique of the group, and not simply because she was the only girl.  This was the mid ‘90s, when paper and dice role playing games still got most of us socially ostracized by the smart, attractive, ambitious, and female.  Yet here she was amongst us, playing Rifts with all the humor and imagination at her disposal.  She was fiercely competitive, too.  Watching her play Risk or Magic: The Gathering made me wish those were games one started by picking teams so I wouldn’t have to go against her.

She was just beginning college, studying to become a chemical engineer.  Most of my memories of our social time included her bringing an armload of books, pouring over them with the utmost determination while the rest of us talked and joked.  It would be another two years before I started at the same college myself.  I remember the days of sitting around The Flying Tomato with the most diverse group of people I had ever known, and the late night study sessions at IHOP with much of the same company.

Her drive was so fierce that she once attended two different colleges – in two different states – in the same semester.  She would take Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes in Texas, then drive to Oklahoma on Monday night.  She’d take class on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Oklahoma (skipping her Texas Wednesday class), then drive back to Texas on Thursday night and attend her Friday class.  Then she would wait tables all weekend to support herself.

Not only did she succeed with this schedule, she got a full ride to graduate school where she finished a 2 year program in a year and a half. 

In my second year of college we saw a play together.  At the end of it she told me she was proud of me for choosing to become an actor and sticking with it, because she recognized that wasn’t an easy goal to reach.  I was stunned at the notion of what this woman would consider to be “not easy.”  That statement from her was one of the most defining moments in my life.  I saw value in myself reflected in her eyes, and I knew I was on the right path.  In this way she helped shape who I have become every day since then.

I didn’t know her exceptionally well, and certainly not lately, but I was always awed and impressed by her.  I was lucky to be a guest at her wedding in late 2002, and I don’t think we ever saw one another in person again.  There was sporadic Facebook contact, but most of that was passively reading status updates and seeing pictures of her children.

I have always regretted that I never showed Kristin the side of myself that was a substantive human being.  For some reason I only ever put on my most goofball persona in her presence.  I can only justify that I loved hearing her laugh, and I could do that often enough, but I always felt I was costing a deeper relationship by struggling to make the joke.

I may have been a bit wrong about that.  Last June I hit a rough emotional patch, and I reached out through a Facebook status post asking for support.  I was overwhelmed by the response – some 50 or 60 people sent me either public or private messages of support, and Kristin was among them.  She wrote simply, “Wish I had your number and could help. You always helped me.”

Of all the messages I got, this was one of the most encouraging, and absolutely the biggest surprise.  My first thought upon reading this was I don’t remember doing that.  But clearly I had been there for her in a positive and memorable way many years ago.  Apparently she had better memories of me than I had of me.  She gave me her number, and I texted her a response that was lost when I lost that phone a few weeks later.  It wasn’t much, but it amounted to “Thank you, and we’ll talk again soon.”

Soon never came.  In October she was diagnosed with cancer.  In November there was a Facebook page set up called Team Kristin – No One Fights Alone.  She, her husband, and their three sons moved back to their hometown to be closer to families.  At the end of January she died.

I never even knew she was sick.  I found out all of this only after the fact.

When I was in need she reached out to me and made me feel so much better with the simplest gesture.  I’m hurt and I’m angry that I never got the chance to repay that gesture.  I’m sad that I lost touch with her for so many years.  I’m embarrassed and scared to even post these words where her family and close friends can see them because a part of me feels like I didn’t know her well enough to have the right to speak for her.

Yet she is the first person I ever met whose death moved me to tears.  I have to say something.

I just wish I had said any of this to her when I had the chance.  So I entreat you, if someone is truly important to you, even a little, tell them how you feel.  This experience is going to cause me to reach out to three (off the top of my head) I haven’t spoken to in years, though I think about them all the time.  I never again want to wake up and learn it’s too late to share something positive.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Either Lay Down and Whine, Or Stand Up and Fight

I spent the month of January in Southern Illinois filming a movie.  While I was there I put on 40 pounds – five pounds more than I lost from March to December of last year.  There was a Gold’s Gym nearby and we had free day passes, but I didn’t go very often.  There were also free breakfast sandwiches in the hotel and the on set catering was both plentiful and delicious, and I took part in these things VERY often. 

Noticing I was a bit bummed about the way I’m looking and feeling, someone very important to me sent me this:
“Don’t worry about your body. It isn’t as small as it once was, But honestly, the world needs more of you. You look in the mirror like you’ve done something wrong, But you look perfect. Anyone who says otherwise is telling a lie to make you feel weak. And you know better. You’ve survived every single day, for as long as you’ve been alive. You could spit fire if you wanted.” ~ Clementine von Radics
I get this. I respect this. But this is not for me.
From March to December of last year I exercised and I dieted to unprecedented levels.  Not only did I lose weight, which was the goal, but I also invoked my sense of discipline, sacrifice, accomplishment.  I set a goal and I met it. I took August and September off from the gym and I didn't backslide, I didn't gain any weight, and I thought I'd entered a new phase of my life. Especially when I went BACK to the gym.
This new phase allowed me to run my first 15K. This new phase gave me the ability to carry out some awesome fight choreography during A Klingon Christmas Carol. This new phase gave me what I needed to be able to carry out an amazing burlesque duet. This new phase allowed me to put something back into the world, to help create something for others to enjoy. Believe me when I say I could not have run so far, leapt so high (literally), or lifted or spun Hedy around had I been at my previous physique.
This whole January I lost all discipline and control. Almost every morning I had a breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese croissants until I nearly burst, then I went back to bed. Every time I had the catering I filled myself until I was uncomfortable because the food was just too delicious to pass up. It was so easy to excuse myself away from the gym, so I stayed in my hotel room and watched TV and played video games and gained literally everything I lost last year. I wish this was an exaggeration, but it's just not.
The whole reason I started exercising last March was to fit into a vest that now no longer fits again. It was a present, and when I first tried to put it on I realized I needed to lose at least four inches off my waist before I could button it.  By July it fit.  I put it on in November and it was loose on me;  I could button it and slide a hand into the gap between my gut and the fabric. Yesterday I couldn't do more than one button. I tried the second one, but it would have broken before it met the other side.
When I get fatter I lose confidence because I don't like the way it feels on me when I move around, or even when I'm sitting still. I hate the bloated feeling. I hate that I don't move through the world as easily, which is to say that it's harder to even stand up or walk around. Grace evaporates. My muscles haven't lost any of their strength, but now they have to haul more weight around. Weight which also moves my center of gravity forward, makes me feel off-balance. Also my back injury hurts more.
I don't understand the statement "The world needs more of you" as justification for gaining weight. When I'm bigger the world gets less of what I'm capable of putting into it. I look in the mirror like I've done something wrong because my weight gain was a result of losing discipline. Because I kept taking from the world in the form of delicious meals, which inhibits my ability to put anything back into it, and my net value as a human being drops.
This isn't to suggest that nothing good came of January. I had a hell of a career opportunity which paid off wonderfully. And I was a part of creating something for others to enjoy. But I also quit writing in spite of the fact I still had things to say; I just didn't have the energy to string my thoughts together. I blame this lack of energy on my hedonism and inability to sacrifice ANY temporary comfort for self-improvement more than I blame my wonky schedule.
Yes, the shooting schedule screwed my sleeping hours around, but I know better than to have let that become my excuse. It's not like I got back in February, looked down, and suddenly said, "Holy shit, where did THIS come from?!" I felt it happening as it was happening, and I knew the cause, and I knew I was going to hate it, and I made the choice to do nothing about it.
Now I choose to go the other direction. I'm back to the grocery store purchases and gym habits that gave me my previous physique. I don't even write all this to lament my position or to fire back at the above statement; I write all this to re-sharpen my writing voice and get back to SAYING something. To DOING something. To improve myself so I can put something into the world rather than merely taking from it.

I don't judge myself based upon who I am or what I look like. I judge myself based upon what I DO weighed against what I'm CAPABLE of doing. It's an ever-shifting dynamic, and I hope to perpetually endeavor to keep up with the shift.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Almost Not

Originally posted on www.cbtheatre.org

There’s one thing about working on A Klingon Christmas Carol which amazes me more than anything else.

It’s not the people, though the people have been wonderful.

It’s not the audience, though the audience has been terrific.

It’s not the fights, the music, or the humor. It’s not the copious amounts of wish fulfillment or realized dreams.

It’s that I almost skipped the audition in the first place.

June was a very difficult month for me. I had just finished getting my terminal degree. I had no job, no prospects, and – the very day before the audition – had my heart broken in a particularly shocking way. I was devastated and scared. I could barely tear myself from the couch long enough to drown my sorrows at the bottom of another glass. I had signed up for the obstacle race Warrior Dash for the first time ever (after a two year wait), and secured a rental car for the day, yet I didn’t have the heart to go.

I relied on a good friend to pull me out of my anguish, and a day-and-a-half later I forced myself up and out of my apartment to get to the audition. It took every ounce of will I had left to get down there that evening. All I really wanted to do was curl into a ball and weep into a pillow. Instead, in a single deep breath of focus and determination, I got up, got dressed, and got out.

I pulled myself together for the ninety minutes it took to have a language lesson, read a couple of sides, and learn and execute some basic fight choreo. I kept reminding myself that pain heals. I held on to the knowledge that one day I would Get Better, and beyond that day would lie the rehearsal and performance process for this play should I be fortunate and talented enough to be accepted.

It’s been over six months from that day to the time of this writing. This play has been a part of my life for more than half a year, which is easily twice as long as any production with which I’ve been involved from first casting to final curtain. The time in between has had some of the most life-changing growth since puberty. I’ve been presented with personal and professional opportunities I never would have dreamed of, and now they’re a part of the history and legacy that has defined one of the most important calendar years of my life.

I owe it all to the lessons I took from Klingon culture beginning more than half a lifetime ago. Being a Klingon means living with honor and with self-respect. It means never surrendering to fear or to grief. It means taking responsibility for yourself, for your career, for your family, and for the lives of those who surround you. It means maintaining responsibility for the ones whose livelihoods are dependent upon you, and for the ones whose very lives are dependent upon them.

I will remember this year as a year in which I persevered in spite of intense emotional distress, though not for the first time. Certainly not for the last.

I will remember this year as a year in which I fulfilled the most important dream of all: to educate, to entertain, and to inspire an audience in the same way – and to the same dynamic level – as I have been affected by my favorite artists and storytellers.

But more than anything else, I will remember this year as the year in which, but for the grace of Kahless, I would have rotted in stagnant complacency, a coward curled up in my bed, hiding away from the world. This is the year I avoided becoming SQuja’. I witnessed, accomplished, and took part in so very many wonderful things this year, and I appreciate them so much more when I realize how close I came to never having any of them.

And if I’m very, very lucky, I’ll get to take part in the saga next year as well.

Until then. Qapla’ batlh je.