28 February 2007

Acting is Hard Enough

Being a creator/actor (somebody, please, provide me with a better term than this) is downright tricky.

The process for The Torture Project has been an original one the entire way, owing mostly to relying so much upon the regular creative input and interpretation of it's entire cast and burgeoning crew. Similar to the development of The Laramie Project (and, indeed, the director/co-collaborator [we artists love our slashes][and parentheses] of Laramie, Moises Kaufman, is serving as a mentor on our show) this show was developed through improvisations and individually planned performance pieces inspired by real-life circumstances. Where we part company from Tectonic Theatre is that we have done more extrapolation, to create a piece of fiction rather than an accounting of an event. So my character is not named Keith "Matt" Maupin, rather Jake Larkin. Yes: The lines between can get confusing. Particularly during a brief stage when we used our own names during the improvisations.

So last night, the first rehearsal of our re-up, everyone brought in an assigned scene (/performance piece) he or she had prepared. Mine (see 2/27/07) was a quasi-clown-style piece based upon definitions I finally found online for various categories of unaccounted-for people during war time. I was to show these definitions through various filters, essentially, on a kind of journey from sense, to nonsense, to chaos and back to sense again. I was to use light sources, architecture, possibly music, definitely audience involvement and various styles to communicate it all. In ten minutes. These assignments invariably remind me of a particular summer ('96, I believe it was) when Friend Younce and I would trade creative assignments with one another every week or so.

It was not altogether successful. Laurie, our project leader, basically loves performance art (though she may not know it) and is always very complimentary of my work. This was no exception, but I felt I failed to make it tight and timed in the way I liked, and toward the end I felt almost completely without control in the piece. Which, for simple acting, can sometimes be good. But for clown, or performance art, it's more like dance. I believe. Timing is more important than verisimilitude.

The piece began as a press briefing (with a direct light facing me), at which I told them to pay close attention and read seven or so terms and their definitions off of index cards, ending with, "Any questions?" Then we switched to a sort of military classroom (with that direct light behind me) and I played an over-the-top drill sergeant grilling them for definitions of the various terms. After leaving that scene in disgust, the direct light was traded for the room's overhead fluorescents, Sara Bakker played a Midwestern teacher and announced my next character to an elementary school class: Casualty Assistance Officer Clown. I entered in a clown nose and tried to teach them about the terms, but got flustered, eventually dropping my cards and getting them out of order, and one of the students stole some. Bright Eyes' "False Advertising" began to play and I searched for the missing cards, finding them nowhere and growing more and more upset until I collapsed on the floor and the lights were shut off. After a five count, the lights came back on, and I arose and removed my nose. Now I was a lost soldier, searching the ground for something but unable to find it. Not recognizing my surroundings, I weep and pound my chest until I find something. I slowly pulled out from my breast pocket a long ribbon of paper with the terms and definitions on it. As I pulled it out, I read the terms one by one. Then, as the music faded, I read this:
"The United States' Department of Defense (DOD) lists a military serviceman as MIA if 'he or she was not at their duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons as a result of hostile action and his/her location is not known' (Department of Defense 1996, p. 5). In addition, three criteria guide the accounting process for missing personnel by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office: (1) the return of a live American; (2) the return of identifiable remains; and (3) provision of convincing evidence why the first two criteria are not possible."
End o' scene.

Don't get me wrong: I got my point(s) across. It just wasn't very satisfying in a dramatic or performance sense, I suppose. That may have had a lot to do with my feelings about the assignment from the get-go. Character exploration? Kick ass. Term definition? Um, does spelling count?

It was great to be back in rehearsal, however; especially with folks as talented and professional as them what comprise Joint Stock Theatre Alliance. During the evening I helped out with three other scenes, two of which I had to improvise in. This is very, very difficult, even were the subject matter not as heavy as these scenes happened to be. Simply doing kitchen-sink improvisation is tough. It takes sensitivity to your character that I readily admit I have a ways to go on with good ol' Jake. The scenes themselves, however, added necrotic poison to the blow dart: the first was Jake telling his mother he had joined the Army (compliments Faith Catlin's assignment) and the second was an imagined scene, if Jake's girlfriend back home had had an abortion of the baby he had never known about, and then they fought about it as though he weren't missing. I hope I held my own. I fear I was too soft in the first, too hard in the second.

It's an interesting problem. We're showing the most private moments of people I've really never lived among, so I have yet to find a reliable character model to observe in person. Jake's a middle-class, pro-nationalism kid who worked at Sam's Club and grew up in the late nineties. Does he curse? (I'm playing it he does, but not around his family.) What music does he like? (I'm guessing post-grunge crud like POD or . . . I don't even know; it's too depressing to think about.) What's important to him? (Really.) These are the questions one can glean from the text when rehearsing a script. In our world, we're baking from scratch.

Well, nearly scratch. There's this pre-mixed war and domestic situation that in most cases we just have to add water to.

27 February 2007

This is What I was Afraid Of

More theatre in my life, less time and attention to ye olde 'blogge. Oh sweet 'blog, I want not for thee to be a mere band-aid for my theatrical ego. Whist! Whist! 'Zwounds! Other archaic exclamations! Be true to me, mine 'blog, and I shall carry thee onward like that guy in the sandy footprints poster!

In lieu of my own writing, I present you with some text I'm using as part of my "homework assignment" for The Torture Project, which renews its vow to become a real show someday--no strings attached--this evening. The following are terms and definitions harvested from the Grand Old D.O.D. I've already begun editing them for the piece I'm presenting tonight, so the "See also" portions at the end do not necessarily reflect the actual references on the website.

unaccounted for — An inclusive term (not a casualty status) applicable to personnel whose person or remains are not recovered or otherwise accounted for following hostile action. Commonly used when referring to personnel who are killed in action and whose bodies are not recovered. See also casualty status.

casualty status — A term used to classify a casualty for reporting purposes. There are seven casualty statuses: (1) deceased; (2) duty status - whereabouts unknown; (3) missing; (4) very seriously ill or injured; (5) seriously ill or injured; (6) incapacitating illness or injury; and (7) not seriously injured. See also casualty type.

casualty type — A term used to identify a casualty for reporting purposes as either a hostile casualty or a nonhostile casualty. See also prisoner of war.

prisoner of war — A detained person as defined in Articles 4 and 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949. In particular, one who, while engaged in combat under orders of his or her government, is captured by the armed forces of the enemy. As such, he or she is entitled to the combatant’s privilege of immunity from the municipal law of the capturing state for warlike acts which do not amount to breaches of the law of armed conflict. For example, a prisoner of war may be, but is not limited to, any person belonging to one of the following categories who has fallen into the power of the enemy: a member of the armed forces, organized militia or volunteer corps; a person who accompanies the armed forces without actually being a member thereof; a member of a merchant marine or civilian aircraft crew not qualifying for more favorable treatment; or individuals who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces. Also called POW or PW. See also hostage.

hostage — A person held as a pledge that certain terms or agreements will be kept. (The taking of hostages is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, 1949.) See also missing/MIA.

missing — A casualty status for which the United States Code provides statutory guidance concerning missing members of the Military Services. Excluded are personnel who are in an absent without leave, deserter, or dropped-from-rolls status. A person declared missing is categorized as follows. a. beleaguered — The casualty is a member of an organized element that has been surrounded by a hostile force to prevent escape of its members. b. besieged — The casualty is a member of an organized element that has been surrounded by a hostile force, compelling it to surrender. c. captured — The casualty has been seized as the result of action of an unfriendly military or paramilitary force in a foreign country. d. detained — The casualty is prevented from proceeding or is restrained in custody for alleged violation of international law or other reason claimed by the government or group under which the person is being held. e. interned — The casualty is definitely known to have been taken into custody of a nonbelligerent foreign power as the result of and for reasons arising out of any armed conflict in which the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged. f. missing — The casualty is not present at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location is unknown. g. missing in action — The casualty is a hostile casualty, other than the victim of a terrorist activity, who is not present at his or her duty location due to apparent involuntary reasons and whose location is unknown. Also called MIA. See also duty status – whereabouts unknown.

duty status - whereabouts unknown — A transitory casualty status, applicable only to military personnel, that is used when the responsible commander suspects the member may be a casualty whose absence is involuntary, but does not feel sufficient evidence currently exists to make a definite determination of missing or deceased. Also called DUSTWUN. See also casualty status.

I wish to make it clear that, in spite of the themes of The Torture Project, I believe our military system is one of the best in the world. Any beaurocracy is going to have the silliness of acronyms and the categorization of terrible or ridiculous statuses. It's unavoidable. I admire the spirit of our country that creates such a furor over retrieving POWs and accounting for every MIA soldier; it's not like that everywhere.

I'm building something of a clown piece around this text (in, like, the next five hours) and though that may make it seem like I am taking lightly something horribly serious, I assure you that is not all that is going to happen. One of the fascinating things about red-nose clown, as I was trained in it, is that everything that happens must have personal resonance and be dire for the clown to function properly. To go even further with it, and brutally paraphrase much greater artists, what the audience responds to in the clown is the clown's plight, or even misery.

Because, whatever else, the clown keeps fighting.

24 February 2007

East meets West

This was one a hell of a trip.

Imagine what I did to get out to California (see 2/19/07), but overnight. I am about as tired as I get. It’s hard even to type sufficiently. I departed on a 10:00 pm Pacific time flight from San Francisco Friday night, which got into my transfer at Atlanta (get out your time-conversion calculators, kiddies) around 5:00 am Eastern, not to depart for Philadelphia until 7:00 am. It’s Philadelphia airport at 10:00 am, then the SEPTA train to the really real train, on which I now ride as the minutes tick toward noon. When I get to Pennsylvania Station (which is in New York City, all you un-traveled west-coasters) I will head immediately to the subway for an hour-long ride home to Brooklyn, where I expect to find a pile of bills and dirty dishes, though hopefully not piled together. The real kicker (seriously guys—between the rattling track and my exhaustion you should really see some of the typos I’m correcting) is that I need to be back in Manhattan at 5:00 for an audition. These things always seem more possible to me in theory than they do in practice.

Lawsy, y’all. Lawsy.

The trip to California wrapped up well enough. There was very little time for…well, anything, for a few days there. The days spanning Ann Zarko’s viewing and burial were shot for any other activity. There was time, mind you, but all the events were so exhausting themselves that afterward David and I rarely had energy to eat. And so perhaps that is a major contribution to my current state of the typographically challenged. I’m just praying that there’s time for a quick nap and bite between landing in Kings County and lighting on the isle again.

It was amazing to experience the ceremonies of this week, and all the folks who attended them. Ann’s send off stood in sharp contrast to my Dad’s Dad, who had only ourselves at the ceremony and a priest who hadn’t known him. Ann had literally hundreds of friends and relatives, from her work with the church (Roman Catholic) and the historical preservation society of Sunnyvale. I must have spoken with dozens of people who knew and loved her, and everyone had their own stories to tell. There were a few incidences of people who had not seen David in a long, long while mistaking me for him (a mere twenty-seven years’ difference in age) but in an odd way I appreciated that. There were many times when I felt I rather shouldn’t be there, when I didn’t know where to stand or what was expected of me, but then I would catch David’s eye and experience a gratitude from him that made me want to just make it all already be over for him, and I would remember that I was there for all of us who are part of his other life.

The week was good for him. I had a few harrowing moments when I worried for his state of mind, and heart. In particular, he had the impression that Ann had said her final farewells in her sleep, blissfully unaware of her own passing, but her night time caretaker revealed at the viewing that this was not so. She was present, heard Ann moan, and when she checked on her found her pale blue and unresponsive. Helen (the caretaker) began to resuscitate her, and succeeded, but Ann held up her hands and said, “No more. No more.” She slipped away again when Helen spared a second to ask her husband to call the EMTs, and again Helen resuscitated her, but Ann held up her hands in the same manner, unable now to speak. She saw Helen’s husband in the doorway, then the EMTs were there, and Helen and her husband were taken from the room.

When Helen told David this at the viewing, as distraught as though it had just happened, I thought either David would break down or I would leap a pew and strangle the woman just to stop this revelation. It was definitely, at first, difficult for him to hear. He remained relatively composed, however, and a few minutes later reiterated the story to his friend Alan, down from Seattle for the ceremonies, who responded, “That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful.” And in that moment we all understood that maybe, just maybe, Ann had known exactly what was happening to her and, as much as anyone might, chose her moment to be done. She had no fear of death, and no regrets for her life.

After this kind of moment and others, after all the condolences and catching up and story telling, you can imagine just how spent we could be. Yet David and I did make some good use of our time after it was all said and done. It was along the lines of more nostalgia for him, and I enjoyed being taken on the tour as much as, if not more than, those visits we made prior to the funeral. Thursday, once we had relaxed with a walk and drive, we visited the Winchester Mystery House, which was a childhood favorites of David’s (which explains a lot) and settled in early for Chinese food and Gregg and Denise’s wonderful company. Then Friday David scheduled himself a massage, and treated me to my own, which is the kind of luxury that alone could justify the various aspects of trickiness involved in getting there and back. It was at a spa on the beach, so I got to visit briefly that terrain as well. Finally, Friday we visited Santa Cruz once more to meet an old friend of David's, Phil. He's an actor and playwright, and author of fiction and non-fiction. A great guy, he started out in a rather dark place conversing with us about the large number of his friends who have died in the past fifteen years, but perked up into a man I knew David loved once we moved on to the subject of theatre and writing. It's funny. David later told me that Phil was to him something of what David has been to me--they met at approximately the same ages as David and I did and worked together on various projects for years. The really funny part--to me, anyway--was that they met in a theatre workshop/class David decided to start conducting when he was about twenty-five, and I could plainly see that it was David who elevated Phil back to an optimistic mood during our day together. I think David is what he is to everyone, regardless of age. An inspiration, plain and simple.

I know: sappy. You know though? True.

Things are picking up for me theatre-wise right now, just in time. I have a play-lab at NYU coming up, a new workshop session for "The Torture Project," and I was just cast as Frankie in "A Lie of the Mind." (We're at 11:45 pm now [that's 8:45 in California].) It's a little bit like a family reunion. Now I just have to convince all of the people I love working with here to move to Santa Cruz with me.

20 February 2007

The Art of the Quest

Yesterday I saw for the first time in person the great Redwood trees of California. David and I had been busy all morning with the initial preparations for his mother’s service, and by the time it was mid-afternoon he had had enough, so off we went to Big Basin national park. I saw, photographed, smelled, touched and even stood inside what are—as far as we know—among the oldest living things in the entire world. Apparently the great Sequoias are the oldest trees, a sheer 4,000 years as compared to the Redwoods’ paltry 1–3,000. It was amazing just to be in such a forest, much less among that kind of ego-dwarfing natural occurrence. These are the moments when I feel closest to divinity, and not even the mightiest spires of il duomi dell’Italia can compare to the architecture of Redwood.

God is, of course, on my mind a lot during this journey. There’s nothing for a reaffirmation of one’s faith in a higher power than being immersed in need for such guidance and support. I’m spending a lot of my time just trying to be ready for whatever David needs, and thus far it’s not much in the way of practical help, just someone to keep him in the moment and remind him he’s not alone. In fact, we’ve had some conversations about things like theatre and life in general the likes of which we haven’t known since the first year of working together, when we were just discovering how much we enjoyed one another’s company. It’s hard to say if that’s a direct result of recognizing how fleeting such moments can be, or just a side effect of spending a significant amount of time together again. It’s not all that important to me to come up with a reason, either.

Ann Zarko really was an amazing woman, by all accounts, and she and her son David are unusually deserving of one another. It’s easy to see where David gets his compassion, openness and love of life from. I wish I had known Ann. Everyone we speak to not only has their own important memories of her, but says the same thing eventually: They know that everyone will miss her, and she will be remembered by a lot of people. She was continually making new friends, and nothing about who she was faded, even in her final days. Tomorrow evening will be a viewing and rosary, and Thursday morning will bring mass and the burial. David’s being almost stubbornly strong. I hope he can find times to let himself go in the coming days. He loves his mother very much.

Possibly more magical even than Big Basin, yesterday David also gave me a walking tour of his life around my age…say 25 to 31. It happened rather spontaneously in the early evening, driving through Santa Cruz (where I now plan to retire once I’m Absurdly Wealthy & Famous) after the forest. I think David was a little embarrassed by his want to share those stories, but I couldn’t have been more excited to get that peek into the early years of Zarko. Santa Cruz is now very reminiscent to me of Austin. Well, maybe a blend of Austin with Old Town Alexandria. It’s very funky and artsy, not just with college kids but a good proportion of twenty-somethings and young families. The Mall-like stores are definitely moved in, but I would say local businesses are still dominant. Apparently when David was there it was not even in a larval state of this resurgence, and his nostalgia is clearly tinged with a love for what was once run-down, as well as some envy of the success the town has known since.

He told me about opening his café there (stock Zarko lore) and I actually saw the building and bought coffee from a well-pierced prepubescent there. He told me about being young, and his friends at the time, and hanging out with Spalding Gray before he was Spalding Gray. Best of all, he explained to me why his theatre company at the time was named “Parcifel’s Players.” When he was young (and, I’d wager, on into this day) David loved this story of the knight, Parcifel (or Percival, or Pursifel, etc.). As we walked the darkening streets of Saint of the Cross, he told me the story as he had heard it, of a knight so foolish that he barely got by. His mentor ultimately instructed him, out of irritation for his inability to understand things innately, never to ask any questions of anyone who was his superior.

One day, Parcifel, quite by accident, bested the red knight who had been plaguing the court of King Arthur. As he walked into the castle in the knight’s armor, he was greeted with great enthusiasm. In order to complete his status as a knight of the round table, however, he of course had to go on a Grail quest. Parcifel does so, and finds a castle that promises the Grail. The duke of that castle promises him the Grail, they proceed through various ceremonies and celebrations. During this revelry, Parcifel has the impulse to ask three questions, but resists according to his mentor’s lesson. When he awakes in the morning, he discovers the castle long abandoned and dusty, the formerly lush surrounding lands barren, and an old woman who bears a striking resemblance to a young lady who had entertained him the night before informs him that if he had only asked his questions, the Grail would have been his.

So Parcifel, feeling the utmost failure and shame, pledges never again to return to Camelot until he rediscovers the Grail. He spends years and years traveling the countryside, deposing evil knights, saving the people from harm and spreading the good word of Arthur. Finally, in his late years, he encounters a knight and by custom challenges him. The challenges begin with insults, and as these insults progress it becomes clear that the two knights share the same father. They throw down their arms and armor and embrace, and suddenly the castle reappears to Parcifel, this time he asks the questions (which have changed) and achieves the Holy Grail.

This is a powerful insight to life, to the idea of always having to learn and relearn, to question and accept. It’s also a great peek at what it’s like to work on a show with David. His rehearsal is concerned with process, always process, and he understands that you may achieve brilliance quite by accident, and it will be impossible to return to that brilliance without time, effort and more time to understand something larger than yourself. It’s hard to accept that we don’t know. It’s hard to go on in good faith in the face of that. It’s worth it. That’s what I think. Maybe there is no grail at the end; it’s still worth it. Lao Tzu reminds us that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The Redwoods grow huge one minimal ring at a time. And life may be brief, but it is full, full, full.

19 February 2007

In Transition

I write to you from various places across this great nation of ours. Philadelphia. Atlanta. San Francisco. Ultimately, Sunnyvale, California. At present, I am aboard a plan going over the south Midwest. Can I use that term for that area? Or is it just “the West”? Anyway, I am in transit, though not for the usual reasons. I would that it were for a job (and that they were paying my airfare) but, alas, it’s for life stuff. When I arrive at my final destination, David will be there and we’ll spend this week burying his mother and attending to finalities.

Enough of that for now. I imagine that will occupy whatever further entries I have time for during the week.

Don’t imagine, my dear, precious one-and-all, that I’m actually posting to the ‘blog now from the air, performing amazing internet aerials with my advanced and expensive computer. Nyyyoh. I am simply typing into MSWord™ (ß Sweet! Word is auto-formatting my approximations of typography! Boy I hope that translates when I paste it in…[somehow my pretty arrow has become a Greek figure--WTF, Blogger?) as I have been with various other work off and on during this trip. It’s a whole Sunday of cross-continental travel; all told, awake-to-pass-out, some fourteen hours of trains, planes and automobiles. I am equipped. Fantasy novel. ‘Puter. Gameboy. Camera. Lots of gum. Speaking of which, thine movie quote awaits:

“I have come here to chew bubblegum, and kick ass. And I’m all…out…of bubblegum.”

I offer finsky on this one (honor system here—no interwebzing it, you disreputable bastards), and if you try to tell me it’s from a certain PC first-person shooter, you owe me a five dollar bill.

I don’t travel much outside of my work (apart from an occasional trip down the east coast to see family and friends around holiday periods) and though I desperately wish the circumstances were different, I can’t help but be somewhat excited to be doing this. Along with being a responsibility (and believe me: I won’t be taking in the sights) it is also a privilege of my position. Not my financial position, mind you. That’s set square against this gesture. Rather a privilege of having arranged my life to be one that allows me to get up and go at any time without losing my job or endangering relationships. Many of David’s friends wanted to be out there with him. I represent them all, and they’re helping me enormously. Hell: Without Heather’s automatic sensitivity to people’s needs, I might not be here at all, might instead still be pacing my apartment trying to figure out how the hell I can afford what needs to be done. Some things just need to be done, and the rest gets worked out afterward.

So California. It will only be the second time I’ve ever been there. The previous occasion was to visit my then-girlfriend while she was on the national tour of Swing!, and I saw San Diego. I liked San Diego quite a bit, of what I could see in three days, and I have every reason to believe David’s hometown will be beautiful. I wonder what I’ll be doing and where, really. Basically, I expect to be lashed to David’s hip with a handkerchief at the ready. Nevertheless, one can’t help but see, hear and all the rest in a new place.

This, all of this, is a good thing about what I’ve done with my life thus far. It’ll be worth eating nothing but tuna for a little while.

18 February 2007

On a jet plane . . .

'Cept I know when I'll be back again: February 24th, just in time for an audition at ye olde Manhattan Theatre Source for "A Lie of the Mind." The reason I'm unexpectedly out for a week (in California, no less) is that an oft director and always good friend's, David Zarko's, mother has passed away. I believe she's the last family David has, and they were very close. Somehow, somehow beyond my certainty, I am the one of David's eastern network to be there. I love David. I'm happy to be there. I feel like perhaps I'll be on the same path as him some day, and if so, I hope some actor I've worked with many times joins me in saying goodbye to my parents.

It's hard. It's good. I'm glad we can be family to one another.

15 February 2007

"Oh man. Oh dude. Oh no."

I've had a lot of occasions to contemplate the act of writing dialogue of late. Conversations with playwrights, readings, participating in NYU's First Look acting company and their film school, etc. It's kind of coming out of the walls, actually. Yesterday I was emailed two new scripts, one inviting me to participate in a reading (probably can't) and one asking for my feedback (see Nat's 'blog). A few days ago a friend made an unlikely request that I connect him with someone well-versed in screenwriting (Surprise! I know NONE, save my boss's husband [co-wrote a little movie called Monster's Ball] and that's just too weird.). I've done some play writing, to greater and lesser degrees of ill-advised notions (see tha' website for one of my monodramas...for two actors...sh'up!) and whereas when I was younger, short stories were the most natural milieu for me to narrate in, now I find myself inclined toward dialogue. Perhaps that's a result of surrounding myself with theatre. It's hard to say.

What's funny is that at times I get these snippets of dialogue bouncing around my brain that have no recognizable source. I'm a big fan of movie quotes, so my first inclination is to imagine that I'm randomly sampling some moment from some movie I've seen in the past twenty years. More often than not, however, when this Mad-Libs style of quote pops up (and lingers on) it is from nothing but my own noodle. It's a little like I'm quoting my own imagination . . . but I haven't even seen a teaser of what I'm imagining, much less the DVD with commentary. Which can be frustrating.

It's fine when it happens and the line or lines is/are rather poetic, or well-trenched in some context, but sad to say that is not the norm. The norm is akin to what you see in the title of this 'blog entry. Something on the level of stoner/slacker comedies from the nineties. In fact, the above is the quote of my day. I'm not dishing any money out for it, because it hails from my imagination and any money I paid you you'd have to pay right back to me in royalties. At some point not long ago, I realized I had been repeating this "line" over and over in my head today. Not just repeating the words, actually, but imagining myself acting them. Fiddling with the beats, the intonation, wondering about the person saying them and the scenario he's (it is a guy, that much I'm certain of) in. All of this is happening quite below the radar, as I go about my various activities, to the extent that I wasn't even fully aware of it until I started writing about it. And it's taking up some mental power. The rest of the stuff I'm doing is kind of getting the shaft. I mean, it's getting done, but not necessarily well, or quickly.

So: Buttons. I am rehearsing, entirely in my mind over and over again, a single line of dialogue, consisting of six words, which I made up from absolutely no criteria or context, and it's not even
good dialogue per se. (I like it, actually. I'm doing a lot with it, sort of hashing through the changes in perception the guy experiences as he progresses through the line, toying with how to communicate that he's really just at a loss for words, but still trying to find them, etc. ...) What. The hell. Is wrong. With this picture?

I really don't want to write another entry about how lame it is not to be working on a show.

So I won't. What I will write, is that I do verily dig the art of play writing. I can't claim to have insight into it, really, because it is an art and I do not approach it as such. It's a kind of miracle to write a conversation, and, while making it unobtrusive and believable, make it also rich, full of meaning and change. Because you start with nothing, and somehow get this self-contained world of experience and consequence that is vastly, intricately interwoven. Novels can achieve this, of course, but it's not the same. They often weave things like themes, or events. Plays (and to a lesser extent [lesser because it's a more purely visual medium, ergo less word-driven] film) weave together real-time moments, people instead of just "characters," lives in the most encompassing sense of the word. It's amazing. McNally. Kushner. Churchill. Endless others, these people amaze me. Amaze me.

So I hesitate to call myself a playwright, sort like I hesitate to call myself a dancer, or like how I wish more people would hesitate before calling themselves actors. Because yes, I have written four full plays, had some of my work produced, etc., but I have too much respect for the people who really dedicate themselves to that craft to call myself in league with them as yet. It's not a self-deprecating pretense at all; rather a humble nod to fellow artists whom I respect. Shout -out to ma' homies o' the quill! What up, ninjas!

Now: "Oh man. Oh dude. Oh no." Write something incorporating this line. I dare you.

I Took a Quiz:

This, apparently, is the Norse god I best resemble. I'm a little embarassed not to be Odin, what with the title of my 'blog and everything, but sort of thrilled with this result all the same. And if I needed further comfort, I can always console myself in the knowledge that Loki's counterpart in many Native American cultures is the trickster Raven.
You scored as Loki.





























Which Norse God or Goddess are you most like?
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Find out about yerself here.

14 February 2007

O Sainted Day

Saint Valentine's Day, 2007. It starts snowing somewhere toward the middle of the night and keeps on into the day--a hard, light snow that stings your face when you walk into it. I'm now nestled snug in my cubicle at the matrimonial law office that shall represent my day job. I'm wearing a tie, for once, in honor of the day. This is the first substantial snow of the season that I have experienced in the city. It's rapidly turned to brown slush on the streets and in the curb nooks, the kind that deceives you into thinking it's a level surface right up until you see your foot plunge too-deep into the melancholic soup. So I'm wearing my Doc Marten's as well.

This is my least favorite of all holidays. It feels the most misguided and obligatory to me (Even more so than Arbor Day!). However, I started a tradition some years ago of making it a day in honor of my friends, as I believe St. Valentine probably would have appreciated. This year that honoring is a humble one, just catching up on much-neglected email and reading of other 'blogs. Nevertheless, the (small) effort has made me feel so much better than I might have. It's a credo of Unitarian Universalism (and Avenue Q) that service to others is a service to oneself, and I'm living it today. In a life such as mine, friends are family, and I am very, very grateful for you all.

Happy V-day. If you're still at home, put on some swimming goggles before going out, because that snow stings.

13 February 2007

I'm Ready for My Close-Up Now, Mister Strindberg

James Lipton strikes again (see 2/12/07):

"If you haven't yet seen the Manhattan Theatre Source's production of August Strindberg's Miss Julie, go directly out and attach your nipples to a car battery until you can smell the burning of your own hair. It . . . is . . . A DELIGHT."

Sadly, as I type this entry, they are closing the last show of this production. So if you didn't see it, you have officially missed out. For those of you not familiar with the play, it's an intense, three-character exploration of power, desire and class inequality. And it is funny as hell. I had no idea it was funny as hell before I saw this production. Without compromising the stakes at all, the director and cast made for some very funny moments, and they kept me laughing right up until the title character convinced herself to commit suicide. So yeah: It's dark. But definitely funny, and I wonder if this doesn't relate to some of my theories regarding humor (see 1/24/07). I must admit my bias here, when it comes to lauding the production. I have worked with the director of it three times before, twice directed by him and once acting with him, and I have performed with the actress playing the title character. Nevertheless, I like to be honest with my critique, in particular when my friends are involved. Laura and Daryl, in addition to being an amazing couple, seem to bring out the best in each others' theatrical work.

It was quite a contrast to sit in the audience for such a tightly woven live production last night, then act in the second half of the film class at NYU today. I had to switch mental gears, and it was a bit like the first time my friend Barbara tried to teach me to drive a manual transmission. Today the work was not about well-timed, crisp dialogue, nor drastic status shifts, but ultimate naturalism and hitting the marks. Yet somehow it was my job to make as much truth of that scenario. It's no less artificial than the conventions of live theatre, I suppose. But I've had almost twenty years of experience with those conventions, and virtually none with those of film and television. At its most complex, in a physical sense, theatre can have arena or environmental staging, which requires the actors to move in circles, face each other, make sure any group of audience can at least see somebody's face. Acting for three independently mobile cameras, alternately behind me or behind the person I was facing, reminded me of trying to learn how to use an PlayStation controller for the first time.

(That's not quite clear to everyone, is it? 'K: I grew up playing DOOM on my PC, mostly, which was [still is, in fact] a "first-person shooter" game in which I used a couple of fingers to navigate forward, backward, right and left. You could jump and climb stairs too, but as far as aiming control went, you were pretty much concerned with general direction--everyone was on the same plane. When I finally got back to exploring such games, suddenly I was faced with a controller that had more in common with a starfish than a remote control, and included two thumb joysticks in addition to about 74 buttons. Suddenly, too, my first-person shooter was a multi-dimensional world in which enemies could come at one from any ol' direction, and in which I had to use them thar sticks to pick one, specific point of a complete sphere of motion at which to fire. It was then that I surrendered any aspiration I still had to become the morally justified hit man of movie fame.)

I believe that amazing ability to track multiple movement points and still deliver a line as though one's life depended on it can be developed. In the meantime, I will provide nigh-endless amusement for undergraduates learning to operate their cameras. Today I had to deliver a line of great import ("I'm just dropping off my stuff..." [but you had to be there]) whilst getting a door closed and placing a suitcase and shoulder bag on the right place on the floor, all in time to look in a prolonged, meaningful fashion at one of my fellow actors. I got the door closed, I got the bags to the right place, and I engaged in the requisite four-second eye contact with my scene partner . . . and realized I hadn't yet let go of the strap of the shoulder bag. Perhaps that doesn't seem so bad. It was. I had at least half of the crew in stitches, presumably over the awkwardness it lent the would-be meaningful moment. Funny how such simple mechanics can influence that work. And here I am worrying that I'm using my eyebrows too much.

Two appetites battle in me. Perhaps they're not mutually exclusive. I hope not. Some part of me wants to have worked very hard on that relatively unobserved Miss Julie and just know in my heart that I did good work that had something to say. Some other part of me wants to have a job in television, with a crew I joke around with and stories that turn not on a series of lines, but on a glance, or raised eyebrow. The moral of this story? If you are reading this: I WILL TAKE ANY WORK. I AM AN ACTING WHORE. USE ME; ABUSE ME; CALL ME YOUR DOG AND MAKE ME RESPOND TO "ACTION!"

I am at this moment reminded of the immortal Mitch Hedberg:

"You know, I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just gonna ask them where they're going and hook up with them later."

12 February 2007

The Riddle of the Sphynx

"We thought this was going to be about Egypt."

That's not a quote from a movie. That's one of the reactions we received this weekend from the thirty-odd senior women of Scranton who attended the reading of the play which is the namesake of today's 'blogination. Instead of being a history of the famous statue, the play was inspired in large part by the riddle the Sphynx (or Sphinx, but never Sfinks) poses to the people of Thebes before using their failure to answer it as an excuse to slaughter excessive amounts of ancient Greeks. ("Wot...is your favorite color?" "Blue. NO, YELLOOOOOOOO...." [There's your movie quote.]) Said riddle being:
What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?
And the answer is, naturally: Ya' momma.

'Twas a goodly weekend, and 'tdid start practically Friday midday with my commute to the Bronx to begin anew the filmmaking classes at Validus Academy. The spirit in the school was bright and eager, and all we were doing was announcing and describing our class to the students so they'd have a better idea what to sign up for. Thus leaving earlier than usual, I had plenty of time to stop by work to get and deposit my check for the week before high-tailin' in to Penn Station to catch the train to Port Jervis, riding with Friend Heather and possibly-newly-acquired-friend Greg Fletcher, the playwright.

The weekend was just what the doctor ordered. I knew I was hungry for stage time, but in spite of my griping these past weeks I somehow underestimated just how badly I needed it. We didn't do much with the reading, just sat semi-circle and read, and my part, though significant to the story, was not overloaded with lines. Yet performing the thing made all the hassle of the trip out, the preternatural cold of northern Pennsylvania, the junk food, etc., quickly meld into contributions to the bliss of reading lines, of playing a character. It was just a reading of a play in development. Still, it did the trick, and today I feel alive again. How do I forget so easily what that feeling is until I have it again?

Part of what was wonderful about the weekend--a huge part--was the warm sense of family I receive every time I go out to Scranton and play my part for TNT's modest notoriety. It's like a homecoming, without all the actual family angst and urgent self-examination. I know my way there, and everything I do makes sense and has some sense of purpose to it. Perhaps this is because it always contains some aspect of vacation--being away from my daily concerns, socializing as part of every place I am, etc. (I can hear Patrick frustratedly [yet playfully] barking: "Like that's a bad thing?!") Certainly our activities whilst not in rehearsal or performance were very recreational. Hedonistic, in one regard. Saturday night we sat and watched the entire season of a Canadian (Canada=hedonism) television series. It was something David and Heather had been specifically wanting to do with me since they happened upon the series about a month ago.

Slings and Arrows, season one, is a six-episode comedy of characters surrounding the creation of a production of Hamlet. It aired on A&E or Bravo (I can't remember which; maybe it was Sundance) a little over a year ago, and I had been psyched to catch it but, as with all things regularly scheduled, forgot about it and missed it, save the final episode, which I caught entirely by chance one Friday night back when I still had cable television. I loved it, that solitary and (for me) undeveloped finale, and was curious about the show thereafter. It didn't resurface in my life until Heather and I were talking and she mentioned that David had seen it and wanted to watch it (again) with me. So we did just that. The whole thing. At a go.

It necessitates a James Liptonian response. "If you haven't yet seen Slings and Arrows . . . you must go to your local Canadian video outlet, purchase the DVDs, drive to a cliff of at least 100 feet in height, cry mercy there to the Gods of Television and cut yourself with the edges of the DVDs in chronological order and allow your wasted blood of life to fall over the cliff's edge before promptly driving home and watching the whole series seventeen times over without cessation for bodily needs. It is SCRUMTRULESCENT . . . ." And that doesn't quite cover it. It takes funny-because-it's-true to all new levels, and not just for theatre people, but people people. After watching it, I felt like I understood again what was so great about what I'm trying to do. It's insane. It's supposed to be insane. As they say in the series, after experiencing the sensation of everything going right on stage, how can life compare?

In April, Friend Heather is moving out to Scranton. In theory, this is a trial run for her, but it includes letting go of her apartment in Brooklyn (due to money needs) and purchasing a car (due to day-to-day needs), so the theory is really more of a hypothesis: This move may be what Heather needs, and good for her life. I hope she's accurate in that. I understand her desire, I think. This weekend past, I could envision myself making the same move. If I settled in Scranton, I would get regular acting work at the theatre, and become a name in that smaller town. I could manage more of my life by myself, creating my own work for my own audience base. And I would be surrounded by a network of friends who bordered on family, and who were much easier to be in regular touch with than my friends in this nutty city of millions. Yeah. I get it, and think about it every time I work out there.

The answer, of course, is Man. As in Humanity. As babies, in the dawn of our existence, we crawl on all fours, then we learn to walk with two legs before needing a cane to progress as the sun sets on our little story. Taoist thought, as I understand it, also divides life into stages, albeit with some greater attention to detail. That's one of the differences betwixt (S&As has had an obnoxious effect on my syntax, and for that I apologize) Tao and Zen; Zen, roughly speaking, says purify and divorce oneself from this material plane toot-sweet, whereas Taoism takes you by the shoulder and says, in a voice that's audible to you but not the rest of the party, "Look, you've got to do what you've got to do right now, and it would be unnatural for you to do otherwise. All I'm saying is, when you get through the ambition, and ardent desire, and angst, you're going to see none of it was what was really important. So don't fight it, but plan for that. I'm going to go get some vinegar punch. You want I should bring a bit back for you?"

So, I could move to Scranton (or New Hampshire, or Maryland, or Virginia) now and get on with it. There's no gauge of legs to dictate when we should change our lives; would that there were. Instead, we're left with our feelings, those unpredictable faeries that Puck us up whenever they get a chance. Stupid Feelings. Being all better-informed about what we want than our brains are. Send out memos, Feelings; send out memos!

They do, of course. The trick seems to be getting our brains to keep their fax machines on and full of paper and toner. And check the fax machine every once-in-a-while, Brain! It's in another room! You gots to check it!

This entry now ending, due to recognition of the fact that I have succumbed to day-job metaphor.

08 February 2007

The Invisible Man

No finsky for the quote today, only the gratification of knowing you're the grand prize winner.

"...I'm going to take back some of the things I've said about you. You've...you've earned it."

Some of you (three) may have felt I was a little harsh with the mediums of film and television a few entries back (1/29/2007). Let this entry serve as my apology for such slander. It's not that I find these mediums lacking in value. Rather, it is that they diverge from my priorities--and experience--to date, and I can't help but feel that they're overly popular. Something is lost if you never see the acting live, something important. But I want my MTV. I seriously worship movies. It's genetic. Next time I'm home I'm going to try to remember to photograph my Dad's DVD/video collection for you.

So today I suffered again from oversleeping (gad durn it, but how that bothers me) and commenced my breakfast over a viewing of "Of Human Bondage," the film adaptation of Somerset Maugham's awfully autobiographical novel of the same name, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. It's the first Bette Davis film I've seen (Leslie Howard too, for that matter) and it's plain to me her appeal. There's one shot of her eyes over drinking a glass of champagne that suddenly made that damn song from the 80s make sense to me. The movie is pretty marvelous, but awfully dated, particularly in acting style. Actually, for the time it was probably naturalism bordering on the shocking (which is apt, given the subject matter [sex, obsession, poverty, modern medicine]) but now it reads rather stilted most of the time, particularly any time Phillip (Leslie) has a moment of reverie. I still recommend it highly; Maugham always delivers, and if you see it for no other reason, see it for Mildred's million-dollar freak out.

What was interesting for me was to start my day in this way, then venture off to NYU to work with their TV/film directing class on a short project. The set-up for today's work was very much like a soap opera set, with three cameras, all the technical roles filled by some 20+ students: the works. We began with a five-page scene that myself and two other actors had received about a week prior. There were no given circumstances for the scene, and very little contextual background. This was intentional, as part of the lesson for the class was about learning to work with actors (apparently a much-neglected aspect of direction in film schools). So we spent a good deal of time reading through and having table discussions before putting it on its feet. All-in-all, it was two hours of rehearsal before we actors broke in order for the class to confer about shot lists, etc. All we were aiming for today was different aspects of rehearsal; Tuesday we'll film.

So when we returned to the set, everyone was ready in their role. And I began to learn. My character makes a surprise entrance in the scene after about two pages of dialogue. As anyone who's worked on a film or TV set can tell you, that usually means at least a half hour before you'll get taped. Like something of a schmuck, I stood backstage to await my cue. Theatre instincts. (People kept offering me a chair out in the "audience," and didn't seem to understand why I wouldn't want to sit down.) There was a monitor back there, so I could watch the action on stage through a cut-out in the set wall, or one of the three shots they were working on. As I learned to watch the monitor instead of my fellow actors, I made a couple of observations.

It could be said that whereas theatre is constructed to celebrate profound moments, film (in this case meaning anything taped) is constructed to celebrate the intimate. This is an incredible generalization, and of course the intimate can be profound, and vice versa. But I was struck in particular today by the way a camera allows us closeness and angles of visual perception that we otherwise only have when we're in an intensely intimate relationship with someone. The scene we shot today began with a couple in bed, and as camera 3 kept a tight shot on the woman, she rolled to face her bedmate. On stage, it was a simple motion, unremarkable. On screen, however, I recognized it as a specific image I had only seen with people I had slept with (and, of course, in other films). We take it for granted, an aspect of contemporary storytelling, but it's an amazing thing.

The second observation I had to make today had to do with super powers. (You can take a geek out of the comic store....) I have a favorite hypothetical question. Actually, I have several:
  • Trapped on a desert island with only a CD player for company, which 5 albums would you take?
  • What deceased historical figure would you most want to share a lunch with?
  • What animal would you most wish to be?
But the big one for fanboy #1 here is:
  • Would you rather be able to fly, or to turn invisible at will?
Most people choose flying. It often descends to a discussion of practicalities (If you flew, you'd never escape public attention...invisibility would change your personality...what good is flying unless you're invulnerable, too...if you turn invisible, do you have to be naked...etc. ....) but the point is to understand why one appeals more than the other. Of course, everyone would like to have both. Well, you can't. Them's the breaks. Me, I choose invisibility. Don't get me wrong--I'd love to be able to fly (invulnerable or no) but I see such wonderful possibilities for invisibility. (And once again, I'm going to have to ask you all to remove your collective mind from the metaphoric gutter.) You'd be the ultimate ninja. You'd have information. You'd be able to taunt politicians and just go around miraculously rewarding the just and punishing the unjust. It. Would. Rule.

We're already experiencing it! That is exactly what film allows for. We're not just voyeurs at a glass wall; we're "invisible wo/men," getting just as close to the experience as if we were literally there. We go in for the kiss. We rock back from the hit. The only thing missing is the physical sensations, which in many cases our body is all-too-willing to supplant. We are the "invisible man" when we watch a film. What's more, particularly with contemporary visual short-hand, we're allowed the additional super powers of teleportation and slowing-down or speeding-up time. Film empowers us in this sense, giving us this sense both of investment in the actions of the story, and a subtle sense of control over it. Sure, we're along for the ride, someone else is driving, but we're used to that. It's called dreaming. Haven't you ever had a dream in which you saw everything going on, but couldn't intervene or didn't perhaps even exist in the same reality? Oh . . . no? Just me then? Awesome. Awesome . . .

I'm certain I'm not the first to suppose this connection, but I may be the first to parse it in such geeky terms. And of that, I am proud. I'm proud, too, to have made discoveries that reignite my excitement for the technological entertainment mediums. It seems to me now that when I consider film in these terms, it is a far-less-tapped mode of exploration and expression than I had imagined. I had an art history teacher in college who insisted that there was no progress in visual art (or perhaps he meant art in general); that artistry merely changed modes, never "improved" or in some way refined itself. Naturalism is not better than cave painting, cubism is not better than pointillism. I agree. Oedipus Rex, across centuries and translations and reinterpretations, can still work brilliantly as a play. Film is not an improvement on mediums for acting, nor a refinement. It simply suits our time more closely, and our time suits it (art:life::egg:chicken). What does that say about our time?

Maybe that we all want to be superheroes(tm).

07 February 2007


That is the finsky quote of the day, and also the subject of today's (very brief) 'blogination. I am struck today by the fickle nature of moods. Really, as an actor, I'm not supposed to believe in moods, insofar as the word can be used to describe a mysterious or unwarranted reaction. Everything has meaning to an actor--purpose, reason. The "because" is part of the daily grist for an actor's mill, even if sometimes that "because" amounts to something like, "Because it works." Nevertheless, I think life is full of unexplained moodiness. I'm not saying they happen without reason, but I am saying some of the reasons one experiences a mood are far too complex or far-reaching in their sources to ever be sufficiently divined. Yet it's rare that we try to capture this on stage, because it doesn't create a feeling of identification with an audience.

Take today, for example. I came in to work with such a good mood on that nothing stood in my way. (I also didn't get much 'blogging done, but everything's a trade-off.) Why? Can't say. Caught up on some sleep. This is essentially my Friday, as tomorrow I have a film-making class to participate in and Friday I return to Validus Preparatory Academy for class sign-up and then whisk myself out to Pennsylvania for a play reading by this guy at this place. So work to look forward to as well. A variety of factors. But if only I could access this kind of enthusiasm on a regular basis! Dear God, what couldn't I do?

Surely there's a way to do just that, at the times I need it most, and hence avoid periods of inexplicable melancholy.

Something besides hard drugs, I mean. And The Power of Positive Thinking, which makes me want to hit people.

"[Jeff] killed a guy."
"I saw that!"

06 February 2007

"When you can snatch the pebble from my hand...

...then your training will be complete."

That is NOT the movie quote quiz of the day. The quiz for today's entry will follow the rest of the entry, and will be much, much harder. I mean, I'm getting fleeced here. And not in that nice Farmer Bill way; violently, fiscally fleeced.

It's true: I like adversity. You know what else? I'm one of those types (yes: THOSE TYPES) who can't be happy if he's just relaxing. Not really. I fling myself from project to project in a manic quest for continual stimulation. What can I say? That's how I roll. Some of you may have spent time with me in repose and not know what the hell I'm talking about. Well, I can sit still, but it doesn't take long before said sitting digresses into myopic depression for yours truly. Enjoyment of adversity + need for hustle-bustle = appreciation for invigorating challenges. As an old friend of mine once said, "You like to jump in the fire." Yes. It's warm in there, and people don't care as much about what you're wearing when it's ablaze. Mind you, I'm not saying I'm a Superman(tm)(r)(c) of this approach. I spend my times in the doldrums, and even in the fire it's pretty easy to get lost. But it's the way me likey.

Which brings us to the topic of today's entry:
The handstand.

Oh elusive handstand, how you taunt me so! You El Dorado of acro, you perpendicular pinnacle of achievement! Look at you, STANDING there, taunting me with your perfect, inverted equilibrium. I love you, you bastard, and though you may never requite my love, I will never stop chasing you. To the ends of the earth. I SHALL PURSUE YOU!

For many people, the handstand is a snap, and they have crushes on other, more glamorous acrobatic accomplishments, like standing back-tucks, or an aerial. I'm at peace to report that my meager aim is the good handstand. Some others may believe they have achieved a perfect handstand, and many have, but still many more do not grasp the aspects of so-called handstand perfection. I'm talking an aligned (no collapsed back or bent legs), elongated, stock-still handstand that I decide the eventual release of. That's what I'm talking about! That is the subject to which I am referring!

It's an interesting journey, trying to nail the acrobatic handstand, and--though the effect is simple--there are many factors that are at play in this simple pose. Starting out, you have to learn how to fall. You have to accept the idea of putting yourself in peril and learning from that, hopefully without serious injury. Gradually you learn how to land on your feet from all different directions of fall, which needs to happen, because otherwise you'd not survive these early trials. But then, you know what? You have to forget all you learned about catching yourself, else you spend all your practice time deftly doing just that and not increasing the time you can stay aligned. That interplay continually vacillates, but there are other considerations as well. Just finding perpendicular alignment whilst upside-down is a trick, and requires the development of all new sensory experience. Then there's pushing up off the floor with your shoulders, pointing your toes, and learning to use your fingers as though they were toes. Finally you begin to get these elements to at least play nice together, and quite by accident start to get really good at catching yourself with, and then walking on, your hands. Which is great, and all, but then you have to forget how to do that, or at least suspend it, lest you spend all your time deftly walking instead of sticking the blasted handstand!

Hopefully, life is like that. A continual vacillation between a variety of different choices until, at long last, one attains a more perfect equilibrium. Because, if so, I am AWESOME. Vacillating? I have got that DOWN. Now I just have to stick that damn handstand.

"Do you have Soul?"
"That all depends..."

05 February 2007

Dare You to put Your Tongue against the Subway Track...

Breach of etiquette: I triple-dog dare you.

That's also the subject of today's movie-quote quiz. I paraphrase, of course, but if you know it there should be no problem winning today's finsky.

Polar Bear swim at The Pond! Last one in is a higher order of human being who doesn't succumb to the pack mentality when it could mean his or her ultimate peril!

Seriously: I want to cuddle with anything with a pulse, in front of a real fireplace, whilst drinking mulled wine and humming sea shanties. Instead, I am diligently returned to my day job and, like an early evolution of tiny mammal, merely overjoyed to be within a contained structure that has heated air being pumped through it. On my way up from the F train today I saw a homeless person laying out in the middle of the concourse floor, covered by a ratty comforter. Show me the police officer who would kick out such a person in such weather, and I will beat that officer mercilessly. Because violence solves problems. ( <--IRONY ) Today I had the opportunity to come into closer contact with Mona's clients than I normally do. In point of fact, I had not so much contact with her client, as with her client's soon-to-be-ex-spouse. (I think as long as I don't name names I can't be fired for this disclosure.) Yes, today I actually had to venture back out into the f'ing cold to serve a summons for divorce on someone. This is the third time, in four years of working for the same attorney, that I have been blessed with the honor of this particular sort of task. It was definitely the most pleasant of the three. The individual seemed very nice and was certainly cooperative. You don't get that a lot in the business of matrimonial law. It may seem cold to perform this task under any circumstances, but I like to think that when it falls to me to perform it I have the opportunity to at least make it as painless as possible, whereas when a service service (yeah--that's accurate) is made incumbent to the same thing it is of necessity professionally cruel. That's how I comfort myself. I have no real comfort to offer the people I meet in this role. Thanks to Neil Gaiman for suggesting (via his characterization of Death) that such a service is necessary and not necessarily vile. Just tough to accept.

An artist's life is invariably an interwoven mess of his or her personal, creative and professional lives (possibly best visualized by a Pollack painting). I'm not going to label myself an artist (leave that to the teeming masses) but I believe this metaphor extends to all those pursuing The Third Life (all rights reserved pending the apocalypse), and I sometimes wonder about the interrelationship between the elements of my particular pursuit. Today's task being a case in point, as is the fact that all my adult relationships to this point have been of necessity--to one extreme or another--long-distance ones. It doesn't exactly lend one an overwhelming confidence in one's ability to commit to and make work an ongoing relationship with someone, and I mean this both in the context of romantic entanglements as well as platonic ones.

Friend Patrick has made it something of his mission to remind me:
  1. Stability is not necessarily contrary to The Third Life; and
  2. Struggling ________s shouldn't fret over spending time/energy on things that simply make them happy.
For which I am eternally grateful. However, this encouragement has yet to make much of a dint in my wonderment over why the ol' personal life hasn't gone quite according to Hoyle. Not that I'm eager to attribute it to forces outside of my control or anything, but occasionally I have to wonder how best to make it work. And that's on good days. On bad days, I wonder if I've lost every chance for a long-term, meaningful relationship with someone by merit of prioritizing the career to the extent that I've had too many relationships fail not to have become jaded and absurd.

I try hard not to whine about it, but I am frustrated. The simple answer is, "Let go of the acting." You want a family, choose that and let the rest go. No dice, Cochise. I get about as far with that as I do on solving a Rubik's cube. It's not an option, and when I try to force that square peg into the round hole (minds: kindly remove yourselves from that gutter) it all goes to De Moines in a hand basket. Of course, there are varying degrees of compromise on this topic, and I've tried to explore them. Again: Rubik's cube. (I'm going to invent a "rubrics cube"; it can only be solved by speaking parenthetical advice at it until it suffers a system error from trying to process it all and catches fire, burning red until it's turned to slag...anyway...) Somehow I'm not yet ready to get a "real job" and practice community theatre, nor to apply to grad school and channel my creative energies into directing the senior class' production of Angels in America. Nor any of the other possibilities that spring to mind.

Yesterday I celebrated Friend Kira's thirtieth birthday with her. This March, the girl I moved to New York to be with is finally having her dream wedding. When I got out of college and was touring with children's theatre to save up enough money to move to this big city, I set my thirtieth year as the absolute, no-holds-barred decision date for hitting it, or quitting it, as regards pursuing a conventional family life. My thirtieth is impending, occurring in early June, at which time I will hopefully be in Italy, performing a clown piece in Piazza Navona. (Hear me, big G? For reals, yo.) So much has changed for me in the past seven years, I'm no longer assured that deadline was a good call. Nevertheless, it weighs on me occasionally. Okay: more than occasionally. RATHER FREQUENTLY. Yeah. That much.

I would like to go back and delete the last two paragraphs there. If you know me, it probably sounds like whining. If you don't know me, it probably sounds like relentless self-justification. Wait: Maybe it's the reverse. If you don't know . . . aw, to hell with it. It makes me vulnerable to admit that stuff, but come on. All you have to do is observe me for a short while for all of the above to be self-apparent. I'm not fooling anyone. Well, maybe Santa. Because I have yet to get just coal. Though I often wonder if generic electronics might not be today's equivalent.

What might be really hard to deal with is the fact that, of all my fantasies about how my life could go, which is my fantasy for this milestone of three decades? In Bocca al Lupo. Acting for spare change in a city in which I don't speak the native language. Not the fireplace. Not the Willsian progeny. Hat tricks and laughter in a piazza in Rome, which is really just a kind of New York with about two more millennia of history.

So there's no simple answer. Except, perhaps, to say that life is full of surprises. I figure if I can avoid choosing to apply my tongue to sub-zero-temperature alloys, then I'm still making reasonably intelligent decisions. So: I'll see you guys at 5:00 AM tomorrow morning at The Pond!