Aside

“What did you do today?”

It was and remains a simple question.

“nothing.”

I’m a temporary employee. That’s how I make my rent. It’s not my favorite thing in the world but it’s got its perks. There is a sense of freedom in assessing a company based on actual work experience before deciding if you’d like to work there for real. I can assure you that, as an artist with very clear artistic professional goals, it is the norm to come to the following conclusion: “It’s probably best that this is a temp job.” I want to work, don’t get me wrong; I just don’t want to have to pretend to be someone else for the majority of my waking life.

That being said, I’m really tired of not having steady and reliable employment. Living paycheck to paycheck is its own special kind of monotonous grind. It requires you to say “no” a lot to people you love. It comes with lapses of financial judgement that end up making your life more difficult in the long run. Spotting the opposition a goal from the start – it wounds your pride. It reminds you that you are not above pride. In moments of extreme weakness, it makes you feel powerless and suggests that wallowing in despair is all you can do. It’s depressing.

I’m not depressed though, I know what that is. I’ve looked that in the face before; looked at the hastily drawn prescription for anti-depressants from my college health center and said “no.” And now, six years later, I know how lucky I am to have a person in my life who sees me every day and smacks me awake with stern kindness. So… if you were getting worried or something…

But the poverty still sucks so I’ve been looking for permanent positions. And I thought I’d found one!

Mistake.(?)

It is “temp-to-hire” but for now it’s three days a week oh they didn’t tell you that I’m sorry man is that gonna be okay ok man not sure what the timeline is at this point see you wednesday. <insert negotiation of higher rate damnit>
<insert search for supplemental day work damnit>
<realization I’ve gotten my hopes up>
<feel sorry for self>
<punish self for stupidity>
<take it out on loved ones>
<Be loved in return>
<guilt>
<tough love>
<apology>
<love>
<love>

So that’s where I am. At a job where I do… ostensibly nothing; am asked to do little-to-nothing. And so I’m writing a brog post about it cuz I’ve already read the entire internet and it’s only 10:30am.

But for love, I am sad.

I’m so hopeful for today.

Present Musing no: 33 on humanizing as the only acceptable form of generalizing

“Those don’t look like women, they look like football players.”

“They are football players. They’re also all women.”

“Yeah but they move just like male football players.”

That’s how the conversation started. We were way out in middle of nowhere Brooklyn having just attended my brother’s Rugby Match. It was an exciting game with a last second score to send his team through to the championship tournament; the kind of play that sent everyone (myself included) sprinting down the sidelines with the team as a fortuitous bounce sprang a breakaway to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. After a celebratory sideline beer we came upon two women football teams warming up for a game. Jogging as a group in the distance, the local team looked small and slow compared to the strong and sleek ladies from Pittsburgh casually tossing the pigskin in front of us. They didn’t look like men, they looked like athletes. They looked awesome.

So when conversation turned from, “that’s awesome” to “I hated watching girls wrestle boys when your brother was in high school” I was unprepared. The physiological differences between men and women are well documented but they are hardly reason enough to automatically assume an unfair advantage. My mind races back to this story (Rick Reilly. Killin’ it.) about a highly touted Iowa wrestler who chose to forfeit his first state tournament match rather than wrestle a girl. This girl, one of the first two to qualify for states (she went 20-13 pre-tournament) wasn’t some attention seeking hormonal kid hoping to rub naughty bits with boys or some hyper-feminist trying to make a point; she was there to compete having proven that she could.

The conversation shifted rapidly from “boys and girls are different” to “girls playing softball was made okay by girls playing baseball” to “baseball is not the same as wrestling” to “competition is competition” to “boys shouldn’t be encouraged to pin girls to the ground.” Who are you protecting by saying girls can’t wrestle boys? The boy who spent years learning techniques to throw and hold another person to the ground but wouldn’t have become a rapist if he hadn’t been allowed to practice on a girl that one time? Be serious. If you’re protecting the girl who says “yes I can wrestle a boy, let me at him” well I’m sorry but that’s not your job.

“Society: 3a: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another” – Merriam-Webster.

Society tells girls they shouldn’t place themselves in combat situations. It tells boys to protect girls because they are less capable of protecting themselves. It also tolerates rape culture. Society told me not to take dance class when I was a kid. I must have been seven or eight years old when my mother asked me if I wanted to. I totally did but something told me that dance class is for girls so I said no. The same mother who now has a problem with girls wrestling boys actually tried to encourage me at the time by citing examples of other boys who were taking dance; it didn’t matter. I was too scared to get made fun of for being weak.

Which, compared to my classmates at the time, I totally was. Aside from my natural string-bean frame, being born in April meant I was a full 8 months younger than some of the kids I was comparing myself with. That’s nothing now (you should see some of those guys as adults) but when you’re eight years old, six months is 1/16th of your entire life. Those guys were better in many ways because they were just bigger and stronger than me. It’s an unfair model of comparison that leads to disparity in opportunities for skill development (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s awesome book, Outliers for more on this) but it’s also just life.

Come to think of it… this may be why I know so many sports-hating artists who are born between March and July… curious…

The decision not to take dance is one of those “what if” regrets we all become so familiar with as we get older. After singing in choir since I was three years old and hurling my “look at me and like me or else” attitude at the theater I was a solid double-threat in the high-school musicals. If I had that dance training, would I have pursued a musical theater degree? Heck, would I have been less afraid of the weight room and found myself playing sports? The answer to those questions is a solid, “maybe” but part of growing up is realizing you like who you’ve become instead.

Based on my casual observations it came as no surprise to learn that the Pittsburgh Passion dominated the New York Sharks in that football game 35-0. In spite of this lopsided result there is still a large part of me that would have loved to stay and watch to support the continued demolition of masculine/feminine requirements in our society. Instead, I hustled my butt home so I could make sure dinner was prepared for my girlfriend who was coming off a long day at work.

Present Musing no. 32: On self.

I have a hard time remembering a lot of my childhood – events, mostly. People. My family. This is not to suggest that I had an unhappy childhood; by all accounts I was a happy, well mannered, hyper, annoying, surprising kid. Normal. I just have a hard time remembering much of it. That said, I have incredible capacity for remembering music – whole strains of melodies and counter melodies stick to the insides of my head like flies on flan (do flies like flan?). Gifted, I am told. This – the uneventful childhood – strikes me as unusual considering how easily nostalgia comes to writers I know or like. Frankly it’s troubling. What am I missing and what does missing mean?

I’m almost 28 which is almost 30 which is nothing important. And self-doubt may be the defining characteristic of the human condition.

Between the ages of 7 and 17 I was on Ritalin for 8 hours a day. A card-carrying member of the ADHD generation, I would occasionally add 4 hours to this when my homework load was particularly large. I wonder if there is a connection between memory and Ritalin but stop myself from googling it; first out of fear that this is true, second out of the recognition that making this connection would change nothing, and third out of fear that this connection is imaginary and what does that mean? I’d take the meds for schoolwork but not for play rehearsals as it made me feel foggy and slow to react. There’s probably something to this…

This May will be the ten-year anniversary of my last dose of Ritalin. The decision to stop wouldn’t be made for some months later. It happened upon my arrival at college. “I have to learn how to function without this” I would tell my Mother as she slotted a bottle of pills into my plastic closet organizer. I knew this was an “adult decision” then. One of accepting responsibility for who I am and how I wanted to be. I suspected then that by acknowledging this I was in some way diminishing it’s meaning.

I thought it would be hard to stop but it was too easy. The mandatory orientation course, (“Welcome to college. Write a one page response on this article about fruit flies. Congratulations, you’ve passed. You’re a fruit fly.”) took me five tries to complete. I lacked discipline. One time I considered joining the army after graduating.

In first grade I asked to take karate. My mom said no. I was standing in the bottom of a stairwell that opened out onto the black top playground of my elementary school. My younger brother would later take karate as a means to teach his dyslexic brain discipline. Looking back this was likely due to financial circumstance more than preferential treatment – not that I didn’t want to take it that way. Anyway, that’s a memory… but a pre-ritalin one so I guess it doesn’t count.

The Army consideration came in the school cafeteria. I had expected light-hearted ribbing and skinny jokes. Instead I got what almost looked like fear from guys who head butted me as a form of greeting. This surprise/genuine concern was enough to pull me back from the edge. The problem had been recognized, a quick solution was proposed and rejected. This would require more than duct tape.

Here’s what I’m good at: Instinctual action, constructing/de-constructing/analyzing metaphor, singing, assigning rhythm to text, dancing at weddings, channeling anger into art, standing up for others, picking myself up, pushing out of corners, attacking opportunity for experience as long as it doesn’t require foresight.

Here’s what I’m bad at: Planning… anything, taking proactive action, standing up for myself, writing lists about what I’m good/bad at, homework.

A year ago I lost/left my job. I learned how bad I am at writing cover-letters. I can’t help but picture myself standing in front of a bad power-point presentation with stock photography and clip-art while reading off index cards. I’ve tried to jazz it up but that only brings up the image of placing a hand jauntily on my hip to let you know how comfortable I am. It’s homework. I’ll finish it tonight.

Present Musing no. 32: On Self-Satisfaction and the Wisdom of Them Who Have Been There.

I wrote this the other day: “And a new motivation, yes! It starts with the leap to trust that people will listen when I tell stories. That people will agree with me when I say, ‘hey this thing I made is cool.” Followed it up by extending a hand; by practicing what I was preaching. Hooray for me! A personal victory in the face of a long-standing foe, for which I felt very good about myself.

“The problem is not special to you; you are not the only artist who experiences this. What makes us special as artists is how we overcome this problem.” – Kevin R. Free (spoken to me this morning on an East Harlem corner surrounded by drug addicts after our final shared morning commute)

Of course he is right to say this; to caution me.

I herald my time studying at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center as a transformative artistic experience. It’s a common description of an old and storied program and I’m proud to stand by the statement even now. Months after the completion of these programs, I was living with my parents trying to make my way into the theater scene of New York City. They’d heard this description escape my mouth many times before and I’m sure it had gotten tiresome. After all, those are some really strong words without further explanation! So one night my mother said to me,
-“You always go on about how NTI was transformative but you never say how you were transformed; what you learned. Why is that?

-“Because, if all I did was tell you what I learned then I’m really only telling you the things I SHOULD have learned but still do not understand how to apply. The difference between telling you what I learned and applying what I’ve learned is pretty large.”

Three years later I will take that a step further. The difference between saying and doing is the difference between sinking and swimming. I have cheapened my achievement by even mentioning it. I will not become satisfied with a singular instance of success. This is a change in lifestyle. Keep it going. Keep it going. Forward and on. Let the back pats come from alien hands.

Present Musing no. 31: On Self-Reflection/Loathing

Between September 2009 and September 2010 I never stopped working in the theater. Since then, my participation in the theatrical community has been spotty at best. Self reflection has led me to question what my motivation for work is and was. What has changed? The biggest change in my life has been that I am not lonely anymore. Yes. So a need to be seen and heard has been filled. Was that all that theater was for me or is it something more? I believe it is something more because even more recently I went to see a very good script get directed really poorly and it irked me; irks,a lot. Because I can do better and I want to. So now I am left with the question: what is my new motivation? It is to do better. But how have I done poorly? I begin at the recent self-sabotage.
I saw the opportunity on the last day of. I thought, “that looks like something I could do” and I even reached out to people (including the source of the opportunity) for help; all of whom offered universal support. Then when it came time to do the work myself, I stopped. “Describe yourself as a director” it asked. I can’t, won’t, don’t know how. Oh, it hits me in the gut even now to think about. Why? I’ve done this! I’ve directed many plays and often quite well. All I had to say  was, “I don’t know what kind of director I am but I know the following: people like me; like listening to me; like being led by me and together we make good theater” or so I’m told but never quite believe. When does modesty become self-loathing? I don’t know when but it did and here we are… and there that opportunity went.

anyway

that’s where I am
and also producing a show with fantastic people
and also writing
writing this play which is exciting.
a re-evaluation of sorts

but forward.

And a new motivation, yes! It starts with the leap to trust that people will listen when I tell stories. That people will agree with me when I say, “hey this thing I made is cool.”

Present Musing no. 30: On the use of past musing images to ponder another step forward

The albatross with wax wings wet flies on towards the sun
for the seas below offer weary wings relief
at the price of darkness and the loss of the sky

And the man running blind into latched doors has noticed the knob in front of him
for vision has returned and the blurry eyes shine
with tears of what was wiped clear

((patience in the silent wind))

The bird can glide only so far before it needs to flap its wings.
The sea will rise and the sun will fade
The knob won’t turn on its own.

Oh! My tired wings do burn for the sun;
for themselves they do cry, ‘Ay me!’ Must I
With tear stain’d eyes push through yonder door? Oh!
I know what awaits. It is forward, it
is the past. Foes long preparing for me.
I fear the path that takes me there but feel
the spray of fast approaching tides. Do I
slide on into the deep; dive down below;
swear off the sun!? Its warming rays do spur
me on as I prepare my soul to face
them that hath follow’d me to this next place.

((wind))
((spray))
((wind))

Present Musing no. 29: On Clarity of Focus (and spiderman)

Spiderman.

OMG! NO DON’T DO IT! I’M TIRED OF THIS!

Julie Taymor just walked away from the project.  She’s getting KILLED all over the place for bailing on a play that she was getting KILLED for in the first place. Now I’m no expert of her work, but it seems that the product of which has suffered since The Lion King made her a top billing type of name.
(For example: Across The Universe, for all it’s nostalgia and excellent musical direction, has a horribly inconsistent storyline… but she removed her name from some of that as well.) 
I just can’t lay blame on her for this debacle of a production. The fact is, somebody hired Ms. Taymor in the first place. Somebody also hired Bono and The Edge (come on, man what’s “edgy” about your guitar riffs besides their repetition?) to do something that they had zero experience with. Somebody bought out a theater and said yes to every flying stunt imaginable.

And somebody didn’t take control of the situation when the first draft came in looking like a third grader wrote it.

(Someone go look at my viking : play metaphor: “Present Musing no. 15″ and a follow up, “Regarding Previous Present Musing no. 15″)

If someone looked at it and said, “this is great!” then, well, shame on them, but it’s more likely someone looked at the script and thought, “this is rough.” It is then their responsibility to make sure that it’s fixed. If Ms. Taymor said “no, it’s perfect” then explain to her that it’s not and why, or bring someone in who has the vocabulary to do so. If, after that, she still won’t fix it then figure out why and if it’s ego and she won’t let go then fire her.

Now it’s been speculated that a “firing” did more or less take place today. But I suggest that this action and the actions leading up to it are about 80 million dollars and a year too late.

I am by no means informed on the inner workings of this project, rather I am only basing these opinions off of my own limited experience (failures & successes) as a director of stories acted in front of a live audience. Similarly I am not trying to absolve anyone (Ms. Taymor included) of blame. Rather I’m positing that the people at the top of the food chain here are ultimately responsible for this mess. A play requires a team to have clarity of focus; a shared vision and it’s up to the leader of that team to protect that sentiment. It’s clear that not everyone is/was on board with whatever vision Spiderman, Turn Off The Dark was flying towards.

Someone should be getting more of the negative press… but someone clearly has a lot of money to throw around.

Thoughts?