Everyone carries around his own monsters.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2016 by graysea

After reading this article this morning, I want to throw up.

It brought up a lot of memories…
– That white retailer in Door County who was watching the news as she checked out our items. I don’t remember what was on the screen. She remarked to us that she didn’t ever want to go to Milwaukee “because of all the… well… YOU know… ‘culture.'”
– The acquaintance on the bus who described to me that three black men on the street happened to be walking behind her, but she wasn’t afraid, “because, YOU know… they didn’t ACT black.”
– The friend I went to school with who couldn’t go to THAT wal-mart, until she broke her leg and walked around in a cast. “I think the black people are nice to me because I’m hurt.”
– Living in a cheap one-bedroom with black neighbors and applying for foodstamps, a friend of mine commenting that I was “living like a black person.”
– The co-worker teacher who assumed that after she told her class she was “part Cherokee,” the black kids respected her more.
– A black friend of mine telling me she needed to send a prospective roomate her picture before they met, because “you never know.”
– The co-worker from Mequon who was absolutely terrified of our black janitor, worried about “how no one can hear us scream up here” when he passed us at work to go empty recycle bins.
– That black janitor, who talked to my boss about baseball and complimented my smile. In retrospect, I’m thinking he felt he had to be extra nice to us.
– Every black person who approaches the reception desk with calm, direct eye contact, states their name and business, and assumes I’m going to do some kind of security check.
– My conversation with a black Teaching Assistant who wished she could move back south, because “at least there they’re racist to your face.”
– Another conversation with the same TA about policing language in the classroom. She was adamant she wouldn’t let them speak with too heavy “ebonics” because it “sounded ignorant.”
– The looks I get when I tell my white, affluent, private school students that I live in the heart of Downtown and I take the bus.
– The conversational friendliness in the elevator of my building – is that just the way my neighbors are, or is everyone making a Special Effort to be nice to me?

I’m stunned and angry at these instances, but mostly I’m heartbroken.
This issue isn’t about my heartbreak. But I guess I’ll start there.

Years ago I sat next to a black friend of mine while she showed me “Shit White Girls Say.” She laughed her ass off so hard she could hardly breathe. I was horrified. She was laughing more because I was horrified. I was especially horrified when she told me that she, personally, over the course of her 20 something years of life, had heard all of these things to her face and worse. I was especially especially horrified when she jokingly made an off-handed comment, in a conversation days later, “you sound like Shit White Girls Say right now.” I hung up the phone and I sobbed. SOBBED. I couldn’t talk to her for days. She finally confronted me, and I told her how helpless I felt, how stupid. How I couldn’t wrap my head around my own internalized racism, and how I felt like I must be hurting her without even knowing it. I could feel her eyes roll over the phone. She basically told me to shut the hell up and get over it. “I wasn’t hurt,” she said. “I was making a joke. And I am NOT gonna walk around on eggshells around you. Ugh. White people are so annoying.”

Step 1 into the realization that I was a white liberal progressive stereotype. The initial lightbulb.

Step 2 was actually a series of steps, “checking my privilege” in new ways while teaching in public schools- a frigging beast of an internal struggle, as all of the public schools in my city are segregated by skin color/income. I’d call my 1 black friend (because every white liberal progressive stereotype has at least one) and worry to her “I want to meet my students where they are, but they’ll never let me in because I don’t speak AAVE. I’m not part of the culture. I can’t code switch. And I really shouldn’t try, right? Cuz that’d be appropriation. What do I do?”

Her response? “OMG JUST CHILL THE HELL OUT.”

Every time. Every time I had a question, I could, again, feel the heavy eye roll, and she’d tell me to just shut the hell up and get over it. Do the work. Be a decent person. Do the best you can. No one’s expecting me to do more than my best. “You have to let your best be good enough,” she screamed at me once. She was frustrated. I was crying. I was hurt at first, but it was the best advice I ever got.

Step 3 is figuring out what my friend was trying to tell me the whole time: this is not my struggle.

I know I’m not a terrible human being. That should feel like the end of it. But it’s not.
Is simply avoiding being a racist asshole enough?
Is moving to the area of my segregated city with a higher population of black people enough?
Is teaching how to work together to create a play – no matter who is in the room – enough?
Shouldn’t I be struggling alongside as an ally? Isn’t making it my struggle too helping to shoulder the burden?
I still have questions. A lot of them. Is asking them enough? Or is it even right for me to do so?

This is hard.

However hurt or heartbroken I get simply does not compare to a sense of personal familial history of systematic oppression and enslavement. Getting surprised or hurt by these real-life situations only emphasizes how ignorant I had previously been that such situations exist. Explaining how sorry I am is only going to emphasize how much I want to distance myself from “those racist people”, and how much I want to make the situation about myself and my reactions, when that’s not really what matters. In short, my hurt feelings are not going to solve anything.

It’s hard, almost impossibly hard, to feel bad about something, and then know that no matter how bad you feel, it just doesn’t matter. But it’s what people get told to do all the time. Mostly black people. “We, the whole world around you, do not care that you are angry or hurt. Your feelings haven’t mattered since your great grandfather was a slave.” That’s the everyday message. To everyone.

This is hard for me because acting on my feelings and my struggle is all I really know how to do – make the situation about myself and my agency and my power. Take it into my own hands and do something. It’s how I’ve learned to solve things. It’s how I’ve learned to deal with everything. White people are always the heroes.
Being a hero, some times, doesn’t help.
(To a woman with a sword, every issue is an invading warlord?)

BUT: sitting back and being comfortable in the idea that, “well, I’m not an asshole, so I have no work left to do” is ALSO not helpful. “That’s not my job,” “That’s not my problem,” “I’ll wait for someone more deserving to handle it” is just as bad, if not worse. Probably worse. That’s how Trump wins. Yeah that’s definitely worse.

Step 3 is difficult, because it’s a balancing act between action an inaction. It’s the long list of what not to do that makes me feel guilty and sad and stuck, but more importantly it’s the very very short list of what to think about daily that makes me confused and questioning. It’s reading articles and learning about the situation, but without posting them on facebook to make sure everyone knows how not racist I am. It’s accepting that everyone is at least a little bit racist and I can lighten up about a lot of things, but also accepting that a lot of white people in power are way more racist than it seems on the surface, and I have to figure out a way to call that out in an effective and conversational way – without being the angry progressive liberal white teacher girl overcompensating for my own guilt. It’s voting and sitting back waiting for the election results, but it’s also finding the institutionalized racism, the racism way way way down in the system, and bringing it up as a factor when these conversations come up. It’s not walking on eggshells. It’s making a lot of mistakes and then owning them without feeling overwhelming guilt. (It’s definitely not crying to your black friend about how racist you are. Oi vhey.)

And it’s doing all of that, finding all of that out, acting or not acting on all of those things, on top of teaching a classroom full of kids about theater. And on top of not being an asshole, of course. Continue doing that. That part’s easy. The rest of it?

Man, I hope we get rid of racism soon, cuz it sure just makes everything unnecessarily difficult.

“Yes, of course we’re pretty, but why are you crying? “

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2016 by graysea

If I had a nickel for every time the following scenario happened, I’d buy a puppy:

– I must look acceptably pretty for something important, like an audition or a play or a wedding, and I can’t do the Neil Gaiman Tim Burton thing and just put on a lot of black. I’m really great at wearing black.

– I muse at how well some men have learned the woman’s fashion code better than I have, which makes me feel like I’m a boy learning to “pass” as a woman… a very confusing experience.

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– I call out to the world “someone send me an Auntie Noxie fairy godfather!” and I wish I could be on the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy… only in that scenario I’m the straight guy. (No, I don’t want to be on What Not To Wear. I want to be on QUEER EYE.) Generization of fashion norms start spinning around in my  head, and I have a little Kate Hepburn on one shoulder saying “tell them all to fuck off!” and a little Audrey Hepburn on the other shoulder saying “Come on, Grace, you can do it! Every woman is glamorous if they only give it a try.”

– I remind myself about all the things I’m good at, to bolster my confidence. I am a great stage combatant. I can make anything work if you give me safety pins and gaff tape. I am a perfect gentleman. I am a hard worker. I make a mean chicken rice casserole. Then I realize that none of these things are going to help me with this situation.

– In my head, I re-play everything ever said to me about how I dress myself. People who love me and people who don’t have said many helpful and unhelpful things, and sorting it all out is frustrating. “Don’t wear anything with a hood to a job interview,”
“Black doesn’t go with everything,”
“Oh look at our hippie girl who finally shaved her legs,”
“He’d look at you more if you wore lower-cut t-shirts,”
“That fabric doesn’t go with this fabric,”
“That’s navy blue and that’s black and that’s brown, you’re not color blind, are you?”
“Oh my god, I didn’t know you had boobs!”
“There’s such a lovely figure under all of that stuff you wear, I don’t know why you hide it,”
“Those stripes aren’t the same as these stripes,”
“Who taught you how to put on makeup?”,
“Would you just learn how to live in this costume? Your character would know how to wear this,”
“Oh Gracie, what a style you have,”
“If you can’t figure out how to wear those shoes I’m going to have to cut them from my design,” etcetera etcetera. Sorting out the helpful from the hurtful is difficult, because a lot of it is both. This is how we teach women to conform: we shame them into it. I’m really bad at learning how to be shameful. Apparently, eating disorders and busted up feet are a right of passage into the “beauty is pain” world of being a woman. I bypassed all of that crap. Thanks, homeschooling!

– I do my best, I put on the thing, I strap on the shoes, I shave the appropriate areas, I put on the makeup, all the while getting more and more frustrated that men aren’t expected to do any of this crap, and that it’s not fair that people expect me to not only do it, but to know how to do it. My uterus did not come with an instruction booklet on fashion. Sorry, entire world. It’s never been a necessity of the places I want to work, or the people I want to be friends with, that I conform to society’s rules on what I’m supposed to look like. GRRRRRR.https://i0.wp.com/24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m4tn1eeFyO1qlqifro1_250.gif

– I start to equate “looking like Audrey Hepburn” with an easier life as a woman, with being a good actor, with not getting in the way, with just being normal for once in my life. I can do this. I can do this! Everyone else can do it. I can figure this out. Why have I never figured this out? I’ve been on this planet for 27 years and I’ve never learned these skills? I’ve never looked at other women and analyzed the way they put themselves together? I’ve never sought out experts in the fashion field and asked them for advice? NO, because (start at the beginning and re-play everything that I’ve been going through up until this point.)

– I finally turn around and look in the mirror, expecting someone other than myself.

– I’m still me.

– I cry.

Of course this scenario generally happens around the part of my hormonal cycle that forces on my molehills-to-mountains glasses. But seriously, crying in department stores while trying to get ready for an audition (or a date or a wedding or a character that’s supposed to be pretty) is kind of my thing.

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The above train of thought is, I promise, what’s going on on the inside of my head. This is, I’m sure, what it looks like on the outside:

– We asked Gracie to put on a dress for this role.
– Gracie put on the dress.
– Gracie cried.
– We asked her what’s wrong, and she kept saying things like “I feel like a boy in drag!” and “This is stupid, nevermind, I’m sorry.” The weirdest one was “Katherine Hepburn is yelling at me,” which was directed at no one. We’re all very confused and maybe a little worried. No one is yelling at her. Why is she so upset?
– Maybe we shouldn’t work with Gracie again. She is clearly nutz.

I turn into this guy:

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And that is frustrating.

Here’s what I’ve unpacked since my most recent bout of freaking out, which was *cough*last night*cough*. It actually has to do with a really incredible and patient director trying to help me circumnavigate these issues, and why I still found her perfectly reasonable and well intentioned efforts unhelpful (because apparently “I am Darren Nichols. Deal with that.”)  She was trying to help me feel more comfortable in a dress, because I happened to mention that the last time I wore a pretty dress I put combat boots on which was a pretty great indicator to tell everyone to fuck off. So she was going to let me wear combat boots with my dress on stage. Because that’ll work for the character, if we put the character on Gracie instead of Gracie into the character. Insecurities solved, right? SHOULD HAVE BEEN. Totally, totally should have been.

I still wanted to cry, but now I wanted to cry because people were being nice to me about my crazy and I was still frustrated. To the immense credit of my director, she very calmly and forwardly said “So what do you need me to do for you to make you feel comfortable?” in the absolutely nicest, most professional way possible. I didn’t want her to do anything. I wanted to just be a better person, magically, in that instant, and stop being such a whiny drama queen.

It took a night of sleep to figure it out. I think I’ve solved my problems, at least when it comes to looking pretty for a role, and I might have new vocabulary to communicate that to my next director who will probably not be so patient with me. This is it:

I wish I was Gary Oldman.

 

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NO WAIT come back let me explain!!

I know that no matter what role I’m playing, it’ll look like me up there. I am not Gary Oldman, unfortunately. The audience will see me, or a facet of me, because I can’t transform like he can. But I can certainly try. If a script is forcing me into a shape far removed from who I am, it helps when there isn’t even a piece of me in the appearance. I can wear combat boots with a pretty dress in real life, as myself, and it sure took me a while to get comfortable with that. But if I’m trying to play someone else, who would probably not wear combat boots with her pretty dress (because she probably figured it out and became a girl at age 12), then I don’t want to look like myself on stage. As soon as it’s me on the stage, it’s “Grace doesn’t know how to dress herself so the designer had to make compromises.” I feel like I’m getting in the way of the play, the story is cracking and my too-big personality is showing through, which makes me really frustrated. Bad actors do that. Good actors, like Gary Oldman, morph. The sooner the audience can forget it’s me, the better. When my own mom forgets it’s me, (eventually, somewhere in Act 3, maybe,) I know I’ve done my job.

This is actually the opposite of most other actresses with image issues, which is why it’s so confusing. Most often, an actresses’ wild insecurities are about how she doesn’t want to cut her hair or remove her makeup or wear different shoes. Oh man, during one production of Midsummer we didn’t get our costumes until the day before we opened, you shouldda HEARD some of the fairies flipping their shit. They had previously been directed to act “sexy” and “animal-like”, and wound up covered in fur with not a lot of “sexy” going on. Tears. OR, when my counterpart was told she had to wear no makeup on stage when we were only like fifteen years old. She was totally uncomfortable, because at age 15 she had been wearing makeup every day of her real life in order to face the world of middle school terribleness. OR that time that hair dresser showed up to the theater to chop off my hair into a bob for a 1920s role. She told me she was so relieved when I didn’t cry about it. I was like, “People DO THAT to you??”

It makes sense. As an actor, your image is what you’re selling. Your headshot is an extension of yourself. You get cast because you look a certain way, not because the casting director is confident that you can just Gary Oldman yourself into any role.

I am the absolute opposite. Everyone seems to be casting me into roles that they can clearly see fit my body type. Meanwhile, I have been approaching all “young girl” roles as a character actor would approach being a hobgoblin or a giant. THERE’S the discrepancy. “Why is Grace freaking out about playing a girl? She IS a girl!” meanwhile I’m like “THIS FEELS SO WEIRD! Why won’t anyone cast me as Captain Hammer??”

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“Because, my dear, you are even less Nathan Fillion than you are Gary Oldman. Surprise!!”

Please tell me to cut my hair or wear different underwear or put on prosthetic makeup. That way it’s not Gracie up there! If I’m being a “girl”, it’s not going to be me up there anyway. Help me out, man! Transform me into something that “passes”. The theater is full of fairy godfathers, right??

I felt incredibly uncomfortable after King Lear, when people kept running up to me after the show to tell me “you looked so PRETTY”. No. I was speaking lines. (Did you hear those lines I spoke? I had a few of them.) Cordelia looked pretty.
MAYBE THAT’S INSANE.

It sure sounds insane!!!

Thank the gods for directors who will at least make the attempt to help me unpack years of judgmental, genderized, awkward…ness. Or, at the very least, ignore the fact that I’m weeping under a sink in the bathroom.*

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guess which of these characters I’m more comfortable playing!

*edit: I did not actually cry last night. I just wanted to for about 4 seconds, max.

new years revolutions

Posted in Uncategorized on December 31, 2015 by graysea

I made a habit of not making new years resolutions a while ago. Not measurable ones, anyway. Not ones like “I’m going to go to the gym three times a week!” because I know I will do that for about 2 days. Some times I make more philosophical perspective shifts. And those happen around birthdays, some times, and some times during St. Patricks Day for some weird reason. I suppose there’s a benefit to making the conscious decision to rack up your points from the last year, and focus that energy into some new goals. It’s a little weird to me that we kind of all arbitrarily decided that January 1st was the day to do it… but a couple of things have happened recently that did not fling me into an existential crisis, but could have.

I interviewed for another job and didn’t get it, which makes a streak of 4 in a row. The first of which I tried for a good few months ago, and I was “overqualified”. Yes, overqualified for $11/hr with benefits. So I started applying to bigger jobs, none of which seem interested in me at all. (And frankly, I was a little worried that I wasn’t interested in a few of them, either. But that exchange isn’t allowed to go both ways, is it? I am seeking a job. I am the one dangling.) The  last one I really wanted, but I was seriously under-qualified for it because, as a friend of mine summed up last night, “Can you show how great you are on paper? No? Then we don’t care!” Valid. Sad, confusing, and frustrating, but totally valid.

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My reactions to let-downs range from existential-crisisy to proactive bitterness. Here’s what happens when I get the “we went with someone else” call, or voicemail, or e-mail: I wallow for a second, and then I write a personal e-mail. I write some long rant to a past professor, which is often if not always met with an equally long e-mail back. I write an e-mail to potential employers who are also friends, and the e-mail awkwardly bounces from forced professionalism to snarky pedestrian sarcasm, and I tell them all the reasons why they should hire me. I throw bundles of socks at the wall as hard as I can when no one is home. I make myself food, because making and eating food has the clearest and most noble work/benefit ratio I can think of. I read some Sylvia Plath, and I think about the fig tree with all the dying opportunities on it just landing at my feet. And I think about Neil Gaiman’s “make good art” advice, which I have linked to before but here it is again, about going towards that mountain. And how my mountain in the distance is shrouded in mist, and if I ever get to see it, it sure looks like a bunch of figs.

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I think about how feminism gave me too many opportunities to know what to do with and how I shouldn’t waste any, meanwhile the previous generation seems to be the root of all my economic problems if you believe the internet. I think about the new, not-very-sustainable method of at least two careers at once, and how our new yardstick for success is how often we tell everyone how tired we are. I think about people who love me or like me or even just tolerate me telling met that I’m smart, or I’m too smart, or I’m “inflammatory,” which was not intended as a compliment but I took it as one and will cherish it forever, unlike the many times I’ve been called “dramatic.”

*HEAVY SIGH.*
Fuck it.

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My new years resolution is to build that mountain rather than search for it, which will be seriously difficult to do from such a distance. I will grow my own Plath tree and it’ll be peaches and I’ll share them with every other smart, frustrated, sarcastic woman I meet. I might not stop applying for jobs, but I’m definitely going to invest more energy into the jungle-chopping machete in my hand rather than the lost guides who are only half-assed calling to me from the darkness in all directions. I’m going to figure out how to make my skills valuable, which will be difficult, because “artist” and “teacher” and “actor” are not necessarily valued much, especially by current legislation. It’s either that or acquire a whole new set of skills that are perhaps intrinsically more valuable than art.

Also I’m gonna do more yoga. I promise I mean that this time. Like three days a week!

 

The Way of the Warrior…. Princess.

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2015 by graysea

As a kid, I hit things with sticks. I went out into the trees and I picked up a good hitting stick, and I would wack the bark off of pine tree enemies in rapid succession. I practiced my Xena war cry, and I was (in my imagination) decked out in the armor that Joan of Arc wore… not historically, of course, I mean the Joan of Arc as depicted in Bill and Ted.

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Of course, when imaginary games were shared with friends, I was a princess some times. Adventures as a princess included but were not limited to getting saved by princes whose character development went about as far as “handsome” and “good” (in that order). We were also orphans a-la My Little Princess, locked in an attic trying to escape from some evil boarding house mum. We were also Huck Finn types having adventures on a river raft. We were also lions or wolves – actually more often than not we played imaginary games as animals rather than humans. Thanks, Disney.
But I definitely always had a penchant for hitting things with sticks. Tackling the enemy. Wielding a weapon. Screaming to frighten the pants off of the invading warlords. I might have even been actually a little violent on the playground, before my brain developed enough to consider what pain really feels like to other people. Oops.

Then I reached middle school, learned about countries invading other countries and 18 year olds getting riddled with bullet holes on the front lines on foreign soil, and became a total pacifist. “War is not the answer” was a patch on my school backpack, next to a heart, a puppy, a peace sign, and a couple more flowers. (But, like, groovy flowers, not girly flowers.)

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“THAT is SO… TRUE!” I exclaimed, 8 years old in the head-shop-turned-“tobacco pipe” store.

When the towers dropped, I was the only kid in my school that showed up with peace signs painted on my face, lovingly applied by my hippie mother that morning. Clearly, pacifism was the way to go, because hurting people is wrong. Turn the other cheek, give him also your coat, walk two miles, love your enemy… The more I learned about how to be a Jesus-loving pacifist, the more I found people using the Bible to justify bombing the shit out of other countries. The complex world of retaliation and preemptive strike morality was something I didn’t even want to learn. “Love is all you need.”

Of course, being a pacifist is exhausting, because people are assholes, especially middle school kids. By the time I hit high school I had a thick veneer of “look grungy so they don’t bother you” surrounding my peaceful marshmallow center. I painted my nails black and wore a huge army jacket. I even had a cross on my keychain, which confused people until I said “I just think Jesus had some great ideas.” Yeah, sweet, w3rd. I started my slow walk away from absolute pacifism, and back to a middle ground of “War is shitty, but… some people really do deserved to get punched in the jaw.” In a high school religions class, I asked my teacher “Why does every religion we’re hearing about have some form of violent fanaticism? Where are the religions that promote real peace, and everyone loves each other, and nobody feels the need to hurt?” The answer was pretty simple: those religions got wiped out by the violent ones. Duh.

 

A few months ago I got to play Valerie Solanas in a play about Andy Warhol. I read her manifesto back stage and thought it was absolutely hilarious. I was the only character in the show that put pinholes in the idea that the American Dream of getting rich and famous and covered in glitter for fifteen minutes wasn’t, in fact, hijacked by one man, nor was it the only dream to have. I got to tell Edie Sedgwick to her face that maybe being a fragile, arm candy, drug addict wasn’t the best thing she could be doing with her life. I gotta say, aiming a gun at Andy’s head at the climactic end of this play felt pretty awesome, and our author/director maybe meant for the message to be (if there was a “message”) that Warhol needed to get shot. Not that he deserved it, or that it was the best idea, but that an act of violence is what was needed to stop his manipulation and destruction. It’s not what the person needed, it’s what history needed. If any religious texts reference a “just war” or a “time to fight”, Valerie had made her own kill list and outlined it in her manifesto, starting with rapists and touching on lousy musicians and restaurant owners who play Muzak. Tongue firmly in cheek, I felt like I had finally found the type of insanity that made sense to me. Not a real literal sense, but a funny kind of philosophical sense. A feminine, feminist rage filtered through humor and wit, through a psychology degree and a career in begging and prostitution.

I’m still one of those screaming liberals that’s totally against guns – they should be better regulated, and no civilian should own an assault rifle. I’m seriously sick of the legislative inaction. Would I, personally, pick up a gun and shoot Andy Warhol? No. I just liked doing it in a story. Do I think that picking up a gun and shooting someone in the head solves more problems than it creates? No, not really. No, I admit with a heavy sigh, bullets are not the answer, and guns freak me out. However, I have started making the joke that I’m against guns because I am (and everyone on the planet is) really just one bad day away from making seriously violent decisions. I almost hope we do create some kind of psychoanalytical test for prospective gun owners the way some people think we should, so that “bad people” or “crazy people” don’t get their hands on murder weapons. If we really did start making people take a psych test before buying a gun, no one should pass. If those click-bait articles about “woman opens fire on shoplifter” or “man accidentally kills neighbor in suspected car-jacking” are any indication, the general population should not have a death machine at their fingertips unless we really want to thin out the species.

So, okay. Pacifism gets you dead. And there was a good while when I accepted that, and thought to myself, “Jesus thought that being dead was better than being violent, so should I.” And then men started grabbing my friends in bars, or, a friend got stabbed at a cast party. And I thought, well, there’s no way I’m going to try to talk peace if someone is wielding a weapon towards someone I care about. But if you’re going to chose your battles and pick a hill to die on, you have to start getting really, really smart.

Bushido, the “way of the warrior,” values education, wisdom, and meditation. The “peaceful warrior” stuff is fascinating until you read any more about it than your yoga instructor says in class, or look further past things than that Tom Cruise movie. Just because it’s fashionable doesn’t make it totally false, sure, but if I really wanted to study something, samurai war practices are not the way to go. If I want to get educated and wise, isn’t there a how-to ancient text out there for me that makes any kind of sense? Some “Tao” or “Path” that clicks with me about who and what I should hit with a stick? Something a little wiser and a little less punk rock than Solanas’ mainfesto? Some calm practice, some physical discipline, something where I won’t run into weirdly genderized notions of “you must be strong to protect your wife!”, “honor in fraternity!”, and “learn to master your testosterone!” I mean, isn’t there a physical discipline that doesn’t focus mostly on upper body strength and protecting your junk? Maybe something written or invented by a woman, or many women how about? “HA,” history laughs in my face. “Women? Writing? A wise woman’s text? A wise female yogi on the top of a mountain of enlightenment? Women with swords? That’s just for TV!”

Well. No. It’s not.
Check out Mariam Al Mansouri, the first female fighter pilot of the United Arab Emirates.

 

Check out these Kurdish female fighters:

There’s a reason why I’m so attracted to swords and warriors. And it goes beyond the fact that hitting things with sticks is fun, and beyond the style (which is awesome) and the storytelling (which is always great.) There is something primal in there, something I haven’t quite made sense of yet. What gets me so emotional while watching videos and reading articles about the Kurdish female anti-ISIS militia isn’t that I have some kind of testosterone-driven drive to hurt things. If it was that, I would join the army right away, and deal with all the brainwashing and sexism and danger and the oppression of individuality just for a chance at killing a member of ISIS, a pretty easily justifiable war. It’s something else that I haven’t quite articulated to myself yet. It’s the liberation that comes with a weapon, especially for them. It’s the clear path to equality that they’re carving for themselves, without any ancient text to follow or steps to repeat. It’s because that girl’s mom in the video is more worried about her daughter in a new marriage than her daughter with a gun. It’s learning practical skills and putting them to use, especially in a culture that would never encourage that behavior – the fortitude and self-reliance it has to take to even start. Things I wish I had.

 

In the event…

Posted in Uncategorized on November 9, 2015 by graysea

Here are some things to remember about me, just in case…

“You understand… it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy.”

I said nothing.

“But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells…”

I said nothing.

He was a little discouraged. But he made one more effort:

“You know, it will be very nice. I, too, shall look at the stars. All the stars will be wells with a rusty pulley. All the stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink…”

 

I’ve been considering a lot of things that people think are morbid, or might make loved ones worry if I said them out loud. Especially at this time, when we just mourned the death of a cousin. Aside from the confusing feelings of grief and loss and how surreal it is to walk around a room of someone’s stuff, covered in pictures of that guy you remember from when he was a little kid, and knowing he’s just not gonna show up to Christmas anymore… I also took an interest in the ritual itself. I guess it’s how I process complicated emotions – I push most of them to the analytical part of my brain, and I start having thoughts like “I bet I’d rock the hell out of being a funeral director.” Maybe inappropriate. But there’s really no appropriate way to handle a 25 year old disappearing in an instant. He died (there are so many words for that) in a sudden car accident. Needless to say this got me thinking about who I’d leave behind if something like that happened to me. The above quote from The Little Prince comes to mind. It’s difficult to wrap your brain around your own mortality. It actually might be harder to wrap your brain around the fragility of the lives of the people you love. So, the following might not be for you, Mom.

I considered signing my name to the anatomical gift registry. Donating the empty shell to medical science seemed like a no-brainer (oh, pun fully intended) as I will not be returning to it unless the ancient Egyptians were right about that part. I’m a teacher, so this is pretty obvious – I would like to provide students with an invaluable resource to help them learn about how to save lives. It is a pretty awesome legacy. It also cuts down on cremation costs. I downloaded and printed the forms provided on the Medical College of Wisconsin’s website. Here are the facts I found out: The school will give the empty shell in the form of a pile of dust (a nice way of referring to my future cremated remains) to whoever is “next of kin”, and some times that takes up to three years. That’s fine with me, but maybe not fine with everyone else. I dunno. Also, if I die in some very weird way, there are rules about which bodies the Medical College can accept.
I was on the fence about filling out all this paperwork (especially because it needs, like, two witnesses and a next of kin to sign it, which is not the most appropriate thing to ask of you sister when she’s visiting for a funeral.) Then I remembered! I’m also a registered organ donor – so there’s a chance that the Blood Center of Wisconsin gets first dibs. I hoped that I could do both: donate organs and donate my body to medical science. Nope, it’s an either-or thing. Since I’m already on the organ donor registry, I just left it at that. I might change my mind later, but after I looked up the statistics of survival of recipients from post-mortem donors (which are way higher than I expected!) a friend put it this way: would you rather have your body be part of a classroom, OR, give someone the chance for another year with their favorite teacher? I’m going with the latter. Saving a life is pretty cool, and that kidney wait list is LONG.

Facts about organ donation I thought were neat:
-Doctors actually make extra sure you’re dead before they start transplanting your organs, more than people who aren’t organ donors. It LOOKS like they’re keeping you “alive” because blood and oxygen need to flow through the organs until the transplant happens, (hence, apparently, a bunch  of tabloids and conspiracy theories that I did not even start to research,) but you’re not – your brain hasn’t had oxygen for quite a while before they (that’s at least two doctors) pronounce you dead. People must be really afraid of doctors who secretly didn’t take their Hippocratic oath or something. Does TV have a lot of serial killers posing as heart surgeons? Cuz I’m pretty sure those are two very different interests.
-Transplanted organs some times don’t actually last that long in the living person, but medical science is making leaps and bounds every day, and hopefully I’ll die way in the future when we can do even crazier stuff, like connect veins together with other veins, or use skin to graft burn victims back together. (They can totally already do this stuff, at least from your own living body to the rest of your living body. Science is cool!)
– In May of 2005, they updated the language in legislature about organ donation. Instead of “harvesting organs” it’s now “recovering organs,” and instead of “cadaver” it’s now “deceased donor.” Sounds a lot less like a novel about alien invasion, now. And, like mentioned above, “life support” was changed to “mechanical support” or “ventilated support” because pumping blood and oxygen through organs sure don’t mean you’re “alive” if you ask the dead person’s brain. Smart move, AOPO. No wonder so many people are freaked out about this stuff.

So, if I don’t donate my body to science, there’s the whole what-do-we-do-with-this-body-now question. This suddenly gets far away from science and deep into mourning rituals and traditions. As much as I would friggin’ love a funeral pyre (viking funerals are actually inaccurate and illegal, did you know?) or for my skull to be preserved and used for future productions of Hamlet… let’s get a little realistic about what’d probably actually happen in the event of my untimely and tragic demise.

Cremation is good.The crematory is supposed to provide you with a box of unfinished wood. I like that idea. I also really like the idea that someone I know makes this vessel, maybe Tim Linn, since he’s an excellent carpenter. But anyone can make it and decorate it. I’d like it to be special. And then burned. Or, if it’s not special, about as biodegradable as cardboard or better, and then buried. Or just keep everything in that awkward envelope they send you and throw away the envelope after you scatter what’s PROBABLY me (but who can really tell, come on) to the four winds.

A casket isn’t required, a cemetery isn’t required. I do like symbols and ceremonies, and ultimately these details aren’t actually up to me (and who knows who can afford what by the time I go.) I just don’t like traditional, and I especially don’t like the capitalistic business built off of taking money from people in mourning. Oh, and embalming fluid is SUPER CREEPY. Wisconsin state law dictates that you can basically scatter ashes anywhere as long as you’re not a jerk about it. A landmark to visit, with or without a marker, where the dust was scattered, might be really helpful for your process. I like that, too. Plant a tree, or put a stone there. I would suggest checking in with city and county regulations on this, but I like the idea that nobody will ask permission. Take video. It’ll be funny later. :)

As far as a funeral or ceremony, don’t let any funeral home dictate to you how things should go. In fact don’t even use a funeral home for the funeral. They’ll just take your money to make you sit around feeling sad, and there won’t be a body to view, so don’t even go there. I don’t want people sitting around smelling lilies (which are awful) and being quiet while very sad music plays. Worst. Party. Ever. Please celebrate my life with colors and dancing and loud, fun music (live band! Bo Johnson’s cover band Random Maxx, or Prof Pinkerton and the Magnificents. Or both. Or more.) Make it look like a Dia de los Muertos party. Have it outside. Eat really good food. Bring sunflowers. And pumpkins. Or whatever is bright and happy and natural. Seriously, memorial services where people sit down in silence and listen to stories about the beautiful soul of the deceased and how we all have to be better people now that they’re gone – they’re sad, and they’re long, and they’re uncomfortable. I want everyone invited, (everyone), and I want everyone to dance, (everyone), and I don’t want anyone wearing black formals. Light a bonfire. A really, really huge one. Built it together – all of you. Fires are destructive and cleansing and restorative, and I want the whole party to be a community event. If my ashes are available, put them in the fire and make it a funeral pyre. If they’re not, pretend the fire’s ashes are me, and scatter them in a river, or paint your face with them, or take some home for your garden. Whatever. Roast marshmallows. Eat s’mores. Laugh as much as you cry. Please.

Mourning rituals are weird already, so just get weird with it. If you’re gonna spend money, spend it on the entertainment and the food, not the preservation of some shell that I’m just not gonna use again. Meet the person (or, hopefully, multiple people) who were recipients of the transplants. Invite them to the funeral. Show them a really good time. And drive home safe.

https://sp.yimg.com/xj/th?id=OIP.Mcebf9abf13de13432e8ccbe18485be46o0&pid=15.1&P=0&w=300&h=300

Not doing NaNoWriMo, AM writing a b-…. a boo… uh… well I’m writing.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2015 by graysea

Here are things I know about myself:

  • I do not respond well to societal pressure. I have been crafting a psyche that is immune to societal pressure since my best friends in grade school decided they liked the Spice Girls. By no means do I have a perfect track record: thank god there is no real evidence of who I was in middle school before i started homeschooling. (Roll on glitter and butterfly clips. I still have them somewhere.) But I know this about myself: if I started working out or running marathons or writing a book, I would not post anything on social media. I would wind up hating my friends for caring about my progress. I also know that any kind of perceived pressure from my 600+ pals would ONLY make me, at best, convinced I was participating in the most bogus kind of narcissism, and at worst, get caught in a feedback loop of guilt. (I know this train of thought would happen: “Haven’t written anything in two days, my fans are counting on me! Wait a minute, I don’t have FANS.” And then I would put on a comfy bathrobe, eat two ice cream sandwiches, and go to sleep on the sofa re-watching episodes of The Guild.)
  • I do not respond well to deadlines I make for myself. This is why I do theatre. The show has an opening date, and the cast, crew, audience, and box office are all counting on me to get my shit together by that night. I am excellent at group projects – in fact, I will do everyone’s work for them because I love doing all the things. If anyone is really actually counting on me, for a grade or a audience-worthy show, I am excellent. I am BETTER than excellent. I can count on one hand the number of completed solo assignments I turned in throughout high school and college combined. (“Class participation is 50% of my grade, exams and tests are 40% of my grade, and homework is 10%” = I can do no homework and still get a B. This is how I graduated.) I don’t think I’ve ever met my own deadline. I once told myself that if I completed 30 days of Yoga, which is an awesome program I found online, I would buy myself a new yoga mat. I wound up petering out around day 23 and thinking that no matter what effort I put in now, it didn’t count anyway, because it shouldn’t take me four months to complete 30 days of anything. I can’t even commit to 30 days of ice cream sandwiches. This bullet point is bleeding into another one: I suck at rituals. Roald Dahl would take his morning coffee and newspaper out to the garden shed and write a bunch of things on a typewriter every day, for a very specific duration. It was going to work for him, but nobody was telling him to do it and he didn’t punch a clock. Me? I can barely remember to brush my teeth. I can’t even keep a journal at regular intervals. Another reason why I do theater- I have the attention span of about two months per project, enough to rehearse and perform, and then I’m on to the next thing.
  • Every time i sit down to write anything other than a blog post, I call myself a hack and surf facebook for hours. This is why I write blog posts when I want to write. I can complete them in a short time, because the idea, the crafting, and the editing (such as it is) can all be done in under an hour and a half. Writers aren’t afraid to spend a LOT of time writing pages and pages of crap and never get around to editing it. Every time I open the document of an uncompleted work that’s longer than a short story or essay, I will edit what I already have, get frustrated that it all stinks, and turn my attention to “research” (which is either looking up words I’ll never use, historical context that will never be relevant, or looking at pictures of friends on facebook for “character inspiration.”) I lie. I lie to myself a lot. “You’ll never be a writer if you don’t sit down and write!” I say. “So I guess I’m not a writer, then!” I retort. “Well FINE,” is the response, “just go and make sarcastic comments on all the nice things your friends post, then!” And then I do.

So here’s the plan:

For at least a few minutes a day, I am staying off the internet and spending time with the new $2 notebook I bought at the drug store on my way to work today. I am going to fill it with words, and maybe pictures, and plot maps, and character designs, and hopefully more words. It will all suck. (There are things in there that already suck and I think I’ve only filled two pages.) But that’s not the point. I will have written a first draft of something. Spelling will be terrible, words will be misused, grammar will be effective but used within some really awkward syntax, and it won’t be good. Not at all. But I will finally have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And I can THEN put it into a computer and begin to edit.
So – I won’t be doing the NaNoWriMo challenge of fifty bazillion words a day. And I won’t be telling anyone about it (except you right now) or sharing it with anyone. And I won’t give myself a deadline. I’ll just fill this notebook. The space between these two cheap covers will have a beginning, a middle, and an end, eventually.

And I hope it doesn’t turn into the yoga thing, where I have 5 blank pages left before I give up.

DSCN5192

Come on, notebook. We’ve got stupid crap to write.

Believe!

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2015 by graysea

“The Scriptures say that if you ask in faith,
If you ask God Himself he’ll know.
But you must ask Him without any doubt
And let your spirit grow…

I believe that God lives on a planet called Kolob.
I believe that Jesus has his own planet as well.
And I believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
If you believe, the Lord will reveal it.
And you’ll know it’s all true. You’ll just feel it.
You’ll be a Mormon
And, by gosh!
A Mormon just believes!”

-The Book of Mormon, the Musical
(Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone)

“Beleive!” is one of those words that gets instagrammed over a sunset or a flying dove, or hung on a suburban front door in wooden angels, or sold at a TJ Maxx as a piece of kitch written in kids’ blocks just to collect dust on your shelf. It’s a word that I think we’ve collectively just assumed is an action that everyone does and knows how to do, and we all do it together, like Love or Hope.  But I keep learning that everyone I talk to believes in something slightly different than the last person I talked to. “Belief” becomes more and more of a nebulous concept the more people you ask.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to mess with your belief system if it’s working for you. Jesus gets people out of jail and off drugs. Hell makes people refrain from acting on some really heinous impulses. And believing in ghosts, although it scares us so much we make movies about it, helps us from being actually terrified about the very real unknown that happens after death.

As mentioned in the above lyrics, there are plenty of people in the world who consciously deny the truth of reality and implement their own ideas because it is more fun, or it simplifies things, or it makes them feel good or less afraid to do so. Recently, I’m discovering more and more that actually, everyone does this, whether you’re religious or not, and for the most part it doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s like learning Newtonian physics before you get to Quantum – your professor says “this is the way the world works” and  you believe it. She doesn’t add “this is the way the world works in a friction-less vacuum”, and if she does, that doesn’t really have any meaning to you anyway – you’re going to believe what’s directly applicable before you learn more information. If you do yoga or tai-chi, you’ll hear a lot about energy flow or chakras because it’s easier to explain things that way. (And really, isn’t the bigger more Western-scientific explanation of what’s going on just a different, more detailed way to describe the same thing?) People sit through Tarot readings, and honestly, if someone says “I see a dark man in your life”, the first person you associate with that image probably IS very significant. If you have cancer, people pray for you, because it makes them feel like they have some modicum of control over a staggeringly tragic life event, and that feels good. If you are ill, there’s a lot of evidence that suggests positive thought (in any capacity) helps you a lot, if for no other reason than you don’t spend your sick days wallowing in sorrow. Believing you’ll get better if you have a terminal illness is perhaps a false hope, but I think most people would rather live with false hope than none at all. The Swamps of Sadness are vast, and Belief gets people through them.

So here’s one of my Beliefs: Believing is important. It’s one of the most incredible things humans can do, second only to creating more humans. Our beliefs bond us together into tribes. Our imaginations create miracles. There are people who have no other reason to experience joy except for holding on to a belief. If believing is what’s keeping you afloat, you keep on doing it. We lived for a long time without microscopes and space ships, and it’s not stupid to base a whole lot of your decisions on your feelings or your ideas. (After all, we wouldn’t have science without the initial wonder.)

This might be a pretty weird position for an atheist to have: belief doesn’t make you stupid. Belief also doesn’t make you crazy. For every Kim Davis, who would probably be hateful and obsessive no matter what religious text was available to her, there are a whole lot more intelligent and sensitive Christians – the most intelligent ones in my experience being the folks who actually went to theology school and stand behind pulpits. Children aren’t stupid for believing in Santa Claus, and I am not going to rip the beard off of a shopping mall Santa in front of them. Mainly because I have confidence that the children can TELL that that is a dude in a suit pretending to be Santa, but they choose to believe that it is actually Santa, because that is more fun.

There’s that important word though: choose.

Although pretending Santa is real is really fun, you wouldn’t let the kid actually believe that that man in the mall is literally going to come down their chimney. Right? Because that would create a culture of crazy people. Crazy like Kim Davis.

You smell like beef and cheese. You don’t smell like Santa. YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIES.

Often times in life I feel like I am metaphorically standing in line for Santa, and I’m surrounded by people who believe that the real factual truth of the world is that Santa is real. (Stories like Kim Davis make me a little worried that perhaps fundamentalism is on the rise.)

Here’s another weird thing for an atheist to say: Belief and Truth are not mutually exclusive.

Children can hold belief and truth in their minds simultaneously. They know that’s a guy in a suit, but they also believe with all their hearts that it’s Santa. When they see him up close and know that beard is fake, or see the party store tag on his costume, they choose to ignore it and keep the joy alive anyway. But if anyone questioned their belief in that particular Santa Claus, they can say “I know it’s not real,” rather than, I dunno, flogging the nonbelievers and burning effigies of holly on their lawn. Generally, they do not react with hate or fear or violence or tears. (If they do, that probably means the belief went on for so long it crossed the threshold into literal reality. Or they got really confused about why everyone was lying to them for so long. I digress.) Well-balanced kids just accept both the belief and the truth at the same time. They watch plays and experience joy and fear and celebration, but they’re never actually worried that an actor is dead. They can put themselves on a roller coaster of experiences while knowing the factual truth of the situation is a safe theater. Knowing what I know about theater history, I think perhaps this was once how we all experienced the world, what with our hundreds of Greek gods and the theater being a rather religious ritual.

Anyway, at some point in our lives I guess we’re told that we just have to chose one or the other, Belief or Truth and not both at the same time, because one has to be Right which must make the other Wrong. And it seems as though the majority of the people that I talk to chose Belief, in one way or another. I could start a whole blog about the things that people tell me while I’m leading them on a “Haunted History Pub Crawl” tour of my city. People think they have really seen a ghost – in fact a lot of people think they have been literally visited by dead relatives. I don’t think they’re crazy, but I do think something very human and personal (and significant) is going on… but it’s absolutely not a real ghost. As a ghost tour guide, drunk people want to walk up to me and tell me all about the invisible ghost tiger they saw in their basement, their grandmother’s picture falling off the wall, and how humans were probably planted here by an advanced species from Mars billions of years ago. (What?) I’m beginning to realize, more and more, that the MAJORITY of people have all kinds of beliefs, some of them wild and beautiful, some of them very very strange, and very rarely does one match up with the other one.

This can make you feel really connected or really alone, and often times I wind up feeling alone in a crowd. And I often feel like I have to wear a mask and nod along when everyone in the bar is talking about their personal “I’ve seen a ghost” stories, or when I’m guest teaching at a Catholic school, or when someone asks me to please pray for a dying relative. I’m not automatically thinking you’re crazy or stupid, I’m just looking at your belief in a wider context – like we’re both looking at a guy in a red suit, and I see something totally different than what you’re seeing. I’m sitting here wondering if you think that guy is literally going to come down your chimney on December 31st, or if you can hold Myth and Fact in your mind simultaneously. And then I start thinking, if you believe that’s really Santa, what else do you believe is real? I need to know what else you believe in, because you might get very angry with me if I ever bring up that I don’t believe those things are real, too. (You might think, perhaps, I think you’re stupid or crazy. Or worse, that I don’t have the capacity to love or hope, because Love and Hope and Belief get lumped together so often.)

There comes a point in these conversations about Belief that someone asks me about my own beliefs. As the ghost tour guide, I have to keep it vague. I can’t say that the man in the suit is not Santa, he’s actually my friend Mitch, and I know this for a fact because Mitch and I had lunch yesterday. (I would like to add, for the record, that just because you see Santa and I see Mitch doesn’t make me akin to one of those terrible children vilified in all those Santa Clause movies about those “poor souls” who don’t have magic in their lives. You see literal magic with no foundation in reality. I see magic created by humans loving other humans. Same very real effect, just a different source. So there.) I can’t tell the tourists that ghosts aren’t factually real although I think that it’s important we keep telling stories about them. I can’t open my mouth at a Catholic school and say “I’m really glad you all bond over the same myth, but please can we be nice to the gays?” And I am really, REALLY bad at consoling anyone when someone dies, because I can’t tell them the person is in heaven or can hear your thoughts or is anywhere but just dead. It’s worse with pets. My knee-jerk reaction is “It’s a cat – they just don’t live as long as we do.” Great job with the warm fuzzies, Grace. Facts usually do not make people feel better.

I don’t think we have yet invented a term for an atheist who loves and uses Myth. “Agnostic” sounds like I’m thoroughly confused, or that I’m open to the idea that Jesus MIGHT have been a magical zombie. “Theologian” sounds like I went to school for it. Honestly I don’t even like the word “atheist” considering so many -including myself- associate the word with bashing religion. I guess the closest we’ve got is “Humanist”? How about “alchemist” or “wizard” or “storyteller” or “clown”?  Perhaps once we can circulate one of those words as easily as we say “atheist” or “christian”, the concept will be more readily available, and we’ll all get a lot more comfortable. Or, at the very least, I will be.

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