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.

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.


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


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.

Being vs. Doing

Posted in Uncategorized on September 25, 2015 by graysea

This is hard.

This is hard because, today, I have the day off.

This is hard because I’ve had a lot of time to myself recently. After working full-time as a teacher over the summer, and rejecting theater gigs in acting or pushing buttons back stage or “assistant directing”, I have down time. A lot of it. And I haven’t been doing anything with my down time but sit on facebook and watch videos that tell me nothing, or looking at platypuses in hats, or red pandas playing with pumpkins. And as cute as they are, I still feel sad some mornings, and guilty that I am not Doing Things, and a little zombie-like.

This is hard, this being rather than doing. “Being” is not mindlessly distracting yourself until the next opportunity arises to Do Something, which is what I’ve been up to. As if I’m just waiting for someone to call me up and ask me to Do Something, like actors do.

Something weird happened to me this morning: I got a call that asked me to Do Something.

They asked me to fill in for a dropped out actor – to give up my day off on very short notice because someone else was irresponsible (or too busy to keep up with themselves, I’ve been there.) And I am not busy today. I’d have to cancel a late lunch with a friend, but I could do that. As I am not busy Doing Things, I should jump at the opportunity Do Work rather than piddle around, chat with a friend, clean the apartment. Right?  Some things are Worthy of Doing, and everything else is just a bunch of BS that we get judged for – or we feel we get judged for, anyway, because we’re judging ourselves.

And then the thought occurred to me – had they called me a week before, had I been the FIRST actor they hired rather than the one they went with, they would not be scrambling to find someone now. Had I been the first person on the list, things would have worked out for the better. But I am rarely the first person on the list. I am usually the fourth. Fourth is not bad, especially for someone who hates the game so much. I could feel ever so thankful and grateful and romantic about struggling as fourth in line. I could work my ass of as fourth in line for the slim chance that maybe I would possibly -if I just cleared my schedule enough in case anyone calls me- maybe just maybe I’d fight my way to third in line.

Or. Maybe. Fuck all y’all. I’m gonna spend my day taking myself to the art museum, or cooking a really good soup. (Which always, of course, turns into the computer screen sucking me in, because of the guilt I feel for not Doing Enough.) Call me first next time.

And that’s maybe petty, or pretentious – maybe I’m not actually worth the first call, and my sense of my abilities is higher than the reality. Maybe fourth is absolutely the highest I could possibly go, because that is all I can do. Actors are a dime a dozen, and tend to scramble all over each other for the scraps. People who hire actors can absolutely find someone who will jump at the last minute opportunity. There are plenty, plenty, plenty of fourth actors in line who do well enough who will feel ever so thankful and grateful and romantic for being the kind of person who can be called in the morning to spend a whole day Doing Things. And maybe I was that person once, because I felt that was all I was worth – to wait by the phone looking at cat videos until someone called. To simply be distracted until I could Do Something. I can just feel the disapproving looks from the people who hire actors, (as if they read this, as if they cared about the thoughts I have while I am waiting by the phone), I can feel them looking at me saying “Well if you’re not ready to jump when we ask you to, we just won’t call you at all.”

I am learning I am okay with that.

I am not the person I was.

I woke up to a text this morning from a friend that said “Good morning. Why do we make art?”

I had to have my breakfast first. But after tea, I thought about it. I do theater because it is immersive psychology, because it is empathy training. I do not act because I want to be seen, or pass around resumes, or look pretty in a dress. In fact I kind of hate being looked at, and everything that comes with acting outside of stepping into the rehearsal room or stepping on a stage. Acting has far too many parties to go to, people to shmooze at, nice sweaters to wear to opening nights. (Clearly, this attitude makes me a teacher, not an actor. And I am a damn good teacher, with no formal training in education. Surprise- I learned recently that progressive little white girls who want to teach theater because Feelings are Important are actually LESS in demand than actresses who are just not quite pretty enough for lead romantic roles. I swear there are a billion of us, and a lot of crossover between. We could unite and take over the world, but we’re too busy waiting for the phone to ring and looking at platypuses.)

Anyway. Today I am going to stay off facebook. I am going to write. I am going to exercise. And I am going to make soup, because my friend is coming over, and she is very smart and we are going to talk about her play. And this feels like it will be a good day Being rather than Doing.

It will probably be easier than I expect.

kill your buddha

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2015 by graysea

My first duty as a Shakespeare teacher is to put the words into context. Too many English teachers slam down a play onto the students’ desks and simply say “let’s read this” without any introduction other than the looming, rather oppressive idea that This Is Important. We have a weird cultural notion that Shakespeare makes you smart, and we don’t ever really explain to the kids why. So, I start my classes by telling the students strange facts that surprise them, such as
Shakespeare’s plays were printed for the first time all together in one book seven years after he died.
Elizabethans had no standardized spelling, and Shakespeare never spelled his own name the way we spell it today.
Poets carried swords and drank more beer than water.
The Thames caught fire, twice,
Chris Marlowe got stabbed in the eye,
Ben Johnson’s thumb was branded in jail for killing a man,
Shakespeare was a relatively boring guy, compared to his friends.

What I’m doing with these facts, I hope, is simply instilling a brash streak of doubt in their minds about the crap that gets told to them (or the crap they assume because no one ever tells them anything) about History. I answer a lot of questions and preface a lot of theories with “because some old white guys decided it was so.” Hopefully, I’m secretly whispering to the students that my classroom is their classroom, that they can challenge anything brought up, that they are in charge of how they get to think about Shakespeare. Hopefully, they get the idea that asking questions about this Very Important Thing doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you smarter, even if the question might sound stupid. (“Did people really talk like this?” is not a stupid question.)

Some of the time, I think it’s working.

Unfortunately, the rest of the time, I simply become a new authority in their minds that cannot be questioned – because I’m “cool” (read: probably younger than their English teacher) I become the source of All Shakespeare Knowledge rather than an imperfect vessel through which it flows. “Am I full of BS?” I asked a class once. “Just tell me so. Let’s talk about this.” I looked around at their surprised and giggling faces. No one wanted to stand up to me. I guess I’m a little scary. (Though she be but little, she is fierce.)

It’s a really delicate thing, helping people to construct their own bullshit meter. I am well acquainted with the importance of bullshit meters, even before Jon Stewart’s epic closing rant. (“Whenever something is titled ‘freedom’, ‘fairness’, ‘family’, ‘health’, and ‘America’, take a good long sniff.”) The first time I even heard the phrase “bullshit meter” was in college, from a really brilliant science professor who related our measurements of a paper clip to the reported casualties of war. (Long story. I think I wrote about that before.) Learning how to construct my own bullshit meter made me cry a lot with existential angst, and still does. So I understand that when I present Shakespeare in a totally hip way that allows the students to DIY 400+ year old text, they might do that teenage idol-worship thing simply because I make class “fun.” I did that when I was in high school. I get it. I’ve been assuming it’s just a developmental phase, something that happens when you’re 17 and younger, before you get real bitter and nihilistic and learn how to kill your buddha somewhere in your 20s. A teacher, in the eyes of a teenager, who tells you to question authority- suddenly becomes your authority, at least for a little while. Socrates died surrounded by weeping students, if we’re to believe the neoclassical painters. (He also died uttering “shit, dude, I owe that guy a chicken!” if we’re to believe punk history teachers. Fun fact.)

Turns out that people often enough actually don’t get past the worship of authority. It’s not for me to say who or what you should worship, but I do think that questioning it is pretty important. And a lot of the worshiped, from Socrates to Jesus to Bruce Lee, would probably agree with me. Even the founding fathers of the good old United States of America intentionally left a lot of those foundational ideas pretty vague, but we still continue to interpret their words into the image of what we worship to push our own agendas. A lot of the worshiped did not want to accept their path of ultimate responsibility for people interpreting their word as authoritative. This notion, of course, ultimately making their personality that much more worship-able.

Some of the worshiped, however, are actively working to gather followers before Tuesday, November 8th of 2016. Now is when the bullshit meters of the people (by the people, for the people) should be on an ultimate high. The good news, Stewart said, is that “the bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected.” What’s funny to me is that a lot of us are dangerously in love with bullshit. What we love (and fear, and find amusing) about Donald Trump is his brazen stupidity, his unwillingness to apologize, his theatrics. What we love about Bernie Sanders his his total commitment to a progressive agenda, his underdog pluck, his passionate ranting. We love being entertained, and entertainers have an incredible amount of power, with or without becoming president.

I’m confident that come November, at least 51% of us will agree on an authority figure to worship. I just hope we kill that buddha before we do anything really stupid.

“Because I’m crazy. This is my crazy message to the world, all right?”

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2015 by graysea

I’ve spent some time with a couple incredible women over the past weeks. (Okay, more than a couple, but there’s only the two I want to write about today.) One of them is dead. The other one is an actress in my current show.

The dead one is Valerie Solanas, who died the same year I was born. Labeled as a raging feminist and a lesbian, often dismissed and swept under the rug as “crazy,” considered famous only because she tried to kill Andy Warhol. After even the smallest research into her life and her work I realized that she was actually a raging anarchist (who happened to hate men just a little more than she hated most women) and defined herself as rather a-sexual. “You’ve got to go through a lot of sex to get to anti-sex.” Crazy, perhaps, but in that way that a character like Batman’s Joker or Tyler Durden of Fight Club is crazy. Brazen honesty in a fucked up world is usually labeled as “crazy”, until somewhere down the line, she starts making sense. It’s terrifying to admit it, and I’m not about to shoot anybody, blow up parliament, nor worship at the alter of 1970s separatist feminism… but I do like spending time with my new friend Valerie. Which is good, because that’s who I’m playing in this current production.

Another woman on my radar is the actress at the center of the production, who shares a dressing room with me and about 7 other people. It’s tougher to get close to real, living people, since they tend to refrain from handing you a one hundred page booklet of their life philosophy. The first time we met we were rehearsing, me late to the game and frantically searching for lines, her genuine and supportive and ready for me to be a total fuck up for those first few insecure rehearsals. In the show she plays Edie Sedgwick, heiress, socialite, superstar, fashion model, everything that Valerie wanted to fix. “I have something you should read,” I get to say to her on stage, referring to my “form a female militia and kill all the men” manifesto. I get to give her advice about how the world really works – ruled by men, fucked over by the patriarchy, you have to reject it all and build your individuality from the ground up. That experience is in  my bones somewhere, because it’s how I survived middle school. I rejected all the things “feminine” was supposed to be and figured out “how to be a woman” from the comfortable, neutral ground of 90s flannel shirts. Valerie jumps off the page to me. Edie does not.

This is why I don’t get cast as Edies. I could probably wear a mini skirt and a pair of heels convincingly in a photo, but when it comes to walking around in that life, breathing it and being it convincingly, “socialite superstar” I am not. Better to cast someone who doesn’t need half a year of training in order to portray that girl. In fact, there’s plenty of men who could play a woman like that better than I could.

If Valerie and Edie ever really did meet, Valerie would have seen a weak little Daddy’s Girl in need of some radical anarchy. Not entirely false, but it was easy for Valerie and Edie to be on opposite sides of the spectrum back in Warhol’s New York… Not so with the two actresses behind the scenes. It’s been a while since I shook my head in shame at women who can’t walk out the door without their makeup bag – those days are over. Especially since I really started to get to know more actresses, and at least one dropdeadgorgeous model with incredible fortitude and bite. The first time I saw our Edie put on the skirt, the shoes, the makeup, I was impressed. She’s willingly entering a world that I’ve only failed at. And she’s damn good at it, because it is a skill, after all. The overly feminized beauty is a layer on top of some incredible Audrey Hepburn-esque fragility. An extremely well-constructed mask covering some truly terrifying back story not totally unlike Valerie’s, which is probably why Valerie sees right through it. She picks out Edie, in our play, over everyone else around her. “I have something YOU should read.”

How do actresses do it? Especially after the reviews start coming in. This might be a little of my Valerie speaking, but yes, all the current reviews are written by men, and yes, 90% of them seem to struggle with how to describe our Edie actress without first describing how pretty she is.  Any review of a woman’s body over her talent reads to me as “Dhuuuurrrrrrr…. couldn’t pay attention to play cuz BOOBS/LEGS.” It’s a small comfort somewhere in my mind that shitty journalists make it onto Valerie’s kill list, somewhere after rapists, politicians, and lousy musicians. (It’s interesting to note that during an audience interaction portion of the show, one reviewer looked at me, put his hands in the air, and said “don’t shoot.”)

  “val10…uses her enigmatic and fragile presence to portray a relatively gripping character without a lot of stage time to do it in.”

“appropriately insecure … trademark mini dress and chandelier earrings”

val5“… exudes effortlessly charming inner integrity in the role, which makes her unfortunate path in the arc of the plot that much more tragic and heartbreaking. … has kind of a Audrey Hepburn feel about her that’s genuinely charming. …Hepburn was 5’7”. [Actress] is…well she seems considerably taller than both of them, which is why intermission was a bit dizzying for me… Here’s a very tall and very charming and very convincing Sedgwick who reminds me a lot of Audrey Hepburn and she’s towering over me, graciously offering myself and others champagne.”
“…rather sublime. Charming, a tad ditzy, with a pair of spindly little legs, the actress seems to enchant the audience with her every move.

I think Valerie would like 2015. I think she’d like to meet our actress, who, like many women, has learned how to play the beauty game while simultaneously keeping her individuality, her genuine nature, intact. It would take her a while, but maybe Valerie would stop judging beautiful women so harshly, maybe she’d dig the freaky body modifications and face tattoos of today, maybe she’d watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race and laugh her ass off, maybe the options open to women and men in these times would puzzle and confuse her often black-or-white, male-or-female sensibility of right and wrong. And that’s a nice thought. That maybe one doesn’t have to reject all things feminine to be a person first. (Even if stupid reviewers are keeping that world intact.) Maybe we don’t have to shoot Andy Warhol to get our point across these days.


Do I have to?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2015 by graysea

This was my yin-yang of balance for 2014: the quiet and black-clad writer type artist and the wild red-headded punk type artist. Both amazing archetypes, but I’ve been attempting to lean more towards the left side of this picture. Be quieter. More patient. More focused. I love that they actually create a spiral right in the center of this image.

The internet is just full of ideas and sayings and motivational tips and life plans that feel very  inspirational when I’m listening or watching or reading, but at the end of the day it’s like everything else on the internet. (And maybe in life?) Ephemeral and meaningless. Or, for shorthand, “lolcats”. Puppies vs. Stairs is undeniably the most memorable and touching thing I’ve found next to Nietzsche Family Circus and Garfield Minus Garfield. But none of these things helps me make any decisions about my life, or make better art, or be a better person. No, not even the absolutely brilliant, supportive piece of internet called Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. The internet is still just lolcats all the way down.

Still, I have about 4 hours a morning to sit in front of it. And be angsty. Even though it’s springtime, and I should be thinking about flowers pushing up from the ground and fluffy yellow chicks hatching. I’m thinking about staying cramped up in an egg where it’s warm and dark and nice and safe. “Solitary as an oyster” came to mind as a pleasant thing until I remembered that it was a Dickens reference to Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I found a couple things this morning that were the last ingredients in this mess of angst in my head. Nothing compared to the teenage angst I felt ten (god, ten) years ago, but maybe it’s my approaching birthday that’s getting me screaming DO SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING. Amanda Palmer addressed this in a February blog post.

should we be surprised that we are all FREAKING OUT when we are basically the first generation in thousands of years to actually HAVE all of these choices between careers, marriage, kids, art, and so forth, instead of just towing the party line?

add our parents expectations on top (who can blame them, many were raised in a mono-culture of nuclear-family-or-be-rendered-outcast) and it’s enough to drive you to drink.

Hence it goes. After a long line of questions for 30ishorsomething women freaking out about to baby or not to baby, among other things, she puts the Elizabeth Gilbert quote “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” I found this quote about as helpful as the book Eat, Pray, Love, which Gilbert also wrote. That is to say, not at all. Ugh, more lolcats. Really, Amanda? You’re supposed to have all my answers!

Even the brilliant Amanda Palmer can dole out a piece of the solution, a short respite from all the freaking out, in a bite-sized quotable, and then a few days later post a video asking for funding so she can MAKE ALL THE THINGS. She hasn’t really found the solution to freaking out, either. As if deciding on one thing will Be Better and Make You Happier or More Productive than ANY OTHER DECISION. And some internet quote is going to help me make that magical decision. Amanda’s decided a few things, gotten really good at a lot of things, had to become her own venue-maker/party-planner/art-coordinator/boss-person in order to get the things made, and there’s no denying she works really hard. At what, though? At being a song-writer/performer/artist/game-maker/book-writer/poet/troubadour/entrepreneur/traveler/wife/bloggist/e-mail-answerer/MOTHER/lover-of-all-things/whatever-she-wants-next… she’s good at being Amanda Palmer and made a career out of it, and there’s really no formula for that, let alone a quote. Nor am I really sure that that’s the model I want to emulate, though it sure as hell looks like a lot of fun. You get to just keep making All The Things, being a raucous punk, marry Neil Gaiman, and then create what I’m just going to assume will be the world’s best possible person? (A Neil Gaiman Amanda Palmer baby? Someone is going to base a religion on this.) Where do I sign up for that life? That totally neurotic, unfathomably frightening, exhaustingly romantic life? I do the things! I make the art! I work real hard! Do I just go about making All The Things like I’ve been doing? Failing at things a little less often than I succeed at them? Cuz that certainly feels like my wheels are spinning and spinning and spinning…

Finding new challenges is important – and I haven’t found any new ones in a while, so I guess I have to start inventing new challenges.

Moving forward has a funny thing attached to it. When you move you must always be moving towards something.

And here we swing back around to the other side of the balance I’ve found, back to Neil Gaiman’s formula for approaching art. The above piece of lolcat information, bite-sized and utterly digestible, sounds a bit like his Make Good Art speech, which is substantially less forgettable.

Something  that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be–an author, primarily of fiction, . . .–was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

When I got to college I heard a lot of that. Pick a major. Decide what you want to do and then do it. And I never did. (Well, I picked “theatre” which, in my opinion, was a narrow enough focus.) And I’ve still been doing plenty. My life did not come to a screeching halt because I didn’t climb a ladder or start a career or get pregnant or married. (Is that what we’re worried about? Everything coming to an end, rather than a new beginning?)

BUT. I have been living in post-college land for quite a while now. This land looks less like a mountain and more like a series of hills, which I like a lot, or I have been liking a lot in the past. I get a project done, I work on another one. I teach for a summer. I pick up a job that has an end date. The steady job I’ve had for 5 years now is minimum wage and just about the easiest thing I’ve ever done. The shows I do blur together, and I actually forget about them some times. My heart may not be in this particular scene anymore. Maybe I need a new challenge. Maybe I need one, big, single thing to look at and move towards. Like a distant mountain. Something scarier than a hill. Something looming. A bigger risk if I fail it. “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things,” after all. (Thanks, Rilke.)
Thing is, my future looks a little like this:

That’s not one distant mountain! That’s a wall! That’s a WALL of ROCK. Unless I want to go for the one in the way distance. But surely once I get close enough to that one it will ALSO look like an insurmountable WALL of ROCK. (I could just live in that little cabin on the hills next to the mountain. Come outside every morning and look at the mountains I never climbed.)

How he hell am I supposed to know which one is my mountain??

“Decide what it is you want.” Ptchhh. It’s always the first on the list. It’s never the whole quote. I have a problem with STEP ONE of my thousand step journey. Which direction should I go? Which direction do I WANT to go? Do I put what I want before what everyone else wants?

Women’s liberation did not, I think, take into consideration the paralyzing effects of indecisiveness. But what a nice problem to have, at least!


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