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 and shared around, or hung on a suburban front door in wooden angels with bells on them, or sold at a TJ Maxx as a piece of kitch written in kids’ blocks to collect dust on your shelf. Seems like everyone knows what it is and how to do it.  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. And if you don’t believe in anything, you wind up accidentally making people feel like their grandmothers are liars, or that you simply do not have the capacity to love.

I am not the kind of person to get in anyone’s way if they want to believe in something. Jesus builds people up enough to get them off drugs, out of jail, or get a job, and who am I to tell them that they should instead depend on their own inner strength rather than the strength of something divine? Whatever works. If you can’t walk down the street without feeling the urge to do terrible things to people, perhaps you need to believe in a Hell where you will go to be punished if you actually do anything terrible. In fact, if I simply can’t convince you (with my highbrow liberal education!) that a short skirt doesn’t mean the woman wants you to touch her, well, THANK YOU for figuring out a mechanism that keeps the people around you safe. Whatever works. I don’t think your grandmother is lying to you when she tells you that she saw a ghost. I think your grandmother is a perfectly lovely human being who believes she saw a ghost, which -having the same effect on her surroundings as actually seeing a factual ghost- is just as valid. And, yes, I do have the capacity to love, thank you. Just because love is a chemical reaction in the brain combined with a conscious decision to commit to something doesn’t make it any less magical than God putting two soulmates together. Not to me, anyway.

I am not going to rip the beard off of Santa Claus in the middle of a shopping mall because I’m frustrated that you’re lying to the children. (For the record, I AM frustrated that you’re lying to children, but being a jerk about it is not helpful.) I am not going to stand up while watching a children’s play and tell them all that the unicorn is not a unicorn, it’s my friend Tim in a suit. Mainly because I have confidence that the children can TELL that that is Tim in a suit, but they choose to believe that it is a unicorn, because that is more fun.

And there we have it – the choice to believe. 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. I’m discovering that actually, everyone does this, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. If you do yoga, your instructor will talk about chakras, because it’s easier to explain things with “energy flow” than go through the scientific explanation of the body chemistry going on. 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 it’s understandable that if a person doesn’t really have any beliefs outside of scientific fact, the people who Believe Very Hard will feel sorry for them as if they are watching someone sinking and drowning.

I am not drowning. And I understand that your Belief works, in a way. Not scientifically, perhaps, but we lived a long time without microscopes and space ships. You keep on believing. I get it. I just don’t do it. That doesn’t make me think you’re stupid. In fact, thinking you’re stupid because you have different beliefs than me? That’s what annoys me about a lot of people who get a lot of attention for Believing Very Hard.

Although no one is about to tell a child that Santa is a big fat lie in a red suit, you also wouldn’t let the kid really actually believe that that man in the mall is going to come down their chimney. Because then they would be a -and I think we all agree on this one- crazy person.

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 standing in line for Santa, or watching a play, and I’m surrounded by people who believe that the Truth is that Santa is real and my friend Tim is really a unicorn. Belief and Truth are not mutually exclusive. Children can hold belief and truth in their minds simultaneously. At some point I guess we’re told that we just have to chose one, because one has to be Right which must make the other Wrong. And 99% of the people that I talk to chose Belief, in one way or another. I feel pretty outnumbered. And I often 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 the students I’m teaching are all supposed to be Catholic, 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 watching the same play, and I see the set and the lights and the paint and Tim in a costume, and you see something else. And I’m sitting here wondering if you think Tim is really actually a unicorn, or if you can hold Myth and Fact in your mind simultaneously. And then I start thinking, if you believe Tim is actually a unicorn, 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.

But trust me, I’m not writing you off as crazy! Not right away. Crazy people let their belief override the facts of the reality in front of them, and then they hurt people because of it. They become politicians who really think the best way to hold power over people is if everyone simply believed what they do – which is not how politics work. They teach their belief in science class when they should be teaching it in a different building altogether. (Go call it Sunday School! It’s just as important and valid as science, it’s just not science!) Or they tell people that they are intrinsically, unarguably terrible people because of their beliefs. These are common problems. All around me. All the time. When people believe so hard that they can’t open up to even the idea that anyone else has the freedom to live in a way they believe is wrong, that’s a problem. (Ironically, the people I know who understand this concept the best have all gone to Theology school. Or they’re the Catholic students I teach. There’s a lot of great things about Catholic school, the foremost to me being that it teaches you how to pretend to be Catholic.)

I like to think that I have an open enough mind to let all sorts of people around me be MY version of wrong, or stupid, or crazy. Because letting people be wrong and stupid and crazy keeps people happy, and unafraid. Keeps people watching the play and having fun, and nobody thinks you’re a jerk. I just don’t know where my line in the sand is when it comes to my appropriate context for myth and belief. When do I stand up and say “Okay, Grandma, the gays are actually lovely people with feelings and they have rights now, so you can shut up about it.” Or “Actually, Timmy, that man in the suit isn’t really Santa, but it sure is fun to pretend he is, isn’t it?” Or “Welcome to the pub crawl ghost tour! I’ll be your guide. You won’t actually see any ghosts because that’s a bunch of bullshit, but do I have some awesome stories for you!”

I don’t think we have invented yet a term in our language for an athiest who loves and uses Myth as long as it is compartmentalized outside of laws and science. (“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.) Perhaps once we can circulate that word as easily as we say “athiest” or “christian” or “not religious but spiritual,” 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!

living in the gaps

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2015 by graysea

The curtain speech is over and the audience, however small, applauds – the sound is like rain, either a sudden thunderstorm or a little spring shower, depending on the show. The lights go out. I’m standing by a velvety leg curtain in complete and utter blackness. Womb-like darkness. There’s a second of it, before the intro music, before the lights fade up again on the interior of an apartment or a public square in Verona, before everything begins. I have two seconds to check in with my pounding heart, my breath. I check in with the play and my lines in the next moment, when things begin to move, but before all that there is this moment of silence and darkness when I can clear everything out and just Be. A caterpillar in her cocoon before the first wing busts out. A boiling pot of water going quiet before the first big bubbles. The top of the roller-coaster’s first hill. It’s a moment of absolute stillness, and it’s my favorite part of every play, no matter what I’m doing for it – even as an audience member. It’s the moment between reality and imagination.

this would be a very different story if their fingers were touching

God made man a creature of undetermined nature, and, placing him in the middle of the world, said to him: The nature of all other beings (creatures and species) is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws [of nature]…Thou [humans], constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt determine for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou may  more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth…so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou may fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate (worsen) into the lower forms of life…thou shalt have the power…to be reborn into the higher forms which are divine.

The Dignity of Man (Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, 1486)

I live in the spaces between things.
I grew up playing in the space between the tall pine trees, in the space between two divorced parents, in the space between two tall big sisters who had seven years to build their own world together before I ever came along.

I was home-schooled in the gaps between being shuffled around various schools.
When being processed through the public school system, I would consistently find ways to get around boring assignments, to make work more interesting by always choosing the other option or creating a new one, and I’d often ignore classes if they didn’t interest me or challenge me – “slipping through the cracks” they called it. I would skip class to attend other classes. I would float between lunch tables because my different groups of friends never sat together. I was either unruly or gifted, depending on how you define the two – teachers have found me in hallways sleeping in the sunshine, or crying and frustrated about being pushed around by other students. Hallways, guidance counselor offices, the Special Room, the library, even the front lawn… that’s where I’d be if you couldn’t find me in class. By myself. Staring into space.

I grew up between two parents in two different homes, often those homes shifting at various intervals, and once those homes were half an ocean apart. I found the spaces between – the room in the airport with all of the other “unaccompanied minors”. I’d never see them again, but we shared stories like old friends. When you live in-between, you sort of cling to what you have when you get it.

I’ve never felt my age. I’ve always felt “almost something else” or “not quite what I was.” Maybe I’m catching up to myself, maybe I am exactly the child-adult that the world expects me to be right now, but I still feel not exactly the grownup I should be but certainly not part of the young people I see on a college campus.

I’ve always found public transportation interesting. I LIVE on the milwaukee county busline. (Okay, not as much as the people who actually live on the bus.) I love sitting in air ports and watching how other humans deal with being in-between things. Are they panicked? Are they on a mission? Or did they wear their pajamas here, to shift from one place to the next in a bleary-eyed stupor?

old town and new town

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival must be my favorite place on the planet because everyone there is in-between. I find that my experience of the world is not totally unique. The country is in-between two governments, the city itself has an ancient medieval side and a new, posh, shopping mall side, a face of above-ground shops and tea houses and a below-the-surface creepy past. The venues are jammed inside church basements converted to coffee shops, the people are traveling amateurs with professional skills, the whole city seems suspended in time just for us. We wander around and stumble upon doorways crammed in-between two buildings, find a poetry session taking place in some damp vault, or a play jumping out of a suitcase before the acting space turns into a club. If it pours down freezing rain, people cram together in warm pockets of roofed-in areas wherever we can find them. We get to know each other for a moment and, eventually, after every wall is saturated with posters, all the ATMs are out of money, and our boots are filled with rainwater, we have to go home. We fill the space in-between and once it’s full, we return to where life was stable.

Home. Where, most of the time, nobody knows what to do with the in-betweeners.

“You don’t understand – that number on my contract, that’s not a per-month wage, that’s the stipend I get at the end of the season.” I’m explaining this to the government worker on the other line – a large, sweet woman, by her mouth breathing and her tone. Maybe she has punk kids at home, I conjecture by the way she talks to me. We’ve already covered the fact that my taxes last year are not going to reflect at all what my taxes might be this year – I switch jobs too often.

“Okay hold on hold on – this job, this one from the catholic school, they not paying you monthly?”


“Okay so are you like a teacher?”

“Yes, I teach, but I’m not full-time.”

“Okay, so like… you work for the school but in more like a…”

“I’m a coach.”

“Okay, like in basketball?”

“…YyySure. Yes.”

“And this isn’t a monthly paycheck?”

“No. That’s my check – that’s it, that’s my stipend.”

“For the whole year?”

“Most of it, yeah, until the summer when I try to find other work.”

“…How many other jobs do you have?”

“A lot.”

“And none of these jobs gives you insurance?”

No, they don’t, which is why I was on the phone with her in the first place. Because I live in that space between too poor for the federal government Obamacare, and making too much for my state’s local poverty-aid insurance. Or, I thought I lived there, until I spent over an hour on the phone with the friendly Enrollment Services employee. Most people just put me on hold for ever.

I recently tried for a new job – maybe one that would pay me enough so that I could cut out some other tangental “on call” things, those jobs that I have to give my assumed availability to before they may or may not schedule me. I had an excellent and long phone interview, where I maybe talked too much. “Are you sure you don’t feel over-qualified for this position?” she asked. I wanted to say that I couldn’t possibly be over-qualified for ten dollars and hour with benefits, but instead, I said something like “Not at all – I’d be able to settle into a more stable position rather than have nine jobs at once.” Needless to say, she felt differently, and told me in an e-mail later that she wished a higher position was open so I could be hired there. There’s another in-between: too qualified for a job with health insurance, but just qualified enough for 9 jobs that may or may not pay me stipends.

And once again I question my life in the gaps. Some times it feels like everything, and some times it feels like nothing at all. No one knows how to help you structure your life when you’ve planted yourself so firmly outside of the structure. “Freelance teaching artist” might be a good word for what I do, and I once printed myself some business cards … but I couldn’t decide which of my names to put on them, let alone what kind of job title I wanted to give myself. I wound up printing “Gracie Lee”, which is my middle name, not a name I go by often enough for people to recognize it. I wrote something like “actor, director, teaching artist” on there, because I wasn’t sure who I’d be handing these cards to. Maybe I should walk around with a bag of different business cards, like how I have to separate my professional life into about 4 different resumes?

Am I a chrysalis waiting to be born as a butterfly, but too afraid to chose a color? Too terrified that I won’t be a good enough beauty to share? Choosing stagnancy over picking a path that I might regret later?
Do I pick something and bust out in the best way I know how, chips fall where they may, or do I just repeatedly expect the world to accept me as the little in-between creature that I am?

I want to grow up to be a beautiful not-a-caterpillar-but-also-not-a-butterfly, said no kid ever. 

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2014 by graysea

I’m a shitty receptionist. Okay. Hang on. I’m not the worst receptionist. I’m good at handling situations as they arise. I have good phone etiquette, I’m polite to patrons, I have a good sense of when and how to bother administration, and if anything hits the fan I’m standing by. I can handle an excel spreadsheet and write comprehensive, professional e-mails. Also, when a patron calls and asks me something we have right on our website, I don’t tell them to go find the information themselves, I do it for them – which is NOT something a lot of phone-answerers do.
But there’s a lot of reasons why I’m terrible at this job. I don’t know easy answers off the top of my head, I don’t have anyone’s extension memorized, I don’t pay attention to the schedule, and instead of writing down important things I write blog posts. So. Yes. I’m a shitty receptionist. Some times.

I was also a terrible deli employee. I still don’t know the difference between braunschweiger and liverwurst, even though I was told the difference at least ten times. I worked next to probably the fastest sandwich maker this side of the Mississippi, who had been working at that deli for years, and he could do things about twenty times better than I ever could. He was also really cool and fun to talk to and hated the job more than any other co-worker I’ve ever had, but he still did it, and he still did it really well. Me? Not so much. My biggest accomplishments in that job were doing dishes well enough that no one got salmonella, being nice to customers, and being cool enough that my amazing co-worker didn’t hate me.

I was also terrible at my box office job. That job was difficult for really stupid reasons, including but not limited to the fact that my manager had a habit of screaming at her employees when we were trying to be nice to patrons. That job had me punching walls in the bathroom on my breaks. It’s the only job I ever quit. (It was either quit or wind up with perpetually bloody knuckles and a smoking habit.)

I am not nor have I ever been very good at these jobs. I am good at other things. What makes me good at teaching? What made me good at being a librarian? And why can’t I apply that work ethic to my minimum wage, I’m-just-doing-this-for-some-semblance-of-stability type jobs?

Every time I screw up, I find myself wanting to curl up and cry. I wonder what made me so stupid. I freak out and think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way my brain works. (Which there might be. Not just the fact that I over-react to making mistakes.) FOR REAL, why can’t I just do everything right? It’s not like the jobs I do are difficult. At. All.

And therein, I think, lies my problem. It’s not because I am fundamentally stupid, but because it’s pretty hard to make yourself care about something.

I know plenty of people who CAN make themselves care – they got good grades in stupid classes in high school because they completed all the crossword puzzles and fill-in-the-blank busywork that I never did. They get promoted to do more work for more pay, maybe, eventually, because eventually, maybe, someone realizes how thoroughly they complete the bullshit. And I know some corporations who try to build in “caring” to their worker’s regiments… a friend of mine was trained to say 8 nice things to her co-workers a day, because apparently, when you’re obligated to get compliments, that makes it easier to be vastly underpaid.

I can’t figure out how to make myself care. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me… so what’s my deal?

Here are a few factors I’ve noticed in other people that help them succeed at their small jobs.

Color in the Lines

Some people seem to just have the natural ability to do exactly what they are expected to do and no more, and they love receiving clear directions and easy tasks to fulfill. These people totally have souls, and they have creative minds, there’s just a gear in their head that takes pleasure in completing simple tasks. Their boss could hand them a color by numbers book and three crayons, and if they were getting paid 7.50 an hour to make sure each page was filled in with colored wax in the proper format, they would happily do it without mixing it up or adding their own ideas, and go home happy because they did everything Right. Someone built the system. I used the system. The system worked well enough. It was easy. Easy is relaxing– It’s almost meditative. Getting paid to punch holes? To operate a machine? To type out what someone dictates? How nice! Why do I need to know what it’s for? Why would I think about trying to cut corners and create a better system? They’re paying me to just do this. I could do this all day!
Well, I got bored with doing things Right when I was in elementary school, when I realized that fucking up and showing off was way more fun. (Teachers put you in Special classes and you got treated like a genius!) I’m not a genius, I was just bored.

I would color these first and, by that way, figure out the answers to the math questions. No wonder I suck at arithmetic.

Are you kidding me with this? There is no mystery. It’s a bird. Can I go home now?

Fun fact of the day: The word “Amanuensis” is a fancy word for “secretary.” Specifically, it’s someone who takes notes while someone speaks, or copies manuscripts. The Latin roots of the word means “within hand’s reach” and was applied to special slaves in ancient Rome. Suh. Laves. Important ones. But slaves.
Paid, comfortable slavery, even if you’re way better off than the other slaves, even if you’re treated very well, even if you love your boss… still slavery.
There’s no room for yourSELF in that job. Plenty of people are comfortable with that because they make room for themselves outside of work. I guess I can’t figure out how to put myself in two different places, or shut myself off around certain company. Everyone else seems to be able to. Even wacky creative types can be totally quiet, accommodating, hard-working, friendly, model employees at their easy, low-pay, stable day job. It’s like acting a role. Why can’t I do that?

Fear of Authority
I’ve noticed something really shitty about massive companies that hire vast minimum wage armies: these companies really love to scare the crap out of their employees. At a big corporate retail job, they take you and other new employees into the “back stage” area where they show you all the pretty feeds from all the security cameras. The guard, puffed up with authority in a real-life Chris Farley impression, will lecture you on what happens to bad little employees if they steal, or worse, don’t turn in their co-workers for stealing. True story, not just an excerpt from Orwell. I actually applied to one of these stores when I was unemployed for far too long. Just the multiple choice questions I had to answer over a computer before I could even talk to a real person made my skin crawl. Not only did you have to answer somewhere between 150 and 300 of those, but they secretly timed you to see which ones made you hesitate. (I mean how many different ways can you phrase the question “Do you ever feel like stealing? Do you ever want to steal things? Do you think stealing is okay some times? Do you think if your friend steals that it’s okay? What if your friend was starving? Strongly agree? Huh? HUH?”)
I have a problem with authority for authority’s sake. I will take orders if I like my boss. I will do homework if I like my teacher. I have never been afraid of authority. I mean, not since kindergarten. (Maybe it was kindergarten that effected me this way – my teacher had anger management issues, so I had to learn pretty fast that when your overlord is screaming, you don’t have to take it personally.) I’ve been pretty well imbued with the sense that if someone I don’t love is irrationally upset with me, I don’t need to care about it that much. Some times it jars me, of course, a patron yelling at me or treating me like I’m an idiot. I don’t LIKE it by any means. But I’m not usually one to tiptoe around for the sake of avoiding totally meaningless admonishments.
I don’t give a shit about your elaborate point system, just tell me how much it’ll take to get me fired. I’m not going to be terrified of your naughty and nice list unless it actually means something. Gonna shake your finger at me? Call me into the principal’s office? What can you REALLY do to me other than force me out of a job I already don’t like? … my knee-jerk reaction to authority does not help me win at being on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder.
Some times, a little fear keeps you from making stupid mistakes. The fear of being poor, for example. I don’t have that. I probably should.

Believe you’re Important

Oh oh I know this one! It’s when you start believing that your unpaid internship is giving you real life skills, (which they will the first two or three times… but there is a point where you have to stop accepting unpaid work), or when someone up top has stroked your ego or puffed you up enough that you accept being underpaid because You’re Special. (I once got a lanyard and a certificate from the library, just because I Was Appreciated. I think the certificate even said so. I was very confused.)
Every single detail about how to roast and prepare the Best Cup of Coffee is not information you will use outside of your barrista gig. No one outside the cafe doors is impressed with you. That’s special knowledge for one job, which should probably be paying you more than minimum if you can make a cup of coffee better than a machine… oh my god instead of just re-hashing it all, listen to this podcast and you’ll understand where hipsters come from. Bottom line: A lot of bored 20 somethings with expensive educations, a lot of debt, no job they want to do, and they just want to feel good at something, so they feel good at being consumers and treat shopping at Whole Foods like it’s their job … which, well, it kind of is.

Anyway. This is the first item on my list that I’m actually good at, and I hate myself for it. I got an expensive education in theatre, for chrissakes, believing that once I got my degree, someone would really care that I know how to build a puppet or play fight with a sword. (“Seriously, just get a degree in anything you want. It’s the degree that makes you hire-able.” Thanks a fucking lot, 2006.) This is the reason why, when someone tells me I’m smart, or an expert in something, I don’t take it as a compliment, because as soon as I start believing that my extensive knowledge about Elizabethan theatre history is actually worth something to society, I’m a freaking hipster and I should just join the ranks of educated homeless kids and move to Portland. At least it’s warm there.


It’s this incredibly vicious cycle of logic, and it’s been a downward spiral for me ever since I heard the words “What to buy her for Christmas? Oh, Gracie likes things that make her feel smart” come out of the mouth of someone who really knows and loves me. I want to be recognized for the things I got educated in, I want to be paid for being smart, but I feel incredibly fucking pretentious and entitled if I’m gonna ask the world to appreciate me when they’re busy appreciating, y’know, heart surgeons.

A lot of people I know (my age) solve this icky feeling by overworking themselves as a kind of punishment for being artists. We’re like “AH, gotta keep up! Gotta do more! Seems like everyone on the facebook is doing twenty times more than me! Gotta mean something! Gotta do something Important!”… Oh my god. Maybe saying “screw it” and being homeless in Portland IS the answer.


Find a job that is actually important.

You could just find a job that has more meaning than the most trivial of tasks. (And while you’re at it, find a unicorn.) Maybe you don’t care about your job because it never challenges you to think. Maybe you don’t get any special projects within your range of expertise, maybe you find yourself doing the exact same thing every day until all the days blur together into a grey puddle of nonessential life events, maybe you’re frustrated because your job has absolutely no meaning. No matter how many coworkers are nice to you, if you don’t feel like your affecting change or making something happen, it could be an existential issue.
Ask your boss for a project. (This is why I rocked at my library job – I had nothing to do, so when I got bored, I got creative, and the creativity was encouraged to the point where my boss started handing me Shakespeare projects and events to plan. It was awesome.)
Get something else out of it. Write stories about the people at work when you get home. Come up with your own reward system that means something. I once survived a whole year of high school gym class by seeing how long it would take for any classmate to realize I never spoke a word and only communicated in Chaplinesque, cartoonish gestures. (Months. It took months.)

You could try to find the magical unicorn of jobs, the one that you want to do and that actually pays. You could stop sitting around waiting for a nice job to land in your life. You could bury yourself in more debt in order to go back to school for a real skill. You could have a baby, maybe that would give your life meaning.

Or you could sit around and write blog posts waiting for someone to notice that you’re kinda smart.


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