Sunday, December 28, 2008

Weigh In #9


12/28/08

Weight:
244lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
0 lb

Total Weight Loss:
8lb

Exercise Last Week (SNOWBOUND!):
1 gym visit
cardio only
60 min visit
2 Snow walks
60 min each

Goal for next week:
243lb

Saturday, December 27, 2008

THEY


Contemplation does not comfort. It creates an unsteadiness...a feeling that the ground is composed of very loose soil...and that a sinking is possible.

Nothing exemplifies this more than our love of referencing "they" when citing our expertise. In our use of this amorphous source, we seem to be saying, "Don't give me specifics...it might shake my reality." And doesn't any person spend the majority of his/her life defining reality...a place to call "home" so as to breathe easy and settle into routine? There is great comfort in predictability...in knowing "what is"...and we have this comfort based on what "they" say.

In a benign example, take this recent weather in the Northwest. You heard it constantly...in grocery stores, from friends on the phone, from those passing on the street. "They say we'll be getting another six inches of snow this weekend." "They say it's going to warm up and melt soon." "They say this will be a harsh winter." Etc. Etc. And people spoke with such conviction. Then when things did not always turn out the way "they" said it would, people felt betrayed. "They don't know what they're talking about!" "I made plans and they were wrong!" And on and on. But if these people had simply looked at the four or five different weather models online, they would have seen there was virtually no agreement amongst the myriad meteorologists. So the only question is: which "they"?

And this is what I'm getting at. The majority of our society bases reality on a surface understanding of virtually everything. Without even scratching the surface of possibilities, people claim to know things. They use this knowledge to build a foundation for themselves...and often, it is all an illusion.

Less benign is the fact that the media is completely corporate controlled. And these corporations have biased political interests. This leads some to seek knowledge from blogs or other online sources - which have much to offer, but many are simply exercises in narcissism. Where does one find trust? Our science industry is run by stockholders. It is almost impossible to get a grant for research if the result of the funded research is not a sellable product. If those funding research are mostly companies run by stockholders, then how is there any possibility of reliable results? If the scientist wants more funding, the results better yield something to sell...so the scientist will want to make sure this happens.

Point is...be careful of what "they" say. Who are "they"? Did you bother to look for yourself? Did you bother to question? Or is it too inconvenient, because the simple answers give you that longed for foundation? Is it troublesome, because if you looked deeper, you might find the answers don't fit your politics?

What is your excuse for accepting what "they" tell you?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weigh in #8


12/21/08

Weight:
244lb

Weight Gain in Past Week:
+2lb

Total Weight Loss:
8lb

Exercise Last Week:
4 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit
2 Snow walks
60 min each

Goal for next week:
243lb

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sister


I waited with sweating palms and short breaths, bad vending machine food stuck inside my cheeks as her father came into the waiting room and said, "It's a baby girl." I was twelve. No longer an only child. I had a half sister.

I watched her in a baby swing - the ones you wind up and set rocking - and I sneezed and she laughed...a huge laugh out of a six month old. And so I sneezed again - fake sneeze. And she laughed harder. So loud, so tickled, happy tears crawling down her cheeks. And I sneezed again and again and she cackled and cackled and I began to learn more about unconditional love.

Oh, how she was stubborn. Oh, how she had to have her way. Oh, how we were so much the same. And oh, how we fought. Yes I was 17 and she was 5. So what? We did such battle when I babysat. I had changed her diapers. I had stayed up with her some nights when she was scared and so I had the right to tell her what to do! She'd have none of it. She told me what she thought about me and bellowed "I hate you!!!" as she ran to her room. And I went in there and hugged her as she kicked and screamed for me to let her go...and eventually her body went limp and she began to curl her limbs around me, and her head fell upon my chest and she cried soft sobs. And I realize that though we were both so stubborn...these tears had nothing to do with me. She had entered this world haunted. And it would take much to exorcise that.

Back from college, I stood in an elementary school hallway with a big yellow visitor's badge stuck to my shirt. And around the corner a line of munchkins came marching. She didn't know I was coming. Near the back of the line, she finally looked up to see me there. Surprise! A lunch date. She was permitted to leave the chain of children and take my hand. And we were off!...through the lunch line of hairnets and unrecognizable food and to a table not meant for a 20 year-old ass (especially mine). She babbled excitedly about her class...their projects...her teacher...her second grade friends. I shared what I could of the college experience. Lunches are so short in elementary school. She rejoined the line. Conformed as she was told. Her teacher smiled at me and winked as they faded around the corner, little shoes clicking on a checkered tiled floor.

I was marinating in dramatic tension. I'd walk out the door and be back to Dallas and then off to Portland in a U-haul. Away from Texas. And thousands of miles away from family. Good-bye time. A hot afternoon. The high windows cast perfect rectangles across the living room. I stood up from the couch and the embraces began. And she looked at me...now twelve. In between little girl and young woman. She hugged at my waist. A tight, forever hug. And my mother, eyes fully welled, mouthed to me... "pick her up." I reached under her arms and lifted her. She wrapped her arms and legs around me...and she wept. And I wept...holding her as I did when she was a napping toddler those not so many years ago.

And then a strange and inevitable acceleration. The Portland years. So many and so fast. A birthday visit for her fifteenth birthday. Living with me while her mother battled a divorce in Texas. Giving her an internship at the theatre (no one takes line notes like she does!) Offering her a place to stay when things got bad...and worse. And then becoming roommates, and fighting like roommates...but quieter than in the past, passive aggression as the new "I hate you!!!". Wiping tears off her face during her first big break-up. Hugging her in another good-bye moment as she headed to California to breathe in a new understanding of herself. Phone conferences about school, career, travel, and of course...what to do with our family. Embracing her as she returned to Portland...with much baggage in tow.

Yesterday we had a winter blast hit the city. Snow and wind and magical spirits reminding us of all the meanings of cold. And there is much cold here. My family is divided. I am on the outside...anchored firmly to boundaries and principles. And so that leaves one person to call family. You know who. And call we did - literally. With my partner out of town, this empty house was beginning to assert its weight. And who better to offer levity?

She came over, exuding such excitement about the snow. She has this ability to harness a child's wonderment in almost any given moment - and it's incredibly charming and makes her shine so bright. After a quick coffee warm up, we decided a walk was in order. I bundled up and put snow grips on my shoes. And off we trekked down the white path. She casually reached down to grab some snow. "Don't you dare!" I yelled at her with as much big brotherly authority as I could muster. Oh how tempted she was, the snowball forming in her hand. Her eyes were filled with much mischief. Again, quite charming - but not enough to stop my threats. "You will be SO dead if you do that! You have no idea. YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!" And we giggled and the dance of 'will she? won't she? will she? won't she?' went on a bit longer until I managed to slap the frigid ammunition from her hand and send it exploding onto the road.

We laughed. We slipped. We stepped over yellow snow. We shivered as whirling dustdevils of icy powder assaulted us in the ripping wind. We cursed the teenager racing down a long driveway to do doughnuts. We marveled at the obvious joy of dogs in the park. And at one point, she grabbed her camera phone, wrapped her arm around me and directed me toward the lens. A quick click. A moment in time captured. This moment. Precious. And needed. Me - now 35. Her - now 23. Friends and unconditional love.

I wrote "I had a half sister." But of course, she is my whole sister. And now...she is my whole family. There is nothing and no one in the world I love more than my sister, Katie. And yesterday, we got to play in the snow...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weigh In #7



12/14/08

Weight:
242lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
3.5lb

Total Weight Loss:
10lb

Exercise Last Week:
4 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit

Goal for next week:
240lb

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thin Line

I have often been accused of taking things "too close to the line" in my theatrical work. This means different things to different people, but mostly it refers to my love of the grand emotional moment - one that sits on the razor thin line between comedy and tragedy. This has led many a colleague to worry about my work in terms of its intended tone. Will it be misunderstood? Misinterpreted? Accepted as emotionally truthful? Laughed off the stage as histrionic trash?

I'm entering a third stage in my artistic life. In Stage One, I would receive this sort of criticism and I'd simply blow it off. My wall of arrogance was so impenetrable such comments were brushed off my shoulder like irritating dandruff. As I humbled and worked to develop lasting collaborative relationships, I swung the other way. Stage Two began, and I became terrified of such critique. I became confused as to how I could have such a skewed perception of my own work. And I worried endlessly about pleasing everyone. I worked to imagine scenarios for plays that might please the masses - please the critics. I looked to colleagues who were being produced...who were getting far more acclaim for their offerings...work that seemed more accessible.

Now I enter Stage 3 - and I'm simply trying to embrace my own taste. Truth is, I love moments in art that push me to that line. It is often a place where the audience member has to choose to "go along" or "check out." I look closely at the horror genre, which I love immensely. You cannot be scared by horror unless you choose to be scared. Okay, I suppose there are those who frighten easily. But what I mean is...if you buy a ticket to see a horror movie and buy a horror book...you are making a contract with yourself to feel scared. You agree to that experience. Otherwise, it would all be comic. I can also look at opera in this way. And that may be the best way to discuss my taste. I love the operatic gesture in sculpting emotional moments. I love the extreme. This does not mean mindless melodrama. But it certainly isn't subtle. And I've come to loathe those who believe that a lack of subtlety means a lack of complexity. Subtle can be beautiful...but it can also be plain BORING.

This came up for me a few days ago when I was watching an interview between Ed Norton and film critic Elvis Mitchell. To my shock, Norton went off for a moment about how great Faye Dunaway's performance is in Mommie Dearest. Mitchell was clearly perplexed and tried to nuance his reaction by saying something like, "But that's more like a Kabuki style..." Then Norton went on to discuss how much courage it takes for an artist to take something to the very edge and how much he admires that. I was tickled, because I have always felt that Dunaway's performance was stunning and quite misunderstood by those who enjoy it merely for camp value. Even the new DVD packaging hails it as a camp classic and is clearly intended to target the drag show audience. But to this day - and I saw the movie about a year ago - I find her portrayal honest. It is not subtle. But I find it filled with integrity.

There are other moments in film/theatre that have divided audiences where it was declared the "line was crossed into absurdity."

--The final scene in There Will Be Blood
--Almost anything in The Exorcist
--The climactic monologue in Suddenly, Last Summer
--George C. Wolfe's staging of Angels in America
--Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining.
--Piper Laurie in Carrie
--The Tokyo story in Babel

This is a list of some of my favorite artistic things. I find none of them comic or inappropriate to the material or vision. As I look at it, I realize that much of it is immersed in sex/religion/violence. When these things are mixed into the emotional arc of a story do I simply have a high tolerance? As I said in a previous post, it may have much to do with my desire for art to transport me to completely different place. The unreal. And as "large" as these moments are, they are filled with truth for me. They thrill me.

Anyway...point is, I can only create what ultimately pleases me. I'm trying to own my aesthetic and create work that I enjoy. And hopefully, within that is the potential for truth and emotional relevance. And if a few laugh and roll their eyes, ("Oh, Matt....you WENT there...") so be it.

:)

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Pride


There is a particular sentence in yesterday's blog post that is incredibly insulting. I stated: "My work is a series of failed experiments in artistic expression, none of which have brought me a bit of satisfaction." To all of the many incredible artists with whom I've worked, I'm sorry for declaring such a thing without clarification. My point was simply that I am never fully satisfied with my work - the part that is my job. (This is said of all perfectionists - I am certainly nothing special.) What I must do is chill the fuck out and realize that artistic expression is a flash in time - a snapshot. Five minutes after that moment, the artist's viewpoint may change - the world changes - and so the art changes - and may no longer please the artist or audience. It is a maddening chase, is it not? If an artist is fully "present" - then his/her work is always in the past - leaving a vast emptiness to the front and a line of relics in the back. Is this why so many artists never fill the void?

But to not be satisfied is different than to not have pride. And I have a lot of pride in my endeavors - and even more pride for those who have been by my side. The nagging demons in my head have nothing to do with you. I am filled with joy when I think of the artists who have been so gracious to share with me and of those who have handed me my opportunities. So please...don't misunderstand my indulgent and melancholy ramblings...

I am proud of my work. I am proud of your work. I am proud of any artist who works hard to filter his/her inspiration through a rigorous exercise in craft. That's integrity. That is something of which to be most proud.

And now...I have more chasing to do.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cave Dwelling


This is highly indulgent - maybe even irritating. But then, I set out to reveal the warts and all.

Yesterday was a tough day. And I have no idea why. I have no idea why late last night, I wanted to crawl into a cave and not come out - or why this morning, for breakfast, I have swallowed down the lump in my throat multiple times. I feel isolated and alone and as though my mind is sucking me into some version of hell where all I see is disappointment. And I have no idea what brought this on. I rarely do. All I know is that these moments are happening more and more frequently, and I don't know how to push the rolling boulder back up the hill; its weight threatens to crush me into a version of myself that is simply...lost.

My beautiful and empathic partner sensed my darkening mood last evening. I tried to talk it out with him. In doing so, I had a moment of silence - like one of so many "beats" I insert into my plays - and I simply said, "I'm a complete failure." Michael almost laughed - not out of cruelty...really out of sweetness. He said, "You would never accept that from me...if I said that, you'd smack me down." He's right. In my tough love Texan way, I'd probably hug him, give him a kiss, and then say, "Quit whining, Little Camper!" as I bopped him on the head.

But in that moment, it is how I felt - feel?

I am almost 36 years old. I live pay check to pay check. I haven't had a play of mine seen outside my immediate community. One of Portland's beloved theatre companies closed under my watch - and with that closure, my passionate dream for a thriving new works driven theatre company was obliterated. And I was humiliated. My band, Zero G, dissolved - really because I was unable to compromise my principles - but was that smart...or once again, short sighted? My family is divided - I have not seen or spoken to my mother or littlest sister or nephew in over 6 months. And my anxiety disorder is ramping up to a point that I now have major IBS issues along with painful aches and deep energy collapses - which make every single work assignment nearly impossible. Every day is filled with terror. And as I manage to push myself through - sheer ego navigating the way - I come out the other side exhausted - more and more each day. And in the quiet moments, I have no idea how I became...this.

I am aware this sounds like a pity party. It is. It's my blog. So shut up. :)

I'm also aware that I have much to be thankful for. I have a partner that is a truly magical spirit...he is...it would take one to put up with me. I have many wonderful teaching assignments and have gained much respect from my colleagues in this field. I have many students and parents who show me incredible gratitude. I have also had an amazing two years regarding readings of my plays - and have been well received by audiences and colleagues. And though I do live pay check to pay check - I AM making a living completely in the arts. Independently. And I am thankful for this.

So what gives?

I came across an old file of recommendations. The amazing Charles Helfert...long time Associate Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts...and largely responsible for my being able to attend SMU, given his determination to find financial aid for a blue collar family trying to send their son to an "Ivy League of the South" school - this amazing man wrote me a recommendation two years after my graduation. I asked for this letter as general testimony of my potential - something to give theatre folk as I tried to move ahead in the business. It is a generous letter and in it he says that the Meadows School is often looked at in terms of the eras of its now famous alumni. The Kathy Bates Era. The Beth Henley Era. Etc. He closed by saying "One day, we will be talking about the Matt Zrebski era."

I almost ripped this letter into tiny pieces. Such embarrassment.

What makes things worse - is I can't simply wallow into a pool of sadness - because I know how stupid it is to do so. Even as I type this, I'm berating myself. I have a spiritual awareness that there is a cosmic logic to why I am exactly where I am right now. As I continued talking to Michael about this last night - I may have landed on something that gets to my dilemma.

I said, "Michael. My arrogance is the only thing that pushed me through my twenties and early thirties. And arrogance only hides insecurity. As I worked to reign in this unpleasant aspect of my nature, the vulnerability took hold. Because the fact is, I'm not confident in what I do, and I never have been. Because secretly, I've not been pleased by one single artistic offering I've ever produced. It is never good enough by my standards. I fail every time. Others may compliment my work and have nice things to say, but in truth, I feel I have simply pulled the wool over their eyes. My work is a series of failed experiments in artistic expression, none of which have brought me a bit of satisfaction."

And then a small epiphany. (Is that oxymoronic? Anyway...) I must learn to be thrilled by and completely accept IMperfection. This is not a completely new concept to me. I have long known my "all or nothing" self-assessment is an evil in my life. How did I get to be 75 pounds overweight? Because if I couldn't have the perfect body, why try at all? This is ludicrous, but it's something hardwired into my brain. And I know where it comes from - but no mother and childhood bashing in this post...

What this means is I feel I am living in my own cesspool of "mediocrity". And no word I can think of is more repulsive than that.

I'm now trying to find a way to bring this post to a close...and I cannot. So it's simply going to end. And I'm simply going to hope this day will turn up. I am going to see A Christmas Carol at Portland Center Stage tonight. Barring any anxiety attacks - which I have 90% of the time I attend theatre - it will be a pleasant evening with Michael, watching a terrific adaptation with magical stage craft...maybe I can learn from the ghosts...maybe.

Weigh In #6


12/7/08

Weight:
245.5lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
2lb

Total Weight Loss:
6.5lb

Exercise Last Week:
4 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit

Goal for next week:
244lb

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thank You, Hans...

I owe a thank you to Hans Zimmer. If you don't think you know him, you probably do - his music has underscored many movies you've seen including his Oscar Winning score for The Lion King. I could list his many credits, but you can simply Google him if you care. I have to thank him, because it is one track from one CD from one film in particular that allowed me to finish the second draft of my latest play, The Bathing of Christopher End.

My use of his score for The Thin Red Line is not new. There are a few film scores that have played on an endless loop as I draft and re-draft. This is one of them, along with Philip Glass's score for The Hours and Elliot Goldenthal's music for Alien 3. Certain music unlocks my creative center and helps me stay "in the zone."

But it was a few days ago, while digging through the second half of my play, when my ears perked up and I actually listened to the music again. Track 3. Titled: "Journey to the Line". It's a little over nine minutes long. I sat back in my chair and took in this music as if I'd never heard it before...it has two sections. The first is a repetitive building motif that eventually explodes with sorrow and passion as the french horns fully take over the melody and wail with unapologetic agony. The second part - a release of tension - goes to high strings and minimal orchestration to invoke a sensation of absolute surrender and "lift". It is almost a meditation on what has just transpired...a cool wind blowing over a sweaty brow.

This nine minutes of Hans Zimmer's genius made me highlight the final forty pages of my play and delete them. Zap. Gone. For I finally understood Christopher. And I actually wept a little. Not at the loss of forty pages - that's really not a big deal - I'm a writer, there's always more... It was about this understanding of a character I so wanted to know better...and now I felt I did. Prior to this musical intervention, I had seen Christopher as complex...layers upon layers of history and wounds...but really, he is quite simple. And in this simplicity, I found the end of my play.

Now, is it any good? Who the hell knows? I can say that I enjoyed being inside the world of this play more that I have anything since I wrote Rubber 'n' Glue in 2004. And I can say that it is very me....whatever that means!

When I wrote End of Play as this second draft was complete, I made myself a cocktail, walked over to my stereo, and turned up "Journey to the Line" at full blast - I floated inside the music as I sipped my Vodka concoction - and I thanked Hans Zimmer.


Weigh In #5


11/30/08

Weight:
247.5lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
.5lb

Total Weight Loss:
4.5lb

Exercise Last Week:
5 gym visits
(1 on Thanksgiving Day!)
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit

Goal for next week:
246lb

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weigh In #4


11/23/08

Weight:
248lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
3lb

Total Weight Loss:
4lb

Exercise Last Week:
5 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit

Goal for next week:
246.5lb

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nothing Real About It

I want the words "realistic" and "realism" to be eliminated from theatrical vocabulary!

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Adam Bock's The Receptionist at CoHo Productions. Expertly paced and staged by Rose Riordan - and executed with immense depth by the cast - this show will probably go down as my favorite of the year. What was shocking, however, was that afterward a colleague said to me, "It was so real...so very realistic." WHAT?! There isn't one thing "realistic" about this show. There are naturalistic moments, yes. Real coffee brewing onstage - dialogue that seems almost improvised it's so mundane - an actor dripping saliva onto the carpet because she has actually stuffed her mouth full of salt water taffy to the point of an explosion - but the brilliance of Bock is that his plays beg for this approach and yet are often nestled inside a heap of outrageous scenarios - not realistic, but ARTISTIC.

As I often lecture to my students - the act of seeing theatre is a bit absurd, yes? We make this agreement when we buy our tickets to suspend our disbelief. We decide that we will play make believe with the actors. Even in what I call "boring living room plays" we must do this. A curtain goes up and on the stage is a perfect replica of a living room...this is absurd. And as perfect a replica as it may be - it is still a huge leap of imagination to play along. There is no realism - there is nothing realistic about any of it. And THAT is the magic of theatre. It begs us to use our imaginations and to go along for the ride. It begs us to buy into the outrageous - often to escape - or perhaps to experience catharsis through something entirely NOT real.

When my students say, "I liked that because it was so realistic, " I say, "Well, do you like Lord of the Rings?"

And they most often say, "I love it!"

"And do you find yourself buying these characters and their relationships?"

And they mostly say, "Yes. I cried."

And I say, "But that's fantasy."

And they pause. And then I say, "The word you're looking for is 'truthful' not 'realistic'."

Point I'm making is - anything can be credible in the theatre if the artists have transported the audience with integrity. Then there is that element of truth. My issue here stems from the fact that young people are getting more and more bound by this notion of "real" - they are less and less imaginative each year - and the word "realistic" comes up time and time again. They start seeking only the stories that can "actually happen". But that flies against what I feel theatre is supposed to do -which is to unchain our minds. There's nothing wrong with writing what we term a "realistic" play - but to believe that's the ultimate goal...or to congratulate a play based on that word - it rubs me wrong.

In the theatre, anything can happen. And it's truth we seek from art, not realism.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weigh In #3


11/16/08

Weight:
251lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
0.5lb

Total Weight Loss:
1lb

Exercise Last Week:
5 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
60 to 90 min per visit

Goal for next week:
250lb

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Chair!

Portland is often referred to as a City of Cafes. (Seattle had the title first, of course.) And I have certainly fallen in love with my cafe time. There is something really soothing about taking my work to a cafe, sitting over coffee or loose-leaf tea, and reading amidst the hum of espresso machines and intellectual conversations. I'm not a snob about corporate versus independent companies, though I admit, I will never think of going to Starbucks as soothing. Starbucks is for "on-the-go" caffeine grabbing. But I will often settle into Peet's or even Barnes and Noble - if for no other reason than they are close and consistent. I also love Fleur de Lis which is independent and beginning to thrive as a destination point for my lovely Hollywood neighborhood.

Anyway...soothing - but not lately. Why? Chairs.

Once again I find myself amazed at the self-involvement of people. Where many of the cafes I frequent used to be filled mostly with loners and couples - something has shifted, and the cafe is becoming quite the social gathering spot. Whole families are showing up to suck coffee and space. They arrive, look around, and this expression of utter shock spreads across their faces as they spy nothing but bistro tables flanked by two chairs. They have walked in with a spouse, three kids, and sometimes with another family as if they are all going to pose for a portrait entitled Americano Americana.

Now...once realizing the cafe was not designed like Applebee's, you'd think they might re-think the plan. But...no.

Two days ago I was at Peet's, waiting for a dramaturgy client. This is my favorite place to meet clients as it is so easy to get to, but as this location is very popular with the neighborhood locals, I do find myself anxious about finding a table. I got lucky on this day. In the corner, nestled away. Ahhhh.....soothing. I was fifteen minutes early for my meeting. As I'm finalizing my notes, this man walks up and tries to take the chair from the other side of my table. He doesn't even ask.

I stop him. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I'm waiting for someone. I have a meeting here in a few minutes."

He grumbles. "My kids need a place to sit."

I look over at his brood. Three kids, a wife, and another couple. Yes. Seven people. They have hijacked the table that is reserved for those with disabilities - as it's the only large table - and can accommodate a whopping three chairs. Not seven. They have managed to pull the table away from the window, blocking part of the pathway to the cash register. His wife and her friend are sitting one-ass-cheeked on the window sill. They have managed to squash four chairs around the table already. I notice that there are now two bistro tables completely naked - no chairs at all, because they have been amputated by this man.

I smile. "I'm sorry, but you can't take my chair. My client needs a place to sit."

He glares. "What? You don't have a real office?"

I smile again. "No I don't. And I guess you don't have any real manners."

He stomped off. I silently fumed at the stupidity of people. And yes, I got petty. I looked over at this ridiculous sight - drinking their coffee, feeling trendy, but irritable because they had no "real" table at which to sit. They had, as I already mentioned, pushed the table out into the pathway. I made a mental measurement. And I called over to the manager who was stocking some napkins.

"You know, those people have moved the table, and it looks like there's less than three feet now in the walkway. Isn't that a fire code violation? I know it seems silly, but I get really paranoid about these things. Call me neurotic!" I laughed. Fake but convincing.

She looked at the table. Sighed. Looked back at me. Rolled her eyes. "You're right, and that is ridiculous. What do we look like, Applebee's?" She made her way to the table and told them to move. I looked back down at my work. I heard loud grumbles and stomping. And then I looked back to see the table empty - back in its proper spot. And the manager and I shared a wink.

Leave my chair alone.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Weigh In #2


11/9/08

Weight:
251.5lb

Weight Loss in Past Week:
0.5lb

Total Weight Loss:
0.5lb

Exercise Last Week:
5 gym visits
cardio and weight lifting
1 hour per visit

Goal for next week:
250lb

Friday, November 7, 2008

Party Foul pt 2

Given there are two prominent news shows with gay anchors now - this California debacle is getting a bit more coverage. Both Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow have offered more focused information. I was unaware of some of the strategies for passing Proposition 8.

Many know that early on I had issues with Obama's followers. My issue was that Obama was perceived as a "non-politician" or a "new politician". His stance on gay rights revealed to me that he was no different - and in fact, he was quick to call upon his faith...much more than Hillary Clinton - though their positions are basically the same. Here is the quote from Obama in an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune:

"I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman."

It is precisely this quote - and others like it - that were used in robo-calls and ads in California - specifically targeting African Americans. Reportedly, Obama was not happy that his words were being used to promote Proposition 8 - but the campaign couldn't possibly risk bringing gay marriage into the spotlight days before the election and so had to let it go.

Politically, I agree with this. But it makes me very sad - and it reveals that Obama, though an exciting new President, is still not going to venture onto that third rail. And perhaps I need to take him at his word. If his Christianity is so dear to him - then I must assume he really doesn't support gay marriage. We must not be truly equal. We must not be worthy of "something sanctified."

What do I think will help change the country? Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Party Foul

I had a very busy day.
...Private dramaturgy meeting.
...New teaching residency at the amazing FOCUS program at Alliance High School. ...Director/producer meeting with Blue Monkey Theater for my play, Ablaze.
...Pick Up rehearsal for the New Works Fest, Blitz.

So I was out and about. And I can't count the number of times I was greeted with "Happy Obama" day. My response? "I know, I'm so thankful. But for the gay community, it was a terrible day for human rights."

I said this to every single person who brought up the election. Now, make no mistake. I am relieved with the Obama win. I feel blessed to witness this moment in history. I wept like a baby the second CNN announced him the official President-Elect. But for gay people, it was a terrible day for human rights. And I, along with many queer people around the country, am feeling a little left out of the party. Florida and Arizona banned gay marriage. Arkansas made gay adoption illegal. And let's not forget the disaster that is California's Proposition 8. 18,000 gay and lesbian couples are already legally married in Cali. Their rights cannot be stripped. What an absurd situation. Those 36,000 people are legally married, but no other same sex couples can marry now. How does this work with rights? It's a cluster fuck.

How did this happen? Lots of money. And not on the side of progress. This bigotry was largely funded by the dangerous cult commonly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Yes, folks...the Mormons in Utah were really scared they might catch something...the gay disease was going to infect all the Californians then spread through Nevada and penetrate their magic underwear.

But there is another nasty statistic that has newscasters saying politically correct things like, "This is intriguing. No other group voted this way. How does one interpret this information?"
You see, African American voters in California voted 70% to ban gay marriage. No other ethnic group did so. All other groups split down the middle. African Americans carried the ban on gay marriage to victory.

Need I even articulate the irony?

Now, before anyone gets too uncomfortable - I do not vilify the African American community for this. But there is a big issue with gay rights within this community. Having dated more than one black man in my life, I can tell you - there may be nothing harder than being a black gay man. Documentaries have been devoted to it. Studies have been lectured. Suicide rates are much higher among black gay men. It is a really big problem. Why? Is it religion? There is a large evangelical tradition in black communities across this country. Does it have to do with ideas about masculinity? I know with the Hispanic community this is very true. My Hispanic partner and I talk about these issues quite often. It gets bizarre - in the Latino community you are only really considered gay if you are on the receptive end of sex. So long as you are merely receiving pleasure or "topping" - you are simply "getting off" and remain "manly." Or...does it come down to education? For over a hundred years, bigotry has prevented many African Americans from receiving equal education opportunities - so this perhaps leads to misunderstandings about homosexuality.

I don't know.

But I am left feeling less than 100% joyful today. I am thrilled to see President Obama lead this country. I am in awe, really. This may change the globe. But I must remain aware of the injustices that remain.

It was a very bad night for human rights. And we cannot forget that.




Sunday, November 2, 2008

Weigh In #1


This is a blog about exposing myself - that was the original intent - a sort of stepping out from behind my many masks. I have decided to also use it as a way to be publicly accountable.

In the next day or two, I will post at length about this decision - what it means, history, etc. This is not some impulsive decision based on a "fat day". I have done a lot of contemplation on the subject for over a year. So more to come on that.

Today I will simply state the stats and the goal.





Matthew B. Zrebski
on 11/2/08
Height 5' 11 1/2"
Weight 252lb

GOAL:
on 11/2/09
Height 5' 11 1/2"
Weight 180lb

TOTAL WEIGHT LOSS GOAL:
72lb in 52 weeks, roughly 1.5 lb per week

Each Sunday I will post the weigh-in results for that week. Don't worry - I don't intend to turn this blog into a Richard Simmons or Oprah Winfrey sob fest about fat. I will simply post the weigh in.

And...I'm off!





Tuesday, October 28, 2008

is the Word



Yes.

Me. 18 years old. Danny.

My friend. John Walker. 17 years old. Kenickie.

Caught during pre-show warm-ups in the greenroom. I hope I remembered to take that watch off!

Seems to be the season for folks sending me old pictures of my past. I guess I should own it. I mean really - how cool were WE? And we put the songs in from the movie - long before this recent revival on Broadway...Grease is the word...is the word....is the word...is the word...

Lordy I need a drink.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Five Nuggets


Random and Scattered Offerings...

1. Blitz opens next week. October 30th to be exact. It's the 5th Annual New Plays Festival at Lincoln High School here in Portland, OR. And this is proving to be one of the most challenging productions I've ever attempted to mount. It may also be one of the most satisfying. Eighteen new pieces all in one three-act evening. I finally got to see the whole thing in one sitting last Thursday before giving these high school kids a three-day weekend. It's a show of extremes. There's brilliant writing. There's greener-than-green writing. There are acting moments that rival the best in the business. There are acting moments that feel like...well...teenage acting moments. But what is not divided is the feeling of unapologetic expression. These kids know how to use their imaginations. And this year I allowed a more "messy" exploration. I am often accused of reigning in my productions to the point of sanitizing them out of being interesting. Not this show. These plays are all over the place - and I think the title is appropriate. A blitz indeed. And I hope a very entertaining one.

2. I want to set up an education retreat for high school kids. One month. And the camp is simple. Everything goes back to 1980 technology. No cell phones. No Internet. No personal computers. No personal videogame devices. No MP3 players. Etc etc etc. I came to this while trying to reinvent my syllabus once again for my various teaching contracts in the high schools. You see, one of the organizations I work for likes to encourage an extremely kinetic teaching style. "Keep the kids moving. Keep them jumping from one thing to another. Use many, many prompts." And for years, I did this. One exercise I developed in 2005 - one so popular I actually got paid to teach it to other educators - involves passing photographs of people around so quickly that in less than fifteen minutes, a writer has over thirty characters to develop for a potential play. Crazy! Fun! Fast! Woohoo! But what the fuck does it have to do with being an artist? NOTHING. It is simply a way to surrender to the pace of the times - a pace that is destroying the ability to observe. And observation is the key to any artist's success. We must use an artist's lens through which to view the world. And this requires being still. So this year I have gone against all the people telling me to go fast and furious. I'm slowing down. And instead of 30 photos in 15 minutes...they looked at 2 for almost 45 minutes. I am teaching kids how to observe and be still. And though there was a lot of shuffling, talking, distractions - the kids also seemed...relieved. Don't we all want to slow down?

3. I saw Religulous with Michael. We had a day date. And it wasn't the best date. We have no idea how to "not be working" right now. Two neurotic Nellies fighting anxiety attacks all day. Between my ridiculous October and his full time school with two jobs - we are a wreck. All we seem to know how to do is eat nervously and drink coffee - and that is really helping our waistlines let me tell you. But we tried to have a date. And we did enjoy Bill Maher's expose on religion. It was incredibly thoughtful. And hilarious. His meeting with an "ex gay" Christian - a man so coiffed he looked like he was about to go compete on some Bravo show - was HILARIOUS. Bill was downright dirty with him - and I loved it. I tried to feel sympathy for this poor 'mo with guilt over the Lord - but no...I just thought he was an idiot who needed to go jump in a sling and admit how much he likes it.

4. Yesterday I had a scary impulse moment. In the midst of trying to clean out the mountain-high "in box" I jumped from my computer and said out loud, "I must go to Bath and Body Works." And I did. Because they sell the best stress-relief candle on the market. It is a mix of spearmint and eucalyptus oils, and it tends to calm my nerves. So I bought one. It is burning now. It makes the air crisp and clean. I alternate this with my more seasonal apple cinnamon spice candles. Because you must understand. I AM a Candle Queen.

5. Finally...I was watching a documentary yesterday - one I've seen many, many times. I will perhaps talk more about this film in later posts, but for now it will go unnamed. There is a line in it - and I may not have the quote exactly right - but the concept is this: "There is something really seductive and euphoric about giving up." The person who says this is talking about being diagnosed with a deadly illness and deciding not to fight. Many people talk about this in the film - the relief of giving up. Stopping the fight. Stopping hitting one's head against the wall. And I began to weep very suddenly. Hard. Not for them - but for a longing I so often have to do just that. To give up. Not in terms of living - please, people, don't read into this. But just to "stop the fight". And as I wept, I thought about how I have framed almost everything in my entire life...as a fight. I thrive in conflict and in overcoming it. It has defined almost everything about me...at least in how I see myself. And I'm so, so very tired. That framework must change. But I simply don't know how to do it.




Sunday, October 12, 2008

Octoberllision

<--------------Scary huh? Indeed.
I sit here this morning writing this as I listen to the delightful new Joan Osborne CD, Little Wild One. I also have a nice cup of coffee. I have my comfy green hoody on and thick brown socks. I am burning a rich, clove and cinnamon candle. And I just put down the book, The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron.

These are ingredients for survival.

You see...this October is what I have come to label a "collision month". As a private contractor, I must track no less than five projects at all times - often more. They criss and cross on my day planner, dancing in a frenetic and acrobatic ballet. And this month, these dancers, carrying my energy and time are ever so close to tripping - to leaping in the wrong direction - to falling into each other in a dangerous explosion where my creative blood will drain out altogether, resulting in quite the failure.

--200 students...this means roughly 600 pages of text per week to read and comment on...
--A high school new plays festival with 11 student writers, 3 adult writers, 17 plays, 1 musical, 15 students actors, 15 student crew members, 4 adult designers...it opens the 30th. I'm directing it, scoring it, writing vocal arrangements, and doing things like organizing T-shirts and potlucks with parents...
--facing playwriting deadlines...yes, I'm still trying to write...a new play...a play I'm extremely excited about, but I think has no marketing potential, so why do I bother...because I have to get it out...but will it be finished...

Okay, writing the above list is NOT one of the ingredients for survival - it sort of makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. So back to the ingredients...

Joan Osborne:
She defies genre definition. She is soulful. Her lyrics are truthful. She soothes me. She is, in my opinion, one of the top artists in the past decade. It's a shame her "God is One of Us" song made her famous in the 90s...it may be her weakest track.

Coffee:
Actually, it's coffee mixed with milk and dark chocolate. And I love it. I give up coffee all the time, going months without it. As someone with anxiety attacks, it seems coffee would be lethal. But actually, caffeine has often helped my anxiety, which indicates a hyperactive disorder - speed helps hyperactivity. But I don't really care about the "whys". It's tasty, and it helps me focus. I will counter it this evening when I have my evening ingredient for survival: Tazo Calm Tea.

Comfy Green Hoody and Thick Brown Socks:
I would live my entire life in loose jeans, tennis shoes, and comfy big hoodies if it were appropriate. It's why I love fall and winter so much. And why I can never again live in a place without months of cool weather. Sorry Texas. I also admit, it covers my chubby gut - the perpetual chubby gut. Only in 1992 was I truly slim. But I was also anorexic. Another story. Anyway...I love my fall comfies. OH - and the socks...well who doesn't like warm fuzzy socks?

Clove and Cinnamon and Candles:
Like a sweet grandma cooking me goodies, this candle brings on the fall with a fragrant kiss. It also covers the smell of mildew and recently poisoned mice in my basement studio.

Pema Chodron:
A Buddhist nun, Sister Chodron has written many books on practical spiritual practices and philosophy. The passage this morning dealt with the ego and our obsession with not changing - with ferociously holding onto the "characters" we have created for ourselves. This hits close to home - I always determine the mask I am to wear for a given project - and I am determined to play that role with perfection...and this is ultimately my downfall. But God, what would happen if I were just myself? Who IS that?

Okay - today I must go write 200 sound cues, read a few hundred pages of student writing, re-stage four short plays, do some laundry, vacuum, mentor a young composer, check in at the theatre on set and lighting load-in, design the back of a T-shirt, go to the gym, and prep for classes that I teach tomorrow...

There may not be enough ingredients in the world this month.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Thirteen

Oh that thirteen year old version of me. My first letterman jacket in the fall of 1986. I was such hot shit. Later that year, I would realize my hair did not match my potential, and I would go get a strange variation of a mullet. You know - short and spiky all over - bleach blond tips - but just near the base of my neck, the hair was allowed to remain long - not a rat tail (I wasn't THAT cool) but a little fall - some flare, you know?

I got this picture today from one of my closest friends in 8th grade, Scott Ray. We reconnected recently in cyberspace. He was such a cool laid back kid - had a great house with a pool. Sleep-overs and parties were the best at Scott's house. He played the trombone. Those guys were always more fun than the neurotic trumpet players like me. In the summer - just months prior to this picture - I made a movie with my camcorder in my house. My parents agreed to be gone for the whole day. Just me, Aaron Morris, Scott Ray, and Kyle Woolsey. We had no script - just an outline. Improv and real time shooting. A horror film called Deadly Regrets. I was the maniac. So much fun. I still have that horribly edited VHS tape somewhere.

I am terrified of pictures. Nostalgia overwhelms me and often makes me feel unsafe. Lately though, I have tried to take more time to peek at them. Peek at me. And remember times when things were far more simple.

I long to recapture some essence of the kid - that band geek with the green junior high letterman jacket. I miss him. A lot.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Blue-Green Chronicles - Part 3

Panic.

I find it most humorous to post this after the last message on pills - it may be the result of a growing mania inside me.

In the late summer of 1998, I suffered my first panic attack at a performance of Rent at the Keller Auditorium. I was with many friends, along with my two visiting sisters (who were 13 and 11 at the time). We had enjoyed a nice dinner and had gone to see the touring show which by then was already a cliché - but that's another subject.

About five minutes before the curtain went up, I began to feel strange. And then BOOM - and man, what an experience. Heart rate exploded. Gag reflexes became sensitive. Bowels liquefied. Sweat poured. Left arm went numb. Skin felt like it was burned. And it lasted for about an hour. The shear terror of what was happening to me kept me paralyzed in my seat - and at intermission, I ran to the bathroom to gather myself.

A nightmare had begun.

Prior to this attack, I was fearless. My past included being drum major of a Texas marching band, singing in front of thousands, speaking at huge events, performing Shakespeare solo in front of James Earl Jones at Lincoln Center, conducting orchestras for musicals, interviewing for the Drama League, and the list goes on. I had nerves of steel that I knew would carry me to great success. In terms of the personality test, this would all have been a fearlessness put forth by the green part of my essence. So long as I was prepared for these high-pressure events - I would be fine. That's logic. Do the homework - be ready - and all is well.

Two weeks after that initial episode, I awoke in the early morning with what seemed to be a heart attack. Left arm curled again. Chest pain beyond belief. Pounding head. The symptoms took about 15 minutes to subside. I went to a clinic. Tons of heart tests. Blood work. The results: "Your heart is very strong." "Your thyroid is normal." "There are no other abnormalities." Diagnosis: "You have an anxiety problem." And this is my favorite: "You're gay and this is probably a result of underlying fears - that you will die from AIDS, be the victim of violent attacks, and die alone." The woman who told me this was a lesbian nurse practitioner - very caring, but man, did she adopt "victim mentality" for the GLBT community. Plan for treatment: "Anti-depressants and anxiety meds." I refused, but said I'd accept a mild sedative. The result: "a .5mg prescription for Ativan." And it helped.

The green in me did not like it. Rearing its head and logically stubborn as ever, it said, "You cannot rely on this drug. It's absurd." And in the fall of 1999, I got off Ativan for good and have never taken it since. But the result: I have had nearly a decade of ongoing anxiety attacks.

The blue in me wants attention - it has taken over in many ways. Empathy is a powerful thing. And I believe that I am extremely empathic - to the point of sensing and adopting emotional stress when I'm in the presence of others who may be distraught. It has allowed me to grow as an artist for sure, but it has also crippled my ambition. I believe the anxiety comes from that struggle between the empathic and the logical. The tug of war threatens to tear me apart. But the truth is, I have also become a classic textbook case: the fear of having an anxiety attack is now the primary reason I have them. For I have come to expect them. And they come - relentlessly.

I now have no less than three full attacks per week, often while in the presence of others. I can barely attend theatre anymore, because I cannot bear to be in an embarrassing situation where I need to leave and disrupt the show - I always grab an aisle seat, or I won't attend. I have become more and more reclusive - agoraphobia has infected my life. What sort of irony is that?

Please understand...this is not a pity party. I have great faith that I hold the power to change this - that in some way, I have the power to re-balance my internal colors. In exposing myself on this blog and more and more to my friends, I hope to remove the shame from my struggles. And in doing so, I can only hope better days are ahead.

Because they have to be.

--image by Regina Lafay

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pill People


As many people know, I have a real bad attitude about Western Medicine. I feel that science has been hijacked by greedy industries and we are paying the price. I feel we are being pushed into addictions and those benefiting are the stockholders of Big Pharma.

Here is an article in Men's Health. Many like it have been published in the past six months, but much more coverage was seen in other countries...of course. We Americans don't want our quick fixes taken away. And no one really wants to see behind the curtain, do they?

Bottom line: question everything!

I hope some will take the time to read this:
PILLS IN THE HEAD

Monday, September 15, 2008

Liberty Weeping


Liberty is blinded and she may never find us again.

This is my fear. This keeps me up at night. This makes my stomach churn with violent fiery acid. And it makes me so very sad.

Bill Maher said on his show last Friday that Democrats have all the issues on their side and yet are "losing to a 200 year old man and a mountain mama who makes Bush look like a professor."
How is this?

--Our education system is a disaster.
--Republicans want to keep public schools a disaster.
--This means only the rich and few get strong educations.
--Americans become more and moronic.
--Republicans prey on the morons.
--Republicans stay in power.

Republicans: "Me Me Me!!!"
Democrats: "Us Us Us!!!"

Ignorance allows those who think "ME ME ME" to "WIN WIN WIN" which screws "US US US!!!"

It's very hard for Democrats to fight this kind of battle. It takes a monumental reduction in intellect to do so. But I have said to many a friend, "Barack Obama must to learn to convincingly communicate like a 6th grader." I don't think he can do it. He has too much pride in his own education and knowledge to dumb things down. He finds it rude. So do I. But if he doesn't, he very well may lose. If the election were held today, he would.

I wish I had the money to make a series of T-shirts that would make sense to 6th graders.

"If you hate women, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you hate homosexuals, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you hate the planet, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you hate children, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you hate veterans, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you hate farmers, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you love being sick, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you love war, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you love alley abortions, vote McCain/Palin"
"If you think white people RULE, vote McCain/Palin"

"If you hate America, vote McCain/Palin,
but if you still love America, vote Obama/Biden"

Even if Obama pulls this out - I am still deeply saddened. This is not only about winning an election. It is about the rapid transformation of this country - a country where knowledge and intellect and thoughtfulness have quickly become weaknesses - where ignorance and apathy have quickly become strengths.

Liberty walks bloody and blind searching for her children.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Suck it!


I watched the series premiere of True Blood on HBO. And along with Showtime's Dexter, I will be sucking on this TV drug.

I cannot tell if it's good or not. But I'm certainly not bored. And I've come to believe that cable television is the only place where writers are getting the chance - and with big bucks - to take risks and defy genre. What is True Blood? Satire? Farce? Drama? Horror? I have no idea. And perhaps Alan Ball's attempt to mix all these various elements will backfire. But how cool!

Reviews have been extremely divided on this new show - and isn't that a good sign? I think so. It's managing to be experimental and still be marketed in a mainstream fashion. Why can't theatre do this?

Theatre is becoming the most conservative of art forms. How did this happen? Money certainly lures playwrights to Hollywood - but I'm beginning to think that television may also have a leg up on creativity. This upsets me.

Well...at least we have cable.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Blue-Green Chronicles - Part 2


Agnostic - (noun) - a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience. --from dictionary.com

This is what I am. Forced really by my blue-green split persona, it is the only way to cope with the flood of conflicting input that saturates both my head and my heart on a daily basis. And I like this definition, because often, an agnostic is said to be someone who simply "doesn't know." But really, it's that I hold that no one can "know". In this way, I find both fundamental religiosity and pure atheism equally absurd. And they are absurd to me because of the blatant arrogance displayed in practicing either dogma.

I have often heard one say about his/her faith, "This is what I hold to be true..." And I want to respond. No, it isn't. It's what you "hope is true...and desperately." And I think it is that desperation that creates belief systems. As humans we are very conflicted about our mortality. And most people have had that moment where they sense "something else." Those who have been able to connect to that "something else" and articulate its qualities in a new way have become prophets. Some small - maybe only to their local communities. Some large - like the big J.C. In this way, I feel overtly defined spirituality is the result of our trying to verbalize, organize, and institutionalize that which we cannot know. We have a sense of something - and it is maddening that we can't quite touch it - and our desperation to do so leads to the concretization of something that cannot be concretized.

Some would say to me, "well, duh, Matt - that's why it's called faith." Yes, but people of great faith rarely say they "don't know". They cite their faith as the reason they "do know." And again, this is absurd. I have heard many a faithful say, "If only I could make you understand what I know." Yes, please. Make me. Force me. Convert me so that you can feel better about your desperation - your intense fear - because deep down, you know you can't know. You can only believe - and really, what is a belief but the hope - not the knowledge - that something is true?

It is very important to state that I find atheistic scientists equally silly in their zealotry. I've often wondered if atheists are actually the most prone to religion. The belief in absolutely nothing but what is tested through collection of data and scientific process - well really, it's an exercise in not being disappointed. It is the creation of warranties. It is a way to self-cure spiritual addiction. I visualize this atheist in a sweat-soaked state of anxiety: I do believe in God. I do believe in spirits. I do believe in an afterlife. But I can't know. And I'm desperate to do so. I need it. I want it. But I can't know for sure. And so can't have it for sure. And I can't risk losing it. And so I must ban it from my house.

Atheists often talk of the need for pure scientific data. The issue is that this data must be measured and interpreted through human methods: what we can see, hear, feel, taste, and touch. But ironically, through science, we know that we humans have limitations - and what we perceive is not even "real". For instance, there is no such thing as "blue". And there is no such thing as a "melody" in music. The color and melody are nothing but interpretations in our brain - conversions from input through our eyes and ears. But cats don't hear the same melody. And dogs don't see that blue. And as overly simplistic as these examples are - isn't it easy to assume that perhaps there are things we can't sense at all? Are we so arrogant as to assume that the only data in the universe must be seen, heard, felt, tasted, or touched? What about senses humans may not even have? Speculative? Of course. But Dr. Scientist, quit telling me how you can "know things with near absolute certainty." Because as is often cited - the world was once flat - and with equal certainty.

My green side needs "see it to believe it" information. My blue side senses ghosts, other dimensions, and hears thoughts of others. And at the end of the day, all I can be is agnostic. So when I sit almost daily and stare into a candle, reciting prayers - I also giggle at myself for the Gothic ritual. Conflicted? Yes. But a traumatic conflict? Only sometimes. Really, it's nothing but agnosticism. And I'm trying to embrace that.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Blue-Green Chronicles - Part 1



The Test

When I was in high school, a personality test was administered. For the life of me, I cannot recollect why I had to take this test. I seem to recall it happened in an English class, but maybe my school counselor was the proctor. Truth is, I think I have blocked out parts of this experience, because the results were ominous.

--I have a blue-green split personality--

Okay, what the hell does that mean? In this exam, colors were used on a graph for the purpose of grouping traits. Oddly, my test scored in the extremes of both blue and green. This woman (my counselor? English teacher?) was shocked to see this result ("most rare" she said) and looked incredibly concerned for my well being. I don't remember all the fine details, but I do know that my blue score indicated heightened, almost psychic intuition. My green score indicated highly analytical thinking, almost extremist in its scientific "data-only please" methodology. This meant that my life would be filled with internal conflicts, often crippling - for my intuitive awareness would use a metaphor-seeking and ever-changing lens through which to view the world; my analytical grounded eye would seek black and white results with clear data based evidence to shape reality.

The look this woman gave me said, "you're fucked".

I think such tests, along with IQ tests are given far too much weight. I once scored low enough on an IQ test to be classified "Mentally Retarded" and then again on another to be classified "Genius". Maybe I'm a Retarded-Genius split personality. I digress. Though I question any test's value, this one proved prophetic indeed. And I have to wonder, was it truly prophetic, or did that look from this woman plant a seed that sprouted into what has oft been a troubled reality?

In a series of blogs, I'm going to investigate this blue-green dilemma. Read or ignore - but they're coming.

The Blue-Green Chronicles launch...now.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Horror Movie


At the Republican National Convention...

'nuf said.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Summer Slug

I am not a fan of summer. Primarily it has to do with heat. (And yes, I'm from Texas, and yes I should love heat, but no I don't, and that's why I've been here for eleven years, so stop telling me I'm a Texan as if this is some new piece of information.) But in addition to the irritating sun that threatens my vampiric tendencies, it is another summer signifier whose disappearance will make me celebrate the soon coming autumn.

THE FLIP-FLOP

I hate flip-flops. No, not the political sort. Well, I hate those too. Sometimes. But I mean the shoes. (Sandals?) I hate them. With a passion.

I have a few friends who are aware of my loathing. Some even share that loathing. But those haters hate for another reason. They are foot phobic. And they often assume I am too. On the contrary. I have no issue with little piggies. In fact, I have always found hands and feet to be the most intriguing parts of the body. They are second only to the face in uniqueness and tend to possess much character. Some hands and feet possess more character than their owners. And as I'm a big believer in acupressure and reflexology - rubbing the hands and feet can promote great healing and serenity. You know what does not promote peace and rejuvenation?

THE FLIP-FLOP

"Flip-flops". The ridiculous name of these equally ridiculous shoes (sandals?) is onomatopoeic. And that's why they make my blood boil. Ladies and gentlemen, flip-flops produce THE SOUND OF LAZINESS. And really, they should not be called flip-flops; they should be called "shuh-fuh-lip-shuh-fuh-lops". But that's too long and too hard to write on sale signs at the top of large metal bins at department stores where lazy people purchase shoes (sandals?) that reflect their sloth-like existences. When I hear this hideous sound approaching - I can only think of something that looks like a slug - yes, a glistening, wet, slug sliming its way through my life for the sole purpose of reminding me that in this country we have adopted a state of "apathy" as the ultimate state of "cool". And yes, I know "apathy" and "laziness" are not the same thing, but one often leads to the other or is a symptom of the other, so shut up. The point is, flip-flops should be banned for subliminally supporting the notion that shuffling along and being too lazy to lace a shoe or buckle a real sandal is "cool." Has it ever occurred to anyone that it is possible to influence mood and action through purely external means? In this pyscho-psychotic Oprah-Phil Tele-world, we are obsessed with things that frankly, we should GET THE FUCK OVER. Your absent Daddy and overbearing Mommy did not make you put on that hideous shoe (sandal?) and make me hate the world. I'm not sure what causes people to wear these things and submit to their disease of apathy, but rather than find the root cause, let's do what Americans do best: cover the symptom and call it good! I'm usually against this sort of remedy, but in this case I welcome it, and my ears welcome it. Maybe if people stop shuh-fuh-lipping-shuh-fuh-lopping, the more pleasant sounds of real footwear will infiltrate the psyche and reduce apathy to pre 21st century levels. Maybe then we'd have a chance to turn corners! To climb mountains! To cross thresholds! To break the ties than bind--

Okay, maybe I just think flip-flops are annoying.

And they should DIE.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stripped

Late night surfing on "On Demand" last night really paid off. I was searching Showtime offerings and came upon an unassuming documentary called Naked on the Inside. Frankly, the title made me groan a bit - it sounded not unlike a Lifetime Movie of the Week. But the description was intriguing: "Six extra-ordinary people from around the world reveal their bodies and share their secrets in a unique experiment in search of their inner selves."

Okay. I guess that sounds exactly like a Lifetime Movie...or a New Age Convention here in Portland, OR. But...that it was a documentary - and one made by an obscure Australian filmmaker - I remained interested. Turns out this was one the more unique film experiences I've had in a very long time. The candor with which these six individuals expressed themselves provided such great drama, I almost believed it was all scripted.

-An ex-model with an eating disorder.
-A legless British man in a dance troupe.
-A pre-op transexual (FTM) passing as a male Christian minister in Taiwan.
-An Latino ex-gang member and felon whose actions resulted in the murder of his wife and child.
-An extremely overweight self described "fat activist" who now models for art students.
-An Aussie woman with breast cancer who refuses medical treatment in an attempt to get right with herself spiritually.

The film exposes these people simply and beautifully. Raw. Poignant. Celebratory. Heartbreaking. About half way through, they each have the opportunity to create a video "self portrait" where they talk (or not) and get in various forms of undress for the camera - sometimes embracing their naked beauty, sometimes still struggling with reconciling their fears. And by the time we see this - their nudity both physically and psychologically echoes back and forth in a most provocative and moving fashion.

I have spent my life dealing with severe body issues myself. Food addiction and eating disorders run rampant through my close and extended families. And I typically gain and lose an average of 60 pounds a year in an attempt to reach what feels like beauty. The disconnect between ourselves and our bodies seems like a plague. This film managed to bring the issue to light, and I thank director Kim Farrant for applying a delicate and silent artistry to the material.

If you have Showtime, see it. Rare and wonderful.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stinging Sleep






Many people know that I have a fear of wasps. If you ever want to see me get really nelly - watch me in a car where a wasp has flown in through the window. It isn't pretty - but probably hilarious - unless I'm driving and you're in the passenger seat. I feel for you, and hope you're right with the Lord.

Today has been a rough day thus far. I am out of sorts and anxious, feeling a bit faint and cold sweating, which this humidity is not helping. I don't think I'm ill. In fact, this is all due to a very poor night of sleep...insomnia mixed with many a dream of wasps - yellow jackets to be precise. As the day goes on, the dreams are becoming more and more faded. (Kind of like these jeans I keep wearing over and over, because I'm in between fat pants and less-fat pants, but that's another issue.) But one passage in last night's dream overtures has whittled its way into my conscious mind and left quite the imprint.

A wasp nest appeared in the kitchen, attached to the refrigerator. My mother looked at it calmly, coldly. She grabbed the circular hood of a cake tray and covered the nest. As if directed, the yellow jackets swarmed out of their little papery pocket-homes and filled the glass cover. She then looked over at the stove, and I noticed one of the electric burners was on high, showing its menacing orange-hot coil. And with a swift move, my mother dashed across the kitchen, and with the insect filled glass, covered the burner as though it was, itself, a cake. I realized then her intent was to burn the wasps to death. And they did. Burn. As their crystalline jail heated up, they began to scream. I heard them both outside and inside my head. They screamed and screamed like children being burned alive. Not adults. Children. Sad, scared children. Angry children. Children that might at some point reincarnate to seek revenge.

My mother simply watched. Still cold. Still calm. And all at once, the wasps exploded, their boiling entrails spraying on the side of the glass. And no more screaming. Silence. Complete, silence. As the sound of my own heartbeat threatened to overcome me, my mother turned and said, "Well, that worked." And she walked out of the room.

I looked back to the refrigerator. And out of a lonely compartment, a single surviving wasp crawled carefully out of the vespiary and flew up and away - too fast for me to follow its path. And I wondered, what might the wasp have planned for us?

I am haunted today. I hope it passes soon...




Monday, August 18, 2008

Machine






I went to a cafe today for a meeting. In front of me was a woman who got into an argument with the cashier over prices and procedures for making her favorite drink. Favorite drug? Anyway, the cashier was very nice - and this woman was not having it. "At your other location it costs less. And they don't make it that way. And..." This went on as the line grew longer and longer until this woman had an entire audience.

We've all seen this consumer. The one where it's ALL ABOUT THEM.

Not long ago, I got into a quibble over pedestrians crossing the street. I was crossing on foot with a friend at a crosswalk. He has a tendency to go slower than I do. There was very busy traffic, and I said, "Hurry it up." He said, "I have the right of way and they can just wait." This angered me a bit, because I knew if I were in my car, I'd want the pedestrian - and yay for them for being green and walking and not polluting...RAH RAH RAH - I'd want them to hurry the fuck up, because it's hot and I've been stuck in downtown traffic for God knows how long.

What it comes down to is awareness...the awareness that we are all participants in this giant machine. And for the machine to run smoothly, we must all do our part. If the woman in the cafe was alone with no one behind her - fine, indulge in your righteousness over your need for perfect, overpriced, coffee drinks. But there's a line behind you, lady. I don't give a crap about the price variation of your silly drink - and by the way, it's a DIME. (We all knew it was a dime in difference, because she repeated it like mantra - "It's a DIME cheaper at the other location. Why is it a DIME cheaper over there? Why are you charging a DIME more for the same drink?" She was wearing designer clothing, of course...I guess she's been saving her dimes.) And why not speed your lazy ass up when crossing the street so the person in his/her car can get off the road faster and promote the same green values you promote by walking in the first place? And don't get me started on arrogant cyclists. Oh, and that person who has no idea what they might order in the drive through lane and sits for ten minutes looking at the menu as if they're eating at a fine dining establishment. Again - with a LONG LINE BEHIND THEM!!! (A taco supreme is not that complicated to grasp!) And why don't people have their cards ready and in hand when going to the gym, so that check-in is easier and faster and more efficient?

A machine people! Get with it! We need to all participate in the fine-tuning of the communal machine. I think about this a lot. And I bitch about it too. A lot. And I think I'm right about this - at least to some degree. Right?

Then again, my partner has said to me on many occasions when I'm riled up, "I think we just need to drink more."

Hmmmmm...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Canyon


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Time to stop hiding.

I have spent 35 years doing what many people do - creating a public identity while simultaneously experiencing a separate narrative inside my head. I doubt there's a way to make the inside and outside match completely. There will always be secrets, desires, and contemplations that simmer for a while before going public. But the divide between these two realms has become a canyon. And it's one that has threatened to swallow me for many, many years.

So I write to build a bridge. I know it will wobble, suspended above my fear. But I commit to building it nonetheless. And I commit to crossing over it naked. And my hope is that one day the bridge will disappear, for the canyon will become a mere crack in the earth. And if I'm really lucky, even this crack - dried and thirsty - will drink of my honesty, and give way to nothing but soft, workable, fertile ground.