Wednesday, October 14, 2009


A dream. Intense and fun. I was at a theatrical production...a new musical that no one had yet seen. The theatre was somewhat like Portland Center Stage at The Armory - but as dreams will be dreams...not exactly.

The show was audience participatory. Typically, I hate that. I mean...I REALLY hate that. But in this dream, the audience and performers became one unit...a blend of energies contributing to a ritual of levity. And I surrendered.

I was seated in the second row...and this worried me, because I always choose an aisle seat. I can't stand feeling trapped. And I wondered how the box office had made such a mistake in putting me in such an uncomfortable spot. But I surrendered.

And then suddenly, it was my turn to participate in the show. An actor came up to me with a large microphone and cued me and a few others to start singing the four notes in a descending minor scale...a classic bass jazz line. We were to sing it as two half notes, then a dotted quarter, with the last note as an eighth note - with two quarter rests completing the second measure...a classic jazz rhythm.

The words to our song were letters. We were to sing: E....I....S...T. Over and over.

I sang loud and everyone around me got into it. The man to my left put his arm around me in camaraderie, and I added an ascending harmony. This made the actor holding the mic giggle. He liked our improvised duet.

The performers were all in bright costumes from various time periods, stretching centuries. And it became obvious that anything could happen at any time and that the show could end immediately or go on infinitely and none of that mattered, for all we wanted to do was keep singing: E....I....S...T.

And then the alarm went off. 5:30am. Time to rise.

As I went about my morning ritual today, I have yet to erase the musical pattern from my head. E....I....S...T has been on a loop. I decided to contemplate the letters. Why those? I mean, it made sense from a singing perspective: two vowels as the long notes and a sharp T as the stinging eighth note. Often a pragmatist, I figured my subconscious simply applied a logical singing pattern. But it bugged me, and I started looking up the letters.

Nope, nope, scroll, scroll, google, google...

And then I came upon something most curious. A Gaelic word: éist. It means: to listen. On its own it can also be used as a command. In spelling it over and over, we were basically singing in Gaelic: Listen, Listen, Listen...over and over.

I also considered an anagram - and I immediately went to the word: ties. There has been much family turmoil over the past year, and I wondered if it might be in reference to the need to "rebuild" or perhaps "cut".

And now, I think maybe my jazzy bass line chant could mean both. In essence: Listen and consider your ties.

And now I have to decide what to do with that. could just know...a dream.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oh, Luna...

I know this may create many an eye roll. But something about the NASA bombing of the moon on Friday makes me sad... And I realized it's because I feel like we are injuring an actual being.

I know that the moon is the big, dead rock. And perhaps studying a giant cloud of dust for ice particles is somehow relevant to our scientific progress. But on some primal level, I sense that we're slapping our heavenly beauty in the face...stabbing her...scarring her further. And as silly as it irrational and dare I say even "sappy" as it is - it is genuinely bothering me. It fills me with a dense melancholy, but not a personal one. It's the type of grayness that infects my state when a global tragedy occurs...when the connective tissue of humanity is violated.

On Friday, I will light a candle for Luna, and I will apologize to her...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


There is a storm in my head this fall - more than usual. I have not blogged in weeks, because I cannot seem to find my focus (that, and I have been recovering from piggy flu) - there is so much on my mind.

This morning, I awoke once again to my body tensed up with virtually all my muscles contracted and my jaw clenched. Every move I made for the first two hours of being awake was filled with pain, and the headache will likely linger for the remainder of the day.

Why? I cannot seem to apply the filters I once could. When I was younger, I was able to use a sort of tunnel vision to operate through my days...I had clear goals and I raced straight ahead -rarely wavering - to reach them. Of course, in this process, I was often failing as a friend, lover, family member - and I was certainly not bettering myself intellectually or spiritually. But I tell ya - life felt better than it does now. As I get older and my awareness expands with regard to the world around me - and the world within me - I wonder: will I go bat-shit mad one day from this?

In just the past half hour I have found myself preoccupied with the following:

my family isn't talking and that breaks my heart, Obama needs to pull us out of Afghanistan but he won't, I want to write musicals again but how will I ever find the time, I have insurance now but how will I find a doctor I can trust and who will accept my holistic beliefs on health, should we force people out of the homosexual closet, why am I addicted to carbs, why am I tired all the time, is my partner going to burn out from working so hard, why did my crippling stage fright take hold just as my singing voice is reaching its peak, I really want to adapt this novel into a play but will the author give me the time of day, taxes are too high for self employed people and I see no way out of this hole, gay couples should all stand up and not pay any taxes until they have equal marriage rights, I love the movie There Will Be Blood, why do I love wearing cologne, my hair gets grayer all the time, Ozzy Osbourne had an HIV+ result blamed not on HIV but on his drug use which defies all current testing paradigms and validates dissident theories, I want a kitten so badly but we aren't allowed to have them and even if we were we'd not have the money to properly care for it, sometimes I really do want to be a dad, this bathroom will never get clean until the landlord replaces the fixtures, why did no one tell me we were out of buttery spread, my car is falling apart and without it I can't work, why has my best friend stopped reaching out to me, Portland is #9 on the smartest cities list and Austin is #12, my birth father never contacts me unless I contact him first, high school memories never haunted me until now, is there a ghost in this house, I'd give anything to hug my grandma again and hear her laugh at The Golden Girls, hands and feet are so unique and I get fixated on their stories...

And now I write this...if only to fulfill the obligation of attempting to keep this blog on life support, and it is making my jaw tense again and I want to go outside and run until I fall somewhere in a pile of autumn leaves and can sleep, sleep, sleep...real sleep...and stop my mind...stop it...stop...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dumb Sheep

The leaders of the Republican party need to completely denounce the ignorant morons who perpetuate lies - but they aren't doing that. Why? Because the lies work. We live in a highly uneducated, media illiterate country. And so the smart and powerful can prey easily on the dumb and weak. For some reason, Republicans have claimed this corner of the market. And oddly, much of it is "Christian" - and I'm sure Jesus would have just HATED to give up material goods in order to heal the sick. Please. The level of absurdity is unbelievable.

Check out this terrific article from The Independent.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Singing Pig's Blood

In 1991, a fellow student at the Meadows School of the Arts told me he had mailed away for a bootleg copy of the most notorious musical in Broadway history: Carrie.

As many already know, the film Carrie had a huge impact on my artistic sensibilities. Brian de Palma is very much a "hit or miss" director. He takes huge risks and is never one to shy away from the edge. "Over the top" does not frighten him, and there is no better example of this than Carrie. Watching Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek do battle in that film is wickedly delightful. It manages to be terrifying, hilarious, and moving all at the same time. And the highly choreographed prom - from it's Cinderella-inspired beginning to it's pig-blood soaked ending - is a masterpiece "film within a film".

My entrance into theatre was through musicals. And I remembered in 1988 seeing Stephen King's novel in stores with a new cover - an unusual, minimalist rendering of what appeared to be a girl - and under it: "Now a major Broadway musical." I asked around the next year about why there was no cast recording. To combine one of my favorite films with my new-found love of musical theater was a dream come true! But I was ignorant to just how "major" the musical was: the biggest flop in history. Five shows. Closed.

But what I came to learn is that the critics, though they panned it to shreds - and rightfully so, acknowledged that a couple of duets from the show were some of the best in the history of all musicals. Ken Mandelbaum, in his book Not Since Carrie, writes about this. He asserts that one of the big tragedies is that Betty Buckley and Linzi Hateley were so good as Margaret White and Carrie, this should have been a star-making show. Instead, the immense talent on display and the raw power of their duets was buried in a heap of incoherence and lethal missteps; RSC Director Terry Hands should never have worked again.

My college friend gave me a copy of the bootleg recording - a scratchy cassette that had been created by someone sneaking into the closing show with a tape recorder in his pocket. Uh...not high quality. was good enough to capture the power Buckley and Hateley and from my first listen, the song "And Eve Was Weak" has remained one of my favorite duets of all time.

I came upon this YouTube video - a clip that starts half way through the number...a bootleg video from 1988 at the closing performance at the Virginia Theatre. Again - scratchy...but the power is there. And it makes me wonder...if in the right hands and a competent creative team...could this have been "ground breaking" instead of "bank breaking"?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Songs to Light Me Up

In the spirit of endless Facebook lists, I offer some songs that have always stuck with me.

Why not?

Funky Sexy
-Son of a Preacher Man, Dusty Springfield
I always liked this infectious tune, but when I fell desperately in love with a bisexual preacher's son in 1996, the song was burned into my brain forever. I soon had a note to self, however: Don't fall in love with bisexual preacher's kids. :)

-Closer, Nine Inch Nails
So yeah, this is not exactly a subtle number from Trent Reznor, but I dare anyone who is in a randy mood to hear this and not get caught up in its hypnotic, debauchery-inducing spell. This became the theme of what came to be known as the Dionysus parties in my college years. No explanation needed.

-Criminal, Fiona Apple
The opening lyric sets the tone. "I've been a bad, bad, girl. I've been careless with a delicate man." Brilliant. Fiona may be a bit nuts - but this debut album was truly amazing...her talent and soul cannot be denied.

Darling Nikki, Prince
I was pretty young when the Purple Rain album came out, but my parents loved it and so it played on an endless loop in our house. And as a pubescent boy, this particular track was not lost on me - even if it didn't reflect my eventual persuasion. And Prince?...genius. Truly.

Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter, Ike and Tina Turner
I am not sure, but I think this was the flip side of the 45 we had of Proud Mary. I know that it got played a lot before I was five. And I know that I used to shake my butt to it in my diaper. Later, I came to find it completely humorous for its sexy-silly euphemisms. Nikka Costa did a GREAT cover of the song on her album: Can'tneverdidnothin'

Smiles and Movin' Feet
-Chains of Love, Erasure
Bubble gum dance music at its best - and with a message. In an era plagued by overt homophobia along with AIDS deaths and thousands of deaths now known to be attributed to AZT poisoning, this gay anthem was a perfect antidote to a difficult reality. Together we'll break these chains indeed!

-Love Shack, B52s
Sadly, this song has almost worn out its welcome. Overplayed at weddings and the like. But I heard it again the other day and was able to travel back to high school when it came out... everyone running to the dance floor to celebrate youth and friendship. Some say the Cosmic Thing album was their "sell out" - I think it's great they crossed over and kept their unique brand of harmonies and humor.

-You Spin Me Round, Dead or Alive
This may be one of the best dance songs ever recorded. But to enjoy it, one must abandon all sense of good taste and dive into high club kid drama. It's in that sugar coated drug induced neon state that the operatic vocals and psycho-synth arpeggios can be fully appreciated. And what other song has a veritable Tarzan call as its signature?

-Express Yourself, Madonna
I must clarify that though I can still groove to the more electric version of this song as heard on the Immaculate Collection, it is the more acoustic, big band version on Like a Prayer that really stands out. Until this point, I had no interest in the material girl - but this call for independent thinking rang true to a gay kid just discovering theatre in 1989. And those backing vocals! Love it. And let's remember that now famous director David Fincher shot the video along with Vogue.

9 to 5, Dolly Parton
-How can anyone hear the opening vamp of this song and not smile? It's one of the catchiest tunes...EVER. And makes me want to dance like a silly cartoon character (I don't understand this myself, so don't try.) But I also associate it with the film, which is one of the few movies I can see from any point and it never fails to put me in a good mood. And plastic and genuine at the same time.

Tears and Melancholy
-Hurt, Johnny Cash
In his final moments, Cash recorded this song by Trent Reznor and delivered a masterpiece. Whenever I hear, "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" I choke up. There is something so quietly desperate in both the lyric and melody. There are times when it's almost too much to listen to...

-Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
The combination of soaring strings and fast-moving synth beats offered a unique fusion for radio in 1983. Pop songs do not sound like this anymore. And there is no voice like Annie Lennox at the climax - a siren's cry for answers. In 2005, I got to see her perform it as a quiet ballad on solo piano. It still packed a punch. Not a dry eye. That is the sign of a lasting song.

-Kissing You, Des'Ree
Chosen as the love theme to Baz Luhrman's R&J, rarely has a song felt more appropriate for star-crossed or unrequited love. It is, I think, the saddest love song ever recorded. Des'Ree's smoky voice leaves not a single syllable untouched with longing. And I admit, during more than one break up, this has been my tool for cathartic weeping...both as a listener and singer. Though on the R&J soundtrack, I highly recommend the album Supernatural where it also appears.

-Ordinary World, Duran Duran
This song manages to say it's time to move on without discarding the pain altogether. In this way, I find it to be one of the most mature songs from Duran Duran. The soaring vocals accompanied by a terrific guitar line both massage the ear and hit the gut. There's a good reason this single marked a comeback for the 1980s pop band.

-Angels, Robbie Williams
I cannot help myself. This song is so very cheesy. I know that. But the melody manipulates me into falling for it every time. So what that the simple lyrics feel written by a moody high school girl...when Robbie belts out the chorus and the full orchestra takes over, it's worthy of a thousand lit lighters in a stadium. And dude, it makes for awesome karaoke! :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wish/ Expect

A dear friend and colleague of mine got married recently, and I had the pleasure of attending his wedding. Such a handsome groom and stunning bride; I wish them much happiness. But something happened to me in the middle of the ceremony...something that has taken over a week to process. I got red-faced and angry. As the Anglican Priest talked about Genesis, first man, first woman, and the sanctity of marriage, I sat there with my male partner and had to simply eat the fact that we were outsiders at this party. We are not allowed to marry. And for many, we are an abomination.

This is not new. And I am not naive. But you see, this was the first wedding I have attended since Prop 8 and gay marriage heated up the news and pushed the issue further into the public consciousness. And it made my experience quite different. At previous weddings, not only did I accept the "way things are" - it never really occurred to me that they could be different. But now that's not the case. And I realized, sitting there, that I was not okay. In fact, I felt a bit betrayed. And I have to wonder if I will attend another wedding so long as my civil rights are denied me.

Brad Pitt famously said this past spring that he and Angelina Jolie might get married once it is legal for everyone to do so. It was a bold statement. And it is precisely what the gay marriage movement needs: straights to stand in solidarity with us. And really, if a heterosexual couple truly supports full marriage rights, then to maintain absolute integrity, that couple has no business getting married. They can have a spiritual commitment ceremony the way so many a gay couple has done...but to be legally married? No.

Back to my friend. This is someone I care about very much. And in no way do I want to strip him of his happiness or the legal benefits of marriage. But I have to admit - had he and his now wife made a declaration and postponed their wedding until my partner and I also had the right...that would have been cause for great celebration. Do I have less respect for them because they got married? No. But would I have had more respect had they waited? I gulp as I type this...but yes. Absolutely.

In trying to articulate my feelings on this, another friend - this one gay - said to me: "There's a big difference between what we wish for and what we expect. We don't expect our straight loved ones to sacrifice their happiness for our cause...but boy, we wish they would." Exactly.

And I dread the next wedding invitation that comes in the mail. Because I'm really not sure I can do it again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

House of Numbers - film review

Director Brent Leung is a brave man. But what makes his explosive documentary, House of Numbers, so undeniably effective, is that he didn't set out to be. As he tells us in the film, he was born in 1980...part of the first AIDS generation, a group who came into their sexuality with the threat of HIV strapped to their genitals like a potentially lit bundle of dynamite. A few years ago, Leung came to learn there has always been a debate over the current HIV/AIDS scientific paradigm. Having never known a world without AIDS, this intrigued him, and so his investigative journey began. He was not trying to show courage through radical activism or by asserting some aggressive agenda. He had some questions, and he went around the world asking top HIV/AIDS scientists for the answers. would think that, at least on the basic facts, these pioneers of HIV/AIDS research and treatment might all agree. Think again. They not only don't agree, they contradict each other in ways that are truly terrifying. From these orthodox HIV experts, there is no agreement on what HIV looks like, how it kills human cells, how the virus is isolated, how one confirms an HIV test, how drugs should be used to treat it, whether co-factors are necessary, or if our own immune systems can beat it all on their own. And there is much scandal on how it came to be "discovered" in the first place. There are moments in the film when I found myself laughing heartily at this clownish behavior from our world's top scientists; it almost plays like satire. But then I'd remember: this is about lives. And there is nothing at all funny about this. To his credit, Leung does not try to elicit laughs...he simply places the interviews side by side, juxtaposing so as to highlight the contradictions. It serves to rattle any trust one may have in our medical establishment. In an instant, these scientists lose credibility and reveal that on the issues of HIV/AIDS, it is confusion, not certainty that prevails.

In addition, the film gives voice to many self-proclaimed "dissidents" like Peter Duesberg, Kary Mullis (Nobel Prize winner), and the late Christine Maggiore - along with investigative journalists Celia Farber and Liam Scheff. To many, their opinions might seem downright insane. What do you mean HIV might not cause AIDS? What do you mean we're wasting money giving Africans HIV drugs when all they need is clean water and nutritional food? What do you mean "lifestyle" may indeed have played a role in the immune collapse of some gay men in the early 1980s? None of these are said to be "true" and all are politically incorrect at best, heretical at worst. But accompanied by the orthodox swamp of contradictions, one sits back and ponders...deeply.

The film was screened this week at the Washougal International Film Festival. Brent Leung and his producer were present and most humble. Knowing the film has received great backlash from the orthodox scientists he interviewed, I asked the director to respond to accusations that he has somehow misrepresented them in the documentary. He simply said, "Not one person has ever offered a specific example of how I have done so. We invite them to join in on the discussion. We want there to be an ongoing dialogue." An audience member asserted that many of the outraged are linked to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture HIV medications. My research has shown this to be, at least in part, true. And one must ask, "How could he misrepresent them?" There are long interview segments with clear, unedited responses. It's not as if Leung utilizes second-to-second jump cuts to create a message. In fact, the style of the piece is very straight-forward and journalistic with very little editorial commentary. It trusts the audience to draw individual conclusions.

If there is one moment of overt theatricality in the film, it is in its final frames when the score serves to highlight a most shocking revelation offered by Luc Montagnier, who just last year was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering HIV. He says that one can be exposed numerous times to HIV and that if they have a strong immune system, their bodies can cleanse it out. He is asked to repeat this notion by Mr. if the director cannot believe what was just said. Montagnier does not hesitate. He reaffirms with a simple "yes" - and with that, the ominous piano and minor synth-string chords echo out. But you know, this moment earns a touch of scary music - because the implications are monumental.

If Luc Montagnier is correct...if the discoverer of HIV is right...then an HIV+ status might be meaningless. If one is exposed to HIV and cleanses it out, then the immune system's antibodies have done their job - but those antibodies would still show up on the HIV antibody test, resulting in a + result. This happens a lot with other diseases. For instance, I test + for TB, which means I was exposed to it and beat it. But with HIV, a + test result currently means lifelong drugs and eventual death. Are there thousands of people partaking in the drug protocol who actually have immune systems strong enough to battle it alone? Given the drugs are lethally toxic, might this be considered a type of mass medical homicide?

Throughout the film, the struggles of an HIV+ baby girl and her adoptive parents are followed. While still a toddler, she experienced horrific side effects from the AZT regimen given to her by doctors to keep her alive. When the parents reported the horrible side effects, they were told it was HIV creating the leg cramps and other painful symptoms. Finally, the parents turned to dissident Peter Duesberg who convinced them to take their daughter off the meds and leave HIV behind.

During the Q&A after the film, this little girl - now a beautiful, healthy 19 year-old young woman - came onto the stage with her mother. It was a truly breathtaking moment - one that could not be more illustrative. She has not taken a drug since she was a toddler. She has no idea what her "numbers" are in terms of CD4 counts and viral load. For her, it is clear HIV is something of a mythological boogey man...something that haunted her early childhood, and has been forever locked in the closet.

And that is what I was left with. Is HIV the deadly epidemic that defines modern sexuality? Or is it a boogey man perpetuated by a passionate, often well meaning medical community that might have it all wrong? Brent Leung is a brave man, because he dares to ask. But what scares me more than anything is: how have we come to a place in our scientific discussions that one should have to be brave to simply ask a question?

NOTE: The film is screening all over the US and in the UK in festivals and other showings. Check for more information.

Monday, August 3, 2009


So I'm sure most everyone has seen this picture by now. It's years old. But my beloved Bill Maher introduced it to me just a week ago on his New Rules segment of Real Time. It's crude and overtly blasphemous, and so of course, it makes me laugh. BUT...what is terrifying about my experience with Jesus in a Dog Hole is that I had the mute button on at the time Bill was ranting about it. I had taken a phone call and silenced the television, and just as I hung up, this image was filling my screen, and, I thought - oh look, a surreal picture of Jesus; Bill must be plugging his movie, Religulous, again. And then I turned the sound back on and heard Bill tell me what I was seeing, and I thought, "Oh no...I saw Jesus in a dog's anus. I had no idea it was a dog's anus." And then I had to recall that "DOG" is "GOD" backwards - the whole thing sent a shiver down my body, and I almost ran to the kitchen to check the tortillas and toast.

It shook be spiritually,, for real.

And then I thought...Photoshop is cool.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On Theatre for Youth and Texting the Sun...

As a theatre practitioner, I am devout in my determination to balance my time between professional "adult" and youth/educational theatre. When a colleague asks me, "Wouldn't it be great if you could stop these teaching gigs?"...or, "Don't you hate writing a play and directing for young audiences?" response is always a firm, "Not at all!" I will always seek out opportunities to work with young people. It is a sacred part of my personal mission. Sacred.

Arts education and exposure is critical to the development of a thoughtful society, and it is often through the arts that young people develop their most valuable standards of conduct as well as a nuanced view of the world around them. And as theatre often provides a large tent where under people of various stripes may commune - the theatre arts often serve to save young outcasts from a downward spiral. The number of kids I have seen find their voice - find their esteem - find their passion through theatre...well, they number too many to count. But I'm not speaking only of those who actively participate in theatre...but also of those who simply learn to love being in the audience. That young people have the opportunity to be touched by theatre in some way along their journey is everything. And this fills me with great purpose.

As a playwright, staying in touch with the "young voice" is thrilling. It forces me to observe with the most thoughtful eyes and ears the world of the younger generations. And if I can capture that world - capture the concerns, conflicts, desires, and love of youth through a play - and in turn help expose audiences to that world - I have really accomplished something. I can't think of anything more exciting...and maybe more important.

Being asked to write Texting the Sun for the Oregon Children's Theatre/Kaiser Permanente Collaboration has been a huge responsibility - and a perfect example of this. In paying close attention to what thirteen and fourteen year olds are writing and talking interviewing teachers and counselors of studying the many facets of efforts to make people more media literate...I hope to have accomplished a theatrical work that never preaches, never patronizes, but always begs us to take a closer look at what is happening around us. This new century is full of new complexities and chaos - and young and old alike must learn to navigate through the storm...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nothing Certain!

I am terribly sorry for my ignoring my blogging duties. There is much up in the air at the moment...and frankly, I feel a bit paralyzed.

--My partner is fighting for his life to graduate this June. Twenty-five credits this term and two jobs... it creates joint stress to say the least. Thank God we love each other so much.

--With that graduation comes the invasion of family to see the graduation. Five guests staying in my house...yes...FIVE. Will be a lovely, chaotic, madhouse of a good time! Weeeeeeeeee!

--Next season is all over the place in terms of questions regarding work. How many classes will I be teaching? How much will contracts be cut? Will I get that commission? Will I get that directing gig? I've been in an application / interview frenzy...

--The weight loss journey continues. Having not met many of my goals despite sticking to "the plan" - I have increased the efforts. Even more exercise. Even less food. My man-boobs hurt and I'm hungry!

--Because I love to get rotating, nagging, chronic health conditions - the digestions issues continue. Severe ulcer pain and dyspepsia for weeks. I have been on tons of DGL, red apples, and other natural remedies - because I live in America and have no insurance. Hope I don't have something more serious. If I drop dead, thank our health care system.

--There is little to no summer money - will we both have work? Will we have rent? Will we need to sing the title song to my least favorite Broadway undeserving-of-its-Pulitzer-Prize hit musical?

--My new, huge, yet to be publicly announced theatre venture moves's mysteeeeeeeerious. Not really - I think everyone knows. Regardless - it's good stress...but's stress.

I am most thankful for re-discovering Bach Rescue Remedy. I used it a lot in the mid-90s. It seems to help a bit. And a bit is a lot right now.

Hugs and kisses to all!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Come Out, Come Out

I'm really excited to see this - vengeful as my spirit may be.
Check out the link for more...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A film dares to go...yes...THERE.

Yesterday marked an important 25th anniversary. On April 23rd 1984, U.S. Health Secretary Margaret Heckler announced that Dr. Robert Gallo had discovered the cause for AIDS, a little known retrovirus we now call HIV. The press conferences and interviews that followed presented a confident Gallo - and promised to the nation was a vaccine within a few years. As you know, we have no vaccine, no cure, and oddly, last year the Nobel Prize did not go to Gallo for discovering HIV, but to Luc Montagnier of France.

A new film is making its way through film festivals this spring. House of Numbers dares to investigate the HIV/AIDS phenomenon by including all the important players in AIDS research - but it also includes voices of dissent - scientists, including Nobel Prize winners who question the role of HIV in AIDS. The film is causing quite a stir. Only days ago, at the Boston Indie Film Festival, a near riot broke out between people at a panel discussion. Hot words like "denialist" and "Orwellian" got thrown around. A civilized discussion was not to be had.

The orthodox scientists view HIV dissidents as dangerous to the public. They believe that to question the current medical paradigm is to promote unsafe sex and other reckless behavior - and that to forego pharmaceutical drugs in favor of nutrition and alternative therapies is to allow the virus to keep mutating and thus prevent vaccines and treatments from being effective. In a taped interview, men such as Mark Wainberg, former President of the International AIDS Society, have called for a constitutional amendment in the United States that would criminalize the act of questioning HIV/AIDS theories and imprison people so as to silence their dangerous assertions. And in some states, legislation has been proposed to quarantine HIV+ individuals who refuse HIV retroviral medications.

Dissident scientists believe that after twenty-five years, some new paths should potentially be explored. There are many people who have had HIV for over 20 years, never taken a drug, and never become ill. The CDC has continued to state for twenty years that up to a third of the HIV+ population is unaware of their status, and yet there has been no surge of these unknowing people rushing to the ER with AIDS defining illnesses as was seen in the early 1980s. And now, the leading cause of death for AIDS patients in America is liver and heart failure - from the HIV medications. In addition, there is no international gold standard for HIV testing; it is completely possible to test positive in one country and then negative in another - an odd reality given HIV is said to be a virtual death sentence without treatment. And some scientists make the claim that HIV has never been properly isolated.

I am excited to see this film once it's released on DVD. But the controversy troubles me - not the tension between the opposing views in the film (I love that drama!) - but the fact that director Brent W. Leung is being viciously attacked for having the audacity to allow dissident scientists to speak at all. He is also being accused of tricking orthodox scientists into participating in the documentary - not telling them he was going to present both sides. For his efforts I say, YOU GO, Brent! Freedom. Of. Speech. I applaud this filmmaker for having the journalistic hunger to travel the world for two years and then present what is a very important story.

Because again - yesterday was an important anniversary. Twenty-five years in the world of HIV=AIDS=DEATH. No cure. No vaccine. Lots of fear. Disproportionate numbers in the African American and African communities. The list goes on. Why not at least consider that something may have gone awry? Or somewhat awry? And even if people think that dissident views are ridiculous or silly - isn't it the right of anyone to practice free speech and exercise their curiosity as they see fit?

Here is the link to the website and trailer. Check it out. Weigh in.

House of Numbers

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Funky Concoction - Film (first 3)

In an interview, writer William Peter Blatty stated that if done wrong, this film could turn into a laugh riot. I giggled when I saw this, because for many people I know, it did turn out to be a laugh riot. I mean a little girl screaming, "Your mother sucks cocks in hell" is always good for a laugh. And when the film was re-released in 2000, there were notable snickers in the audience. The audacity of the film - and its place in pop culture is just too much for many a viewer to overcome.

Though understanding these responses, I still find the film thrilling. Director William Friedkin executes a completely unapologetic approach to the material. It doesn't play down to its audience like most films in that genre. It is a true horror drama. It also highlights issues that fascinate me. Who are the priests in an ever growing atheistic culture? The doctors. The film looks at atheism and science as a religion that can't cope with the situation at hand. At the same time, it doesn't paint Catholicism as perfect. The exorcism fails, forcing a trade with the devil; one is left to wonder where power truly lies when the credits role.

All that aside, the movie taught me to go for it. When you see the top - go over it and see if it can work. My artistic endeavors have always been on that line between heightened drama and absurd histrionics. And one must only watch Regan masturbating with a crucifix, forcing her mother's head between her legs, spinning her head to face backwards and saying, "You know what she did? Your cunting daughter?" to see that the "top" was set pretty high for me. HA!

This was and escape for my 22 year old mother and her 4 year old son. We saw the film 17 times in the theatres in 1977 and 1978. I could not get enough. Like so many other young kids, it was the explosion of imagination. And its simple themes pulled from the fairy tales I already loved. It taught me that the definition of "win" is not always what it seems. I was horrified when Obi-Wan raised his saber and allowed Vader to kill him - but it shed light on how there's always a different that is truly noble.

What's very important to mention is that the first time I saw Star Wars, we entered the theater in the middle of the trash compactor scene. In 1977, you paid to go in and could sit through the reel as many times as you wanted provided there were enough seats. So we walked in right in the middle and I was immediately thrilled by this cliffhanger moment. There could not have been a better teacher of rising action and mini-climax. My heart was racing - and I loved it. Ironically, I now suffer from major anxiety issues - maybe it's the walls of a trash compactor about to squish me. In my work, I love that sort of rapid acceleration - and I also love epic notions of light and dark.

This comedy of the underdogs still makes me laugh. It combines truly hilarious performances with some sharp writing and a theme that anyone can relate to. Well...that I could relate to in 1980. Though not fully understanding my sexuality - I was not the typical boy by any means. And I found most men utterly distasteful - the way they treated women, the way they strutted about, they way they spoke in righteous cadences out their fat asses, all the while pretending to wear crowns - or in my region, Texas cowboy hats. I felt smarter than all of these idiots - and their sons who loved to make fun of me for not being athletic, for using my hands too much, for having a little sugar in my step. And I found ways to conquer them - through my academics and creative achievements. But what I really wanted to do was tie them up and make them look like the buffoons they were. So seeing Dabney Coleman's Franklin Hart in S&M Garage Opener Drag was very satisfying to the sissy in me. And I aligned myself with Lily Tomlin's Violet - strong but helpless in this world of dick swinging morons.

I find myself attracted to themes of the underdog - the disenfranchised - the abused - the forgotten. I also find my comedic taste to border on the silly and absurd. There's a moment when Franklin Hart comes into the office after everyone thinks he's dead and Violet has a sort of comic spasm which involves her trying to catch a piece of paper that has flown out of her hands. I love that stuff - silly and absurd mixed with sharp wit.

The next 3 coming soon...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Funky Concoction - Intro

Self-examination often seems an absurd enterprise. The idea that one can possess any level of objectivity regarding one's own puzzle pieces is an idea bound to fail in experimentation. But alas, on this day I find myself curious about influences over the years. And though I'd like to assign them as primarily influential in my career endeavors, I have become increasingly doubtful that a separation between my daily life trek and that of my artistic pursuits exists at all. The things that inform my daily life are always the things that inform my artistic life. Oh, hell, let's stop with the dichotomic's just my LIFE.

In terms of the actual influences, however, I will employ a method for creating the list. And of course, they will all come from art. (I could go on and on about the influences of my family - but good god, why?) So...I have looked at film, theatre, music, and visual art. And within these four I have looked at extremes in style - for I've come to notice that I see myself as a funky concoction - the result of some recipe made by a poor working mother forced to throw the remnants of the pantry into a pot and call it supper. It makes for a funky meal. And I am a funky set of maddening myself...and to so many others.

I will compose a post for each one. The first will be up soon....

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Published Concern

Following on my previous post...

I had emailed a letter of concern to the editors of The Dallas Voice. To their credit, they not only published my concern in the paper, but posted a link to the commentary on the front page of this week's online edition. It has sparked some intense comments that serve as the perfect example of how this racial divide in HIV/AIDS must be addressed - not through gross generalizations - but through continued scientific study.

To explain the statistical gap by calling African Americans more "closeted" and "promiscuous" is beyond offensive. HIV is reported to be a non-discriminating pathogenic virus. It does not see skin color.

So what's up?

See the online edition article and comments:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

AIDS and Racism

As many are aware, new numbers came out in the Washington Post, revealing that Washington, D.C. now has a 3% HIV+ rate - and that the disease is spreading rampantly throughout the African American community. Only two days ago The Dallas Voice/Pegasus News published new numbers for Dallas, TX - which indicates 50% of all new HIV/AIDS cases in Dallas County are in the African American community. This matches nationwide numbers as reported by Anthony Fauci of NIAID - where he points out that African Americans make up 12% of the population but account for 50% of all new HIV/AIDS cases.

Since the turn of the century, the "on the down low" phenomenon has continually been cited as a leading reason for this trend in the African American community. Whether you're watching Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Law and Order - or reading countless blogs and news stories - you will get told that many, many black men hide their true sexuality - and thus have sex with other men, catch HIV, then turn around and give it to their wives and girlfriends. You will be told that these men do not wear condoms when having sex with men, because to plan for sex by bringing a condom would mean to admit their intent to have homosexual sex - and that somehow by not wearing a condom, they psychologically avoid their own sexual identity. You may also read reports that indicate there are larger numbers of bisexual black men than in other races.

The Dallas Voice article article continues to perpetuate the notion that the transmission of HIV from black men to black women is largely due to "on the down low" behavior.

Nobles also noted that HIV/AIDS has increased dramatically in recent years among black women, many of whom contract the disease from men who have gay sex on “the down low.” In 2007, for example, 81 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases were in males, but 32 percent of new cases among blacks were in females.

“They have a gay lifestyle but in the public they have a wife or a girlfriend, and so the disease is crossing over rather rapidly in this particular population,” Nobles said.

It is extremely important to note that in scientific literature, this has been discounted - or at least viewed as highly suspect. And what floors me is that a very important study reported in the Annals of Epidemiology in 2006, addressed the issue head on. Here are a few excerpts from Reuters reporting in 2007:

This assumption was mistaken in many ways, they explain. First of all, the practice of straight men secretly having sex with men is seen across all ethnic groups.

Also, Ford notes, while black men and women have higher rates of HIV infection than other ethnic groups, they also report fewer risk behaviors, suggesting researchers should look elsewhere to understand the disparity.


Research has refuted the claim that black men living the down low lifestyle are driving the spread of HIV, Ford said, but the perception that this is the case remains, even in the epidemiology community. She points to a dean at a colleague's school who urged researchers to study "the down low" after seeing a TV segment on it.

The view of black sexuality as deviant and diseased has deep roots, Ford noted, pointing to the way the public and the medical community viewed syphilis in the early 20th century as a disease of the black community.

The careless use of such claims to explain the disproportionate infection rate among black women is based on anecdotal evidence and is not scientific in the least. It serves to demoralize the black community and may even hurt - as the Reuters article suggests - research efforts to discover the true reasons behind the trends.

And what about these trends? The recent "3%" number of infected Washington residents has been all over the news and has been the subject of myriad press conferences by health officials - but in January of 2008, American Medical News reported that 5% (or 1 in 20) of D.C. Residents were HIV+. Not 3% - but 5%.

This is a 40% drop. So is there actually reason to celebrate in D.C.? A 40% drop in HIV infections in a single year is significant, yes? Sarcasm aside, the better question is: how is this data being gathered? And the biggest question is: why are journalists so quick to report numbers and never check previous statistics and studies?

I have been looking at comments on many blogs where the D.C. numbers - and now Dallas numbers - have been reported. There's this general acceptance that African Americans are simply "different", "more promiscuous", "more homophobic" - etc., etc. - and when I'm teaching inner city at-risk youth and they are shown posters for Black HIV Testing Day - and they say things like: "Why is our community too stupid to not get AIDS" - my heart sinks. This is a dangerous sort of racism. The reasons given by the media are oversimplified in an attempt to explain disproportionate numbers that make no epidemiological sense.

I ask all journalists and bloggers to consider these issues and make sure that great care is given when hurling accusations at minority communities. Ironically, in an effort to "help" - I fear health care practitioners may be missing the actual causation of this trend among African Americans - and in the process, are promoting racial stereotypes. Does it truly add up - just using common sense - that "black homophobia" can account for 50% of all HIV cases in the US - but African Americans only make up 12% of the population? That's an absolutely staggering number - and I think harder questions and better research must be conducted to truly understand what is going on.

As I have said in previous posts...don't be so quick to accept what they say - because who are they and how did they get their information? When dealing with issues as important as infectious disease...when using words like "epidemic"...when using phrases like "national health crisis"...when using tax payer money to fund research and understand trends...a critical mind must be employed. It is far too easy to simply accept and go along with statistics and gross generalizations - especially if it isn't affecting 88% of the population that is YOU.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Portland is :(

Unhappy Portland

As I said on Facebook to a friend who asked about this:

As we are also often ranked the #1 most enlightened city - in terms of arts, literature, environmental awareness, etc - it makes sense that 8 years of Bush/Cheney would have created a pit of despair. I know many people - including myself - who have been extremely worried about the country and where people of our "Portland mindset" belong. That's really over simplified, but maybe there is something to it.

What do you think, readers?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thanks, Diablo!

Okay - so I am not the biggest fan of Diablo Cody. I love the characters she creates. But the "look at me I'm a clever writer!" thing she has going on is like sideways rain hitting you square in the eye.

That being said, I must thank both her and Steven Spielberg for The United States of Tara. The show has received mixed reviews. Amongst my friends and colleagues there is little consensus - which may actually indicate genuine artistic innovation - though few can doubt the genius of the multi-talented Ms. Toni Collette. I am a junkie for the show, but it is not for my general enjoyment that I offer thanks.

(Spoiler alert!)

The homosexual story line in this show has unfolded in a truly unique way - one that gives me great hope for how gays get television treatment in the future. As we discover that fourteen year-old Marshall (the adorably dorky Keir Gilchrist) has a crush on fellow thespian Jason (Andrew Lawrence - yeah, Joey's younger hunky brother) - it appears the show will predictably adopt the "coming out" subplot. I figured it was prefect as a way to exacerbate Tara's Dissociative Identity Disorder - and it has certainly provided interesting moments for Tara's "alter", Buck, who is homophobic. But as I waited to see Marshall being forced to grapple with his dark homosexual secret - turns out his whole family already knows. And it's never really addressed. Not in terms of it being an issue. It's presented as a non-issue. They learn he has a crush. His older sister makes deliberate - and yet oddly affectionate - homophobic stabs at him in the nature of sibling ribbing. His mother says things like, "If he likes you, he won't care about the stings" - (referring to a bee incident). And then this latest episode - #9 - it happened.

Jason, you see, is a preacher's kid. Marshall is crushing hard on him - enough to even participate in the church's Hell House (the moral haunted houses of the South where they show homosexuals burning in hell, etc.) - and in recent episodes, Marshall tries to figure things out by saying things to Jason like, "I hate labels. If there were no labels on the food in the store, many people would try things and find out they like it." Poor Marshall - I tried all that when I was in high school. Can I get him in bed if I talk philosophically? HA!

So - Episode 9. Marshall and Jason are doing a project. Marshall and Jason drink from the parents' liquor cabinet. Jason falls asleep beside him. Marshall is in heaven. And Marshall takes the plunge. He kisses the sleeping Jason - who wakes up and...kisses him back.

It was one of the sweetest things I've seen since Beautiful Thing. And who knows if Jason will turn out to be actually gay (will the liquor be his excuse?) but the moment was captured with such purity and innocence - it was simply truthful. But better was what happened after. We see Marshall's Dad come home - he runs into an awkward and guilty looking Jason who is leaving. He's very nice to Jason - knowing it's his son's love interest. Dad discovers Marshall inside drinking tea and looking dazed. And eventually Dad says, "Shit. You got it bad don't you?" Marshall nods - between crying and laughing with the joy of his first kiss - and Dad says so lovingly, "There's nothing like love."

And of course, my face is streaming with tears. Could the show exploit my issues any further? I mean seriously? Gay issues. The much unrequited love of high school. And of course - DAD ISSUES. All rolled into one. It left me a mess. But past my own personal connection to the refreshing to see this family not give a shit about their son's sexuality. They want him to be happy. They honor him with no fuss.

Thanks Diablo. Thanks Steven.

--from a sappy thirty-six year old 'mo who is happy younger 'mos will have better television to watch than he did at their age.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Behind the Curtain...

This past week has offered three brief moments when I feel I've peered behind the curtain...

--Watching the live news on CNN. I answer a phone call - quick conversation - turn back to the television. And it's repeating. Not the story merely being covered again - that happens all the time with these looping news cycles...but literally, the television is repeating...same newscaster...same words...same bad joke at the same time... I check my DVR to make sure I have not hit rewind. Nope. Live. Again.

--The man at the gym. A very sweaty man. A very sweaty man who does the stair-mill nearly every day for over an hour without even listening to an iPod. He pours sweat onto the machine. Puddles form on the ground around the machine. And I guess it's gross but oddly, I have always found him to be an inspiration for endurance. Until I was doing the stair-mill next to him. About thirty minutes into my own workout, I feel a presence. A staring. I turn to the left. He is staring at me. A statue. Shark eyes. I get an image in my head -it bleeds into my physical seeing - he has a knife. He is butchering men in dark spaces. Gore everywhere. He comes back into focus, the macabre images returning to their dungeon. He does not look away. I look away. I look back. He is back to working out. And I know that a serial killer is sweating like mad on the machine next to me.

--Taking a walk through the neighborhood, the streetlamps start going out. This has happened before. Five in a row. As I pass them - within a foot of walking by - black out! Dark. After number five, I turn back to stare at the darkened street. I whisper, "light the way" - You see, I did this the first time at the Americana Apartments in Killeen, Texas when I was 7 and escaping the angry home of screaming Mom and new Dad - they went dark and I said, "light the way" - and they did. When I was 7, they came back on. All at once. And this time - 29 years later - I say the magic words again - and they do - they came back on...all at once.

What else is back there?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Why Theatre Prompt

So I have been in residence as a professional playwright for Literary Arts as part of their Writers in the Schools program. In simpler terms, I am a WITS teacher. For fifteen weeks at Grant High School - once a week - I have taught playwriting to freshmen in what's called the Access Program - sort of a Talented and Gifted class...and also to third year theatre students...and also to seniors in a creative writing English class.

Tonight, students from various Grant classes (mine and those of other WITS teachers) will have the opportunity to share their work at an open mic "slam" - at Fleur de Lis Bakery and Cafe at 3930 NE Hancock - 7:00p. part of this annual event, the writers in residence are asked to share a piece of their own. In past years, I have chosen monologues from Rubber 'n' Glue, The Vespiary, and Darkstep and Dawning. This year - without anything "high school appropriate" to share, I decided on something more fun. On my final day just this past Tuesday, I asked the students to rant on paper about "Why theatre?" I gave them nothing else. That single prompt. I told them that from their rants, I would take inspiration and write a monologue addressing that question. I took their ideas - some direct quotes - and certainly their passion. And I gave myself only one hour to write.

Here is the monologue - which I will publicly read this evening. Knowing that most of this was influenced by the young may add a sparkle to the day of those who occasionally fall into "theatre depression."

Why Theatre?
a monologue by
Matthew B. Zrebski
inspired by the rantings of
students at Grant High Shool in WITS classes
All Rights Reserved 2008

Why theatre? Why theatre?

Wha - what kind of question--? Are you trying to make my blood--? I -I -I mean did someone drop you on your--? Okay, okay, hold up! This is like one of those I-have-a-real-job-why-don't-you?-why-spend-time-doing-all-that-artsy-fartsy-no-one-cares conversations, right? Is that it? You think no one cares? No one--?

Let me tell you - people care. They care so much that theatre is like some addictive disease - like a drug - but a love drug - one with no end - that's how much they care. But unlike money and created "black and white" truths and antiquated paradigms that cage and sink you into coma-like reality TV show trances - theatre is present. Present. It's in the "now". It gets in your face in the moment. No separation. No big screens and 3-D glasses and ear buds and shuffling your play list! It's a white room filled with containers of colored paint. And when that color starts to's raw energy out to you back to the stage. Thoughts - straight to you and back. Feelings - slamming at you and back. Back and forth- a rhythmic dance between artists and the audience - a ritual - one that goes back to the caves and campfires and hunts and the many, many Gods. That's why theatre.

Why theatre? Why not?

Maybe because it can't be genetically modified and produced in twenty-seven different sweat shops. Maybe because it's the virgin child of silent thought. The knot between the ribbons of emotion and voice. Maybe because it is a Teleporter from anywhere to anywhere - another person's shoes to wear. Or maybe because in that small bite fed to us in a performance, we can attempt to dissect and determine something for ourselves. Or more simply, maybe people want to make believe. To be four again. The magic. The suspension. Imagination. The stillness coming to life. The thrill of a single spotlight. Not the rut - but the possibilities. Anything is possible. No, those aren't ropes and cardboard clouds - that man is flying. Don't we all need to fly?

Why theatre?

You mean because there are movies and television - why theatre? Because film and television can perfect the performance - gloss the delivery - stamp into forever and perfect the product? Well, first let's get real, tons of movies suck! Commerce and stars and red carpets and who are you wearing...? But that aside - and I love movies too - brilliant art form - but does it replace - ? Are you suggesting it should--? That's been the suggestion since talkies started - but theatre is still here! Perhaps less "perfect" - less " glossed" - but you know what? There's more "real" there. People are imperfect - people are flawed - people are not glossed over with soaring soundtracks and CGI and line-line-joke comedy and run-in-slow-motion-on-the-beach-and-kiss endings. Back to basics - that's why theatre - it may be nothing but one person standing in front of you, telling a story - basic, pure, and resonant.

And this is where you accuse me of elitism and trying to assert my views onto your experience of life. But what are you experiencing? Do we experience anything in this day to day numbing up- the-down-escalator daily assault of zombified reality? Do we? I don't know. And humans need to experience. That catharsis that comes from live, crackling communion with storytellers. The walls expanding just a bit - different points of view - an attempt at some semblance of universal awareness - so that in those private moments in the darkest places, you know we are not alone.


I am not alone.


There will be no final black out. There will be no final curtain. There will be no final playbill left to whither and rot and flake away into some wind just because you ask me why theatre? It is mine - it is yours - it is his and hers - and you may not know it yet, but that doesn't make it not true. So I'm telling you.

Theatre will never die.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Ever have a day when you feel you're living a fraction of a second behind or ahead of everyone else? It's like when the sound isn't quite synced up with the visual in a film - and you wonder is it me or is the sound fucked up? That was the good part of my day.

I awoke completely out of sorts. I felt like I'd had nothing but fever dreams all night. A splitting headache screamed hello to me just as my eyes cracked open, and my legs wobbled zigzaggedly as I got out of bed to turn off the alarm - which is across the room for very good reasons. I figured this was simply a result of the very spicy Thai food I ate last night as part of our stay-in Valentine's Evening - which also included watching the three Peanuts Valentine specials on DVD. (On a side note, we discovered that Michael really is Charlie Brown and I am Schroeder.) But as the day unfolded, things only went more askew.

I drank my coffee. I drank a liter of water. I ate some protein cereal. I did some stretches for my achy muscles. I tried desperately to fling off the muck - whatever it was. But the tension was building within - heart rate rising - dizziness coming on. Yep. Anxiety. This was going to be what I have come to call "one of my bad days." I would almost welcome the full-on panic attack. If you Google it you get told they last only a few minutes, and as long as you remember they are harmless and cannot cause any permanent harm, then they get easier and happen less frequently. Problem is - my panic attacks are in slow motion. They tease first from a distance by pouring a little kerosene in my stomach and lighting it on fire. Then they attach rubber bands to the back of my scalp and pull me slowly towards the floor. Then they nuzzle my chest with brick noses that weigh a ton and prevent me from breathing. And then worst of all, they slide into my thoughts and make me wonder if I - like my grandparents, my mother, and other relatives - if I too am battling a kind of madness. And this can last anywhere from an two days.

Dread already break-dancing in my gullet, I discovered that my sister's phone had been disconnected. And then I discovered through friends that she has not been seen for a few days. And then I did the perfect thing...I went to Portland Center Stage where I had my ticket to see How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Fin Kennedy.

My intellectual assessment of this experience is quite simple. This is the best show I've seen on a Portland stage in maybe five years. The play is dramaturgically daring and refreshingly contemporary in style. The themes resonate deeply. The acting was superb all the way around - with particularly fine turns by Cody Nickell and Ebbe Roe Smith. The scenic and lighting and costume designs were in perfect alignment - and Jen Raynak's sound was what I call "stupid-good". I mean can this woman get any better? Jesus. And Rose Riordan has put on Midas gloves this season and turned her shows to gold with knock out direction. She's always strong - but the match up of her aesthetics with both The Receptionist and now, this production...well, it makes for some fine, FINE theatre.

My personal / emotional experience was nightmarish at best. I can't think of a worse place to be than this production if someone is anxiety prone - or having an ongoing long attack. The design and space configuration is deliberately claustrophobic. The sound is loud, disturbing, and coming at you from all sides. The lights menacingly strobe and toggle between colors. The set explodes forth one nightmarish surprise after another. Blood flows from noses and knuckles. Characters are either mad, going mad, or were already mad to begin with. And in this performance, I had an assist-dog in training behind me who - bless his canine heart - was terrified by the sound and lights and kept trying to get up and run down the aisle. And I kept thinking, my sister has disappeared. And then at one point, I found myself weeping as I watched the character "Adam" laughing himself into tears in a bathroom - and I thought...this play is about me. And then I looked around, and I thought, this play is about everyone. And then I thought, this play was not a good idea today. And then I thought, this play is perfect for this day.

I walked out of the theatre, looking stoned, I'm sure. And what happens next? So back up... Before the show, I saw a cute gay couple sitting in the lobby. One of the men looked very familiar. After the show, they were a few people behind me as we were exiting the theatre...and as I got to the middle of the lobby, I turned around again - determined to figure out this familiar face...he sure looked like...

And the guy makes eye contact with me and says, "Are you...?" and I say, "Mike?" And he nods. And we hug. Yes. Mike Ryan. College classmate, one year ahead of me at SMU. Brilliant actor. He now teaches acting at Santa Cruz. I had a huge crush on him in college and was envious of his girlfriend. It's been fifteen years, and now he's introducing me to his boyfriend, and I think, "Damn, the missed opportunities!" Turns out he came up here for Valentine's Day with his boyfriend and he's good friends with Cody and Kate - who are both in the show - and...

blah-blah-blah-serendipity-rah-rah-reunion-kiss-kiss-buh-bye- see-you-on-Facebook!

And this made me think further about identity and how people change and how I have changed and how life changes me and how I change my life and what keeps us from all running away? And then I sat in the lobby eating pretzels and drinking a coke, and I worked on my new play while I waited for Michael to get off work, and I talked to various PCS folks, and we all love the show, and on and on...and it was nice, but it wasn't altogether real, because the sound was still not in sync. Not fully. I was sitting in the lobby. But really, I had no idea where I was.

Now it's late. I found my sister. I had dinner. I had a mini-breakdown talking to Michael. I watched Big Love and The United States of Tara. I have posted many congrats on Facebook to the "Disappear" folk. And all I can do now is go to bed and wonder about tomorrow. Will I wake up and will things once again feel steady?

Do they ever?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oh, Father

Teaching a class yesterday, one of my high school students spoke of spending time with his daughter this weekend. I shared with him that I had been a high school pregnancy - that my mother had me at seventeen - and that my eighteen-year old father did not stick around. I told him I was proud of him for committing to his child - that there had been many times in my life I'd wished to know my father. This seemed to mean a lot to this kid.

It was an odd moment for me...a deep haunting crept into my lower belly and did not leave the rest of the day. I wrecked my diet on the way home from class by buying nachos and gobbling them up like the drug of choice they are. I sat numb in front of the television for hours.

In the summer of 1997, only weeks before moving to Portland, I did meet my father. My last name comes from my adopted father - but my birth father is named Bill Whitley. And I found him through a national search service. The call to his home that summer was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. I think it took me more than five days once I had the phone number and address to actually dial. I did not know what his life was like. I did not know if he had a wife - or kids - or if they knew about me. I had no desire to inject myself into his life and create misery.

Luckily, all went quite well. I said, "I'm Laura Peterson's son." And he said very plainly and calmly, "I thought this call might come one day."

Turns out, he lived only twenty minutes from me, a little north of Dallas. Only days later, I traveled to meet him, his wife (who was remarkably close to my age and very kind) and my three half siblings...all little children. And days after that, Bill Whitley - also a trumpet player in high school - also a composer...came to see my musical Hunger at Youth Could Know Theatre. And at that show, he was reunited with my mother. And I watched them talk in the mother had been desperately in love with this much so she wanted to consume him...I'd heard a lot about him as a little kid...and now they chatted like old friends...laughing and talking with awkward pauses, then moments of was beyond surreal.

Bill and I talked twice after that on the phone. Once in Dallas. Once when I got to Portland. And for reasons I cannot explain, I never reached out again. And he never reached out to me. I literally have no idea why. Later, when asked, I would say that as nice as he had been, I did not find him that interesting...that it made no sense to build a friendship...but that was a complete lie. And I don't know why I lied. Or why I would be so mean. I don't understand any of this.

After eating myself into a coma on the couch, I found myself at the computer looking for him. The contact info I have is long defunct. So I Googled away...and luck was on my side. His graduating class of 1972 at Belton High School has their own website. A nice one. And in February of 2008, Bill Whitley had been found by his classmates - and there was his email address.

I looked at his high school picture...this awkward eighteen-year old whose features I share. I looked at how thin he is in the photo - and thought about how stout he was when I met him - and I realized I took the same physical path...(it's not nachos, you see - it's genes!). And...I wrote him an email. And I sent him pictures. I told him I regretted losing touch. I told him I'm human...and these blood connections haunt me...and I hoped to hear from him.

My mother and I have not seen each other in nine months.
My adopted father and I have not seen each other or talked in nine years.
And...maybe the father I never had will write back. And maybe he'll become more constant than the others. Is that the motivation?

As I said, I don't understand any of this.

For now...I wait.

(That was the end of my post. As I signed in to publish it to the blog, I discovered his reply email. I am deeply moved by it - and will share some small excerpts...)

From Bill Whitley to Matt Zrebski: 2/7/09

"I remember when she told me she was pregnant. It scared me half to death and I wasn't very kind to her. I didn't want to believe her and I rationalized my way out of it although down deep I knew she wouldn't lie. I was a stupid, young and scared kid. I got to go on with what I wanted to do and your mom was forced to grow up fast. It wasn't fair and I'm not proud of it! The fact that she apparently never told you that I was a selfish SOB is proof of how good she is at heart..."

"It's good that you've decided to stick to what you love to do. Even if things are hard, you'll be happier in the long run. It's taken me a lot of years to realize that. I didn't do it, and I've always had regrets. Follow your dreams! Try your best to never quit on them...I'm trying to learn how to play trumpet again. My dream is to quit work and be one of those old guys you see on one of the side stages at the jazz festival..."

"I'll look for some pictures to send you. We should at least be able to recognize each other. It's really good to hear from you and I'm glad you're doing OK. I enjoy hearing about what you're up to. By all means, stay in touch. Take care, Bill."

And now, I sigh big and deep...and light a candle...and cry a little...a lot...and try to embrace the wonder of this life...and its many paths, twisting, turning, over and over...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winter Juggles

Yes yes yes!!! I know!!! Oh, how I have juggled...

I have posted very little as of late. Since my last post I have:

-- re-drafted my play, The Bathing of Christopher End and submitted it for consideration to the 2009 JAW Festival at Portland Center Stage as well as to Kitchen Dog Theatre's New Plays Fest.

-- read and critiqued 217 ten-minute plays. Did you get that? 217

-- conducted extensive research on my next play project, interviewing people around the country via phone.

-- begun teaching two new courses at the Greenhouse School of Theatre

-- staged Open City for PlayGroup as part of the Fertile Ground Festival.

-- fought a sinus infection...still going...

-- been rejected by CoHo productions for a production of my play, Boy. :(

-- revisited cult classics What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Videodrome, and Blue Velvet.

-- become addicted to Big Love (season 3) and the United States of Tara (inaugural season).

-- written a new song I like called February Snow and have done a rough recording.

-- become very fond of canned Mandarin oranges.

-- decided not to go to grad school after all - then reversed that decision - then reversed it back - and now am in limbo.

-- received more hassles and scares from the IRS.

-- attended a community forum on new plays and found myself talking very candidly about the close of Stark Raving Theatre - for the first time in public - even if limited.

-- seen Apollo at Portland Center Stage and am glad that Nancy Keystone is a theatre artist.

-- hated people posting hideous pictures of me on Facebook.

-- cried hard almost every day.

-- laughed hard almost every day.

-- wanted to disappear.

-- wanted to take the stage.

And now, I will work to post more on this blog...


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fitness Shift!

I will be adding the measurements to this post going forward, rather than creating new posts every other week. I really don't like the blog being so much about thiss personal issue. So if anyone cares - there will be an edit every two weeks...

(sorry to be a day late on this update...I still cannot get onto the 'fat ratio' site - it keeps instead of waiting, I'll at least give you the improved numbers.)

Weight: 241
(lost 4 pounds)
Waist: 43 inches
(lost 1 inch)
Hips: 45 inches
Forearm: 12 inches
Wrist: 7 inches


Weight: 245
(lost 2 pounds)
Waist: 44 inches
(lost 1 inches)
Hips: 45 inches
(lost 1 inch)
Forearm: 12 inches
Wrist: 7 inches
Body Fat: 27.1%
(lost 1.5%)
Amount of Fat: 66.4lb
(lost 4.2 pounds of fat)
Amount of Lean Mass: 178.6lb
(gained 2.2 pounds of muscle)

Weight: 247
(gained 3 pounds)
Waist: 45 inches
(lost 2 inches)
Hips: 46 inches
(lost 1 inch)
Forearm: 12 inches
Wrist: 7 inches
Body Fat: 28.6%
(lost 2%)
Amount of Fat: 70.6lb
(lost 4.1 pounds of fat)
Amount of Lean Mass: 176.4lb
(gained 7.1 pounds of muscle)

Weight: 244
Waist: 47 inches
Hips: 46 inches
Forearm: 12 inches
Wrist: 7 inches
Body Fat: 30.6%
Amount of Fat: 74.7lb
Amount of Lean Mass: 169.3lb


So I'm going to launch a shift in how I handle my fitness goals. Merely weighing in is proving to be maddening. This week I gained a pound and am at 244. Overall weight loss over 11 weeks is only 8 pounds - and I'm spending nearly 8 hours a week at the gym and eating a fairly "normal" diet.

Inspired by what I already knew and by the reminders of friends and other bloggers like Mr. Mead - I needed to deal with reality a bit more...

Today, I found a very good home calculator for body fat ratio. It is accurate within about 3% and is very easy to do. And I think this will become the best method for assessing where I'm going. It is based on age, gender, and weight along with the waist, hips, forearm, and wrist measurements.

Going forward, I will list all of this every two weeks. There can be enough change in two weeks to actually measure - but once a week is a bit excessive for this type of calculation. I will still weigh myself periodically - but for the blog, this will be my new method.

One thing that was very interesting about this is how we are becoming quite fooled by the clothing industry. In the past a "32" meant the waist of the pant measured 32 inches. Not anymore. For fun, I measured various jeans at Fred Meyer and found that most pants added anywhere from 4 to 10 inches. In other words - waist size and "off the rack" size are not at all the same anymore. This explains why in May of 1992, I was wearing "36" jeans and weighed 190 pounds. Today I wear between a "36" and "38" and weigh 244 pounds. But the real numbers are quite revealing. And I need to deal in real numbers. Painful as they may be!

Weight: 244
Waist: 47 inches
Hips: 46 inches
Forearm: 12 inches
Wrist: 7 inches
Body Fat: 30.6%
Amount of Fat: 74.7lb
Amount of Lean Mass: 169.3lb

This is extremely helpful in calculating my ideal weight. To become very healthy, but not "athletic", I need to get this body fat percentage down to 12%. If I were to maintain my Lean Mass at about 170lb, then to have 12% body fat, I'd need to weigh 195lb. Given I am going to continue weight lifting, my Lean Mass will likely go up a bit, so I think to be reasonable, I need to shoot for about 200lb.

I have 41 weeks until I hit the year mark of my fitness launch. So basically, I'd like to lose a pound a week.

We'll see what happens!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Angell of Truth

"...conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine."

--Marcia Angell

This quote comes from Angell's January 15th article in the New York Review of Books called "Drug Companies and Doctors: A Story of Corruption." It is significant that she speaks out so blatantly about what has become one of the biggest threats to our country - because she was in fact an editor for a most prestigious medical journal. Her credentials are sound and her scathing assessment of our health industry should be noted.


In a time when we are perhaps about to move toward a nationalized healthcare system, we must address the collapse of scientific study - particularly with regard to medicine. Because what is very possible, is that the government will have even more to say in how we treat our ailments, and also continue to pad the FDA with members of the pharmaceutical industry. As a country, we are blissfully ignorant of how this system operates, how doctors practice, and how much research studies have become pseudoscience. Bluntly, much of it is a scam, and a lot of doctors are assaulting patients with dangerous snake oil.

I hope people take the time to educate themselves. Doctors have become the new priests in America, and it's time to remove the cloak and demand that the patient and not the wallet is the only thing that matters.