Just This One Chance

My job takes me all over central California as well as a bit of the south. Two places I pass by nearly every week are the Salinas Valley State Prison and the Coalinga State Hospital.

The prison in Soledad harbors some of California’s most violent and recidivist criminals, many of them members of prison gangs such as La Eme, Nuestra Familia, Aryan Brotherhood, and their street-level offshoots. Coalinga State Hospital inters some 800 plus of the state’s most violent sex offenders, held indefinitely under treatment under Jessica’s Law.

I’m always severely fascinated by those facilities as I drive by. It’s hard for me to keep my eyes on the road because I stare at the towers, the razor wire topped fences, the tiny window-slits, the isolated landscape.

I’m a big believer in the rank equality of the human animal. We are all born and we will all die. None of us are chosen. None of us are better than the other. None of us deserve better because of what we can do or where (or to whom) we were born. We have zero influence on the chance/luck at work in the DNA lottery our parents played, and most of us still play, in the throes of bodily passion, that spurting moment of physical intensity that determines which numbers come up on the bingo balls that hold our helices together.

While this concept opens up an entire nexus of conversations, there’s just one that stands out for me, that rings between my ears like the aftermath of an M-80 that went off a little too soon. Whenever I drive by and see those towers, those walls, those fences, I realize how fucking lucky I am. I’m not an extreme determinist, at least not to the point that I think we’re not responsible for our actions. And, being an atheist, I’m certainly not a Calvinist.

But I know I won the lottery. I fucking won – 5 numbers and the MegaPowerSuperBall. I’m smarter than the average guy – 99th percentile smart. I’m reasonably talented – I play half a dozen instruments, most of which I taught myself. I can sing, and sing very well. I’m a pretty decent thespian and not too bad at directing. I can lead: when I start something, when I reach out, people gather around, they get on board, they trust me. Without a college degree I managed to work my way into a career in which I do way better than average.

Is this bragging? It may sound like it. But I know better. I know I lucked into this. Sperm meets egg and somehow all the elements in there pop out a guy who, with all his flaws, is just gifted with all of these little elements that enable him to have a pretty damn good life. I wasn’t born in a refugee camp in Chad. I wasn’t born in Rwanda in the midst of ethnic cleansing. I wasn’t born a female in a conservative family in Saudi Arabia, destined to be married off at the age of ten to a man four times my age. I wasn’t born a Dalit in Delhi, India, an outcast from birth. I wasn’t born a starving Ethiopian child. I wasn’t born black in the American South. I wasn’t born blind, deaf, dumb, mute, or crippled in any way.

I was born white and middle-class in America. My disadvantages, and they are few, are very first-world; dysfunctional family right from the very center of the modern American experience.

It’s true that I could have gone another direction, like so many do. I could have made decisions that destroyed my future, my life, my relationships, my marriage, my whole family. But I had it within me, somewhere in my DNA, to make enough of the decisions that provided me with a relatively charmed life.

I won. I win every day I’m alive. And when I’m finally dead, I will have lived the life of a winner, not a winner who hit a home run, but a winner who was born somewhere on the chalk line between third and home with enough sense to run the short rest of the way home.

I drive by the prison, the hospital… I see those walls, those fences, that lethal razor wire and towers full of guards trained to kill the people inside if necessary, and I wonder…

How can I not write? How can I not take at least a few minutes and just fucking try to make it? One word, one page at a time? I’m not one of the ones who lost. I’m not one of the ones who went batshit crazy and raped, killed, maimed, robbed, or whatever. I don’t have to live with the demons that drive a person to act in such a way that they have to be hidden away from the rest of the world for everyone’s own good.

If I don’t try to fulfill my dreams, then I piss on the very luck that put me where I am. If I don’t try to be a little more decent, a little nicer, a little gentler, a little more peaceful, I spit on the one single chance I have to enjoy what I’m so lucky to have.

It would be like winning the lottery and holding the winning ticket in my hand and saying, “Well, fuck it, I don’t feel like turning this in today. I’ll just stuff it in a drawer somewhere because I’d rather watch The Bachelor on TV.”

We have just this one chance, this one life, this one existence, this fleeting dawn of consciousness where I’m lucky enough to know that, whatever else may be true, I am, and I am here, and I have just this one chance to live it with the volume all the way up.

Hugging my children and telling them I love them.

Kissing my wife and holding her close, cherishing every moment.

Feeling the warmth of the sun, the soft damp of the rain, the bracing cold of the snow, and biting snap of the wind.

And opening my heart to write with the courage that comes from knowing that this chance, however long it may be, is and always will be, my last.

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Artistic License

castorfThis article appeared in my feed today. It recounts the conflict between the estate of the inimitable Berthold Brecht (administered by his daughter, I believe) and a German theater director well-known for his extremely liberal interpretations of the plays he directs. Brecht’s estate is known to be rather particular about the integrity of his plays as written, and Frank Castorf is known to very particularly challenge both the author and audience with his “scandalous” interpretations.

This article isn’t really going to be about Castorf’s production or the man himself. For one, I’m not familiar with the man’s work. For two, I don’t see myself making it over to Germany anytime soon. For three, I don’t speak German. For four, I’ve only this article and a few other articles that can be found online to inform me, and these are necessarily going to be less than the whole story – far less.

Instead, it will be about the artistic questions the article raises for this particular writer and sometime director.

It is very interesting to me in a couple of ways. One, of course, is the challenge to copyright and the continual conversation about the sensibility and scope of copyright, which I’m also not getting into here.

The second is in my own philosophy about directing.

Not that I need to, but I should clarify – nobody on the Great White Way is banging on my door and begging me to direct the next big thing, and most of the plays I’ve directed have been of lighter fare (though even those I take seriously – more on that later.)

When I direct a show, I always feel my responsibility is to get as close as I can to the version of the truth the author was trying to convey. And I’m not sure I feel this only as a responsibility, but also as a personal urge. I want to know what the playwright knew when or she wrote. I can’t find that out by myself. I need to collaborate with actors, a stage manager, technicians, crew, everyone, to create the environment where the characters come to life through honest digging and soul-searching.

My other priority is to draw out the actor and encourage them to find the most realistically human version of their character as possible. What truth does this or that character know? What truth are they trying to find?

And what is truth anyway?

In my little mind, and to my emotional center, I feel I can’t achieve these aims by fucking with the writer’s words. I’m known for being a stickler for the words that were written. I won’t allow an actor to change words – not even swear words. If the character says “fuck,” it’s because that character said “fuck” at that time in the author’s version of reality. If the actor can’t bring themselves to say “fuck,” then clearly I’ve made a mistake and need to find another actor.

If an actor finds a line or a phrase hard to say honestly, I think it usually has more to do with the actor not finding the character’s real emotional state, not finding the honest heart from which the words were spoken/written. I usually challenge my actors to search and search. Every now and then it might drive them nuts, but all the actors I’ve worked with, even in light comedies or murder mysteries, are extremely thoughtful, sensitive people, who already know they haven’t found that honest spot, who already know how wooden that line sounds, and without any input from me they are looking for it. Then my job becomes to help them to search, to hold the flashlight while they dig. Sometimes that means asking them questions about the character’s heart and motivation. Sometimes that means just shutting up and letting them work through it for awhile. As a last resort, I might go ahead and suggest what I think they’re missing about the character, but only with that actor’s permission. I think a director can really derail an honest actor by putting too much of our own thoughts into the actor’s archaeology, especially early on.

Of course, the writer bears an enormous responsibility to be honest and accurate in the first place, to know his or her characters, to transcribe as much of the truth as they can possibly excavate. When I’m writing, my first instinct is to shy away from the harsh light of day with my characters. I protect them out of the same urge by which I protect myself and shore up the version of myself I let other people see. Letting that veneer drop would be like getting caught masturbating.

Sure, we know everybody is human – everybody rubs one out now and then – but somehow we don’t want to be seen doing it.

The problem is that, as a writer, if we don’t let ourselves get caught, then character becomes caricature, and there’s nothing there for the actor to dig up and discover. The vulnerable heart of the man or woman being portrayed is not lost. It was never buried there in the first place.

Getting those things right in a play, from beginning to end, is daunting work. So when I receive the offering of human truth from a playwright, I can’t find a way that changing it around is going to help it at all. My job as a director isn’t to write this truth. It’s to shine a light on that truth. It’s inevitable that the light is going to shine at an angle that I think tells that truth in the way that I best understand, but if I do my job well, it won’t just be my understanding, but a social one, dug up and lit in such a way that many who come can find a lot of honest truth to appreciate and fulfill their inner person.

And I’ll say that even the lightest fare requires a deep honesty. Take a clever and rather lighthearted comedy, such as Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo.” I’ll cave in to conceit and relate a personal experience. I directed a small town production of that several years back. This show could have been easy to just toss together and let his writing be funny, the situations silly, all have a laugh, and go on our way. But the root of comedy is honest pain and social identification. Things are funny because, on some level, we can identify with the situation or idea that makes us laugh. I challenged my willing amateurs to make sure that their characters were as honest as if we were putting on something with the gravity of “Wit” or “The Rabbit Hole,” or even “The Laramie Project.” I challenged them to make sure the words said or the actions taken were the only thing that character could come up with, even if nobody was ever there to laugh.

Why would I torture them so? Because the writing might be funny on its own. But if the actor believes they’re transmitting the character’s heart, their inner person, then the line isn’t just funny, it’s true, and truth is an amplifier for funny, I believe.

At the end of Moon Over Buffalo, there’s a point where the main couple look like they’re going to split up. Charlotte has packed a suitcase and is on her way out the door. George pleads with her to stay, and it seems that pleading should fall on deaf ears, considering what cad he had been.

Yet she stays.

How easy would it have been for us to just chalk it up to comedy with a happy ending and leave it at that, everyone clapping and heading home after an evening of laughs?

I’m honestly rather proud we didn’t give into that temptation. No, instead the actress playing Charlotte and I both recognized how dishonest it seemed just walking through it. We struggled to figure out why the hell she would stay with this washed-up cheating tool. This was, after all, the final turning point of the play. Everyone had made an effort to play all the characters with emotions all over their sleeves. We couldn’t stop now. We wrangled and tried the scene different ways, and finally, after a lot of work, we found what I think was the truth, one that she and I both found and believed.

And I have to say, that final moment went from one last silly twist to a very honest and touching denouement. She didn’t change one word, not one. But we had found the emotional truth around why she stayed, and my actress believed that truth, and so when she stayed, we saw her do it with utmost honesty, and so the funny happy ending was amplified and became so satisfying.

I guess all of this sounds like I’m taking the piss out of Castorf. I’m not, truly. From what little I have learned, I would venture a guess that his methodology is to find truth that nobody else has discovered by tearing apart a play and reassembling it in a way that shows off a new truth, or perhaps his own truth. Perhaps he believes that the truth in a play that everyone else takes for granted is a lie, and he’s going to get underneath it. Perhaps he believes that we only see part of the truth and that he peels off more layers to get at the raw center of it. More likely he does it for reasons far deeper than these and to which I’d have a hard time ever relating.

Whatever the case, those are, to me, very valid artistic aims, at least as valid as mine, probably more so, because I do believe people are calling him up to direct plays and the like.

As theater people – playwrights, directors, actors, crew, we are seeking truth: truth about ourselves, truth about other people, truth about the world and the universe in which we live, truth about everything.

How would I like to see this turn out for Castorf? In all honesty, I hope the estate lets him do what he will. Who doesn’t recognize Brecht when they see it anymore? His work stands alone and speaks for itself. There is no danger that anybody will mistake Castorf’s version of Brecht for Brecht in totality.

I would hope the estate would give all of us theater people credit for being at least that clever.

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Sh*t White People Say

My white kids are home from school today with their white parents to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day.

Celebrate.

The word celebrate has been used a lot today, mostly on the news. But is that the right word to use? I don’t think so. Perhaps commemorate would be a better word.

I see precious little to celebrate, myself.

What? What does a middle-aged white guy have to say about MLK and race relations? Why am I sticking my hand up? Well, I’ll tell you.

Because I’m middle-aged and white, other white people say shit to me or around me that they wouldn’t say around black people. I’m not talking about offensive humor. Whether in person or on social media, white people are a little defensive about the very valid complaints of black people.

I suppose I get that, in a way. Nobody wants to take a hard look at themselves, adjust their attitudes, or give up their hard-won *koff* white privilege. Too damn bad. Quit your whining fellow white people.

I’m going to go ahead and out my fellow white people, and tell on myself a little too. Because we’re a long, long way from where MLK hoped we would get. In fact, I’ll bet he would say that the bus left the station and stalled halfway across the bridge, and somehow, most of the black people are still being made to ride in the back.

So, without further ado (because that was plenty of ado already) here is stupid shit white people say about black people and race relations.

- The U.S. is a post-racial society:

I kid you not. Some white people believe that. They believe that MLK and co. marched, a few laws were passed by LBJ, we suffered through some Affirmative Action that was really unnecessary, and we’ve gotten through that. They believe that the ongoing racial conflict is a media portrayal that is stoked by public advocates for black interests such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

The fact of the matter is that we are only post-totally-f***ing-blatant-signs-over-the-water-fountain-racial. Pretty much all we’ve done is successfully eradicated institutionalized racism. And it’s true we’ve managed to raise younger generations that are increasingly less tolerant of racism and other forms of inequality.

But don’t be fooled. This country is rife with the kind of racism that’s harder to root out. The subtle kind that’s hard to see among individuals, but is writ large on a national scale when one examines racial disparity in income/poverty, education, crime and incarceration, drug use/abuse, teen pregnancy, and so many other indicators of economic hardship.

This leads us to another sh*tty thing white people say:

Their inner-city culture/mentality keeps them from succeeding:

This is white victim blaming at it’s best. It’s their culture that keeps them down, that puts them in prison, that gets them into gangs.

They’re just asking to be raped by wearing that slinky dress.

They’re just asking to go to jail by being black. (More on this below, of course)

The beautiful thing is they will often post this sh*t on Facebook or Twitter with what they think is intent to promote genuine discussion seeking a solution. What they’re really seeking is absolution. They want people to agree with their defensive reaction that black peoples’ problems are their problems and not everyone’s problems. They go on to about fairness in the college admissions arena, the job market, the trade contracting market, etc., afraid they won’t get their fair shake.

We white people should not be going on about what’s fair. And if we want to complain about what’s fair, we shouldn’t be complaining about black people getting unfair consideration. No, we should be complaining about our white ancestors leaving this cesspool for today’s blacks to live in and for all of us, white/black/brown/etc. to clean up. Yeah, most of them are dead and can’t answer to it, but it is we who are today’s white people who are living off the wealth and privilege they built for us. And it’s today’s white people to whom it falls to do some real work rectifying the massive divide that still exists.

If they would just do what the cops say, they wouldn’t get shot/Just follow instructions:

I’m opposed to the use of violence at all, but I find myself sorely tempted to take a badminton racket to the next white person that says this to or around me.

In light of the events of the past year, I think a number of black people would have been happy to have the option of jail. If anyone truly thinks that all blacks have to do is obey authority, some attention really needs to be paid.

Each of these events, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, are double crimes. First, these unarmed men, even if they were engaged in criminal conduct, should not have lost their lives because a white cop was afraid of a black man. Period. EOFS.

These incidents understandably evoke fear and deep distrust of law enforcement among blacks. As a white person, I have virtually zero fear that the next cop who pulls me over or talks to me is going to overreact to something I do or say, or the way I do or say, and pop a cap into my ass. Black citizens who have to interact with a white cop have a very different viewpoint. The fact that these crimes are doubled by the officers involved not facing indictment simply cheapens the lives of our black citizens.

Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a cop. It can be a piece-of-sh*t vigilante like Zimmerman. As long as the victim is black, nobody has to pay.

We haven’t even mentioned profiling, have we?

The real proof of the massive disconnect and patent unfairness in these issues can be found in to different incidents that happened recently – one before and one after the tragic killings of Brown and Garner.

Post Brown/Garner, Julia Shields, a 45 year-old woman in Chattanooga, TN, dresses up in body armor, drives around town shooting from her car, stops, points her gun at police, and is still apprehended without injury.

How does this happen? How does Michael Brown get shot, hands up; how does Eric Garner get choked to death, while this crazy woman in body armor, who had already shot at several other people, points her gun at police without one officer being “afraid for his life?” (Afraid for my life is shit white cops say to get away with killing unarmed black people, in case you were wondering.) Instead, “Shields was taken into custody without incident or injury and charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, seven counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony evading arrest, and felony reckless endangerment.”

I believe Garner would have been charged with selling illegal or stolen cigarettes.

The second item happened before, at the Nevada Ranch of Teabilly hero Clive Bundy, himself a pretty much open racist. These nutjobs blocked roadways and pointed their assault weapons at law enforcement officers a number of times during the extended standoff while ol’ Clive fought for his right to steal from the Federal Government, ipso facto, from you and I, the American taxpayer.

As far as I know, not only are all of those lawbreakers not the victims of law-enforcement bullets, not one of them has even gone to jail.

Why is that?

Unarmed black people – dead. Armed white people (and not armed with a pellet gun – armed with assault weapons) still alive and most of them still walking free. Sorry, it’s not a matter of obeying authority. Give black people authority they know they can trust, then maybe they’ll be in a mood to cooperate.

Speaking of which…

They shouldn’t be protesting and blocking traffic, they’re only pissing people off:

No, really – please, black people, stop inconveniencing us with your problems and demands for equality and shit. If us blaming you, killing you, and impoverishing you wasn’t enough, then maybe you can just sit over there and wait for us to get around to giving up some of our privilege so you can experience some equality. I mean, we’ve got shit to do, like get rich and send our kids to schools yours can’t get into and you can’t afford.

Seriously, what makes us white people think that somehow, unlike all of the other movements where oppressed people grasped for their rights, that this time, if they just stay home, white dominated society will just sort it out for those silly black people who shouldn’t be tiring themselves out walking?

Sorry.  It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t work that way. Women’s suffrage, the first Civil Rights movement, Gay Rights, Marriage Equality – it does not get done without people hitting the streets.

Do you need more on this particular sh*t white people say? Rather than my own stumbling words, I refer you back to the Doctor whose birthday we’re commemorating today:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.

Let’s have us white people stop telling the oppressed to wait on the largesse of the elite, when the elite have clearly been less than forthcoming. Dr. King got things moving, but things are slowly sliding backwards. Maybe we can forgive them for hitting the streets to get them going in the right direction again.

I’m not racist – I’m colorblind:

No, you’re not. Neither am I.

On the other hand, colorblindness is a liability, not a boon.

White people who claim colorblindness are really just trying to rehash the “unfairness” argument above. They don’t want to acknowledge the deeply material differences in the American experience for black people.

They don’t want to give up their white privilege, so they ignore it on the grounds of being colorblind.

Furthermore, I don’t think I want to ever be colorblind. I like having some idea of who I am, where I came from, and who I came from. I’d like to think that black people feel the same way. I don’t know for sure, because I can never fully understand, but I would think they want to be black and have that be a thing to appreciate and celebrate with everyone in their lives of every color – not just pretend we’re all cut from the same cloth.

And speaking of understanding, here’s another shitty thing we white people say…

Help me understand what it’s like to be Black:

No.  Just no.

Fellow white people, we can’t understand. We are so far removed from what it is to be black in America that we have zero perspective. We cannot begin to comprehend.

And why the f*** do you think we need to really understand where they’re coming from? Do we really need that to get off our asses and become part of the solution.

Here’s the secret. We aren’t asking this because we want to understand. We aren’t.

We’re asking so that black people think we’re on their side. We want to be able to say we’re already part of the solution so that we don’t have to ask too much of ourselves when black people are marching down our streets.

Help us understand = Please validate me and tell me I’m not racist so that I don’t have to face the fact that I still harbor prejudice in my own heart.

Dear fellow white people: Let’s stop saying stupid shit.

Let’s start being part of the solution.

Let’s start insisting that our law enforcement officers earn the trust of the black community rather than pretending that if black people trust, somehow cops will start behaving better. And let’s insist that being afraid of unarmed black people isn’t an excuse to kill them.

Let’s insist on real initiatives that provide the same educational and employment opportunities that we white people have. Let’s insist that things aren’t right until the same percentage of black populations are graduating college. Let’s insist that things aren’t right until black workers are making the same wages as white workers.

Let’s insist that things aren’t right until the protests stop not because we can’t be bothered, but because they are no longer needed.

And let’s insist that things aren’t right until we white people stop saying so much stupid shit.

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The Young Sacrificed for the Wants of the Old

Happy Veteran’s Day.

Happy Remembrance Day.

Red Poppies, flags waving, pomp and ceremony to revere the sacrifices of men and women who fought and died, and those who fought and carried home visible and invisible scars wrought by man’s inhumanity to man.

I suppose today I go against the grain in some respects.  I recognize that I could lose friends over this.  So be it.

I recently read an article by an elderly, thoughtful Englishman who had much to say on the topic, especially regarding the purpose of those who lead the ceremonies and celebrations of the soldiers of nations, whether American or British, so often now found fighting side by side wherever the quest for empire takes us.

First off, don’t get me wrong.  I have deep respect for those who have served and given part of their lives, or their whole lives, to the military life.  It is not an easy life, and when you’re deployed, you go with the full knowledge that your superiors are sending you to a place where other people specifically will try to kill you if given half the chance.

I believe that most of those who serve do so in service to the idea of a free America.  I do.

I also believe that these young people are exploited by our government and the corporate interests that for decades have driven our foreign and domestic policy and have driven our population into a veritable master/slave economy where the concept of Liberty and Justice for All has been relegated to propaganda to feed to the proles (that’s you and me) to prevent us for looking up and noticing just how deeply our personal freedoms have been violated.

I would assert that every drop of American blood that has been shed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere for the past 65 years (all post-WWII conflicts, basically) has been shed in the name of Western Economic Imperialism.

When I honor and mourn the fallen, it’s not because they have fought for our continued freedom.  I’m sorry, it’s not.  It’s because they have been exploited through their love for their nation and their belief in its stated ideals.  Their lives have been wasted to promote our corporate greed and American egoism.  Old, wealthy men sit in richly furnished rooms and send young men to their deaths to protect the interests of our largest corporations, especially the petroleum companies.  They don’t only benefit from the loss of these young lives, but they siphon off billions in taxes that should go to help these veterans in the name of corporate welfare and the bleak illusion of “trickle-down” economics, which most of us know is a sham that should be obliterated from the face of economic policy forever.

Our soldiers aren’t preserving the land of the free anymore.  They are preserving the plutocracy that spends their lives while oppressing the poor here at home.  They are protecting the interests of the wealthy who manipulate the government to enrich themselves at the cost of the middle class.

None of this detracts from the commitment and dedication of those who serve, but is meant as an indictment on those who exploit these servicemen to their own greedy ends.

I’m tired of seeing young men sent to die in old mens’ wars.  I’m sick of pictures of flag-draped caskets mourned over by young wives with toddlers in tow.

Not to mention that for every flag-draped casket we bring home, the caskets of 50-100 innocents are carried through the streets and buried back overseas, victims of our war on terror.

I’m sick of our nation’s fetish for military might and marshal superiority.  I’m sick of the glorification of violence as a means to another self-centered end.  I’m sick of the rank conceit that what America thinks is best is therefore simply best.

If we are the greatest country in the world, we should start acting like it.  Enough with killing people to fix things.

My perfect Veterans Day would be a cease and desist to all foreign military conflict.  It’s not a realistic view, of course, because so much of the world is committed to killing as the primary means of preserving a nation’s interests, and we’re so much better at it than most.  But an end to imperial excuses for military action would be a bit of a start.

You can’t kill people and claim to be pursuing peace.

Therefore honor our veterans, both living and scarred and fallen and lost, but honor not the system that sent them to suffer and to die.

Honor them in the hope that somehow, they will be the last.

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Will You Join in Our Crusade?

Anthony does write, to be sure.

But sometimes Anthony gets to sing.

Friday night will see the opening of our local production of Les Miserables.  We are a small town theater group, so what we’ve done is recreate the 10th/25th Anniversary Concert format.  We’re costumed, with a choir and 12 piece orchestra, and we’ve trimmed it down to about a 2-1/2 hour dramatized concert with slides and video to tie the story together.

It’s really coming together very nicely.

And who am I in this production?

That was actually a veiled hint.  Who am I?  I’m Jean Valjean.  Heady stuff, isn’t it.  It’s the most demanding singing I’ve done in probably 20 years, and it’s honestly a dream come true for me.  I hope I do it justice.

If you’re close enough to local, here are the deets:  Friday August 1st 7:00pm and Saturday August 9th 7:00pm at the Robert Stanton Theater in King City.

I would love to see any and everyone come support community theater.

The Stage Hands Presents: Les Miserables

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Happy F***ing Father’s Day

So, Father’s Day has come and gone.

Mine was very nice. I got the sweetest cards from my wife and my daughter, and of course a wonderfully funny and insulting one from my sons, because that’s how they roll.

And I did think about my dad.

He’s been gone six years now, a bit of an early exit at 65. It’s very bittersweet, because my feed was filled yesterday with wonderful tributes to dads gone too soon, or gone at a reasonable time, but missed nonetheless.

My relationship with Dad was hard in a lot of ways. He was a broken person and hard to be around. He and my mother separated when I was 7, eventually divorced. I didn’t see him again until I was 14. I heard from him a handful of times during those seven years.

He loved to blame others for everything that went wrong in his life. He didn’t want to trudge the longer road to normalcy and success – whatever that might have looked like. He wanted to cut to the chase, go right to the top. He got opportunities on the great force of his personality – charisma he had in spades. He lost those opportunities on the lack of his follow through and humility. Hope always turned quickly to paranoia and that to failure.

He once told me that the reason he didn’t buy me the birthday present I’d hoped for – that he’d hinted I’d get, because when he was shopping he found this pair of shoes he always wanted, and man, how often was he going to get a chance to get those, right?

He did have this period in the late 80’s – early 90’s when he was in pretty good shape. He was living in San Francisco and I spent a lot of time up there with him. We went to a lot of AA meetings, where I learned a lot about life that I still hold on to today. He had started and run a plant-leasing business that did pretty well for him for years. After an injury he ended up managing a very nice restaurant near Union Square and doing very well there for a number of years.

He also got hooked on Vicodin.

For years I was the sounding board for his increasingly fucked up thinking. I just listened without judgment as best I could at the time, because I knew nobody else would. I didn’t know what else to do.

I couldn’t reject him. Not after I’d got him back after so long.

It was a long torturous road from that last bout of normalcy to the ICU in Sacramento where his liver finally killed him. The combination of way too much Vicodin and the years of damage from his early chemical dependencies were not going to leave him be in the end. I confess I was both crushed and relieved.

From this you might think that I didn’t like the man, that I resent him, am angry at him. That’s not the case.

And you might think he was a monumental asshole, the worst in self-centered sociopaths. That is also not the case.

You see, he really did try.

The part I haven’t mentioned is the part where a supremely talented, intelligent, gregarious, charismatic person gets damaged so severely that he never quite heals right. He never can fix all the broken pieces.

My dad was abused by no less than 4 different people during his childhood, either verbally, physically, or sexually. All of these people were people who should have been looking out for him – some whose paid responsibility was to do so. Instead they victimized him in the  worst way, when he was most vulnerable.

So many stories we hear of people who are victimized, especially sexually, are stories of overcoming, of rising above.  But they don’t all overcome, and they can’t all rise above.  If you throw someone far enough down in the ravine, they can’t always climb up. And if they try to climb, and the response they receive is not a rope, but another rock cast down on their heads, at some point the climb becomes too hard, too much.

My dad tried. He tried so hard. He climbed and scratched and clawed, not always aware of who he was hurting while he tried to find purchase, any handhold or foothold to haul himself up.  Many tried to help him along the way, later on, but it was like trying to save a drowning person who wouldn’t stop thrashing and flailing about. If you kept trying, you too were going to get hurt or drown in the process.

But at least he tried.

I do have resentment.  I resent the people who hurt him then went on living.  I resent those who damaged him, then went on to find the stability and fulfilling life my father craved.  While I’m sure their existence wasn’t perfect, neither was it the tortured scrabble up the cliff face Dad attempted and, in the end, never really achieved.

I’m glad he tried.  I’m glad he clawed and scratched, I’m glad that he did what he could to be a Dad to me and my brother. I’m proud of him for trying again and again, in his own fucked up way, to get it together. In a traditional sense he failed. But he did all that he could.

And to hell with anyone who doesn’t think that was enough.

I love you Dad, and I always will.

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You Must Say It Right

Our local theater group, The Stage Hands, recently finished a two week run of The Laramie Project.

I had the privilege of playing the “Greg Pierotti” set of roles.  It was my first time getting back on stage in some seven years.  Over the last decade I’ve done more directing than acting.  I’m a bit of a control freak, so that probably suits me.

The treatment of gay people in this country is an issue that I have a heart for.  There are a number of people I cherish in my life who identify as gay, and their marginalization, while it is slowly easing up, is an insult to the basic freedoms we have as individuals in the U.S.

I appreciate very much the opportunity to dig into the emotional lives of people who were just trying to come to terms with the complexities of the situation.  The killing of Matthew Shepard forced the people of Laramie to face prejudices and feelings they probably hadn’t thought about even once in their lives.

We also had the chance to have a few young people from the local high school’s new LGBTQ Club attend our final full dress and have a chat afterward.

Our small town is a pretty conservative place.  Our theatre group has an older, somewhat conservative audience, for the most part.  We didn’t know what sort of reaction we would get.

What surprised me is how overwhelming and positive the feedback I received was.  We had several people come to 2 or 3 of the 4 performances.  There were tears and thoughtful conversation after each show.

The Stage Hands has built decades of history on comedies, musicals, and the occasional mystery.  It’s great to know that our audience has such big hearts too.

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