Attention Spanning

There's a commonly held opinion that our attention spans are shrinking, and many people attribute that to our rapidly evolving communication and entertainment media. I don't disagree as to the causes for the phenomenon, but I do question that lack of specificity in this summary view of our ability to, and interest, in maintaining attention. I mean, if you take a little time to really examine—

Ooo - lookit - puppies!

What was I saying? Ah, yes: abbreviated attention spans. Was there ever a time in our history when culture didn't seem to be accelerating? You could point to the so-called "dark ages," but what you'd be pointing at would actually be a gap of written record, not some great backward lurch of civilization. No, I believe this sense of cultural acceleration lies more in our psyches and personal perspectives than it does in some larger, more-objective sense of time itself. We are an impatient bunch of creatures. It's part of what motivated us to develop tools and agriculture, and it applies to the human psyche whether you're talking about Twitter or gunpowder. We always want something "better." Ambition and impatience are kissing cousins, at least in my mental genealogy.

I think what we're really talking about when we worry over attention spans is worry over being a part of it all, of being included and/or contributing. I'm talking about more than trending here; perhaps Zeitgeist is a better word, but that still implies a cutting edge, which is more limited than my idea. My idea has less to do with something concrete and static, or even directional, and more to do with movement. Instead of staying ahead in a race, adapting to rhythms and adding something to a dance, maybe. Sometimes we're on the fringe, and sometimes we're setting the beat, but always we want to be in there and a part of it.

Naturally, my idea is going to be an inclusive one. (You can take yourself out of the Unitarian Universalist Sunday sessions, but you can't take the UUSs out of you . . . rself?) But in this case, I tend to be in total agreement with myself, and not just because it's to the advantage of my argument. (I promise. [Myself.]) It may sound like a philosophical argument, and it is, but it's also a practical one. Everything changes, and everything has the potential to change very rapidly, so it's good both to have the willingness to adapt and the centeredness to choose. For me, its akin to the error of multitasking -- namely, that it can't be done effectively. What can be done effectively is to do one thing at a time, and be able to switch tasks rapidly while keeping priorities straight. That can be effective, but true multitasking is a fault to any objective. Unless of course your objective is to make a mess of something.

If our attention spans have, on the whole, gotten shorter, its a result of successful adaptation to our environment, and anyway I don't see it as an irreversible condition. Music can be an amazing salve to a wind-burned attention span. Theatre, too, if one is willing to give it a chance. There's a general idea that entertainment, as such, is also a primary culprit in the criminalizing brevity of our attentions, but there I disagree as well. In fact, entertainment is pretty self-nullifying if it doesn't take us in well enough to influence our sense of time in some way, be it for the better or worse. The word itself, to "entertain," comes from an idea of holding something together. Maybe that refers to people's attentions, and maybe it means keeping the dance alive.

A Myth Gone Public

Last night I attended the public The Public reading of

Christina Gorman

's play,

American Myth

. You may


I attended a reading of her "work-in-progress" back in November, and this was that. I feel more at ease to address the play by name, in spite of it still bearing the WiP nomenclature, because this was a seriously serious reading, my friends. The Emerging Writers Group


, and filled the center section of the Anspacher Theatre (dear God, what a wonderful space!), and I don't want to name-drop here. I really don't. But suffice it to say that there were some very respectable names attached to the acting and directing of the thing. So, Christina, I'm outing you, whatever other work remains to be done on your script.

American Myth

deals with a fictional set of characters, but ones plucked out of the headlines like a

Law & Order

episode (only more insightful, of course). It deals in questions, which is probably my favorite thing about Christina's writing. All plays tend toward argument; conflict, after all, is drama, and vice versa. But there's nothing like a play that encourages one to ask questions rather than deliver a personal judgment, and

American Myth

does this for me. It asks what history is, both personal and national, and what we want or need it to be. It questions the motivations of the supposedly moral, and the supposedly immoral. Maybe it's simply the Unitarian Universalist in me, but I love pondering these questions because I can never be absolute in my judgments of others in my daily life. A play that impartially (hyper-partially, perhaps?) explores all the angles of a moral conflict resonates very personally with me. Plus, the script has all of Christina's usual wit and incisive display of human behavior that I've come to expect from her work.

Actually attending the reading was a sort of strange experience for me. I went by myself, with which I'm normally fine but this time, somehow, felt conspicuous about. Christina was wonderfully and specifically grateful for my attendance, and that went a long way to comforting me; in fact, for the brief moments I was in her presence I felt totally at ease. Yet apart from that, even as I was simply sitting and reading, waiting for the performance to start, I was uneasy and downright riled up. It's taken me a while to put together what could be the source of this, but this morning I realized that it was being so close to so much of what I want . . . and not having it. Of course I couldn't figure that out last night -- I was fully invested in the play and its development. This morning however, as I packed my chattel for

today's workshop in Philadelphia

, I put it together.

As much as I parlayed my feelings of rejection regarding




into moral outrage and philosophical questioning, the fact is that I had allowed myself to become too dependent on the whole effort for the wrong reasons. I very genuinely cared about the story we were trying to tell, of course, and felt committed to our work and intentions. All that was not compromised. However, I had in a way come to rely on the show as a ticket to somewhere, and I have to admit to myself that part of my response (or lack thereof) to the casting changes was petulant and careerist. We had a reading at The Public scheduled, and then I felt it yanked out from under me. Yes, I care about that show; yes, I put good, hard work into its creation; yes, it is deserving of a life beyond our Fringe Festival performances and sacrifices ought to be made to ensure that. But I also want very badly to be valued more than I yet have as an actor, and that very visceral urge pushed on me hard when all of that went down. I had another opportunity to rejoin the process shortly thereafter, which I ignored. Maybe it was because of all the reasons I said, to distance myself from the story we created before, etc. But also, I was hurt by my own sense of slighted ambition.

Believe it or not, I do not want to dwell on that episode, apart from coming clean a bit on the whole thing.

As Far As We Know

continues in its development, and I'm very happy to hear that it lives on. It is wholly deserving of whatever success and attention it can create, as are its current creators. In fact,

Friend Nat

is one of those "creactors," which I find oddly comforting -- he's like a God-father for me. I mention it not just to come clean, but also because what allowed me to realize the source of my anxiety last night was that it felt just like an emotion I used to have in high school and college all the time.

I would sit down in the auditorium, or little theatre, and wait for the lights to dim. I was usually by myself, for whatever reason. (Often, that reason was because it was my third time seeing the show and I had run out of folks who wanted to see it.) I would sit and sit, a mounting sense of anticipation and dread occupying my heart and head. Then the show would begin, and I would get wrapped up in its machinations, but one part of me would always be on the outside of that. That part would feel wrapped up tight, strong, full of urge and impulse. And it would only feel more so after the bows were had, and the applause faded from memory. That urge sits there in every performance and whispers to me,

"I want to do that.

"I want to do that . . ."

Done Taught Some Learnin'

Is it specifically making fun of southern folk when you use that dialect, or just making fun of ignorant folk in general? It's clearly meant to sound southern, but I can't say fer certain if that or the horrible syntax connotes stupidity.

Yesterday I taught as a guest artist in

Suzi Takahashi

's classroom at


. In spite of being mid-cold (oh doh!) I thought it went rather well. The space was awesome: a movement studio built into the ground, so you entered to a sort of balcony overlooking the whole room, and once you descended a flight of stairs you were on a 25x35 wood floor with an approximately twenty-foot ceiling above you. The class was a slightly shifty one, but by that I don't mean they were suspicious in any way. It was a class of about 19, but a few were late, and a few had to leave variously early, and most of them weren't especially interested in theatre. In fact, many of them did turn out to be dance enthusiasts who ended up in the class due to a syllabus error. Nonetheless, they were a great group -- very attentive, and with good energy to put into the work. I worried a bit at the beginning, when some of them were exhausted by the warm-up, but they were mostly crying wolf on that count. The conditioning at the end of class . . . now that rolled them out pretty flat.

I gave them a good long warm-up, explaining as we went why we were doing particular exercises and how they related to the work. Then I got into the typical commedia dell'arte characters, introducing them one-by-one by groups:


, then


, then


. I ended up bring along some cut-outs from a calendar I bought in Italy a couple of years ago. I questioned what I would do with them when I saved them, and now I'm glad I did and surprised that I didn't immediately realize they'd be good teaching aids. Each time I introduced a type of character, we spent a little time on specific versions and always, always, keeping the students moving and trying the forms physically. They took to it beautifully, hopefully aided in that effort by my advice, "You can only fail in this form by NOT making a fool of yourself." We just had enough time to get through the three basic categories, then touch on two "hybrid characters" (Capitano and Pulcinella) before I only had ten minutes for conditioning and homework. We worked our upper bodies today (my sadism in full effect with circle push-ups) and I asked them to observe people for character studies to bring into class when next we meet.

As I say, I had a good time. The experience of teaching solo meant that I had to work a little smarter to get everyone to accept me and glom onto my humor. I hadn't realized how similar to having an audience plant it was to have a co-teacher. I also found myself looking at all this stuff, that I teach and have taught for years, in a fresh light. That really ought to happen with every different group of students, of course, but occasionally I feel less enthused about the whole thing. This time, however, something about the almost total ignorance of the form that the class had motivated me to seek out fresh connections between what they did know and instinctively performed, and what I had to add to it. Sometimes I wonder if my enthusiasm for teaching might be based a bit too much in how occasionally I do it. If I had to teach multiple classes every weekday, would it retain my interest?

Suzi and I had a bit of a conversation about this and other things related to education and making a career in the theatre after class was dismissed. She has had a very interesting (and informative, for me) path through acting, directing, bachelor's, master's and even PhD programs, and at present is adjunct teaching quite a bit in New York and elsewhere. We talked about what it was like to return to school, to teach and to get jobs in the academic theatre scene and the world at large. I don't know what to make of all we discussed just yet, but it was great to talk so openly about what I plan to do with my life over the next few years. I ended up being more plain than I generally am with other theatre folk (networking always being in the back of my mind somewhere) and learned a lot about what I see for myself and what I'd like to see.

Now this is a funny point for me. Generally speaking, I like to talk here about the tribulations and rewards of what I call

The Third Life

, meaning what one does in addition to a personal life and a money-making life. More and more, that distinction has come to seem artificial to the point of being obsolete. The artistry for me is not a separate part, even when the goals may seem to be in conflict with the other two parts. Catholics may prefer the divine paradox, but as for me, I was raised Unitarian, so I guess we all should have known I'd take it in that direction eventually.

Assuming that unity as real, or at least as a prospective goal, suddenly my vow to generally leave the minutiae of my personal life out of the 'blog is unwarranted. Basically unhelpful and wrong, in fact. All is one.

That having been said, don't worry: I'll still try not to flood the Internet with things like a detailed schedule of my flatulence. (Note to self: New social networking site idea: "Tooter.")

My point (and this time I do have one) is that it feels very personal,


personal, to talk completely openly here about what I want for my future. But it also feels like I need to get past that, in a way, because part of what makes me feel vulnerable is an awareness that I'll be held more accountable for anything that makes it down in type here. So I may not be as open as I could be, but henceforth I'll be more open than I have. Balance in all things, as they say. This may be a little old-dog/new-tricky for me, of course.

But, as they say, it's never too late to learn.


This year has had, for me, a lot to do with gratitude. That's not try to say that my life is oh-so great. There's plenty more that I would achieve, but I am awful happy with what I have, and I feel like it's all owed to something greater than me, whether that be God or simply a community of friends and family that love and support me. (Or both...?) Whatever the reason, I have a tremendous sense of gratitude that it's a little difficult to express properly. There are too many people to thank. There doesn't seem to be a personal enough way to accomplish that ample thanks.

"I'd like to start by thanking, well,

the academy


{ thirty-seven minutes later... }

"...and you like me! You really, really,


like me!!!"

It is very easy to mock someone for having a sense of gratitude, and I suppose it is a fine line between sincere gratitude and ingratiating praise, or an inflated sense of inner goodness. Truth be told, though, I think we're rather inclined to mock gratitude because it's an immensely vulnerable emotion, both for the one expressing it and the one it is being expressed to. The mockery (or sarcasm, a family favorite of mine) is a defensive action. I don't know if we're more afraid of having our egos inflated, or of being shot down by another's refusal of a heartfelt emotion, but either way thanks are often hard to give and to receive.

With all the feelings of gratitude I've had of late, I've felt a bit like a hippy. I was kind of raised by hippies. Not my parents (the professor and reverend Wills missed most of what we now think of as the 60s), but my church was a pretty peace-and-lovey place. We went on "retreats" out to the woods, and people brought acoustic guitars, and we'll leave it at that for now. (Perhaps my parents saw this as making up for lost time?) I don't believe all Unitarian Universalist congregations had quite the same flavor of far-out-itude as mine. Our first minister carried a walking staff during the children's services (he was pretty old, though [he is still my mental image of Gandalf {the


}]). UUs really are some of the most loving people in the world, but some of us take it to a degree of tenderness that makes me want to smack them around, just a little bit. Just to alert them to the possibility that not everything in the world today is beautiful and purposeful. Yet lately, I have been one such hippy. I worry that perhaps I'm coming across as someone newly in love, who can't help but be a bit obnoxious about it.

On the up-side, this has all reminded me of my religious feeling. Don't go -- I'm not about to proselytize! By "religious feeling," I mean something that goes by many names, none of which I generally use: the Holy Spirit, zen, transcendent awareness, etc. It's a feeling of connectedness to the world, a feeling of receptiveness, and holy crap but it is a difficult feeling to maintain in New York City. This feeling would come to me in nature a lot when I was young, occasionally in church, and almost always during holidays with my family. I feel as though I have lost contact with this feeling for a good portion of the past six years, actually, and maybe more, and that's a frightening thought. I'm glad I rediscovered it.

So that's one more thing to make me all hippy-dippy grateful in general. Dang it!

This begs the question, "Where did it go?" Or, perhaps more to the point, "Why?" I mean literally


the question, because I'm a little desperate to understand it so that it doesn't happen again, or at least for so long. This feeling is vital to my ethics, whatever role you may believe God does or doesn't play in it all. When I operate from a feeling of gratitude, I make better choices, I do more good, I feel better and more possibilities open up to me. I am a better actor, simply as a result of being a more receptive and comprehensive listener. So. With all this goodness, all this pay-off, why would such an outlook ever be dismantled, or lost?

I've been seeing an acupuncturist lately for my various difficulties related to

my injury of about two years past

. This has been an interesting experience for me. One of the challenges of this particular therapy is that it is, after all, meant to relax a fellow, to improve flow and movement in body and energy. Second to shouting "RELAX!" at me, embedding my muscles with dozens of needles is a uniquely counter-intuitive process for getting me to relax. I have no great fear of needles, mind; what I have is a natural tendency to resist pain through tension and sheer, torqued will. I also have a bit of a thing about being immobile, and immobility is a key component to the beneficial acupuncture experience, as I have recently (painfully) learned. So: challenges. When my acupuncturist embeds a needle in a particularly lively point, I must not tense, I must not tremble, I must not resist. I must accept the pain, I must release the resistance, I must, in other words, allow the pain to pass through me. It's the only way to move forward into healing.

I was going to write that pain is what makes maintaining a sense of gratitude so difficult, but it isn't; not really. It's our responses to pain that can make gratitude difficult. I have to acknowledge now that my years of disconnect from being "in the spirit" were largely a result of my reaction to being hurt. I closed some important parts off. It's not a reasonable response to pain, no matter how vital an act of self-preservation it may seem. It arrests life, and it causes such a narrow perspective that great opportunities can be lost, terribly harmful choices made. That's neither an excuse nor an apology -- I'm not sure I could have done things any differently had I known to. It is, however, an acknowledgement that I can improve. I have to improve. I will. Feeling grateful is stronger than a feeling of hurt, if we give it a chance.

I never would have realized any of this, never even have rediscovered my sense of gratitude, without everyone who's crossed my path since I lost it. From my parents right across the board to whatever as-yet anonymous readers here there may be. So: Thank you.

Yes, you. I mean it. Thank you.

Meet you out in the woods this weekend. Bring a guitar.

A Little Inside

Friend David recently examined past entries of mine (specifically, regarding my trips to California and Italy last year), and rather inadvertantly reminded me that

Odin's Aviary

here has gotten a little "inside" over the year. That is to say, there are certain terms and jokes here that new readers (those clambering at my virtual door daily) may not appreciate. I anticipated that when I started writing here. I have a penchant for nicknames, quotes and running gags, all of which -- when put in a long-term context -- lend themselves to coming across as a little inside. My apologies. This habit, however, has led me to an interesting discovery. An accident, to be sure, but one of the kind I enjoy and can't help taking some interest in.

Throughout the history of this 'blog thus far, I have used approximations of those irritating little marks one finds at the end of words or terms claiming rights to those words or terms. Trademark, copyright, rights reserved, patent pending, kosher . . . etc. (I know, for instance, that you can't patent language [apart from code, I think] or qualify it as "kosher," but I enjoy pretending you can.) This running gag originated from a variety of sources. One was a conversation with

Friend Kate

over the frustration of people trade-marking names of various forms of acrobalance. Another was the discovery that the word "superhero"(TM) had been trade-marked. It's all a little absurd, and I dig absurdity, so I dig into it in my little ways.

Along these lions, when I introduced my term

The Third Life

(r), I made sure to follow it with a little glyph of ownership, and have continued to do so with some regularity ever since. For some reason, it never ocurred to me to check into this, to simply Google-ize the term and see what came up.

Friend David

stumbled upon my 'blog again, did a little reading and, confused by the inside-term of

The Third Life

(c), decided to do just that. And what do you know? It ain't mine. I stole. From the Dutch. From a priest!

There was this dude: Jan van Ruusbroec, and in


(cripes!) he wrote a book called

The Spiritual Espousals

. This book was comprised of three parts, and the last is called

The Third Life

, or,

The Contemplative Life

. From what I can glean


, Ruusbroec (van) was a part of a period of spiritual humanism in Flanders, and he got into some hot water for this third part of his book, because some felt it suggested pantheism or -- still worse, I'll just betcha -- that humans could come to a level with God (that's with a capital Gee). I'm still absorbing how he thought that was possible, but I get the feeling behind it. Particularly the bit about everyone having a portion of the divine within. We Unitarian Universalists tend to be a pretty humanistic bunch, and I tend to be a humanist who craves spiritual experiences, so I'm right there with Jan in at least one respect.

It is curious, though, that my phrase (Jan's phrase) should be used to describe a philosophical way of life at all, much less one that purports to be an alternative, and to emphasize enlightenment. Almost as much as I enjoy absurdity, I also enjoy coincidence. The pragmatism in me wages constant war with the inspiration -- as does the humanism with the spiritualism? -- and though it's always brief, every so often the inspiration wins a battle or two. This would be one such case. The connection between our use of the term is thin, yes, and I know we arrived at it from completely different . . . well,


. Nevertheless. I am given pause. And I was taught that when I receive a gift, I should say "thank you."

When I use the term

The Third Life

(Copyright van Russbroec, 1335), I mean to refer to two things: the time an artist spends on his or her artistry, and that whole life in general, the one in which the artist makes a choice to devote time to their art. It may seem obvious. The conventional definition of an artist might be "one who makes art," but come on. I mean, really.


wouldn't accept that. It's horrible for me to imagine, but there have probably been millions of gifted, necessary artists throughout history who simply never made the choice to pursue their art. Though they're none of them mutually exclusive, it's tough to balance life, love and art. It's tough


they're not mutually exclusive. This 'blog is a journal of one guy's attempt to create that balance, and improve it, in his life. Even the bits about comicbooks and fart jokes.

I don't mean to suggest that art = divine enlightenment by this comparison. Indeed, I would never presume to suggest that I have any generally useful insight into what is or isn't divine. (I even view it as going out on a limb to declare that to err is human, fer Christ's sake.) I will go so far, however, as to say that my quest for an artistic life is a spiritual one for me. Issues of inspiration and creation aside, just the alternating instrospection and communal contact with others that theatre allows me is what I consider a religious experience. Theist or humanist, I am more real, more awake, more alive and in love when I am living my life for something more than personal satisfaction or contentment. Apparently, so was ol' Jan.

Rock on, Jan. Rock. On.