Submission: The Indoor Kids

Update, 12/12/11:

 Great googily-moogily, I was awarded something for my efforts.

The Indoor Kids

 just emailed me to let me know they'd selected me for one of their prizes - 

The Art and Design of Gears of War

. It's a book, which is probably better for my brain than an Xbox.

To find out how I acquired this prize, read on...

Recently, one of my favorite podcasts -

The Indoor Kids

- announced a contest, the prizes for which include an Xbox 360. The theme of this contest is

Gears of War

, a third-person shooter game with which I have limited experience at best. Still, since I had played the game a bit and I'm on something of a gaming kick again (see




) I thought I'd give it a go with that most powerful and not-at-all-cliché medium: The Personal Narrative. Enjoy.

Dry Spell

I don't own a console system, for a few different reasons. I haven't had one since I was about eight or so, when our dad brought home a knock-off Colecovision bought from some shop on one of our trips to one of the many membership campsites we attended along the East Coast. The thing had an integrated keyboard - though for what exactly I never discovered - the kind that had the keys just printed on overlaid, pebbled plastic so you had to jam your knuckles again and again to even get it to acknowledge a keystroke or two.

I remember the display was various shades of orange, and that we had to change the dial on our old TV with a clenched fist to access its feed. We played a knock-off 

Pole Position

 (my personal favorite, though I kept wishing the cars could shoot, like a knock-off 

Spy Hunter

), a knock-off 


, a knock-off 


, and the television barked those electronic grinding noises that passed for sound simulation at the time. It was magic, even if I knew it wasn't the genuine article. That machine cast a spell that kept me coming back to it and trying again, in spite of whatever serial programming or Technicolor cartoon might be on.

The main reason that I don't own a console system is a similar one to why I don't buy

Chewy Chips Ahoy!

at the grocery store (unless I'm drunk). If it's in the apartment, I will wring it dry, 'til I'm dehydrated and there are rings around my eyes. My awareness of my own lack of self-control saves me from many things (unless I'm drunk). Video games are among these, kept company by puppets and baked goods.

A few years ago, however, I rediscovered an antidote to this approach. When the Knock-Off Console kicked it, which couldn't have been 


 long after we first exposed it to actual electricity, my dad resolved never to buy another. He'd seen the mountaintop, and was satisfied there'd be no greater heights; particularly if it was going to continue plumbing the depths of his wallet. In desperation, I left the house, and found my friends. Here an actual Colecovision, there a Nintendo. This guy had a VGA monitor, that girl could afford Super Mario 3. But piecemeal gaming was bound to make me fall behind, and by the time I went away to school the trickle had dribbled out completely.

Still found money for Chewy Chips Ahoy! somehow, though.

Anyway, a few years ago my sister moved in with her boyfriend, a nascent stand-up with a love for comicbooks and video games. Once I got over the idea of him being some kind of stealthy, geek Lothario, I started hanging out. I fell into that familiar pattern, but with a new twist: co-op play. The game of choice for this was, of course, 

Gears of War


I'd never played anything like it, even when sampling the latest fare at one of those kiosks at Virgin stores, edging my way around familiarly eager eight-year-olds. In terms of co-op, 


 has a dynamic that's particularly rewarding, and Dom is a great character to play when you're kind of fresh to the whole thing. I still think sometimes of that duck-and-cover motion out of nowhere, like I used to see Tetris shapes in every building and street sign. We would play with those tremendous senses of frustration and accomplishment that let you know when you're really in a game. I hadn't felt that compelled to "try again" when we bombed on a mission since 

Commander Keen

; and that, my friends, is saying something.

All good things end, and eventually my sister and her boyfriend broke up. I'd be lying if I said I considered any part of that break-up more tragic than the sudden clamping off of my 


 supply. I can't complain - I got a good year of 


 and the first few scenes of 


 out of it. That probably seems like scraps to live on, but they were some tasty scraps. It's probably for the best, but I can't help wondering if I'll get to experience how 


 ends someday. If I'll get to try again.


Last night I participated in a unique sort of developmental reading of a couple of handfuls-worth of short plays by

Friend Nat

. I say unique because Nat interspersed original songs amidst the short scenes, all of which scenes had to do with love, or some variation thereon. I mentioned it reminded me of a mix tape, which I think is a pretty accurate description of the evening. Do you have a friend who's as romantic as the most romantic Beatles covers, but also heavy into The Beautiful South and Nick Cave in terms of his comic sensibilities? That mix tape. (With maybe a few sound bites from a couple of horror movies tossed in for flavor.)

The evening surprised me. Lately, I've not been feeling all too fired up about acting opportunities. (That's a little frightening to confess, but these appetites come and go, sometimes regardless of the bigger picture.) We held the reading at the distinguished

Players Club

 - only my second time there - and in the library, which is just a fascinating room. Actually, the whole place is fascinating. It was founded in 1888 by the esteemed Edwin Booth and others of historical import as a "gentleman's club" for the dramatic arts. It's just chock full of portraits and books and busts and photographs of people who don't necessarily get a lot of recognition outside of theatre history courses. For me, it's sort of a giddy conglomeration of things I geek out about: old New York, well-loved opulence, history and little-recalled theatre artists and variety performers.

The surprise in the evening for me, however, had to do with the reading itself. There was a small group of fellow writers for an audience, and we sat through the whole reading. Really a rather casual affair, and all of the pieces were comic in some respect or other. Nat's an adept craftsman (and irritatingly broadly skilled, not to mention) so the scenes were all interesting and highly functional. I had my favorite, and luckily I was reading in it, so I looked forward to that and relaxed and enjoyed the musical interludes. I had no reason to expect anything profound to happen to me. It did, though.

Profound, but not uncommon. It's just that it's been a while for me. I got absorbed in the character and the situation, seemingly effortlessly, and had the good fortune to be paired with an actor with whom (though I had never met her before) I clicked. I could


 the scene in such a way that, really, any and every moment on stage should feel like. Regardless of that standard, it has been a while since I felt it, and it leaves me also feeling enormously grateful; and full of craving.

The past year or so has seen a lot of backstage work for me. I put more energy into producing and directing,

The Action Collective

and writing, not to mention all the areas of my life outside of the theatre. There was intention to these choices, and a fair amount of gut instinct as well. As I get older, I find my relationship to acting changing by subtle but surprising degrees. There's a sense as an actor - or at least a New York actor of my background - that every job at least represents an opportunity for more, and that the exceptions are the jobs you


take. That was a great policy in my twenties, but even in my latter twenties I was getting a little worn on the idea of swallowing everything I was served, and now it doesn't work for me at all. A certain amount of choice and creative control are essential; hence the backstage exploration.

However: Nothing really matches the magic that happens when you can give yourself over completely to an acting opportunity. If I could muster that for every opportunity, I would still be saying yes to every one that came my way, because it's utterly addicting. That feeling of living in the moment, of something unplanned yet true and apt, it defies comparison to drugs or love or other extremes. It's some strangely selfless sense of self, and outward-reaching passion that is as structured and improvisational as music. I love it.

So perhaps having a more limited (or selective?) access to that sensation is a helpful thing in my life at this time. Addictions, no matter how healthful to begin with, are not exactly aids to a fulfilled life, and I would rather have a handful of rare experiences than a gluttony of empty ones. Maybe there'll be a little more board-treading in the coming months as a result of last night's taste. I just hope I can find the opportunities that feed me as much as I feed them.

An Open Letter, A Frank Admission

Loyal Reader:

You may have noticed that I disappeared for some time and, upon my return, posted a mere single entry. It was even about a "special interest" that you may or may not share (as opposed to my usual, mainstream, populist fare). I apologize for the break in ma'blogging. The reasons are myriad, but primarily it has to do with 1} leaving June 29th for Italy, for a month, and 2} el jobbo del day

freaking 'asploding

in the process. Not as in disappearing in great, orangey fireballs -- oh no. More as in becoming a flurry and confusion of paperwork, urgent need and confused requests. I am John McClane here, armed only with a three-hole-punch, barefoot, and confronted with a floor full of shattered protocol.

And I have missed you, Dear Reader. Issuing these missives on a regular basis is a sort of regulatory function for my psyche and, even when rather few comments come irregularly rolling in, I trust that every so often someone out there is getting something out of my rambling as well. (A what-not-to-do warning or two, at the least.) Hence this letter -- to reconnect a bit, explain this and potential future delinquencies, and of course to catch you up on what's gone down in the interim. Hopefully this will not take as long to compose as

my last entry

did, continually interrupted as it was. Truly, once in Italy I will be armed with


, and hopefully a wi-fi connection, and then you will be in for 'blog entries


. I will leave it to you to maintain your composure during that thrilling month.

Apart from work, things have been otherwise eventful since Camp Nerdly. I've continued revising


when I may, maintained my attendance at

Friend Cody

's aerial silks classes, conferred somewhat with

Friend Andrew

over an exciting little project and even participated in

a staged reading


a new company

(new to me, that is). It was really a terrible weekend, though, as Friend Patrick suffered

a painful and sudden loss

. I was lucky enough to find out about it quickly, and talk to him a very little, and even see him on Sunday. He's off to his hometown now, and my heart goes with him and his family; he's sharing a lot about his brother James at

Loose Ends

, and I wish I'd had a chance to meet him. And finally, amidst a blissful absence of fanfare (unless repeated text-message vibrations count), I turned 32 years of age on Tuesday.

Wife Megan

and I celebrated with a quiet dinner at a favorite Astoria spot, and the rain magically held off for a day, so we enjoyed it outside.

Life, she does not stop. Not for nothing.

It's funny how quickly we can lose track of ourselves, most especially when we're busy. As Patrick will attest, "busy" is my favorite state of play, yet lately I have been wondering if I'm not losing sight a bit of some of the more important details of my life. Little things like moods, and daily thoughts, and daily actions. These are the minutiae that make up a life as much as the bigger issues (work, relationships, society-at-large) and they're most definitely getting away from me just now. In an effort to corral some of 'em, I've been trying once again to shed my chronic onychophagia for the past week. This is a little bit like quitting smoking, in that it occasionally makes me want to PUNCH EVERYBODY. So perhaps it's not all that helpful to my mood as such, but you have to start somewhere. Next up -- somehow diverting the instinctive, murderous rage I feel when blocked by people on the sidewalk/stairs/subway platform.

And so, Most Sweet Reader, no profound insights into the nature of art and life today. No, just a little address of things in general and a wish for your happiness. If I see you in person in the coming weeks, please forgive any distracted behavior, or general slip-ups on my part. I am happily busy, but June is a wild month so far. Just smile and nod, and maybe give me an affectionate chuck on the shoulder. Say, "Atta boy, Jeff. Just keep swinging."

But if you see my fingers rise to my mouth, you punch me. You punch me right square in the oral fixation.

"This is me breathing . . . "

says John Cusack's character, Martin Blank, as he prepares for his ten-year high school reunion by almost unconsciously loading a clip into his handgun and checking the chamber. I love

Grosse Point Blank

. It's an incredibly irresponsible movie with nothing but reverence for a by-gone era, some violence, and a whole lot of cynically glib dialogue. Love it, love it, love it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm constantly searching for open calls for the casting of

GPBII: Son of Blank

. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Movie quotes play through my head with about the same frequency as songs do, so there's nothing unusual about having one take up residence there for a little while, and the more I enjoy a movie, the more I've seen it, and there you go. Still, I try to take notice when one seems particularly stubborn about hanging onto my hippocampus, and this is one that has done just that. I'm not saying that a quote is recalled just for the purpose of trying to communicate something to myself. Rather, I think that when I do recall a quote, or snatch of song, some part of brain is working tirelessly away on some worry or other and recognizes the meaning. The old gray matter can be like a room full of people, and one of them can recognize something in another and say, "Oh man, don't leave yet. So-and-so's just


to meet you." And so, on the three-hundredth and sixty-second internal repetition, a connection is made.

This is me breathing . . .

I'm a nail-biter. I don't mean that as a colorful expression of my anxious personality. Rather, I am literally a nail-biter. I try to be better about it. I generally fail. It's called chronic onychophagia, by the way, and only about 10% of men past the age of 30 engage in it. It's a rather complicated little symptom/condition. Lots of theories surround it. It's often coupled with other supposed compulsive behaviors, such as hair removal, skin removal, excessive washing, etc., and so often associated with obsessive/compulsive disorders. But it can also be diagnosed as a simple ingrained behavioral response, or an addiction, or as a kind of sublimated grooming instinct. I don't know quite what to make of it, except to say that I do it when I'm bored and when I'm anxious, occasionally without conscious thought, and that I find it enormously gratifying for some reason. I'd also like to stop.

This is me breathing . . .

I have many habits. I have a lot of trouble distinguishing between my habits and possible compulsive behaviors. I'm just not sure where one draws the line. My chronic onychophagia (it's just a fun way to say it) is probably the most physically destructive h/pcb I currently engage in, though my sincere and abiding love of good beer is obviously not a huge benefit to my person. I've had worser ones in the past -- such as smoking -- but really, most of these behaviors are a little more mental than demonstrative. They may occasionally creep out in behavior, like finger-tapping or object-arranging, but as I've matured (ahem: grown older at least in terms of years) these demonstrations have lessened, either by will or accident. Because the h/pcbs can be so inexplicably internal, I often wonder just how unique they are, how many others experience them in the ways I do? I know I'm not alone. I know that. But is it maybe everyone, in their own ways? Is there a norm after all?

This is me breathing . . .

They sometimes say (They being rather fond of sweeping generalizations) that life happens in cycles, and not just the easily observable variety, such as birth-life-death, or spring-summer-fall-winter. Coincidence, in the purest meaning of the word, occurs over and over again. When a celebrity dies, we await the next two to follow. Read a book about little people and, though you'd swear it's never happened before, you'll notice nearly a dozen just going about your day. The cause-and-effect is difficult to track here, though plenty of people will chalk it up to simple mental association. The brain does have a habit of seeking out patterns, rhythms and symmetries. Yet I'm inclined to believe that the world outside our minds meets us halfway, more often than not. I'm not proposing anything particularly mystical here; linear logic simply doesn't explain everything. Take, for example, weddings. What is the explanation for my attending four weddings in the next four months, including my own, and the three others that friends of mine are attending during that same period? Incidences align, and it seems to me that attributing such alignments solely to human behavior is at best naive, at worst arrogant. It's just that we're a little obsessed with ourselves, and a little in love with answers. We're also a little in love with mystery, which I admit keeps me returning to a sense of wonder when I'm given the option.

This is me breathing . . .

I've been using

The Big Show

to help motivate me in recent efforts to curb my chronic onychophagia, which is in one sense apt, and in another, ironic. The last time I was particularly successful in ceasing the mania was during rehearsal for

The Glass Menagerie

, way back in 2002. I was playing a guy bent on self-improvement, who cared a lot about the impression he made on others, and it helped. Wherefore, then, ironic? Because one thing I have figured out about this behavior is that it is provoked by anxiety. When I got my first job, with a moving company, they told us that the two most stressful occasions in a person's life are a moving day and wedding day. Well, I'm here to tell you that the days leading up to said day are no piece of cake, neither. Planning a wedding is rife with reasons to return to old, comforting cycles, from the politics of negotiation to the inner-searching of a person preparing to make the change of his and/or her li(f/v)e/s. God bless. It's enough to make a fella' return to smoking.

This is me breathing . . .

Where experience and discovery meet, that's good acting. You want your performance to be informed by all you've seen and done, to be true to your understanding of the world, but also to embody the questions that live in a new, first-time moment. Acting in the theatre can satisfy both my compulsion for repetition and order, and my appetite for surprise and wonder. The ultimate balance between the two is an incredibly fragile thing: It only exists for half moments, most of the time, and most of the time such moments can't be savored, lest one risks destroying them. They must simply be, and then pass. As a younger actor, I became pretty obsessed with rehearsing a role to mechanical perfection, with making good choices and being able to reproduce them exactly. The majority of my adult craft has been a process of learning about the other side of that coin, about the incredible necessity for surprise and improvisation. Hell: You can't possibly see enough possibilities to be effective without inviting forces of chance to have their say. We're at the mercy of chance -- from found money to global financial market crises -- every moment of every day, so it is in some ways natural to value ritual, to seek cycles.

This is me breathing . . .

We are not, however, our cycles. (Much as we may sometimes like to be.) We're not even our choices. (Although I imagine most of us would desperately insist that is exactly what we are.) No, we're something altogether else, a synthesis of choice and chance, a combination of forces creating . . . what, exactly? Well, us. I don't know how else to say it. With every inhale, and every exhale, forces are at work, within and without. It's a little frightening to think of things this way, but fear and excitement are a couple of those component forces. When I look at things this way, it seems apparent to me that my habits are in substance simply misdirected energy, force that could be applied to making more choices or, perhaps, appreciating more chances. Then again, maybe they're leading me toward their own chances and choices. The best one can do is to keep breathing, through whatever may come.


Srsly. I can has releef? Frum LOLcats nd all ther kaind?

I feel like such a freaking doof (read: doofus, only less significant). I was generally aware of the LOLcat phenomenon when it began to crystallize into what it is today, but then I forgot about it. I mean, it's pictures of cats, with blocky fonts applied. It will not affect my life. Or so I assumed...

For those of you not in the know, worry not:

Wikipedia's got you covered

. It includes gems of explanation for the LOLcat phenomenon like a link to the brief


(get it?) article devoted to them, and paraphrasing their use grammar thusly -- "Common themes include jokes of the form 'Im in ur




-ing ur

related noun

.'" It also links me to

this interesting wiki-nugget

, which helps me to understand why I am so enamored of teh LOLcats. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I must explain my love-hate relationship.

Everything about teh LOLcats seems engineered to piss me off. (For [nigh endless] examples, go


.) I mean



First of all, it's pictures of cutesy animals, which reminds me utterly of those cat and/or dog and/or other-small-animal mavens one finds in any office of America. You know, she's usually a she, and she has a cubicle covered in pictures of baby ducklings or some such. It just reminds me of porn. Sick, I know, but it does. Those people covet animals like others covet wealth or sex or spiritual fulfillment.

Second, LOLcats are self-generating inside humor, which is just irritating. There's nothing quite so grotesque as when people revel in how "inside" their jokes are. Exclusivity is practically a disqualification from the category of humor, altogether! ("Exclusivity is practically...") Humor is a tool in communication, not exclusion, and though I'm not accusing the LOLcat-erz of intending to do so, they're nevertheless excludin' teh masses. But I lie: A running gag that is largely unappreciated is even more grotesque than a simple inside joke.

Thirdly, the spelling and grammar are intentionally wrong. Do you understand? THE SPELLING AND GRAMMAR ARE


WRONG. That is so messed up! I get irate over misplaced apostrophes, and I'm subjected to dialogue superimposed over cat photographs and written out in "texting" language and gobbledy-gook? Holy sack of hammers! I ought to be trying to eradicate all LOLcats and their makers, not writing a 'blog entry about them.

Yet. I love the LOLcats. It's driving me crazy that I can't get their syntax out of my head. They're responsible for a lot of time wastage of late. They are obnoxious, and not remotely cool, and they are inside and ridiculous, and I heart LOLcats.

I'm beginning to understand why, too. In the first, for reasons inexplicable by modern science, I've been wanting a cat lately. I have been an adamant dog person my entire life, and I still prefer dumb-and-loyal animals (I relate to them better), but cats are more appealing now. I don't know. Maybe it's living in the city this long. I want a pet who knows where to poop and how to get there. More significant for me, however, is this use of language in the photos.

Language is simply cool. In general. It rules. Language is fascinating and mysterious to me, and I enjoy anything that plays with it. Correction: Anything that plays with it

and contains an interior logic

. So people constantly confusing the uses of "take" and "bring" drive me up a wall, and a text message that says "ill talk 2 u later" (You'll talk to me later, or you're ill, and I should bring you soup?) drives me kabonkers. But LOLcats, partly through the profusion of them, have developed a rather complex psychology behind their lunatic ravings. They've even developed a mimic


. Stupid? Oui. Ma forse, anche genius.