Holding the Mirror Up

As you may have been alerted on The Facebooks, The Twitters and/or ma' brother 'blog, Loki's Apiary, I am performing this week in a short play called Princess. Jason Schafer is the writer of this play, Kay Long directs and Stacey Linnartz performs with me (or really: I with her), to drop a few names for The Googles. This is a tough one to write about midstream, as it were, because to reveal anything specific about the plot sort of jiggles the ride a bit too much. Suffice it to say that I play a young husband and father having a rather important conversation with my wife, about our son.

As you may also know from The Everythings, Wife Megan and I recently invited a new addition to our little family. Anton is not quite the same as having a son, but I have to admit that he has been full of more lessons and surprises -- not to mention, less sleep -- than I had imagined. A series of his more worrisome idiosyncrasies:
  • He's named Anton . . . and I didn't name him. That was his name when we adopted him, and as a theatre enthusiast I am required to honor it, and yet everyone we tell responds, "Anton...?" in, you know, that way.
  • Anton's got these stiff back legs, so not much of a jumper. He's not too old, but something's up there. Makes me wonder if he was a dog in a past life.
  • He doesn't like being held, and won't sit in laps. Very affectionate otherwise, though, so maybe it's got something to do with the legs.
  • When we go to bed, anywhere from ten minutes to an hour later he will meow from the other room . . . with question marks at the end. I AM NOT KIDDING. There is no other interpretation. Anton has somehow lost us between the two rooms of our apartment.
  • He's a bit of a biter (not hard), fairly neurotic (see above) and . . . a humper. He humps. Blankets and jackets, mostly. He's neutered, but there you have it. He is humpy.
The son of my character does not have any of these problems (insofar as the script has detailed) but the emotions remind me of our recent feline complications. You worry, at odd times, and you spend a lot of time blindly interpreting, too. Does the love of a cat compare to the love for a child? Certainly not, yet I am surprised by how affectionate I have become of Anton in such a short time, and it reminds me of that old idiom about fathers not really being fathers until they actually get to meet their child.

Worry not, Dear Reader: I am not sense-memory-ing my way through Princess using my cat as an analogue for a son. (I might've in college, though, I have to confess.) I'm just sort of fascinated by the ways in which what I'm making happen and what is happening to me tend to become harmonious when I'm working in the theatre. Neither am I suggesting anything mystical in this -- I tend to view these things from a humanist perspective, at most -- yet it may just say something about how intention and deliberate action can influence one's sense of unity in life. And why the theatre in particular? Well, that may particularly have to do with me, and how much I love it, but it may also have to do with how much more evident observations can become when one is living out loud (much less in front of an audience).

It was actually in college that I really started to notice it, though somehow I aspired to "noticing" it even in high school. It's this "Oh...huh...yes..." kind of moment that occurs in rehearsal, and also starts to occur a bit in life, assuming you're feeling a strong connection to the work. In rehearsal you spend all this concentrated energy saying, for example, the same five words over and over again, in different ways, until at some point you nail it: oh...huh...yes.... It's great. Doesn't happen nearly enough, in my opinion. The act of searching -- not being in a generic search mode, but actively searching -- heightens awarenesses both internal and external. It can feel like a kind of magic, and you want to share it with everyone, but of course not everyone is interested. So, if you're like me, you end up humming quietly to yourself and every so often accidentally effusing all over some hapless and innocent Internet troller such as yourself.

Egad, I <3 the Internet.

Even if you accept my half-formed theories about how this synchronicity comes about, there remain some chicken-and-egg-type questions. Do you perceive a connection because you want to, or because it's pointedly poking you in the deep recesses of your brain? Did your searching begin with rehearsal, or did it start with looking for a job? Are the connections a result of the searching, or vice versa? Am I a proud cat owner because I'm thinking more about parenthood, or am I thinking more about parenthood because I have this weirdo cat, or is it all because of Megan?

Oh; huh: yes. Well, that last one is pretty clear-cut. But the rest are still unanswerable!

Memory Play

They're very interesting to me, memory plays. Memory-anything, really, but particularly memory plays, because plays are live and immediate and ever-changing stories. Some of my favorite and most formative theatrical experiences have been in some fashion memory plays, from

The Glass Menagerie


Franny's Way


As Far As We Know

. What I love about them most, I think, is the added layer of perception and perspective. They can be almost like meta-theatre in their effect, yet without a lot of self-conscious devices. As an audience we get to through layers of distance to empathy and recognition, and as players we get to ask really interesting questions: how true is this rendition, who's influencing the story, how much is this to be played as a unified series of events, and how much as after-the-fact fantasy? Finally, memories are stories we all have within us at every moment of our lives. It is fascinating to be invited into someone else's, real or imagined.

I'm almost done with my series of short plays inspired by reading

Mary Roach

's book,


(thanks, Nat). That is to say, I've almost finished writing a first draft of the whole sequence, as I see it now. It's been a big project, luckily entered into blindly and without expectation, so nearing a complete first draft is at once an accomplishment and a very small step in what ought to be a much longer process, if I really expect this writing to be produced sometime, somewhere. As I see it now, I've one-and-a-half scenes to write and I'll be ready to have that most cringe-worthy experience of early drafts: a first reading. These happen to be the last two scenes, and I'm not certain which will be actually last yet, but I am (maybe) halfway through the one that's actually only a monologue. And, wouldn't you know it? It's a memory play.

Memory monologue? That just sounds stupid, and enforces the idea that a stand-alone monologue has no place in a larger play. So: Memory play.

It's difficult. If I'm doing it right, it is more of a play than a monologue. It should have a little drive behind it, a little "umph" of conflict and action and, above all, it should change something. It's strange how it's all coming out. I've essentially set myself up a challenge: How would someone who lived to a ripe old age tell her life story if she didn't have all the time in the world in which to do it? I've made no preconceived decision about this (at least, not a conscious one). Instead I'm writing as ideas come to me, and trying to keep some feeling of urgency behind it, in conflict with the way in which pausing allows memories to flow better, and holding still allows us to appreciate those memories more. I'm not altogether sure it's working, and I suspect I won't know at all how it's worked until someone -- poor soul -- tries to perform it for me. As a writer, I'm also hampered a bit by knowing where I want to end up with this one. The idea for the end is what started me writing it. Knowing something like that is good for direction but, personally speaking, bad for writing motivation. I'm propelled by exploration, as my rambling 'blog entries must attest, which is what makes revision processes so difficult for me.

I have an ever-changing relationship with memory. Generally speaking, as a kid I took it for granted, as a teenager into young adult I wallowed about in it, as a young man I rather spurned it, and as an adult (or so I'm told I am) I value it in any way I can get it. All of that just adds up to a high value that I place on my stories, good, bad or (rarely) indifferent. Memory is tricky. I'm thinking a lot about the expression, "If memory serves...". Did this saying come about because we see memory as serving us, or because we recognized that memory is an unreliable thing, bound not to serve us? Or was it rather because we're more at the mercy of our memories than they of us? That's the way it seems to me, most of the time. Will I remember Wife Megan's recent warning about the weather forecast? Not a chance. Will I suddenly recall an episode from ten years past so vividly that I feel ashamed most of the day? Highly probable, at any given moment. Ah sentience! What a trade-off!

Finally -- in every sense of the word -- memory is all we are. What we've experienced is who we end up, one way or another, and when we're gone, what really survives past our ashes here but memories of us? So perhaps being lightly in love with memory as a general concept isn't all that strange. Maybe memories are brushes with something far-reaching and universal. They can certainly affect us, albeit some more than others.

And if I write "memories" one more time, will

that damn song

get stuck in your head too? Oh good . . .


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.

ITALIA: June 25, 2007

Here’s how it works in Italy. You get up early. (Don’t worry, that gets justified later in the working plan.) For breakfast, you have very little. (Again: Bear with me.) Then you get right straight to work, usually before it even strikes 9:00. This is part of why coffee is such a valued invention in the boot-shaped nation. Around 1:00 or 2:00, you’re pretty famished, and it is coming on HOT. I mean: HOT. It’s not there yet, but the promise is extant, and you won’t be able to work much longer without food or shelter. So, owing to your tiny breakfast, you have a huge lunch, preferably three courses with water and wine. Now it really is really HOT, and the only thing that makes sense is to go to sleep. Only mad dogs and Englishmen would be about their business after such a meal and in such sun, so you go take a nap in order to digest and allow the sun to burn off a little. Two hours later, say around 5:00 or 6:00, you get up feeling rejuvenated and get back to whatever work you were up to earlier in the morning. You only have a few hours in which to do it, so it goes quickly, and by 8:00 or 9:00 you’re out to walk around and enjoy the cooling night. Maybe you have a little dinner then; it’s the best time for something like pizza. You’ll be up until at least midnight, and maybe later, meeting and greeting and getting up to whatever you generally do with your free time. Then you go to sleep again, but you won’t need to for too long (given your midday siesta) before you’re up to do it all again.

Today we woke early to finish as much of our food as we could manage, pile our towels and sheets and sweep out our home of the last two weeks. Heather bid adieu to il Gatto—the cat who adopted us during our stay (I kept trying to get them to name it something other than “the Cat”)—and we drove into Orvieto for some last goodbyes and to drop off our recycling. Before too long we were back in the car headed for Rome, sans bottle and cans and with a gagillion LinguaSi brochures and a few new gifts for loved ones.

Finding the hotel we were to stay in for the next twenty-four hours was a challenge. It’s quite close to centro, but Rome is laid out according to thousands of years of cart trails and paths. It’s even more confusing than Washington D.C. With David as navigator, we eventually made our way to the place, compromising our morals a bit with oncoming-traffic-challenging U-turns and desperate spins around traffic circles. The room was tiny, but air-conditioned, which we haven’t really had in the two weeks of our stay. We dropped our stuff and marched off to find a restaurant for lunch. The waiter was a real charmer, speaking a mélange of Italian, French and English, and he gave Heather the hardest time. It was marvelous (sorry Heather—it really was), and we left smiling and probably remained that way until we collapsed into our air-conditioned beds for a couple of hours. This was the hottest weather we had yet known on the visit.

A couple of hours and a new shirt later, we were up to do what-you-will about the streets of Roma. Eventually we decided upon visiting the Villa Borghese, a huge park with lots of areas and interesting features. After a few wrong turns, and allowing time for David’s enthusiasm for architecture (there are some beautiful buildings here, but I inevitably find the challenge of navigation distracting) we approached the Museum of Modern Art, which lies across the street from the main entrance to the villa. We climbed a huge set of stairs to discover fascinating spaces of trees and neoclassical sculpture and monuments. People were all over, enjoying the shade or resting from tourism. From a few signs, after walking about a bit, we discovered the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre we had heard about was nearby. Sebastiano had worked on building it, and we had wanted to see it the last time we were in Borghese. So we set out to.

Eventually we found it across the way from a huge track that looked to be for racing horses. It looked fairly authentic from the outside, and we walked all the way around it before we could find a space over the fence to peek through an open door, drawn as we were by the sound of some rustic music being played. Our limited view revealed the stage, covered in dust but being danced on by a large group of people. Huh, thought we. Perhaps a rehearsal. Heather and I postulated, based on the men wearing boots that covered their knees and the nature of the dance, perhaps for Much Ado About Nothing. This happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play. Hey gang, we suggested, let’s check the front to see what their season is.

Molto Rumore per Nulla opened their season…the next night. The night we were supposed to be flying back to America. We raged (raged, I tell you) at the injustice of it all. We went away to fume and admire gorgeous garden features, and of course aimed our way back by the theatre to see what we could see of what was going on there later. This was around 8:30, and the attori seemed to be outside chatting on their phones, lounging. Some were playing badminton, of all things (a favorite show-time activity of Heather and I). We hemmed, and we hawed, and I did everything I could to encourage David to go make introductions through the fence, short of actually suggesting that. We lamented Todd’s absence; this is what he’s made to do, to make instant friends and get us in to the party…even when he isn’t the only one who speaks the language with gusto. David wished aloud for him. I continued to say things like, “Hm…if a bunch of foreign actors asked to see our dress rehearsal…how would I respond?” Heather grew increasingly ironic in her commentary on how we had been sighted, ergo clearly stalking the company.

And then, dear goodness from above, David approached the fence and, after a while of hanging there, got the attention of a slender blonde man (one who had been involved with the badminton). I could barely make out what was being exchanged, but I picked up on the shift in tone as David introduced the fact that we were actors. It was touch-and-go, but the actor he spoke to was on our side and asked us to wait while he consulted his director (also playing Beatrice in the show). We anxiously awaited his return: “Ritornorette alla nove.”

And so, after fifteen minutes to find one food cart in one huge park, we returned at 9:00 and were let into the theatre for their final dress rehearsal. It’s a great reproduction, as far as I could tell. Anyway, it felt great to be in there. That’s rather underplaying it. I was thrilled. From where we sat, in the first floor of the benches, we watched the moon crown over and through the open roof, lighting up the sheets stretched across the stage in preparation for the start of the show.

It was magnificent. Didn’t get a word of it, of course (not entirely true, because I’ve got bits memorized), but it was definitely the best production of it I’d ever seen. As I sat there, savoring the play, I thought about a lot of things. They mostly had to do with the strange paths a life can take, how it can seem like what we want is never exactly what we get, yet what we get can—at just such moments—suddenly seem better than what we could have imagined. It’s a romantic place, Italy, in every sense of the word, and doubtless the last day of our visit was having its effect on me, but it also felt like a tiny, apt miracle to be in that theatre, watching a play we essentially had to ourselves. When the play finished, we wanted to stay but understood what comes after such an effort and how tiring such work can be, so we left. But we made sure to exit across the pit while the cast was gathered on stage, and we waved goodbye and wished “buon spectaculo” to our benefactor.

He waved back and called out, and the entire company joined him, “Grazie ragazzi! Ciao ragazzi!”

We walked late into the Roman night, eventually finding and enjoying Fontana di Trevi for a while. Maybe the clown version of Romeo & Juliet is just a dream, but we had one last Italian-inspired thought on it while there: to make the poster an homage to La Dolce Vita with Heather and I (or Todd, or whomever) wearing clown noses in the fountain. And, of course, before leaving to walk the silent Monday night streets of Rome, we cast coins over our left shoulders and into the fountain without looking back.

It’s a tradition. It guarantees your return.

I Just had a Man's Hand in My Sphincter

Just in case you missed it:

I just had a man's hand in my sphincter.

And hey:

I paid money for it.

What's more:

I bought


from him afterward.

I'm starting to stray from the truth here; technically, I didn't

buy drugs

from him. I paid a service fee, and one of the services he provided was to punctuate my already surprising experience with free drugs. I don't know how else I expected

my urologist

to investigate my recent pelvic muscular pains. MRI perhaps, or that nifty pressure-tapping that they do on your tummy to check for cysts? Well, there was pressure all right. My prostate got the most unromantic massage I have ever experienced.

I apologize for the graphic content of this entry, y'all. I thought about it for a good, like, ten minutes, weighing the pros and cons as the smell of anal lubricant and latex lingered in my nostrils, and my buttockal region wept silently to itself. In some ways, it is unavoidable, as it is the thing foremost in my mind.

Wait. Wait: Straying from the truth again am I. (Fortunate am I spirit of


inhabits self.) The foremost thing in my mind is still finding a new place to live.

Apartment hunting trumps anal violation!

That's right. You heard it here first. At least, I certainly hope this is the first time you've heard it.

Ultimately, it was rather disappointing. I'm led to understand that the prostate is quite the erogenous zone, and that under the right circumstances a little donut pokin' can even feel pleasant. These, however, were not the right circumstances. Even if it hadn't been a fifty-something guy with a brusk demeanor, these circumstances were terribly, terribly wrong. For it seems that, why yes, I


right back in January when I told said doctor that I thought there must be muscle damage in addition to the chemical epididymitis. (He chalked it up to indigestion. Yes: indigestion. Leaving only the question, "If I sue, would I get the money in time to put a down payment on a

Manhattan loft

?") We (See how collective I am in my grammar?) ascertained that there was muscle damage by the EXCRUCIATING PAIN produced when Mr. Brusk pushed against the right side of my prostate, as opposed to the complete absence of such on the left side. Interestingly enough, he went right-left-right, and at first touch I thought that was how the prostate was supposed to feel when poked, and remained mute. Then I felt the left side and thought, "Huh," then I felt the right side again and said "Ouch." Of course, what I was really thinking was, "Dear loving merciful cats make it stop." (So,


? Points to me for my own denial of pain.)

I have been prescribed more of the anti-inflammatory, and given a prescription to attend physical therapy. He knows of at least three therapists who deal with "pelvic floor dysfunction." (Allow me to specifically state that, apart from pain, there is nothing "dysfunctional" about my pelvis. Just in case anyone wondered.) I've given them calls to discover that




) of the physical therapists who specialize in this . . . specialty . . . are in-network for


. To which I respond: "W.T.F. (Where's The Fairness), Cigna? Just what is my astonishingly high, $25 co-pay for, anyway?" So Monday I'm seeing someone anyway, and paying out the nose for it until I ascend the steep hill that is my $350 deductible, which will probably occur just as my Actor's Equity Insurance runs out, June 30.

Other funny moments from my experience today:

  • "Don't worry. This isn't pleasant for either of us." - Well, I mean, personal vanity aside, I'd prefer that at least SOMEbody in the room be enjoying themselves.
  • Sitting down back in the man's office after it was said and done and I had re-troused. I was not prepared for that sensation.
  • "Don't you need to go to the bathroom?" "Uh...no." Should I?! Is that the natural response to this sort of thing?! Throw me a frickin' bone here!

There's a universal axiom in acting that can be summed up in two words: Use it. It comes in two connotations, both with essentially the same meaning. The first is used to refer to incidents from one's past. If you ever suffered from racial discrimination, you use those feelings to help you discover Othello or Shylock. If ever you sustained a serious paper cut, you use the memory of it to key into what it might be like to be The Black Knight and have your


off. The other context for "use it" refers to your emotional state the night of a performance, when it's simply too overwhelming to shut out completely. Hopefully, most of us aspire to live in the moment on stage, but every so often some powerful performances have been generated using the "use it" method. I remember performing a show not long ago during which a cast member had a dear relative die the day of a show. It was a comedy with tragic elements, and when we got to the cathartic denouement, it played with such truth and depth that no one in the room escaped with their resolve in tact.

This may be one of those acting lessons that does not necessarily translate well into life in general. If your boyfriend just dumped you for a younger woman, you probably shouldn't "use it" at the office. ("No, you didn't email me the status report. JUST BECAUSE MY BIOLOGICAL CLOCK IS ACCELERATING DOESN'T MEAN WE CAN LET THE COMMUNICATION BREAK DOWN!") If reading

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

blew your mind with revelation this morning, you may not want to carry it with you into your volunteer hours on the suicide crisis hotline. ("Dude, you couldn't be more right, actually. I mean, what proof of existence is there beyond our earth-bound, temporary senses? It's all eternal recurrence. And I . . . dude? You still there?") Similarly, my experience did NOT help me at the day job today. At all. Nor with apartment hunting.

But someday I'm going to have a hell of a scene in some play, somewhere.