Tiny Black Specks

Ed.: This was supposed to post on Halloween this year as a companion piece to

Pavarti's post of the same story

from another perspective. Alas, I was too occupied with more important writing-related work (I'll get no arguments from Pavarti) to finish it, so I'm clocking it in late. Sorry, super-fans!

Even as the seeds of our relationship's destruction were being sown, my first love saved my life.

Let me back up a bit.

I got sick a lot as a kid. I have to some extent been a method actor all my life, which is to say that I've felt that believing the circumstances wholly is the best way to a convincing performance. A healthy dose of masochism doesn't hurt either. Odds are that about half the sick days I took in high school were more like anxiety days, or self-flagellation days. Still, I believed them, even without that important DefCon 1 of childhood illness: the antibiotic.

You knew if you actually went to the doctor, and the doctor actually prescribed something, then you were sick, real and true. In the autumn of my senior year of high school there was a lot going on, and I really did get sick. I was put on just such an antibiotic, and deemed therefore fit for society once more. I was glad for that, since the day was a holiday, and my favorite one at that. On Halloween Day, 1994 - a Monday, as it is this year - I returned to school, fortified and ready for all the excitement once more.

The thing I will always remember are the tiny black specks.

It could have been caused by anything. My mom always gave us a double-dose of whatever antibiotic we were prescribed right away, to jump-start the blood levels. I could, in fact, be allergic to this particular cocktail of micro-organic missile, as my every doctor's form has reflected ever since. Or maybe, just possibly, I rushed through my regular breakfast routine that morning without stopping to consider that the semi-viscous substance suspending my Rice Chex in that bowl was, in fact, milk. And maybe, yes, there was a certain bovine injunction on the side of the orangey, childproof bottle. I may never know.

I may never know because the day itself is an astonishing blur. Not the kind of blur one associates with tremendous speed or urgency, either. Rather, the sort of blur that happens when something is smeared across, or great heat melts something, or some synthetic psychoactive drug chooses to make a mess of your internal relativity. Or, as was the case with me that Halloween Day so long ago, all three, concurrent and consecutive (see note about internal relativity).

Sometime not too far into the school day, maybe after first period, I started to feel nauseous and following fast on the heels of that sensation I vomited into a garbage can. I had the nurse call my mom. Luckily for me, she worked at an elementary school just down the road and had the time to swing by to take me home. I remember lying on my left side in the back of our maroon minivan, trying not to be sick even as I contemplated whether I was making the right choice. I was feeling better. Maybe I could make it through the day, and on into the night's festivities. This thing could still be saved.

It's difficult to remember these events, but not solely because of my altered state. No, as with many other times in my life that proved to be turning points, I've blocked out a lot of details of sequence and experience in my memory. Although I recognize I have a tendency to get mired in my past, I also have a great deal of trouble letting go of my own volition, and so I frequently and by default "forget." That is, "wall memories off where they are forced to live in confinement forever and/or until some silly, silly suggestion that I give them some air is made." It's a bit of an effort to dredge some of this up.

At the time, in the fall semester of my senior year, we were rehearsing a show called

Stage Door

, in which I played the closest thing to an antagonist the story had. Senior year represented a sea change in my high school experience, having gone far too quickly from chubby band nerd to skinny, upperclassman, leading-man-somewhat-by-default drama nerd. My dearest, passionate, first true love was a junior, but making more headway in choosing a college for the next year than I was. I had also - extremely unexpectedly and as a result of an acting exercise brought to us from a summer intensive our stage manager attended at Northwestern University - recently fallen for my co-star.

A memory doesn't have to be painful for me to quietly wall it away in the intervening years, just embarrassing. This one happens to be both.



 I went straight to bed when I got home that morning. I


 I might've tried water and toast at some or several points, in the hopes of hanging on to the idea of healing. I


 I heard the phone ring once or twice. But I know that by the time the phone started ringing I had already vomited at least three more times, and resigned myself to staying in the bathroom. Eventually, the floor of the bathroom became the best place I could imagine and so I laid there, years before I would ever experience the divine punishment of alcohol. By the time I heard the front door opening and my girlfriend's voice calling my name, I was pretty certain it was  a hallucination.

The door to the bathroom was closed at first. Was the bathroom door closed at first? At this point it's all a mess of fingerpaints in my mind. She was always lightly on the goth/punk side - Doc Martens strapped on over fishnets, but a girlish giggle as easily and likely as a throaty guffaw. I'm not sure, but I think my guardian angel was even more punk that particular day, in a nod to the holiday. Regardless of when I let her see me, I somehow remember bright sunlight coming in from the open door downstairs, that same door that still displayed the knuckle-dents from when I punched it in frustration the previous May and broke my metacarpals. The pain of that was fresh in my mind, and it had nothing on what my abdominal muscles were going through as I spasmed and vomited yet again.

"Jeff, I'm calling your mom."

That's a bold sentence when you're a teenager, for any occasion, but especially when you've just skipped school to check on your sick sweetheart. I didn't try to stop her. I stared at the results of my latest heaving in the bowl, and was baffled. Nothing but a little clear fluid, but swimming with tiny, black specks. It was almost funny.

Later, in the emergency room, they would tell me that those black specks were the scrapings of the bottom, the digestive granules produced by the...bile duct? Something. By that time I had been on an IV for dehydration for hours, so I really should be able to remember. Strange that I would let that particular detail go. Maybe it takes days for dehydration to kill you, even when it's accelerated by an allergic response (or whatever) but I certainly wouldn't have made it to the emergency room until late into that night if it hadn't been for my girlfriend knowing it was time to break the rules.

She's always had that kind of unconventional clarity. That's the quality, I think (though also to a lesser degree the fishnets) that made my initial attraction to her so strong. I think of her as one of those kids who never knew they weren't an adult, and now that she is an adult she's got all that assumed authority the years bring to back up her keen perception and audacity. I'm proud we're still friends after all these years, after long stretches of no contact, after I shoved the self-destruct button quietly down on our relationship, after all kinds of personal emergencies and my inauspicious and unrelenting crush on her that started it all.

Having now lived twice the number of years I had then, I'm not sure I can claim any greater wisdom. Nowadays, a lot of the gusto of that time of my life seems smarter than where I am. Certainly not all of it, but much of it. Teenagers have an emotional sincerity from which we can always learn a little something. While age may not have increased my wisdom, distance has bettered my perspective.

I can see now that it was all a little funny and a little horrible, and even that those two aspects are usually paired up to some degree. I see past the imagined drama and the true consequences that it's a story about people who love each other. In fact, struggling through the melting, smeared mess of my memory of this event has helped me see myself a little clearer, even as the teenager I was, the woman who loved me, the girl who surprised me, our teachers and parents and friends of that time fall farther and farther away, into the distance, into tiny black specks.

A Walk to Memorize

The other day I took a walk through my general area of Queens, seeking out nice light and places I hadn't seen. The peppered photos are from this little journey (as inspired by some of Friend Patrick's recent posts). I didn't start on my walk with the specific purpose of taking photos -- just thought of it as I was headed out the door. Rather, I wanted to grab a little leg stretching while there was still light out on a beautiful day that I had otherwise spent largely indoors and seated.

I don't know why I don't take walks more often, but I'm going to try from now on. I was recently reminded while listening to the Totally Laime podcast that it used to be a habit of mine. I would take walks with my mom or friends or love interests along the twisting asphalt paths that twined through the forests of my hometown neighborhoods, and these walks invariably made for interesting conversation and at least a little bit of relaxation. They were nice, so of course I took them for granted. Maybe when I moved to the city I convinced myself that there was nothing to see like the flora and fauna of Burke, or maybe I was too concerned with my safety initially, or found my days too full or time returning home too late to contemplate walking as recreation. Heck-n-shoot: We walk everywhere in New York. Maybe I've missed the distinction between that kind of walking and the leisure activity.

Whatever the reason for the pause, I'm returning to it. This walk through Queens was tremendous and refreshing (refreshendous?) and really set me in a state of mind I could definitely do with more of. Somehow the decision to "go for a walk" freed me up to sort of declare that I was going to have an experience and not aim to get anything done for a little while. I was active, and continuously so, but also receptive and generally contemplative. Instead of going somewhere or being somewhere, I was neither.

The next day I saw a talk that resonated with me. Linda Stone was stating observations that I have been making for years now, and putting them into a context I could understand and appreciate. She was turning information into knowledge, perhaps. Whatever it was, it reminded me of the state of being I returned to on my little walk. Some steps from her walk:

  • Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern.
  • Data becomes information when assembled into a coherent whole which can be related to other information.
  • Information becomes knowledge when integrated with other information in a form useful for making decisions and determining actions.
  • Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in anticipating, judging and acting.
  • Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principles, memory and projection.

Revisionist History

On Friday I took the dive and bought


, so that for my to-and-fro NoVa bus rides on Saturday morning and Monday evening I could work at revising


. And I did! I did done revised some! WHO-RAY! It was a great disappointment to discover that typing on a bus is incredibly awkward. The space between rows made it


a bit too tight to comfortably cock my elbows, even given the rather horizontally inclined nature of my new purchase. I muscled through, though, to the detriment of my seat partner and I'm sure my sperm count. Some sacrifices must be made for great art, after all.

Plus, revision was not a terrible experience. This is in spite of a number of other factors going against me at the time (primary amongst these being the curiously intense and persistent allergies I'm experiencing) and also in the face of my trenchant antipathy for the revision process. Having a new toy always helps in some way, and this was no exception. It seems the much-reviled Vista has a viewing option for scrolling through open windows as if they were a deck of cards -- an enormously useful feature when one's scenes are all saved in separate documents. I made quick work of a revised outline of scenes, and so had a bit of a structure for finding a starting point and specifying which scenes needed the most attention.

The biggest changes were the complete disposal of one scene, and the removal of a character from another. Also, my gastroenterologist is going through some major changes, becoming far more prickly and reserved (and hopefully super-dryly funny). The overhaul has begun, and it seems as though as long as I don't get stuck on the idea of how much of an overhaul it's bound to be, and just keep fixing and tweaking one thing at a time, we're going to get there. Eventually.

That having been said, I am thus far utterly un-thrilled with any of my actual writing. It seems as though all I'm doing is solving logistical problems, without invoking too much truth, beauty and/or humor. I probably need to talk to more playwrights to learn some coping methods with this perceived issue. I tend to assume it's a personal problem, my revision writing coming out stale, but that's pretty ridiculous when I say (type) it aloud. Surely some other authors have had to grapple with this. Friends




may have some helpful advice on the matter. Perhaps you, Dear Reader, do as well . . . ?

What is amazing to me is that I've found that sweet spot of distance from the original writing that allows me to make big changes without losing my belief in the story. It still feels like a worthy effort, yet I can see where it needs (not inconsiderable) help. And both without quite knowing where it's going to end up. With age come some benefits.

Now if I just had a little more cash flow to regularly upgrade to train rides . . .

1 2 3 SPRING

This weekend I went down to northern Virginia to celebrate a friend's birthday and Easter, and to meet my new niece-in-law, Hannah. It was a very fast trip, and a car was rented, which makes for a great deal more ease of travel, in spite of involving a great deal more effort on my part. It also allowed me to skip out on my own early Saturday morning for that birthday's adventures. The lucky birthday boy's wife arranged for a group of his friends to experience

Inner Quest

as adults. This was a popular field trip for all of us as children but, I must admit, it is

so much way better

as an adult. For one, nobody makes snide comments about one's athletic prowess, or lack thereof.

Well, it's done with a better sense of humor, anyway.

It was a fairly fascinating experience for me on many levels. As a youth, I only ever went to Inner Quest in my overweight phase (ages 5-16, this "phase" was) and I certainly didn't have a lot of background on the sorts of things they ask you to do there. I was a Boy Scout, and we do some challenging things in the Scouts, but rarely anything so singular as a zip wire, or climbing a 35-foot ladder (somehow that's more frightening than rock climbing). So perhaps needless to say, I was far better equipped to handle its challenges--physical and emotional--as a 31-year-old circus enthusiast. I didn't so much get a feeling of redemption from this experience, as I felt a strong need to make up for lost time. I wanted to run through, do everything, and do it all twice if I possibly could.

We did a zip wire (coast across a valley on a pulley attached to an airline cable), the "trapeze" (climb 30-or-so feet up a tree and jump from a platform to catch a trapeze), the "squirrel" (you're tied to a rope that runs up to a pulley very high in the air, and your friends are on the other end; at "go," you run in one direction and they, the other) and a "woozle" (two tightropes that wedge apart; you and a partner put your hands together and try to stay on them as far out in the widening wedge as possible). Of all of these, the trapeze was definitely my favorite. It was an awfully Batman-ish sort of challenge, and the terror I felt on that platform was unexpectedly strong. Pushing through that was an exhilarating reminder that there's a lot of new stuff I can still tackle physically, whether it's making up for lost time or finding all-new challenges.

Wife Megan

and I are, in fact, planning to take our first aerial class this week.

The other way in which this adventure was fascinating, though, was a quieter, less-terror-inducing one. Inner Quest is principally a team-building course, and they host school, church and corporate groups for day-long bouts of group challenges. This day was a bit like watching my own workshop curriculum writ large, stretched across valleys and up oak trees. Whether I'm teaching acrobalance or commedia dell'arte, there's always an emphasis on group work, on creating a sense of ensemble. That priority even ties back into the times I was first experiencing Inner Quest; growing up, I felt a very strong connection to the groups I was in that worked well together, theatre-oriented or otherwise. For me, there's a synergy to collaboration that simply has no match in individual efforts (if in fact any effort can be said to be purely individual). So I find the work of leading such inner-quests fascinating.

Our guides in this day, known to me only as Kate and Corey, were very accustomed to one another and seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about the work. It was a miserable day weather-wise, rain-soaked and chilly, which made for mud, but they made sure we knew that by showing up on such a day we had impressed them. The emphasis was on fun, this being an adult birthday party, yet they kept up with their leadership techniques from what I could tell. I was struck in particular by how Kate dealt with an especially terrified friend on the trapeze platform. She just talked to her, but underlying the conversation was an awareness that she needed to balance distracting the jumper from the terror while focusing her on the task at hand. It's a delicate technique, and one that's impressed me ever since someone used it on me when I was a boy, to get me unfrozen from climbing up a couple of airline cables to the zip-wire platform.

I have had a few incidences of having to coax people into attempting the activities and/or challenges my workshops present. Some have gone better than


, of course, but it's an interesting and essential aspect of teaching. Everyone is accustomed to the idea of "requirements" for a given class or workshop, but requiring something is in my opinion antithetical to the learning process. The first step of learning is choice; take that away, and even when students accomplish something it is fleeting, personally unimportant or even ultimately resented. Inviting someone to challenge themselves, doing so in a compelling way, is a precious ability to cultivate in both teaching and other forms of leadership. It allows for progress and individuality. I'll be thinking about this a lot, no doubt, during

my workshop at Swarthmore tomorrow


There's only one thing better than springtime in NoVa, and that's autumn. But spring is pretty wonderful too, with its cherry blossoms and budding deciduous trees. I'm glad I got down there for our short weekend, and played outdoors a bit while there. On Sunday, in fact, Megan and her dad built Nephew James a new playground in the backyard. I slept in and missed most of the build, but selfishly scooped up a great deal of the payoff by playing with young James upon his first discovery of the fantastic addition to the yard. It was chilly. I definitely wished for it to be warmer as we romped around the castle, but kind of relished the youth of the season along with the youth of my companion. Before we know it, he'll be springing off platforms and hurtling through space. Eager as I am for warmer weather and more activity, the present moment is pretty wonderful, too.

Home Remedy


(Though perhaps it won't be such a long one, feels like it wants to be longish at the start.)

First off, thanks to all who have contributed to my last post (see


). I meant the questions, and I hope others (even ones I don't know all that personally) will keep posting in the comments. Stories rule, and everyone's a storyteller to one degree or another. Tell me a story.

Memories often make for interesting stories. Sometimes I think stories are motivated in part by a desire for a common experience, for each person to hold his or her life up against others' and ask, "So, does this make sense? Am I alone in this, or is this normal?" I visited my hometown this weekend to compare some stories with old friends and new family. It was a very short visit, arriving late Friday night and returning to the city Sunday afternoon, and I didn't do all that much talking or telling.

Wife Megan

's family dynamic is still new to me, particularly when extended family are about, and the reason we were home was to celebrate my nephew-in-law's second birthday, so they were. The other major social event was visiting Friends Mark & Lori's house, where along with

Friend Davey

were assembled various other people I knew or didn't know. So I listened a lot, with which I'm comfortable.

I also did a lot of thinking. These visits to Northern Virginia are usually a bit difficult for me. They're a little natural melancholy, being where I lived for my entire childhood and where I and my family no longer exist. What is more difficult, however, is how circumstantially vulnerable I feel there. I have no space of my own, though of course the Heflins keep their house completely open to me. I have no car, which is how one gets anything done there. (I presently have no laptop, which could mitigate some of that frustration.) My friends always make time for me and Megan's family always seeks to provide, yet there is also always a personal, mounting sense of angst whilst I'm there. It's reminiscent of being a teenager, which is the quick-and-dirty explanation I've leaned on for a while now. I was a teenager when last I lived there, so I have a tendency to revert, so I try to resist it whenever I visit.

This time, however, I realized that the sense of angst was much more immediate than some throw-back to my youth -- and it always had been. I recognized what I needed. This was practically a follow-up to another realization I had the last time I visited, in that both occurred under unusual circumstances: I was watching a movie. (Apparently, these movies combined stories with mediums of expression that agreed with me.) Movies generally get a bad rap for accomplishing anything other than entertainment, and it's a pity, because for someone who's open to it a film can open our eyes in some of the same ways (and some unique ones) that theatre or visual art does. Along with my vows to see more live music and theatre, I'm always telling myself I should take advantage of all the indie film here in New York, too.

Over my Christmas holiday, while waiting to be picked up from the Heflins' by my dad and driven up to my parents' place in Maryland, I was watching

Casino Royale


. It seemed like a good, entertaining film to be watching. I'd seen it a couple of times before, but many things about it still held a lot of interest for me -- amazingly nuanced performances by Daniel Craig and Eva Green, amazing fight choreography, and rich cinematography. It's a James Bond film; what insight could I possibly expect? Through a series of circumstances best left to memory, while watching this movie it ended up that I got stranded in Burke, in an empty house. It was upsetting, not just frustrating, as my usual angst was. As I found a ride to the DC Metro and traveled up to Maryland on my own, I listened to the theme from the movie. I've always liked it, but it was particularly gratifying to the emotions I was going through. I realized in that moment that what I wanted, what I was so frustrated by every time I visited, was independence. Not just incidental independence, but in my life in general. Here I have this relatively footloose lifestyle, yet it limits me in some ways.

So I've been pursuing that in one way or another since then, and on this particular visit to NoVa, kept in mind the source of my angst. It helped, but I was frustrated (again) to find that it wasn't sufficient. I was missing something. I chalked the feeling up to frustration over having insight with no means to change the situation, and to some extent it was. Then, Sunday morning (whilst exercising some independence by abstaining from a visit elsewhere), I sat down in front of the Heflins' "Fios" (ooooooooooo...) and looked for a movie to order up. I saw that


, a Mamet-written and -directed movie I had some interest in was available, and fired it up. There's a lot to appeal to me here, some of it rather similar to what's appealing about

Casino Royale

, and I was probably similarly relaxed about watching it, though certainly my intellect was more engaged with prepping for typical Mamet-ian intricacies. I only got through half the film before having to move on to something else, but in that half was a moment in Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance (and, it must be acknowledged, David Mamet's script) that struck a deep emotional response in me. His character is talking for the first time with a woman who rather violently disrupted his school and situation -- she's struggling to express something to him -- and he says, "Is there some way that I can help you?" There's no attitude to it. He says it very simply; an offer. It's like it's what he's there to do.

It stuck with me. The scene cuts to he and the woman in his dojo, where he teaches her a small lesson in self-defense, then offers her a sign-up form in case she wants to learn any more. The moment I just kept returning to, though, was that single line of dialogue. I spent most of the rest of that day in one way or another trying to understand what I felt about it. On the one hand, it summed up pretty nicely for me what it is about good teachers that I like and aspire to. Good teachers are there to help the students in whatever way the students may need. On the other hand, I saw in this moment something I have been wanting very badly for some time now, without realizing it. Recognizing that, alongside this newly inspired need to be independent, gave me a surprising sense of purpose. The trick now will be to follow through on it.

I need a teacher. So much of my life has been spent looking for one, in one way or another, consciously and subconsciously. Most of my interests to date have been centered around this dynamic, whether I cast myself as the teacher or the student. I want to teach, I want to lead, but I also want to keep learning and keep improving and not just in acting, or circus, or some other skill, but in life. So -- and I'm addressing you directly here, Universe -- I'm looking for my next teacher.