On Friday, I did something pretty neat. Once again I visited the Steinberg Lab at NYU to help the undergraduate playwrights there hear their work aloud. Instead of reading one or two excerpts, however, I participated in at least five. They're gearing up for a presentation of a ten-minute segment of every student's work, and needed a day of hearing a bit of it all. The workshops at NYU are often an exercise in improvisation and flexible characterization (

oh-ho, it seems I'm a mine worker - all right, I'll be gruff and... - who wears pumps and is accused of singing soprano... - okay, I'll spin it Harvey Fierstein...

) but this took that adaptability to a different level for me. It's wicked fun, even when you face plant on something. Reminds me of role-playing games.

Speaking of which,

Camp Nerdly

is coming around again, and

Expatriate Younce

is actually venturing back from across the Atlantic for it. It doesn't commence until the end of May, so I've plenty of time to fulfill my promise to myself to run some event this year.

And on Saturday I attended a suggested-donation dance concert at


. Friends




were performing a duet of Matthew's, and I was pleased to find that it was accessible for me. Modern dance often isn't. (Or, perhaps more accurately, I'm often not accessible by means of modern dance.) There were a number of dances in the mixed program that I thought were quite good, and at least a couple that didn't shy away from having a sense of humor about themselves, which I always appreciate. One dancer in particular seemed perfect for my much-imagined "cartoon show." If anyone could convince you of running off a cliff and hanging suspended for a few seconds, I imagine it would be this fellow. Matthew's dance, on the other hand, was quite serious in its delivery and content. The hour-long program, called

Visa Voices

(it was choreographed by invitees of DNA's pool of students from other nations), was a very mixed bag indeed.

Occasionally I get frustrated with my limitations regarding my capacity for change. This may seem odd, coming not only from an actor, but from one who rather specializes in physical characterization and playing multiple roles in a single performance. It's my urge to transform that motivated these directions in my career, though, and I suppose that urge goes deeper than the boards. I wrote a few days ago about the merits of being able to switch rapidly between activities (see


), and now it seems to me that this virtue -- as I see it -- is closely related to my priority for change. As frightening as change can be when unbidden, sometimes I crave it so much that it's a little consuming. Spring is a good time for this, actually. It's what gets me out the door and jogging again, as it finally did this warm morning.

There are limits to what we can change about ourselves, of course, and I suppose recognizing those limitations is a valuable ability in some regards. Still, I enjoy imagining the possibilities more. When my life seems to be especially set, or even staid, I try to remind myself that life has been the most unpredictable story I've ever known. Even at its still moments. In fact, sometimes especially so. That doesn't mean I'll stop aiming to upset the routine. It does mean that the "routine" is changing even when it seems not to be, adding new steps, twisting the story and sometimes even altering my character.

Tropic of Gemini

I unintentionally read the anti-


a little while ago: Henry Miller's

Tropic of Cancer

[link N


SFW]. It is putting it rather on the glass-half-full side of things to say that the book served as a cleansing of my cynical palette before I embark on one of the more profound studies of innocence. When I finished

Tropic of Cancer

, I put it down with a victorious sigh, relieved that I would never have to read it again. Friend Patrick is flummoxed by this behavior in me, my determination to finish any book I've started, no matter how awful the experience. (I did give up on

this book

last Spring, though, because it is just freaking shite.) I can hardly explain it myself, except to say that it is perhaps a deeply ingrained habit. Whatever the cause, I generally read only one book at a time, and when I start a book, I finish it, or it finishes me.

Tropic of Cancer

very nearly finished me.

It's a little troubling to have so loathed a book that has come to be widely regarded a classic. It's supposed to be a work of considerable genius, and has been praised unequivocally by folks like Orwell, Mailer and Vonnegut -- all writers I greatly enjoy and admire. This isn't the first time I've not enjoyed a classic. I've often not enjoyed Dickens and Joyce. And by often, I mean just about every time I've curled up to give them another read. I do believe, however, that this is the first time in my adult life that I've taken such an active distaste for an accredited author's work. That is to say, it is unique in my experience to feel revulsion for something I've read, and perhaps this speaks more to Miller's genius as might any actual critical response I could make. It's not prudery, per se -- I love vicarious sex and violence, whether that's a good or bad thing. Love Anais Nin, so far loathe Miller. So what is it?

It is, I believe, the cynicism. The sheer, unrelenting, unapologetic cynicism. To hear Miller tell of it, I would not have made it out of 1930s Paris alive; there are suicides in this book, and they are all-too understandable to me. It seemed as though every character maintained his or her existence merely to progress to the next selfish experience, and after not too long I was utterly bogged down in the sense of hopeless, purposeless puppetry. I read

Of Human Bondage

not too long ago, and it was almost as if Miller had taken Carey's latter (also frustrating) selflessness and turned it on its ear so hard it went into coma. Miller's narrator (or voice, depending on the ratio of memoir to narrative at a given moment) is given to short sentences of profound and usually brutal imagery and metaphor that definitely would have appealed to me when I was sixteen. Now, they strike me as naive and self-centered and, as far as I was able to tell, the narrator undergoes no lasting change in the course of the story. Was there even joy in this story, really? Miller is famous for philosophically sucking the marrow from life, but this seemed more to me like continually jumping off a building for the three seconds of the sensation of flying.

What this is really about then, for me, is a struggle to process my experience in reading the book. How did, or will, the book change me? You could make the case that it won't . . . but that I feel it already has, and what remains is to understand that effect. It hasn't sapped my hope, at least. If anything, it makes me rail against its perspective, which seems so short-sighted and inconsequential that I want to grab the narrator by the neck and just shake him until he snaps out of it (or something else snaps). Why do none of these people believe in anything? What drives them to write, or do anything lasting, if it is all about survival and gratification? Maybe these are the questions Miller wanted us to ask, or maybe I'm just to narrow in my perspective on the era. If I had to say what effect the book has had on me, I'd guess at this point that it has strengthened my resolve to help and inspire others through my work. And I have to confess that I hope Henry Miller would've hated that.

Lest this read as some offended rant against a slice of literature history, I will say that at times I felt the raw power of Henry Miller's control of the language, and his willingness to savor words without making them self-important or inaccessible. Some of his ideas rang out, too, despite my prejudice against the perspective of his narrator. I wrote earlier in the month about the

supposed virtue of beauty

in art, and a strong argument could be made for there being a unique and important beauty in Miller's work. For me, however, I'm thrilled to go work on

a love story

very soon (and possibly even more thrilled to finally be on to reading it on the subway).


love story, for some people, and I'm going to do my damnedest to make it a guilty pleasure to begin, and full of consequence and beauty at the end. And maybe that's what Miller meant.

But I really have no idea.


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.

Miraculous Minutiae

So. They've given the

Large Hadron Collider

the old test run, and we're all still here. (It drives me nuts, not being able to figure out definitively if it's HAY-DRAWN or HA-DRAWN.) Of course, if in that initial pass somehow we miraculously reprogrammed reality, we'd none of us ever know it, because, well . . . it's reality, and as we've always known it. As far as we know. Anyway, nobody's even colliding anything yet, so we've got a few more hours, days, weeks, bi-annual periods before we have to resort to our emergency blackhole procedures. (That's good, because my patented Blackhole Resistant Skullcap [with NEW Dense-Particle Bi-Weave trim{TM}] is on back-order.) Actually, everything I've read about it suggests that the cause for fear of man-made blackhole is greatly exaggerated. Particles do what we're now doing to them all the dang time. We just get to catch them at it now. Hopefully.

It got me thinking, though, as I watched the news report on BBC-America this morning. It's a curious winnowing down from "large" things and ideas and efforts that leads us to a profound effect that's instigated on a profoundly "small" scale. I don't know a whole lot about CERN and particle colliders (though


offers a pretty good overview), but from what I understand, this is rather a project that's been in the making in one sense or another for decades, and requires huge amounts of facilities of all kinds. Yet it all comes down to getting one of the smallest things we can identify to behave in a specific way. And the result?

Specificity is important. Making distinctions is, after all, sort of all there is to abstract thought, and it has led us to so many important discoveries and interesting perspectives. I like to believe there's a unifying aspect to abstract thought as well, something that exists purely for the purpose of combining things and finding commonality, but that's a little harder to cite, much less prove. I can show you how you define "good" and "bad" using a binary code similar to . . . uh . . . binary code, but arguing that going beyond concepts of good and bad is both necessary and desirable only holds up until you have to apply it to choosing between eating a fresh sandwich and one that's been sitting in the sun for a week. In the arts, it would be nice to say we're all doing the same thing, different paths to the same goal, and it's all Zen (or whatever substitute you prefer) but it just ain't true. There's good art. And there's bad art. And there's a lot in between, about which we make many distinctions.

I digress, because this is not my point.

No, my point has to do with how insignificant a person can feel, said person particularly so when he or she is an actor. "Oh, boo-hoo-hoo," you may say. "We've all got it rough." True enough, and I don't mean to single out actors in particular for a pity party. They're just what I know best, and that familiarity piques the effect of everything. As actors (or directors, or painters, or nuclear physicists [or, okay: accountants]) we can very easily lose a sense of purpose because, well, what does it all add up to really? I mean, even the movie stars of yesteryear, with huge, global success, fade into obscurity faster than most. Here we are puttering about with this project and that, producing work that occasionally gets notice, but never quite wide enough notice, never quite profound enough impact on the world at large. And there are so, so many of us. Actors come and go and often get treated as a disposable commodity, and why not? There will


be more actors . . . just as I suppose, barring catastrophe, there will always be more and more people. So where does it all lead? What great or -- hell -- even small significance does the greatest thing we may ever accomplish with our lives, lead to? None, it would seem. We're dropping water into an ocean, one drop at a time; our actions are that minute.

A hadron is actually a subatomic particle made up of quarks, one the smallest objects we can reasonably identify. The science people (those in the know call them "scientists") are pretty worked up about the LHC because for the first time they have a technical possibility of proving the existence of the Higgs boson (the "scientists" inform me that a "boson" is another subatomic particle). The

Higgs boson

-- to hereby insult the intelligence of every physicist reading this -- is essentially an imaginary thing. They imagined it, not in the sense that it doesn't exist, but in the sense that they used their imaginations in theorizing it. See, the "scientists" basically came up with the Higgs boson (using an understanding of physics, the universe and everything so infinitely beyond mine that there's no analogy to properly satisfy this insertion) to fill the gap in an otherwise balanced explanation of physics, the universe and everything. This explanation is playfully named the

Standard Model

. (One can not help but picture one of


. You know: just your standard model.) In other words, when you hear the news reports about reproducing the Big Bang, they don't mean annihilating everything everywhere (intentionally, anyway), nor creating a whole new universe (intentionally, anyway), but rather understanding how


came into being. Yes:




, potentially = the result of an interaction on the smallest of scales imaginable. Reaching out from the interaction of two subatomic particles -- the very


of that interaction, mind; not even the particles themselves -- is the potential for consequences that not only affect everything . . . they are everything. This is imaginable to me. It's crazily conceptual, but imaginable. I can also imagine -- though I have to be in just the right mindset -- that the least of my work in this world may go on to have untold repercussions, reaching far into the future and influencing people of similar degrees of diminution and growth both far and wide for ages. In fact, I've already seen some small, yet unexpected, returns on work I've done in my life. Even when all memory of my existence has passed, the ripples of my life will live on and on. Perhaps unrecognized. Perhaps even without the least understanding of their actuality. Yet there they'll be, moving through everything.

I believe the scientists will discover they were all wrong about the Higgs boson, and have an incredible amount of work to do to make the model work again, possibly including throwing out the model and starting fresh. Do I have the physics to back this feeling up? Hell no. I can't even grasp centripetal force; not really. It's just that they seem so certain of it, they just have to have it all wrong. No, I believe this because I believe that our searches have to go on. That's a force I recognize. Imagine, if you will (and why not), the universe as an infinite song, played by an infinite number of instruments and voices. Who wouldn't want to join in? Who wouldn't want to create and contribute the most beautiful music they (and only they) possibly can?

Four (or Five) Weddings and a Funeral

I've been thinking about death a lot, lately. Not in a


way, I assure you. (Remember goth, the old


?) Although, I


pretty goth, without even trying, so it may be more goth than I am aware, my thinking, surrounded and filled by gothness as I am. I mean, I wore nothing but black clothing throughout high school. "

That, my friend, is a dark side.

" The subject of death has been brought up repeatedly by Yours Gothicly here at the Aviary;

twenty-two times to date

(not including this-here entry), to be exact. I've waxed a little philosophical about the subject, but for the most part my addresses to the final spectre have to do with how I believe it relates to comedy, and the laughter impulse. In brief, I believe most of our spontaneous laughter arises from reminders that we are mortal; that some day, each of us will die.

Told you I was goth.

Be that as it may--or may not--my belief in it has gone a long way toward helping me cope with the idea of confronting my own death. Now, I've never even been close, by either disease or incident, so far as I was aware. So the next is to be taken with a grain or two of salt. I've been thinking lately that our awareness of death is also a big part of what drives humans, what makes us so


and, often, so anxious. I think you'd find a corollary between people who are generally anxious and driven, and those that are philosophically engaged in resisting death. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that whatever Zen-ish approach I've mastered for my own life is a direct result of diminishing my own fear of death. Or, to give myself less credit, perhaps it's a result of living in a more complete ignorance of my own death. As I get older, and my eventual death becomes more conceivable to me, I have to relearn to accept that idea, over and over again. And in many ways, I feel much more driven now that I've gained a little more perspective on how quickly I could exit life's stage. When I was younger I tended to dream bigger, but none of it seemed especially urgent. It would come eventually. Now I dream (a shade) more realistically, but it's got a greater sense of urgency. Because now, I only see one thing as truly inevitable.

In the coming six months or so, I'm involved in no less than four weddings. It's true. I've got ones to attend in September, October and January. Oh, and one in November that I ought not to miss, either. There are even more going on than these, others in my extended circles of friends, at the same time. I don't know why, but these things always seem to come in cycles of density and naught. (We certainly didn't plan it that way.) Marriage is one of those things that it seems to me each person comes to in his or her own time; kind of the most amazing collaboration possible. It depends upon a convergence of so many factors that it's a little amazing to me that it ever happens, much less happens so often, now-a-days. I mean, we do get a better deal on taxes and such, but marriage isn't necessary to the common person's survival the way it historically has been. Apart from some antiquated societal expectations, marriage has very little excuse for being anything other than an independent, individual choice. There's virtually no reason for a fairly stable person to get married into any situation that's short of perfect for us. We can hold out for love, looks, money, sexy English dialect -- whatever your criteria. It is in no way assumptive, or inevitable. In this way, marriage becomes even more meaningful; it is a matter of choice.

As in all exploits human, marriage is motivated somewhat by self-awareness, and death. No one wants to die alone. Even if that last walk is ultimately up to you, you want someone there holding your hand just before you take it, if possible. There are many human relationships that can buy one insurance toward that circumstance, but marriage is the most likely gold standard.

This Monday, a funeral will be held for someone who was very dear to me. Her body relented to a long battle with cancer last Monday morning. She was the mother of an exgirlfriend of mine, so my connection with her and her family is not the most frequent. It's a rare and valuable connection for me, though, in that in spite of the disappointment and pain of the romantic relationship and its conclusion, my relationship with the family continued in a spirit of mutually cherished love and respect. They're a family strong in Christian faith and, though I don't see everything the same way that they do, I know their faith in God is part of the reason I have had a continued loving relationship with them. Particularly with the mother. She was a shining light. I know that sounds like something everyone says about their loved ones lost, but I couldn't mean it more specifically to her. Judi's sole motivation during the time I knew her, it seemed, was for the joy and sense of love in absolutely everyone around her. She was loving, warm, funny, a believer, and though I've no doubt she's gone on to that place she believes in, to be unified in that same spirit of love she embodied, it's just not fair that she's left us.

A little over a year ago, I saw Judi again for the first time in years. The occasion was her daughter's wedding, and I ended up having to really bust-ass to get down to North Carolina for it. My flight got cancelled at the last minute, and a mutual friend and I ended up renting a car in Astoria ("Will you be staying within the tri-state area?" "We'll try.") and driving fourteen hours with traffic and weather issues. A lot of people questioned the wisdom of my actions. Not the rental car, mind you -- no one knew about that until afterward. No, it was the idea of attending an exgirlfriend's wedding. There were no qualifying factors to her "exgirlfriend" status in my life: we hadn't been friends first; we had been a serious, long-term relationship; the break-up had been painful. I was surprised to have been invited, and I gave serious consideration to graciously declining. To my memory of it, Judi's struggle with cancer began in the interim between her daughter's engagement and wedding day, so I knew of it when I got my invitation. She's the first person I had known with malignant cancer. I wanted to see her and the rest of the family again anyway, I admit, but I wanted to see her more upon hearing that news. It was a good justification for my actions, but I had no experience to apply to the concept that her life was truly in danger. To put it another way, I made a good decision almost by accident, because Judi's death did not at the time feel like a real possibility to me. When I did see her at the reception, her voice was just a whisper--a result of the extensive chemotherapy she had been undergoing--but she was softly ebullient with joy, for her daughter's marriage of course, and also, somehow, to see me again. We didn't talk much, but we had ourselves one hell of a significant hug.

We never know when we might be seeing someone for the last time in our lives. It can be easy to forget that, in this day and age, with all the myriad ways we have not only of staying "in touch" but "reconnecting" with people from our past. It can also be easy to remember it, and allow it to drive us into anxiety and a useless blind-fighting of inevitability. Perhaps, though, this awareness can allow us instead to appreciate our hellos and goodbyes a little more. Maybe we can come to never take a hug or handshake for granted, or to reject the notion that anything is done for us, or obligatory. Every action in our lives, every person we love, can be a choice. Hopefully, a true and meaningful choice. That's what I'm going to try to remember. Judi, I think, would appreciate that idea.