Guest Post @ Fighting Monkey Press

The first of two guest posts I'll be writing over at Pavarti Tyler's Fighting Monkey Press went up last Friday. If'n you haven't already, please hit up Pav's site to reward yourself for knowing someone who knows someone as awesome as she. My post is to do with religion, so you can visit to start and/or join a flame-war while you're at it! An excerpt, whetting your spiritual palate:

"...[I]t should come as small surprise that so many of us define ourselves by distinction and exclusion. It’s almost a self-explanatory notion – one reads the word 'distinction,' and the definition begs a synonym of identification. Yet they aren’t the same thing. My favorite color is blue, because my favorite color is not yellow. Even logically, that sentence doesn’t compute. The distinction is not the reason, nor the causation.

"Yet we hasten to describe and define our religion by what we don’t believe."

BatFan Fiction Submission: Shadow On the Wall

And we have our first Middle Eastern Batman story (see


for context)!  We have another in the queue as well, which we'll hopefully submit to you, Dear Reader, sometime next week.  So get on your submission already!  Remember, it can be a bare-bones, two sentence concept left in the comments of the original post, or can be emailed and more elaborate.

Here we've got a fascinating and rather researched take on the idea, replete with a linguistic pun or two.  Pavarti posted this over

at her 'blog

before I had a chance to here.  Please read and enjoy, and heap praise upon her.  Without further ado...

Shadow on the Wall

by Pavarti

Recai Osman awoke slowly, consciousness flickering in and out. The unforgiving sun beat down on his bruised and exhausted body.

Where am I?

 His mind struggled to remember the last twenty four hours.

Gritty particles of sand moved sympathetically as he slowly rolled onto his side, pain shooting through his head as the light hit his closed lids...the sun greeting him with cruel intensity. Sand clung to his long lashes and hair, and as soon as the disorientation passed Recai brushed it off roughly with his sand-infested hands; particles so fine they had filled his shoes around the spaces his foot filled and ground into his scalp between each follicle of hair.

Finally Recai was able to sit up and look around. The night before was still a blur. He remembered the bar at Bozooğulları Hotel and drinking with a Kurdish woman who had reminded him of his mother. Her eyes were deep set and so dark they might have genuinely been black, but it was the mischievous glint and the sound of the language his mother spoke when they were alone that drew him in. Her veil had been tight around her hairline but pulled back away from her shoulders so that he could see the neckline of her dress clearly.

Pinching his brows together he sat, his head spinning with a hangover and dehydration. How had he gotten out here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand and grit? He could only hope that the dunes around him were the ones that resided to the south of the city and not some further, larger wasteland.

He didn't remember leaving the bar, or traveling at all. There were rumors of nomads kidnapping, robbing and deserting bodies in the desert, but he would remember if he'd been kidnapped. Instead all he remembered was drinking bourbon while admiring the curve of the mysterious woman's collar bone, which showed seductively above her blouse.

The Dunes just outside of Elih, Turkey were not large, but it was easy to get disoriented and lost in amongst the shifting terrain. If he was lucky he'd have awoken when it was still dark and could have followed the light of the city toward home, but now, with the blazing sun above him, luck was something he just didn't have.

Man didn't last long in the dunes without water and supplies. If he had a canteen and some salt tablets Recai was resourceful enough he would have been able to survive without food or shelter for a few days, but like this.... He shook his head, sending streams of sand onto the ground around him; those kinds of thoughts weren't going to help him get home.

Recai blinked back his confusion, finding it difficult to clear his mind. The sun and lack of water was starting to affect him already and the temperature was still rising. Recai took off his shoes and socks, knowing that despite the burning sand, this terrain was best traveled the way his ancestors had; he needed to feel the earth below him, listen to the sand as it fell away from his steps.

He undid his belt and jacket making a satchel to carry anything he needed. His pockets had been emptied and he was as penniless as a wandering Roma come to find their next fortune. Soon he had his designer button-up shirt tied up on his head like a Jain turban and his worldly possessions hanging from his belt over his shoulder.

The scruff of his unshaven face protected him slightly from the sun and the turban kept him somewhat shaded. Recai took in his surroundings and the placement of the sun and set off in the direction he hoped was north.

Recai walked for what seemed like miles, resisting the instinct to second-guess his direction. The sand moved between his toes but soon he found his footing and his body responded to the landscape like it was a genetic memory. He remembered his father's words from a trip to the Oman desert when he was a child: never take your shoes off; the sand will eat away at your feet. But Recai had done it anyway then and now, feeling more in control with that connection to the ground, its movements speaking to his flesh directly.

He was in the middle, every direction would lead out. Either to Elih or one of the smaller villages that were scattered around the city. But who out here would take in a stranger? A stranger with a Hugo Boss turban and a bruised and bloodied face. Insha'Allah, he would be delivered to safety.

The sun was high overhead, beating down so that no living thing dared venture out into the desert. If Recai had a tarp or blanket or...anything, he would have dug himself a hole and conserved his strength until night. But instead at the crest of the next dune he sat on his bundle, keeping his body away from the sand so that it didn't suck the remaining moisture from his system, and looked out before him.

From his vantage point he could see the crescent shape the wind had carved in the sand below him. Recai's face was wind burned and his shoulders were screaming from the assault of the sun's rays, but still, the city was out of range, all human life well past the line of the horizon.

Standing up the ground shifted softly again, making Recai think of the last time he had been on his family's Yacht. He used to love going out there as a child, taking the helm from his father when far enough out there wasn't risk of him accidental steering them into a shallow section of the River. Elih was landlocked. This city where his father had made his fortune and helped build a sophisticated Arab beacon for the rest of the Middle East, a place where Turks and Kurds co-existed peacefully. A private jet would fly him and his parents out to Iskandarūn where the boat was stored.

He hadn't been to Iskandarūn in years. Not since his parents had died. Not since they'd been murdered. Not since Elih had fallen into the hands of Mayor Mahmet Yılmaz and his PKK henchmen. Terrorists hiding behind the thin veil of faith. It made Recai sick to his stomach the way the city was falling apart; devolving into crime and ignorance, but there was nothing he could do. He simply was not his father.

Walking along the crest of the dune, hoping to find a way down that didn't involve sliding down the great sand wall, likely creating an avalanche that could bury him alive, Recai felt a rumble in his chest, like a vibration that was surrounding him, calling to him from the air itself. The pitch rose as the noise intensified, now a screaming growl like the Jinn's song. The dunes were collapsing.

Recai began running, hoping to keep ahead of the avalanche he had caused, which was forcing the sand to move against itself with such strength it was singing in protest. The physics of the phenomenon were the last thing on Recai's mind though, because in this moment, the most important thing was to not be caught beneath the cascades of sand that were reshaping the landscape of the dune.

Dropping the satchel that held the last remnants of his modern life Recai scrambled across the crest, unable to get completely away from the avalanche. The dune song crescendoed and he could feel the sand pulling him down, drifting out from beneath his feet as he tried to push off against it in flight. With a scream Recai lost his balance and fell to his hands and knees just as the top of the dune fell out from beneath him, sending him rolling with the sand. He was now not just the instigator of the disaster but part of it, swimming within the sea of sand that carried him away.

* * *

A hand twitched in the sand before Hasad Sofaer. He looked down at it from his perch atop his camel without much concern. Unfortunately it wasn't unusual to find body parts out here in the dead lands of the dunes. What was curious was that this one had garnered the interest of the great beast of burden he was riding upon. No one survived long out here alone and the PKK had taken to leaving living, and dead, people to disappear into the sand.


, Hasad spat at the ground, wasting precious moisture to solidify his curse. Once again the beauty of the desert had been defiled by those bastards. Hasad's camel twitched and lowered its nose to the severed hand, but instead of pushing it over in the sand to reveal the rotting stump the camel felt the hand close around it; startling the animal and Hasad.

The old man jumped down from his perch and stared at the wiggling hand, wondering what kind of devil had animated a dead thing. Was this how the world would end? Was this the day the Golems come to avenge their wrongs? Hasad was not a superstitious man but he had been raised in a tight community of Baghdadi Jews and when the impossible appeared before him, the stories of his youth had more credibility than ever before.

The hand began clawing at the sand, trying to push it away. The sight pulled Hasad out of his thoughts and inspired him to action. Kneeling down next to the hand he began digging in the sand, his camel snorting and spitting behind him, as if sensing an evil rising. This could be a man, a man left to die; Hasad could not sit back and allow such a thing to happen if he had the power to stop it. His God and his soul demanded it. Too many had died out here already.

Still digging, following along the hand's arm he found another hand which grasped on to his forearm. Leaning back against his heels he pulled against the hole which was quickly filling back in. Pulling hard enough that he could feel his old joints protest, his feet slipped out from under him as a head came free.

The face looking up at him from the sand was sun-burnt and bruised. It looked like there was blood matted in his hair but it was hard to tell with the sand clinging to him. Hasad lay on his stomach and reached out his hand to the man who was taking ragged shallow breaths, having literally just fought for his life.

"Beyefendi?" Hasad called, sliding toward him, trying to disturb as little sand as possible, while getting an upsetting amount of it down the front of his own shirt.

"Yarmetî," the man whispered before his head slumped against the sand, his neck going limp. The beginnings of a red beard and the language Hasad didn't understand but recognized sent off warning signs. The old man knew that for a Kurd to end up out here alone, he was either very dangerous or very stupid.

Cursing quietly under his breath the old Jew slid away from the man and retrieved a rope from his camel, tying one end of it to the harness the beast wore. The smell of the creature had long ago stopped bothering him, but he still had no affection for it. The other end of the rope he tied into a noose and hooked around the man's arms, as low as he could get it, and tightened the noose so that the arms were brought together at an angry angle behind the stranger's head.

Hasad sighed and shook his head.  

Better a dislocated shoulder or two than dying out here alone.

With that he slapped the camel on the backside and set to pulling Recai Osman out of the sand.

Useless Beauty (All This)

Great song. I'm not a huge Elvis Costello fan, but every so often one of his songs hits it out of the park for me, and


would be one of those. Friend Heather, who is a much better devotee of Costello, introduced me to it. I'm not sure if I've ever discussed this here, but songs rarely resonate for me based on their lyrics. This is a thing that drives some people (such as Wife Megan) a little crazy, but I can't really help it. Or, I don't want to. I like being better attuned to the song than I am to the lyrics. I don't have a whole lot of clear, intuitive behavior that doesn't get second-guessed by my intellect (such as it is) -- I'm keeping this one. This is all just to say that words to this song are brilliant, but it's the feeling of the chorus that carries me away.

Last night I saw

the Alvin Ailey dance company

for the second time in my life, and they were just as affective as I remembered. Poke around the site a bit and you'll soon see that the company members are gorgeous, and I assure you that without seeing them move, you don't know the half of it. Their work is passionate and specific, and it is a real treat to spend time experiencing their artistry. The first time I saw them was some five or six years ago, and I didn't know what I was in for then, so was doubly appreciative. I wondered if the blush of first impression would have faded a bit for me this time around. It didn't.

Of course, their beauty -- physical and kinesthetic -- is far from useless. Even if one were to be stupid enough to see dance as a generally useless expression, Ailey's work and the work he's inspired since wouldn't be lacking in usefulness. It always expresses something about a specific culture or movement that we couldn't quite learn in any other medium. Watching last night though, immersed in all that keen beauty, I got to thinking about the supposed virtue of beauty. Or rather I should call it the


virtue, since beauty as either cause or effect in "good" art has been a hotly debated aspect of art since time-just-about-immemorial. I think about it quite a lot myself, in the context of an actor who can't help but notice that some very pretty, very untalented folks get rather far rather fast. But last night, engulfed by it, I started thinking in less jaded terms about the role of beauty in artistic expression.

A girl I knew in college and I were taking a walk in our fairly new home of Richmond, Virginia. I remember passing an old, decrepid brick building, with exposed and broken pipes and a fire escape, all various shades of red and rust. I wondered aloud what it was that was drawing me to ugliness lately. My friend replied, "What makes you think that's ugly?" And she was right -- it was beautiful. Thinking of that run-down building as ugly was a preconceived judgment on my part, based on ideas about good and evil as they apply to structure, society, prosperity, etc. It's an easy mistake, as beauty/ugliness is in itself about as subjective a concept as I can imagine. It has as much to do with an emotional response as with anything else, and emotions are not binary. I suppose part of what impresses me about Ailey's work is that I'm immediately confronted with stupidly beautiful people, and then that experience of beauty is surpassed in strides (literally) by the beauty of some particular movement or shape they create.

Of course, I'm sure there are some who will disagree.

Actually, the subjective nature of beauty and ugliness (and all gradients thereof) gives me some hope for capital-T Truth playing a significant role in our work. One of the most famous (read: most cliched) quotes about Beauty and Truth having a relationship come from poor, too-soon-departed Keats:

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

It's one of those that I can go on considering in different lights throughout my life, I think. (That has proven true thus far, anyway.) You've got to love that the essence of the argument is the only bit in quotes; the idea that it is all we (or it [the urn]) know, and all we (or it [you know: the urn]) need to know, is all Keats. In other words, it's up to us whether we know it or need to know it, but history itself tells us that that Beauty = Truth, and vice versa.

Why am I going on about a (beautiful) poem? Because it forms the basis of a relationship between Beauty and Truth that is key to my assertion. That is, the commonality between perceptions of beauty is founded on a more shared, communal sense of Truth. In other words, given just how incredibly individual is everyone's opinion about what is ugly and what is beautiful, it makes sense to me that there must be a contributing factor to all those disparate opinions that allows them to find common ground in some cases -- that common factor being Truth. In my humble opinion. Capital-T Truth, mind you, which has less to do with empirical facts and more to do with feeling, with instinct. I think an innate sense of this Truth is that in which we're all participating when we come to an mutual appreciation of Beauty.

Certainly one can have beauty without Truth (one can have it, thanks to advertising and such, any time one wants it); hence my capital-B Beauty. Otherwise known as Glory, Spirit, Love, etc. I wouldn't have called seeing Alvin Ailey a religious experience per se but, then again, it did rather feel like going to church ought. There were times I felt lost, others when I felt as though we were going through the motions a bit, then suddenly a time without a sense of time, when I felt lifted out of myself and part of a whole I had barely felt myself in just moments prior. Then it would end, as all things must I suppose, and seem just as brief as it had infinite when it was happening. It's difficult to define or even describe a unifying experience, even though all of us have at some time or another felt it, probably because most of our intellect comes of division, of making distinctions. So you have to live the moments of unity. And should we creators and makers and artists try to make Beautiful work?



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.


I'm frankly surprised: I did a search for this word in the Aviary, to see when I'd ruminated on it previously, and came up with only one occurrence -- yesterday. That was only in reference to Friend Melissa's upcoming dance exhibition. The reason this surprises me is that I think about it quite a bit in terms of human (read: my) behavior. I think it's pretty undeniable that one does not become an actor without a certain persistent "Look at me!" impulse, and naturally I feel a bit conflicted about that. I don't think that's one of the better bits of acting technique, I really hate obvious artifice and insincerity, I do hate to be scrutinized, yet I must admit that I have a very basic urge to perform for an audience.

I've had two rehearsals over the past two evenings, one for each performance I'm doing



. Tuesday night was for the benefit performance with

Bond Street Theatre

, and I spent a couple of hours cavorting about Monty-Python-style in their loft rehearsal-space-slash-apartment. I had come from il day jobo, and so was dressed in appropriate gear for the scene: button-down shirt, slacks, etc. As we progressed, however, I cuffed up my pants so the hems wouldn't drag (I was shoeless) and, as I got warmed up, stripped off my shirt, so I was wearing only my undershirt. Suddenly I found I had more energy for making physical choices. I was very interested in the choices to be made in the character's posture, his pace and quality of movement, and all the rest. Getting warm and losing the little suggestions of restriction that office clothes suggest contributed to this, of course, but there is also a large mirror in the studio that did not escape my attention.

Presume for a moment that there is a difference between an impulse toward exhibition, and vanity. They may be so closely related that they're like married cousins (ew), but let's still say they've got a distinct DNA strand or two. Vanity presupposes an attractive visage, or at the very least the potential to attract in that way. Exhibitionism, however, has more to do with being seen than being admired and/or being wanted for procreation purposes. Those of us excited by looking wretched in front of large groups may not necessarily be all that vain. What vanity I do suffer I try to be aware of, and keep in check with equal parts objectivity and self-deprecating humor.

It's a lucky thing that I have nice eyes; they just read past my long, crooked nose that way.

That sort of balance of power, if you will.

Last night the rehearsal was for the reading of

Tom Rowan

's play,

Burning Leaves

, and it actually took place at Tom's apartment, on 40th Street. The whole thing was a bit unconventional: in an apartment that had recently been moved into, an unfamiliar neighborhood, it was late to accommodate various schedules. Unconventional does not in this case mean unusual, mind -- New York conditions of living and renting often necessitate unconventional solutions. Nevertheless, I had a lot of time to kill before rehearsal, and in that time I think I got a little uncomfortable, a little introspective, so that when I arrived for rehearsal I didn't feel all that engaged, much less demonstrative. It's rather a new group to work with, too, yadda yadda yadda. I had my reasons. I was self-conscious, and slow to warm up. Gradually I became more comfortable, and my acting choices improved in both their execution and the quality of choice. This time, however, I did not find the comfort to improve from exhibiting myself. Rather, I found it in gradually letting go of the worries related to exhibiting oneself.

Oh, balance! You are such an elusive spirit! When I began looking seriously into Eastern philosophy, I ultimately chose to align myself with Taoism instead of Zen Buddhism (this was way back in the day, when I was so young I didn't know what a hangover was [not really] and I didn't have necessary stretches to do every morning). There were many reasons for this choice -- although the concept of Zen had a strong appeal for me -- but the most convincing reason has to do with the difference in the way Taoists and Buddhists generally approach the problem of human desire. Buddhists believe the only way to spiritually improve oneself is to rid oneself of all earthly desires, and possibly, ultimately, all spiritual desires as well (they don't have


for nothing). Taoists, on the other hand, acknowledge desire as a natural aspect of humanity, and one that's part of the whole process. Transcendent thought and action is available in any part of the whole. Instead of urging you to let go of all desire from the word "go," a Taoist might say, "Good luck with that," and mean it. I think desires are good to transcend. I also think they're good to learn from.

So I keep performing. The farther along I get, the more that desire for exhibition changes; perhaps it grows more mature. I'd like to think it does. I'd like to think that I'll become more intelligent and balanced in my performance as I continue to live and learn and, so far at least, I believe my progress has been evident. In the long view. When I was in my hometown for

The Big Show

, I ran into my high school drama teacher in a restaurant, the very day of the event. I hadn't seen or spoken to him in over a dozen years, and I was shy to approach him. Once I had, however, I wanted to audition for him. Not to be cast, obviously. But maybe just to be seen.