"When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire."

I have spent far too much time here at work trying to find the source for this quote. What I have mostly found, are 'blogs. Endless fields of 'blogs. The quote, as I know it, is a vocal sample at the start of a song called

Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,


The Stars

. It sounds rather like Orson Welles to me, but it could very easily be someone trying to sound like Orson. No clue. It's frustrating. I really need to know who said this, and as a part of what.

Because I want to tattoo it on my chest.

Just found it. It's the lead singer's father,

a noted actor

. (Dag! No wonder I was having trouble finding it.) Yet I am still context-less, apart from the album itself, which is mostly about breaking up and breaking down. (Such a novelty in a pop album.) It sounds so much like a classic quote, and Mr. Campbell is noted for his association with

The Stratford Festival

, so the possibility persists. In the meantime, I'll just have to go on ascribing my own meaning, on which more in a moment.

This is one of those strange things from strange places. The album was released some three years ago, and I'd never heard of it. The song came to me in the form of a mix CD made for me by a relative stranger (though we did pretend to tromp together through deepest Africa once) from

Camp Nerdly

. He handed it off to sort of drop cargo on his way out, originally intending--I believe--to barter with it at the Nerdly goods swap. It's all scratched up from transport and informal packaging, and I frankly couldn't be sure it would load into ye olde iTunes successfully. Yet it did, and weeks later it is rapidly scaling my "Tha' Jams You Can't Leave Alone" chart.

What does it mean? Not the fortuitous and coincidental nature of my acquisition, mind you, but the words: When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.

Well, kids, for me this is a pretty direct statement. I mean, I do spend some time involuntarily picturing men in the arctic north who've set fire to everything and are now drawing lengths of rawhide to see who gets shoved in the flaming pile of sleds, dogs and clothing. But I quickly


such an image to my usual metaphor: acting. Also: life. Generally: inseparable, when you're doing something right.


Friend Patrick

might put it, fire has been a recurrent symbol in my life lately. Literally and figuratively, come to think of it. I loved my parents' fireplace back in

Burke, Virginia

, and lots of rituals surrounded it in the winter months. Whenever I get the chance (the last such chance being a rooftop barbecue last Sunday, and prior to that, Camp Nerdly), I put myself in charge of the fire. It's methodical and physical to build, dangerous and unpredictable in practice, but also warming, soothing and inspiring. So perhaps it's natural for me, especially now, to link the notion of fire with acting. There's a great quote from

Slings and Arrows

about why actors act that I can neither remember, nor find online, but it says something about why anyone would want to return to normal life once they had experienced the kind of truth one can achieve through a successful performance on the stage. That's setting yourself on fire.

As for having nothing left to burn, well, here's a couple of different thoughts on that:

  • Maybe that's the job of the actor, to find that level of stakes and desperation for the appropriate moments on stage. Not every character is despondent, but every good character should want something so badly that he or she comes to a point--at least once--of not knowing what to do about it.
  • That happens all the time to most actors in America, and dare I say the world. Even when our personal or financial lives aren't a shambles, we tend to work ourselves past all endurance on parts we play until either epiphany or disaster occur. Either we pull off the trick of a phoenix . . . or we don't.

Of course, none of this probably has much of anything to do with what the songwriter(s) intended. But that's the beauty of pop music, isn't it? It means what you most need it to mean at the moment you need it.

When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.

Roller Derby? I Haven't Even MET Her Derby!

Friday last I had myself a bit of an adventure, in the lovely Garden State of New Jersey. (Oh, how I can't say enough good things about New Jersey, and all its loveliness! My God! The state's beauty is only out won by its inherent and seemingly effortless virtue! Hail unto thee, New Jersey!

Hail unto thee!


Friend Kira

has taken up a new pastime, and Friday night was her first official bout. That's right. Friend Kira is gone and joined the army of awesomeness that is the

Garden State Rollergirls


Seriously: Awesome. Roller derby combines many of my greatest loves--dual identities, loud music, theatre, humor, violence and women. Tough chicks, to be more specific. Ever since joining the circus, I have had a pointed appreciation for tough chicks, and these were some of the toughest I have ever seen. And their skate names rule:



Jenna von Fury




Layla Smackdown

and, my personal favorite,

Belle N. Somebashin'

. Roller derby comes with my highest recommendation.

Kira's team is dubbed The Northern Nightmares, and last Friday they went skate-to-skate with Jersey City Bridge & Pummel, and therein did they prove themselves worthy of the gods' acclaim. (Sorry--I've been reading a lot of

Mary Renault

, and it has me thanking Zeus and fearing Poseidon.) Which is to say, the NNs wiped the floor with Bridge & Pummel. You may read Kira's somewhat inebriated account of the bout


. I agree with her perspective on the thing: B&P were playing at a distinct disadvantage, but playing hard nonetheless. I hope Kira feels further motivated by her contributions to the victory.

It's been very interesting hearing about Kira's progress through this experience. It's been quite physically arduous for her, and she makes no effort to avoid admitting that she's the slowest of the team, yet she has stuck with it and has a kind of passion for it that surprised me at first. I don't credit myself with an appreciation for activities that I'm not naturally talented in. (Hell of a sentence, that. Shall we try again?) THAT IS TO SAY, when I don't show any kind of aptitude for a thing, I generally cease to work at it. It's hard for me to keep up an initial enthusiasm in such cases, and this has come to haunt me in the past year. I was not allowed to quit at learning Italian, because I simply needed to speak and understand it better. I suppose I could have quit trying in my performance of

A Lie of the Mind

and saved myself a lot of heartache, but the alternative of phoning it in was simply not an alternative for me. I would have had a much better time of it if I could have quickly gotten past the kind of automatic self-loathing that such occasions give rise to. It's something to work on.

Kira's experience also reminds me of a kung fu class I enrolled in with Friend Mark back in 2000. I eventually quit the class, out of frustration with the structure of the school and the time demands of trying to attend it and support my acting career, and those energies quickly found some outlet in my circus studies. But the reminiscence I particularly remember from

Alan Lee's Kung Fu/Wu Shu Academy

was the trial class Mark and I took together. Mark is a multi-degree blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, and I think while he was staying in the city he just wanted to keep in shape and encourage me toward martial arts. So I found the school and he joined me in testing it out. In the trial class, we were sequestered into our own group of two and a teacher took us through our paces. One of the training methods employed by that school is to incorporate conditioning at the beginning and end of the class, which helps both to make the simply workout more efficient and keep the muscles trim--the ideal of this lithe and quick style of fighting. So one of the first things our private teacher that day asked of us was thirty push-ups.

When I look back on it, I wonder if he wasn't being a bit soft with us. At the time, however, I remember thinking, "Did he say thirty 'push-ups'? That can't be right." I don't believe I had ever done over ten push-ups in a row before in my life up to that point. When I was young and chubby, I simply couldn't. When I got older and slim, I didn't see the point. The only physical activity I had really been interested in at that point was the common pratfall, the which really only requires a willingness to take your lumps. In college I was cast in a production of

The Three Musketeers

that taught me a thing or two about stamina and flexibility, but nothing of the benefits of strength. The instructor did say "push-ups," and I did end up doing them, and more.

The next day, I couldn't raise my arms from the elbow to anything sharper than 90 degrees. I looked mighty funny, I assure you, trying to eat and brush the hair from my eyes. I was borderline injured from the exertion, yet I wanted nothing more than to do it again. I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that my incapacitation was a sign that I had done something seemingly impossible. I had transcended. I had broken past a barrier, and it hurt like hell, and it felt amazing and wonderful.

It's not every day we are presented with an opportunity to become more. Or is it? Maybe the opportunity is always there, but we only recognize it when circumstances align a certain way. Whichever the case may be, it is a cause for celebration, that effort to transcend. So I celebrate you, Skarzipan. Thanks for the inspiration. As soon as I find a new apartment, I'm going to install my pull-up bar and sign up for the

Ultimate Fighting Championship


Take a Breather, My Heart

A preface: Over the summer I grew a little obsessed with an idea that I've harbored for some years now. Namely, getting a tattoo. I've known what I want for a while now, though don't have a specific design yet (damn but I should have stuck with my art classes) and over the summer I figured out where I would get it. That, combined with a certain rediscovered penchant for irresponsible decisions very nearly drove me into tattoo parlors in both Florence and Scranton. Now, anyone who knows me knows that:

tattoo : me :: lace apron : Godzilla

That was part of the appeal, to be honest.

Cut to now (

the ever-glorious now, the ever-present...now,

to quote the late, great Mark Sandman) and my first doctor's visit on the new health insurance. It had been a little over a year since meeting with Ellen Mellow, M.D (and my first meeting [during the second day of last year's subway strike] was my first insured doctor's appointment of my adult life), and we had a lot of ground to cover (see Dec. 2 entry for details). Doctor M. specializes in heart health, and during my check-up she spent a good deal of time listening with her stethoscope. This seemed a little odd to me, but I told myself to relax and let time slip by. Then she asked me to lie down while she did more of the same, listening to my heart from multiple angles. That request put me even more in a "huh?" place. Then she terrified me.

"You have the most amazing arrhythmic heart variations."

Actually, she said a lot more, all in indecipherable medical jargon, but that's the dumbed-down version. As I came to understand, I have what Dr. Mellow considers to be a rarefied variety of regularly changing heart rhythms. She even went so far as to say that it could simply be due to my being an actor, due to emotional versatility/extremism, but that we'd better take an echo scan just to be sure.

And like in a bizarre old movie, she opened a side door from the examining room and there was a darker room with a big machine in it being operated by a man of Asiatic heritage who wasn't much for bedside manner. In the tersest terms he instructed me to lie on my side, close to him and the machine, and rest my left arm under my head. As I maintained my reclining-Venus pose, he attached three disposable electrodes to my chest, triangulating signals on my heart, then smeared a glob of teal gel on what looked like a bladeless electric razor and pressed it into my lower left pectoral muscle.

Bing! Just like that on the computer screen was a grainy, black-and-white image of my beating heart. I saw valve. And for the rest of the examination, at least ten minutes, I was rapt. He pushed the not-an-electric-razor with its not-entirely-warm gel in all different angles off my torso, and I saw live images of my heart switching from cha-cha to two-step, to waltz, to west-coast swing. I thought, as I lay there being prodded, how remarkable it was that we got something so right in ancient times as associating emotion with our hearts. They're not the source, nor a depository, but damned if they don't tie together the whole experience in a visceral way.

It makes perfect sense to me that my heart doesn't, and may never have, kept metronomic time. I don't know if I'll ever get that inking of a great black bird in mid-flap over my left breast. But if I do, it will have good company. Something wild, something of a scavenger, an improviser, itself.