And we need a little snappy happy ever after

Heading north on an Amtrak on Christmas day and watching the wintery Hudson River, dark water contrasting with the bright snow-covered land, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas was the perfect soundtrack. There is, granted, a root of personal preference to this judgment, as I generally consider John Denver to be not necessarily perfect but, at the very least, reliably excellent. But I maintain that while the mountains in the background were no craggy-topped Rockies, what they lacked in grandeur, they retained in solemn immovability and their invitation to disappear, and the soundtrack felt fitting.

It wasn’t disappearing that I had in mind, however, unlike the tempting fantasies that whisper in my ear when I sit behind the wheel of a car. Sitting on that train, I switched to my shuffled holiday playlist when the album finished and gave myself a surprise when Dar Williams’ upbeat “Christians and the Pagans” brought tears to my eyes with the words “Amber’s uncle saw how Amber looked like Tim and like her father. / He thought about his brother, how they hadn’t spoken in a year, / He thought he’d call him up and say, ‘It’s Christmas, and your daughter’s here.'”

2017 was quite a year. As life on a national level continued to unravel, my affairs on a personal and professional level, conversely, came together in astounding ways. Not magnificent ways – didn’t save any lives, still not rich and famous – but in ways that still astounded me by how much the odds seemed to be tilted in my favor. Even the parts of it that were frightening or saddening still had an almost storied quality to them, not because the events themselves were so amazing but because it’s just difficult to believe that such things would really happen to little ol’ me.

That seems like a funny thing to experience, given that I’ve never been a person with any sort of self-esteem deficit. But just because I think that I’m charming and witty and, not least of all, irresistibly attractive doesn’t mean that I’d ever pictured the hot piece that is me dancing in an East Village Bar at one in the morning with an avant-garde director whom I’d read about in my college textbooks or hanging with my cool friends in a downtown music studio as we jammed out for hours (fun fact about playing keys versus playing piano: you generally only need one hand for the former, which leaves your other hand free to hold a drink) or nearly getting into a barfight with a room full of white supremacists or taking a selfie with the director of the world premiere of the Thai film that I had just seen at the Busan International Film Festival near the end of my solo trip to South Korea.

I haven’t written any of the books that would contain those stories yet, but I’ve been living a lot of the things that I’d thought I’d write about.

And as all of those things fill me up, become part of me, I feel just a little further away each time that I return home. Not because I’m “above it” in any way, but it’s like I was a slightly floppy and empty, and each life experience pumps just a little more air into me, causing me to stand just a little straighter on my own and just a little more apart from the things that I leaned on for so long – or, in another phrasing, that had supported me for so long.

I don’t play the piano very much when I visit home now. It’s loud and disturbing to other people in the house. There are some out of tune notes in the upper register. And now that I have an electric piano of my own in my apartment, being able to play on a full-size weighted keyboard isn’t an opportunity that I have to seize while I have the chance. But I did flip through the Christmas music on a couple of the days that I visited home, picking out a few of my seasonal favorites – including one with which I have a long history.

Back when I was in kindergarten, we were asked if we wanted to get up and sing a song in from of the class. It was pretty much what you’d expect: Row Row Row Your Boat, Pop Goes the Weasel, probably a smattering of TV theme songs lost to the early 90s. Being the cool kid that I am, I pulled out the obvious and appropriate selection of “We Need A Little Christmas” from Mame. Because really, who could better interpret the lines “For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder/ Grown a little sadder, grown a little older/ And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder” than an actual five-year-old?

I certainly don’t recall those words bringing tears to my eyes back then, but once again, I found myself welling up. Was there something about Christmas that was making me emotional this year?  Even if the latter of the songs making me verklempt was at least equal part showtune — full disclosure that I wasn’t that very much Different From The Other Kids, as I’d picked up the song from The Muppet Family Christmas (and found the rest of the lyrics in a Broadway songbook we had lying around) rather than from being a precocious Jerry Herman devotee – the multiple instances pointed to a common denominator.

I started pecking away at these thoughts on Christmas Day, and by some accounts, today is when the Wise Men would have found Jesus, at least in the geographical sense. One of the reasons that my swellings of emotion from Christmas tunes stems from how holidays in general have tended to mean less to me as I’ve gotten older, and not just for reasons of religion (or the lack thereof). While that undoubtedly contributes to the lessened significance of some occasions, even the non-religious holidays have felt less like occasions and more like routine.

The marking of the New Year, however, is one that has stayed with me. Not necessarily the celebration of the turning of the clock, as these days, I’m more likely to rejoice when I don’t have to stay up until midnight. But I do appreciate an accounting of things, and these markers of time, as arbitrary as they may be, can be put to good use. Often it seems that I’m in the middle of some project that doesn’t allow for lifestyle overhauls when the calendar turns to January – case in point, I’m currently at the last of a string of 10:00am-11:00pm tech days (with an hour-long commute on each side), which aren’t particularly conducive to accomplishing anything outside of going to/being at/coming from work and maybe, just maybe, taking a shower – but if I make my plans at the solar New Year, then I’m generally in good shape by the time that the lunar New Year hits.

New Year’s resolutions aren’t particularly my jam, but I’ve stolen an idea that I overheard while eating at a noodle joint in New Haven where I give each year a theme. The bro who gave me the inspiration had given the example of having a theme of “connection,” where he made making time for friends, staying in touch with family, and reaching out to people he’d lost touch with a conscious priority. I haven’t always  been so poetic – one year, my theme was “shit or get off the pot” – but it’s still be a useful practice for me.

And so, with a drum roll, I present this year’s theme: putting out.

Even as the world burned down around so many, I received so much good fortune this past year. Things seemed to just come together for me. And so, having taken in so much, I want to focus on what I can put back out into the world. While I’m no moneybags, I want to take stock of where my charitable giving stands in order to both maximize and optimize it. My schedule of availability is not likely to become any more cooperative for group events, but I want to give more time and energy to taking productive action on behalf of causes that are important to me. And most of all, I want to really bear down on my creative output.

To that end, while trying to keep to a weekly blogging schedule was a wonderful exercise during 2017, I’ll be cutting back here in 2018 in favor of some larger projects that I’ve had on the backburner. Please, don’t start crying yet – I plan to still write a couple of posts per month, just to keep me honest. But Boss Me is going to start demanding that Employee Me starts to put in some real hours on that creative work, which always seems to find a way to slip down the priority list. It can be difficult to build a routine when my life has no set schedule as far as my actual employment is concerned, but I’ve hatched upon a plan where I keep a cumulative 54-hour workweek. Any hours that aren’t used by my actual job are owed to creative work. And that way, I hopefully also won’t get that discouraging feeling of having fallen off of the wagon when heavy weeks at work take over my life.

2018: it’s time to put out. Because sometimes when we need a little music, we need to hang the tinsel up ourselves.

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Listen to the tune that keeps sounding in the distance

This is the dream I dreamt…

I was carrying on with my own business in a small local town. There was a sense of impending threat. There was some sort of war going on, a factional one, and our community was at risk. We told ourselves that

But as we were walking through the forest, I looked up and saw a dark object in the sky, tiny and far away. From it came hurtling a bright spot that rapidly grew larger enough to discern as a fireball. It struck what probably was the next neighborhood over. I just knew that there was another one coming, so I began to run, keeping my eye on the sky – and sure enough, before I even had the chance to get much of anywhere, another fireball appeared, aiming straight toward us.

We all ran.

I was in a traditional-feeling, wood-and-paper-constructed shop of some sort with others, and we knew that after those bombings, the actual invaders couldn’t be far behind. There was a loud tumult outside, and I ducked into the bathroom just in time to see the ruling faction march in and begin rounding up my friends the shop people. I stayed tucked in the bathroom for a while.

When I peeked back out, my shop friends were being paraded back into the main shop area as prisoners and the invaders were being installed s the new bosses. I slipped outside and began walking briskly down the street. A white woman with a high quality camera was passing by, so I latched onto her and began asking her technical questions so that I would hopefully be less noticeable.

It wasn’t until after I woke up that I consciously realized that one of the strange things about the dream was how the people populating it were mostly Asian. And that spurred the realization of how that stood in contrast to what was apparently usually the case.

I thought about that dream as the airplane carried me from Osaka to Seoul, and I found that my personal anxieties (of not fitting in, of facing hostility) had disappeared when faced with the more mundane bigger picture. This was a people. This was how life went on in the face of nuclear geopolitics.

Descending below the clouds to finally see the bridges stretching across the Han River, a swell of emotion reminded me of my first international flight (that I could actually remember), when I was 20 years old and went to England to do research for an academic project. Back then, I’d been caught off guard by a fierce gut reaction to seeing the lights of Newark International Airport shrinking below me. I felt a strain on that binding tie that resists disloyalty, like I was abandoning someone and needed to articulate, if only to myself, that this was not goodbye, that I would be back. Now, I again felt something on a very physical level, a relationship between body and land, only this time, it was the surreal experience of making the return to somewhere I had never known.

I thought of the dream again a couple nights later. After spending the day swanning about in hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I’d found some maduguk for dinner (#goals) and was going to hop onto a bus back to the boarding house where I was staying for this leg of my journey. But when I got to the bus stop, I changed my mind, remembering that there had been an impressive statue in the large boulevard leading toward the palace.

And so I kept walking.

As I continued into the city, I heard music, amplified but live. It was a mesmerizing blend of traditional and wild, the spirit of jazz flowing through a drum and solo instrumental voice that would not allow itself to be called a melody. It was not far at all, still well within the sight of the palace where the wide boulevard was lined by art museums, that I discovered an outdoor concert, where the musicians onstage were powering a calligrapher wielding a giant brush who was painting hangul writ large. Indeed, I recalled, it was Hangul Day, the holiday celebrating Korea’s literacy of its own creation. I concluded that this must be some sort of public concert held in celebration.

I joined the crowd, standing on the plaza off to the side yet also right up front, because how great was that, stumbling onto a free concert? But as I stood there looking at all of the people, my dream returned to me, and all I could think of was watching those balls of fire in the sky, so tiny at first but growing larger and larger and larger as they approached their inevitable targets.

This is how I’m going to die, I thought.

As it turns out, I did not die at a hangul concert in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. And after that night, my dream drifted back into the realm of curiosity rather than looming as prophecy. How much of that really, I wonder, was actual Korean nuclear anxiety and how much was it an American import of the Las Vegas massacre that had occurred just days before? (Oh, the irony of my grandparents’ fears for my safety traveling abroad, I had thought, when the real terror lived at home.) Was it, like me, just some neurotic blend of the two?

A couple weeks ago, I had myself a two-show week at the Public Theatre. First, I was fortunate enough to see my friend Ceci Fernandez playing the lead role in Tiny Beautiful Things, regularly played by Nia Vardalos. While I wouldn’t call the play a life-changing work of dramatic writing, it was a wonderful, heart-expanding communal experience, like a church service comprised solely of homilies.

But what was unsurprisingly disturbing and yet, more prominently, unexpectedly affirming for me was Julia Cho’s’ Office Hour in the tiny Martinson Theater a few days later. This energizingly theatrical work explored the story of a college professor trying to get through to a student in her writing class whom her colleagues have warned her has all of the signs of a school shooter. Notably in this extremely American story, both the professor and the student are Asian.

On my way out of the theater following the play, two older white ladies walking in front of me were discussing the show between themselves and one commented about how she felt that all of the guns were confusing and distracted from “the cultural issues.”

Reminder: this was a play about a potential school shooter.

But I could only guess that the faces that woman was seeing could only belong one story, that of the “culture clash.” Indeed, in one conversation, the professor discusses how her parents didn’t want her to become a writer – ah, yes, of course, the strict and traditional Asian parent! Clearly this was what explained these two lives in crisis that we were watching. Whence could the rage – the rage that was so shocking to see depicted on stage but the existence of which was so viscerally, familiarly real – come but from that? Those people and their culture issues!

I left those people behind me but kept the story with me as I walked out of the theatre.

(You still have a little time left to catch both shows – Office Hour runs through December 3 and Tiny Beautiful Things through December 10. And while I highly recommend Office Hour, please do heed the production’s warnings about gunshots and gun violence.)

I miss the mountains

On the night before Halloween, my last night visiting my family at my childhood home before finally, after more than a month, returning to my own apartment in New York City for long enough to justify unpacking my suitcase, I had a lot to get done. And so I picked up a folder of paperwork to sort through and spent about a half-hour sitting on my bedroom floor and staring at the wall in blank despair. Realizing that this was accomplishing nothing, I very deliberately flopped flat onto my face and fell asleep drooling onto the carpet.

I suppose you could say that the process of returning to regular life has had its challenges.

I’d thought that I’d pushed through the worst of during the prior week, when I’d spent a twenty-four hour period maniacally re-obsessing over the entertainment of my college days in a self-aware but completely unironic attempt to find comfort in the familiar, winding myself up into an increasing tizzy until my brain at last rocketed into outer space, passing beyond the realm of reality’s grounding pull to that weightless expanse with no secure anchor. That evening was a memorial service that, as unhappy as I was that it was necessary, I had been grateful that my schedule would allow me to attend.  From my friends on the internet, I crowdsourced a chorus of echoes that yes, I should go to the memorial service. My lovely friends encouraged me and assured me that I would feel better for having attended, which then made me feel bad for having led people to assume that it was the person’s untimely death that was giving me so much angst and not just my own solipsistic doubts about the objective existence of reality.

(Side note: this is called anxiety. Specifically, anxiety manifested as depersonalization and derealization episodes. If you feel yourself experiencing this, it is a condition, not you, and it can be addressed.)

The memorial service did make me feel better, if not for the expected reasons. It was a service for a theatre man, largely for the theatre community. As such, the service was naturally followed by a reception with a lot of, for lack of a less gauche term, schmoozing. And I am, if anything, a natural schmoozer. With a cup of red wine in one hand and some brie on multi-grain bread in the other, I felt myself coming back to life as I cruised the room – not on auto-pilot, no, but able to fall back on habit, able to do something that came easy to me.

Honestly, “schmooze” makes it sound a lot tackier than the reality of the situation. In the theatre industry, unless you are one of the rare birds that works as part of a resident company, much of one’s life consists of forming close professional and personal relationships with people over the course of a month to maybe, for those on one of those few long-running shows, a year and then being uprooted to start a new project in a different place – maybe across town, maybe across the country. Staying in touch with people you like as an adult can be difficult enough to fit in around everyday responsibilities even when everyone is working on a relatively similar 40-hours-per-week schedule. When you regularly work 54-hour, six-day weeks and don’t necessarily have the same day off (and also live in New York City, where public transportation means that it can take you over an hour to go to a friend’s apartment 10 miles away — if the MTA happens not to be breaking down), socializing beyond those with whom you’re currently working in the same physical location can become quite the arduous task.

(Which isn’t to say “boo hoo, boo hoo.” It’s a trade-off, of course. But just because a negative trade-off is accepted doesn’t magically make it be not negative.)

As a result, when there’s an occasion for a mass gathering – whether it be an opening or a rally or, you know, a memorial service – one takes advantage of being present with others and being able to reconnect. Sure, that might mean “please remember that I exist so that I come to mind when there’s an appropriate job opening,” but even that desire to pay for rent and groceries has some element of “I want us to be in the same room together.” Or at least “I wouldn’t mind being in the same room together.”

Trust me, after a certain volume of experience, one encounters those who don’t meet that standard.

But it also didn’t feel inappropriate for the celebration of Michael Friedman’s life and the shared grief at his death to have a post-show reception. “Even after,” I remarked to a colleague whom I hadn’t seen in a while, “he’s still bringing people together.”

That was something that struck me about the service. While naturally there were performances of his songs and mourning for all of his music that we would never hear, what people talked of most was how he made them feel. Not with his artistic creations. Just with himself: watching him, talking with him, being with him. It was inspiring to hear people articulate how they could be so deeply moved by simply knowing a person.

Something that I’d been struggling with since returning from my travels was the end of the freedom of accountability from anyone. The last week of my trip had been completely solo, and for an intensely introverted person such as myself, the experience of being accountable only to myself and my own time – and in a foreign country, no less, where I didn’t know the language, so no one could speak to me, even if they wanted to  — was a beautiful thing. In the words of every “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?”  description, being alone “recharged” me. But despite the energizing implications of the word “recharge,” it also calmed me. The muscle underneath my right shoulderblade that had been twitching for nearly a year loosened up, and I’m pretty sure that the overall height of my shoulders dropped by about half an inch due to lost tension. Maybe the “What careers should you consider?” computer quiz that we took in my junior year of high school was on the right track when it recommended that I should look into working at a funeral home.

Hearing about Michel’s impact on people, however, was aspirational. Imagine, being a person like that! To have such a positive effect on people’s existences! And while of course Michael was an extremely singular individual, what he did as a friend and brother did not require being an athlete or a genius or some other characteristic determined in the lottery of birth. To be good, to be loving, to lift people up in your interactions with them – those were things that could be developed and were within reach.

Of course, as evidenced by the first paragraph, this didn’t solve everything for me.

Even now, I can’t tell if the experience of that memorial service tempered, albeit briefly, or further inflamed the rabid bite that had attacked me suddenly in my travels and been festering since: the conviction that all art is bullshit.

(This thing is a problem when you: 1) work in the arts, and 2) aren’t paid enough money, 3) for something that you don’t have to be doing.)

I mean, I’ve long been of the conviction that art is not inherently worth taking so seriously. This is, I should qualify, different from the capital-t “The”” capital-a “Arts,” in my mind. The Arts are, of course, an important cultural means for developing good humans, which as a result contributes to having a good society. And I’m not talking about didactic art teaching proper lessons (though art is an effective teaching tool), but of the practice of art, as creator or consumer, being a method of developing self-honesty, empathy, critical thinking, and communication. To say nothing of the value of bringing delight and beauty into people’s lives. Hell, I’m even a supporter of bad art, in the same way that I’m a supporter of “useless” research: sometimes you need the space to have the misses in order to be able to have the hits.

At the same time, if you don’t get a scene just right, the fact is that nobody is going to die. I mean, unless you’re working for Cirque de Soleil and being off by an inch actually does mean that someone might literally die. But I’m talking about not having the money to get the prop that is precisely the correct era, not having a lighting cue land with exactly the right timing, not having a transition run perfectly seamlessly. Of course one wants to respect both the artists and the audience by doing the best work possible. At the moment, however, that humanity begins to be the price paid – when the body-harming sleep deprivation starts, when the anger and abuse boil over, when the spirits of those involved are diminished – it seems proper to remember that what is being performed is not open-heart surgery with someone’s life directly and immediately in our hands.

It turns out that too much hiking solo up mountains and lurking around Buddhist temples wormed something into my brain. I’ve long been what one might call a positive nihilist (i.e., nothing inherently means anything existentially speaking, so it is both our power and responsibility to give and determine meaning), so maybe it was where I’ve been heading all along. As I wandered down stone pathways accompanied only by the sounds of the wind and distant chanting, I found myself feeling wearied at the thought of spending so much time and worldly money on… what? What were we pretending to understand or presuming to try to understand? Doing this, doing that, adding on, adding on, adding on… It all seemed so unnecessary.

I was able to largely put this to the side when my life consisted of solitary exploring, but this increasingly troubled me as I returned to Real Life, the life that revolves around the art that people do.

Granted, it is normal for me that the approach of a first rehearsal brings with it the anxiety of the unknown, even after all these years. In a normal state, however, that manifests itself as merely a hyper-energetic neuroticism, like that first day is an approaching freight train that I’m driven to climbing up the walls in an effort to avoid being crushed. Normal, too, is a certain measure of avoidance. (Note to reader: just answer those emails even if it’s been “too long,” you’ll feel a lot better and you know it.) But this time, it was as if the walls were gone, and rather than being successfully avoided, the push just sent me tumbling into a void.

And that was how I, a thirty-something professional, ended up face-down on the floor, inhaling the pink synthetic fibers of the rug that had been picked out for me when I didn’t even know the words for colors.

First rehearsals come; first rehearsals go. The immediate crisis is over. Like with the memorial service, upon finding myself actually in the situation, familiarity bred competence. And having some sort of sure footing allowed me to feel more human, rather than merely a well-dressed fleshbag full of screaming. The present situation is not one that I can merely deal with, but one that I’m grateful for and honestly, one that I am sure that I will enjoy. I know where I’m going with this. I just can’t say that I know where my path will take me once my current itinerary runs out. Maybe I’ll just continue in the same direction, and maybe it will be with purpose or maybe it will be out of ease of habit.

Or maybe I’ll finally succumb to that voice that has for years whispered into my ear: run away, run away, run away.

I’m not sure from what. I certainly don’t know towards where.

I went away, and I’m not sure if I returned with something more or if I left something behind.

I don’t understand a word they’re saying

“Excuse me? Excuse me??” an older man kept repeating in English at the bottom of the steps leading into Ueno Park. I hesitated. Responding to strange older men is generally not the best life strategy, but given that we were in Tokyo, there was a decent chance that he was simply a lost foreigner who needed help, so I turned back.

“Yes?” I asked.

“You speak English!” he exclaimed with a hope that made the color drain from my deceptively Asian face. He pointed to a nearby booth while brandishing his cell phone. “Can you help me with the phone? I can’t make it work, and when I called the information service, I couldn’t understand…”

“…..sorry, can’t help you, buddy, I’m from New York City.”

Yup, that’s me. You might be wondering how I got here. It all started a few days ago, when a flood of verbs began happening…


Got to the airport Saturday afternoon before the baggage counter opened, waited as the fourth person in line, and watched the staff all line up in front of the counter and bow when they played the service opening announcement.

Brought yoga pants to change into on the airplane because I’m pragmatic but also not a barbarian.

Started off my plane ride with a beer, because why the hell not.

Watched The King, which I enjoyed greatly and would recommend to anyone who likes political thrillers that use humor more than grimness, the 1980s and 1990s, friendships that end in tragedy, and okay maybe don’t like that it’s a sausage party but the women that do appear are awesome (one isn’t even connected to any of the main characters except as a professional!) and definitely should have had bigger roles. Also watched a rakugo performance and a bunch of Japanese sketch comedy, all without subtitles, and understood maybe 5% of the words being said but frantic screaming tends to translate itself.

Didn’t sleep a wink of the 16-hourr flight as part of my master plan to get myself onto Japan time as quickly as possible.

Touched down in Tokyo on Sunday night, and my phone was really, really convinced that I was in Beijing. I think my phone is a racist.

Collapsed asleep in my hotel bed after having been awake for nearly 24 hours – but not before a shower and a sheet mask because post-flight skincare is serious business.

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Woke up before my alarm and ate at the complimentary breakfast buffet. Consumed natto for the first time. Did not have my Asian card revoked.

Walked to Akihabara the next morning to pick up a prepaid sim card n Bic Camera. Picked up some more sheet masks, but ones with samurai mask designs. Went through quite an ordeal trying to find body lotion in that store with aisles and aisles of face creams and body cleansers and hair treatments. Am pretty sure there were more varieties of vaginal cleansers than body lotions. Grabbed some onigiri from Family Mart and returned to the hotel to get my things for work.

Entered the performance venue, the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, for the first time that afternoon. Was blown away by how ridiculously good the staff is, as they rushed to flawlessly execute scene pre-sets that they’d only observed us working out once before and I was left not having to lift a finger, and the beautiful acoustics of the Recital Hall, which worked absolute magic on music that had already sounded good in the NYC venue.

Wandered the streets for dinner, where I felt a little intimidated by my inability to read the menus and ended up in a little Japanese table bbq joint that had an English menu available. Put some pork cheek and chicken giblets and mixed vegetables over hot coals and didn’t give myself food poisoning.

Another day at the office today, this one with an early start. Went to the Ueno Zoo over lunch break with the production manager (and her affianced), where we saw many animals but especially a monkey, whom we dubbed the Tech Monkey.

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It was 100% Done.

Bought a ticket from a vending machine and put it on the counter for dinner at a tiny tanmen restaurant. Started tech proper onstage after dinner break.

Climbed down the stairs into a basement bar after work that night. Pointed to items on a menu I couldn’t read. Drank a three-herb mojito that had smoke (likely a freezing agent, actually) poured into it from a giant metal canister and something that I still don’t know what the fuck it was. Watched my friend receive a rose mojito featuring rose smoke that was sucked from a vape pen and injected into the glass with a giant syringe.

Decided this morning to go for a run around Ueno Park after breakfast…


But mostly, I’ve been lurking around the inside of the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. And there’s nothing to bring out the mundane in being halfway across the globe as spending most of your waking hours working in a dark theater.

Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t been fun so far. I imagine that things will pick up over the next few days, though, as the show reaches completion. Not only pick up, but also slow down, with my brain being able to truly absorb the reality of where I am and what I’m doing. I had a small taste of that this morning, as I wandered through the streets to a shrine near the hotel. I had just enough time to not have to rush, but I was on my way to work, so it wasn’t a big tourist expedition.

It was just being somewhere completely new. And I’m looking forward to more.

But one day, I’m walkin’ to JFK and I’m gonna fly

Once upon a time, chances were good that you’d probably die before your first birthday. If you managed to stay alive for one full trip around the sun, people were ready to party. (Not such a bad thing to remember when you’re feeling down about what you haven’t yet done – on a historic scale, if you’re reading this right now, you’re kind of a rock star.) Nowadays, we’ve overall improved our infant mortality rates, but it’s still pretty rad when kids stay alive. In Korean culture, the celebration of a child’s first birthday is called doljanchi, or “dol” for short. There’s family and feasting, but most notably, there’s fortune-telling: the doljabi.

For the doljabi, the kid is placed in front of a table with various symbolic items – a book for being intelligent, long thread for long life, money for wealth, etc – and the parents encourage the kid to pick an item with varying levels of leading and interference. What the child grabs is what their future will hold in store.

A friend of mine’s daughter just had her dol, and she apparently did a noodle fake-out before grabbing the bowl of rice. (Seems to me like homegirl was hungry, which is #real.)  Between that and my own approaching birthday, when my mom came to visit me this past weekend, I asked her what I’d picked in my doljabi. She couldn’t remember about the items on the table… but she did remember me grabbing something else. My paternal grandmother, a well-heeled women of the rural business class, was there and wearing a long string of pearls. I had eyes for nothing else. In fact, the main photo of me from my dol is me in my hanbok, pearl necklace in hand.

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Alyssa K. Howard: snatching the pearls from rich white ladies’ necks since 1986.

So I guess that my future was going to be fabulous and a little off the set path. And you know, I can’t say that that was wrong.

In less than a week, I’ll be in Japan. We had our final New York performance this past Saturday. Since then, I’ve been doubling down on trying to make myself awesome.

A couple years ago, I actually won one of those giveaway things that you enter on the internet that signs you up for a dozen mailing lists. It was a pretty sweet prize, and it included some classes/treatments at Exhale, a super posh spa and fitness center. Scheduling my appointments and classes got me entered into their system as a customer, so even though I never go back unless they’re having some sort of special event of free-ness/cheap-ness, as far as the computers are concerned, I’m a person who can actually afford This Lifestyle.

As a result, the other week, I got an email with a birthday offer of 40% off of one of their spa treatments, which would bring the price down to my splurge level. So I was like, heck, sure, it’s my birthday and I’m about to have my big trip and want to look hella fine. And so, I booked myself a facial.

Now, I feel like facials are in that category of things like dental cleanings and haircuts, where it’s like, okay so you’re going to help me here, but you’re also going to examine me and ask me about my daily routines and judge me. But the esthetician, a lovely blond woman with a marked Eastern European accent, might have actually left me glowing as much from the compliments as the actual skin work. She asked me when the last time I’d had a facial was, and I honestly cannot fucking remember and said as much but also that I do a simple weekly DIY facial at home. And she just seemed… very proud of me. Which, in turn, made me feel incredibly proud of myself.

I know how to do the skins!!

After the skin examination, she again expressed approval, noting that I had very good elasticity along with a little bit of clogging around the t-zone area, but really I should just keep doing whatever I’m doing. And near the end, she did extractions, which if you’ve never had that done, is really just point of acute pinching pain. Before she started, she was very clear that I shouldn’t try to be a hero and needed to let her know if it was too much, etc., etc.. Naturally, my response to that was to endure the entire process in even more stoic silence than usual. Afterwards: more praise.

However, I did not receive A’s across the board during this experience. One of the final steps was having a mask sit on my face for a while, during which she gave me an amazing shoulder and neck massage. But as she was working me over, she kind of laughed and said, “You need a massage more than you need a facial!”

All that I could say in response was: “…would you believe that I had a massage yesterday afternoon?”

“WHAT. YOU ARE LIKE A ROCK.”

As a matter of fact, my massage therapist, whom I at this point am actually referring to as “my massage therapist” because I have become that person who has gotten to a first-name basis due to regularity of appointments, gave me a hug as I was leaving the other day and told me to have a good trip and come to see her again when I returned.

(Actually, it only took two visits, months apart, for her to become “my massage therapist.” I’d very much appreciated her work during my first appointment, booked at random, so when I found myself in need again months later, I returned to the same midtown chain and specifically made my appointment with her. She greeted me when I arrived, and when she was taking me to the therapy room, she asked me if it was my first time there. No, I told her, I’d been once before, but months ago.

The massage started, her hands lighted upon my shoulders, and she gasped: “Oh, I remember you.”)

The self tune-up continued today as I got a haircut, that great cliché of life changes and new beginnings. And I am about to go and put myself under the razor.

Because sometimes you’re a female-bodied person who decided that No-Shave November would be a worthwhile exercise in personal development and then just never stopped. (Or re-started, I suppose.) I have nothing against the grooming practice as a preference, but I vividly remember the moment of adolescent indirect bodyshaming that led me to begin shaving (“I wouldn’t even want to be next to a girl who didn’t shave her legs!” my twelve-year-old classmate declared, as I prayed that no one could tell that I had ignorantly violated this terrible taboo of which I was just now learning), as well as now having the perspective that it is neither universal nor timeless. I would have liked to have done a full year… but I guess that also gives me the opportunity to practice not being tied to arbitrary amounts of time for their own sake!

It’s just about time to do the thing.

I’m thirty-two now. And the next time I appear here, I’ll be on the other side of the world.

You gotta grab something, grab something

And so then Michael Friedman died.

I didn’t know him very well. He probably wouldn’t know me from a hole in the ground, and not due to any inattention on his part. I was a production assistant on the stage management team for the Off-Broadway production of The Fortress of Solitude, an adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel, with a book by Itamar Moses and songs by Michael. I’d also been the assistant stage manager on a workshop of the show that past summer. There had been a previous production in Dallas, but it very much was still a new show with constant development and re-writes, all the way until opening. As such, the writers were there almost constantly. It was a show of moderate size, with the stage management team alone having five people, and I was just one of the many new people on board at this new stage of the journey, whereas most of the core creative team and cast had been attached to the project for years.

I was, however, the person on the stage management team in charge of script maintenance and printing, meaning that I kept the constantly changing document both up-to-date but also properly archived as well as being the person who made sure that everyone got the correct new pages. While the music team took care of the score updates in the files themselves, I was still the person who would do all of the physical printing and distribution. So despite Michael and I not interacting directly, I’m finding that I’d developed a perhaps outsized feeling of connection from having his work pass through me before even making it to the performers.

Michael, I killed so many trees for you.

Even besides all that, he was an undeniable sort of person. He wouldn’t so much enter a room as vibrate into it. You could feel the energy radiating from the source, affecting everything in its path.

And then there’s just that sense that you’ve lost someone in the family, even if you didn’t know them well personally. The theatre community forms densely branching networks by virtue of how employment happens. For the most part, you work very intensely with a group of people for a while. Then that project ends, and you do the same with another group of people. Rinse, repeat. As a result, you get to know so many people, and on at a more personal level than many workplace environments demand. Eventually, you almost always know someone who knows someone. Or know someone who knew someone.

And then there’s the art.

For better or for worse, we find something there. Artists create and articulate things that connect us to ourselves and others. These people somehow reach inside of us and touch us in such close places – even though we often have never even met them, we get to know them and they somehow magically seem to know us. It becomes such a personal relationship, even if you wouldn’t recognize each other if you passed on the street.

Granted, not much time had passed, but I found myself thinking of him again when I got off the phone with my grandparents Sunday evening. I had called to wish them a happy Grandparents Day, and I’m pretty sure I left them feeling worse than before because I had refused to promise them that I wouldn’t drink anything that didn’t come in a sealed bottle manufactured by Coca-Cola while I was traveling abroad. Now, I am one-hundred percent prepared to not get asked and to not tell, or even to gracefully elide certain happenings. But being asked point-blank to make an unreasonable promise that I knew that I wouldn’t keep was beyond what I was willing to do. Especially given the underlying xenophobia (only trust U.S. corporations!) and racism (I hadn’t been asked to make a similar promise when I was going abroad in Europe), no matter how well-intentioned it was.

But also, I couldn’t stop thinking “But the world doesn’t give you nothing for free and life can quickly pass you by…”

Our time is so limited – how could I countenance having opportunities that others are never afforded right in front of me and refusing to reach for them because I was keeping my hands and feet inside of the vehicle at all times? Of course there’s going to be risk. But to have your house swept up in the twister and land in Oz, only to refuse to set foot outside of your door – you may never meet the witch, but you’ll never see the wonders.

It also happened that when I opened up my secondary browser that day, the newsfeed popped up that Troy Gentry of the country band Montgomery Gentry had been killed in a helicopter crash. There’s something particularly sad about the death of an eponymous duo to me (see: Siskel and Ebert). I’ve also mentioned before that I’m a country music fan, and, as much as I reject some life actions by the people involved, a couple of Montgomery Gentry’s songs are among my personal favorites.

Like most mainstream country music, the sort of life that’s usually prescribed (or simply assumed as a given) is definitely neither mine nor something that I want. But the spirit of taking pride in living a life of purposeful integrity, no matter what other voices may tell you…

…that’s something that has always called to me loudly. And while I try to make it a continuous, conscious practice, I can’t help but be pointedly confronted with the imperative at instances like these.

Goddamn, but Michael had a life he could hang his hat on.

 

You learn to live without

There was an outline prepared for this past Monday.

Sometimes the structure falls apart.

Earlier last week, I’d been reading an article in The Atlantic entitled “How Friends Become Closer,” but it also could have been called “Why Adult Friending Feels Really Hard” (and not in any euphemistic sense of “adult friend”). It was mostly common sense but articulated in a way that I hadn’t read before and found useful:

But even if someone wants to make friends a high priority in their life, unlike with romantic relationships, for friendships there are fewer cultural scripts to follow to do the work of befriending someone, or making a friendship closer.

“The opportunities for friendship come with how people’s lives are organized,” Rawlins says. “When I talk to students, I say ‘Pay close attention to the habits you’re forming, because before you know it, you have organized your life in a way that doesn’t allow for the kind of friends that you would like to have.’”

Intentionally or not, we all build structures to each of our lives, constructing based on what we have known or around what we encounter or in anticipation of what we expect. And though every structure is unique to that individual, some blueprints are more common than others. Some materials are more readily available. Our respective societies and cultures provide us with different grounds on which to lay our foundations. The community housing association might come after you if they find your structure to be particularly egregious.

Sometimes, by choice or by force, you have to move elsewhere.

Sometimes you stay but someone else stops living there.

Sometimes everything is washed away.

One day back n grad school, we were taking a management class that was focusing on leadership. The instructor gave us markers and those giant post-it notes that you stick to the walls, and they told us to distill into a single phrase our motivating mantra and to draw a picture inspired by it.

Here’s an MS Paint recreation of what I came up with:

without

The hand-drawn version wasn’t particularly more skilled, although I think that the flames looked less like bananas. The visual arts aren’t my forte. But the general message of “Everything will end in fire and ashes” seemed to make its way across.

It’s a powerful motivator. And to me, a positive one.

I know that the way that I’ve structured my life is heavily informed by my innate personality and the events in my life. My default state is being alone, and I like it that way. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, so even as a kid, there was no such thing as time with friends just happening – even just going to play was a coordinated event. When I was three, my family went to Disney World, and our house burned to the ground while we were away. (Extended vacation!) My family has always loved and supported me. My first grandparent died when I was five. My father died when I was seventeen.

Good things are real, and they can happen to you, whether by luck or effort. You just can’t keep them.

This isn’t to present myself as someone who has reached some sort of enlightened nirvana of non-attachment. But although the structure of my life isn’t one of the more standard blueprints, rather than it being some sort of radical choice, it simply follows pretty logically from all of these combined factors.

I’m not romantically oriented, so there is perhaps a more egalitarian approach to professional work, non-professional work, family, and friends. I don’t “hang out,” but relative to my non-user-friendly job schedule, I’m pretty often coordinating events with friends. I had a couple of my friends who were in that very same aforementioned class session over to the apartment last night for a mini dinner party. You don’t know when you’ll next have a chance to treat your friends well.

And this all has been on my mind more pointedly than usual right now because of all of the loss that I’ve seen lately. There is, of course, loss every second somewhere in this world, but the proximity and scale that one experiences varies over time. Lately, there have been some hits close to home. Not only was Hurricane Harvey huge, but I have several friends in and near the affected regions. I have friends going through significant life changes, where the structures of their lives were built for circumstances that no longer apply. And just a few days ago, a friend from high school was living a normal life with her husband and two young children – then the next day, her husband was found not breathing – then the next day, he was gone.

That was when I started to cry.

How to endure even merely seeing someone else have everything fall apart without the least bit of warning?

And there was something particularly hard-hitting about seeing it happen to someone to whom I was admittedly not exceptionally close, but whose life had intersected with mine during those tumultuous teenage years and who had been among the people who had supported me so well in my own loss. Fifteen years later, I can say that that loss doesn’t go away, but neither does the memory of the busload of uniformed girls flooding into the funeral service so far away from our shared school or of being dragged to the opening night of that year’s Harry Potter movie in one of the many unhesitating instances of making it easy for me to not be engulfed by the rebuilding around the newly empty space in my life.

Is there an optimal way to build our lives? Is it about leaning into whatever the current circumstances are? Is it about being able to rebuild completely as things change? Is it about building something that is easily adaptable from the get-go? Something with space for all things without being completely supported by any single one of them?

The answer, I’m sure, is that it depends on the individual person and situation. But maybe that is the crux of it: recognizing the conditional nature of what we can take for granted as being just how things are.

It depends. We depend.

Everything is happening so much, as they say. But should you be in a place to give some support to others, this collection of ways to help those affected Hurricane Harvey includes a number organizations that are locally-focused and not as commonly suggested, and this donation page supports my classmate.

I build myself a home

They say that you should surround yourself with those you aspire toward. Not only does that potentially create connections in a professional context, but in life in general, being exposed to something or someone great can aspire you to work to get to their level.

There’s also the good ol’ fashioned shame factor.

I’ve never been much of a decorator. Whether out of innate minimalism or just laziness, ornamenting my space has never really appealed to me. When I moved into my first apartment for grad school, my mom very thoughtfully packed me some holiday decorations from home. I don’t think they ever saw the outside of the cabinet that I stored them in. After all, they would just sit out there to take up space and do nothing useful until I put them away again – what was the sense? As for putting things up on the walls, I have never seen empty wall space as something with any need to be filled. It’s a wall, it’s doing its job, just leave it be.

But my new roommate (who is actually an old friend) is a former scenic designer and props person who now works for a theatrical lighting company. They have art deco posters. They have copper lighting fixtures. They have furniture that isn’t made out of plastic.

I’ve maybe gone on a home improvement binge over the past few weeks.

To be fair, it isn’t 100% shame. Another thing that I’ve heard said is that every story is about someone either arriving to or leaving town. It shakes things up. I’ve experienced the sense of a fresh start every time that I’ve moved into a new living space myself.  Having someone new moving in has felt similar, even though I haven’t gone anywhere. Largely, each time has been a combination of cleaning out what I don’t need and improving the state of what I do have, whether it be via upgrading or adding a new element or mere re-arranging.

(Let me tell you, few things have made me feel more civilized than getting a cheap-ass bedskirt. It almost makes me feel like as much of a Real Adult as rotating/flipping my mattress on schedule does.)

I’ve not lived a life anywhere near as transient as many others, who have been much more uprooted whether by choice or circumstance. But after having spent my high school years bouncing back and forth between my separated parents, and my undergraduate years split between school-year dorms (which changed every year) and summertime home, and the following years chasing internships up and down the East coast, I was not feeling very settled by the time I hit graduate school.

But during the summer between my second and third years, I stayed in New Haven, making it the first time that I have lived in one place for the course of a full year in a decade. Not only that, but it was the first time that I’d ever lived in a place that was my own (as much as a rental can be), not something set up for me by someone else, not a room in someone else’s house where I used things that someone else had bought.

And for the first time in my life, I nested.

I re-organized my kitchen. I bought myself a nice set of dishes, the kind that I’d always wanted to get “someday.” Granted, it would take me another four years until I finally hosted guests for dinner and used the dang things, but it was the thought that counted. Now, if I wanted to, I could.

When I moved into my apartment in New York, all of the stories I’d heard (and schedule conflicts that I’d accommodated) told of frequent apartment searches and moving. Even when I jumped straight into a two-year lease, I think that I didn’t trust it. Any furniture I had was intended to be easily carried up and down stairs. Hell, for the first year, I was still sleeping on the inflatable mattress that I’d used for my entire time in grad school. (It was only supposed to be a temporary measure back then, but after moving everything else up a five-floor walk-up, you look at your graduation date and think, “You know what? I can deal.”) Not a single item hung on the walls.

But eventually, I began to settle in. It started slowly, mainly with the bed when my back couldn’t take it anymore. But it really picked up over the past year. And even though I still have a lot of plastic furniture because I’m intimidated by both spending money and the effort of getting large items off of ye olde list of Craig, I feel like I’ve finally started to claim this place as my own, rather than simply being a person who live inside of it. It’s home, and it’s mine.

As of the beginning of last weekend, that would have been basically all that I had to say on the subject. By the time I reached the end of last weekend, I had a lot more to say and have been trying to work through it since then.

Last week, a comedian did a skit that some people loved and some people hated. Most (though not all) of the people who found it incredibly funny were of a certain demographic. Most (though not all) of the people who found it hurtful and counter-productive were of another demographic – and they spoke up about it. Yes, it was Tina Fey, and I don’t feel that I have anything additional to contribute to the discussion of the skit itself. But what I did observe and feel worth noting was how much I appreciated white friends who had loved the skit discussing how they had listened to the pain and objections expressed by others and how they were actively trying to be mindful of a perspective that was not their own, that had not even occurred to them before someone had spoken up. That did not mean that their experience was invalidated; they were merely being conscious of the fact that their experience did not take precedence.

Having thoughtful and conscientious friends can put one in a bit of a bubble.

Because of course, as the night doth follow the day, so be the backlash followed by the backlash to the backlash.

But here was the thing: the people who gathered in a post to gleefully mock those who had objected to the speech? Accusing them of being divisive and destructive? Even speculating, with who knows what level of jest, that the outrage was some sort of alt-right false flag operation? They were all people whom I’d guess would call themselves liberals. Not only that, but they were either theatre-associated or associated with theatre people. And to a one, they were all white.

It was almost a parody of itself, and yet no one seemed to see it. A very small, very limited group of people were talking big words about how “those people” were dividing “us.” When I dared to ask one person who was engaging with me who exactly “us” referred to, the answer I received was “Oh my god. The left.” Over and over, it was lamented how terrible it was that people were “attacking” an “ally.”

And that was at the crux of it, really. Not the fact that they’d had a different reaction to a performance than many people (including me) did. As a friend of mine has so aptly stated it, we all arrive to view things shaped by our own circumstances, both external and internal, which can lead even the most intelligent and sensitive of people to experience the same thing in vastly different ways. It was that when confronted with a different view, the reaction had been not just to dismiss it with mean-spiritedness from a more privileged position, but to claim ownership of an entire movement/ideology. In that view, someone expressing a critique was to blame for “dividing” the group – rather than the divider being one who refused to listen and pushed away the one presenting the critique.

What was being said was that someone on “the left” who felt a certain way was merely living in someone else’s home. Or, alternately, there was the presumption that everyone was receiving shelter while the reality was that some were being shut out, rendering those “others” invisible.

What was being said, quite explicitly, was that someone who had been brought to their current place by pain, and dared to speak that pain, was merely an interloper whose grievances were less important than the comfort of a so-called ally.

With friends like these…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not viewing folks like this as Enemy. As an obstacle? Certainly. I’m not even one of the people in most immediate danger, by whatever combination of their selves and their circumstances, and I still have had the urgency shoved into my face.

It was early this year as I was working on a show in Hell’s Kitchen that I went to meet the rest of my work friends for a drink after a long day of tech. Being stage management, I showed up at the agreed-upon bar after the others – it was a new Western-themed place where some of us had caught dinner earlier that week.

When I walked in, you could feel the negative charge to the atmosphere. My friends were clustered together very tightly at their table. The place was extremely crowded, mostly by preppily-dressed white men who were all clearly there as a group.

Yes, the bar in Hell’s Kitchen near the theatre district was full of those who would be considered part of the so-called “alt-right” – i.e., a bunch of MRA white supremacists.

And the thought rose in protest: “Not in my house!”

We ended up leaving, although not before overhearing multitudinous offensive statements about women and/or foreigners, loudly singing a round of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” out of spite (though we doubt that we were heard, let along appreciated), being threatened for looking at them funny, and having a large man get into one of my friend’s face and demand to know if he was “a Democrat, a Republican, or an American.” (And for me, not before spotting the inevitable East Asian guy hanging out with them. Disinvited from the BBQ table forever, dude.) The last thing I remember happening in there was feeling someone grab my arm and drag me outside with the rest of my friends. Which was a good thing, because I was starting to go to the headspace where I just see red, and in hindsight, that was probably the closest I’ve ever been to getting into a bar fight.

We took refuge in a gay bar nearby for the rest of the night. Later that week, I put on my cowboy boots and went back to the bar seeking answers. Management wasn’t in at the time, but the bartender on duty took my information and seemed genuinely upset on my behalf. The manager called me later that day, and we bonded over our shared upstate roots as he asserted that his bar in no way supported such movements and should not have allowed such a hostile atmosphere to develop. He wondered if people were taking the bar’s aesthetic theme as an endorsement of a specific political alignment – and if the result of the presidential election was a driver behind people thinking that that might be the case.

In his words, I could hear his thoughts: how could this happen in my house?

It’s been said that a house divided cannot stand. But the idea of “division” is something that may require greater compassion and critical thought, as well as less self-centering.  For those of us who have had the privilege of being able to choose to ignore the damage done to others, it may seem all too easy to have our eyes on a so-called “higher goal.” But who has determined what that goal is? What right is there to demand silence and submission from others in the name of “unity”?  Is the real source of division those who are suffering or those who then declare such suffering to be a “distraction”? When a parent – i.e., the individual with more power – kicks a child out of the house for being gay, which is the person who has broken up the home?

And then there are those who should be kicked out. Nazis, for example, can go right to the curb, down into the gutter. And anyone who feels like apologizing for or excusing them can go right along with them. For they are those who would demand (or allow) the submission and degradation and extinction of others in the house – that is division.

All of this I’ve written at various points while in my newly redecorated living room, on my bed by the light of the pink salt lamp that I finally for a bulb for after buying it while on tour in Boston a year and a half ago, and riding the subway that contains one of the broadest spectra of humanity that I am blessed to experience on a near daily basis.

Right now, I’m feeling grateful to be home.

At the light at the light at the light at the light

What’s happening isn’t about me.

What’s happening isn’t not about me.

I’m neither in the crosshairs nor holding the gun, but I’d be naïve to consider myself safe and irresponsible to consider myself uninvolved. Everyone shows up to each moment from their own particular position, and this is mine: as a queer, femme, POC first-generation-by-birth/fourth-generation-and-further-by-family citizen of the United States who has both had racial harassment hurled at them personally since the age of six and benefited greatly from this country’s foundation of white supremacy.

I’ve seen the declarations of “This isn’t us” and “This is us.” I agree. This isn’t what we should be, but it is what we have been. We can’t reject this is some sort of foreign aberration without flat-out denying both history and present-day reality. To want things to “return to normal” is simply to want to return when other people were suffering out of our sight and, thus, remain untroubled by their pain and our own complicit inaction.

We see again the bland calls for moderation and “everyone” and “all sides.” As someone who does have many people to both the right and left of me among my friends and family, it burns me to see “moderation” used as a word for “passive neutrality,” where everything is thrown into one pot and melted together until it becomes a flavorless muddy sludge. Perhaps a better word to use would be “balanced,” despite how that word, too, has been co-opted to mean “false equivalency.” To the contrary: being balanced requires recognizing the different weight of things. You can’t balance a scale with a feather on one side and a bowling ball on the other. A balanced meal isn’t equal serving sizes of vegetables, meat, candy, and poison.

It does mean something to say “This is wrong.” It doesn’t mean that you get brownie points toward being a Good Person. But as much as in the past I’ve scoffed at #PerformativeOutrage and commemorative Facebook filters and other trends to display how woke you are without actually taking any action, I was surprised by my own emotions as the white terrorists roiled Charlottesville, Virginia. The volume of people denouncing the Nazis and white nationalists brought me comfort. And the silence of others, rather than coming off as dignified, stung.

I partially worked through this for myself in a friend’s Facebook post, where someone was asking if all of these general, should-be-a-given disavowals of Nazism by white people meant anything to those who were more likely to be the targets of these home-grown terrorists. Again, I could only speak for myself, but I realized that there was a power in letting people know “Yes, you have been seen.” After all, even worse than heatedly disagreeing with someone about something passionately important to you is when the other person doesn’t even care. At least if they hate you, your life means something to them. If the response to something that you feel threatens your very life is “it’s not that big of a deal” or “there’s nothing to be done,” particularly from someone whom you consider to be a friend or family – well, that can make a person feel mighty small.

Although the subject matter is very different in both nature and scope, I keep thinking of the lyric from the song “Telephone Wire” from Fun Home: “This is where it has to happen! There must be some other chances! There’s a moment I’m forgetting, where you tell me you see me… Say something! Talk to me! Say something! Anything!”

While it isn’t everything, to say “I’m with you” is not nothing.

Of course, context and relationships matter. No one is obligated to make some sort of official statement. And what someone says or doesn’t say can have a different impact on a person depending on how close you are to them or what your history with them is. There are those who simply aren’t very active on social media. There are those who you know have your back with action, even if they are sparing with their words.

But I find myself remembering when my dad died. It’s difficult to feel like you have the right words to say to someone when they’ve lost a loved one, right? But you still at least say “I’m sorry.” You still show up for the damn funeral. Even better, you drop off a fucking casserole at their house. And you aren’t the edgy asshole who puts yourself above such expressions because you’re too busy sniping about how others are fake – even if they goddamn are. Because for the person who has suffered the loss, it can feel like they’ve been dealt a life-changing blow but the world keeps marching on as though nothing has changed, like no one can see what has happened to them. And it means something for other people to acknowledge the cause of their grief and that, despite how the world may seem to go on without them, what happened is not nothing.

And of course, backing up talk with action is important

This document, which has been being passed around on Facebook, contains a helpful compilation of immediate in-person actions to show up for, Charlottesville-related donation drives, long-term actions to practice, and further reading.

There are a few more donation links here that are focused specifically on local efforts that support the residents of Charlottesville.

It has also been suggested that one thing that really helped in Ferguson was supporting their library. The Charlottesville Jefferson-Madison library has a wishlist for books they’d like donated to the collection, including a lot on race relations: they can be supported here.

Bring the fucking casserole.

Sweetest tune I know is

I’m almost near the end of my string of quick switches. After finishing up my show in New Hope, I landed back in my apartment for a whopping 30 hours – enough time to repack my suitcase, go on a Caribbean dance party cruise on the East River (highly recommended), and sleep once in my own bed – before heading upstate to visit family for two weeks. After that, I arrived back home on a Sunday evening ahead of starting rehearsals for a two-week workshop on Tuesday morning. Right now, I’m starting the second week, which ends on Sunday – and then have rehearsals for my next show starting on Monday.

This is hardly a complaint. Maximizing time with family and having jobs booked back-to-back is pretty much the ideal. But it can be a little hectic, and specifically, it didn’t give me a chance to really unload about my time back upstate.

I’ve made my professional career in theatre, and I love it. I’ve made my home in New York City, and I love it. But what made me into who I am was the local theatre scene where I grew up.

The first professional show that I ever saw was the national tour of Meet Me In St. Louis at Proctor’s. I have no fucking clue why we went to see Meet Me In St. Louis. Probably because I was finally old enough to attend a Real Show, it was there, and it was age-appropriate. I couldn’t tell you a thing about it, but, judging by the results, it was a positive experience. For living as literally in the middle of the woods as we did – they still don’t offer cable to our area, there’s not enough people – it is amazing to think that we have a huge national touring house just a 25-minute drive away. As a kid, I had no idea how lucky I was to have Proctor’s. I do now. I was able to see so many professional productions of current theatre. I was able to see the touring casts of shows that I had seen on Broadway. I was able to talk to people who did “the real thing” at the stage door, see that they were just other people.

(In a “small world, isn’t it” moment, I once struck up a conversation with a man I met while I was running through the park near my apartment. We’d come together in common cause when we’d both spotted another man lying unresponsive on the path in an ambiguous context and been concerned, and he hadn’t had his phone on him, so I called 911. He recognized the theatre logo on my this-was-somewhere-I-worked t-shirt, and we, of course, discovered mutual acquaintances via becoming Facebook friends. And in hindsight, I am pretty dang sure that I saw him as Javert at Proctor’s when I was a kid.)

It wasn’t just the big professional shows, though. After having been hooked by my grandmother’s vinyl cast recordings and my mom’s Premiere Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection on CD (which could only be played on the high-tech stereo system in the house), my favorite time each year would be mid-spring: high school musical season. My grandmother would save the listings in the newspaper for me, and I’d plan out our viewing itinerary. And that was how I got to know so much of the musical canon. I saw Grease when I was way too young and really didn’t understand why I was told not to sing “Greased Lightning” in public or to call somebody a hooker, but I wasn’t really a rebel, so I just went with it. I saw too many productions of The King & I that never should have happened the way that they did. (You know why.) I saw Annie Get Your Gun with a cast of upwards of 50 people, all under the age of 18, because everyone who auditioned was given a role. I saw The Goodbye Girl. Who sees The Goodbye Girl?!

There was also life outside of high school. I accompanied a friend’s highly inappropriate audition for a local production of Blood Brothers. It was inappropriate merely due to the fact that both of us were no more than ten years old, but they were very impressed that she brought her own accompanist. That audition was for the Schenectady Light Opera Company, which was another vital part of my childhood arts exposure, ranging from Jesus Christ Superstar to Follies to The Robber Bridegroom. I honestly couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of the productions that I saw there – there are a few wisps of memory floating around, but the moments are too insubstantial, more impressions than images, to be described to another in words – but the proof is in the peas pudding and saveloys.

As I got older and finally reached the fifth grade, I began participating in shows myself. My summers were filled with NYSTI theatre camp and performing with the Timothy Murphy Playhouse in the incipient years of its revival. (Shout-out to mom for driving me back and forth between the absolute opposite ends of the capitol region within the same day.) It’s no small or coincidental thing, I think, that a number of us who were doing community theatre out in the central New York farmland, with the five-minute set changes and completely illegal script changes, are now in the field professionally, in New York City and all across the country. One might view that as basis for saying “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up in the theatre.” But for whatever challenges the shapes of our lives might bring us, just from superficial observation, I’d say that we’ve all managed to end up pretty darn happy and fulfilled, and via bringing happiness and fulfillment to others.

If you don’t mind negotiating the poverty line, it’s not such a bad deal.

I saw two local shows while I was home this July, both of them free productions presented outdoors in a park, one of them an 100% amateur Fiddler on the Roof by the Not So Common Players and the other non-union/semi-professional Ragtime by Park Playhouse.

Continue reading “Sweetest tune I know is”