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Thursday
Oct092014

Consider the Liver Benefit

This is a thing I read at a fundraiser for friend Noelle's kid. It has, obviously, solved everything.

In a healthy adult male, the liver weighs about one thousand, five hundred grams.

And you’re probably like “GRAMS?!? What’m I? French?!? What’m I, some kind of soccer-jersey-wearing Frenchman? Fresh off his twelve months of paid paternity leave, though he is childless? And who’s just in his office to check his email before leaving on his six-week vacation. Whizzing around on a goddamn scooter with that smugly reusable mesh bag full of baguettes and those ostentatious carrots with the greens still on them?”

HEAR ME – though I speak to you in grams: I am an American.

So, listen up, Frenchy – you may have gorged your unlined face on baked cheese in some kind of cream sauce, and you retained your 31-inch waist because of some manner of fromage-based voodoo, but this is AMERICA, and we cannot countenance your socialized MERDE.

Look at me. This is an American waistline. These stress-bags under my eyes? I have EARNED these badges of depletion and diminishment by living the GREATEST COUNTRY ON THE FACE OF THE WORLD.

And, as Americans, we are CLEAR on the COST of greatness. As a matter of fact, in America, if a thing has not been assigned a dollar value, we have the good sense to find that thing suspect. And unwholesome. And unworthy. In America, we believe that the ONLY means of assessing value is to slap a price tag on it, and stick in a bin for purchase. AND WE ARE ONE THOUSAND PER CENT CORRECT. AND IF YOU QUESTION OUR METHODS – which we WILL know, because surveillance – WE WILL CALL IN THE DRONE STRIKES THAT WILL PULVERIZE YOUR CHATEAU TO POWDER.

Because listen up, Frenchy – with your B.O. and your thong underpants, your lack of riding mowers and concealed carry – we have done the math, and we have calculated the worth of everything – all of human experience, every bit of human know-how, and every cut of meat in the human body.

So while you and your misguided countrymen may feel that it’s some kind of human right to stride into a hospital and get treated, here in AMERICA, we do not have “HEALERS” who provide “CARE” for any unshod hobo who darkens their door, we have FLESH MERCHANTS who know to the penny the precise value ALL HUMAN LIFE. To call into question the judgments of the Flesh Merchant is to lack faith in the MARKET ECONOMY WHICH IS A VISTA OF LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITY THAT WOULD BE FLAWLESS WERE IT NOT FOR GOVERNMENT MEDDLING AND WEAK-WILLED HUMANS.

So, listen: when the Flesh Merchant names his price for the service he will provide you, that is the price you better be prepared to pay. And if you can’t pony up that full amount, you shut your complaint hole for a second, but the MARKET ECONOMY, IN ITS BOUNDLESS WISDOM, HAS DEVISED A SOLUTION.

The solution is that you pay some money every month BEFORE you get sick. This is called “having insurance,” and it SOLVES EVERYTHING, SO SHUT UP, WHINER-BABIES. But using it is like anything else: there’s rules – you gotta get sick within reasonable limits – ONLY GET AS SICK AS YOU CAN AFFORD, otherwise it’s “out of pocket.”

Which – shh, shh, shh – it’s just part of the Market Solution. No. No, no. Don’t examine it. Shh. The Market gets really, really mad if it feels like it’s being cross-examined. And BELIEVE me – if it feels threatened, it’ll come down on you like a two-ton sack of demon shit.

When you are crushed under this demon shit, it is called a market correction.

And listen, Frency, don’t HAND me that “the profit motive has no place in providing medical care” because then there is NO MOTIVE WHATSOEVER. And we’d be left with nothing but elective procedures – and while our lips would be full and our brows would be smooth and our asses would be taut, we would have the life expectancy of medieval peasants or unarmed black guys.

So without the MOTIVE to earn a profit, there can be no earthly reason for Flesh Merchants to employ their healing arts. This MOTIVE is understandable and natural, and any attempts to impede the march of this motive stands as an effort to impede human progress – because what will motivate a Customer – sometimes quaintly referred to as a “patient” – to become a fully vested participant in the Market Solution to the troubles they face than having to really dig deep when purchasing the services of the Flesh Merchant?

I mean, obviously, lesser motives such as “getting well” and “stopping the pain” are not sufficient – because if they were, would not the Customer have harnessed the power of their own Entrepreneurial Spirit to have relieved their symptoms by their own bootstraps. But they DIDN’T, did they? No. Because they BELIEVE in the POWER of a Market Solution, and they want to get every nickel of the Fair Market Price of their treatment to the Flesh Merchant, even if they gotta cook a little meth or rob a couple banks to do it.

That’s just the system working – everybody’s gotta grab a mitt and get in the game, a game with winners and losers, as God intended, not some weak-kneed game that can end in a tie. Such a game would be soccer, the dubious refuge of the French.

Monday
Sep082014

Formless Grief

If you're a current or former member of Chicago's theater clan (and, no, it isn't "theatre" with a fucking "re" because this isn't fucking Canada, so if you feel the colour rising in your face, take a walk for a few kilometers and wolf down some of that ham you call bacon), you must by now know of the series of gut-punches received by circumstance of late. In the space of a week, there have been a succession of mercilessly swift and unjust fatalities that have claimed the lives of several among us - Molly Glynn, whom I knew a little bit (though I will not inflate or exaggerate this acquaintance - I knew her to say "hi," we had many mutual friends, etc.), Bernie Yvon (whom I knew not at all - it will come as no shock, perhaps, to learn that I did not log lots of musical theater time), and Sati Word (whom I did not know, but who'd worked with a number of my good friends).

I have been struck by the social media outpouring - of money, of photos, of remembrances. Where once we might all have heeded the toll of the church bell to gather in a square, each of us squinting under a shared sun, boots shifting on shared dust, we now march ourselves to our devices and gather in cooler glow of our screens, tethered not by proximity and place, but by this electronic and disparate web of intention and sentiment not bound by any clock or map. And it is this farflung connectedness that has gotten me thinking. About the nature of this peculiar form of grieving. 

Mostly, as with the sort of vernacular monuments that spring up in the wake of the death of a cherished celebrity - lopsided piles of Beanie Babies and dollar store candles, wilting daisies and curling photos lining some patch of fence where the died, or outside the gates of their compound - these online observances and outpourings have a dashed-off or hastily scrawled feel. It can be - for a person such as myself who spends a great of his time, and squanders a great deal of his energy on the fool's errand of taming words - like trying to understand the experience of shopping through only the Sharpied signs posted on cash registers by merchants: it can give you some sense of the ideas lurking below them, but fails to capture or convey much of anything on their own. Because taken individually, in terms of communicative precision or potency, a no-caps "thinking of you" or "all the feels" succeeds in putting across about as much as "take a penny, leave a penny," or "no bills over $20". Taken indivdiually, such posts and shares and likes are as flatly inexpressive as a winky emoji or a traffic sign.

But, taken together, I think they achieve a new kind of resonance - akin to the way a single human voice can sound reedy and plaintive and lost, but when joined with hundreds of other in chorus can become thunderous and indomitable. So while I am no fan of the barely considered, the half-thought, the minimally expressed, I have come to recognize the sweep and majesty of such things when cumulative. In the same way that watching a single foot soldier wielding a halyard in close combat, only to fall bleeding into the mud, will seem squalid and pointless, wheras if you survey a valley filled with tens of thousands of such men unfurling below you, then each mud-spattered throat unleashes not a hoarse and frightened battle cry, but becomes the breath of a single pipe in a vast church organ with a voice like thunder; each footfall is not the doomed march of one spindly-legged life, but a drumbeat from within the earth-sundering roar of a human tsunami. 

Then, too, there is a capacity - one that for me is too goddamn finicky and stunted to beam to me a strong and steady signal - to forgive the frailty and limitation of my fellows. We are not all of us endowed with the abilty to bend words to our purpose - words are unruly and willful, and in the same way that were I to attempt calf-roping, yielding nothing but shame and broken bones - I must peer past the crude phrasing and wobbling cadence to look upon the intention that underlies it. I must set aside my epic capacity to be a snob and a dickface to gaze at the earnest good will that forms the unseen bedrock of good will that lies below the topsoil of inelegance, the flesh of solace-giving hidden by a poorly made mask. 

We are too easily gulled by the delusion of individual achievement, of solitary genius. Where these occur, there is cause to celebrate them, obviously. But if there is anything like real greatness in us, it finds its fullest expression when were are banded together; if there is anything enduring or worthy that has hope of outlasting the hasty little spell we're allotted here - squinting, baffled, in this dusty square - it is and can only be when we can recall the need to relinquish the self a bit, and voluntarily subjugate our small-scale schemes to the wisdom of the village, the aspiration of the tribe.

Friday
Aug152014

Reflections of a Dirtbag Tycoon

So this week, I ran a successful crowdfunding campaign (here for more info - though goal is reached, you can STILL pony up if you're so moved) with the aim of gathering rent money on a co-working space so I could take my increasingly complex and varied work life out of my house.

The initial goal was $3K to cover like 6 months' rent - I blew through that figure in 2 days, so I raised the goal to $5K, in order to enable me to be freed a bit from the pressure to generate freelance income while working in a more focused way on creative projects (the WRITE CLUB anthology, a YA novel I've long neglected). In a couple more days, I blasted through the new goal. Who knows? Maybe I could keep going, keep raising the goal till I amassed a salary-of-a-Quizno's-branch-manager-type figure. Then it'd be nothing but hammock naps and traveling around on jet-boots.

But the money was never the point. I mean - don't get me wrong - I need the money. I need this money and way more of it. We have a mortgage and a shit-ton of credit card debt and an aging car (our second one was totaled in March and we can't afford to replace it) - on and on. Just like everybody else.

But I also have this stubborn, intractable, inflexible, unyielding need to continue making art. And given the market realities of this world, I am able to discern that I am not an internationally famous movie star or pop diva, therefore I am shuffling up the kill chute into the slaughterhouse of poverty, along with near everybody I know.

But my drive to continue creating is undimmed. So, knowing that there are a (limited, so limited) number of people in this world who dig what I do, I resolved to conduct this crowdfunding experiment. Below are my findings:

 

  • Sweat Equity. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I've been toiling mostly for free on making shit for a long time. Some of that shit has turned out pretty well. This achieves the double benefit of my having the confidence to turn to the world and say: "Hey - this is what I need," and for certain among you to reply "I hear that - you have a track record of making shit. Go. Make more." Without the years - YEARS, children - of making shit mostly for free, this request of the world would have been presumptuous and would, I hope, have fallen on deaf ears.
  • Asking for Help. I would rather remain conscious through brain surgery than do this. It acknowledges that I am vulnerable and finite; that I am unable to hit upon/devise solutions my quandaries. It has at its center a kernel of "I am not equal to this - I am not smart/capable/strong enough to fix this." Asking for help is a house, the basement of which is mortality - which, ultimately, maybe is the basement of all human experience - but here I mean that the logical extension of "I am limited" is some form of "I will one day die." Which is generally a bummer thing to think. But as is invariably the case - that struggle/source of pain/roadblock will remain forever insurmountable if you don't screw your head into that halo, and listen as the surgeon bone-saws your skull open. Then, before you know it, your surgery is complete and you're no longer hearing the voices, and experiencing that persistent smell of burning hair.
  • Self Loathing Can Go Fuck Itself. Important distinction: self DOUBT is critically, indispensibly important. They've done tons of studies and the "there are no bad ideas" form of brainstorming is an ineffective time suck that succeeds in nothing but sparing people's feelings. It's a demonstrated fact that sinking some sharp critical teeth into a plan/project/idea yields better results. So, YES. Be hard on yourself - have escalating expectations of yourself. But do NOT succumb that impulse that preemptively scuttles you, that makes your every utterance some form of apology, and that makes the only ride in the amusement park of your life a demoralizing one called the Shame Spiral.
  • Money is an Ingredient. In the stew you are preparing - it is an ingredient only. It is not a recipe, it is not a completed dish. If you regard it as some kind of end point or apex, you doom yourself to a covetous life of envy porn where the concept of Enough will remain forever beyond reach.
  • Gratitude Like a Pile Driver. Over the course of the week, I composed an increasingly elaborate series of personalized thank-yous on my facebook wall for the persons known to me that kicked in. This was great fun, and allowed each of them to know that I was humbled/thankful without ever getting soppy and dewy-eyed about it. In the same way that WRITE CLUB is an ongoing experiment in badass generosity, the more of these thank-yous I posted, the clearer it became that it's fully possible to remain weird, loud, and truculent (in other words, sacrificing nothing of my usual voice) while also making clear that I'm touched and thankful. Couple of my favorite examples:

You know how you'll get on the goddamn bus, because of a long series of cluster-fuckity circumstancesyou don't even want to go into, and you the bus is populated by people you know only dimly and the only open seat is next to some dude you don't know at all, but a couple people have assured you that he's a good dude, so you brace yourself a little bit, because despite these assurances, you yourself remain a person who is essentially fearful, and your shitty coping mechanism is to cling to the asinine belief that all people are boring and stupid, which, even though you acknowledge that this is a piss-poor means of dealing with the world nonetheless compels you to dread every new encounter with every new person, and so you're all clenched as you sit down next to the dude, stuffing earbuds in and making a big show of elaborately opening your book to send the signal: "Do not approach. Remain silent." But then the dude asks you about your book. And, gritting your teeth, you engage. And he makes a recommendation of another book that kicks total ass. And then you both talk about the One True Favorite Writer who is the same for both of you, and who - each time you're poised to read a new story, you have a feeling a little like you're drowning because you want to love it so bad, and are afraid the One True Favorite Writer will have lost it - and you'd never have been able to articulate that anticipatory drowning feeling were it not for this conversation with this former stranger on a bus. The bus is social media. The dude I dreaded conversing with but am nonetheless glad I did is Kevin Forest Moreau.

Or:

Sometimes people are misguided or undiscerning enough to praise you for your way with words. Which - don't get me wrong - you totally, totally appreciate. But which also rings a little hollow when you know that such a person as Barrie Cole exists in the world, and has this wizardly, alchemical capacity to break language into its constituent parts and wring its juices into a bucket of her own devising and to stir the contents of that bucket with a vigor and intensity that you feel like might leave your poor brain in a smoking husk were you to attempt it. Then she pours that resulting concoction into your ears with that voice that hovers in the air between you like a jet trail, and the reconstituted language burrows into your brain and nests there. And you maybe forget about it for a while, but then its chrysalis splits and it flies around inside your brain, and even though you know you can't work the kind of magic that she does, you look with new eyes at the words before you, and you by God try.

Or:

So you know how the first time you see Charlie Bucket returns the Everlasting Gobstopper, and on the one hand you're OUTRAGED that he would part with such UNENDURABLE BOUNTY THAT FITS IN THE PALM OF HIS HAND, but on the other hand, you're proud of him in a way you can't fully identify - a way that has to do with backbone and character, a way that offers satisfactions that share nothing whatever with the satisfactions afforded by Candy Without End. And you have that stung-betrayed feeling that THIS STORY IS ACTUALLY OH-MY-GOD ENDING THIS WAY, and then Wonka palms the candy, and everything shifts for Charlie forever and always right there? Amy Neill Bebergal is that Wonka-palm.

  • Let's Light This Candle. Generosity is tremendous. The professions of friends and loved ones of their belief in your abilities and desire to see you free to create more - these are wonderful. But if this infusion does not act as a propellant, or a foothold on the rock face, then it will have been for nothing. I resolve to grant my full attention to these larger-scale projects that have lain neglected. I resolve to lace up my kicking boots and go after bigger slabs of ass. I resolve to work to make WRITE CLUB better and bigger and broader, and to remain hungry for new heights (or depths, as the case may be) of fury and might.

 

Tuesday
Aug122014

Self Immolation

So Robin Williams is dead. Which is awful.

I won't pretend to have known him. Or to ever have met him. Or to have been diehard fan (if anything, the opposite is true - I believe he fell victim to what I've come to call the Steve Martin Principle, which holds that the longer one works in film, the less nuanced and vital one's performances become, the more rote and cartoonish).

But I do have thoughts on his death. Or, more particularly, on the reaction to his death.

The inflamed rhetoric of "suicide is selfish" presupposes a couple of things - 

  • Because of your fondness for a public figure, they owe you longevity. They do not. They owe you precisely nothing.
  • Because of your familiarity with the work of a public figure, you delude yourself that you know them. You do not. They remain a stranger, to whom you have had mediated access through a screen or your ear buds. 
  • Because of your regard for a public figure, you are owed some warning of their sudden demise. Again: you are owed nothing.
  • If you yourself have never grappled with the dark spectre of your own destruction, the likelihood that you will ever be able to accurately describe its contours is nil - this is tantamount to claiming that you know precisely how it feels to have a vestigial tail when you have none.
  • If you yourself have never had proximity to anybody brawling with mortal depression, then you're like the sun-kissed Eloi, declaiming about the volitility and squalor of the Morlocks below, upon whom you have never laid eyes. 
  • When a person has coiled in their brainpan an Iago-snake, feeding them lies about their worth, about futility, about the immortality and intransigence of the Iago-snake itself, then that person's capacity to even describe what is happening to them/their experience of the world, let alone remain cogent/self-preserving enough to seek and attain the forms of help that they need, no matter how pressing this need will plainly be the rational observer.
  • If you are a person who has never known the oily black appetite of addiction - and here I'm saying firsthand knowlege, because often even the closest bystander will develop only the dimmest understanding of the greasy ravenous swamp of addiction - then you are likely never to understand the sufferer. Addiction is the scorpion that hitches a ride across the river on the coyote's back, dooming itself when it stings the coyote, but powerless to stop itself from doing so - he'll tell you, as he drowns: "It is in my nature."
  • Because of your (perceived, fictional) connection to a public figure, you ascribe some connection between their actions - up to and including their final act - and yourself. No such connection exists. The struggles of a sick, sad, embattled person are internal to them - not only are you (as some portion of said public figure's fandom, not, obviously, as an individual) not a target of their destruction, you are entirely incidental to it. The destruction takes place in a world you do not occupy.

Look: suicide is confounding and distressing - there's no doubt about this. It is frightening to our core - the sense that the cord running up our spine turns out to be a wick, lit by some baffling flame, and we can blaze and gutter into a misshapen molten puddle from the inside. There is the superstitious terror that we are unsafe even in our own company and that our brains might curdle and putrefy in our skulls to betray us. 

My dad killed himself in 1986. It took me a long, long, long time to tussle with this fact. I never wrestled it into anything like submission. I was never able to slide closed a drawer of my mind with a file stamped Case Closed. The case remains very much unsolved. The case is cold and will remain so. This is perhaps the most horrible aspect for those of us who remain after the blood has caked, the noose has been cut, the body bag zipped - this dreadful open-endedness of it. As much as the perplexing self-harm snarled at the center of a suicide, it is this reverberation without ceasing that we most fear. 

The payoff - to the extent that it qualifies as one - is that when you grapple with this shit, it equips you to be more able to accept - albeit in an uneasy and mostly vexed fashion - this untidiness, this ragged truncation. 

Monday
Aug112014

Go. Fund me.

Seriously. Go:

The variety and complexity of the undertakings I have a hand in - writing, teaching, freelancing, consulting, performing, etc. - are such that I am in desperate need of a work space outside my damn house. 

My partner Lindsay Muscato has found this gem of a place, and I need some help to set up shop there. Kick in a few bucks if you can. Greatly appreciated.