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Being Apart

Tuesday, July 03, 2012 by Adam


His heart beat inside his temples. It didn’t help that he’d decided to take all of that wood home by carry-on; the bag was unfairly heavy. The ridiculousness of his appearance occurred to him again: Walking through an airport in an old double-breasted leather coat that he couldn’t seem to part with, a huge, worn, internal-frame backpack tilting him forward domineeringly. He’d adopted the coat six years ago after finding it in the back of someone’s dad’s closet. It had been a perfect piece of college attire for the frigid, windswept Iowa winters, impressing all the right people--namely those sporting  bandanas, piercings, and grubby T-shirts. He would often regard other travelers in Patagonia and North Face with smug satisfaction—this coat had a history.

But in this moment, his nerves frayed and his mind buzzing with the loss, guilt, excitement, and pride he always felt when returning to the US, he thought for the first time that it might be time to retire the coat. Some kind of era was ending--which kind he wasn’t sure, but he felt it on the back of his tongue and in those temples. 

For a moment the idea flitted through his mind again: Maybe I should just propose. It would satisfy his desire for daring laced with recklessness, an element he had long ago decided ought to be part of any of his important life choices. It sure as hell ought to make her happy--probably give her an aneurysm--and it might even make him happy too. And maybe that would be the new era. 

He indulged the impulse a little longer. He could ditch the backpack, get down on one knee, and just do it. She’d cry immediately. Of course she would. Would she stand still for long enough for him to get it out? People would stare. And smile. Well, some would. Others would go about their business like people always do.

It could be glorious. 

But no way. The hundred reasons not to pull such a stunt were inescapable.

First of all, no ring. Downright inglorious it would be to propose without a ring. 

Second, he was unprepared. A proposal is something that must be carefully planned and sculpted so as to allow for starry-eyed retelling and flagrant embellishing. True, a sort of earnest, bumbling, extemporaneous proposal would be adorable and memorably sweet, but apart from their sheer romanticist allure, neither “adorable” nor “memorably sweet” held much appeal for him.

Third, it might be the wrong moment. Considering how unhinged she’d been over the last few months, anything was possible. In January he’d made the monumental error of admitting to her over the phone that she looked somewhat haggard in the photos she’d sent him. Even weeks later, he berated himself for it.

He shook his head just thinking about it. He’d only told her the truth, in all its unvarnished glory, after all. It had become a personal crusade for him and a barbarian invasion for her.

He’d set his jaw against the Midwestern tendency to placate rather than provoke. If you want to say something, say it, goddammit. Everyone was too nice—himself included—and how could a person ever learn a hard truth if no one was willing to cut the crap and say it? Ever since James had died (what was it, seven years ago now?), his mission to honor his late, blunt friend had continued, slowly and stubbornly, in the back of his mind.

She’d been less than impressed with his sacred ideal, especially when he attempted to live up to it at her expense. “I’m aware of my faults. You don’t need to remind me of them.” She doesn’t get it, he’d think.

Accordingly, there’d been more than enough resentment to go around lately. Maybe she was even angry enough to turn him down if he did decide to ask. Probably not, but maybe.

Fourth.

Fourth, he didn’t want to. Not really.

It roiled in the pit of his stomach, as it had for his entire stay in Africa. Something had happened that had made everything between them hard. It just didn’t make sense to marry someone who was being this . . . difficult.

The first several months with her had been the most joyful of his life. It had been the kind of thing people talk about in toasts: euphoria, instant surety, and pure requited adoration. Their secret catch phrase, “Holy Fucking Shit,” expressed their mutual disbelief that they had both wandered into the life of someone so perfect. Their being together for the rest of their lives had been a foregone conclusion that merely needed to be meted out, a whole new shade of affection he had never seen. 

“I did not think it was possible, but today I love you more than I did yesterday. Again."

“Me too.”

He always fought the imaginary cynic with ferocity. Puppy-love. Those first couple of months are always great. You’re both being naive and childish. No way. This was it.

The trouble had started before he’d even left. The fighting and the animosity. Never about anything terribly substantial--in fact, he couldn’t even recall what any of those fights had been about. Just stuff. 

The cynic had gained a foothold over time. As she sank into depression, her despair at his continued absence manifested itself in a growing hostility he could not understand. Dealing with her had become impossible. Each phone call began as a joyful, optimistic voice reunion and ended as the low point of the week for both of them. Culture shock, malaria, and deportation threats from corrupt local officials trying to extort money had all paled in comparison to the frustration of not understanding what was going so wrong with her.

He knew now what he had been able to plausibly deny knowing last year: When you leave someone who has been left before, it doesn’t matter what either of you promise or how different it seems to be this time: you are killing her.

For him, the Africa trek had been a boon, a best-of-both-worlds. 

“If you want me not to go, I won’t go.” It hadn’t been easy to say. “I’m going to wait for you,” she’d answered slowly. “It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m going to wait for you.” Bam! He got to live his dream and come back to the woman of his dreams.

What a mindfuck it had all turned into.

All the little things began to swirl together with all the big things. Her soda pop habit and her perpetually accusatory tone bled into one amorphous blob of aggravation. In the photos she emailed, he saw only her imperfections. He found himself unwilling to say the things he’d said before. “There are no deal breakers,” they’d told each other, and they’d meant it. But the more she pushed, blamed, and despaired, the more he retreated, resented, and doubted. He could no longer tell, even after weeks of reflection, where his selfishness ended and her uncompromising streak began.

Still, at the end of each shit show, after a few days had passed, he found he wanted to go back to her. He had committed to her, and he’d be damned if he was going to give up just because things had gotten rough. Despite all the bullshit, it still felt to him like a righteous struggle. The right war to be fighting. A real man, like Dad, would stick it out. “Love must be tough,” he remembered. This is what you do in a real relationship. You weather storms. Relationships are hard work. Love is worth it. 

He’d be in her arms in minutes, and then all the disparate, frayed strands would come together to form a new sort of rope. A stronger one. Their love needed to be nursed back to health. And that’s precisely what he was coming home to do.

That had been the point of coming home two weeks early. He’d called from Washington D.C. to surprise her before his last leg. “I’ll be home. Tomorrow.” They just needed to be together to put the debacle of being apart behind them.

Hope began to beat steadily in his chest. He stopped caring how moronic he looked. Maybe she would be there, bright and shining, smiling from ear to ear, glowing healthily. Things had apparently gone well in counseling, and she’d told him only a few weeks ago that she felt like she’d come out of the woods. She would smile and bound up to him and he would lift her off the ground and spin her in circles as the world looked on. It would make sense again. He’d be home. 

He quickened his pace. He could feel the sweat matting the hair on the back of his neck, but it was too late to stop and take off the jacket; baggage claim was just ahead. It only now occurred to him that he was nervous. 

And he saw her. Fifty yards away. She was looking in the opposite direction. She must not know where the United flights come in. He stopped in his tracks and watched her. 

She bobbed and fidgeted, her hands in the pockets of her short winter coat. The baby blue one. He hadn’t pictured her in that. He’d pictured her in one of her long coats. Her hair was back in a ponytail. He hadn’t expected that either. 

She was pale. Sallow. 

She looked anxiously, almost frightfully, toward the wrong terminal, like someone who’d been waiting in a hospital for months for someone to die and now saw doctors rushing down the hall. 

He tried to keep walking but found his feet momentarily stuck to the ground. He forced himself to smile, to try to make this moment cinematic. He willed himself to adore the sight of her waiting to greet him. It was really her.

Something resembling dread puddled around his feet like seawater slowly flooding a rice paddy, and he felt himself mired. Go. Run to her. But the sight, the situation before him felt so utterly foreign--almost fascinating--that he stood transfixed, like an anonymous spectator. Seeing her occupy a physical space, looking so like an unknown being, rather than the bubbly, glowing one he’d pictured, gave him the impulse to stare in spite of himself. 

GO! 

He moved his feet, not running, not strolling, but shuffling toward her, having lost any sense of the moment or what to say when it arrived. 

She turned and saw him when he was just five feet away and immediately clutched at him. Wrapping her up, he felt her frail frame underneath the down of the coat, inside his leather sleeves. Neither made a sound. She had formed a clamp and didn’t move. No swaying, no lifting. She squeezed steadily, implacably. 

His backpack was still on his back. 

“Here. Let me . . .” He threw off his backpack and wrapped her up again, this time straining every muscle to perform as tenderly as it could. Nine months of love. 

He sighed audibly and rocked her gently, relieved to feel a mild wave of comfort wash over him at finally being in her presence again. She still said nothing and held onto him without moving. 

He pulled back slightly and lifted her face to his, kissing her. She kissed robotically, jerkily, and buried her face in the crook of his shoulder again in the same locked position as before. 

He felt the flooding around his ankles again, sensed that it had submerged hers as well by now. It began to creep up his shins. He rested his chin on the top of her head and closed his eyes. 

“I’m home now.”

Welcome, Stranger.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 by Adam

Here lies the Leather Apron Revival, a short-lived, relatively cool blog that ran out of steam. Come, wander throughout its posts and ponder the life that was. Will it be revived again someday? Few have dared to guess. What is known is that there were some dudes, and they had some ideas, and they typed them sometimes. It sits here in silence, as the waves of time slowly wash over its shores, carrying what might have been back out to sea, where it can join with the ocean of thoughts, ideas, and new beginnings waiting to be fished out polished up, and used again; or some shit like that.

Peace,
Adam

The Zikomo Project

Monday, July 09, 2007 by Adam

It took awhile, but it’s finally begun: The Zikomo Project.

Here’s how it goes:

1) I meet a person or local organization (here in Malawi, Africa) and interact with them, in everyday settings.
2) I learn of a material need they have that is not within their current means of acquisition, the procural of which would help them to reach their goals for the betterment of themselves and of all Malawians.
3) I do a little bit of poking around to make sure that the person/organization is of a good character and would take full advantage of the procural of said material need to press ahead and work hard to make things better.
4) I submit a request via e-mail to the list of willing donors who trust me to connect them to such persons/organizations. The request lists a specific amount (ideally somewhere in neighborhood of $50-$75) for the specific material need.
5) Whichever donor responds first sends money that, through the wonder of technology, reaches me here in Blantyre.
6) The money is spent, posthaste, on the material need. The transactions are detailed in a ledger, and a photograph of the recipient(s) along with the purchased item(s), is sent to the donor, through the wonder of technology.
7) We all dance like TeleTubbies.

Here’s an example:

Innocence Banda, a 21-year-old man who plays football and likes reggae, wants to become a teacher. At present, however, he can’t afford to finish Forms (high school). He’s honest and personable, with good English skills. He works hard at whatever he does, but just can’t get ahead, since both money and opportunity are in short supply around here. He needs about $80 to finish his last semester and pay the exam fees to get his diploma. There’s no way he can get this since he doesn’t have a job and his family doesn’t have any extra money.
I ask a few people to confirm my perceptions of him as a good kid with solid work ethic. His teachers at school all concur that he’s the cat’s pajamas, as does Mr. Nkhukhu, the guy who introduced us.
I get the money from the project and give it directly to the school. Innocence gets himself a degree.

Here’s why it rules:

If it’s done right, it won’t create dependency on foreign money. While there’s a place for food aid, that’s not what this is about. It’s not about meeting day-to-day needs. This is about connecting individual Americans with individual Malawians, making one-time-investments in people so that they can be empowered to do their own thing, while cutting out in-betweener costs. Since my expenses as a volunteer are graciously paid by other sources, I have the time and freedom to divert all of the donated money to the place where it’s needed. There’s very little lag time, so we can meet needs NOW, ensuring that the all-important state of momentum is achieved. It also makes the giving real, almost grassroots. It helps to facilitate change where change always has to begin: with the individual. In small ways it can help to promote friendship and cultural understanding, too.

Here’s some other stuff:

I’m still a ways from my goal of having 40 people sign up. Maybe my e-mail appeals are too wordy. I have that problem, you’ll notice. But there are enough that have said yes that it’s time to start. I’d like to figure out how to make it so people can donate online, but I don’t know where to start with that. For the time being, people will be sending checks to the project’s accountant, who doubles as my mother, Diann. She’s so sweet.

If you, person reading this, are interested, please leave a comment. You won’t have to wait long before I’m saying all sorts of flattering things to get inside your pants-pocket for some dough. Seriously though, the poverty here is pretty extreme--most of my new friends live hand-to-mouth. You won’t regret it if you sign up.

So . . Yep. Here we go!

More on Modern Humanity

Monday, June 18, 2007 by Grant

Concerning the connection between self-destructive modern man and the self-help mediocrity of many Christian Churchgoers: perhaps Nietzsche, Kerouac, Cobain are rebelling against this problematic mediocrity but they are not our only models for living on the extreme (and I'm not sure why this is the only admirable response to mediocrity worth remembering in the first place). We should remember that Kuyper himself had a breakdown or two. If anyone gave up the harmony of the self to do more than one human should do, Abraham Kuyper is one. Which is why he and those who followed in his path reiterated the importance of maintaining balance in one's life.

But balance is not the same thing as mediocrity. Nietzsche chose to rebel against the Apollonian (harmonious) way with Dionysian life (although it should be noted that he himself never could live up to his own ideals as much as he'd have liked). You might interpret Nietzsche's bias against harmony as a desire to avoid mediocrity but, like it or not, the Greeks, Medievals and Moderns who tried to follow the Apollonian way are still remembered. History is not just a remembrance of those who follow the Dionysian way. Perhaps our culture is now more attracted by/entertained by the Dionysian (Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan etc.) but that says more about our culture than what is truly worthy to be remembered. VH-1 can say Madonna's "Like a Virgin" video was "an historic event" all they want, but it doesn't necessarily make it so.

So, my first point is that mediocrity and the Apollo/Dionysus framework Nietzsche used do not quite match up. My second point is that there is a striking difference between the self-destructive behavior of Modern humanity and the denial of the self that makes up the Christian life. We cannot equate the self-destruction of man-without-God with the putting to death of the sinful nature because the putting to death of the sinful nature is actually a self-restorative act. It returns us to right relationship with God, from which we gain our true identity. Any attempt to find one's self outside of God will be self-negating because a very big part of the self rests in its origin, its relationship to its author.

After the death of God and the rise of the autonomous individual, human beings have tried to explain their own origins within themselves, have tried to become the authors of their own story. There are certainly several different ways to try to ground one's self without God and modern man has tried them. We can see ourselves as animals that grow out of natural principles (paganism, i.e. modern secular science and Bjork) or we can dig deep into the origins of selfhood with Eastern philosophy and try to find meaning in the nothingness we find there (Kerouac and John Cage).
Modern mankind in the west seems drawn to Eastern religion and anything else that makes sense of the meaninglessness which pervades everyday life for them. This meaninglessness is a result of mankind's "freedom" from God's laws. Unfortunately, any understanding of the self outside of God is self-negation. I offer an example:

Meditate on yourself for five minutes and you will soon find your thoughts wandering, making distractions. Why does your mind do this? It's a defense mechanism. Your mind is bored with yourself. Why is your mind bored? Because there is nothing there. And even if you learn to concentrate after years of practice and avoid the distractions, as Eastern philosophy promises, you will still only find nothing. So what do we do? We find distractions to make us forget about the nothingness in ourselves. We form ideas, opinions, we try to create a self that is interesting to us. We develop romantic versions of the selves we wish we were: "I am an artist. I am a writer. I'm a dharma bum. I'm an actor. A philosopher." And how great we think we are for becoming these things. Lifetimes are lived with such distractions keeping us from the reality that we are really nothing in and of ourselves. But thanks to people like Nietzsche, Kerouac, Cobain, the Teacher in Ecclesiastes we have seen what happens when those distractions fail and people are faced with the monotony of their own existence. They turn to drugs, alcohol, women, shopping, anything to feel new and interesting again. And the result of such behavior is itself an expression of its origins: the nothingness from which the self springs without God.

Rant on Development

by Adam

An essay I read a while back, by Paulo Frere (who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a book that’s required reading for anyone pursuing a degree on anything to do with social science or development) has stuck with me for a long time now. Since I don’t have research-speed internet around here, I can’t look it up, but the idea was that we can and should never blame the oppressed for the plight that they are in. At first it seems obvious. Of course! Why would we blame them for their poverty? But the further into the society you get, the harder it becomes. There are a lot of really, truly lazy people around here. The birth rate is insane. There are babies EVERYWHERE--if you can hardly feed yourself, how come you keep havin’ babies? Sometimes an NGO will build a pit latrine for sanitation purposes and the people will refuse to use it because it’s not what they’re accustomed to. Is it really that hard to see some of these really obvious problems and, you know, do something about it?

And the answer, I think, is . . Yes. It is that hard. There’s always an antecedent for a problem like the aforementioned. The reason why no one’s been educated about the need for sanitary latrines stretches way, way back. The way the history of resources, wars, inventions, and the like has unfolded is, from a defensible point of view, the only reason why countries like the USA, India, China, and the EU have come out on top. Native American culture, for example, has been all but squelched by the American oppressors from Europe, as far as one can tell from driving around most of the USA. Why is it that European culture trumped the native culture? It’s ignorance to say that it was because we were somehow more pure, noble, or better. We had guns. We had maps. We had mass organized religion to justify things and rally public support. We arrived with the tools to run an indigenous culture into the ground. And what need had they, before our arrival, of such tools? We only had them because of countless previous wars, discoveries, the location of Europe as a hub of trade and commerce, and countless other factors that stretch back to the beginning of recorded history and beyond. Yet Columbus and his ilk thought themselves somehow “deserving” of the land they had found.

I’m fast coming to believe that this is how it is everywhere. You can’t say that Malawians aren’t at all accessory in their own poverty, but it’s just not right to blame them for it anymore than we blame ourselves for it. I’ve recently settled on a word that I like to use to pinpoint what I hate most about my own culture (and by that I mean, privileged culture): Entitlement. It’s not a new idea, but it pisses me off more and more each year. I grew up throwing things in the trash basket whenever I was done with them. Candy wrappers, leftover food, newspapers, batteries, outgrown clothes, even toys that I was sick of. Even today, there’s a little gnawing voice in the back of my head that tells me I have the right to create as much waste as I want, so long as I put the trash in the waste basket. As a country, we cannot fathom that we owe our wealth to the millions of others living in poverty, simply because we got it and they didn’t, due only to the winds of fortune that blew it our way. Why shouldn’t we pursue our own capital gains with fervor? After all, All-American Man worked since he was 13 in his daddy’s shop, strained for good grades at school, and put in long hours to get a good life for my family. His acquisitions and his company’s growth are the shining examples of what American hard work and freedom are all about.

Ohhh this kind of thinking gets me hot under the collar. I know guys here who are the only one of a family of about 15 who can get a job, and they shovel dirt from sunup to sundown for barely enough to feed 3 people, much less 15. Tell them you deserve it more than they. Go ahead, I dare you.

The problem is, they’ll believe you. The problem is, they DO want a handout. And the problem is, they will pose for that tear-jerker photograph so the glossy-magazine readers can think the third world is waiting with open hands for any white person to come and enlighten them about life, put bread into their hands, and worship the ground you’ve tread upon after you’ve gone. That’s The Rub. Africa is littered with failed projects and ill-conceived ventures started with a mindset of compassion without humility or conscientiousness. If you want to help the poor, you’ve got to use not only your money and your heart, but your head. There is so much that they can teach you. And if you’re not willing to learn more than you teach, you’re dead. But in the meantime, you can’t get caught up in things. Many people will adore you just for coming to them. They will think you have come to be a savior. Just your presence will uplift them. And that’s where one of the hardest lines I’ve ever tried to walk begins: learning from the oppressed and riding that wave of goodwill while keeping your wits about you to remember that you also have a responsibility to cast aside many of the wrongheaded ideas that come out of a buffeted culture.

Which reminds me of another fine line: between development and small-scale commercialism. Somewhere within all of this mess is a glaring fact: They are happier than we are, or at least the average person is. Do the polls. Talk to the people. Look at the faces. It’s true. So just exactly what are we bringing them? It can’t be happiness. Will better schools bring them happiness? I don’t know. But what I believe is that the ones who are suffering directly--that is, starving, ailing, or running mad in the streets--they aren’t happy. And they’re the ones who need looking after. They need looking after in the States just as much as in Malawi--which is why I see a lot of hypocrisy in people who diss welfare and then go to Africa to provide nothing less than that with their missions and clinics. And even those who aren’t directly infected with HIV or lying helpless at death’s door--those who are merely poor--the majority of them long for the things they’ve heard about elsewhere in the world. Things that we have. Things we have and at times revile, since “money can’t buy happiness.” So if I could venture to be a little pat on such a broad issue, why can’t we figure out that we ought to share our wealth (and by wealth I mean education, resources, technology, etc.) and they ought to teach us how to be happy? It’s good for us to develop a distaste for shiny objects. They really don’t bring happiness. Once we’ve done that, we can better assess what we really have to offer those who got dealt a bad hand.

And, to the chagrin of all, I’m not quite done yet. There’s another musing. It’s fast becoming a Westernized world, insofar as it seems everything new and intrepid either gets labeled as Western or had its origins in something invented by a Westerner. There’s a reason why I included technology in the list of things we ought to give them. Previously I’d have said that if they’re functioning perfectly well and they’re happy using their old methods for things like well-drilling, building, and fighting disease, then let them! But as we become more globally connected, it’s clear that the longer a certain society goes without internet access, the further behind they’ll be when the entire rest of the world is piped in--because that day is coming. Even global warming: the brunt of its effects are being borne by people in the third world, and which countries are creating the most pollution? Last I heard it was pretty close to a dead heat between the US and China. That’s not exactly Cameroon and Niger. And technology is going to be used to fight global warming--count on it. So, it would make sense that those most affected by global warming ought to be given the latest toys to fight it. Since the rest of the world is eventually going to have laptops, I’m in favor of No Child Left Without an iBook.

destroy all texts

Friday, May 25, 2007 by ethan

first, if you hadn't read it yet read adam's post below. and comment on it. then come back.
http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
so, here's my breath of life back into this blog. This past semester i took a Directing and staging theory class in which we studied the theories of directors/directing of the twentieth century. As part of this class, we were all asked to write a short manifesto on directing at the beginning of class, which i posted here in january, and at the end of the class, revise, flesh out, and rethink said manifesto in a longer manifesto. so here's my new revised version.

for clarity's sake, if you care, these are some of the people whose ideas i'm borrowing/expounding upon: Anne Bogart, Peter Brook,Antonin Artaud,Jerzy Grotowksi(ah, wikipedia, the scholar's one true friend.)


Manifesto For the Theatre of Destruction
Theatre, like all forms of art, is a living entity: it breathes, it moves, it grows; it ages, weakens, and dies; and out of the ashes is reborn. Of all the elements and ingredients of life, the most important is death. Death makes way for the new- the old give up their lives so the young can feed upon them and grow until they in turn also die to nourish the new. Each generation is born with the knowledge and experience of those who came before, but they must continue forward, finding their own paths. It is a violent, terrorizing journey of destruction and blind stumbling.

“Creativity is first of all an act of destruction.”- Pablo Picasso

Every act of creation involves an act of destruction. You have to kill the cow to eat the meat, break the egg to make the omelet. As artists and creators, we are not omnipotent, creating ex nihilo, everything we make comes from something else. The sculpture cannot be created without first cutting down the tree. Every creative act depends on an initial act of destruction.

“Distortion is a partial destruction and it is a necessary ingredient in making the vague visible.” - Anne Bogart.

There is always an argument concerning which aspect of theatre is the most important. For some, the playwright and the text are held in highest regard, for others the actor, still others are most concerned with the director and his mise en scene. They are all wrong. Far greater than all of these is the audience member. Every other element of the production receives its power only in relationship to the director, and they must therefore be utilized as tools to serve them. The script, the director, the actor, the stage, all exist for the sake of the audience.

“If you just let a play speak, it may not make a sound. If what you want is for the play to be heard, then must conjure its sound from it.” - Peter Brook

Each time a play is created, a text is used. Sometimes the text is literary, and existed before the play and after the play. Sometimes the text is spontaneous, called up by the actors from some unknown place and immediately lost once it has been spoken. Sometimes the text is visual, existing only as it is remembered in the body and in the mind. Each time a play is created, the text is shaped and guided by the Director and each time it is performed, it is re-interrepted by the actor and by the audience member. It is therefore absurd to place any last significance on the text itself, for it can never be repeated, never be the same.

“The Director takes liberties with the text. He cuts, he transposes .” - Jerzy Grotowski

The text does not belong to the playwright. It does not belong to the Director, nor to the actor. The text can only belong to the audience. Before the playwright, the text already exists. It is in the minds, in the bodies of the audience, it already belongs to them. The playwright merely takes the text and begins destroying it, deconstructing it. Before the playwright, the text has the potential for anything, for everything. The playwright makes choices, decisions, violates the text. Then he gives it away, gives it to the Director. The Director, aware that the playwright has already caused destruction to the text, is not afraid to visit further destruction on it. The text the Director received from the playwright is limited, but still very open to possibility. The Director must shape it, constrict it, tear it down until it can be contained with a space, held their by the actors. The Director and the actors together find the proper shape and space for the text to be contained in, then the Director gives the text to the actors. The actors hold the text for only a moment before they give it to the audience. This act, this giving away, is the final breathe of the life of the text. It dies as it is given to the audience so that the next text can be born out of its ashes.

“Risk is a key ingredient in the act of violence and articulation.” -Anne Bogart

How then must we enter into this process of destruction? How can the playwright choose which part of the text to destroy? How does the Director choose which text, and how to further destroy it? How do the Director and the actors decide which shape and space is best for the text? How do the actors find the how they can give the text to the audience. They must stand up, move around, examine the text, test it, probe it, prod it, and finally, eventually, they must step forward blindly, slashing away, hope the stick in their hands makes contact and the best parts of the text come tumbling out. The playwright grabs blindly at the ideas, pulling away a handful that must be trimmed into the text. The Director stands in as a surrogate audience, exploring the text with the actors, finding its shape. It is a terrifying process.

“From the point of view of the mind, cruelty signifies rigor, implacable intention and decision, irreversible and absolute determination.” -Antonin Artaud

The Director knows their role is that of a charlatan, a liar, a guide who not only does not know the territory, but is also blind. Every step forward contains the possiblity of utter success and complete failure. Every step forward is full of terror. There is no going back, they way back is forgotten, no more familiar than the way forward. The Director must lie, and believe their own lies while making sure that everyone else knows they are lying. The Director must decide which path to take, which way to turn without knowing where they are going or what will be there when they arrive.

“If good theatre depends on a good audience, then every audience has the theatre it deserves.” -Peter Brook

Peter Brook said “I can take an empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” Who exactly was this man, and who was the “someone else” that watched him. The simple answer is, the man was the actor and the someone else was the audience. What separates these two? Is it the act of walking? What if the play is about someone sitting and watching? Is not then the “someone else” the actor and the man the audience? In truth, there is no actually separation between them. The actor is the audience and the audience is the actor. Likewise, the Director is the audience and the audience is the Director. The Director is aware they are not outside of the audience, knows that each play they create is as much theirs as the audience, knows that each time they direct they must ask themselves “why?” The Director also knows they must set themselves apart from the audience, or they will be unable to lead them through the darkness, and they will be unable to destroy. Though they are part of the audience, the Director, the playwright, the actor must all step out, at least for a time, and take their role to serve the audience.

These are the roles:
The Playwright creates a script
The Director creates a play
The Actors create a performance
The Audience creates a meaning

Theatre is communion, its purpose is to entertain: “To hold mutually; to hold intertwined” or “To maintain; to support; to provide sustenance for (a person)” (OED.) All of us then must engage, reach out, grab on tight, and hold ourselves in between the darkness and the light.

Grassroots Giving?

Friday, May 11, 2007 by Adam

Hallo there fallows. I hope someone’s still reading this occasionally these days.

As you guys know (well, maybe Chris and perhaps the occasional reader doesn’t know), I’ve gone to Malawi for some time--like 9 months-ish. I’ve gone in support of an orphanage that’s being built. Some friends of the family are doing it, so I just came along to sort of help where I could.

But here’s what I’m posting about. It’s an idea I’ve had for awhile, dating back to when I was in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. It’s about money. I want people to give it to me.

Here’s the general idea:

Let’s say you like giving to charity. Perhaps there’s a tithe involved, if you’re a money-tithing Christian. Probably you’ve already got organizations that you give to, and that’s cool. They probably all deserve your money. And really, I don’t like the idea of stealing money from other charities by convincing my friends and family to give to me instead. But, I have an idea and I like it.

One problem, of course, with giving to nonprofits is the overhead. You’ve got to keep the lights on, and usually there are salaries to be paid. This is all well and good, to a degree. Some organizations are well-run and go totally on volunteer manpower. This is even better, but of course it’s hard to maintain because you need a constant influx of willing people and open pocketbooks. But in most cases, a certain percentage of your money goes to paying lighting bills and expense accounts. Usually it’s around 20%. But it’s a necessary evil. I mean, it’s not as if you can just hand the money out directly to a needy person to be used for a specific purpose at a specific time, under the auspices of a personally-known, unpaid, and responsible person who is personally acquainted with the needy person.

OR CAN YOU?!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Being really here and really interacting with the people, I see at least a few cases each week of someone who could really use some extra money--from $15 for new shoes, a meal, and a bus ride back home to his family, to $5000 to finish her exorbitantly-priced secondary degree. It’s not the systematic kind of change that’s needed to really “save” Malawi, but I like the grassroots feel of it. Buy local, give local. (Local in the sense that you know me. More accurately, give global.) It’s possible that your money might be better spent on a big organization that’s had to bleed and sweat for its reputation and solid infrastructure. But isn’t it an exciting concept to give almost directly to a real live person who really, truly needs it?

I was thinking along the lines of: I’d get people to commit, not to giving a certain amount, but to being on a contact list of some sort. And I’d issue a bulletin from time to time saying something like: “I met a guy named Theophilus (as I did just today) who’s smart, honest, and dirt poor. He has great ideas and a great mind, but homeboy only makes it to school about 3 days out of the week because the only school he can afford is about 15 km away, and he can only afford the minibus fare when money’s available from his uncle (read: scantily). I need $90 to buy this guy a decent bike. I’ve done my background checks, I know Theo personally, and I know this bike would be used to get him to school. Now someone cough up.”

So, ideally, one of the maybe 50ish people/couples on my list of middle-class Americans thinks it over and says, “Yes, Adam. I shall give. I canst afford to purchase 9 less cases of longneck Sam Adams this year. I canst afford to eat out 11 less times this pay period.” Theo gets a bike, and a conscience is assuaged with reasonably good cause.

Conceptually now. What do you think? Is it a flight of fancy or a reasonably feasible thing? Would you do it? I’m just putting out a fleece here. I really want to hear you guys’ opinions on this.

I have lots of things I’m thinking about in terms of humanitarian aid. Do you guys still want to keep this blog up? I think we should. I know I’ve been delinquent as the next guy, but how about some posts, bitches? I’m too lazy to learn about eco-power/simple living/rock history/film vs. theatre/gay rides on my own. By the way, Dane, did you still want to post?

Malawi’s great; love and kisses,
Adam

The Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kerouac Connection

Sunday, March 25, 2007 by Grant

I had to reach past all the papers I have to grade to get to the books for this blog. I think I'm using this blog to procrastinate, but oh well. It's on my mind now, so I'll go for it. I was hoping to let these ideas simmer but now is as good a time as any to just throw these ideas out there.

So my class on rock'n'roll has me thinking about the connection between Nietzsche and punk music. There is definitely a similarity, but it's not just in the ideas but the lifestyles (which I guess are embodied ideas anyway). What is striking is that every person who follows this particular "life is art" philosophy in which they willingly sacrifice themselves for their own sense of individual freedom ends in self-destruction. Here are the best examples (in chronological order): Nietzsche (sexually transmitted mental breakdown), Jack Kerouac (alcohol-related self-obliteration), the Sex Pistols (commodified self-destruction trap), Kurt Cobain (also caught in the commodification of self-destruction). And here's the connection: all of these guys gained popularity (though not necessarily in their lifetimes) for living this wild and crazy fantasy of individual freedom from God, law, social norms, commitments, duty etc. And, not surprisingly, all met a similar end. On the flip side of their beautiful (beatific? beat?) lifestyle was alienation, despair, addiction, anxiety, horror.

Dostoevsky saw it coming. In a prologue to "The Brothers Karamazov", Konstantin Mochulsky points out that one of Dostoevsky's (Kirilov) characters in "The Devils" realizes that "If God doesn't exist, then I am God." Mochulsky says "In place of the God-man appears the man-god, the 'strong personality', who stands beyond morality, 'beyond the confines of good and evil,' to whom 'everything is permitted' and who can 'transgress' all laws...Dostoevsky made one of his greatest discoveries: the nature of man is correlative to the nature of God; if there is no God, there is also no man. In the man-god, the new demonic being, everything human must disappear"

This was all before Nietzsche! This passage on Dostoevsky set off for me a chain of thoughts linking Dostoevsky's observation to the demise of Nietzsche, (oh yeah Hemingway too), Kerouac, the Sex Pistols, Kurt Cobain. It's a theme very well described in NIN's The Downward Spiral which starts off with the magnificently grand claim "God is dead and no one cares. If there is a hell I'll see you there" and the idea that the crowd (the herd) can bring Reznor "closer to God", meaning closer to being God! But the ending of Reznor's desire to escape that God-shaped hole ends only in a man-sized hole in the side of the main character's head. The Downward Spiral ends in suicide.

Now I just finished Kerouac's "Desolation Angels" and I see yet one more example of what Dostoevsky was prophesying and Reznor was describing from his own experience.
I was fortunate in a way to have started reading this particular Kerouac novel before reading his earlier work because in "Desolation Angels" Jack is starting to realize the meaninglessness of all his wandering that was previously described with such hope and excitement. Kerouac's earlier adventures are clearly his way of trying to transcend the American social norms and laws that restrict individual freedom. Kerouac still believes in the God of his Catholic upbringing, but he turns to Eastern religion, which ultimately offers no solace. In fact, one friend of Kerouac's, William S. Burroughs, warned him: "A man who uses Buddhism or any other instrument to remove love from his being in order to avoid suffering, has committed, in my mind, a sacrilege comparable to castration." One of Kerouac's ex-girlfriends comments that "Through Buddhism, he could rationalize the void he had discovered within himself, but he could never accept it." She points out that "Desolation Angels" is particularly sad because Kerouac claims near the beginning that it's a book without characters. His loneliness is creeping in and he tries to avoid it by wandering or meeting up with his friends to chatter the silence away in drunken orgies of words and sex.

Now, as I'm about to read "On the Road", I will read his youthful reverie in the full context of his death. The end of Kerouac's life was essentially a descent into madness. The author finds meaninglessness in his books where he once hoped to find the most meaning. The book that made Kerouac famous for living this ultimate individualistic American fantasy of a life without commitments to others (Kerouac left his first pregnant wife in the lurch to pursue his journey) was also Kerouac's biggest trap: If he stopped this self-destructive on-the-road life he would no longer have anything to write about. His livelihood depended on his own self-destruction. Remind you of any of our punk heroes? This was the very same trap the Sex Pistols found themselves in and later Kurt Cobain!

So Dostoevsky was on to something. The fantasy of finding one's self (which becomes necessary in a world where God no longer exists) outside of one's commitment to others (family, society, laws, norms, God again--the ultimate "Other") leads to alienation, meaninglessness and self-destruction. And now the attraction of Eastern Philosophy to the Beats, the Hippies, and later movements in America is put into context for me as a search to validate the emptiness Americans feel from this individualist way of life. It is also interesting that though the Sex Pistols aren't Americans, they found their end on an American tour--San Francisco...and New York for poor Sid Vicious.

Perhaps the vast empty landscape of the American West that so draws Americans (as it did Kerouac, and as it awed Johnny Rotten on that disastrous tour) promises that we can start over somewhere else, but it may also be a (black) mirror image pulling us further and further into our own god-man emptiness. So here's what I'm left with at the moment (and I think this relates to our earlier discussions): it might be impossible to be beyond good and evil, as Nietzsche wants, without adequately replacing the God on which such laws exist. Since we have so many excellent examples of highly qualified people (Kerouac, The Sex Pistols and the rest) who destroyed themselves trying to replace God's law with their own law (or anarchist "non-law"), maybe we shouldn't be following their example. Maybe there's another way to transcend the law, and maybe that way is to open one's heart to the "spirit" of the law which is true freedom, true love and all that jazz.

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