ghosts…

In the late 1990′s I had the good fortune of playing the lead role in one of my favorite plays of all time, Equus by Peter Schaeffer. It was produced by First Banana Players, a community group in Madison that had no formal resources — ie: we didn’t have our own rehearsal or performance space (and this was before the Bartell Theatre); we ended up renting Kanopy Dance‘s old studio…

cast of Equus

with cast, in full horse mode...

I mention this not just for the random nostalgia, but because the recent turn of events has brought the memories of this production into my head once again.

See, the old Kanopy Dance space is in the Gateway Mall on Williamson Street; Kanopy moved some years ago, and the Gateway underwent some remodeling; the front part of the space now is occupied by OutReach, Madison’s LGBT community center; the back part of the space is where the offices of my new employer, WCASA, reside.

It’s a bit surreal, showing up for work every day, walking around the modest office space which has been so transformed that it is hardly the space it used to be – except when I look up and see the black painting on the steel structural beams and ventilation ducts; instantly I’m reminded of its previous incarnation as a performance space, and of the fact that a few feet away from where my desk and cubicle now reside I once stood, lit by gelled fresnels and lekos, and spoke out toward the silhouetted audience: “With one particular horse, called Nugget, he embraces…”

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the theatre will tell you that they – the physical performance spaces – contain ghosts. Maybe not the literal kind; wispy, ephemeral spirits from the after-world; but certainly the theatrical kind – the scantiest trace of memory of the words spoken within its walls that seem to reverberate for all eternity. Standing on a darkened stage in an empty theatre is practically a religious experience for an actor.

So, you can imagine for me the strange mix of feelings; it’s not a darkened theatre, but rather a brightly lit office space. Yet, one can’t help feeling that the essence of Mr. Shaeffer’s words, and the spirit and energy of all the folks that poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the production linger slightly. It gives me a sense of great comfort… even as it spooks me a bit.

Finally…

Sorry for the radio silence. The past month has been jammed packed, and tension-filled. It culminated in a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire cliffhanger which, I’m pleased to say went my way: I got offered a job.

Actually, two jobs; after over two years of job hunting – some 310 job applications and 42 job interviews (a few of those second and third interviews for the same job) – I found myself in the enviable position of having to choose; and not just choose between a mediocre job and a so-so alternative – these were two viable, exciting, interesting jobs in a field I actually have a strong passion and commitment for: ending violence.

In the end, I was flattered to be offered a new job – one that I will have a hand in shaping and building – as the Violence Prevention Communications Coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA). I will start later this week, as Sept. turns to October. I look forward to it with much excitement and anticipation.

That also means that things might be on the slow side here; I will be spending the first part of this week traveling (returning from a visit on the east-coast with family and friends) and better part of the next two weeks acclimating myself to a new work environment and schedule. As soon as I get a chance to come up for air, I’ll have some stories and thoughts to share here. I promise.

Speaking of which, I’m so please that my last post has garnered so many comments – especially because many among them are folks who were able to avoid falling for a fake condo ad thanks to my warning; happy to do my part in the cause to prevent a**holes from using Craigslist (and the web in general) to steal people’s personal information.

Moon child

Just slightly more alarming to me than marking my own personal fortieth anniversary of entering the world, is the marking of the fortieth anniversary of the landing on the moon (made all the more poignant – if that’s the right word – by the recent passing of Walther Kronkite). Can it really have been that long ago?

If you haven’t yet, please read Tom Wolfe’s Op Ed in Sunday’s New York Times – “One Giant Leap to Nowhere”; it is by turn tragic, cynical, and hopeful; on balance, very well done. He praises those involved in making the moon landing happen, even as he acknowledges that he thinks the success marked the end of the magic that was the U.S. Space Program.

Having launched just four days before our national lift-off, I have always been tied to the moon; both because of my own innate curiosity about it, and because of the cultural moniker given to all us Summer of ’69 births: moon child.

I think one of the reasons that Wolfe’s piece about the moon landing resonates so deeply with me is there is a parallel to be drawn between my life and NASA. Sounds like a stretch, but bear with me; I, too, like the space agency, am struggling to find what that next goal should be; as I face the prospect, due to financial reasons, of having to return to the home I grew up in, I think of some of the critics who say NASA shouldn’t go back to the moon – “it’s been done.” Even if I manage to find gainful employment that allows me to maintain my current standard of living is that enough? Or is the American public – my adoring fans – expecting something bigger, more unexpected out of me. Relocation, and a new job search in un-explored territory? Connecticut? How about elsewhere in New England? Will only NYC do? Where is my Mars, my Jupiter?

See, moving out to WI in the early nineties and pursuing a graduate degree in the performing arts was my long-shot. It was, to use the phrase, shooting the moon. It was the big risk, the kind you take when you are young and relatively privileged enough, and stubborn enough to pursue something you love regardless of its practicality within a capitalist culture. And I did it – I mean, my first degree was earned thanks to my parents and their willingness to mortgage their house (which propelled both me and an older sibling to a Bachelor’s degree), but this one was all me, financed by my TA salary (this was long before UW-Madison found its way to tuition remission for teaching assistants) and the six student loans I took out (and have been paying back, up until this past year, entirely on my own). Despite the odds, with a lot of long, hard work, I achieved my goal; I made it to Tranquility Base; I planted my flag.

Being born in the shadow of the moon landing meant arriving on American soil at the moment when America felt a sense of pride in having followed through on the promise of its idealistic, young President some nine years before. Yes, we had suffered his loss, and the loss of his brother and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. thereafter, and we were starting to wake up to the reality of the morass that was the Vietnam War; we were still licking wounds, but we did not let that deter us from reaching for the stars.

Soon after – after the war, and Watergate, the oil crisis, the hostages in Iran, and AIDS, and the dozen or so things we swept under the rug or tried to forget – along came better technology and bigger cars and we got lulled into a sense of false comfort; we were happy enough to have the Cold War end and our economy (seemingly) grow more robust and our standard of living was to be rivaled, so wasn’t that enough?

We forgot what it meant to reach for things – things that cost money and take effort but whose end goal is the furthering of our story as a species and our understanding of our tiny, tiny place in this vast, unimaginably big universe.

So, too, in some ways I became comfortable with my daily job and very nice two-bedroom apartment over-looking the park, and my economic car, and my summer playing Ultimate Frisbee and the occasional trip east to see family and friends. I still pushed myself – did things outside the mainstream, and reached for changing the world, making it better – but it didn’t seem as urgent somehow. Not until I lost that daily job and then the bottom fell out of the economy.

In his article, Wolfe remembers visiting NASA just a few months after the historic landing and finding a former member of the heat-shield team working – as a tour guide. Says Wolfe:

“A baffling wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It was so bad he was lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig on a tour bus. Neil Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, were still on their triumphal world tour … while back home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of highly motivated space scientists … was breaking up, scattering in nobody knows how many hopeless directions.”

How loudly that seems to resonate now. It’s as if all of us, working away in our jobs in whatever our chosen (or not chosen) professions had been through the ’80′s, ’90′s, and early ‘aught’s, were the driving force behind the rise to prosperity of a minority of greedy fellow citizens, and now (while some of them are still on a triumphal world tour no less) we find out that we are dispensable after all.

So, where to from here? How can a nation, entrenched in an unjust (and unnecessary) war, beleaguered with economic collapse from the private sector to the housing market right on up to municipal and state levels, still in many ways reeling from pain it hasn’t dealt with from the recent wounds of terrorism (what’s the statute of limitations on grieving for a sneak attack?), find its way back to pulling together and uniting behind a single, albeit risky, cause?

Can we mark this auspicious anniversary with a sense of pride, but one that is as forward-looking as it is reminiscing? Let us think of extraordinary things – ventures of great importance with lofty goals including the uncharted terrain of justice, fairness, and equality – and let us gather around the drawing board, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

podcasting…

Sorry for the cross-post, but for those of you who are unaware, I do violence prevention work – have for the past eighteen years as a matter of fact – with Men Stopping Rape, Inc.; I recently put my multi-media chops to work putting together the inaugural video podcast, and it’s now up online:

http://www.men-stopping-rape.org/?p=29

It’s a brief (6 min) post that just gives an introduction to MSR, an idea of our approach to violence prevention, and a look ahead to some of the topics I intend to be discussing.

Right now it’s merely embedded video, courtesy of YouTube. I’m trying to carve out some time to figure out the XML and RSS hoops I have to jump through to get it on the iTunes Store. If anyone has any pointers, links, that could expedite that process, by all means pass them along!

Time

An email earlier tonight informed me that a fellow I practice Aikido with in Madison lost his son in a car accident on Christmas Eve.

The son, all of eighteen, had a car accident up in MN, where I believe he had just started going to school.

I have never had a son; but those who know me will understand that hearing this news was a ghost-like experience for me. Sam, the son of my good friend and supervisor, and to whom I always felt a mentor if not a parent, lost his life in a car accident on a winter night nearly four years ago. He had just turned eighteen.

I am almost stunned into silence. Life, or at least Time, keeps marching forward; in this culture we are not supposed to dwell upon the past – yet if we do not heed it we are doomed to repeat it. I try to find balance, but these days I seem to feel more haunted than forward thinking.

What is our life, really? A succession of inhilations and exhalations; an intertwined internet of biology, nurture, stimuli, response, and cultural preconceptions which we set to the tune of the ticking of a clock.

Midnight approaches out here on the East coast. A flipping of the page, a rolling over of another digit on the celestial odometer. A new year. May we find new ways to create peace, foster creativity, balance our economy, and heal from those old wounds.

Gifts

This is a tough time. Life ebbs and flows, and we each, in turn, experience happiness and pain, elation and depression, triumph and defeat; one can not always have it easy, good, or your own way. What would life be like if that were the case? We’d have to call it something else.

So, those who know me know that this year, 2008, has been a particularly tough one in that I have spent the entire year (and the preceding six months) unemployed. Now, my overall life circumstances are not that down-trodden or dire, but since we’re all the lead character in our own lives, when something befalls us it often seems particularly harsh. As I write this, and the financial realities of the nation have played out over the last three or four months, I fear more and more that many of my friends and dear ones will come to understand what I’ve been through first hand.

Every year, the Xmas holidays are a time to take stock, but it seems there’s an extra edge to that process for me this year. While I won’t use this public space as the place to unfurl all my internal entanglements (you folks have better things to do with your time… I hope), I would like to share that despite the challenges of the past twelve (o.k., nineteen) months, I have been lucky to be able to be home with family to celebrate the holidays, and to be surrounded by friends, both new and old.

Last night, I drove out to a small gathering of old High School friends; it’s amazing to me on some level that we’ve kept in touch all these years (facilitated, to be sure, by the stubborn and persistent prodding by one of those among us). There is a special joy in being able to keep in touch, and to watch the process of growth, both in myself and in them, and in having some of my own self reflected back at me (at a time when there’s been very little coming back; those of us among the unemployed job hunters will tell you, these days it’s almost as if you’ve rolled up your resumé, put it in a glass bottle, and sent it adrift on the tide, hoping it will catch someone’s attention; it’s rare to even receive a rejection phone call, email, or letter). 

These gatherings are even more spectacular to me when I remember that many of us no longer live in the same state, some are tackling family and child-rearing obligations, and that we often have divisive view points politically, socially, or even religiously. Yet some how, the bond we share by virtue of our shared adolescent experience, and perhaps perpetual curiosity of how this journey called life unfolds, keeps us coming back to banter, wisecrack, and check in with one another.

So on this day, I’m doing my best to let my sleeping dogs (joblessness, anger over Prop 8 and the financial bailout situation, and general anxiety over what the future may or may not hold) lay, and focus on the gifts I have in my life that always keep giving.

Happy Holidays to you and yours…

Old Tools – December, 2008

Old Tools – December, 2008

Originally uploaded by sdmonty

Boston got a bit of snow and ice today, so I suited up and helped Dad clear the driveway.

When it came time to do the front and back steps and walkways, which are narrow, brick and do not lend themselves to the large, plow-like shovels we used to clear the driveway. So, I went into the garage and pulled out this small, red shovel I had as a kid; this thing must have been bought in 1973… and of course it still works just fine.

This flies in the face of traditional American capitalist existence. After all, our principal duty is to consume, consume, consume (or, as our current leader invoked after we were so viciously attacked in 2001, “go out and shop”). We’re supposed to “keep up with the Jones”, and have the latest, greatest do-dad. As a confirmed geek, I myself have been guilty of buying, or merely coveting, that snazzy new iPod or flat-panel television (or, if any of my relatives are reading this and there’s still time in the X-mas shopping season, a new MacBook Pro…).

In contrast, here is a tool, bought over thirty-five years ago, made of wood and steel, that has held together and does not need replacing. I can’t help but wonder, if we built more things like this, would we have avoided the rabid consumption which has pitched the economy into a tail-spin and the ecosystems of the planet into disarray?

closer shot of red shovel

closer shot of red shovel

locked and loaded…

A great bit of silliness, courtesy of Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, and all the folks that put together Spaced, the all-too-short-lived British TV series; it’s available on DVD and well worth the rental [having done so, it's now on my "wish list" for Xmas, or at whatever point I find full time employment].

The two bits below, courtesy also of YouTube, are from Season Two (I believe it’s episode #5)… the first bit intros us to the concept of a different kind of hand-to-hand combat…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37X1t1Myz7A]

This second piece is later in the episode; I should mention though that this scene actually opens the episode – but then cuts to credits just as things ramp up – a la Pulp Fiction; we return here at the end, after the scene in the kitchen (see previous video clip), but enough time has passed that we aren’t expecting it… a pleasant (and funny) surprise that is a testament to the clever, funny, spirited writing that Stevenson and Pegg (and others) put into the series…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kct523XltUM]

Only in America…

Only in America would the start of shopping season be a holiday; and only in America would the day result in death…

Wal-Mart worker dies in rush; two killed at toy store – cnn.com:
http://tinyurl.com/6p2z6e

OMFG! What have we become, people? The death of a person would be tragic under a variety of conditions: disease, accident caused by someone else’s negligence, or domestic violence. But for a man to lose his life, at the age of 34, because of rabid, deal-crazed, shoppers?! That goes beyond tragic and into the pathetic and unconscionable.

O.k., now I was raised in this country, which means I was raised to be a consumer, and a capitalist. And sure, I’ve had things – material things – that I’ve wanted over the years (and certainly, with my own belt-strings being pulled tight this past year and a half due to the rotten employment situation, the “wants” list has grown longer). But never – ever – in my life can I remember, nor envision, there being something I needed or would want that would cause me to stampede to the extent that other people got injured, not to mention killed.

This is behavior that we expect from wild animals living in the open plain or forest when fire breaks out or there is a predator nearby; this is not behavior I expect from other members of my own race.

Shameful. My heart is very heavy with hurt tonight.

I’m re-posting here a link I put up on Tumblr earlier today, linking to AdBusters‘ page on Neil Boorman’s interesting video piece on “The Good Consumer.” His piece is stark, ironic, and haunting. He provides a good “big picture” analysis of the psychological underpinnings (and perhaps consequences) to our dependability on a consumer-driven world economy (and national/social identity).

with Maureen, PR reading, Somerville, Oct. 2008

with Maureen, PR readthru, Somerville, Oct. 2008

Originally uploaded by sdmonty

Update: the writing process continues, but got a much needed boost this past week; Bryan and I conspired with various friends in two cities, and thanks to my pre-planned “vacation” (can you really call it that when you’ve been unemployed as long as I have?), we met up with folks in NYC and in Boston to read through our work in progress.

Much thanks to those friends who came out to help us out, giving up free time on Thursday and Sunday night, as well as giving their thoughts, insights, and spot-on criticism and critique; we came away with much grist for the mill, and have begun the arduous, but fun, task of putting this fresh perspective into play in the 2nd draft.