Sunday, February 23, 2014

Marriage Equality?

Everyone should have the right to get married. If I decide someday I want to enter into holy matrimony (patrimony?) with a man, it's not something that should be open to debate or controversy. I'm definitely not planning to do it regardless of who I decide to share my life with, but I recognize have a lot of life left. My opinions are often changeable. You never know. I could need to exercise my right to be shackled to a ring. If I do decide to go through with it, as a liberal, I need to acknowledge something important.

Marriage is a socially conservative institution.

That's right, folks. The thing that's being fought for in (as of this writing) 33 states is limiting love instead of allowing it. This will raise a few eyebrows so let me be clear: I have a right to get married to whomever I choose and about two thirds of the country is violating that right. However by entering into a marriage, or fighting for it as the Ideal Expression of Love(tm) I am endorsing its standard and normalizing its practice. While it's folly to define it, love is not nearly so linear that it comes with a neat tidy, culturally-heterosexual endpoint.

I say culturally-heterosexual, because queer people have most recently built relationship structures that aren't dependent on monogamy, employ consensual unequal power exchange, or are limited by sexual puritanism. While it's true that these things were developed out of necessity because straight-style courtship wasn't and still isn't accepted, they're pretty damn awesome and they are certainly not 'lesser'. They're an expression of humanity's basic right, not to get married, but to love and to love in a way that makes it happy. Or, to put like my straight romantically conservative roommate, "Be Hippies, 'n shit."

So whenever left wing activists say that gay marriage isn't going to lead to polygamy, I groan internally. I'm not advocating for radical mormon harems and creepy patriarchal institutions that force women into a culture of servitude. But maybe a man, a woman, and another man are in a triad. What if they want to express devotion to each other? How will they go about doing that? And if they do why isn't their devotion recognized by the government? What if I want to run the government but I'm in a BDSM relationship and I have a Sir? Will my candidacy be laughed out? What if my wife and I are honest swingers? Why does Bill Clinton get to cheat while our honesty is castigated?

So why is the one person to one person, monogamous, lifelong union so valued? Marx would say that it's for primarily economic reasons. Women after all were considered to be property for a long time in western and some eastern cultures. While I'm not a big Marx fan, I agree that it's probably a holdover from times when people had dowries. Even though they don't (at least not  commonly in America) the implications are still there, even if Third Wave Feminism has eroded a lot of them: women need one man, and men need one woman. With same-sex advocacy that's changed of, course but it's still a contract. People belong to their 'soulmates' instead of to themselves, even if they don't necessarily feel comfortable doing so.

This last is important. Unequal power exchange, that is being a Dom (of all flavors) or a sub (of all flavors), is consensual. Marriage, even though ideally the power exchange is 'equal', is not consensual. Society expects you to to give yourself, forever, to your betrothed and doesn't inform you that there are other choices. You have to be informed to give consent. What if you want to belong to yourself? What if you don't want the responsibility of having someone belong to you? Yes, it's true that I'm intentionally using rhetoric that calls to mind business practices, but the fact the rhetoric is still in usage should be telling enough. Marriage contract, Wedding vows, having someone complete you...all this is problematic and, to my mind, deeply limiting on what love can and should be. Here's what love can and should: any arrangement that makes you and your lover(s) happy.

Furthermore, these aren't new ideas. I mentioned Hippies and they did lay the groundwork for a lot of these ideals but honestly a lot of these were developed before the word 'marriage' had the connotations that it does today. Nor has it gone ignored. There are places like Unmarried Equality that try to tackle the variability of love from an legal standpoint and books like The Ethical Slut that try to do so from a social one. Check them out.

So yes, you have the right to get married. You have always had that right regardless of whether or not the government wants to recognize it. Should you get federal benefits for getting married however? Tax breaks.  No. I don't think so. Governments should not get to decide what love is for you. Sorry married friends, but if people don't get tax breaks for poly, kinky or any sort of 'alternate' arrangements then you shouldn't either.

In conclusion, be honest how you want to love. Love uniquely, love ardently, and love unashamed.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Disney's Frozen and Mental Difference

Once again I was late to the party and only just now managed to see Disney's Frozen.

I can see why it's blowing up my Facebook and why Buzzfeed has such a massive crush on it: It's a snarky liberal arts-major nerd's dream come true. I was planning to write a very straightforward review like I did with Mother Courage. Instead the English Major in me has smelt blood in the snow (see what I did there?) and wants to write about everything. The merits of adaptational media, deconstructionism of fairy-tale archetypes, feminist readings, anti-feminist readings, queer identity, family dynamics...they're all there and just screaming to have someone far more expert and far more scholarly extract them from the movie.

But you know what? I'm not really known for not doing things because I don't have credentials. In fact I love doing things that I'm not qualified for because I'm not qualified. So let's talk about Elsa and Mental Difference.

First let me say, I've tried to keep this relatively spoiler free and while their won't be many plot details, thematically it'll be pretty comprehensive for this character. The rest I think you can live with since even the things I say about the ending are vague and pretty obvious to anyone who's watched a Disney movie. Second? Yes I am pursuing counseling my self. The nature of my counseling may or may not have anything to do with this entry, and I believe everyone should pursue some counseling as a matter of course.

Anyway, based off of two distinctly different characters from the original fable, The Snow Queen and a young boy she abducts, Elsa acts as both her captor and her own captive. She's a cryokinetic (that's powery person), and like most magic in fiction when magic is used as a metaphor it works off of her emotions. It can be extremely beautiful and tender. The first thing we see her do is build a snowman for her sister, and even when she's using it for just herself she's really quite capable of awe inspiring feats of art and design. The trouble is, since her powers work on emotion, even when she's happy or acting with good intentions she can get carried away. The second thing we see her do with her powers is nearly kill her sister by trying to save her life.

What does this have to do with Mental Difference you might ask? Well if we look at the magic as a metaphor and not one for homosexuality (as tempting and as easy as it is to write about it) we've got a girl who's bipolar.

Yeah, yeah I know. At this point you think I'm reading too much into it. Whenever someone utters the 'b' word everyone seems to scream and run into the hills and discredits the utterer. Alright. Assuming that's true, think about why we tell stories. Failing that, think about the kind of stories Disney tries to tell. While making no claims to literal truth, they want to be applicable to life. If there were no people like Elsa in the world, they wouldn't have tried to make it a point to have her be worth your sympathy. It just happens that those people are bipolar, manic-depressive, or have others mental differences.

But what do I mean when I say that? Well I'm using bipolar to mean capable of extreme moods (both high and low) and the activity, creativity, and interpersonal relation skills that can come from those moods. Elsa is very even-tempered throughout the movie, but if you read her powers as her moods then it's a pretty easy jump. Especially when you consider that a lot of people with mental difference are pretty damn productive. A person allowing herself to ride the high of her manic episode may get a bit of a skewed view of the world but will feel unstoppable and will be all the more creative because of that. Even if they accidentally hurt someone or themselves. Again the parallels with Elsa practically scream.

Anyway back to the movie. Her parents, feeling that her uncontrolled emotions will get put someone in danger again, decide to impress upon her that teaching her to control her powers is of utmost importance. Since her powers are linked to her emotions and they really don't know the slightest thing about magic, they lovingly (but firmly) decide that she can't express herself. A lesson Elsa eagerly adopts. The second song in the movie is in fact about how her door is always shut and all that implies to her little sister Ana, who just wants to build a snowman with the older sibling she adores.


Will get to emotional self-policing later. Let's do a close reading of the movie's best moment; the song Let it Go. Here's a nifty link to it for context.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the Queen.

This can be read as a depressive episode but honestly it can also be read as a reaction to anyone whose felt 'othered'. Elsa is surround by her own element, but that element (be it her depression, her mania, or some other thought pattern) just shows her how alone she really is. As she says, there are no footprints in the snow.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried

Here the movie is practically begging to be interpreted since it's making her magic and her emotions explicitly linked. Cool reserved Elsa has a storm that can't be stopped by just wishing it away.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know 

So many people with mental difference struggle to fit in and associate their 'success' with being 'good'. The  line shows the issue with that by using 'have to' instead of 'want to''. Elsa is expressing this unfortunate attitude, especially with her little 'Conceal don't feel' mantra which she uses a lot more throughout the movie. Like a bipolar person she's afraid of her own emotions and how they effect her relationships. 

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door

...and then she says, "Fuck it!" This is a fantastic moment. She starts actively doing magic and has a genuine unrestrained smile. Again if we read 'magic' as 'emotion' (which the movie wants you to do) then she starts to acknowledge she has feelings to herself. This may like an obvious revelation to some;  people have feelings. When your own emotions are your enemy it's a lot easier to deny that you ever had them in the first place then to look at the raw fact of them. However all is not ice-roses. Notice the 'slam the door?' As we've seen this is a major motif. Don't worry, we'll come back to it.

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

Oh dear. Now we have mania. This could easily come from a villain song (which this was in fact written as originally) but tonally the song is one of self emancipation. She's freeing herself from her fears, right guys?...guys? What I' getting at is while that may be true, and that acknowledging that your own emotions empower you is a good thing you have to recognize them in relation with other people. She doesn't. 'Let the storm rage on' is an extreme line and while 'the cold never bothered me anyway' is awesome and sassy she doesn't think that it's important that it bothers other people.  When manic, other people sometimes don't matter especially if you're busy 'slamming the door'. 

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

Not much to say. Manic period after a lifetime of depression galore. Pretty obvious at least to me, and hopefully, now to you. 

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Remember that 'creative outporing' I was talking about? This is her deciding to do that. There's also some troubling language here like 'no right, no worn, no rules for me'. While she is absolutely portrayed sympathetically, what Disney princess have you ever heard say that? Even though she's meant to evoke our sympathy by learning more about herself, at this point her much needed internal focus comes at the price of her external focus. I would argue (and so would the movie) that people need to strike a balance. but when you're life is governed by extremes both high and low it can be hard to. This does not make you any less sympathetic or deserving.

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry

Oh dear.  More mania. Despite how literally true that claim may or may not be for a cryokinetic it's...pretty ballsy. So is 'you'll never see me cry'.  Implicit in that is an entire denial of ever feeling sorrow which when one is in the throws of happiness in extremis one tends to do.

Here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on

This little section is really impressive because of the animation. On 'stand' she stomps and a giant snowflake engrave ice-floor appears as a foundation for the castle she starts to conjure between this and the next stanza. Once you decide to embrace yourself as an emotional being, the narrative seems to be saying, you are capable of anything. Again though the troubling 'let the storm range on' is there. Often times bipolar disorder is characterized by racing and uncontrolled thoughts and if the storm is inside of her...

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

...if the storm is inside of her you get stanzas like this. Wow. Her power (emotion) is not acknowledged by Elsa to be inside her anymore. The movie even uses the word 'soul' in conjunction with the words 'spiralling' and 'all around'.  Sure she's creating a kingdom for herself (and it's awesome!) but in being everywhere she's lost self control. Furthermore by 'never going back' she's dismissing control's value entirely. In fact she even throws away her crown! That was probably a family heirloom and it's the symbol of what makes her queen. Look. While 'bipolar' should not be a four letter word, it's a disorder for a reason and not just for the times when it's bearer is feeling depressed. It's good that she's taking steps to heal herself.  It's just that she has not taken all of them.

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

This is another moment when the lyrics are only really good because of the action on the screen. This is the part where Elsa gets rid of her conservative clothing and spins herself a sexy ice dress. While this is sung triumphantly 'the perfect girl is gone' is kind of sad if you think about it. She still has her parent's internalized standards. Her powers, while she chooses to revel in them, are still imperfect. Even when we see her looking and acting like the hot witch that she is, her emotions are still intrinsically imperfect to her. This is really poignant for people living with mental difference who are conditioned not to trust the way they feel. Even when acknowledging that they feel differently they still self impose. In this way Elsa is very realistic. Which is another way of saying 'she's a very cynical portrayal.'

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

I've already said what I want to say about these lines and if I haven't, you can probably guess by know what I would say. However you'll notice that the song ends with Elsa slamming a door in the viewers face. Interesting, no?

While it should be clear by know that people with mental difference (especially the bipolar) should be able to see themselves in Elsa, that's not the main point I want to make. No, the main point I want to make is that she's a sympathetic, loving, kind, powerful queen. Arguably largely because of her powers. It's so easy to self stigmatize, but here's an example, albeit fictious, of someone who is allegorically Mentally Different ruling a kingdom and using her art to enhance her rule (especially at the end of the movie). Also notice that while her parents love her and try to help her, they get her into the emotional mess in the first place. Being open with people is good, no matter how much you may fear you'll hurt them. Seeing a professional is better. They say each snowflake is unique. Go out and design your own.


The first version of this was nearly unreadable. I made it better.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vignette: The Hart in Love

When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffered. My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
'Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.
She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished
That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.

-William Shakespeare, Othello

Curio:Will you go hunt my Lord?
Orsino: What, Curio?
Curio: The Hart.
Orsino: Why so I do, the noblest that I have.

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Last year I woke up and my mate was dead.

I remember getting up in the middle of the night for no real reason. It's not like I heard or smelled anything funny, I just had a sense of something being a little bit off kilter. Like when you get something small stuck in your antlers. Not enough to seriously impede you but enough to make you want to beat your head across a tree for a bit. We we're taking shelter in one of the caves for the night but it had been  windy so I had to shake a little snow of my fur. Somehow I didn't wake the rest of my family up. I felt alone. Normally we're never alone.

I think that's when I first knew. I didn't have to sniff, or to feel the absence of breath to understand that she was dead, though of course I did those things a second later. The next morning my brothers and sisters said it had probably been poison sprayed on the rosebushes in the suburbs, but I knew somehow, irrationally that if I hadn't woken up alone she would still be alive. We are not a people given to mourn. Death is a part of life, and the oldest of us said that she would be taken into the sky as a consort for the God of the Hunt as a Huntress rather than the hunted. The old words. I had never believed them, especially not now.

Perhaps we had been too close? I don't know.

In any case I was expected to move on, so I did. I ran. I ate. I rutted and fathered more children on more women. I taught these children how to do all these things in turn. I grew older, wise, and a little bit fatter. Sometimes there were dark days, but I had had a pretty good life.

And then she came back. That wasn't right. It wasn't her. Not exactly. She didn't smell anything at all like she had when I had first met her. She wasn't even the same breed as us anymore, although a quick sniff told me that despite her lighter fur she would still be compatible for lovemaking without me hurting her. Worst of all she didn't remember me and no one else seemed to recognize her.

Also she was odd now.

"What's your name?" she asked me after wandering into our camp.

I didn't understand the question. I think she was trying to find out what I did, what I was, who I was and to sum it up in a single thought for good measure. I had never been great with abstract concepts. The Great Hunt in the Sky still gave me trouble. Still this would have stumped even people who knew all the old words the best. A word like a Name seemed older and more dangerous than even they could handle.

"I don't understand," I said because I really really didn't.

"That's okay," she said being kind about it, "My name is Autumn."

Autumn. Another big concept but one I was familiar with. The time when food got scarce. The time of the first cold. The last gasp before the snow. Still, somehow, it also meant her, and she meant the word kindly. Wrapped up in Autumn was an identity and a sense of herself though. There was also a promise. A promise, that somehow all sacrifices would be made meaningful and all deaths would be made necessary.

"Why have you come back?" I asked.
"Back to our family. You died last year."
"I don't understand," she said and I was amused because now it was her turn.

So I told her the story of how we had been a family together all our lives, and how we used to play as children. I told her about the happy times when we would find clovers and the scary times when we would be chased by things that wanted to eat us. I told her about how hard I had fought for her, my antlers barred against a stronger man, how badly I had lost, and how, against all custom, she had chosen me anyway. I told her how we had stood together on hind-legs against a tree, lost in passion. I told her about not understanding God. I told her about our children. I told her how we had been different. I told her about the rosebushes and how she had died.

She listened.

"And now there is nothing left to tell," I said, "Why have you come back?"

But she just looked at me sadly and said, "I'm not her."

"Then how come you make me feel this way," I said.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I could be sacrificed for you and it would be made meaningful," I said after a moment and I meant it. It was a difficult concept, that thought in her name, but it felt absolutely true.

After that though I couldn't tell what she was thinking. She just cocked her head and stared at me. I found it strange that she wasn't trying to get my scent, but also a little endearing for reasons I couldn't understand. She trusted her eyes more than her nose. Autumn, I thought, correcting myself. Autumn trusted her eyes more than her nose.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" she said finally.
"I'm not sure I understand...-"
"...the question. Yeah, sorry, I sound a little weird sometimes. Let me rephrase: Do you think people who have never met each other can fall in love instantly?"

I considered this. "I don't think so," I said. "Not everyone at least. It takes time. But I've known these people all my life. I love them all. I guess I've had the time."

"Right!" Autumn said excitedly, "I agree with the 'not everyone' bit. But for you? I think you do. Fall in love at first sight. That's why you think I'm her."

"I'm not sure I agree but I'm willing to try loving you either way," I said after a moment.

"It doesn't work that way," Autumn said laughing suddenly. It was infectious. Soon I was laughing too. The entire thing seemed silly all of a sudden.

I told her so, "I'm not used to talking about why I feel the way I do."

She sighed and shook her fur saying, "I don't think anyone is."

We allowed ourselves to just be for awhile. Even though she was the instigator of the conversation I could tell it was difficult for her too, at least in long doses. I took her to one of my favorite places to graze. There were blueberries in the bushes and dandelions on the grass. If you slowed down, and mashed them in your mouth together it could be tastier than either one individually. I'm still not sure why though after experimenting and showing an interest I had actually become known for those weird food tricks. Autumn was delighted and called me a 'chef' a concept that while I found difficult, didn't seem entirely inaccurate. After gorging ourselves, and sniffing the air to make sure nothing dangerous was around we sat down.

"I was raised on a patch of meadow that researchers would use for an zoological survey," she said suddenly sad, "They talked with us and fed us. Told us stories. I liked the stories the most. At least they did, until they got shut down and the hunters moved in. I had to learn a lot quickly. Still in a lot of ways I'm more human than deer."

I only got about half of the meaning at first, but things like 'human' and 'deer' were easy to understand.

"The thing is, I like your story better. Your love story. Your family. There's more information, and more detail out there but with you here..."
"With you here, the story's more meaningful."
"Autumn..." I started to say something, but there was nothing more to say.

"Here's what I'm going to do," she said rising from the grass, "I will stay with you. I will listen to your stories, and I will run where you run and I will decide if I want to fall in love."

I shook my antlers in pleasure.

"But", she continued, "I will not be compared with her. She's dead. I know you loved her but I'm not her."

She really wasn't. I could see that now. It wasn't just the fur, or the size, or even the way Autumn smelled it was everything. The stuff in her mind and in her heart were different. She had never been part of my family, never drank the same water, or faced the same threats. She spoke like no one else I had ever met before, and would really stop and consider me. I knew I loved her for it, but knowing that didn't make it feel any less of a betrayal. My old mate was dead, yes, but she had never really left me. Perhaps we really had been too close. Perhaps we hadn't been close enough. Perhaps I should have followed her in The Big Hunt in the Sky. Even though I didn't know if I believed in it, I had believed in her.

Maybe it was time to believe in someone different.

"It'll be hard for me," I warned Autumn.
"That's okay. I know."
"Alright then. Where do we begin?
"Tell me a story."
"Yes, dear."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Defense of Naked Old People in the Locker Room

With Michael Sam coming out as the first gay NFL football player (even though he hasn't been drafted yet), there's been a lot of discussion about "Locker room politics". Rather than talk about how straight homophobic athletes and coaches need to get over themselves (especially since it's already been done better), I'm going to talk about a more persistent irrational fear: old people.

Since I'm talking from a primarily collegiate perspective, 'old' is being used with intentional derision to mean anyone who isn't eighteen to twenty-something. I myself am young and use the university campus gym. So do a lot of my classmates. However since it's a pretty good space (or so it seems to my untrained eye) so so do a lot of other people in the area. As such you'll get the occasional 50-75 year old on the treadmill, which is fine. For whatever though everyone seems shocked at the occasional 50-75 year old naked body in the locker room.

Let's talk about bodies. We all have them and so far they seem to be pretty necessary. In fact they seem to be pretty much everything. The main issue of course, is we tend to have problems with bodies as a society because the assumption that anything 'lower' than the soul is bestial, instinct driven, and just so much meat. This leads to sex shaming. The naked body is assumed to be sexual. It needs to be covered.

That's why the locker room is so interesting, since people need to be naked to shower or change gym clothes. Due to the accepted rules of homosociality (or 'bro code'), as long as you're with peers nudity is regarded as a necessity. Even the acceptance of gay guys on a liberal campus has perhaps made it a little bit acceptably titillating, within certain bounds of course. Besides straight guys check out  each other all the time, mostly out of envy rather than lust.

Among peers, at least. The naked 'old' person, doesn't count.

With him, predation is always assumed. He's is perceived as a flasher, a deviant, a molester simply because he dares to want to take a shower after a hard workout. The assumption of men is that we're all sexual at any age, and when in the university locker room space (and potentially any locker room space) something unlike our bodies comes in, it is note worthy and the homosociality treats it as penetrative with all the negative connotation of that word. Unfortunately you can also transpose this attitude to 'fat' people

This is a terrible attitude to foster. It makes the young adopt an hysteria not at all dissimilar to the asinine 'gay panic' homophobes use when they want to be bigots. It assumes that age is a hard and fast community line thus discouraging business contacts, friendships, and lovers. Worse of all it alienates the people who arguably need to go to the gym the most.

 Most of the pronouns here have been male because I've only ever been in a male locker room setting but I imagine the situation is probably worse if you're a woman. Unlike old men, old women in or culture are never assumed to be sexual. When one is necessarily nude, a state that is coded as 'always sexual' the scandal most likely makes the people who share the gym-soaces head explode.

To conclude: people can still be naked even if they're thirty years older than you. They sometimes need to use the gym. Some of them are really quite friendly. Get over it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Mother Courage and Her Children at Arena Stage

There is nothing so sad as seeing a professional actress forget her lines.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's a brief summary of the show. A badass pushes her cart around during the Polish-Swedish War and Thirty Years Wars War with her much beloved children, being as massively greedy as possible as it is to be when you're poor and in the middle of a battlefield. She doesn't want her children to join the war effort. They do. They die because of it. Directly because of the war and indirectly because Mother Courage gets a bit too greedy and tries to turn a profit. There is music but inexplicably not a musical. It was written by a German guy who fled his country in 1939. The implications of that are obvious.

So last night, I was lucky enough to be invited to go see Mother Courage and her Children at Arena (for free!) by a friend. Personally I have a love/hate relationship with Brecht. He's incredibly important to study since he's a great example of epic theatre, activist theatre and a good example of in-text Psychological Gesture  which is a weird concept developed by Stanislavsky wherein characters have a physical tic that denotes their personality, often used to get actors instantly into character. The play lends itself very well to Method which is why I think a lot of older people and Artistic Directors like it. At the same time I think that's why my generation hates it so much. It's a bit too early post-modern for us with it's self aware conventions of having each scene being introduced by an actor, or it's overly thematic music that doesn't go far enough to make it a proper musical.

Anyway, that's one bias. The other bias is that I know, and have had the honor to work with Rick Foucheux, the actor who played The Chaplain both as an actor and as his Dramaturge. He's an amazing guy and an powerful actor. So with regards to him my hopes were high even when my hopes for the show were low.

Anyway, back to my main complaint, Kathleen Turner. The titular Mother Courage was just barely off-book for the first part of the play and it showed. Badly. She never outright dropped a line to her credit, but I saw one or two close calls and she was often reaching. While I'm not always the greatest with lines myself (unless it's Shakespeare), seeing that made me realize what I could potentially subject an audience too if I wasn't careful.

Apart from that she was, okay. Not great, but just okay. Mrs. Turner has a bit of a tendency to swallow her lines at the end of a sentence which one of my acting teachers was always on my ass for, so I was disappointed to see it here. However one of the things she (and the Dramaturg) understood that I liked, was that she loved her kids. It's easy to play her as a complete bitch but the major conflict with the character is that she loves money a lot and her children a lot and thinks the two will never come into conflict. When her kids died she was very believable and heartbreaking. That said I didn't see much character development over the years which, while probably intentional, wasn't interesting although she was often funny.

Rick Foucheux as the Chaplain was pretty good. Again, like everything else in this play he got better as the show went on but at first he started out mildly (and oddly for me) lukewarm. However, having seen him act I'm sure this was for fear of upstaging Kathleen Turner who really should've given more anyway. However, by the last scene with his character (an excellent showdown between him and The Cook) he's back to his usual vocally and physically commanding self while still managing to portray kind of a skeezy guy. Good on you, Mr. Foucheux!

However the acting prize goes to the aforementioned Cook played by the incredible Jack Willis. I want to be this guy when I grow up. Managing to do so much with so little overt acting effort, he manages to steal every scene he's in with his little goofy, pessimistic voice alone. His crush on Mother Courage, while it could easily just be silly, sweet, or creepy comes off as all three at once and somehow, despite the creepy, manages to be utterly utterly charming. So charming is Jack Willis' Cook that when the drama starts around him it's easy to be afraid that the scene where he tries to convince The Mother to leave her daughter behind and run away with him, will be jarring, badly acted, or unbelievable. It is none of those things. Even his song was great and generally the music in this show (in my opinion) was obnoxious or easy to ignore.

Finally I have to mention Monalisa Arias. There are no small parts only small actors and this woman is proof. she just played a nameless Catholic soldier but she stole all the scenes she was in by being at the same time by the book and incredibly menacing. As a country we're so enrapt in war narratives, and we like seeing professional portrayals of our soldiers but Monalisa managed to take that same extremely American military officer character and turn it against the audience. This was brilliant. Usually when we see antagonistic soldiers their either evil assholes or noble adversaries. She was just a professional who made no qualms about disliking her enemies. Good on you, Ms. Arias.

The set was in the round and minimalist which worked since that combatted the general 'epicness' of the play and gave it some grounding. The lights were unsubtle which also worked for the opposite reason. Sound design was serviceable but mediocre. Direction was pretty good, handling complex multi person scenes, finicky things like the cart, and dance numbers with aplomb. The costuming and the props however were interesting since they were deliberately atemporal and spoke to all wars and had World War I, World War II and Middle Eastern War influences as well a keeping the general look from 1624 to 1636.

Final Score? Six out of ten for theatre snobs like me, and eight out of ten for everyone else. I do think it's worth seeing though, if only for historical value and if only so that you can say you've at least sampled a Bertolt Brecht play. If you do see it and hate the first act more than I did, don't despair, the second act is much better.

To good life, and good theatre, and I hope to see you again!


Friday, February 7, 2014

Gay Rights=/=Black Rights

I had to read Gayle Rubin's Thinking Sex for class, and although she was writing about sex and the stigmatization of deviant forms of sexuality thirty years ago, she still makes some salient points particularly about the fetish and leather community. How many politicians do you know who'll admit they're kinky? No one. We've come along way in terms sexual progressivism since 1984 but there's still a lot of work to be done.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

While some of Rubin's rhetoric is dated when it comes to homosexuality she does this thing that a lot of modern LGBTQ activists do that I hate: try to make it homosexuality comparable to race. In Thinking Sex it's explicit. She calls homosexual communities ' characteristic of a new ethnicity' (I'm paraphrasing).  In modern day discourse it's...still explicit. While I'm not going to cite a particular instance the amount of times I've heard, "Black people shouldn't prosecute us, because our struggle is exactly the same!" from misguided activists is staggering.

First of all, this kind of thinking completely ignores the nuances of the different movements involved, Black people in America have a tradition of displacement, slavery, and nationalism that is older than homosexuality. Yeah, I said it. Remember that homosexuality was perceived as an action (buggery or sodomy) before it was classified as a medical condition in Victorian England, and thus, spun of the individuals who practiced same sex attractions as a class of people. This is basic Foucault, and no matter how contentious it may seem to read it's widely accepted for a reason. Besides you can't look at someone's skin and go, "Yup. He's gay". Unless maybe he moisturizes smarter, and even then you're stereotyping even if you're experience with your college gays makes it seem true.

Where was I? Oh yes. "Black people shouldn't prosecute us, because our struggle is exactly the same!"

Interestingly I have noticed that this or some variant of it is always used when LGBT people generalize and call the black community hypocrites, because some fool rapper is being bigoted. Take a look at Queerty (a gay online 'news source'), check the comments, and see for yourself. The generalization is kinda implicitly racist and eventually leads to the argument about which 'minority suffers more' complete with lots of bitching and b'awwwing. As a member of both minorities, I can tell you that I'm suffering the most by listening to casual racism and homophobia by people who claim to represent the interests all of either community.

Seriously though, you can't measure suffering. You can't compare minority oppressions no matter how tempting it is to do so because of the limited funds and attentions awarded to both or either. Everyone suffers differently, and while it's important to recognize the commonalities in how each movement strives for equality, it's important to recognize the differences as well. In fact the entire discourse around what equality looks like is dictated by white, straight, males, for the most part. Choose your own end goal and fight for that, but never ever devalue someone else's by taking a reductionist view of their struggles.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Vignette: The Metaphorical Bird

One day Lauren woke up and she realized that she was a bird.

Not a literal one of course. That'd be stupid. Her newfound bird-ity was completely metaphorical. So metaphorical that it felt kinda like one of those obnoxious art pieces where people got naked, smeared honey on themselves, spoke in French and it turned out to be a metaphor for their penis or some shit. The shit was always their penis. But not this time. This time the shit was a bird and the bird was her.

She told her therapist. Her therapist was bemused.

"So you think you're a bird, Lauren?"
"I know I'm a bird. You don't have to make it sound like a personal attack, dude."

Her therapist was a bookish middle-aged woman, but Lauren liked to call her dude. She also liked to purposely misread her tone of voice. Her therapist hadn't been attacking her and they both knew it. It was one of the hazards of having an initially unwilling client. They had to play the game of obnoxious teenager and intrusive parental lackey long after it no longer served them. Which isn't to say they didn't like each other very much. They were just addicted to the dance, although, as Lauren noticed, her therapist hated herself a little for that.

"A bird." her therapist paused, "What kind of bird Lauren?"
"I already told you man, the metaphorical kind."
"A metaphor for...?"
"Me," Lauren answered smugly.
Her therapist didn't miss a beat, "and how do you know this?"
"It came to me in a dream."
"A dream?" suddenly her therapist was all ears, "I thought you didn't remember your dreams?"

Oh shit. This wasn't good.  She had misstepped. Badly.

"Yeah well," Lauren said, hating the way she was fucking up feigned nonchalance, "I remembered this one."

"I see." Said her therapist. What else was there to say?


The worst thing was, she had liked therapy. Not for the reasons her mom wanted Lauren to like therapy but because it was fun to have someone to play around with. Some days new ideas would pop into her head and it was fun to have someone not be unsettled but still uncomprehending. Now her therapist would think she knew everything about her. Or at least think she was going to learn. Lauren didn't want anyone to learn, she wanted them to leave her alone.

Apparently birds were bad at not singing. Even metaphorical ones.

It wasn't that Lauren didn't dream. It was that her dreams would follow her. Sometimes that could be rough because she remembered when it didn't use to be that way.


"I heard you and Ashleigh had a breakthrough the other day," her mom said a little too happily for Lauren's comfort.
"It's good that you're telling her about the nightmares, dear."

'The' nightmares. Never 'your' nightmares. Articles and possessives were her mother's favorite tools of disassociation.  Modifiers and adjectives were her skillful evasions. It was never 'your' nightmares. And it was never ever ever 'my daughter's nightmares.'

But wait. Hold up.

"How do you know about my session?" said Lauren.
"What do you mean, darling?" said her mother, obviously playing for time.
"Therapy is supposed to be private. Those are rules."
"Oh since when have you cared about the rules?  Besides you think you're a bird."
"Fuck you, I am a bird!"

Lauren was pissed. A little too pissed. She had made a habit of not caring about her privacy and to suddenly find that her habit was self-deception wasn't a pleasant experience. Her mom knew too and she took it as a small victory.

"Darling, oh darling," Lauren's mom said, "when did you get like this? I just want to help you. I just want-"

Lauren walked out of the house.


There wasn't any one moment, that was the problem. No one had died. No one had gotten hurt.


Standing on the roof without the ability to fly off it, metaphorical or otherwise, she felt like a penguin in summer. Maybe she should migrated with the changing seasons. Steal the car, and drive south.  Go to Rio. Where was Rio anyway? Lauren didn't know.

It was a hard thing to be a bird, she was starting to realize. Too much symbolism tended to follow you around. She felt like a literature analysts pin-up girl. She wondered if she would dream something new and less complicated because this metaphor was killing her.

She did not jump off the roof.

Instead she went downstairs and pretended to hug her mother, going through the motions without any of the intent. That was all her mom had ever needed from her anyway so Lauren was left alone and their altercation was not discussed. Which was for the better. Normalcy was restored as much as it could be.

Since she couldn't leave the house, Lauren sat in chair in the living room and pretended that she was driving to the mall. She bought herself a white hat with yellow flowers and was well satisfied with her purchase.

Than it was time to go to bed. So she slept taking great care not to metaphorically molt all over the covers, fearful for what the next day would bring.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


So let's talk about poetry.

Uh oh.

Here's the deal: for someone who reads a lot and ostensibly uses words to convey meaning I really couldn't tell you what makes a good poem or a bad poem with any authority. Plays and novels are more my thing. Not that I could tell you what makes a good play or a bad play with any authority but my University education is there for me to at least be able to successfully pretend. If I get the degree I can even pretend and some people may even feel obligated to listen even if I'm talking out of my ass.

But I digress so let's get back to poetry. Namely why I care. Well, I didn't used, to but I'm dating someone who has another date/relationship/partner (we're poly, it's complicated) who is a professional poet. This fascinated me, so I tried to learn more but someone's writing isn't something that can be adequately explained in casual conversation if you're unfamiliar with the entire structure. Try explaining what you're doing with your novel to people who haven't read any books and you'll see what I mean.

The funny thing is I used to write poetry. In Middle School, sure, but I was pretty religious about it. I even did a reading for a talent show and people said it was pretty good. Still I tend to remember trying to make my writing sound as 'cool' as possible without it really meaning much. In that way, at least, I'm sure I captured the Middle School experience perfectly. In any case I decided to take an Intro Course on Poetry writing to try to approach this noble art form from the mature and healthy stance of a party-going, college student, with grapefruit flavored vodka always in his fridge.

Anyway here's a fun thing from the class:

Napped half the day
no one
punished me!

And this is a famous Haiku writer Lady's and Gentlemen. His name is Issa and he understands everything I want from my life.

Another from Buson:

His Holiness the Abbot
is shitting
In the withered fields.

Buson was best known for the objective quality of his writing. Make of that what you will.

I'm aware I'm only quoting the funny ones but I wish I knew why they were revered. Is it the form? the spontaneity at which they were composed? The message? In terms of message these to me sound like cute little ditties but not full blown things weighted with hidden meaning. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. I don't always agree with the implications of my favorite poems. Here's one from horror novelist/painter/movie director Clive Barker:

Brother Plato - right or wrong?
Says the tribe where I belong,
Is a family of souls in two,
Me a half - another, you.
Let's stay together, one tonight,
And prove our brother Plato right. 

(p.s. I'm not sure why it's doing that. or making my text weird here for that matter. Just highlight it I guess)

I don't believe in monogamy (at least not for everyone) so having a 'family of souls in two' is a little lost on me. Still there's something about the poem, it's rhythm maybe, that makes you feel like it's telling an Objective Truth (something else I don't believe in). Is this a good poem? I dunno. He only gave it out in an interview nearly 15 years ago while talking about something mostly unrelated. Maybe I only like it because it's about sex. 

That being said though I am baffled by Howl by Alan Ginsberg and absolutely loathe Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and these are very sexual poems and I am assured that these are both incredibly great triumphant ones at that. Worse yet, these are both Bisexual writers so I feel like I should be more supportive about anything that's written to try to turn a non-straight audience on but I just can't. Howl is is rambling and nonsensical and Leaves of Grass is rambling nonsensical and pretensious.

But I guess I'm one to talk. 

I don't know I know I like some people. Geoffrey Nutter is great. He's some dude I'm reading for class and he has a way of making you feel the natural-ness of cityscapes. So is Seamus Heaney. If you're 22 and below, he's the dude who translated the copy of Beowulf you were forced to read. When Neil Gaiman deigns to write poetry he's pretty good too. I guess what I like is that some poetry can be so simple, so elegant, and yet say volumes in the least amount of words possible.

Anyway here's the first poem I wrote for my poetry class. The goal is to come back to it and rip it to shreds because I've suddenly discovered it's ass:

 The Monsters

a tree will fall in the forest and no one will be around.

one day she woke up and
there were no more
Monsters, under her bed.
her wish had been granted

the rose colored sunrise
raced her sprinting shadow because
she had run to tell Mummy
tell Mummy, Tell Dada
that this morning's wake
had brought the death of insomnia
a morning for mourning 
the loss of the Monsters

except all children are heartless
(herself no exception)
laughing at the end of their nightmares
when all life is precious
ad all termination breeds consequence

her Mummy was
so was her Dada
the house breathed silently

and it's maw she could suddenly see
in the new light
very old scars.

can a child be a tree?
and when you carve a heart
because you think you love
and love inviolate, immortal,
does it leave a mark?

these are the questions.

her wish had been granted
there were no Monsters under
her bed

the house
was now


and a young girl wept. 
certain that no could hear her


but she didn't yet notice the sun.