Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Houston Workshop

Houston: I'm gonna be in town during the last week of August to do a workshop and staged reading that we'll perform on the evening of Monday, September 5th. It's a play that's been around a long time, that I once understudied and have always wanted to do, and which a wonderfully talented faculty member at the UH Dept. of Theatre and Dance thought would be worth working on in her 'copious free time' at the top of the semester. We're gonna do it in a classroom space at UH. I'll name names and say more when we get closer.

Father's Day (fb posts)

Father's Day was a protection racket in my home. If you made an offering to the king he didn't hit you, that day. Domestic violence is real. When I see a child staring darkly from behind the looming bulk of an angry adult I sicken at the sight of the inevitable repetition of a cycle that harms not only that individual child, but all of us, because that child grows into the angry adult. That child develops means of displacing the rage. That child will later scream, hit, shun other races, grow obsessed over religion, or sex, or guns, or vote for someone like Trump, or shoot up a playground full of children or elected representatives doing their best to serve the public good. Don't hit your child.
Domestic violence--physical, verbal, sexual--is more common than we know. I hear or see it nearly every day, not infrequently in the implicit violence of how couples communicate; I hear it in the impatience; in the casual slights; in the little demands made without 'please' or 'thank you' that create undertows of resentment. I hear it in the current low appreciation we have for social etiquette, the lack of which often sounds sociopathic, to my ears. We forget the role that every day social ritual plays in our lives by disarming the thousand little misdirections we are prone to indulge; the ritual--the "please" and "thank you"--creates a 'safe' social space we can rely on (which is one reason I like to say that 'meaningless ritual' is an oxymoron) and take refuge in. The stranger who says "please" and "thank you" is the stranger who will have your back in a crisis; who will run toward rather than away from you in a natural disaster; who will come to the aid of a child.
Don't hit your child. Notice each other. Let yourself be seen. Say "thank you." That's a start.

Father's Day Reflections, Cont. - Growing up, I would have given an arm to have an 'absent father,' but he kept coming back. He could also be a charming and lovely man who taught his children not to judge others by wealth or status and could be as unpredictably kind as he was predictably, unpredictably violent, and thus, a 'trauma bond' was born. I loved that man, and in (too) many of my adult relationships--in both work and love--I've sought to be with him, again, finding myself attracted to a certain breed of 'authoritarian' personality, until, at last, one day, I didn't.
I don't necessarily recommend the language of psychology for understanding and learning to surf the internal forces that move us. I don't use it much myself, anymore, but it was a useful transitional tool. Shakespeare works too. As can philosophy. As does art in general, and developing a craft, being curious about the world, giving back where one can, practicing humility (not self abasement), and standing up for one's self without denigrating or oppressing others.
Maybe the most troubling inheritance for me of having had an emotionally and physically violent father is that it often made community difficult to find and sustain, and community is sometimes ALL. Without 'community,' we suffer the illusion of being here alone, and we're NEVER alone, even at our loneliest. We commune with others through the language in which we think--language we were taught by others--and we never cease talking back and forth with the 'introjects'--the internalized voice of those who reared us--that live now within our own heads. (FB and other social media often go wrong for us, perhaps, because the 'disinhibition' we feel behind a computer is often a sign that we're talking not to others on the internet, but to those voices in our head.)
I know some fine fathers out there so this post does not belong to you. On Father's Day itself, I wish the many fine and 'good enough' (to borrow from Winnicott) father's and their loved ones a fine and celebratory day.

Our Greatest Divide

The greatest danger of the partisan divide? We'll lose faith in the American project, which feels endangered by either our indifference or ignorance. Which are our shared principles? When separation of church and state, rule of law, and equality before the law are not respected by all, what do we have in common?
At Monticello, the tour guides remind visitors that the separation of church and state was one of Jefferson's guiding ideas. The blank look on many visitors' faces speaks volumes: that's news to them. How many Americans have even read the Declaration of Independence or US Constitution? Are these founding documents--setting out the founding faith that makes America possible--even taught in school, any more?
We have leaders today--and have for a couple of decades--who are more eager to defend capitalism and evangelical Christianity than democracy and 'the American way of life.' I wouldn't be surprised if some viewers of Hulu's adaptation of THE HANDMAID'S TALE were looking for ideas: 'Gilead' may look pretty good to them.
The Left is not that bad... yet. But, I do worry that Left identity politics and utopian insistence on ideological purity--e.g., the readiness of those who see themselves as more 'woke' to trash the humanity and integrity of those on their side, such as Hillary Clinton, with whom they may have substantial differences, but who are nonetheless allies in ways that are stupid and self defeating to ignore (Susan Sarandon is in this way as bad as Ted Cruz)--are also in part a product of ignorance of, and indifference to, the American project.
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Whither America?

Stand Up Comedy : Audience Contact

Pro tip: if you're a stand up comedian trying to save your set and ask the audience a question trying to set up your next joke, be prepared to HEAR what the audience member who speaks up says, and stay with THAT before going straight into your joke. Otherwise it smells like b.s. and the audience stays cold. Also: if the stage lights prevent you from seeing the audience and that makes you feel like a 'comedian lost in space,' step the fk out of the light and make 'real' contact with faces you can see; after you win back the crowd, you can get back into the light.
Just two cents from a journeyman Shakespearean actor who's done his share of audience contact.

Monday, February 27, 2017

ABout The Most Controversial Bit at the 2017 Oscars

The more I think about it, the more I like the (rather uncomfortable) Jimmy Kimmel bit of bringing in a bus full of tourists to the Oscars ceremony. It was a bit of uncontrolled guerrilla theater--no way to game out how it would go--that made us ALL experience the awkwardness of 'celebrity' and 'fandom' for a few minutes. If the celebs looked uncomfortable, that was because WE we're getting a peek into a part of their work--i.e., being a magnificent animal on display, inside a guided cage, for others to gawk at--that surely is uncomfortable for them on a daily basis; and if the tourists looked uncomfortable, that was because WE were seeing the very image of our own selves, muted before the crowd by our own puzzlement and shyness that WE'RE not rich and famous. I didn't find the bit cruel: instead, it felt like a a telling moment of genuine interactive theater that revealed us to ourselves, by experientially illuminating a KEY social dynamic. The more I think about this bit, the more I love it.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Survey of Personal Principles

What makes me 'conservative?' I appreciate the stabilizing effect of custom, and the 'hard disciplines of solitude and community,' which make me anti-utopian and sometimes tough-minded about 'individual responsibility.' What makes me 'liberal?' I believe deeply in the Rule of Law, equal protection under the law, and in spreading the benefits of civilization to ALL citizens who are asked to live in it, so that health care, education, equal access to jobs, and dignified living conditions are CIVIL RIGHTS (not necessarily 'human' rights, but I need to review Locke and Hume to make that distinction). I also believe strongly that the separation of church and state--by which I mean the separation of state and any judgment about individual life styles that doesn't harm others--is crucial to making the American experiment work. I do not believe in violence as a tool for change (though I'm quite fine with loud expressions of outrage and civil disobedience!) I believe that national borders no longer guarantee 'security' so that I believe we must be active players in international politics, economics, societal exchange, and unavoidable military conflicts (i.e., I'm a globalist who now knows we need to fix the sins of globalism, which have contributed to outbreaks of ethnic nationalism/bigotry around the world, including in the USA.) I believe that although we can't always get what we want, if we're vigilant, we can get what we need.

(I recommend an occasional brief survey of one's principles. Do they make sense when written out? Do they cohere? Do they express room for growth or change? A little exercise to keep one honest.)

Friday, February 03, 2017

Former Love

BTW, I don't think I've ever fallen out of love with any former girlfriend (or wife) or friend by whom I've felt the privilege of being loved in return. I've parted ways, felt hurt, been angry, cut myself loose form bad decisions, been driven crazy by recriminations, held (still hold) grudges, but I don't think I ever stopped loving a single person to whom I've once felt close. It often leaves me unnerved, this internal well of love that won't diminish, won't drain off into seeps of run-off emotion, or condense away into converted indifference, or compensatory hatred. I can peer inward and get lost in the eyes blinking back at me that aren't my own. It's an eternally weird sensation, but, in moments in which I need to see some reflection of who I think I am, that's where I look, into that cold well of memory, regret, and oft-broken trust, where my former friends still are.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

No Place to Run

I struggle to read the newspapers. I think I feel as I did when bullied as a teenager, when I couldn't safely walk down the hallway during middle school or freshman year, and so asked my parents if I could go to prep school, starting as a sophomore. I had to get out of the Vermont public high school I was in and flee to a Connecticut boarding school because the combination of not being quite athletic enough, being a little too smart, and having parents who were Jewish and former New Yorkers, was getting me beat up. I was called "kike" on the play ground and accused of getting good scores on tests because my parents were rich. I didn't fight back well (my younger siblings were tougher) so I got out. Now, I read about the GOP admonishing the Dems not to be "obstructionist" and insisting on their right to fill a stolen Supreme Court seat, and the Trump/GOP insistence on scapegoating immigrants, and the dumbfounding stupidity of climate change denial, and the heavy drumbeat of racism and White Supremacist Will to Power out of the Trump/Bannon White House, and I don't see any 'boarding school' to which I can run, for a few years. I'm stuck here with the bullies. We all are. And I don't know if we're effectively going to defend ourselves. Today, the newspapers are whinging about Left Dems making the mistake of emulating the Tea Party by becoming 'obstructionist,' but I don't buy it. I think we're just being called "kike" on the playground. But we can't afford to run. Fight back. Fking fight back, Democrats. Don't worry too much about avoiding the next civil war. It's already begun, you just haven't accepted it, yet. There's no place to run.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Happy New Year!

I've turned into a bad blogger:  there was a time when I updated by blog and website regularly and with implausibly rich detail, but over the last few years I've posted less and less frequently. The main culprit is neither my boredom with posting nor lack of will to overshare: the culprit is Facebook. I post A LOT on Facebook, most of which belongs on a blog. I get longwinded in my FB posts, covering topics ranging from politics (of course) to armchair philosophizing to aesthetics to all things theater and film and acting and, and... you name it, I have difficulty stilling my typing fingers for long. The trouble is: I know where my regular readers are, and they're on Facebook.

Over the next couple of weeks, I may go through my fb posts and cull the ones of most enduring interest to me, and repost them here, editing them for readability and with an eye to deepening their argument. If you haven't found me yet on FB I do invite you to do so, if you're of a mind, but I'll try to be a better host here, too.

Happy New Year!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Trigger Warnings and Campus Free Speech

As a dedicated liberal, proponent of free speech, and one concerned with the emotional as well as the intellectual well being of young people, I support the U. of Chicago's recent letter to incoming freshman, informing them that the university does not officially support trigger warnings or limits on free speech on its campus. Limits on free speech on campus are a mistake. Ugly ideas don't last because they're spoken. They last because they go un debated. Limits on free speech are also a cover for ugly ideas (especially antisemitism, ever popular on both the left and right.)

I also do avidly support dedicating resources to empowering students through support groups and promoting social understanding, even if I don't support furthering the entrenchment of 'identity politics,' which Balkanizes both the academy and our culture at large. This means that I believe that 'safe spaces' and 'trigger warnings' have a real place--e.g., students who feel marginalized or vulnerable deserve to be seen and heard by those whom they trust, and to find respite from haters, in times and places set aside for those purposes--but not where they've been over-extended in ways that impinge on free speech in the classroom or public arena. As a teacher, I would use what people call 'trigger warnings,' but perhaps not in every instance in which some students would be offended, on principle, by their absence, and I'd pushback on a MANDATE to use them. Long before we called prefatory remarks on hard subjects 'trigger warnings' (a useful phrase) we made them, out of consideration for the inexperienced, or the young, or the vulnerable. Such consideration--formally called a 'trigger warning' or not--is indeed part of good teaching. My objection is that mandating and defining trigger warnings in the classroom does a disservice to students, leading them possibly to believe they may crumble into dust, if somehow a trigger warning has gone unspoken. I would NEVER show images of the Holocaust or present-day Syria, or discuss lynchings or rape, without extensive prefatory comment, but I would also never tolerate being indicted by classroom observers if reference to such things cropped up, without warning, in the course of discussion. I see real abuse in embracing formal requirements for 'trigger warnings.' Trigger warnings are NOT in themselves censorship (I agree with proponents on this) but MANDATED trigger warnings are a lever for it.

Finally, I do not believe that exercising one's unlimited right to free speech is always appropriate and is, in some private and social settings, exceedingly unkind. Does one have a right to it? Sure. But should the elderly lady on the metro have to listen to teenagers curse loudly between stops, as I recently witnessed? I'm fascinated that we seem not only to be debating free speech and (mandated) trigger warnings but also that we're apparently struggling to articulate what constitutes civil interpersonal behavior. Have we devolved into such an atomized social reality that we can't separate 'being polite' or 'respectful' from infringement on our own civil rights? And yet, are we so delicate that we fear that strong disagreement from others will dissolve our own selfhood? Should we insist on exercising the right to be the loudest voice in the room whenever we want, while also insisting that we're being unfairly hurt, if anyone else raises their voice? Do we not think still that sometimes it's as useful to listen as to speak?