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Theatre Central

When I was twelve years old or so a friend invited me to go to a play with his parents in Knoxville, Tennessee (I grew up in the nearby town of Maryville). I accepted with low expectations, my idea of theater being informed by awkward middle school productions acted by my stage-terrified pubescent peers.

But as soon as we stepped into the cloud of cigarette smoke inside the old brick-wall storefront that was Theatre Central, I was jazzed. This was the bohemian, coffee shop kinda life I’d sampled via my older brother who went to college in Knoxville. I dug it!

I remember very little of the play, except it began with a monologue delivered by a bald man, lit by a single, equally bald lightbulb, he was standing right at my knee, he was almost ranting, spitting the introduction to what I think was a farce of a murder mystery.

What I loved about it was the homemade-ness, the simplicity of construction, the reachability–this was DIY theater, not some untouchable Broadway (or, truer to my experience, Dollywood) show, but real people in a musty old building who you could touch if you wanted to.

I still remember sitting with my buddy John on a bench outside during intermission. In this cool, urban environment, at dusk, watching the streetlights, I felt just right. This was for me.

When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, and could drive a car, I auditioned for a play at Theatre Central. It had changed locations by this time, to a former department store next to a Subway in Market Square. The dressing room, which shared the wall with the Subway, smelled just like a damn Subway. Blended with cigarette smoke, of course. So it was much less aesthetically pleasing, but nothing could be done about that.

I didn’t know how to act, still don’t to this day, but a passionate interview with Kevin Kline on Inside the Actor’s Studio convinced my mercurial mind that my destiny was to be an actor.

The director and manager of the theater was named, I think, Phil. Or maybe Paul. I wish I could remember his name, and if anyone reads this, please tell me. I don’t believe he’s still with us in this world. He was an older gay man, a chain-smoker, and he had serious health problems that would cause him to disappear out of the blue, leaving a minimal handwritten note on the theater door.

I think he was from Philadelphia, which makes me doubt his name was Phil. I was very nervous around him, assuming him to be a philosopher of the art of drama. At my first rehearsal, I worked up the courage to ask Paul, «What acting school do you recommend, Juilliard or NYU?»

«Pssh! You don’t need to go to school to act!» he said.

Paul didn’t take shit seriously. His most frequent direction was «More Bugs Bunny!»

«Stupider! Faster! Louder!» he would shout. He gave me parts where I had to dress in drag and yell «FUCK!» in front of my parents, who, bless ‘em, never said a word. «More faggy!» he would yell at me.

Almost all the Theatre Central regulars were gay. It was my first exposure to actual gay people hanging out, and it was eye-opening, coming from churchgoing, conservative, homophobic Maryville, Tennessee. (I love that town with all my heart, so I have to be truthful about it).

They acted out scenes from Steel Magnolias with the most hilarious country accents, one friend showed me nude art photography of himself on hiking trails I frequented in the mountains, they cut open cans of Guinness to show me the plastic ball inside, one guy let me borrow 3 Kris Kristofferson CDs («He’s a poet»), another lent me the collected plays of Joe Orton (which I never returned, I guiltily admit).

I ended up performing in three or four plays with that company, while performing in plays at school (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden.) After school I drove to Knoxville, fighting sleep, listening to Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan on cassette.

I always arrived in Knoxville at the golden hour and walked around the Old City in the beautiful light. It was also the sunset of the Old City, as I knew it. Today, there’s a lot more action in the Old City, but a lot less of the charm and excitement. I miss that place. Miss that time.

Hiroshi Yoshimura’s Green

Last year in California I worked for an English teaching company in China called Dada ABC. It was one of the stranger jobs I’ve had.

We would talk over a video chat platform with a textbook and paint capabilities. I saw into a house in China and they saw an improvised set that I made, like a low-budget public access kid’s show.

I sang songs with a little banjo ukulele. Sometimes a kid would learn a song like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and I would sing harmony with them across the Pacific Ocean.

«Use lots of energy to keep them engaged,» they say. «Always smile.» I took it seriously. I went at full Looney Tunes speed. I made kids laugh and sometimes wonder if I was crazy.

Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy myself. It’s easy to feel crazy when you wake up at 3 AM, drink a cup of coffee and jump into «I’ve been working on the railroad» bouncing around with a huge grin on your face.

That’s right, because of the time difference between California and Beijing, I had to work from three to six AM. I would finish as the sun came up and lie down on a futon beside my little lonely classroom to write my evaluations.

While I wrote my evaluations I would listen to some relaxing music on Youtube. One of my favorite albums to listen to was Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura.

Sounds of birds and water mix with gentle synthesizers in a way that makes me feel like I’m walking through a forest by a lake. The music is minimalist, with just enough variation to mesmerize, like watching waves come in.

In the liner notes to one of his albums called «Wave Notation,» Satoshi Ishikawa writes: «the ‘object sound music is not the music of self-expression or a completed work of art, rather it is music which by overlapping and shifting changes the character and the meaning of space, things, and people.» 1

I left that just how it’s written on the website, with the stray apostrophe and missing «of». It seems to fit somehow.

I’m going into a trance

Here’s a new song about going into a trance, it’s called «I’m going into a trance.» I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

I Like To Think

Hi, I added a new song to my Bandcamp page.

I wrote this song after reading some poems by a poet named David Fishkind. I don’t know him personally, but he was one of the poets in the book «Vomit» I found here in Spain (it’s strange that I only found out about these American poets after moving to Spain). Here are the poems: http://magazine.nytyrant.com/poems-i-like-david-fishkind/ . Here’s his website: http://davidfishkind.com.

It’s easy to forget

It’s easy to forget everything but especially easy for me to forget that I have a blog. There are always plenty of thoughts but not always the connection to put them into words on here to be, maybe, read by somebody. My mind has never been well-organized. I’ve always felt tugged between different personalities. I have a family which limits my time working on writing and the computer. I have a not-too demanding job of teaching English. I have a lot to share with you too.

We die every night and are born anew each morning–Yuri told me that, and I think she was quoting Thích Nhất Hạnh.

I am a true Cancerian in that I have a «protective shell.» If I’m born every day, though, I may sometimes be more of a soft-shell crab!

Recently I had an awakening. I was looking through the poetry section of the library. Everything is in Spanish except for a few bilingual editions. I saw a book called Vomit so I had to pick it up and look at it. It was an anthology of North American poets I’d never heard of, all around my age or even younger. It includes Noah Cicero, Dorothea Lasky, Sam Pink, Tao Lin. These people wrote a lot like I’ve been writing, but not showing it to anybody. I’ve been focused all on music for the last decade, and occasionally writing on the side. Seeing their work inspired me to write more, and in changed my life in a crucial way. Thanks to Vomit!

Dune

When I was young, four or five years old, my brothers watched the movie Dune. I was there watching along and I saw a fight scene I remember until today: two fighters on a platform floating in a pool of lava. They fight with whips. Spikes rise from the platform partway through the match.

I don’t know if this scene is in the actual movie – if it has metamorphosed in my memory – or if it is a memory of a dream.

In 2003 when the Iraq war began…

I was very badly prepared to react to the Iraq War.

I feared conflict with the people in my majority-conservative East Tennessee city. My political awareness was painfully limited in an unusually active way: I had been indoctrinated into Libertarianism. I even had a card. What I really liked about Libertarianism, I believe, was the shock factor: «Eliminate the government.» In my childhood I felt a malaise about the times we lived in. Older times seemed alive and interesting. Libertarianism had a revolutionary flavor to it that satisfied that malaise. So I read up a bit learned a few responses to arguments, and occasionally tried them out on unsuspecting persons. I told girls I had crushes on about it (the most painful admission), thinking it would impress them (it did not). Honestly, I didn’t know what any of it meant.

But I found parallels in the Tao Te Ching, which I considered a moral guide. I didn’t understand this very well either, but I reacted to the power of its poetry. I had read the Tao of Pooh as a desperate 10-year-old, in the cicada racket of East Tennessee, sitting on a porch railing, facing the darkness, searching for what I thought everyone else knew so innately that they couldn’t tell me. For the first time, I felt oriented.

The same person introduced me to Libertarianism and gave me the Tao of Pooh. I took for granted that they were logically consistent and that Libertarianism was somehow founded upon ancient Chinese wisdom. After reading the Tao of Pooh I moved on to the Tao Te Ching. I took the concept of «non-action» from the Tao Te Ching and associated it with laissez-faire government. The historical differences between ancient China and the corporate, oily United States of the 21st century took several years to sink in.

One day, I heard about a meeting of Libertarians in my hometown. I imagined meeting the sensitive, visionary people who I expected existed outside of the social circles of high school. Nervously, I entered the dining hall of the college and found two sad-looking, overweight white men in their 30s. I listened to them argue for the hour and never showed up again.

So I didn’t identify as a Republican or a Democrat. During the presidential election of 2000, I cared hardly at all who won, though I disliked Al Gore somewhat for the arcane reason of his participation in music censorship and labeling in the 1980s. My politics came mostly from music, which at this time involved punk rock. When George W. Bush ended up winning the race, it didn’t matter to me.

Soon after the election, on the morning of September 11, a fellow student at my high school told me «A plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York!»

«Awesome!» I said, stupidly, and high-fived him. I remember not really believing this not-so-reliable person, whose name I can’t remember but whose face I can picture. I also remember thinking that, if this is true, wow, something happened.

I went to my next class: American History. In which we turned on the television and watched the second airplane hit the second tower. As the smoke poured out of the building, all I could think about was a girl I had a crush on, who was much more aware and intelligent than I was. She had recently told me she opposed the expansion of missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. «Oh no,» I thought. «This is gonna expand the missile defense system.» An unusually loud bang shook the wall. All the students scanned the room, thought we were under attack. Visions of Red Dawn. Panic. My mother and I cancelled a short road trip to Georgia to meet my Great Uncle Ralph. Why?

Immediately, everyone was putting up American flags–bumper stickers, window decals, just plain old flags at the front door of their subdivided houses. Without even wondering what this means? I thought. And the flags are for who to see but other Americans? I thought. Fox News was young, and my dad, a conservative economics teacher and news junkie would «flip around» between CNN and Fox over roast beef, black-eyed peas, baked potatoes, cornbread, turnip greens. When George W. Bush spoke I knew, though I said «nary a word,» that he was a fool. The good-versus-evil framework was obviously inaccurate and stupid. Using force to subdue terrorism would obviously not end terrorism, but provoke it. «C’mon George, read your fuckin’ Lao-Tzu, the way to light is through darkness!»

In the year 2003, when Franco-American tensions were hot, I went to France with fellow French students. We ate escargot inside the Eiffel Tower. We toured a 500-year-old winery in a cave and they let us drink wine. We saw the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont St. Michel and the bombed-out earth of Normandy. Then on the night of March 15, on the hotel TV, my friends and I found the mythic French pornography channel and gathered up, five or six teenagers on one bed, to see the high heels and bare butts. Eventually we turned the channel, because we all knew that this was the day, to see the Shock-and-Awe bombing of Baghdad. Silently we watched the actionless footage. When I saw the green streaks of light on the dark screen, I remembered that I had watched the first George Bush’s bombing of Iraq on TV when I was a very little kid. I don’t remember how long we watched or what we did after that, but I feel like we all just went to sleep. I felt powerless.

When I made it to college, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, older students asked me what I thought about the war. I couldn’t say anything, conditioned by fear of having a different opinion, which is highly Cancerian of me. I was still in Tennessee. It was a conservative place. I was, maybe, more on the left, I was beginning to sense. But I wanted to play it safe. «You can’t say anything about the war??» my best friend said. «What about the lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, what about all the people senselessly killed, what about creating war in a country that had nothing to do with 9/11?» she asked. And so, in Chattanooga, I hatched. I discovered how I really felt about the world. And I said «Fuck you and good riddance» to Libertarianism!

That’s all I have to say for now. I didn’t write this because I think it will be interesting to a lot of people. But I think it may be interesting to someone, and that’s enough to put it here.

New Publication on Expatpress.com

Sleeping on the Couch

Sometimes it’s nice to sleep on the couch because it feels like staying at someone else’s house. It freshens up your sleep. You can stretch out (or maybe you can’t, if the couch is short). In other words, you have to sleep differently. Sometimes this is what my sleep wants: to change.

But for me, nostalgia plays a role in couch sleeping. It reminds me of Selma, Alabama, where my dad was born in 1946. Where his cousin, and probably his best friend, Jim lived in a spooky old house deeply saturated with cigarette smoke. There were Egyptian knick-knacks, pyramid and Sphinx paperweights amongst the ashtrays. Jim was big and boisterous, chain-smoking, binge-drinking, uncouth, very racist. He bought me gifts from the Marlboro catalog–binoculars, pocket knife. I always read a book there called 13 Alabama Ghosts (and Jeffry!) which was written in Selma, and seemed all the more real for it. At night, when I slept on the couch–overstuffed tweed by the wood-framed TV–the neighborhood dogs would bark all night. It was terrifying. But somehow I felt safe, because I was finally alone after a day of feeling scared, and feeling scared alone was more comforting than being with my Selma cousins. One day was done, and here was a moment of rest all to myself. If only those damn dogs would stop barking.

Last night I slept on the couch, remembering the dogs and the island of safety amongst the strangeness and fear that was Jim’s house and Selma. I’m not sure why this memory, saturated with heavy weirdness, has become one of my most nostalgic. Sleeping on couches has something to do with the comfort of loneliness, knowing that I won’t always be in this place, that I’m a visitor here, even in my own home.

Embarrassed

I am often embarrassed. I have always been embarrassed. I am white and my cheeks get red when I am embarrassed. It happens even when there is really nothing to get embarrassed about. I used to be the young kid who always got embarrassed and now I’m the older person who is always embarrassed and the young kids look at me with pity and accomplish things in real life.

Sometimes being embarrassed is enjoyable if you hold on to eye contact and don’t worry about it. It can feel almost like being strong if you just let it happen and show it to anyone, even a stranger, nakedly. Imagine being completely naked in public. It’s a bit cold and people are laughing at you. You know it is embarrassing. You are embarrassed. But you know how you feel and there is no point in hiding it. So you show everyone your private parts, your tattoos if you have them (I don’t).

Some people seem to have a clear grasp on the things you are supposed to say and the things you are supposed to not mention. I don’t. That is perhaps one of the ways I have maintained a sensitivity to embarrassment well into my adulthood. Another reason for this is I occasionally feel as though I am blending in and forget that I don’t understand what people are saying and why they are saying it, what they are doing and why they are doing it, and I begin to imitate them. Then, in expressing confidence I do something embarrassing. I have boogers hanging out of my nose. I am a kindergarten baby. But there’s nothing I can do about it. At least I know how I feel!

So if you are easily embarrassed, please write me because I don’t want to feel as though I’m alone.