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Comparison stopping

I had a dream last night about the other “unrehearsed” Shakespeare companies in town. Apparently there are many. It’s a weird position to feel like the outsider because you’re the expert. Akin to this article I read about why Trump has support, which mostly confirmed what I was thinking in the more empathic center of my brain. They live in rural towns and retain the “We hate rich billionaires, but more specifically, rich billionaires who don’t speak with our voice.”

The voiceless. The irony again is that I also have no voice, because to speak is to be alienated by the people whom I would defend. I am a feminist guilty of the male gaze. I am a wealthy, white male who wants to give opportunities to artists who work hard. I have white guilt and am trying to overcome it. I am an intellectual and an apologist for it. I am an elitist who wants the masses to shut up and take their medicine so that they can have better opportunities. I am an overly empathic person who has shut down in the wake of so many people taking advantage, consciously or no.

I am the voiceless. I understand why Trump’s followers feel they have not been heard, why they feel like we live in a PC culture that won’t let them express themselves. We are all that way now, apart from those at the top of the oligarchical food chain.

Twas ever thus, I suppose. The clown, the cynic, the poet, the philosopher, they are the first to be outlawed. In order to lead, you must fit in. In order to change, you must first accept. The world is full of bullshit; a good pair of wellies is a better choice than a shovel.

With that in mind, how do you live in a world of people who will consistently ignore your positive contributions? Who will gossip? How do I do the work when so many people are fighting to keep me from doing it?

I hope I can pull myself through this last show.

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I bought a video game that I can’t play. I bought a social video game which I avoid playing because I don’t want to hang out with my friends. The game only allows you to play online with people, and I bought it, knowing the last thing I want from a video game is a social experience. A competitive, team-based, ostensibly social experience.

I think that, in the minds of my friends who play it, because we are on the same team that it is considered a cooperative game; however, team sports in my opinion, whether they are physical or not, drive everyone into a bestial froth of comparison and compromise. You see, good play is good play. Once a strategy is found that seems to work, everyone uses it, so good strategy is meaningless in the face of good tactics; that is, only players who are good in and of themselves can execute any particular strategy better than others. When you are dealing with casual — and by definition, mediocre — athletes (video athletes are thing now), then following a particular strategy doesn’t necessarily increase chances of winning, and decreases the “fun” in play, because you are now stuck in a command-chain system and locked into somewhat robotic behavior.

I remember a time when I was playing advertising league softball, and there were some competitive people on the teams. I am a natural athlete, by nature of good genetics. Always healthy. Faster and stronger and taller than the average person, with a propensity for quick learning and very quick reactions due to my hyper-vigilance. But, I don’t care. I only want to have fun.

To this end, I would sing glam-rock anthems from the 80s while I sat in left field where balls are never hit. Except that day, when my former best friend and roommate came up to the plate. He hit a soft fly ball right to me. I was under it. I knew I had it. In that split second as the ball came toward me, all of these thoughts came to me before the ball. “I’ve got this. I can help my team. I can prove that I’m not a dope to them, and to the other team. It’s early on; this will be a huge confidence booster for the early part of the game. He will remember that I am capable. He won’d see me as only that loser that her thinks I am. He’ll have to confront the thought that I am more than I have been made out to be, if even for a moment, before he dismisses me again. He needs this. He needs it more than I do. I don’t want to drop this…”

I dropped it. It hit my glove and hit the ground, and I threw it feebly to third base to stop him getting a double. I don’t think I dropped it on purpose, exactly, but I threw away the competitive feeling of those first few thoughts in favor of my typical apathy toward winning.

This instance, I think, sums up everything about me. Due to my upbringing, I am always considering lines of consequence. Sometimes, this can take the form of empathy or selflessness, but in reality, I fear consequence. What makes these thoughts acceptable in some form, and what wins me to people’s hearts, is that this usually favors other people. They get something out of it, even if only momentary satisfaction. On the flip side, however, people tend to view me as weak because — and I genuinely believe this is because of how I look — they want someone like me to be a domineering asshole. When I’m not, they assume it is not a choice, but a character flaw. Thus, I myself have begun to see empathy as a weakness that I cannot afford, if I want to have any care for my own self-worth.

Is this the hardest lesson of a wannabe Buddhist living in a capitalist society? That self-worth hols such value in the west, yet Eastern thought would seek to abolish self entirely? How can one give up any desire for success and still intend to help people, or continue to live at all? To live is, in essence, the most selfish thing one can do. To believe that one is entitled to drain the resources of others could only be the result of the belief that one is WORTH it.

This is what happens when I have a day off.

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Prompted #3019304

My favorite way to spend the day is normally via escapism.

I know that my most serene times have been sitting alone with a computer or console, discovering the story os a captivating video game, or movie, or sometimes book. I don’t have the reverence that others do for reading. I feel smarter, I guess, when I’m reading with my spare time, rather than indulging in what are perceived as lesser forms of entertainment or art. Still, I think people underestimate the power of multi-sense stimulation and agency that is possible through video games. Maybe if they were called multi-sense entertainment or something. The word “games” seems to carry with it a sense of frivolity, but much like the Tai Chi definition of “play,” it is perhaps this very thing which makes them closer to the more complete version of self. Certainly my self.

I suppose I would also love to be making theater as a favorite way to spend the day, but I can no longer find the same weightlessness it once carried for me. I am always fraught, and never free in the theater. I get the sense that people respect me without the confirmation that it is true. On the more passive acting or stage combat side of things, I find myself more interested in a single pursuit than in the contributions of others, which puts me solidly in the camp of artists I myself would avoid.

Is there some truth then to the feeling I have that some people assume about me? That is, do I only enlist in my productions those people who I feel I can adequately control? Is my resistance to casting those who are talented at the cost of compassion a fear grounded entirely in my inability to assert myself? Is art better with better people or with assholes who have translated their insecurities into powerful personality disorders which is the seeming birthplace of great art?

Because I cannot decide between the two, do I choose the “easier” path, and then justify it with lofty speeches about principle? Would I rather have a troupe of talented people who challenge me often, or nice people who act as the instruments for my own art? I am not, at heart, a collaborator, I suppose, even if I am capable of accepting criticism and feedback.

The pen, then. Always the pen. But writing is a place with zero external validation unless one becomes famous. Indeed, if I wrote the greatest novel of the century, my friends would only appreciate it after I was on Oprah. So, where can I find validation within myself? Is that actually the only validation? And if so, why do we bar the egotistical and the mad, when they answer only to the truth within themselves? Does society mean homogeny necessarily? If so, why do we only seem to value the rule-breakers, especially if within us, that’s what we all long to be? Rebellion, revolution… they are the only reality which fits this model, but there must be a norm to rebel against, and that is us. All of us vs. all of us. How is this expressible to the greater mass of people?

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Good video games

This is a journal prompt to make a list.

So, here are 5 video games to which I refer often when people ask me if video games are art (actually, they never ask that; they just ask what my favorites are. This is mostly in descending order of awesome. Mostly.

  1. Undertale by Toby Fox – an emotional experience like no other, Undertale speaks to the lost child in all of us. Yes, all indie games feature this now, but Undertale earns every metagame moment, and genuinely makes you feel things about yourself that you wouldn’t have just hitting buttons in a JRPG on which it’s modeled.
  2. Planescape: Torment – Released in 1999, this game set the standard for multiple endings based on story decisions and remains the game for which the most writing was ever done. Each setting and every character have unimaginable depth based solely on the writing and the evocation of your own imagination.
  3. Mass Effect Series – This game has unbelievable scale, broke down barriers of openly gay relationships in video games, and defined the narrative western RPG forever. Although Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic tested the waters for Bioware’s epic, they proved with this series that their writers could create one of the most complex and expansive science fiction universes of modern times.
  4. Arkham Series – Every one of these games manages to encapsulate multiple eras of comic book feelings in a single game. Players get to tangle with Batman’s incomparable rogues gallery, and examine the reasons why Batman and his comics are the most psychologically potent of the genre.
  5. Bioshock Series – Although I am partial to the first story’s setting and villain, each one experimented with agency on the part of the player, making them unwittingly complicit in a Rand-ian tale filled with paranoia, fear, and the desire to give up freedom for a sense of control, all while appealing to the modern-day shoot-em-up crowd.

That’s all for now.

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My happy place

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.23.35 PM

Thanks, Harmontown.

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A small victory

I have renewed my focus on improving myself, despite the feeling that it is selfish. I’m only three days into this new outlook, to be objective, but I have worked out at a difficult level, meditated, journaled, and completed chores and other assigned tasks, even in the face of what I consider obstacles. I have even been able to fit in some video game time.

Last night, I turned in another strong performance with the unrehearsed Shakespeare company of which I am a troupe member. I was outshone by a friend, but I held more pride in his performance than any real envy. I want to perform at that level. I want women to look at me in awe the way the dainty, stern-faced woman did at him at the end of the show. I want to have people tell me how blown away they were by my performance. But, this time it felt more like a personal goal than an unyielding vacuum within that needed validation. I want to achieve, and that is different than wanting accolades.

Perhaps that is the confusion most people have when I say I want to be revered and that fame sometimes is the only metric for progress in that arena. Like pride, I think it comes in two forms, one positive and one negative. I want the positive and eschew the negative, in pride, in fame, and in life.

My meditations are encouraging me to distance myself from my thoughts and feelings, as they are not my true identity. I am beginning to understand it, even if it can be difficult to extricate myself from the mire. And I’m using myself instead of oneself, because I am beginning to allow this journey to be mine, and not feel cold when I want things for myself.

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A new media

The problem, as I see it, comes down to discernment and judgment, objectivity and prejudice.

I hold a degree in literary and critical studies. This has prepared me for putting forth strong analyses on just about any subject. It has formed in me a critical mind, capable of understanding the difference between taste and truth, the ability to create rational arguments based on the irrational subject of aesthetics.

Thus, when I decide to form an opinion beyond like or dislike, I tend to discover reasons, right or wrong, but well-founded reasons for the stance I take. People will often accuse the critic or skeptic of pedantry or cynicism, but that is not always the case; rather, most critics I know have already considered the other side of the argument, and provided clear information to support their own side, while refuting — not negating — the opposing view.

The new female-led Ghostbusters, the politics of Hillary v. Trump, even just a minor criticism of a board game or theatre piece, these all seem to lead to the critic being hated for simply stating a well-reasoned opinion. “Can’t we just like what we like?” come the cries. The answer is “Of course,” but with the addition that you could also demand better. What if instead of wading through the cloudy murk of poorly thought-out concepts designed to put butts in seats, you could actually find the things you want without wasting your time on pablum? What if the worst art of the future was better than the best art of the past? Progress: it is what drives my every action.

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How I Would Have (re)Written the New Ghostbusters Movie

Act One

We begin 20-25 years after the events of the first GB in New York with Egon Spangler’s protegé, Holtzmann. She is a dedicated scientist working with Abby on studying paranormal phenomenon in Spangler’s labs in New York. Spangler retired and has not been seen since he left for an archaeological site overseas which had some relation to the Gozer incident.

Abby and Holtzmann are fired from the labs after their latest experiment brings about a ghost to speak to, but fails to re-establish the paranormal as an ongoing threat, and Holtzmann’s machine to measure PKE causes severe and costly damage to the lab’s equipment. Without jobs, Abby seeks out her friend, Erin, who is up for tenure. Erin refuses to help them because an association with them might cost her her tenure. Abby brings up that they were on the verge of breakthrough that might get Erin the acknowledgement she’s been seeking since her branding as Ghost Girl. Erin gets them to leave by promising that if they can bring empirical data, she will help, but not join them.

Abby visits Ray’s Occult books, and Ray hands over some books and equipment that Spangler left with him that indicates another major phenomenon is about to hit and PKE is being stored up somewhere which is causing an explosive buildup. Abby and Holtzmann follow a lead that allows them to trap a ghost, but barely.

With some empirical measurements in hand, Abby and Holtzmann return to Erin. Erin tells her skeptical boss to shove it, and joins Abby and Holtzmann, but without funding, they can’t get off the ground. Abby sells her stock and mortgages her home to get them into business. They hire the dumb receptionist, Erin crushes on him, and they all make fun of her for loving an idiot, but at least he works cheap. They are called in to a real emergency when the first of one major ghost trap fails and releases a ghost in a populated area, where Janine works. Using Egon’s notes, Holtzmann and Abby make some new ghost-catching equipment. They’re never sure whether Holtzmann’s stuff will work or kill them, but they manage to capture the ghost and the renewed interest in the Ghostbusters gets them on TV, etc. There is some concern as to whether these new Ghostbusters have what it takes, but it is not aimed at them being women.

Act Two

At the site of the first ghost they trapped, an old Ghostbusters trap is found (or a replica) and is returned to Venkman, who returns it to the girls in a brief scene where he says he never wanted to be involved anyway; maybe he does his typical scam-artist bit and hits on the girls and they all think it’s gross. It seems that someone had contained the ghost, but it had broken free. They investigate the site and run into Rowan trying to recover the trap, and dismiss him as an awkward janitor.

The Ghostbusters continue to have trouble as suddenly the PKE booms again, for reasons they can’t figure out. They have great monetary and popular success, and hire on Patty at her insistence after interacting with her in the subway, where she discovers another one of the traps, and identifies Rowan. Rowan is following his plan from the movie, only rather than breaking ghosts out, he had been hiding traps at the locations in order to open them all at once, which he has now done. Rowan frames the Ghostbusters, having used the traps they sent, by talking to the Dean at MIT and convincing him of their complicity in trying to create their own success by freeing the ghosts. The Ghostbusters are arrested.

Act Three

While in jail, the Ghostbusters discover the ley line problem by cross-referencing books that Dana Barrett sneaks into their cell; not being a ghostbuster and thus not suspicious, Dana had been convinced by Ray to get them the books. Meanwhile, Rowan commits suicide to open the final portal, bringing a building to collapse. National Guard and police armed with ghost-busting equipment provided by the old franchise have been unable to make a dent in the swirling vortex. Winston arrives, having taken a job at the mayor’s office and having just heard about them, and brings the girls before the mayor. The old franchise is all in the room, but Ray, Venkman, and Winston all agree that the new franchise has all the proper equipment and ability and should be the ones to handle it. Dana Barrett, however, decides to join them.

The new Ghostbusters, plus Dana, suit up and go to stop Rowan. Insecurities about Holtzmann’s equipment force Erin and Abby to fight about who is in charge, but Patty’s knowledge of the history of the building means that there are structural elements that they can take advantage of, to disable the portal. While fighting ghosts to set Holtzmann’s mega traps around the portal, they have several moments of needing to rely upon each other, as the traps continue to burst open from the extent of the activity. Eventually, it is determined that the containment field on the Ecto-1 needs to be dropped into the portal in order to stop it, so someone has to drive it in. Abby agrees to do it, since she feels guilty about having messed up Erin’s life, but while they are talking it over, Holtzmann remote-rigs the car to drive itself in.

When the portal explodes, it flows into Rowan’s corpse who becomes the big bad at the end. In order to stop the massive ghost, they have to cross the streams, which results in total protonic reversal. Holtzmann’s theory is that since the original franchise didn’t die, neither will they.

Ending possibility 1 (sci-fi bummer?):

Erin’s pack shorts and she dies, becomes a real “ghost girl” and helps from the other side. Thus the Ghostbusters have a ghost partner from then on.

Ending possibility 2 (homage bummer, but my favorite):

Erin’s pack shorts, but we see Egon on “the other side,” holding the pack together. He smiles, and disappears into the void as everything returns to normal.

Ending possibility 3:

Erin’s pack shorts, Abby leaps in to help her. There is a mighty explosion and the earth swallows them. Dana, Patty, and Holtzmann look about ready to give up, when Abby and Erin climb up out of the earth, having been saved from the fall by Holtzmann’s megatrap not quite completely consuming a marshmallowy creature of mammoth proportions.

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Journal prompt: What are your best character traits?

In an effort to get myself on my own side, I decided on this journal prompt. Recently, I had a friend visit me, and we discussed into the night our feelings on becoming official experts in our craft. She is stronger-willed than I am, and thus more self-confident (or perhaps vice versa). She has no qualms about putting people in their place when they step over the line. Her skills are greater than mine, which she admits helps with that feeling, but she also gave reverence to my own considerable abilities in the field.

I continued to mull it over, hoping that I would find some way to feel more secure, as I sometimes do, in the 20-plus year journey that has led me to this place, even when so many are willing to dismiss the craft as inessential, or even silly. Even I can recognize that, which makes it very difficult to find any solace there.

One thing I settled on, however, was the notion that I did all this while mastering several other disciplines; that is, in the time it took me to become a recognized expert in the several different weapon styles in the stage combat organizations to which I belong, I also graduated summa cum laude with a degree in literary analysis, earned candidacy as an Equity-level actor, and learned several different coding languages for web and mobile applications. I also wrote a board game, filmed and edited a short film, and enriched my abilities in music and dance. I directed (for payment) several shows at rather large houses, and I became an expert in the performance of the First Folio Unrehearsed Shakespeare style. In short, I have grown.

My best traits are my willingness to take on new challenges with an open mind and heart, and never to dismiss a person out of hand. I give everyone many chances to earn my respect, and even when they have lost it, I welcome in them the desire to make amends. I am forgiving of others, if not myself, and I am a person on whom my friends and colleagues can reply. I am discerning in my taste and steadfast in my core beliefs, but willing to take on new information and tolerant of others (at least, most of the time; no one’s perfect).

So, when my therapist insists that I think of myself as a good person, a person of value, I will try henceforth not to categorize that as disingenuous, equitable, or compulsory, but as his assessment as a professional, even if his job is to build my self-esteem. Somewhere inside me, I know I am of value, or I would long since have ended my own life. I will continue to give more than I take, and hope that my contributions continue to be worthy.

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I can’t seem to motivate myself to write here, but I want to nonetheless; therefore, I’ll compile a simple list to get myself started, or at least finished.

Ten things that happened while I was away:

  1. I created some excellent, short pieces of fight choreography, one or two of which particularly pleased me.
  2. I worked with mostly non-union actors who all, nevertheless, stayed true to the work on an a compressed schedule.
  3. I confirmed that some actors in the union exhibit poise onstage and off, but many simply reap the benefits of the genetic lottery.
  4. I learned about myself in my time alone, mostly that I might prefer solitude to the company of others.
  5. The cast bonded over physical training; I may attempt to enact such a policy on my actors in my next show.
  6. The director taught me much, but above all, I learned more humility: my vision is not unique, though it is strong.
  7. Meeting a famous person left me starstruck, but talking to him reminded me quickly to see people as humans, as trees in the Ram Dass sense.
  8. I charmed people when I decided to be charming, and alienated them by isolating myself.
  9. I treated my work a bit too much like work and forgot to find joy. The schedule may have contributed to that, as may have my unwillingness to open up to people.
  10. I completed a piece of art at a company that will likely increase my reputation. Maybe that will allow me to feel more confident.
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