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Even in the cannon’s mouth

I have become invisible to those who know me, and all too visible to strangers. I am judged on factors I cannot control.

We must learn not to seek, or strive, or want. We must learn to accept, and live, and die.

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Hunter S. Thompson on floating and swimming

April 22, 1958

57 Perry Street

New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,


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Grown Man Cry

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On fear and comfort.

Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wanned,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing—
For Hecuba!

What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appall the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing

Am I a coward?
Who calls me “villain”? Breaks my pate across?
Plucks off my beard and blows it in my face?
Tweaks me by the nose? Gives me the lie i’ th’ throat
As deep as to the lungs? Who does me this?

‘Swounds, I should take it, for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave’s offal.

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On endings and beginnings

In 2006, I was living with Clare, and having one of my infamous breakdowns, but at least this one ended differently. I had been binge watching The Office (BBC) during my days, while I pounded keys for yet a company that refused to recognize my value even as I acted a fool.

When I can’t convince people of the value of what I do, I make myself the most obviously firable employee for all reasons except my work. Then, when they inevitably bring me in for discipline, I tell them outright to fire me. They never have. They still miss my point, perfectly made.

Martin Freeman’s character, Tim, had realized on his 30th birthday — mine was coming up — that he didn’t want to spend his time working in a mid-range paper company. The similarities in my own life were too strong to ignore.

I pounded my fists and raised my voice at Clare, who had never earned my ire, not once. I raked my face and racked my brains. I searched and scraped my soul for how to proceed. And I found it.

The one thing in my life that I consistently looked forward to was teaching stage combat (which I called “fencing”) at my high school alma mater. I would pursue that. That realization lead me to the SAFD.

Now, nearly ten years later, my unyielding depression’s mumbles echo painfully in my ear, as I have been accepted to the exclusive, prestigious, and mettle-testing Teacher Certification Workshop. I have arrived at the doorstep of my past self, with weak knees and a dead heart. And a compass, broken, with the arrow pointing up.

“Here is where it all leads,” I say to myself. “It’s still the only thing you look forward to, but that doesn’t mean what it used to.”

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On fighting.

Come for me, G’mork! I am Atreyu!

G’Mork is a servant of the Nothing, that great expanse where existence itself is wiped away. Death is the obvious analogue, but in this case, it is the death of the spirit, the death of the imagination.

I think people forget why suicide becomes so appealing. The person conflicted about that nonexistence often struggles not only with pain, but the feeling that they ALREADY do not exist. The world, the universe, even their closest friends appear indifferent to their existence, and it feels selfish to boost one’s own self-love to the point of importance, so… why not? What other choice is there?

And this striking rebellion, when hope seems lost, when his best friend, Artax has succumbed to the sadness, represents that glimmer of hope, that realization that all of existence amounts to simply being, being what and who you are, whatever the consequences.

Since we’re going to die anyway, I’d rather die fighting. Come for me, G’mork! I am Atreyu!

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Damaged love.


From my friend, Christina.

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The Call

What I’m working on now, which is really myself. Thanks to hero Dan Harmon for the story structure, to hero Joss Whedon for the mythos, and to friends who have read drafts and helped me mold.


I feel like it’s easy for people to give up on me, and I have unwittingly joined in that. I am a terror, a childish tyrant. It was always this way, probably, but I had better ways to hide it before. Better motivation to, at least.

My evils I have to let live. They are there for me to keep, like tigers in a zoo. Beautiful from a distance, but they make poor pets.

These escapes I came to love. I can keep those, too. Minimum security.

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I think I’m alone.

No one has ever said, “Don’t give up.”

I tell people I’m giving up theatre, and they just nod. I don’t expect their life to be about me, but I see this as evidence that I would not be missed. I think I would respond the same way to someone who said it sincerely if I did not think they were contributing anything worthy to the artform.

I changed my life intentionally to do this full-time. Did I waste the last six or seven years? What have I learned? Only that the people I expected to find also treading this path, the people I thought were my people, are few and far between.

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On the use of Violence in the Theatre

Theatrical violence incorporates the most important aspects of theatrical performance: objectives and commitment at the very highest stakes, physical communication and cooperation between actors, and a dual awareness at both the character and actor levels. For me, stage combat informs all of my work as a professional actor in Milwaukee, and I am proud to have served as fight director for so many shows at so many companies, bringing safety and storytelling to their scenes of violence.

I consider stage combat to be a modern martial art, focused on storytelling, rather than defense, much like many Eastern disciplines teach that, at the highest levels, violence and destruction are set aside in favor of aesthetic creation. A master becomes an artist, as the understanding of violence reminds one of their human nature (the earth, the id, the beast, etc.) but channeling that directionless passion are the creative and rational drives. As artists in the theatre, the consummation of all arts, we have the ability and responsibility to bring this violence as realistically to bear as we are able in order to confront and discuss — and perhaps, to change — the way in which we accept and cope with our natural tendency toward violence.

To that end, it is essential that we as fight directors, give our actors the tools required to tell these stories. By necessity, we begin to help with precautions against harm; after all, beyond the obvious preservation of the actor, if the actor must hesitate because of a safety concern, then we have hindered the story by whatever fraction that hesitation costs. Contrarily, when we instill in actors the knowledge and practice to free them of the constraint of fear, we not only allow that particular scene to come alive, but we bring the actors to a greater state of awareness and commitment, which can only serve them in all aspects of performance.

The responsibility is colossal for fight directors, as with any teachers, to keep this always in mind. We must understand fear, violence, and all of the darkest parts of our humanity in order to create compelling art, but we must be in command of those forces, and teach others to be in command of them, if that art is to be of value.

(from my application to the SAFD TCW 2015)

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