So I’ve been lazy lately, and I haven’t blogged.  I’m sorry. :(

But now I’m back!  And I shall endeavor to be more regular.  Since it’s been so long since my last post, it’s only right to update everyone on the latest major events in my life.

Last weekend, Lara and I went to the beautiful and moving wedding of Michael Conrad and Carly Allen (though they’re both Conrads now), in which I had the honor of being a groomsman.  It was all the way out in Paducah, Kentucky, which was quite the trip, let me tell you.  It was unfortunately made much more stressful because my wife (who, I reassure myself, does know who I am) put my nickname on my plane reservation, instead of my legal name.

The customer service agent at Southwest whom I called the night before we were to leave told me, flat-voiced, that there was nothing they could do; federal regulation prohibits them from changing the name on a reservation, they could get fined thousands of dollars, blah, blah.  Basically, I was screwed.  I turned to Lara, and I said, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to this wedding.”  She, of course, started crying.  I wasn’t too happy myself. [KEEP READING!]

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Too Perfect

March 30, 2009

So, nerd-fession: I read a lot of webcomics.  What can I say?  They’re wonderful.  And Dinosaur Comics has to be among the most brilliant out there.   When I saw the one for this morning, I couldn’t pass it up.  Shout out for the Fear Project!

fearcomic

I listened to the most incredible episode of “This American Life” today.  Stopped me right in my tracks.

You can find it here.  (Just click the little button that says “Full Episode”, and you can stream it.)

Find some time, and listen to it.

The Fear Project: Dying

March 19, 2009

This is another one of my favorite stories so far.  Happy Thursday!

Well, I almost died that was pretty scary.  So this, um, this is kind of weird ’cause I, I haven’t really told many people about this… and so, basically, and I mean, I mean, not to be too crude, but I couldn’t poop for like two weeks.  This was the summer after my junior year of college, and I was in the process of getting ready to go on this internship in Washington D.C.  And, um… I just, I was in pain.  For some reason, I was stressed out, from everything… I wasn’t eating either.  Cause I was like stressed out… I don’t, I don’t know why.

So I went back home, to get ready for the trip, and that entire day, I just slept.  I had a fever… So I get down there, and pack up my things, and the entire time at dinner, I’m just like not eating, and I’m like “I have this pain in my left arm”, and I’m just like “I don’t know what’s going on.”  So my Dad says, “We should take you to the emergency room, just to be safe.”  So we go in and they ask me what’s wrong, and I’m like, “I don’t know my heart really hurts, my chest hurts, my entire left arm is numb”… basically giving the symptoms of a heart attack.  And they basically think I’m out of my mind, because I’m 21 at the time, and they’re like what 21-year-old has heart problems?  But after like an hour, they finally see me, and they do all these tests…  and the ER doctor comes back, and says “Oh my God, we think you have a blood clot in your lung, we need to operate right now.  If we don’t operate, you might die.”  … What do you say to that?  I mean I’m in the ER, I’ve got I.V.s sticking out of everywhere, my parents are bawling, the doctor’s asking me, do I have a will?  Because I probably should… because… you know, if something were to happen… And I’m thinking… okay, I’m going give this friend my CDs, and this friend my old piece of junk car, I mean… How much do you have at 21?  I guess my parents would probably get my college loan debt… I’m sure they’re excited about that.  And, and so, this ER doctor was like all gung ho to operate, but this other doctor is like no, we should do some more tests.  And he says like, we need to operate, he’s deadset that it’s a blood clot in my lung. [KEEP READING!]

I interviewed a good friend of mine several weeks ago, and her story is one of my favorites so far.  Thought I’d share it with you:

I don’t really remember how old I was, when I had a completely irrational fear, uh, that went on, for months, I think, before I got the courage to bring it up.  It’s really embarrassing, because I think I may have been pretty old, like 9 or 10.  Anyways, I remember having this, unfounded fear that, my mom was not actually my mom, that there was, um, [giggling] that there was, uh, somebody living inside of her body.  And that, what I was seeing was just a zip-up costume.  And I kept trying figure out who she would be, and I remember thinking, “Oh, she’s a man, she’s actually a man.” And she can unzip it at the top of her head, and pull it down her back.  And I’d been thinking this for a while, but acting totally normal towards my mom, I remember like, she’d take me to school and everything would be fine.  But then, I would just, in the back of my head, I’d be thinking, “I wonder if she’s not who she says she is…”

So, she tucked me into bed one night, and I remember thinking that I had figured it out, I remember thinking that [giggling] my Mom was actually Joe Pesci, all dressed up in my Mom’s skin, like a costume.  And I don’t know if I was influenced too much by Home Alone, or what… But anyway, she was tucking me in, and I remember, she was kind of going through a rough time in her life, and I looked at her, and I go, “Mom, take your mask off.”  And it took like, all the courage in me to say it, because I was sure that she was going to, like, unzip her head off. And she just, hugged me good night, and then she went and she called her friend and was just like “Oh my gosh, I just had a really profound moment with my daughter, I felt like she just saw straight through me, and knew that I wasn’t being true to myself!”  So, she didn’t tell me that until years later.  But, um, I do remember feeling rather confused, and frightened.

But I remember being really nervous to talk to her about it, because I sincerely believed that she was not who she said she was.  So I think I brought it up several times afterwards, being like, “Do you think that what you look like, is really who you are?”  But again, she kept thinking that these were just like really profound statements for a little kid to make.

I just remember certain times, like, eating breakfast, I have my little bowl of oatmeal in my kitchen, just thinking so strongly, like, “Who is she really, who is that really?”  It didn’t occur to me how weird it would be that that would be Joe Pesci, but for some reason that just stuck in my mind.  Maybe Joe was jealous of my Mom, so he dressed in her suit?  And I was really in to Home Alone for a while, and maybe because he was the bad guy in that, that his face just suck in my mind?  And he’s pretty small… I remember thinking, he easily could have put on stilts, or like, added parts to himself… I don’t know what was wrong with me, I really don’t.

The Fear Project

March 15, 2009

Well, it has been much too long since I’ve updated, and it’s about time that I fill you guys in on the project I’ve been mentioning slyly for some time now.

So by way of introduction, it’s a play.  And, I’m writing it.  And it’s about fears, and nightmares, and phobias.  And other such things.  It’s a documentary theatre piece, which basically just means it’s like a documentary film, but live onstage.  So unlike a documentary film, where you are bound by the exact words and face of the interviewee, in documentary theatre you must perform those interviews, and in performing them you must ask, “Who is this person?  How do they talk?  What does their story mean to them?” It becomes less a factual exploration of what they said, and more a deep exploration of who they are.  It is about the people, their stories and their souls, and not just about the facts of their interview.

Anyway, I’m doing one of those, and it’s about Fear.  Specifically, this play explores three main questions: 1) Why are we afraid of what we’re afraid of, 2) Why does fear have such power in our lives, and 3) What do we do about it?

1) Something that I’ve encountered over an over again in my reading and my interviews is that for the most part, people don’t really know why they’re afraid.  This is especially true in the case of nightmares and phobias, but it applies more broadly as well.  Someone wakes up screaming from a nightmare about being stabbed with pins, and they can’t explain where that came from.  Another is plagued for years by a debilitating fear of birds, so bad that she can barely even go outside, and she doesn’t really know why.  And even our more logical fears, like fear of terrorism, aren’t really connected to our likelihood of actually being harmed by a terrorist attack. (I’ve heard it said that you’re more likely to be killed by a tidal wave than by a terrorist.)

2) Fear is one the biggest motivations behind everything that happens in the world today, on a personal, societal, and global level, good and bad.  We quit smoking because we’re afraid of cancer; we tolerate the Patriot Act because we’re afraid of terrorists; we eat organic because we’re afraid of pesticides.  Why does fear have such power?

3) So what does all this mean to us?  What do we do about fear in our lives?  Is it necessary a bad thing? (I mean, quitting smoking is definitely a good development.) I want more than anything to make a play that is useful.  I want people coming away with a wider perspective on fear, a better understanding of how it affects the people around them, and a better capacity to deal with it in their own lives.

We’re all so scared right now.  Worried about the economy, frightened by terrorists, paranoid about immigrants, distrustful of our politicians.  I want to make a play that provides understanding, but more than that, relief.  I want us to be able to laugh at our fears, grin in understanding and indentification.  We’re all afraid of something.  And that should bring us together, not tear us apart.

much news, much news

March 2, 2009

Well, well, lots of exciting theatre news for me this weekend.  One piece of news for every day, in fact.  We’ll go chronologically.

On Friday I signed on the wonderful Johnathan Hayward, eminent historian and fabulous theatrical personality, as dramaturg for my play in process, The Fear Project.*  I am very excited about this.  I’ve been interviewing and doing research for several months now, and have been kind of getting overwhelmed with just how much information is actually out there.  Johnathan Hayward graduated from Westmont with me with a degree in history, as well as a good bit of experience on Westmont Theatre’s stage.  So he’s definitely got both the proclivity for research and love for theatre that I need for this project.  Plus he’s just an all-around good guy, and I’ve been looking an excuse to do some kind of project with him for a while.  So I think this will be a very fruitful collaboration.  Look for more news about the project as it develops.

mueveme1On Saturday I went to see a wonderful new play by Diana Small up at Westmont, Muéveme, Muévete.  This is the first time that a Westmont student has written a production for Westmont’s main stage, which speaks to Ms. Small’s prodigious talents.  It was commissioned by Mitchell Thomas specifically to reach out to Santa Barbara’s Hispanic community, and thus is written bi-ligually, within the genre of magical realism.  Westmont’s little cast handled its challenges quite nicely, with lots of stand-out performances.  I really enjoy Diana’s writing style and way of looking at the world, and I really hope I’ll get to work more with her in the future.  At least I did, until Sunday.

On Sunday I received a phone call from John Blondell, professor at Westmont and artistic director of Lit Moon Theatre Company.  He has invited me to act in the next two shows Lit Moon is working on: first, an adaptation of “Rumpelstiltskin” that will be going up sometime in the late summer, and second, a musical sci-fi comedy based on “The First Men in the Moon” by H.G. Wells, which will be part of Lit Moon’s World Theatre Festival this fall.  Both of them seem like uproarious fun, and both will be written by Diana Small, which means I get my wish. :)

So it’s looking like it’s going to be a very busy and exciting year for me.  Goody, goody.

____________

*That’s a working title.  I’ve been meaning to do an entry on that project for a while now, but the (very) short version is that it’s a documentary theatre piece about people’s fears, nightmares, and phobias, and why fear is such an inexplicable and inexorable force.

Cheating Again

February 26, 2009

Again, I’m cheating, putting up an entry that I didn’t write.  But thanks to my friend Joe Bunting, I found this incredible (and unusual) article at the Times Online, in the UK.  It is fascinatingly; an article by an atheist saying that Christian missionaries are transforming Africa in a way that secular NGOs and aid organizations simply cannot.  It was too good to pass up.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. [keep reading…]

Salsa!

February 25, 2009

We’ve been making a lot of things from scratch lately.  Simple things, like bread, pasta sauce, and salsa, that a few months ago we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything but buying from a store.  But inspired by a number of things we’ve been reading, we decided to give it a try.

For some reason, my camera wouldnt work, so this isnt actually a picture of the salsa I made.  But it looks very much like it.

For some reason, my camera wouldn't work, so this isn't actually a picture of the salsa I made. But it looks very much like it.

I don’t think we’ll ever go back to store-bought.  For one, all these things made fresh are vastly better than the stuff in stores.  Fresh salsa is worlds better than anything you can buy in a jar.  Second, the “labor-intensive” work of making these things from scratch turns out not to be that hard after all.  Especially in the case of pasta sauce: spend an hour or so making one huge batch on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ve got enough to last you for weeks.  Third, in most cases you save yourself a good bit of money.  A bag of flour costs about $3, and you can make 3-4 loaves of bread with that.

But I think probably our favorite thing made from scratch is salsa.  Lara begs me each week to make it, and generally I’m more than happy to oblige.  The fresh flavors of the simple ingredients shine in a way you’d never have thought possible with a jar of tomato mush from the store.  I’ve adapted this recipe from the wonderful Art of Simple Food by Alice Walters.

TOMATO SALSA

(makes about 2 cups)

2 large ripe tomatoes, or 1 18-ounce can whole* tomatoes (when tomatoes aren’t in season), chopped.

1 garlic clove, diced or pressed.

1/2 white or red onion, diced fine

6 cilantro sprigs (stems and leaves), chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime (or more to taste)

Salt

1-2 jalapeños, seeds removed, chopped fine

Mix very thoroughly.  Add more salt, lime juice, or jalapeño as needed.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.

*For some reason, whole canned tomatoes taste better than the pre-diced ones.  Go figure.

The Art of Simple Food is a wonderful cookbook, by the way.  Alice Walters is a guru of the “buy local, cook simple” movement, and I am a recent convert.  Her cookbook is organized around techniques (“how to make a good broth”) and ingredients (rice, beans, grain) and walks you through how to select the best ingredients to cook with, and maximize the flavors of this naturally wonderful food.  It’s made me appreciate the farmer’s market like I never have before, and I’ve learned a ton about the food I eat and how to prepare it better.  It’s also just made me appreciate food more.  In going to farmer’s markets and learning how to select only the freshest, best-tasting ingredients, and then cooking them up in such a way as to maximize their flavours, I feel more connected with what I eat, and thus more connected to the earth and the world around me.  It’s a wonderful feeling, especially with a mouth full of food.

History Nerd Alert

February 24, 2009

AdamsSo, Lara and I spent a good part of our weekend watching an amazing HBO mini-series, John Adams. For all you history buffs out there (namely, Jonathan Hayward and my Dad) you have to check it out.  And even if you’re not, it’s a really great show.  It exposes all the complexities, excitement, and intrigue involved in America’s fight for independence, as well as telling the story of a largely unsung hero of American history: John Adams.  Paul Giamatti is incredible in this role, full of brilliance, bluster, and wig-wearing prowess.  Laura Linney (one of my favorite actresses) is incredibly compelling as well as his wife, Abigail Adams, a source of calm strength and a wellspring of sound advice to her famous husband.  The supporting cast is fantastic as well, and it’s so exciting and interesting to see dusty historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin brought to vibrant life.

If you’re looking for a good way to spend an evening, this is it.