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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Keep Calm and Rock On

A note to all the people from my past and in my current reality trying to keep me down and prevent me from reaching my full potential. I'm done letting people take opportunities from me and manipulating a situation to let it turn out well for them. I have been struggling the past couple of years and I'm done being a victim of circumstance. From now on I'm going to fight for what I want at the risk of outshining others and leaving them left behind. I deserve better and I'm through with letting people take what should be mine. It's time for me to rise up out of the ashes and take control of my destiny to do great things. The future is for the strong minded individual full of a burning compassion and a restless fight for spreading light and love. The future belongs to me!

 I decided to record myself singing and playing djembe (one of the many instruments that I play).  Why?  Well, one I've been down lately and playing music/singing brings my spirits up.  Music used to be a HUGE part of my life in my 20's.  In college, I was in a chamber choir (which is where I met my wife).  We went on tour every spring break to sing in different churches, schools, and nursing homes.  I was also in a jazz a cappella group which I helped start.  Now, it is one of the premier groups on my college campus, as it has been running for ten years.  There was a time when I sang for 7-8 hours a day (not consecutive necessarily).  Between voice lessons, choir and a cappella rehearsals, and also having a radio show, I was surrounded by my first love, music.

In high school, as I mentioned in a previous post, I played alto saxophone in the school band.  Eventually, when I learned how to play electric bass, I decided to switch it up and play bass during pep rallies.  Playing saxophone was not all that exciting to tell you the truth.  I started on it, at the age of ten, because, though I asked to play piano, my father told me that playing saxophone would be good for my asthma.  I am glad I started on something, as I have always been very musical.  I was the kid in elementary and middle school who got excited for choir.  In fifth grade, I even did after school choir, even though I was the ONLY guy.  I have always loved music and singing.

I, however, did not discover my true singing talent until high school.  I spoke about this in a previous post as well.  I was chosen as the male lead in the musical, 'No, No Nanette', my senior year.  I also became the lead singer for my band.  At discovering I could sing, it gave me a new handle on life.  It made me more confident.  With the musical instruments that I play, I'm just mediocre.  I'm not amazing at saxophone, electric bass, djembe, or piano.  I only took piano lessons during my Junior year in college because I wanted help reading music and harmonizing.  That is the year when I was singing a gazillion hours a day.  I was at my happiest then.

Now, music is not really in my life anymore aside from listening to things in my ipod and sometimes singing while I'm walking down the street.  Singing is the one thing I admit I have some talent at, though I do it, not because I want to be the next American Idol.  I do it because it makes me happy.  Singing is therapeutic and it always lightens my mood.  In fact, that's why musical theater and opera is so emotional.  The emotion is so heightened, that it cannot be expressed in words.  Song is the only way to express the deep and intense emotions in this seemingly soap-like theatrical classification.  In fact, my college theater department always said that musicals were low on the totem pole because the ideas of Aristotle could not be justified.  However, it's obvious that emotion is sometimes too abstract for words.  Hence the purpose for all art.

Paintings and songs, choreography and sculpture, arias and drawings express what emotions can't be expressed in speech and even thought.  Art just is.  It evokes different emotions and responses from each viewer and participant.  That's why art is so beautiful.  So, I take a vow to surround myself with music, with art.  From this day forward, I vow to embrace the artist version of myself.  I am an artist through and through.  What's more is that I am not just married to one kind of art.  I'm interested in many different kinds of art.  I love and practice many forms of art, and I don't want to limit myself to one artistic form either.

Below I think I will display pieces of art that inspire me to be my best.  I hope they inspire you too.

Vincent Van Gogh, 'Starry Night', 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, 'Bedroom at Arles', 1887

Pablo Picasso, 'Girl Before a Mirror', 1932

Claude Monet, 'Saint-Georges', 1840

Pierre-Auguste Renoir- 'Dance at the Moulin de la Galette', 1876

Mary Cassatt, 'La Toilette', 1891

Henri Matisse- 'La Danse', 1910

 Most of the above paintings are from the same time period, late 19th and early 20th century.  However, that's my favorite period of painting.  I like other periods as well but impressionism and abstraction are my faves.  I like how the artists learned the rules only to break them.  Art imitates life but sometimes life is so chaotic and strange that realism doesn't quite capture the madness of it all.

I will also share some songs that inspire me.  Without music, I wouldn't be able to emote properly.

 Dana International, 'Everything is for the Best'

'Return to Innocence'- Enigma

'Shine On'- Mellow the Band

'Dream Catch Me' by Newton Faulkner

'It's the Sun'- The Polyphonic Spree

'Bittersweet Symphony'- The Verve

'Here Comes the Sun'- Richie Havens (love Nina Simone and Beatles versions too)

Remember that: Art=LOVE+HAPPINESS

Inspired by art to live life as an artist,


Keith Haring, 'Two Men Holding a Heart', 1988

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man Up, dude!


So I cannot think about Father's Day without thinking about what it actually means to be a man, to be a good husband and father.  What is the essence of being a 'man'?  Or, more importantly, what's the gist of being a 'gentleman'?  Do men still play into age old stereotypes where they are told to be macho and mean?  For me Father's Day is about feminism and realizing that real men value the importance and role that women play within our society.  

My big complaint about guys is that they don't realize that women are: 

1) Usually, if not ALWAYS, right about EVERYTHING. 
2) Smarter and more capable than men (in general).
3) Able to fix and handle projects/situations on their own, if given the chance.
4) Amazing multi-taskers and problem solvers given having to balance motherhood with careers (or out of home duties)
5) Incredible and beautiful in that, as mothers, they carried a living human in their womb for nine months and went through hour upon hour of excruciating pain at giving birth. 

Now, I am biased, as a male feminist who generally feels more passionately about women's rights and feminism than my own wife. However, my complaint is that many men are too macho and chauvinistic.  They try to act all tough and gruff.  Spitting and adjusting your ech um belt is not civilized in any form.  What's more is that women of 2013 want men who are a little sensitive and artistic.  The image of men having to play the role of cowboys or meathead jocks is cliche and what the French would call, demode (old fashioned).  I think of the Marlboro Man here, or the Western cowboy who carries the dame off on his horse at sunset.  Now, I'm sure women fantasize about such men but when it comes to reality, it doesn't cut the mustard.  Now, I'm not a woman or attracted to men so I am only observing what I feel most women would desire out of a mate.  I surmise, though that when women look for permanent relationship material, that they want a guy who drops all the macho crap.

Real men realize the value of women and the true beauty that they possess.  If you're a real man, you don't care if your girlfriend or wife wears make-up or if she has gained a few pounds.  If you're a real man, you fell in love with the woman for her intellect and soul.  Looks play into things but only in the sense that real men love looking into a woman's eyes as much as he enjoys interlocking hands with her fingers.  Yes, men, are in general obsessed with breasts, but it's not all about the (to be crude) T & A, not at all.  That's what rappers and douchebags talk about non-stop.

Now, some guys reading this might already be thinking 'aw this dude is such a p-ssy'.  Well, thinking that way makes it definite that the tables are actually turned on you.  Like I said, too many guys have this image in their head of being in control and having to always be right.  I admit that I'm very stubborn and that when I'm arguing, I have a mentality ('mantality') that I have to win.  Sometimes, I admit shamefully, I even say things to my wife to see how she'll react or what she'll say.  Yes, I thrive on conflict.  But I listen to my wife's advice and her words, despite her thinking that I ignore her.  I know, deep down inside that a) she knows me really well, b) she wants what's best for me, and c) she loves and cares about me; so shut up and listen.  Yes, the key to a happy marriage is just to say 'yes, dear' and 'you know you're right, I should...right away.'

Take it from me, women are right most (if not all) of the time so it's futile to try and win any argument no matter how pithy or insignificant it seems.  If your wife wants the dishes to be done and put away a certain way, do it that way.  If she wants a specific brand of bleach or garbage bag, then get exactly what she asks for.  If you don't, you'll have to go back to the store and return what you go to get the right item, whatever it is.  So I will outline my advice below:

10 Rules for a WINNING 'MANTALITY'

1: Don't think you'll win an argument because you won't.

2: Make a specific shopping list and make sure you get everything on it. (be very detailed)

3: Don't rush a woman when she is buying/looking at shoes.

4: Get a gal flowers every now and then (surprise her).

5: Make her feel pretty and special by giving compliments and saying a certain pair of jeans looks attractive (even though you've seen her in said pair of jeans all day).

6: Try to co-manage the household duties and decisions.  She shouldn't have to do everything.

7: Dads, do NOT let her parent alone.  Get your hands dirty and get in there.

8) Women can use power tools too.  I've seen women fix/install things better than me. (IJ: even toilets)

9) Never call a woman 'fat', 'bitch', 'stupid', 'ugly', etc.  Put-downs are a quick way to bachelor-ville.

10) WOMEN ARE SUPERIOR TO MEN!  It's the truth.  'Yes dear' is the key to bliss!

So there you have it.  I have outlined how a real man should and ought to act toward his woman.  You must give respect to your partner to receive it back.  That whole traditional image of men as bread winners who make all the tough decisions concerning finances and life changing matters, is bunk.  Men should not fall into the whole Marlboro Man/James Bond/Superhero/Caveman image.  WE are better than that crap.  It's time to man up and just admit that women are just, well, not men and that's why we (as heterosexual men) love and appreciate them.  Men, could you stand being married to or dating yourself?  Imagine it!  Really!  Imagine it!  Yea, not only creepy but you'd punch yourself in the face out of annoyance.  As much as I'm an ego maniac, I do not want to marry/date myself.  So that's the reason I revere women and admit that they're better.  WOMEN RULE!

NOTE: This argument has nothing to do with homosexuality.  By saying that I do not want to date myself and thereby, having it fuel my reverence of women does not mean that I reject homosexuality.  Far from it. I'm an LGBTQ ally and I respect and value every kind of relationship under the sun.  However, I do not want to imagine a world where I'm married to myself.  That's all!!

Masculinely yours,

And for the record, guys, THIS is what we're fighting against (images below):

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Posthumous Reality Check

Send your dreams 
Where nobody hides
Give your tears
To the tide

No time
No time

There's no end
There is no goodbye
With the night

No time
No time

'Wait', M83 (from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, 2011)

Yes, I have used this song in a post already but I love it.  Each time I listen to it, I imagine the end of the world taking place right before my very eyes.  Truth is that I do believe that our society, our world is on the cusp of a major change.  I don't really believe that the world is ending but I do believe that our society, as we understand and know it, is on its way out.  What's more is that most people out there are not aware of the changes already taking place.  This song reminds me of that fact.  Some of us have experienced and can feel the changes in energy.  Some of us notice the invisible battle going on in every corner of the globe.  However, the majority of folks are in the dark, unaware of everything unfolding.

I've met plenty of other people who feel the same way I do, so I know I'm not completely nuts.  I used to worry about this time period, the period of storms and chaos.  I have had dreams for too long about fires and floods, earthquakes and massacre.  I have had dreams where I see whole cities on fire, people lost and confused.  I have dreams where the earth is flooded and most of my friends and family are dead.  I am the sole survivor amongst others who have to start again and rebuild.  Yes, I've had this dream again and again.  I've had dreams where I'm rounded up and put into a military camp or I'm hiding in a city trying not to be captured.  What's crazier is that friends of mine have had the very same dream (the very same night) and have been in sync with my visions.

However, I don't worry.  I know that perhaps I possess skills that will let me survive whatever is coming.  If the power grid went down and our electronic, technological society were a thing of the past I don't think I'd lose my shit.  I'm not a survivalist but I consider myself pretty well adept at handling situations when shit hits the fan.  Advice I once got from a psychic is 'to be the calm in the middle of the storm' and to practice meditating.  Though this advice was given to me almost six years ago, I still hold it as a piece of truth.

Maybe my dreams and visions are what fuels my obsession with reading about the apocalypse and the end of society as we know it.  So I am going to recommend a few reads below (in no hierarchical numerical order) that are great for envisioning what might happen to us, as humans.  If you enjoy this type of literature, then by all means,  check all of my recommendations out from the library.  If you don't, then ignore this post, and read some of my other, happier, lighter posts.


A Function-less Society: Corruption, Extinction, or Insanity
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman: This book merges science and sociology to make a very good read about what would happen if humans disappeared from earth tomorrow.  Animals and plants survive but humans are extinct.  The first chapter is all about New York City and how the subways would instantly fill with water and buildings would corrode/rust.  Manhattan would look more like its original state, having plants and animals grow and roam untamed.  Unfortunately, a lot of our chemicals and nuclear weapons would take years to break down; some would not ever break down.  We, as a human species, have created so many inorganic compounds from nature, that nature does not have the capacity to turn it back into organic matter.  I am not a science guy, but I loved this book.  I found it fascinating and even Weisman's explanation of physics and matter made sense.  A good non-fiction look at the realistic picture of what happens to earth after we leave it.    
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: This is a wonderful fiction at what would happen if companies like Monsanto were left to rule society without any boundaries or restrictions.  The narrator and protagonist, Snowman (aka Jimmy), is the only remaining human (that he knows of).  The book starts in the future, with him in some tropical paradise, as a caretaker to a future generation of human-like creatures known as 'Crakers'. He shifts back in time to explain his adolescence and childhood, also in our future.  Snowman grew up in a good home with lots of opportunity.  However, it is revealed that he and his best friend, Crake, live in bubbled societies known as compounds.  They literally live in suburban-like tents/bubbles that are privileged, exclusive, and have high amounts of security.  Only the best and brightest engineers, thinkers, and scientists live in these compounds with their families.  The compounds are owned by various corporations that compete in genetic engineering.  We learn about creatures like 'wolvogs' and 'pigoons'.  These compounds contrast to life in the 'pleeblands', the outside world where crime and filth run like water.  This is where the masses live, the less fortunate and intellectually gifted.  Snowman, through flashbacks, reveals what happened to this society on the brink and how it imploded.  This is a long read but the narrative and story are realistic enough to get sucked in.  I read this cover to cover and could not put it down.  If you are interested in GMOs/genetic engineering and the socio-economic inequalities/collapse of society, then read this book.
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Probably a lot of people have seen the movie for this book, but I would strongly recommend reading the novel.  It is long and very involved.  Slow to get into, but once you do, it is a tantamount gripping and thrilling read.  The book starts out with the diary of a notary, Adam Ewing, who is about to set sail from a remote island in the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco.  The diary ends abruptly, and picks up with the story of a poor musician and wannabee composer, Robert Frobisher who finds himself the prodigy of an established composer living in Belgium.  Each story stops right in the middle of heated action only to go right into another story.  However, what's brilliant is that all of the stories, through different time periods, end up connecting.  All of the main characters connect and the way the novel is written ends up just like a piece of music.  If you are one who likes abstract, artistic meaning in books, then give this a read.  There is a lot of poetry and art behind the writing of this fiction.  You have to think about how every story and character is connected.  I like the play in genres, in that one story is a diary, one a series of letters, a videotape.  Eventually, the reader ends up in the distant future where again, the seemingly disconnected narrative makes sense to every other story.  It is a commentary how, in life, people and situations connect.  One good deed has a ripple effect through time, having results that are unseen yet fortuitous.  
  • Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson: A wonderful book about what would happen if the United Kingdom were divided up based on the four humors.  The UK is now the yellow quarter (choleric, yellow bile, based on anger and rage); the blue quarter (phlegmatic, phlegm, metaphysical and sickly); the green quarter (melancholic, black bile, depressed and intellectual); the red quarter (sanguine, blood, successful and happy-go-lucky).  The main character, Thomas Parry, lives in the red quarter where his job in the government is to transport people to various quarters.  In this world, sometimes a person gets 'transfered' to a different district because their temperament is not right for whatever their current location is.  Parry ends up going on an adventure through the different quarters to uncover both his past and the truth behind what happened at the time of the 'Rearrangement'.  This is also a page turner and it is an interesting sociological look at how society would be divided if we based it on emotion and the psyche.  
  • Wool by Hugh Howey: Another long, involved fiction on what happens after society falls apart. Humans now live in silos, which are mostly underground.  Above ground, earth is a wasteland, too toxic for humans to live in anymore.  There are multiple silos set into the ground set around the skeletal shell of some long gone American metropolis.  The majority of people living in the silos do not know that the other silos exist.  The action is set in Silo-18 and the novel starts with the story of Holston, the sheriff, who has to go through the cleaning ritual.  Whenever a rule is broken, a citizen has to put on a spacesuit-like contraption and go outside to 'clean' the cameras.  No one knows why or how this started but it's an age old ritual.  No one questions it.  However, at the death of the Mayor of Silo-18 and promotion of Juliette to sheriff, people start to ask questions.  The silo is divided into sections for farming, electrical maintenance, IT, trade, etc.  Juliette is from the lower levels of the silo, which are for electrical maintenance work.  It is her knowledge and skill in this area that leads her to quick answers.  She soon uncovers the dirty truth of the history and structure of these silos and soon learns about the existence of others.  I instantly fell in love with this book.  It started as a short story that stood alone but Howey soon added and through self-publication, got this published as a full novel.  I am glad for that because it is one of the most genius pieces of apocalyptic fictions that I have laid my hands on.  
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Also set in a landscape similar to Wool, where the earth is in total environmental breakdown.  It rains nearly all the time and it is cold.  We are unaware, as readers, what time of year it is and hardly able to make out the terrain as the main characters, a father and son, set out in what was once America.  The land is burned and looted of all resources.  As food and supplies have become scarce, people turn into cannibals and thieves.  Any person met on the road is assumed to be an enemy and a threat.  The father must protect his son (and himself) from hungry, desperate criminals.  No one can be trusted anymore.  It is a very stark and bleak painting on what would happen to humanity should our society completely break down and fall apart.  It is a story of what happens when, after the apocalypse in the US, people turn into greedy, savage, animalistic hunters.  The image that still haunts me is that of a campfire left by two men and a woman (presumed pregnant).  The only thing that remains behind is the charred remainder of a human infant body.  Yes, in this world, people eat their young to stay alive.  This book made me physically sick at times but in the end, the goodwill of humanity triumphs despite it being a sad, depressing read.  
  • Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams: A great compilation of stories about the end of society.  Every story paints a very different picture of how society crumbles and what happens to humans after it all goes down.  Memorable stories from this collection are 'The Last of the O-Forms' by James Van Pelt, 'Judgement Passed' by Jerry Oltion, 'Speech Sounds' by Octavia Butler, 'Artie's Angels' by Catherine Wells, and 'How He Got In Town and Out Again' by Jonathan Lethern.  Some stories paint a world where humans are less than human, becoming mutants or bioforms.  Other stories discuss a plague that causes the loss of language and reasoning or where a deadly sickness slowly picks people off.  The message, however, is clear.  Whoever is left around to tell the story, is left in a very bleak, utterly hopeless universe nothing like the one we know and love.
  • Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe: If you like books that take history and turn it on its head, then this is a read for you.  Sharpe takes the narrative of John Smith and Pocahontas and turns it into a post-apocalyptic fiction.  The 'English settlers' come from Manhattan, which is at war with Brooklyn (and other NY boroughs).  The men who come to the land of Virginia work for a company, the Manhattan Company, who want to establish an outpost to compete against the other NY boroughs.  John Ratliff's (the leader) mother is the girlfriend to the CEO, hence his position.   The men need supplies and food, though meet their match with the local 'Indians' of Jamestown.  Though these 'Indians' speak English and are only red because they use of sunblock.  The land and water is polluted and poisonous but somehow, this group of Indians have learned how to adapt.  Pocahontas, who speaks a combination of Ebonics, Valley Girl, text language, Algonquin, and Old English uses a cell phone to communicate to Johnny Rolfe (the hospitality ambassador), who she falls in love with immediately.   The book paints a world similar to The Road and also takes history and makes it into a modern sex farce.  Disgusting at times and uproariously funny at others, it is sometimes hard to follow but in general, it's a great read.
Functioning Corpses: A Zombie Eat Human World

  • World War Z by Max Brooks: The movie is coming out soon starring Brad Pitt but I strongly advocate skipping it and just reading the book.  This is a winner in terms of zombie fiction and I would argue it created the genre.  Sure, zombie fiction existed before this book was written but this made the genre into something popular and serious.  What's more is that it's a book written about the collapse of society at the onset of an uncontrollable virus and its socio-economic repercussions.  I like that the book takes the reader on a journey throughout the world and we see how different countries and societies deal with this unstoppable disease, ie. zombies.  The virus begins in China, though it is not directly known how.  A lot is left up to the imagination as to what exactly the virus is that reanimates humans into walking dead.  The scenes are realistic, especially where there are people fleeing for their lives on I-80 in Nebraska.  I picture this scene so vividly because I was on the stretch of highway described, where thousands of zombies swarm to devour their prey.  You see what happens in cities and in rural areas.  There are scenes taking place in India, South Africa, the US, Russia, China, and the Middle East.  We see the before, during, and after.  Israel becomes a citadel where anyone who comes in doesn't leave and the IDF becomes a stronghold against zombies infiltrating the country that is the size of New Jersey.  A woman, who escapes with her family, sets up a remote town on stilts in Montana where walkways and doors to adjoining structures are designed to close themselves off in the case of a new outbreak.  What's scary is that in this world, zombies can walk on the bottom of oceans and lakes, always to be a concern to people living on shores and beaches in case they wash up.  The threat never completely goes away, though the world creates a new reality out far different from what anyone knew before.
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead: This is a smart, artistically written novel about New York City's demise as a metropolis and empire that just so happens to also be about zombies.  The zombies in this book are referred to as 'skels' and 'stragglers', both of which are described.  The main character, Mark Spitz, is a 'sweeper' of lower Manhattan, and has to rid the city of any remaining corpses.  'Skels' are flesh eating zombies that must be put down immediately.  'Stragglers' are zombies who for some reason do not attack and are stuck in an existential state of mundane banality (ex. returning to work and xeroxing copies of nothing or pouring coffee for non-existent customers).  Spitz recounts how everything went down and talks about how he got to where he is now.  He was on a train home to Long Island from a wild weekend Atlantic City. At arriving home, he finds his mother, in what seems like an embarrassing sexual situation with his father, instead literally eating him.  Mark Spitz goes on the run up through New England, into Massachusetts and Connecticut.  He eventually finds his way to a refugee camp in Buffalo, NY of all places where he is trained as a 'sweeper' and meets others survivors.  Whatever we learn about Mark Spitz and his comrades doesn't matter, as the zombie problem becomes out of hand, as someone forgot to cap off the bottom of Manhattan from New Jersey and Brooklyn.  Oops!  The city of New York is as much a character as anyone else.  The landscape takes on a new life of its own and becomes more important than the zombies.  Not your typical zombie or apocalyptic novel.  It's smart, savvy, and well written.  I've also had the pleasure to meet Colson Whitehead where I told him most of this, and he was not only humble but thanked me for my positive and genuine appraisal of his novel.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion: A very different take on the zombie novel, in that the main character, R is a zombie.  So we get the action from the perspective of a zombie who begins changing and becoming more human as soon as he meets Julie, right after eating her boyfriend, Perry.  R hangs out in an old 747 in an airport with other zombies.  Their little enclave is led by 'bonies', skeletal zombie forms who rule over the other zombies and keep order.  Supposedly there is a taboo against zombies and humans fraternizing.  The pecking order is clear, zombies eat humans; humans run from zombies and try to kill them.  However, from the start, R has the power of semi-recognizable speech and is able to communicate with other zombies and humans alike.  This sets him apart and makes him not quite zombie, but not human either.  The fiction takes on a bit of a sci-fi twist as toward the end, some magical elements come into play.  You have to stretch your imagination, as many of the traditional rules of zombie fiction does not apply.  I enjoyed this book a lot, and if you do not align it with its shitty teenage love story cinematic component, then you'll have a good read.  That's not fair; I haven't seen the movie.  But the book is a winner and I feel that again, the movie ruins a purely legitimate piece of zombie fiction and makes it into mushy, 'parfums de coeur' shiny plastic crap.  
  • Zombie, Ohio (OH) and Zombie, Illinois (IL) by Scott Kenemore: I read both books, one after the other.  They aren't the best in terms of zombie fiction, though IL is better than OH.  I liked OH because it takes place at Kenton College (Kenyon College) my alma matter where Scott Kenemore also went.  The main character is a philosophy professor, Peter Mellor, who is at the end of his rope, literally.  He mysteriously dies in a car accident and wakes up as a zombie-human hybrid.  He can still reason like his former self but he has no memory of his former life and has a sudden insatiable hunger for human flesh.  On a quest for meaning, he decides to first try and lead a pack of zombies through rural Ohio.  Then, at finding his girlfriend and her daughters, he decides to try and help them instead.  He becomes 'famous' amongst the army who come from Cleveland and Columbus looking for any survivors.  What I like about this book is that it takes conventions and turn them on their head.  For instance, zombies do like to eat brains and it is mostly the recently deceased that rise from the dead.  In other words, you have to be dead to be a zombie.  Most scenes where humans are bitten or eaten by zombies, they are too consumed to come back as zombies.  It is more akin to Shaun of the Dead in its comedy and poke at the genre's traditions and rules.  IL takes the reader into Chicago and explains exactly how the epidemic got started.  I like IL better as it plays with the political and socio-economic corruption that is rampant in Chicago.  That alone seems to be the cause for zombies in the first place, as bodies wash up from Lake Michigan and rise out of shallow, unmarked graves (if you catch my drift).  The story climaxes within the tunnels underneath Chicago where the corruption and grift of the city is alive and well.  I enjoyed both reads but both are very different and have different characters set in different locales and stories.  
I strongly urge you to check out all of these books.  And please, if you have any recommendations, yourself, send them my way.  As I said, I am a big fan of the zombie and apocalyptic fiction genre.  It is not to be confused with any dystopian novels, like A Clockwork Orange, Lord of the Flies1984, or Fahrenheit 451.  Although, I do like those as well.  I like to read about what happens after society collapses and breaks down.  What does the aftermath look like, despite how messy it might be.  That is an area of interest because I have a feeling that when the time comes to pick up the pieces of our reality that I'll be one of the people left to do it.  I depend on these books to tell me just how this will get done.  

The calm in the center of the storm,


Sunday, June 9, 2013

STOP..Tony Time

                                              'The Show Must Go On', 1991, Queen
                   (What I'd listen to immediately upon realizing I had not gotten a part or call-back)

This is the first time actually sitting down to watch 'The Tony's'. Christopher Durang deserves best play for 'Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike'. He is a genius! Remembering that his work was the first play I acted in at Kenyon and the first play I directed on my own. I also had the pleasure of meeting him a year ago. He's a very humble and nice person and enjoys meeting fans of his work. I had a long, genuine conversation and he promised to read my blog. I'm also glad that Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for her work 'Kinky Boots' which has broken many barriers. Watching the Tony's makes me really miss my theater days (acting,directing, teching). Here's to hoping I find my way back to that as well! I'll be here, in Brooklyn, writing plays even if none of them ever make it to the stage! I just write to keep myself connected to the theater world even if it's by a glittering shadow of a thread!

I actually dedicate this post to my grandmother, Lillian Brown Zabrack who was my true and my first theater teacher.  I was always acting out cartoons and movies in the living room, and she would watch.  She would tell me stories using many voices and imitating many characters' mannerisms, one being 'The Soda Clerk' (which I still remember distinctly).  She wanted to be a famous actress, herself, and even had an acting and dancing school in NYC with her sister, Mae, at one point.  My grandmother never got to be a movie star.  But she taught her grandson everything she knew.  My grandmother taught me how to memorize lines and how to enunciate.  When I had to memorize poems in elementary school, she gave me pointers on how to be more dramatic and where to pause (short pause after commas and long pauses after periods).

She even tried to teach me tap dancing and took me to a few of her classes.  I still remember how proud I was of her when she would perform at the Jewish Community Center.  One time she was a robot and tap danced her way into everyone's heart.  The best story is when her dance group, 'The Classy Kickers' went to be extras in a movie, 'King of the Hill'.  However, my grandma got on the wrong bus and actually ended up in the movie.  Her friends, unfortunately, did not.  I have a hunch that my grandma got on that bus on purpose.  She wanted to leave her legacy somehow.  She had a love for all things glitzy, like Vegas and Branson.  I'm sure she would have adored Dollywood had she the opportunity to go.  I have not seen the movie but I know to look for a derby hat.  However, it was because of my grandmother that I swore I would get on stage one day, though she never lived to see it. 

As I sit here watching The 2013 Tony Awards, I remember all of the wonderful times I have had within the theater world.  There have been many.  I have acted, directed, stage managed, and filled in various other technical theater roles from high school through college.  I still remember the first show that made me fall in love with theater and how I got 'bitten' by 'the bug'.  It was sophomore year of high school when I was transported to a different universe while watching 'Tommy' performed not by a bunch of high school kids but kids who could sing, dance, and act their way into another land.  I wanted to be part of that magic, and so I began my journey into the theater world.

I started out by doing technical theater.  I worked my way up the ladder.  I showed up to build sets on Saturday and after school.  I volunteered for run crew, and though it wasn't glorious it gave me the feeling that I was part of something, a world where I belonged.  All of the kids were nearly as eccentric and odd as I was.  So I looked forward to every moment spent around sets and stages.  What I longed for, however, was to act.  I tried out for a couple of plays but I did not end up getting a part.  See, I wasn't in any theater classes, since at my school, you had to pick one art class, and I chose band.  If I had it all to do over again, I'm not sure I would  have made the same choice.  I mean, don't get me wrong, I love music too.  I love every aspect of the arts, so making a kid like me pick was like asking a four year old to pick only one flavor of ice cream (out of a choice of at least 15).   Like the four year old wanting every single flavor, I wanted to try out every single art class available but I couldn't.

However, I am not regretful of getting into theater.  I have my high school theater teachers to thank for that, Patrick Huber and Carolyn Hood, to whom I will ALWAYS be indebted toward.  They sacrificed so much and put a lot on the line to make sure we had one hell of an amazing theater program (I realize this now being a teacher).  Also, they recognized my passion for theater and hunger to learn everything I could about that world.  Patrick saw that I was multi-faceted as an artist and could express myself in many ways.  He trusted me enough to draft plans to paint a set after a very talented set designer graduated.  He also cast me in my first play, 'A Prelude to a Kiss' where I played a priest, of all things.  It was the highlight of my Junior year.  After that play ended, I only wanted to act more.  I also tried my hand at writing plays and wrote my very first play (not very good) based on a horror movie I had seen.  I shamefully admit that though I made the play my own, that my work was too closely tied to the movie (which also wasn't very good).  However, I have Dan Piquet to thank for encouraging me to write plays and take me seriously.

Then, senior year, I had the luck somehow of getting cast as the male lead in our musical, 'No No Nanette'.  To say I was shocked was a complete understatement.  The lead roles (both male and female) usually went to kids who were cast in the musical all four years.  Kids who worked their way up from chorus to dance captain to nurse #2.  I skipped over that process.  The very first time anyone ever heard me sing publicly and it got me the lead role.  I still remember asking friends, 'How do I sound?'  Well, I think everyone was quite surprised that I could sing, including myself.  Carolyn Hood took a chance on a kid who was dying for the attention of the stage.  And I will never forget how nervous I was filling the shoes of people who had graduated before me.  I kept doubting myself and wondered if I could possibly fulfill all of my duties.  I still remember the one note that I got from Miss Hood.  She told me that, 'You are perfect.  I wouldn't change anything.'  This was coming from a director who was blunt and from an outside perspective would have seemed to be tearing into the actors.  However, I knew she was honest and had high standards which is why my knees were knocking.  But she gave me the confidence to go above and beyond even my own expectations.

I carried this confidence into college which is perhaps why I eventually dropped my drama major.  It's not that I thought I was hot shit or anything.  Actually, I've always had very low self-esteem and I can admit that now.  Even when people compliment me, I think they're lying.  So when I tried out for play after play in college and did not even get a call back, I was frustrated and distraught.  One time, a freshman hallmate took advantage of my raw emotions to get an A on an eavesdropping assignment for class.  Yea, that's the kind of manipulative and dirty games I was dealing with.   In my freshman drama class, there were a lot of fakers and insolent brats.  A lot of kids came to drama class pretending they knew everything and acted like their shit smelled like perfume and candy.  And there were no 'warm fuzzies' within the drama department.  It was mostly full of insecure and self-loathing, pretentious phonies (yes, I sound like Holden Caulfield).  But, I was the kid who sat in class and absorbed everything.  I wanted to learn everything I could about acting, playwriting, technical theater, directing.  But, I never got that chance.  I felt like a puppy who just wanted a chance to get into the proper obedience school with a trainer who saw my potential.

Instead, I got cold and austere vibes from many of the professors; I got envy and venom from fellow drama majors/students.  Clearly, they weren't as passionate as I was, right?  I actually rehearsed parts for plays I wanted to get into.  I took every single audition seriously and wanted so desperately to be noticed by any director.  I soon realized, however, that there was a ladder here too.  So, I started doing techie stuff.  My first role was in a Christopher Durang play, 'Beyond Therapy' that my friend Jillian directed.  I realized that you had to be cast in a play, even a student (non-mainstage) show to get noticed.  It wasn't until my sophomore year being Reverend Canon Chasuble in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' that I was even called back for a mainstage play.  It wasn't until I dropped my drama major during my Junior year that I was cast in a mainstage play, 'As You Like It'.   And I have Professor John Tazewell to thank for building my confidence and making me see that I actually had merit a person and contributed something to my college theater world.  Note that I also dropped my drama major because at that moment in my life, I decided to fully dedicate myself toward being an activist.  I felt that theater and activism were mutually exclusive.  Boy was I wrong.  It was during a summer in London that I fully realized this fact seeing plays that were both inspirational and political.

I also did my college abroad experience centered around theater.  I was in the Washington University Globe Theater program which taught me that there were clearly other ways to view theater that weren't through an Aristotelian lens.  That and I became frightened of one Jane Lapotaire who told me never to play Puck or she would 'haunt my dreams'.  I wanted her to say 'wow, you're the best actor I've seen since Lawrence Olivier' (not really, but yes really).  I always felt I had some special spark that other did not possess and that some seasoned actor or director would pull me aside and tell me to be their protege.  I hate admitting this now but there was a time when I wanted my name to be spoken in every single  household across America.  Some might call that an 'attention whore', but I call it being inspired having high expectations.  It's not that I really thought I was that talented, it's just that I really thought I had promise as some 'theatrical' force to be reckoned with.  I can admit this now because I think it's quite silly.  

I am sad to say that my interest in theater has dwindled and I'm not sure why.  My passion now is for teaching and I have done a little bit of dabbling into the theater world in my role as an educator.  However, I think about what the kid version of me would say.  He would kick my ass most likely.  See, there was a time that I wanted to actually be an actor.  Not necessarily a stage, theater actor, but a film or television actor.  I have been told (by people who know the biz) that I have a theatricality and 'face' for TV, for sitcoms.  I know I'm a pretty decent character actor.  My wife has even told me to get into doing voice over work.  However, I just feel too tired at this point in my life.  I feel like my disappointments outweigh my success at this juncture.  I can't even begin to think about what would happen if I went to a real audition.  Blowing it is not even a question.  I'm out of sync with who I used to be.  That and I feel like I peeked 15 years ago.  My psoriatic arthritis would not let me dance and my voice is definitely not as tightly trained as it once was (when I was singing for 6-7 hours a day). 

I do write plays still.  I owe that ability to college in that I got ingrained with an Aristotelian sense of drama and how it works.  I also took a playwriting class with a semi-recognizable playwright, WM (trust me, her plays aren't great).  We used to make fun of her plays back in freshman drama class.  And taking class with her made me realize that hacks don't make good teachers.  I got better feedback an encouragement from peers in my class than from her.  She did teach me, however, that writing makes good revenge.  Case in point.  It wasn't until I wrote a play as a final for an English Restoration Drama class that I even realized that I had some recognizable talent.  See, I was going to write a term paper and then at the last minute, I was like, what the hell am I doing?  We had a choice to write a play, and that's what I enjoy.  So during my all-nighter, I switched directions and in three hours, I had a forty page college sex farce.  My professor was shocked when I told her that I had gotten no encouragement with this skill, whatsoever, within the drama department.  Actually, she wasn't shocked as much as surprised.

So this is my story of heartache and a journey to find the light.  Being on stage is a place where I not only feel powerful and invincible but it's also a place where I feel like I belong.  Hopefully those hot lights will one day saturate my skin which has a thin layer of pancake make-up eyeliner (you know so your eyes pop).  I still have dreams where I'm told to go on and I don't know my lines.  That or I cannot find my costume, but I'm asked to go on anyway.  I have this dream of being on stage often.  I also have dreams that I'm on a television reality show (like Project Runway even though I cannot sew).  Yea, I have really weird dreams.  But something tells me that this whole being on stage thing isn't over.  Friend of mine just say 'oh you're taking a break'.  I remember, though that the bite by the theater bug is still glowing, though not as bright; it also doesn't have such a stinging pang anymore either. 

So here's to hoping that one day either one of my plays makes it somewhere or my talent (or what's left of it) as an actor or director gets me back on a stage, in a theater.  Who knows what the future holds.  Right now, I just hope to get back to teaching since I know that is my true calling.  If I end up doing theater related stuff on the side, then so be it.  Let the Fate Sisters do their work!  'Double, double, toil and trouble, cauldron burn and fire bubble..'

The show must go on,


                                                   'A Kind of Magic', 1986, Queen
                               (what I used to listen to in order to pump myself up before an audition)