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Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Ambition II: Still Hating Yourself and Loving It

A man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.
-- Marcus Aurelius

If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.
-- St. Augustine

Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us. Its appetite grows keener by indulgence and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires.
-- Benjamin Franklin

Desire is the root of evil.
-- Gautama Siddharta

After focusing on real life for a while, I suppose it's time to return to the question of ambition that I've been avoiding because it feels like I need to write a thesis. Which I don't have time to write. But here are some casual thoughts on the replies below.

I'm not angry at my parents, and it doesn't feel right to me that others should condemn them for the way I was raised. As Adam said, I understand their motivation. Maybe it has a lot to do with the fact that my mother grew up in fairly horrific circumstances. One of ten children, she survived the Cultural Revolution by eating scraps and vermin before swimming to Hong Kong at the age of 22 to escape. I don't think anyone who hasn't experienced that kind of poverty and hardship can possibly understand what it takes to survive. I can philosophically ponder the necessity of ambition on the internet like a wanker; to my mother, ruthless tenacity and the relentless drive to succeed were needed just to keep from dying and climb out of the gutter.

Actually, I find I often connect with children-of-immigrants because they have a similar relationship with their parents. When people survive a war, or famine, or the Holocaust, or some kind of displacement, and manage to pick themselves up and move across the world to find a better life, they frequently seem to come out of it with a similar appreciation of ambition and hard work. Or maybe it was in their temperament to begin with, and that's why they immigrated. Chicken/egg.

Abuse is a very loaded word. I do not consider myself abused, but I don't know where I draw the line on what "abuse" is. Certainly, sexual abuse is abuse. Beating. Malicious intent. Neglect. Beyond that, it's hard for me to say exactly what is absolutely right and wrong. Who sets the standard? I'm sure I could point to any parent on the planet and find something in their technique to call abuse; all parents make mistakes. When does a mistake become abuse? When does it even become a mistake?

My mother considers the laissez-faire parenting practices of many Western families to be child abuse. I'm not kidding; she's expressed this opinion many times. A classmate of mine was very intelligent but didn't study or perform well academically; my mother privately criticized her parents for not having the courage and strength to push their child to achieve. To her, failing to engender ambition in one's children is akin to failing to teach them moral values or the basic skills needed to survive in the world. My mother has the same reaction to the "Be proud of yourself! Just do your best! Be whatever you want to be!" style of parenting as (I assume) you have watching incompetent parents struggle with their undisciplined, useless brats on Nanny 911 or Maury. She just draws the line in a different place. "Why wouldn't every good parent want their child to succeed, to be the best?"

It's easy to read my last entry on ambition and assume I had a deeply unhappy childhood, but I really didn't. There were moments of disappointment, awkwardness, unhappiness - sure, even terror - but I also remember distinctly not wanting to grow up because I loved the life I led. I was taught to love learning, and I was never denied the fulfillment of that desire. I loved achieving, and I loved being the smart kid. I was given a lot of trust and social self-determination. I never wanted materially, and was treated to ridiculous experiences way beyond our socio-economic status, like family trips overseas and a hoity-toity private school that I loved attending -- for god's sake, I went to Space Camp. When I recall my childhood, it averages out to a pretty good one overall.

Similarly, I can see that some people might assume that I'm so driven to succeed that I don't enjoy my life because it's a means to an end. No -- if that were the case, I'd be writing this blog entry between treating patients. I love what I do now, and I can't think of anything I've done in the last five years that was purely a means to an end and not personally fulfilling on its own (aside from a few jobs I've taken to pay rent). I've always believed the journey should be just as wonderful as the destination (which is why I really don't care if someone "spoils" a good movie for me).

So, why this discussion? As the title of these posts makes clear, I have one heck of a love/hate relationship with ambition, and I think ambition is one of the most ambivalently viewed human traits -- in any culture. We strive for contentment, but when someone claims to be content in a state we consider unworthy, we deride them for not being ambitious. Some consider ambition a dirty word and try to rid themselves of all desire (an endeavor which becomes an ambition in itself?). Others see this approach as a kind of oppression invented or re-purposed by those who wish to keep society static. Some believe that without ambition we are nothing. Others believe that ambition makes us slaves.

Do we want ambition, or don't we? How much do we want to achieve in life, and at what cost? Can ambition be turned off like a switch in order to achieve contentment, or does the abandonment of ambition cause a slow sink into resentment and self-loathing? Is there an acceptable middle ground?

I don't advocate paying too high a cost, but if you really believe that my experience was so terrible ... well, to paraphrase Bill Hicks a little: name ten people whose achievements you place in the highest regard, and I guarantee you that most of them will have a drive resulting from some hole in their self-esteem, probably created in their upbringing by their parents. Einstein may not have been gagged and put in a sack (that we know of), but Leopold Mozart placed *far* more pressure on young Wolfgang than my mother ever placed on me (jms, you didn't really think I was going to let that slide, did you?). Are we willing to give up the idea of operating at full potential and the possible results for the sake of a happy childhood or adult contentment? Is it a bad thing that I look at what I've done, and always think to myself, "It's not enough"? Isn't that what keeps one adding, walking, advancing?

The truth is, as much as ambition cripples my self-worth, I fucking love the rush of achieving. I love the motivation it gives me. I love the fact that I can make myself do amazing things by thinking myself into a hole and clawing my way out of it creatively. I love the competition, real or invented. I love the sense of primal satisfaction I feel a moment before I tell myself I'm not good enough, the job's not yet finished, and I ride off to slay another dragon.

But I don't know if it's right to love it.

[Incidentally: on this day, exactly twenty years ago, my mother was admitted to a psych ward for the first time. Ugh, no, don't weep for me or her, I just thought it was interesting.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Things more important

Sometime soon, I'll post a part two to the last entry, replying to people's thoughts (which are really great, thank you -- it's a good discussion). But here's a post to say that sometimes we all need to step back and remember how important life is. Just life. Breathing, eating, sleeping. And sometimes we get carried away with drama and love and ambition, but life is more important than all these things, and if we value it the right way, everything else will probably fall into place.

Cancer is a horrible thing, and my heart goes out to people whose families have been affected by it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ambition, or Hating Yourself and Loving It

Pronunciation: \am-'bi-shən\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin ambition-, ambitio, literally, act of soliciting for votes, from ambire
Date: 14th century
  1. a: an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power
    b: desire to achieve a particular end
  2. the object of ambition <her ambition is to start her own business>
  3. a desire for activity or exertion <felt sick and had no ambition>

The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious: if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answered it.

I've been thinking a lot about ambition lately -- about where it comes from, and whether it's a good or bad thing.

I grew up believing that ambition was paramount. Contentment was a dirty word, a state of mind which necessarily breeds stagnation, and which should be left to the inept and the elderly; we should never be content with ourselves and our lot in life, or we won't strive to better ourselves, I thought. Or think. I'm not sure. (That is the question.)

Ambition is a central concept to Chinese (even Asian) culture and outlook. Chinese parents foster ambition in their children in ways which seem brutal to those with a more Western outlook. I understand this, and hold no ill-will towards mine. My mother was ever watchful for and quick to quash laziness and complacency in her daughter. Through my elementary schooling, she rode me hard to achieve academically, and nothing was ever good enough. I remember breaking down in tears in class over test scores as high as 99%. My concerned or incredulous fellow students thought I was exaggerating when I explained how angry my mother would be, but I wasn't paranoid. I held back tears as I met my mother at the school gate, and when I showed her my exam, the first words out of her mouth would be "Only 99%?" I knew the rest of the evening would be spent listening to tirades about how careless I was and how much harder I needed to study. Even if I scored full marks, she'd never show any outward pride or affirmation, instead reminding me of past mistakes and counseling me not to become too confident lest I slip up the next time.

Here's the worst thing my parents ever did. I tell you this not to feel sorry for myself or shock you, but to illustrate how the will to achieve is forced upon kids by the culture in which I was raised. When I was three or four, I threw a tantrum because I didn't want to study. My parents tied me up, stuffed a tea towel into my mouth, and put me in a sack. I remember the smell and taste of the cloth between my teeth, and the tears running down my face and pooling under my cheek. The sack was made of some kind of polyester, which left me stifled and hot as I struggled and tried to scream. While I lay on the floor, they talked within earshot about how useless I was if I didn't work hard, and how they might as well dump me in Musgrave Park to be raised by Aborigines, who would make me drink metho.

This abhorrence, fear almost, of my laziness extended into my adulthood. When I was 24, for example, my mother and I had an enormous fight on the phone because she accused me of being lazy and having fun instead of working hard. At the time, I was working fifteen hours a day at three separate jobs.

I don't think this is particularly unusual for Chinese parents; it's far from the worst story I've heard (I was never kicked across a room, or threatened with amputation, or chained to a toilet). The point is that my parents, like many of their culture, deliberately and systematically undermined my self-esteem to engender ambition. I worked hard because I didn't want to be useless, and they worked hard to make me believe that uselessness was always a possibility. I wanted to make them proud, and they worked hard not to show they were proud so I would keep on working. They did this because, within their culture, doing so is an act of love. They believe that giving a child that unquenchable thirst for achievement is the best thing one can do as a parent, that the result might be the next Einstein or Mozart. It might be hard on your children in the short term, but in the end, they'll thank you, or if they don't, you'll at least know you did what needed to be done.

What makes people do great things? What drives individuals to earn more money than they could ever spend, or practice an instrument until they are the best in the world, or train until they win an Olympic medal, or ignore personal relationships for art, or kill themselves studying radium? It seems common sense to me that many of the most successful people in the world are driven by the same kind of neurosis, stamped upon them by parents or circumstances in the same way. We're never good enough, we have to try to be good enough, we keep trying, sacrificing everything. Some succeed, some don't, but success on that level isn't possible without that abnormal drive. If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, the greater part of genius is the ability to make the effort.

(Not that I'm a genius. Logic - cats - four legs.)

But this affects us in other ways too. We catastrophize. When your whole life is spent imagining the worst in order to avoid it and capitalizing on the intoxicatingly potent power of self-hatred, it can be hard to turn that off. Unfortunately, while such a schema might succeed when you're finding the motivation to improve a test score from 99% to 100% or impress people with your myriad accomplishments, it might mean that you assume the worst in personal relationships, that you're crippled by feelings of inadequacy. The very thing that makes you do the great things you were programmed to do necessitates terrible insecurities that sabotage happiness.

I'm trying to figure out where my priorities lie. What do I want out of life? Is it OK to be content after all? Should there be compromise, and where should the compromise intersect the opposing viewpoints? I'm struggling with that question. There's a large part of me that still holds contentment in contempt and believes in the schema. But another part sees the damage that it causes and wonders if it's worth it. I don't know what the answer is, or what will come of it. We'll see, I guess.

Monkey Hat

About a year ago, I was walking with Matt on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia just as most of the cute little stores on that street were closing. In the window of one store, I spotted the most awesome collection of knitted animal hats ever. I vowed to come back when the store was open and buy one.

Six months later when I began working in Philly full-time, I searched incessantly during my lunch and after hours for that store. Seriously, I spent hours and hours trudging up and down Chestnut, even branching out to Market, Sansom, Walnut and all the cross streets in case I had mistaken the location. Nada. I also searched furiously on eBay, but could never find the enchanting hats I remembered. I gave up.

But! Today, as I was working on South Street ... I saw them! The store that had once been on Chestnut had moved to South! I bought a monkey hat on the spot. Next, I want the frog, and then the rooster.

They are made/imported, incidentally, by Peruvian Trading Company. They're hard to track down online. I love my Monkey Hat.

Oh, and here's a picture from Monday that I also took with my Blackberry. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Village Productions

Starting this September, I'll be teaching drama classes and private lessons at Village Productions in Pottstown (I know, I've already talked to them about possibly working on the website). The company have found themselves a permanent facility for the first time -- an old furniture warehouse is being transformed into the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, or TriPAC. I visited the site for the first time today, and I'm tremendously excited about it because (a) I'm renovation-nuts and (b) watching a theatre take shape like this is kind of cool.

Here's the main stage, which will be a black box. That's an orchestra loft above the stage, although the set-up will be very flexible so that the stage and audience risers can be configured any which way within the space.

On the second level are offices and three large classrooms, which can be combined by folding away acoustic wall panels to form a second performance area, shown here. (N.B. exposed brick wall at the right is being preserved as-is, aha!) I'll be teaching four classes a week in this space.

This is the fourth wall from the last shot, because metal studs and foil-backed insulation bales look sweet.

In the basement is a fairly extensive backstage area (green room, dressing rooms with sinks, two showers!) and costume/scenic workshops, as well as a couple of private studios where I'll be giving one-on-one coaching. This is a shot from the scenic workshop through exposed studs into the green room. You can see plumbing hookups for the green room kitchenette on the lower left, and on the right is the entrance to one of the dressing rooms.

So, yay. Everyone enroll your kids and your neighbors' kids in classes here, please.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sub-Lyme news

I received notification in the mail today that Barry the tick was found to be negative for Lyme disease bacteria! Still, screw him for biting me. Death to all ticks.

I have some nice news on the job front, too: seems I will be playing Ophelia in Philly next year. Stay tuned for more on that. I am incredibly excited but also a little pensive because the last time I played Ophelia, one of my dads died.

If you visit this blog regularly and possess the ability to read, you are aware that I have been experiencing some personal turbulence these past few months. Hopefully that is clearing up. There's a lot of hope going on. It's intense, but also kind of beautiful.

Friday, July 25, 2008

sky sky sky sky sky sky sky

On another note: Explosions in the Sky ... Lights in the Sky ... Skyhooks ... the universe is evidently trying to tell me something! No idea what. Look up?

I feel really awful tonight, so that may well be it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Paging theninhotline

I have lately been getting multiple e-mails per day asking for this, so here it is.

Lights in the Sky (Sibelius file - readable for free with Scorch)
Lights in the Sky (PDF)

I have no idea how to access the Hotline anymore, since the interface changed and nobody has let me know what to do. So I guess I'll just point everyone who's been asking to this blog entry until someone uploads the files to the site and posts a news article.

[Edit] Situation with the Hotline resolved; sheet music for Lights in the Sky is now available here on Know the Score.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Another sketch

Ain't got a model, so I have to keep drawing myself.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That I, one Snout by name, present a wall.

FIRST -- BEFORE PICS. Here is the wall when we bought the house -- it's the wall in the back, through the arch, covered in plaster, awful wallpaper, and (shudder) baby blue trim.

Here is the wall after the plaster had been chipped away. As I said in my last post, it was like this for months.

Here is the wall now:

And with the dining set moved out of the way:

I still obviously need to prime and paint the trim, and I need baseboard and crown molding (which I can't put up until I've sorted out threading another wire into that light switch). But there it is. Got me some pride.

The Wall

To help me get through what has been, to put it mildly, a trying time, I am focusing a lot of my energy on a wall. Months and months ago, Matt and I (with help from Chris and Stefania) exposed a brick wall in our house by painstakingly chiseling away hundreds of pounds of dilapidated horsehair plaster. The bricks were never meant to be seen -- they were chipped and broken and covered in plaster dust, and century-old mortar oozed all over them -- but an exposed brick wall was tantalizing. There's a beautiful exposed brick wall at National Mechanics, for instance. But gee, it seemed like such a lot of work. I often wondered if it would be easier to just paint over it, though that would ruin the effect of the natural brick. Months and months passed.

In the last week, though, I took it on as a kind of therapeutic project. And gee (again), were we ever right about it being a lot of work. I chipped all the extruded mortar away by hand. I painstakingly sanded each brick until it was clear of plaster and cement remnants, covering the interior of my house in dust and probably giving myself cancer in the process. I grouted until my fingers were raw from pushing slop between sharp brick edges. I brushed sealant on the cracked surfaces like a hermit painting delicate watercolors. It has been a labor of love and devotion. Every time I felt overwhelmed, I forced myself to get up and work on the wall. The nervous shake in my fingers and arms became the somewhat more bearable tremor of fatigue. Sometimes working on the wall took the place of eating and sleeping properly (like tonight).

The wall drove me crazy; the wall kept me sane. I told the wall secrets and listened for a response. I made bargains with the wall, convincing myself that it was a kind of talisman that would bring me luck. My mind filled with metaphors about stripping away facades and repairing the substance beneath until it was beautiful.

It's nearing completion, and I think it is going to be beautiful. Not perfect, and it won't solve any of my problems, but beautiful. Tomorrow, if the last of the grout dries properly, I'll finish sealing and put up the trim around the two doorways through it, and then I'll show you pictures. I'm afraid, though, the way I get when I'm nearing the end of a good book. What will I do when my friend the wall doesn't need me anymore?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Tell-Tale Heart

Cheesy sketches a la 1995/1996. Call it getting back to my roots, or something. Don't worry, my tongue is jammed with great gusto into my cheek.

Speaking of heart-rending (and at all not of really terrible art), wowwwwwww, everyone should come to see this play I'm reading. Especially anyone in the least bit familiar with my current situation, which is about seven people in the world, most of whom won't attend, but nevertheless. Not only is it a great play, in the tradition of great plays that leave you devastated and unable to speak afterward, but it speaks to my life and my family's life, past and present, in a frightening way. Sections of the revised script were actually uttered by me, in real life, about a week and a half ago. I almost want to start wearing a tinfoil hat to rehearsal in case the playwright is reading my mind. It's kind of like when a good friend of mine was in Spring Awakening. Although, on second thought, maybe nothing could be that intense. But it's bad. In a good way. It's like therapy every day. For pay!

Friday, July 18, 2008

O my lord, my lord, I have been so affrighted!

It's the stuff of nightmares. Well, my nightmares. An hour ago in rehearsal, I was stroking my arm (weird habit during reading rehearsals), when my fingers brushed over something that felt like a piece of grit.

I brushed a little harder, but it didn't fall off.

I looked down. Was it a flea? It was about the size of a small flea. I grabbed it quickly between two fingernails, and was surprised to find I had to pull it out of my skin with a little "pop." I brought it close to my face to take a good look.

That right there is a deer tick, and the one I pulled out of my arm was the first I've seen in person. I am pretty sure he's a boy, and I am naming him Barry. I had the presence of mind to hold onto Barry after making sure he was dead, and I stuck him on the back of a price label peeled off a water bottle until I could secure him properly between strips of plastic during a suitable break in rehearsal.

Luckily for me (not so much for him), my good friend Clark has been going through Lyme disease hell for a couple of months, which has been very educational (and heartbreaking, but he's getting better). Following his instructions, on Monday I'm going to a Lyme literate doctor for a course of doxycycline, because I just called my usual doctor's office; they don't seem to have a clue, and it doesn't sound like it would be easy to convince them of the benefits of getting one. I also found a lab in Jersey who will test a tick for Lyme for $60 (again, after being told by my regular doctor's office that there was no way to test a tick for Lyme). I am sending Barry away to the lab today. I won't miss him, but I hope he gets there safely.

I hope I'm being overly cautious. The last thing I need is Lyme disease. Though, oddly enough, I kind of enjoyed the burst of activity this scare has brought; it's better than the self-pitying drunken moping I've been indulging in lately, or the bouts of constructive self-harm.

(Constructive self-harm is when you, for instance, work on your house with your hands so hard and for such long stretches that it still hurts to type twenty-four hours later. But the house! I made such progress!)

I really need that "illness" tag, don't I?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Explosions in the Sky

Tonight I started listening to this band because I had Friday Night Lights playing in the background while I worked on the house all day, and I liked the music more than anything else. Sounds like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's the first music in weeks (months?) I've been able to listen to and ... enjoy may not be the write word. It gives me a kind of sweet pain and sometimes makes my arms break out in hard gooseflesh.

Ten minutes ago, I found their MySpace profile, and played the first track "Yasmin the Light." As the climax approached, I heard a loud crack, and I glanced out the window beside me just in time to see a burst of green and purple in the sky. The chances of a leftover firework from July 4th being ignited at the right time and in the right place, with me seated at the right angle, combined with the fact of the band's name and the nature of their music, had me in tears with completely indescribable emotion. Sometimes I don't know quite what the universe is doing with me, but I think it's giving me a pretty wild ride.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heartburn, Ironically* -- or, Am I Having a Midlife Crisis at Age 28?

Last week, I learned that if I am juuuust stressed enough, I get some crazy digestion problems which involve having no appetite, throwing up half my meals when I force myself to eat, and getting reflux after eating the other half. I've never had that happen before, so I suppose I was more stressed than I've ever been. It certainly felt so. Alternatively, I'm old and don't deal with stress as well as I used to.

I should probably have a tag 'illness' for this blog, because it seems a good proportion of my posts are about medical problems; I recall a stretch a couple of years ago when I mostly discussed the terrorism committed by my urinary tract, which the rest of my body views with Republican-like paranoia to this day. I can't bring myself to create the label, however, because I already feel I'm turning into an old woman.

On the phone this week, my mother informed me matter-of-factly that I am now middle-aged, since I might as well be thirty.

She also received my new headshot in the mail, and her only comment? "You're getting old."
"But do you like the picture?" I pressed, offended hysteria rising like the bile in my acid-etched esophagus.
"Weeell, I guess you look pretty, but you're old. There are so many lines around your eyes. I took it to the tenant in the front flat, and he said, 'She's aging. It's natural.'"

I sent her a spiteful e-mail afterward asking (sarcastically) if she would send me money for plastic surgery so I don't disappoint her in future photographs. I guess I should call her to kiss and make up sometime tonight.

The headshot in question can currently be viewed on my Facebook and MySpace profiles, in case you're curious.

*The irony is that my heartburn is caused by affairs of the heart -- and neither of these ailments has anything to do with the cardiac organ. Suck it, Alanis Morrisette.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Soooo ...

Life is more complicated than anyone can ever imagine. Enough said about that.

In not-really-life related news: I am excited to be starting work at PlayPenn tomorrow -- I have two weeks of rehearsal for a staged reading of a new play, Another Man's Son. I will be playing Lucine, who is an Armenian, and I will probably have to whip out an American accent. Yes, that's American, not Armenian, which is a relief, but I still think it looks funny written out.

I've been teaching week-long theatre camps, and while they are ludicrously satisfying (personally, not financially), they are also incredibly exhausting. Last week I had to look after twenty campers, nineteen of whom were between the ages of 5 and 8, from nine till four every day without a break -- I sit with them and keep them entertained through lunch as well. There were tears every single day from at least one of the campers, and quite often there were tears from me as soon as I stepped through my front door again. But they did put on a lovely show at the end of it, and even though I feel like I spent half my time disciplining them, they were super-affectionate. The week before, I taught Hamlet to a class of five kids aged seven through eleven, culminating in a performance of the final fight. Srsly. (Most bizarre part: the seven-year-old understood the play better than anyone.) I have two more camps to teach; the last is a musical theatre camp for which I am a little nervous because I don't really have a clue.

The next two weeks are going to be tough for reasons I'm (again) not going to go into. Uh, into which I'm not going to go. Uh. I don't really want to go into the reasons. Suffice to say that I'm going to try focusing on reading, writing, and ... cello-ing in my spare time, which is somehow simultaneously too scarce and not scarce enough. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

4am crazy

I refused point blank to have these words said at my wedding because (a) how entirely unoriginal, and (b) it's a Bible quote, and God knows I'm not big on the Bible. But, God help me, I just woke up singing a hymn I remember from primary school based on 1 Corinthians 13. I know: cue mental hives. Not least because my mother sometimes used to wake up singing hymns in the middle of the night right before it was time to put her in the car and pack her off to hospital.

Love is patient and kind,
Love is not jealous or proud,
Never selfish or rude,
Won't demand its own way,
Love will never end.

Love does not take offense
and keeps no score of misdeeds ...

I am sure these are the lyrics. I even remember the chord changes with some degree of accuracy (requires Sibelius Scorch).

Then I searched all over the internet to find the exact wording for the end of the second verse, and the internet could not provide. I'm not sure how that's even possible.

Anyway, the point is, maybe I should have. But I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiration (non-pulmonary).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I speak like Cate Blanchett

I've been in the US a while now, and the incidence of accent foibles has decreased over time, but every now and then I still have a good one.

Yesterday I auditioned for a Shakespeare show at a theater where I've never worked. I was late, as usual, but they were running behind anyway, so there wasn't much chitchat before I began. I ran through the first side and stopped for comment. The director and his assistant both gave me a funny look.

"Um ... you ... You've obviously done a lot of vocal work. But you're using RP."

I stared at them blankly wondering if RP was some crazy American vocal technique.

"Received Pronunciation. Can you do it in your normal accent?"

My god. My god! They thought I was one of those annoying wanker Americans who pretend they're British when they do Shakespeare. I hate those actors; I couldn't believe they assumed I was one of them! I wanted to run out of the room screaming and take a shower.

"I'm Australian." I said it slowly in an effort to hide my creeping outrage.

Blank stare again, this time from both of them.

"This IS my normal accent."

"You're Australian?"

"Yes, but I don't sound like Steve Irwin. I sound more like Cate Blanchett." I couldn't believe I was having this conversation.

"Oh, uh, well, can you just sound less ... polished? Just be yourself."

So I faked having a lazy Australian accent for Shakespeare. I should have just done it in an American accent. Or, as Sean suggested when he heard the story, I should have gone balls to the wall and done the entire thing sounding exactly like Paul Hogan.

Note to self: always, always find a way to slip my Australian heritage into pre-audition chitchat, no matter how short or clumsy. "It's hot today, isn't it? Oh, but not so hot as it is back home in the outback with kangaroos and shrimp on the barbie. I said as much to my mate Judy Davis when I phoned home to the Land Down Under last weekend." Something like that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Now We Are Six

Here's something I've been meaning to do for a while. When I was a wee little kid, I kept a diary. By this, I mean my mother made me keep a diary. Every day, in addition to mathematics homework she would devise for me above my regular schoolwork, I had to write at least a page before I was allowed to play.

I'm kind of grateful for the diaries now, because reading words you wrote before you were a real person is a surreal and wonderful thing. Here are a couple of entries from when I was six.

I am still struggling a little with tense here:

Here is Jim and the Beanstalk, in case you too want to lose an argument with your child regarding the pronunciation of the word 'oculist.'

Also, I was already taking great pleasure in arguing with my parents at age six. How could they not have predicted the household havoc this was to cause a few short years later?

Cf. previous blog entry and Twitter status.

Yes, I must make an admission, which I have hitherto been too ashamed to make publicly. I did not have my own bed until I was six; prior to this age, I slept in the same bed as my mother, while my stepdad had his own bed in another room. The point of posting this entry, however, was to demonstrate that I grew up renovating. The "settled life" part is a bonus crack-up.

A play a day keeps the doctor away.

I love that I thought the prize was going to be a blue ribbon; when it turned out to be a book a week later, I went back to my diary and changed my entry because I couldn't stand to be wrong. (Also: I wanted a blue ribbon!?)

I know, I know, I before E. And 'favorate.' And obviously I was having some trouble capitalizing. Cut me some slack -- where are your childhood journals?

The thing that gets me here is that I was so shy and so determined to get over it. When I looked into teachers' eyes, I would shake like I was having a full-body muscle spasm. I didn't get past this problem for another six or seven years at least.

I don't know if I ever told this story before on this blog. If I did, and you read it, apologies. Here it is again.

My parents were always renovating, and I always wanted to help. When I was six, though, the only jobs I could be trusted with were small, symbolic tasks like sorting screws into boxes. One day, when I was bothering her in a particularly annoying way to give me something to do, my mother decided to try setting me an impossible task, in the hope I would get tired and quit.

"Go drag that roll of wall-to-wall carpet up that flight of stairs."

Alas, Mum forgot that I am my mother's daughter, and somewhere in the top five on the list of our shared character traits is the word 'stubborn.' Actually, it's more like 'STUBBORN,' written in ten-foot-tall letters in still-dripping mule blood. I completed the impossible task. And I ruptured myself in the process and required surgery for an inguinal hernia.

Yeah, ANTS! That is how a child learns about the Circle of Life -- by playing God with ants, not some goddamn cartoon with lions.

("their're"!? Palm -> forehead.)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sleep is bad for you

I have been running on four to six hours sleep a night for weeks. Then, on Thursday, I decided to go wild and allow myself twelve whole hours of shut-eye. On Friday, I slept for an additional eight hours.

On Saturday, I got sick.

I should have known better. You know how your immune system somehow knows when you go on a relaxing vacation and lets all the floating viruses and bacteria take hold? "Oh, pressure's off, I see, right you are -- time to collect some new antibodies." I always seemed to be sick for the first two weeks of every holiday as a kid. I guess my immune system, misunderstanding my indulgence, thought I didn't have anything better to do with my time than fight off an infection or two.

This only confirms my theory that sleep is stupid.

On Saturday, I started feeling a sore throat and a fever. On Saturday night, I went to see LunchLady Doris (great stuff!), and then discovered I was dizzy. I napped before driving home and crashing into bed. In the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom, but the dizziness got the better of me, and I fell down the stairs.

And broke my little toe.

I tried very hard to go without analgesics all weekend, hoping the fever would kill off the infection faster, but this morning I couldn't stand it any more and dragged myself to a doctor. My temperature was at 101.7degF (38.7degC). OK, give me drugs and weepy self-pity, I'm obviously not going to kill this thing on my own.

The gratifying news is that the taping job I did on my toe is all anyone ever does for broken little toes anyway, so the doc advised I just leave it at that and not bother with x-rays. I guess that means I don't really know for sure if the bone is broken. I mean, it hurts like hell, and there's a massive bruise, but it's not really displaced, and the swelling could be worse; at worst, it's fractured. I've never broken a bone before. Does this count? It could just be a bad sprain.

The bad news is that I'm going to be limping about for weeks. I have several promo gigs coming up, all of which require me to be on my feet for hours at a stretch, and I have an audition on Friday for the kind of character you don't really envision as a cripple.

The good news from weeks ago is that I will be performing in Another Man's Son at PlayPenn, a new play development conference at InterAct Theatre this July. My first non-Shakespeare in four and a half years. Can it speak on stage without pentameter or archaic pronouns? Time will tell.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bananas taste the best and are the best for you.

Yesterday, I worked as Miss Chiquita Banana at the opening of a Harris Teeter store in southern Delaware. Afterwards, I took a detour east and caught my first look at the Atlantic Ocean from the shore. It's hard to believe, but in the years I've been in the States, I haven't had the chance to see an East Coast beach until now. And what better to do at a deserted windy beach than take a few narcissistic melancholy self-portraits:

And for those of you who want a damn good laugh, here. I have a new-found respect for Carmen Miranda; my hat was filled with fake foam fruit, but it was still incredibly heavy -- and I wasn't even dancing. Carmen must have had a neck of steel.

One more review of the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival season appeared in the Broad Street Review with some nice comments about me and my headshot right at the top.

I installed a new stereo in my car. I screwed something up and blew a fuse, and in the process of replacing the fuse, I did exactly the same thing as this guy. Thank god for the internet -- until I found that thread, I was driving around town setting off my car alarm every time I accidentally tried to turn on my dome light.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm OK, You're OK

I'm finding myself again through copious amounts of reading and cryptic crosswords. Currently, I'm halfway through Foucault's Pendulum*, and my favorite free online cryptic is The Herald's, though the one in the Mirror is a nice ego boost, since it's stupendously easy.

*Wow, check out those reviews. Maybe this makes me some sort of "intelligentsia-wannabe," but ... people think this is a difficult read? I suppose it's because I've been force-feeding myself nothing but Proust on the toilet for months. Eco's plot races along like a Stephen King novel compared with In Search of Lost Time; I feel like I'm on a vacation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Next week will be better

The 2004 Hyundai Accent apparently hasn't hit the salvage market yet, which is certainly a good sign for the 2004 Hyundai Accent, but a terrible blow to my poor smashed car. Replacement parts for the hood, lights, and radiator are so expensive to source new that my car has been declared totaled. I tried not to take the news too hard, but I'm depressed -- mostly, I think, because I find the entire episode incredibly embarrassing.

Yesterday I went to the body shop to clear all the possessions out of my car. I had forgotten how much I live out of my vehicle; there were three garbage bags of crap to carry away, including street maps for eight Pennsylvania counties and Washington DC, various stuffed toys (Baby Cthulhu!) and bulky bedding materials, so I had to take a taxi back to the theater. Unfortunately, the cab I hailed wouldn't accept a credit card (I'm pretty sure that's illegal, but meh) and I only had six bucks in my pocket, which wasn't enough to cover the journey. However, the driver started ranting to me about the Second Coming (we only have three years left, who knew?), and in a wily move that would make my mother proud, I humored him so lavishly that he knocked about four bucks off my fare and took me the whole way. Oh, you should have heard me. I ought to become an evangelist.

Today I'm going to a dealership called "Deals on Wheels" (seriously) in Levittown, where resides a car of the exact same make, model, and year as my dead car, but in black. The asking price is almost exactly what my insurance company is paying out, but there are 7,000 miles less on the odometer. I'm going to try to talk the price down some because the previous owner installed one of those stupid coffee-can-sized tailpipes. What the hell is the point of those things? [EDIT] That car was waaay too riced out, BUT the dealer had this car on the lot, and I'm buying it!! $4500 for an Elantra GT is pretty awesome, I think. It's bigger, but gets better gas mileage, and it has a SUNROOF! It's also a manual, but I can deal with that.

Gay City News says nice things about Pericles.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Madam, I am not well.

Today (yesterday), I crashed my car.

This week is up there. Really up there.

I'm fine. The car is going to need some work.

I want to fall down a hole and never climb out.

I can do nothing but cry and cry, and wish and wish. Wishes are agnostic prayers, I suppose.

The rift between the levels of success in my personal and professional lives continues to broaden: the Broad Street Review loved Pericles, and said some lovely things about me.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Frabjous day

Personally it's raining, professionally the sun is out and the birds are singing.

Yesterday I discovered that I won the Gangemi composition scholarship at West Chester, which is lovely. I did a happy dance in the dressing room.

That afternoon, I received a call from Mike Lemon casting in Philly, asking if I'd do a voiceover gig on Friday. I have an appointment to get on their books next week, so it's kind of awesome that I'm being offered jobs before then.

I just cried on stage in Juliet's "Romeo is banished" scene for the first time -- usually I reserve the tears for the second act, which will probably suffer as a result, but yay for the "banished" scene.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


And if that weren't all bad enough, my mother back home has lost her mind again. In the wrong season, too. Most strange. Most rare.

Mixed in with my dread of the inevitable crash is a measure of envy. Her insistent late-night/early-morning voicemail messages are quite mad, but at least she's having a good time, being in the grips of a full-blown joyous mania which is making her happier than any normal mortal can be without the assistance of methylenedioxymethamphetamine.

Here's a direct transcript of her most telling message to date, left at 5:52am on Tuesday. Her voice starts off loud and gets steadily louder. By the time the phone cuts out, she is screaming.

"Hello, Melissa. Hello, Melissa? Hey! I'm very happy. You know what I found out? Hey? Ah hahhhh! The America tried to kill the communism, and all the communism is the animals, you know? The monkey - you. And the lamb, Matt. And I am ... I am the mother of you, so I am monkey! Hahahah! And then, we join together, and kill the human beings! That's the American! Understand, Melissa?

"Melissa? Melissa? I love you! I love you, sweetheart! Listen to me! I want to tell the whole world that I LOVE YOU! NOBODY CAN TAKE YOU AWAY FROM ME! OK, DARLING? LISTEN TO ME, I--"

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

In a matter of months, six at the most, I've thought myself into a black hole. With nothing but brainwaves, I've turned a life of near perfection into a quagmire. I hate myself for it. I don't know what to do.

I'm so afraid of being alone. I always have been. Yet, for the first time, I also feel like I need to prove something to myself, by myself. My dismal scene I needs must act alone. Something like that.

Fuck. It's a selfish thought. It's not just my life. For the first time, I baulk at the idea that my life is not entirely my own. I have never been in this situation. I don't know why I'm having these thoughts now. I don't know where they come from. They are destructive and disastrous. I shouldn't be having them. I shouldn't be writing them down.

I don't know what to do. I don't know what would be best for everyone. Maybe, in a few days, I'll bleed and stop being so goddamn dramatic. It could all be nothing, just so much bullshit in the mind of a woman with bad genes who is becoming increasingly right-brained as she ages. (Stupid aside: which way do you see the dancer turning? I stare as hard as I can, focus my eyes every which way, and I can only see her going clockwise. If I scroll down so I can only see her foot, can make her go the other way, but blink hard, and it's clockwise again.)

This is so awful. I feel like I'm in an abyss. What am I doing.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A review and a poem.

A review (of Pericles) (a nice one).

A poem (of Yeats) (an excerpt).

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Remember the clusterfuck of a backlog the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services experienced after they jacked up the price of citizenship last year? Eh, you probably don't, but I sure do, because I became eligible for citizenship three days after the price hike, so not only did I have to pay $700 to apply, I was sure that the insane pile-up of applications directly before me would hold up my application past this November at least.

Apparently, however, publicity over the backlog has caused someone to throw money at the problem, because I just got a letter requesting that I appear for my naturalization interview (and civics exam) on May 30! Assuming I pass, I may be naturalized on the spot, or at the worst, at a swearing in ceremony a few weeks later. Holy shit! I'm going to be a citizen! I'm going to vote! I could make money on the side as a notary! I no longer need to fear deportation every time I get a traffic ticket!

I'm so excited. I'm going to find and buy the cheesiest Americana sweater in the world to wear to the interview. And then, as soon as I get my papers, I'm going to buy and wear this shirt as an expression of my FREE SPEECH AMERICAN VALUES RONPAULRPONPAUL:

In cat news, it turns out Hunter does not have hyperthyroidism or any kind of wacky disease that would show up in her blood work. I am relieved that she won't have to take pills for the rest of her life! But in the meantime, I have to keep shoving diarrhoea pills down her throat twice a day, so she hates me, and there's the prospect of paying more money for more diagnostics down the road if it doesn't clear up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hunter the cat is sick

Hunter has lately had blood in her stools. I finally had enough of a break in my schedule to take her to the vet this morning, and discovered that she has lost a bunch of weight since the last time she was in the clinic, and the vet suspects hyperthyroidism. She is having some bloodwork done (poor thing, she has tough veins, and the vet had to stick her so many times to get a sample), and I should know for sure what's wrong in a couple of days.

I am sad.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moving pictures

I still haven't seen There Will Be Blood (cursed time, money, and mood), but like most of the internet, my gleeful attention was attracted by the I-drink-your-milkshake thing. Damon, the actor who plays Pericles, being aware of my glee, agreed to perform the following for the benefit of all:

Speaking of movies, I just discovered that Ron Fricke is making a sequel to Baraka, and it should be out later this year. Delight! The new film is called Samsara, and I will travel to see it if I must.

Pericles is currently in tech - we preview Wednesday and open Friday. A touch of bronchitis and exhaustion have left me slightly demotivated and petulant, but yesterday I bought a Yamaha GO46, so hopefully? I should write some music? Soon? I'd better; I'm supposed to have a computer music piece performed April 5 at West Chester U.

Friday, March 21, 2008


For the first time since I came to the US, I am catching a shit-tonne of public transport. I used to ride the train or bus every day when I lived in Australia, which encouraged a particular skill set, which I describe here because, sadly, 90% of Americans have no idea what it is to catch public transport every day:
  1. People watching. The most basic of skills on public transport, and one of its primary joys. I delight in eavesdropping on other people's conversations and phone calls, and watching the little tics people have when they're stuck in a public place with nothing to do and no privacy. I'm a better actor for it.

  2. The Fuck-Off Vibe. This is more of an art than a skill, and I consider it a mental state, though the vibe can be assisted with physical blocking devices such as sunglasses, headphones, and reading material. As its name suggests, the fuck-off vibe is necessary when you absolutely don't want to interact with anyone. When employed successfully, even the mentally ill, the mentally challenged, and panhandlers will leave you alone. I used to pride myself on my flawless fuck-off vibe in Sydney until the day I took an amazing yoga class, and it VANISHED. I was riding the bus home from yoga with giant headphones clamped to my ears, sunglasses covering my eyes, and obviously reading a book, and nevertheless every person who sat next to me felt the immediate need to engage me in conversation.

  3. Auto-Sleep. When I lived in Summer Hill and worked in North Sydney, my daily train commute was 45-minutes each way, with a transfer in the middle. I trained myself to fall asleep the minute I took my seat, and wake up right before my station each time by willing my unconscious mind to listen for station names. This only failed to work once when I was coming home stupendously drunk from a party. I ended up at the end of the line. I don't remember how I got home that night.

Whenever people have asked me what I miss most about Australia, I say public transportation. And the weather, but mostly public transport. So it's been a pleasure to get back into the swing of it.

The most disturbing incident I have to report so far while riding SEPTA (South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) occurred a few weeks ago, when a pretty black girl caught the R5 along with me. I was sewing children's costumes for my YMCA class on the way home, when I turned and noticed her sitting across the aisle, staring at me. I flashed her a smile, and turned back to my stitches.

"Yeah, that's right, you keep sewing, you fucking nigger," she said quietly through her death-stare.
"... Excuse me?"
"You heard what I said. You fucking nigger. You dirty fucking whore."

Then she got up and moved further forward in the carriage. I thought of possible ways I could defend myself against a budding schizophrenic with my sewing scissors, but luckily, although she disembarked at my stop, she instead shone her crazy on the hapless conductor, who received a nice gob of saliva on his uniform.

More recently, it seems I have tapped into some interesting SEPTA karma. My fuck-off vibe is obviously malfunctioning, so I have embraced my accessibility somewhat by attempting to be fairly pleasant on the train. Strangely, it's as though SEPTA is being pleasant in return. After helping a tourist find his way to 30th Street and unload his bags, I realized that my phone, which had been missing for several days, might have slipped from my grasp during my auto-sleep home one night. On a whim, I stopped at Passenger Services on my way to work ... and my phone was there. Someone had handed it in. I mean, really, when does that ever happen?

The next day, I offered a seat to an old man with sore feet who proceeded to have a conversation with me about immigrating from the Middle East (he left Kuwait two days before Iraq invaded) and making tabouleh ... and I enjoyed the conversation -- wondrous strange! Later, I thought I had missed my train home by six minutes and would have to wait an hour for the next one, only to find that my train was exactly six minutes late and waiting for me. Karma.

Things to do before I die, number I forget: Start a SEPTA religion, with an associated martial art and monasteries.

Monday, March 17, 2008


I am sick for the second time in two weeks - I blame theater and kissing. This combination was also responsible for my mono/Epstein Barr infection in 1999, so I have some history with it.

I am so behind in school work, I feel in serious danger of exploding my 4.0 this semester, which is why I am up at two in the morning trying desperately to shift the phlegm-coated and solidly rusted gearstick in my head from "acting" to "composing." Yes, I knew this would happen. But I hoped it wouldn't.

So far, I have opened Cubase, Sibelius, and Word. I am unsure whether this all-in approach will galvanize me into action, or merely dissipate my focus. Perhaps I should instead try to open only one program at a time. I will probably spend at least another fifteen minutes pondering this decision.

I should probably eat something. Maybe go to the toilet again. Oh, I just thought of an e-mail I could send. I would save time if I did all three at once, but that would not be hygienic.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Funniest Story Ever Told

Following the Romeo & Juliet preview on Wednesday night, Mike, one of the actors at Philly Shakes, was unlocking his bicycle outside the theatre when he overheard a conversation between two little old ladies who had just seen the play.

"The girl who played Juliet was so well spoken. She's the best Navajo actor I've ever seen."
"Navajo!? Betty, didn't you hear her accent? She's Australian!"
"Australian? Oh, what kind of Indian is that?"

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Two tracks from the Gonzales Cantata

Currently, when I'm not rehearsing with the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, I'm supposedly working on my composition degree. As I think I've mentioned on here in the past, one piece I'm working on is a cantata based on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings of Alberto Gonzales.

Because half the reason I'm writing it is that hardly anyone I speak to in the real world seems to know anything whatsoever about Gonzales, it's pretty unashamedly pop neo-Baroque. It's about half-finished; I guess it will be about 40-45 minutes long when it's done. I created the libretto from the actual transcripts, and for shits and giggles, I reversed the genders of all the performers, so every role (Gonzales, Specter, Leahy, etc, who also all double as the chorus) is sung by a soprano or alto, with the exception of Diane Feinstein, who is a tenor. Instrumentation is chamber strings and harpsichord.

Anyway, I had two pieces from the cantata played at a new music concert at my college the other day, and I recorded a rehearsal:

Freedom Overture (har har har, it's a French overture, geddit?)
Aria: "Differently" (Gonzales)

Text excerpted from US Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, April 19, 2007.

GONZALES: Looking back,
things that I would have done differently?
I should have told him,
And I think he should have --
I should have asked him
I should have told him the factors
that I thought were important for him to consider.
I should have told him,
And I think I would have told him --
I should have told him,
And we should have a list.
I think these are the things --
I think these are the kinds of things, in hindsight,
that I wish would have happened.
I think it's also unfair
(I think it’s all so unfair)
It is clear that we struggled -- not struggled –
Where we made a mistake, clearly -- I think --
is once we said "performance,"
we should have defined that.
Because performance, for me, means lots of things.
It means whether or not you've got leadership skills,
whether or not you've got management skills.
It may mean whether or not
you support the president.
It may mean that you don't have --
that you have a sufficient --
that you have relationships.
And so there are lots of things that fall within
the definition of performance-related.
And I think that we should --
we should have defined what we meant by that.

(This aria comes right before the final chorale of the cantata - "God Bless America" - and is composed of cut up quotes from the hearing -- his stumbles, mostly.)

Anyway, it's just a crappy recording from a rehearsal, but I thought I would put it out there to kick my own arse into finishing it.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Reaction video

Today I staged my very own you-know-what reaction video on members of the cast.

Watch Andrew on the left, who was just passing by and seems to have regretted his curiosity.

What's seen cannot be unseen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Many little updates

Things you may not know about me, since I have been so slack in blogging, I haven't mentioned them.

Months ago, I got a free 30Gb Zune as a result of doing promotions for Zune at the Tweeter Center all summer. It is pretty boss, although I think the software is a little buggy and non-customizable. Still, I prefer it to iTunes and I rather enjoy shunning membership of the iPod borg.

I did get that job teaching theater at my local YMCA, and it's a load of fun, although after factoring in (a) the money I spend out of my own pocket organizing costumes for the performances because HOLY CHRIST HOW DO THEY EXPECT SMALL CHILDREN TO PERFORM WITHOUT COSTUMES, (b) the hours I spend putting together lesson plans and writing at least two scripts per semester, and (c) the fact I have zero time to take advantage of the free Y membership, I am actually losing money in the enterprise. But the kids are great.

Yesterday I called in sick to the YMCA because I was running a fever and had a sore throat from hell, and the woman in charge of youth programs had the hide to get tetchy and borderline rude about it. Like I have some sort of obligation to ignore debilitating malady for a $9-an-hour job.

I've decided that one day, when all my other ideas have dried up, I'd like to open my own drama school, where I can teach my own (AMEB/TCL) way. They'll start with learning how to recite poetry properly, then move onto monologues, and they'll get a good grounding in the physiology of voice production. I'll even run an eisteddfod, old-school-Australian-style. My graduates will land every theatrical and cinematic child role in Philadelphia, because nobody is teaching the next generation of actors how to audition, nobody.

Last night, thanks to an unexpected windfall, I did the UNTHINKABLE. I bought a guitar. A GUITAR. This is all thanks to an anti-Ron-Paul punk song* I wrote at the end of last semester. I discovered that my hands are too small to comfortably play bar chords, so I began looking into smaller guitars. My next revelation was that guitars are, on the whole, too heavy and would probably kill my neck after prolongued playing, so I searched for something lighter. Finally, the cheapskate in me wanted a great deal. Behold:

Daisy Rock's Stardust Retro-H semi-hollow electric guitar has been discontinued, so it's possible to find them for only $150 delivered. It's ordered and on its way.

Apparently I am going through a fulfillment phase of gear lust, because I also recently became the proud owner of one of these:

Years ago, I heard Brian Eno play with a Korg Kaoss Pad in a radio interview, improvising Autechre-style beats. Covetousness was instant. Two weeks ago, Matt found one on Craigslist for $200.

WRONG MAN = flowers and/or chocolates for Valentine's Day. LAME.
RIGHT MAN = Kaoss Pad 2 for Valentine's Day. YES.

Last year, after deciding that enough was enough, I decided to give antidepressants a try, specifically fluoxetine, as I was (am) pretty sure my SADS is getting worse. It was an interesting experience, sometimes negative, sometimes positive. On the negative side, I was neurotic and anxious for the first few weeks, my sleep patterns went haywire, and I continually had mildly disturbing dreams. On the positive side, my PMS disappeared. In fact, when I told Matt one day that it was that time of the month, he was stunned by my complete lack of symptoms. On the I-can't-decide-if-it's-good-or-bad side, Prozac took the edge off my drive. I didn't feel like I had to kill myself to do well at school, for example. This perhaps resulted in some substandard work, but I also allowed myself to relax more than I usually do, which some people claim is a healthy way to live.

We're coming into spring, and the dreams were becoming annoying, so I took myself off them. No side effects of cessation to report so far. The dreams, which I will document in a later entry, have gone away. A recent study says Prozac is useless, which is interesting.

I'm about to head into tech week for Romeo & Juliet. As previously mentioned, I am sick as a dog.

*I did actually record this, though it seemed stupid to put it online after Ron Paul received his expected drubbing in the primaries. Still, maybe I'll post it for lolz sometime.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

OK, wow, I have a lot of links accumulated

Obviously, I have barely enough time to blog. I'm going to try and catch up on chronicling my life later today, but for now, I just realized I have a TONNE of links stored up in draft form which I haven't posted. Thus:

The more observant will notice that the events list at the right there is now officially working, and I have a bunch of new widgets which are probably worthless and will never be used. We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recording of 'Black Thunder' from the Kimmel Center

For everyone who couldn't make it to the Poetry Project concert at the Kimmel Center last week (or for those who want to hear my piece again), here is a recording of Black Thunder taken on the night. Enjoy!

And some reviews/mentions are in:

  • Philadelphia Inquirer: "In the second half, Luke Stromberg's marvelous poem "Black Thunder," about the aftereffects of drink, was given an appropriately bluesy haze by Melissa Dunphy."

  • John Clare: "Notable was Melissa Dunphy's Black Thunder. Not only is she a friend, it turns out she is a delightful composer, writing very idoimatic for piano trio and baritone, but also with great sensitivity for the words and music."

  • Lesley Valdes, WRTI Critic-At-Large: "Melissa Dunphy's setting of Luke Stromberg's Black Thunder reflects the extravagance and paranoia of young love and its powerful ending."

Friday, January 18, 2008


There are a few things that still need cleaning up and implementing, but welcome to my new site! Updates to follow.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Brunettes into Blondes

Something that occurs to me, while I'm on the subject of Tim Burton movies, is that this is the third Burton movie I have seen in which he takes an actress who looks her best in short, straight naturally dark hair, and gives her long blonde curly locks which look horrendous. See: Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands, Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow, and now Laura Michelle Kelly in Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney, SWEENEY

I saw Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd the other night. It was ... okay. I will concede that this musical was written to be directed by Tim Burton, or maybe that Tim Burton was born to direct this musical. And I love the music. But ... as much as I admire Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp, I just didn't buy them as singing stars. It smacked of Moulin Rouge, which is not to say it was anywhere near as bad as that turd, but smacking of a turd is never a good thing.

What bothered me most of all, to the point where it was all I could hear, and I was gritting my teeth and swallowing hard in an effort not to hiss, was that Depp kept closing off his N's all the bloody time.

"But there's no place like Lonnnnnnnnnnndonnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!"

"Not onnnnnnnnnnne mannnnnnnnnnn, no, nor tennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn mennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, nor a hunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnndred can assuage me."

Jesus Christ, was there not one real singer on set to tell him that this sounds like balls?

I think the kid who played Toby was probably the best thing about this movie. Him, and the blood. Oh, and Sasha Baron-Cohen's penis.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Black Man versus the White Woman

There is no doubt that American culture is both racist and sexist. I think it's more sexist than racist.

Observe that black men were able to vote in the USA in 1870, almost fifty years before that same right was extended to women by the nineteenth amendment in 1919. It seems plain to me that that same lag is true today, particularly, of course, in considering the campaign race for the Democratic presidential nominee.

The worst tragedy, in my mind, is that the culture of oppression of women is so insidious and pervasive that women do a fine job openly oppressing themselves. On NPR, I have heard vox pops segments in which women claim that the USA shouldn't have a female president - that it gives an impression of weakness on the world stage in a dangerous time. Can you imagine a black person saying that the United States shouldn't have a black president for the same reasons?

While women are among the strongest supporters of Hillary Clinton, they are also among her most vehement detractors. I don't buy speculation that this has anything whatsoever to do with her policies. This is an election based on hearts, not heads. And it seems some women's hearts are stuck quite firmly and openly in a subservient position.

God help black women.

I suppose I have fairly "radical" views when it comes to American politics. I come from a country where quality education is cheap or free, people are willing to pay higher taxes for better public services, and socialized health care is the norm. While I may be significantly further left on the political spectrum than the Clintons, I know that sudden "radical" change isn't feasible. When students protested in Beijing in 1989, they didn't achieve any kind of freedom for themselves; in fact, they made their situation far worse as the government tightened controls and further suppressed their rights. The vast majority of the Chinese population today - even the educated students - haven't even seen the pictures of a lone man standing before a tank which are so famous in the West. The real changes that have occurred in China in the last twenty years have been made slowly by liberal progressives within the Communist Party, with minimum chaos and upheaval. It's the same process of change that has occurred in this country, in the opposite political direction, with the rise of the neocons. If we are to reverse this process, it needs to be done slowly, and electing a "centrist" may well be what needs to happen. Even if she's further right than Nixon.

Now you've seen it all - I, the stereotypical Arian Monkey with a penchant for living as quickly as possible, am advocating patience. Am I growing up?

Hopefully I'll live another fifty years and be around to see the day when a female American president will have a chance.