Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Because Some Things Can't be Explained in 180 Characters or Less.

Yeah, I know I have a project that I need to keep people abreast of. To sum up: Two weeks turned into two months. All the ducks are in a row, the editing software is downloaded, the pictures have been taken, music has been considered and megabytes of space have been made. Progress, however, has been stagnant due to (wait for it)...

...writer's block...

To be sure, it's moving forward. I still need to take some extra footage and I have to take more care into making sure that the subject matter doesn't fall flat, which it probably will anyway. In the meantime, this was posted by a friend of mine on his Facebook page. Since viewing this, I couldn't get enough of it. It's a decent jolt of inspiration. I wanted to put this here so I can share the goodness with you. I also wanted to put this here I can come back to this whenever I get a loss for words. This was a final project of a film student by the name of Ronnie Bruce and hosted by the good folks over at vimeo. The poem is by renowned Slam Poet, Taylor Mali. I don't think I can say anymore, enjoy.

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Video Project: Week 2


I'd like to start off by saying that Monday through Wednesday was a wash. By the time I was able to do anything related to this project, my eyes were crossing and my head was inching closer and closer to my desk, which sucks, because I spend eight hours a day, five days a week doing that at work. If I'm fading at home and work, it's probably a good idea to get to bed a little earlier. Preferably, before Letterman starts his Top Ten List.

By Thursday, it was time to reassess and revisit the mission at hand, which was install Ubuntu on a USB drive so I can take it with me where ever I go, and so it won't partition my hard drive. For me, for someone whose computer expertise knowledge has atrophied and hasn't been updated since the late Nineties, it's a little bit of a daunting task. For other people...it's a Wednesday. Ubuntu, the new OS that I've got waiting on a CD ready to be loaded onto a USB, was not doing me any good just laying dormant on a digitized, circular piece of plastic. It was essentially a Geek coaster for Geek drinks, a Geek Frisbee for inter-office extreme golf tournaments.  Since this Operating System is used and updated by a different breed of computer people, the nature of this beast is that it's constantly being tweaked and updated on pretty much a quarterly basis. Not to mention that the days aren't going to get any longer, and the end of December may as well be the day after tomorrow. This needs to move forward this week, otherwise, there is no point. If I don't pull the trigger now, tomorrow, I might be dealing with a whole new set of problems on a whole new operating system.

I have sought and received boatloads of help from people I'm in correspondence with. People who know what they're doing. People who have been using this for a while. The problem is, as helpful and wonderful as they are...and they are...they are going off instructions from say, eight months ago. Therefore, speaking in terms of technology, the information that I'm receiving is already antiquated. Trepidation hinders me. Maybe it mostly comes from that guy gene (You know, that guy gene. The one that makes us never stop and ask for directions.) Working with old instructions does little to help with new technology, and sometimes, I don't need my hand held or to be spoon fed. Sometimes, I'm keen to figure it out myself. Although, sometimes, it's nice to know it's there.

It's exactly like stopping and asking for directions; you know your destination is right around the corner, you just need someone else to see it. You want to ask. You want that warm, matronly caress of assurance to come out of someone's mouth to prove that you're not going crazy and that you know what you're doing and where you're going. But when all you have at the end of the day to rely on is blind faith, and hopefully a little dumb luck, you have to make the best out of what you got.

"Enough of this doubt thing," my inner dialogue screaming at me. "You're a big boy now. Onward, or give up." Disc loaded in the drive: check. USB drive installed: check. Ability to press F8 at startup: check. Hold your breath, make sure you rise up slowly or you may get the bends. The first step is the hardest, all you have to do is let go."

12:50...press Return....
The trigger was pulled late on a Friday Night. At start-up,  it was all systems go and everything looking like it was supposed to. Small success. Now, for my next amazing trick, I shall put this on my USB stick and make it bootable! This is where I consulted my crib notes of the information that was given to me. When I was there, I was supposed to....*squints at chicken scratch*, "tell Ubuntu to install as 'Persistent Install' so it will be forced to the USB drive.' " What I didn't bother to write down was the part about, "most newer computers will recognize the drive anyway". I was preparing myself a long night of trial and error. I was coming to terms with the notion that I just may not know what I'm doing. After about a half hour of side-stepping land mines that weren't there and "taking five" to regroup, I realized that this new version of the operating system has already done the leg work for me. Click install.

....Holy Crap! It's working....

Three cheers and a tiger for me, that part is done. Onward and upward. It's Sunday. Girlfriend and the Littlest have gone on a play date, the oldest is about ready to spend the day at her Grammy's. I have the afternoon to myself. Today will be installing applications and downloading pics and clips. This week, I will focus on taking more b-roll and writing a rough draft of a script.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Video Project: Week 1


Major hiccup.

And this isn't in regards to the Diet Mountain Dew I just threw back. This is in regards to me biting off more than I can chew. And this is another habit that I really have to change (the Mountain Dew part, not the biting part....okay, maybe the biting part too). If I'm ready to engage in some serious time on a project such as this, I have to fuel up on a highly caffeinated, sparkly beverage. Not cool when I just finished a couple of cups of coffee and now my eyes are focusing on things that are on opposite sides of the room. Not cool when I have other obligations coming at me like a mudslide, like a 9 year old's birthday. But still, I'm a good boy all week and a little jacking up won't hurt for a day or so. Sometimes, it's the only way to get the lawn mowed.

About a week previous, I was going about doing my nightly YouTube trolling duties. Off to the side of my  home page, where the showcase the brand new shiny videos. I clicked on this one, it itself was brand new; barely 500 hits, yet it was trending upward, so it was worthy of a view.

Blown away. End of story. In my opinion, it was on par with anything that comes out of the House of Mouse or Dreamworks, but on a different level. What blew me away even further, was the way it was produced.

For a fraction of the cost of a usual summer blockbuster (almost $600,000, the lion's share coming from online donations), groups of animators and amateur filmmakers from around the world contributed time, money and talent to finish this project in a matter of months. This almost fifteen minute long epic wasn't the product of HP or anything belongs in the Apple library, this was made with something called Blender. Now, for the untold hundreds of you using a Linux operating system, please allow me to break it down to my underprivileged Windows-Using Folk.

Since the inception of Windows 7, Widows People, like me, who like to post things on YouTube and in the process, finally got used to the persistently buggy Windows Movie Maker were faced with the terrible dilemma of freedom. The latest version of the Widows operating system does NOT include Movie Maker (a fact in which I'm still scratching my head over, because the computer that we got is specifically designed to handle massive amounts of media...whatever). Faced with the absence of the only movie editor one has ever known, one would be presented with a number of options. The first would be to be one of the devoted, go to the Windows Live website, download the latest version of Movie Maker, grin and bear it (even with the latest version, it's still a little wonky), and go about your business of stitching together pictures of your grandmother's birthday party with some cheesy transition effects, throwing in whatever music you have lying around over it and calling it good. OR, capturing and posting your latest accomplishment of leveling up on Call of Duty so you can brag about it to the world. The second would be to totally freak out and get a Mac (!). The third, and I think this is what the developers had in mind all along, is that you go out on your own to either purchase software, or to find a comparable application. Hopefully for free. The terrible dilemma here is that it's a huge market with many caveats and pitfalls. You just want something that works, something that's friendly, that isn't going to bust you, and maybe just evolve with you as your talent grows.

So, where to begin?

Before I go any further, I'd just like to point out that I finally, after years it seems, took a legitimate vacation. The type of vacation that let's get out of Dodge for a while, not the kind where you stay at home in your pajamas. A real vacation! I took pictures on this trip, as anyone going on a trip would do. I also took some video with my little Sony Digital Camera that I bought years ago. But my footage wasn't of anything significant, it was more like B-roll. It was B-roll that was shot with full intention of it becoming B-roll. Before I snapped my first picture on this trip, I was committed to the idea that I was going to make a small movie that was disguised as a vlog with dreams of becoming a documentary. I had an ambition to make it better than the first one I made. It was time to move forward and become an actual filmmaker, and to finally admit to myself that I didn't give up the fight. After all these years, I still have at least one creative bone in my body.

Okay, back to the present...

So, I watched the video above, fell in love with it, left a comment on it to the effect of, "Well I was going to start on my video project this weekend, but after seeing this, I kind of don't see the point now. *sulk*" Which prompted the weekend video warriors to come out of the woodwork and exclaim, "No! Go for it!" etc. One such person engaged me in a game of message tag.

He asked why I was using Windows Movie Maker.
I told him that that was the only option available to me.
He told me that the movie I just watched and commented on was made on Blender, which I could find online and use for free.
I said, "No way?!"
He said, "Way!"
I said, "I have to have this!" Because anything that is capable of making a movie like this that's available to the public like books in a library is damn near impossible for me to pass up. Especially when I'm looking to step up my game. Not that I'm planning on producing any animated epics...yet, but if their editing applications fit what I'm looking for, this will be mine. Oh yes...this WILL be mine!

He then directed me to something called kdenlive, an open source video editor which works and plays well with Blender, and at first glance, looks like it may crush anything that Windows ever made as far as movie editing applications. After some research, I felt the deep, primal need to use this and to hide it under rock in case tribe from other village come and take.

Now, this is how the rest of my week went:

In order for me to get this application, I have to download it. In order to download it, I have to have Linux (even though they say you can do this in Windows, what they really mean is that you have to have Linux in the mix on another partition). In order to do that, I may have to make some room on my hard drive, which I'm not too crazy about. But, wait! There's a way that I can get what I need without performing brain surgery on my computer!

Visions of a super-neato-keen operating system are all I see. 
So without giving it another thought, I get myself an 8GB USB Flash Drive. It came in about 3 days, this was a good time to further investigate the operating system that I will be using. It's called Ubuntu; think of the all the highlights of Windows, Mac and Linux, thrown into a casserole dish, baked at 350° for 45 minutes and served with a side of asparagus. By this time, it was the weekend again. By this time, my message tagging friend contacted me after a few days after I tried to confirm with him that I can do a full install on a flash drive. Taking these baby steps kind of bothers me. My days are taken up, but at night, I try to get in as much of this as I can between familial obligations and sleep, which leaves a very small window. He says that I can load it directly on the flash drive, but it won't be a complete install. If I booted from a disc, let the operating system load, it should give me a prompt where I can load it on to the flash drive.

So, now I need a blank disc.

Borrowed one from my mother in law, went through the steps, got the installer, started loading it on the disc... ERROR! Bad disc. Since it wasn't re-writable, I was screwed until a got a fresh disc. Went to Office Depot, got a fat stack of discs (preparing for the worst), started over again, SUCCESS!

It is now a week later. I have the hardware. I have the software. I have the time. I have the frosty beverage. I have the ambition.

Now, I need to take the red pill and see how far the rabbit hole goes.....

......anytime, now......

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Psych Up

The little voice in my head is taking over tonight after a quiet moment.

"Okay. You've got you're shiny, new 8GB USB flash drive in the mail today. You've found launchpad and kdenlive and they're both ready to be loaded and played with. You've got more than a few pictures and B-roll clips from your vacation on your camera and cell phone waiting to be downloaded and spliced together. You've found a number of sites for royalty free music. Sure, most of them sound like porno music, but you've sifted through the rubbish and found a few that are exactly what you're looking for. On top of that, you've lined up a couple of CD's of your own, and for some strange, serendipitous reason, a score of you-tubing musicians have suddenly decided to become your friend. You've got a blank page in front of you, but it should be no problem filling it up, right? You've got plenty of time and all the resources you need, so let's get to work! C'mon, let's jump on that project! It's quiet right now. Your daughter is falling asleep and you don't have work tomorrow. Great! Let's go!.....Let's goo!.....Le...

...or, we can go to bed and work on it tomorrow.

Good plan. Just like old times...."

Friday, October 1, 2010

With a Little Help From My Friends....

I have an eight year old who has an interesting problem. She is constantly in trouble in school for being too...helpful. We have been told by counselors and teachers that she needs to focus more on what she's doing, rather than being involved with other people's affairs. It's a rare situation where I'm in agreement with the figures of authority. I see her do it. In certain measures. Weather it's lending a hand in a task that's just beyond her grasp or making a fussy child laugh despite herself. We were informed by these figures of authority that we should be mindful of her behavior, and develop habits that would draw her focus back to herself. On paper, this is a simple task; keep lines of communication open, be involved in everything that she's doing, you know, Dr. Spock's greatest hits... Since she's been in my life, her mother and I have made huge strides. But, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, she'll eventually revert back to becoming her typical nosy little self. She helps. More importantly, she tries to help; she makes an effort. In a situation where she can help, or she thinks she can help, she will. And I'm not completely sure I want to modify this little trait. Mostly because it's a sign of character, but partly because it reflects something in me.

It's not that I have an innate sense of lending a hand, it had to be drilled into me (only child syndrome). But as I grew older, I found myself helping in situations, not for any sort of personal or financial gain, but because it's the right thing to do, much to my detriment. Sounds familiar. And I know it's not just me. Many people attribute it to a higher power, "It's the Christian thing to do" whatever that means. No matter how ugly the human race shows itself to be, we also have an amazing capacity for charity, for giving, for helping, for doing the right thing, and when we are faced with the realization that there may be nothing that we can do to help, to become utterly helpless, we learn the other side of being human.

As of the time of this posting, I managed to visit my Jewel of the Northeast, Portland, ME for a day, and a lovely day it was. In that one day, I reunited with friends that I thought I would never see again, including my alter-ego, Jamie. She hasn't changed. Sure, she's married now and has two fantastic young boys and a fantastic husband, other than that, she is still the same thoughtful, wandering poet that she always was. As with all my friends, I keep up with their respective families and what they're up to via facebook. Before I left, I was introduced to Jamie's husband through a mutual friend. His name is Ken.

Ken keeps, to the best of his ability, a thoroughly engrossing blog, and I highly recommend you all follow it, here. What does he blog about? Family, for the most part. But recently, he has been blogging about an aneurysm he has developed in recent months. He is frightfully optimistic about it. If it were me, I would be screaming holy hell as soon as I heard the news. But he's handling it as if he were mildly inconvenienced, "Today, well let's see...today I have to go to the store, pick up my dry cleaning, dentist appointment, and oh yeah, I have to remove this humongous growth in my brain." It's a sign of character. It's a big thing with me.

As of tonight, Ken is in Intensive Care. He has been in and out of surgery for the past two days. I know very little of him. But what I do know is that he is the husband of one of the most crazy and brilliant women I know. I know that I will live a hundred years and never see her come to any harm, therefore by association, her family as well. I am the furthest thing from pious. I walked away from the fold many years ago. I've been sending out positive waves the best that I can, but at the end of the day, I can't help but feel...helpless.

Please, it will only take a few seconds. Please send out positive vibrations of your own, say a silent prayer, light a candle, do one good thing that will tip the balance of the universe into his favor. I've done all I can, which isn't much. I'm hoping the more positive people out there who are willing to help, the world will show it's better side again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I'll be the first to admit that I'm lazy. My Blog, in general, has been a little lonely for the past few months. This is attributed mainly to Facebook and all the time-killing, soul-sucking game applications that they provide. They're like potato chips, I tells ya! It's impossible to just have one!
In any case, it's time for my yearly remembrance of  New York. As always, my remembrance blogs on 9/11 aren't supposed to be tear-jerky, flag-wavy / gun-wavy, faux patriotic pity party. Nope. My intentions on this are purely aesthetic.
From about 1992 to around 1996, New York was my home. I tried my best to cram a lifetime's worth of experiences in a short amount of time, and to more or less of an extent, I succeeded. There were highs and lows that were pretty much par for the course and could be experienced just as easily in Bismark, North Dakota, or 97th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. Those I'll leave alone because the experiences that were most important to me were the ones in the middle; the experiences that were only poetic to me, the ones that deserved to have some sort of voice given to them. The everyday, the practically unspectacular, these are the stories that are the most important. 
Since about 2005, when I first started admitting personal character flaws online for everyone to see, I've done my best to share some of these stories with you on 9/11. This year, the Facebook addiction has sunk its claws deeper into my flesh, and as I tried to impart in last year's post, I'm almost out of these stories and may have to resort to making shit up. I embellish enough, I don't need to slap a thicker coat of gloss on my past. 
So anyway, I posted the following back in 2006. It was in response to a New York institution closing it's doors forever. I thought I'd re-post this for the following reasons:
  • See above re: Facebook, running out of material
  • I saw VH1's Top 100 Best Performers of all time last night and it was being hosted inside the former CBGB's club. It has been since turned into a tourist trap and museum...kind of made me nostalgic.
  • This blog entry fits because it falls into the category of how I'd like to remember New York.
The original Title of this was CBGB's RIP?!! OMG!! WTF!! I was remembering a time before the madness took over, a time that was only a few short years ago. Enjoy...

Things I Should've Done Before Leaving New York...Revisited

  • Tell her...anything! Just let her know you're alive.
  • Think up another excuse for getting a Junior's Cheesecake.
  • Disappear for an entire day at The Angelika.
  • Spend a few more days walking around SoHo.
  • See the Rockettes...at least once!
  • Get a CBGB's t-shirt (a real CBGB's t-shirt), and.....
  • Spend a few more Friday nights at CBGB's.

Get off the train at Delancey Street, head north until you get to Houston, then just follow the crowd to The Bowery. It shouldn't be too hard to miss. There, in the middle of a row converted, aging, factory brownstones, it sits with the majesty of a dirty snowball splattered against a fallen tree. A huge illuminated white awning with the letters CBGB OMFUG stitched into to the top of it. The big red letters frayed and flapping in the breeze through years of abuse. The light underneath showcases the years upon years of graphitti; a living testimony to the ghosts that have lingered for generations in the walls, the rafters, the sound system. This is not a rock-'n-roll heaven, this is a rock-'n-roll Valhalla.

You take a deep breath as you throw open the big wooden doors, not because of any foul stench, but because as soon as you walk in the place, you are immediately processed like a tv dinner. The regulars know the drill: keep at least one hand in your pocket when you walk in, make sure it's the pocket with your cash and your ID so you can show the doorperson. In one fluid movement you flash your card, and you give her the cash. She stamps your hand and you shuffle your way to the bar. Why make your way to the bar immediately? Because it's Saturday night in August. And if you don't act quickly, you are going to be one very thirsty, very sober individual for the rest of the night...or at least for the next few hours.

The bar resembles an offspring of a makeshift prison and a bank teller's counter. The term "open concept", familiar with regular bars, only applies to the area in front of the stage. You fight tooth and nail, elbow and asshole to get one overpriced domestic beer, but it's tricky to get the attention of the bartender through the vertical bars, chicken wire and the usual rogues' gallery of patrons. The bar may be ugly on the outside; scabbed and scarred by the continuing theme of graffiti and torn show posters that date back to the mid-Seventies, but I'm willing to bet that behind the bar, it's a well oiled machine dipped in gold.

Beer in hand, you turn to the left. You are now gazing upon history. Aside from the handful of well-worn tables and chairs that continuously recede from the front of the stage as the night rolls on--like seaweed that clings to the beach to mark the last high tide--the place is strangely cavernous and at the same time claustrophobic. Walls stretch up to at least twenty feet on two sides of you. Each one bares, and in no particular order, poster, begetting poster, begetting poster, like rings in a tree. You can almost make out the names of the Elders that performed there: Lou Reed, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, The Police, Talking Heads, Guns 'n Roses, P J Harvey, and on and on.

Your attention has now been diverted to the dimly lit stage. A mike check, feedback from a Marshall Stack, a drummer checking his levels, electrified and distorted guitar strings pluck nervous last minute scales. The house lights dim, and there's  a split second of static silence as the drummer clicks the cadence, "1...2...3..."

...Thank you, Almighty Rock Gods, for the bounty we are about to receive....

For over thirty years, CBGB, legendary venue, historical landmark, and Golden Fleece for veteran and up-and-coming Punks, New Wavers and Metalheads alike has been a launching pad for many, and a one-way ticket back to playing bar-mitzvahs for some.  It has been the genesis, the mecca, the epicenter. Not to discount or ignore Los Angeles and the Whiskey A-Go-Go. That venue has a richer history, and its roots run deep. On the other hand, unlike its East Coast cousin, it's not going away any time too soon.

As of the time of this posting, CBGB's has closed it's doors forever. No surprise, really, considering the neighbors have been complaining about the noise for years, the rent in Manhattan has almost gotten completely out of control, and the club's landlord has other plans for his building. Even after all of that, CB's always persevered when lease renewal time came around again. However, even the strongest can only hold out for so long under so much pressure.

Quoting Ben Sisario from the October 17th edition of the New York Times:

"It has been a long and painful denouement for CBGB. After settling in 2001 with its landlord, the Bowery Residents' Committee, over more than $300,000 in back rent, Mr. Kristal, a plucky, gray-bearded 75-year-old, landed back in court last year. The committee, which has an annual budget of $32 million and operates 18 shelters and other facilities throughout the city, said the club owed an additional $75,000 in unpaid rent increases..."

Tough break. This is all history by now. Long before the big wooden doors got padlocked last Sunday,the Chariman of the Bowery Residents' Committe stated that all accounts have been settled and there are no more debts left outstanding. Clean break.

So what now...? It would have appeared that Mr. Kristal (the owner) has adopted that good old fashioned American fortitude and moved West. Las Vegas, to be more precise. Nothing has been set in stone. No ground has been broken. No hands have been shaken and no signatures have been signed on bottom lines, but the wheels are already turning to carefully dismantle the club, piece by grafittied piece, and reassemble it exactly the way it was in the middle of the desert; "bat country", as it were. Personally, I cannot think of a more fitting place. If it were up to me, I'd set up shop there too.

Even though I'm so far removed from my adopted city, I can't help feeling sentimental, nostalgic and just a little sad. CBGB's was the next to fall in a long line of established clubs that have disappeared in recent years: The Bottom Line, The Luna Lounge, The Continental. All gone the way of the dodo in the name of progress. Newer clubs are gaining momentum in the Lower East Side, but it's not the same. It will never be the same. But...when I start thinking about it more, I realize that it's just a place. A place can be torn down and maybe relocated, but the idea of it will never go away. It's spirit lives on in every past, present and future musician who has ever uttered the phrase, "I remember our first gig at CBGB's..." Patti Smith put it best in the farewell performance last Sunday:

"CBGB is a state of mind. There's new kids with new ideas all over the world. They'll make their own places, it doesn't matter whether it's here or wherever it is..."

...See you in Vegas, my old friend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Turning All My Cheeks to the Wall.

Loaded Statement

Loaded Statement

Yep, the time has come to take a vacation from my leisure activities.

Facebook has been my wind-down activity for about a year now. After the kiddies go to bed, after the girlfriend goes to work, after all other responsibilities have been addressed, I would sit in front of my computer screen, and catch up with my friends old and new, 156 characters at a time.

And for a while, it was good. I would play some games, take a few quizzes, leave some comments and read some articles. At its worst, Facebook is a manipulative time-killer that sucks you into its fold to make you ignore the hours slipping by while you make another clever post about your boring day. At its best, it was a useful platform for budding programmers, target marketers, and raging fanboys. But as of lately, I've been joining the ranks of the evil liberal majority. I've been joining politically motivated fan groups whose agenda seems to be acting as the Ying to Fox News' Yang. Whenever the alleged mis-informed start spewing their vitriol, we would all be there to keep the record straight.

But at its worst, it is mentally exhausting to keep up with these morons who more than likely still won't be bothered to fact-check their own monologues. At its best...well, I'm not too sure what that would be. Don't get me wrong, I'm not flipping sides or anything. I'm still a blue-blooded, tree-huggin', progressive-thinkin', war-endin' Liberal. But I'm tired of screaming at the rain. So I say let the Fox News War Machine burn itself out. Let the racist and ignorant Teabaggers join the ranks of the Michigan Militia and shoot themselves in the foot (because after all, they asked for it). I need a break from facepalming myself every time something like this comes around:

The cycle has to stop. I need to not care for a while. Maybe in a week or a month, I'll be better humored. But in the meantime, I need to start posting again. I need to start posting things other than snarky comments on Facebook up to 156 characters at a time. I need to start writing things with a little more meaning and substance. I need a distraction, and Facebook just makes me sad. I'll be back on it someday, but for now, I need to wash my brain out with Listerine.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Slow Implosion, Part 1

It was early in my college career when I had the rare opportunity to work with Peter Schumann and the rest of his troupe from Vermont. It was 1991, around the time of the first Gulf War, which would explain their subsequent tour across the Northeast. They arrived almost unannounced, practically under cover of darkness, and immediately started setting up shop like they owned the place. How I came to work with them went something like this:

Loaded Statement

related [welcome2thewritersbloc.blogspot.com]
Loaded Statement

He literally led me out by the back of my shirt and placed me front and center of the (let's call her, the "Lieutenant") who was running the show. I had no idea how long she had been involved with the Theater, but judging the way she got in our faces like Gny. Sgt. Hartman, I had a feeling that she's been with them for a while, and been in the business a lot longer. She was sanctioned with the task of wrangling approximately a hundred or so other volunteers like me from the University's Theater, Music and Art Departments, (which as anyone who has ever been in that situation is no small task), and make them work harmoniously in a matter of an hour. She had a body of pure protein, and a voice that was still planted firmly in South American soil. She was unforgiving, cold, calculated and a ruthlessly efficient hard-ass. In other words, the perfect stage manager.

The Lieutenant then proceeded to kick all of our asses for the rest of the day. The play we performed, in typical Bread and Puppet fashion, took place outside, in the open air, in plain view of everyone. Begging, taunting, challenging passers-by to pay attention; the very essence of guerrilla theater. No indoor venue could ever contain their shows. Their backdrops are constructed by Mother Nature; amphitheaters of Earth and Sky are a much more effective tool when you incorporate their essence into everything you do.

As far as I was concerned, the entire theater were characters on a television show. They weren't real. They did not exist in my universe. They were far removed from my world; Something only to be read about in school text books. They are legend. Even though I was born and raised in New England, I only had a vague understanding of who they were or what they did. Shame on me because the Theater was and is a New England institution. I never in my life thought that I would actually see them in person, let alone ever have a chance to work with them.

A little background for the people too lazy to click on the link above:

Since 1963, a rag tag group of theater performers, musicians, mimes, acrobats, puppeteers and activists banded together to protest the war in Vietnam. Since then, one could usually find cells of them at random parades, protests and demonstrations from New York to Boston to Portland, Maine. Wherever and whenever there was an atrocity to exploit or movement to reinforce, they would be there in all their creepy, puppety goodness; Giving relatively sober people something to think about, and keeping the Freak Shows with heads full of chemicals a reason to stay on the sidewalk. Most of the players would wear masks, like some sort of modern chorus to a Greek Tragedy. Those who were especially talented would operate these larger than life, grotesquely beautiful and subversively crude, hand-crafted puppets. And by larger than life, I mean when fully constructed, some are able to hide a Mack truck cab, or at the very least, obfuscate a facade of a stand alone Starbucks. They would sing, dance, get in your face and at the end of the show you would be nourished by a loaf of bread that has been just been pulled out of an ancient, earthen oven by a quite energized Peter Schumann who got off his stilts and out of his costume long enough to keep the loaves from turning into really big croutons.

Now, if you still don't have the visual yet, here's a little taste. Not the Bread and Puppet, but a darn good facsimile:

It took all morning to rehearse. It took the better part of an afternoon to perform. It took the majority of three departments from the University to perform, and at the end, all of us, audience and volunteers alike, were treated to the freshest baked bread this side of the Nissen Bakery. During rehearsal, I had no idea how the finished product would look. But when all was said and done, it came together rather well. I came away with the sense of accomplishing something extraordinary that I would carry with me for the rest of my life, and I suppose that's what my professor had in mind all along.

For me, that night was more memorable than that day. That night, we were granted an audience with Mr. Schumann. That night, he gave a lecture not on the war in Iraq, or how to be civilly disobedient, or even how to make bread in a kiln that was thrown together in an hour. What he was going to lecture about, was how the Art of Puppetry was--in his words--the purest form of Art. Period.

Of course, none of us, not one of the hundred or so artists, musicians, actors and craftspeople had any idea what he was going to lecture about. We just knew that we spent the entire day taking part in history, and we were all a little buzzed from it. The lecture hall where it was taking place was where most of my classes were held so I was quite familiar with it. I have never seen it brimming to capacity as I have that night.

We all sat down. Mr. Schumann stated his hypothesis. We all listened. He went through pretty much every medium that exists and how they are "inherently flawed" and "how the real message gets lost in translation"; basically a soft spinning smear campaign against everything that we worked for. At the end, he asked if anyone had any questions. No one said a word, and yet there was nary a folded set of arms in the room, no silent displays of defiance. We all wanted to defend our respective craft, but for some reason none of us could come up with a singular, legitimate example disproving his theory.

I sat in the front row. I turned around to see the apparently perplexed faces around the room. On the surface, it looked as though everyone second guessed their reasons for ever becoming an artist to begin with. Although, I would like to think that they like I, below the surface, recalling this day many years later, would look at if from a different point of view. Perhaps everyone has had a sense of this all along, but for me it's something that hasn't become clear until recently.

It was that night that I got a hint of what integrity means. He wasn't condemning all art, he was just standing up for his own, and he has the right to do so as well, having been at it for many years by that point. It was a revelation of sorts when I left the hall that night. It was certainly a lot to chew on and digest. At first, I felt more than a little sore having worked with an icon while he surgically dismantled your belief structure. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that the bigger lesson to be learned was to be proud of what we do, no matter if we sang, danced, built birdhouses or played with really big paper mache puppets.

Granted, we should all be accountable for what we do (right, Skilling?). It's something that is pretty much common sense, but so easily forgotten. Especially if you're trying to make it to the next paycheck. From that moment forward, my modus operandi would be defined by something of a little more sustenance than a dog and pony show. From that moment forward, my craft, as it were, shall be used for good, not evil. From that moment on, I turned into something of an idealist. A snob.....okay, there was that period of time where I refused go onstage anymore without at least a shot and a beer in me, but I was on my way out by that point and that's another exploit for another time. I would reserve the use of my craft only when needed.

From that moment on, I wanted to be more accountable for my creations. It was a drive to follow the path of the ones who came before me; a worthier path, a more difficult path. From that moment on, I wanted to be a better person. Which is why, from that moment on, it drove me nuts every time someone wanted me to use my skill to sell a few extra widgets to meet quota for the end of the month, or to squeeze bigger tips from a 4-top who are obviously cheap tourists, which is essentially whoring.

Most of my college days are hazy, but I'm pretty sure I didn't go to college to be a whore.

Since the year 2000, most of my jobs have consisted of some sort of sales. I am a craftsperson whose many tenets include people and sales, and I can't stand sales and I'm not too fond of people. Why?
  • Depending on the situation I either have no faith or very little knowledge in the product I'm selling.
  • The people I usually work with are soulless, alcoholic robots, and therefore by osmosis, I could feel myself turning into one the longer I stay on any given sales team.
  • I'll be the first one to admit that I'm not that good at it.
Let me rephrase; I'm okay at it. There were days where I could swim quite comfortably with the big sharks. But whenever I was having an off day, or I just wasn't into it, someone (usually a co-worker) would inevitably come along and say, "Well, hey, you're an actor. This stuff should come easy to you." There in that phrase lay the reason that I began to detest anything resembling human when I wake up in the morning. A) Acting is not lying. Let me repeat that, acting is not lying. Acting is truth from a different point of view, lying is something you do to sell a car. And B) if I were to "act", people would see right through it immediately and crush any hope I had of getting the job done. If I rebel against the notion that acting will get the money flowing in, then the only alternative left is to lie. It's far more difficult to see through a lie (right, Skilling?).

For a the length of a hellish summer, I was made to lie. For one blazing hot summer, I couldn't sleep with myself at night, I couldn't eat, and my otherwise pleasant demeanor was shrinking to the thickness of a business card.

Imagine my joy as the big corporation I sweat blood over for a summer slowly implodes over the length of a hellish winter...