Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Special Students

For my last post in this series, I have been wanting to post about how grateful I am for my students. Frequently in academic writing a book will have an acknowledgments section that lists all of the people for whom the writer is grateful. Almost always this list includes a kind of perfunctory nod toward the author's students. (It isn't always perfunctory, of course.) As a graduate student I am always a little skeptical of this small bit of gratitude. I know how much teachers try out ideas in the classroom and sometimes how those ideas are then worked out in the class through dialogue between the teacher and the student. There is much give-and-take in these situations, and sometimes ideas students have are incorporated into the teacher's thinking – this is often so seamless or so much like a laboratory situation, that the teacher can forget what were his ideas and what were the students'.

Very often, too, I forget who was in which class and when. Reading this series should have made it clear to anyone that my memory is often flawed and contains many spaces where I cannot remember things I wish I could. I can remember the recent classes – especially the ones I designed myself – very well, I think. Their populations are very clear in my head because we had to work through very particular and peculiar problems (one class related to avant-garde performance, one to sexuality, and the latest one to violence). But there are some students who stick out in my mind, who have meant more to me, and whom I have particularly adopted as special. My major professor once said to me that it is very easy to read my affect in the classroom, that it is clear to my students who my favorites are, who I love and with whom I am frustrated. I am not sure this is very true anymore. I am, I think, a bit of a mystery to most of my students, and that is probably a good thing as an instructor (though I am sure that many of them are very familiar – and bored by or frustrated with – my habits). I have had two students for four separate classes, and I imagine both Perry and Jordan can read me fairly well at this point.

Teaching has been for me, since 2002 or so, the thing in my life that has nourished me the most. When I began teaching voice in a small way in the acting studio at Cal Poly, I know that something really shifted in me. I tell the story frequently of being introduced as a guest faculty member at Cal Poly by our beloved chair Bill Morse at some kind of informational introductory meeting of the department in 2003. I felt a kind of belonging that I hadn't known before. Later that week, I was talking to a student named Courtney who was having trouble deciding between two things. I really wanted her to do one of those things, but the other one was really better for her in her place in life. We talked for a long while and I helped her so that she would be able to do either one of the options very well and then I got out of the way. I consider this moment a turning point in my life because it was then that I realized part of what it means to teach: to let the student be the student and to make one's own self smaller so that she can be who she needs to be. Whenever I am able to do this (and it is not easy) the student often does better than I had ever hoped.

But this post is supposed to be about me being grateful, and so what I mean to say here is that I am grateful for what my students so often have to teach me, which is to be smaller, to make myself less important, to spend more time listening.

Some students have become more special than others, of course. My Sexuality & Representation class last year was perhaps the most pleasurable teaching experience I have ever had. Those students – Laura, Stephen, Katie, Jackie, Joey, Amber, Jenny, Ryan, Cameron, Perry, Stephanie, Ross, Chelsea, Sarah – are really special to me. My Violence, Ethics & Representation class this semester is also filled with students whom I love, most of whom I have had as students before – Mackenzie, Morgan, Julien, Jordan, Sam, Emily, Camille, Madeline, Ashley, Mallory, Liz, Matt, Adwin, and Kat – teaching them is a real pleasure, and I am loving it so far.

The best, though, and the students for whom I am most grateful, are the ones who have kept in contact with me after leaving school. The most difficult part of teaching has been, for me, letting go of students. So frequently they leave and one never hears from them again. And this letting go – understanding that some students need to cut ties and go off and do things – is hard to learn how to do, but an important lesson!

So the students who still contact me after they leave mean a great deal to me because I don't have to let them go, I can still keep up with their lives, and most importantly, I can remain proud of them in an active kind of way. So, I am especially grateful to Charlie S., Jenny M., Katie S., Anthony P., Jackie V., Sean D., and Kalon T, and their commitments to keeping in touch with me. I am so so proud of Ashley C., Al H., Shane B., Smyra Y., Marisa M., and Stefond J., and truly excited for their work and their futures. They are all working hard and even when they're having trouble they stay strong. I am so grateful for the notes these young people send my way, and the encouragement and love they show me even now that they are out from under my thumb as their teacher. Students such as these have been such a wonderful gift to me, and I cannot begin to be thankful enough for the way they have touched my life.

I want also to mention five students who have really come to love like my own kids. As a man who probably will never be a father, it has been amazing to have students who have adopted me, in even a small way, as their honorary dad (actually Stephanie calls me mom). It feels good to be able to invest in some kids a little more than I normally would in a student, to be just a little bit prouder of them than the rest, to encourage and love them just a little more. I am especially grateful, then, for Jackie and Dexter and Jordan and Dayne and Stephanie. Thank you for being amazing and wonderful, and letting me into your lives. I am so proud of you and look forward to the fabulous futures you will all have.

...And I suppose it is fitting that this series, which has been, frequently about the past, about origins and beginnings (though it really was always about the present), moves toward the future. I am so thankful for everything my students do for me, for their grace and their brilliance and their patience and their energy. And I feel truly privileged to be able to look into what will come – what has not happened yet – and wish that they are granted everything they desire.

30 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Michael

I met Michael in January of 2007. He had been away to London for my first semester at FSU in the Fall of '06. Michael was famous at FSU when I met him. Everybody knew who Michael was, and the other undergrads orbited around him like paparazzi around a celebrity. This was my first impression of Michael, and I don't think I've ever been able to shake it, really. In truth, I've never even tried to shake it. At FSU Michael was a star performer, getting a role in a mainstage production every semester and pretty much knocking each part out of the park. In his last year he was in a production of a superb new play by Adam Lucas directed by Joel Waage (now of Mad Dog Theatre in New York City) and Michael was just excellent.

I haven't the foggiest idea when Michael and I became close. We didn't work on shows together at FSU; we met in a class and then went from there. I distinctly remember having a fight about Brecht outside of a classroom one day. Michael accused me of being pretentious. I accused him of being under-read. I feel like our relationship developed in this way a lot. There were lots of arguments that would have appeared quite bitter to any outsider (and probably actually were rather bitter, come to think of it). But we became quite good friends, so that his last year at FSU we spent lots of time together.

I remember once driving to find some restaurant just north of Tallahassee that we had both heard was good but which neither of us had ever visited. We must've driven for twenty minutes before we got to the restaurant which was closed. (Michael and I were always trying to have dinner on Sundays and in Tallahassee everything is closed for the Lord's day.) So Michael and I are very frustrated and we think: Thai food. Perfect. And after we drive another ten minutes to find the Thai restaurant, we realize it, too, is closed. But they're not even Christian!! Michael wailed. I could not stop laughing.

Michael moved to Virginia after school to work for a theatre company in Roanoke or somesuch location (he has spent an incredible amount of time in Virginia since we met) and Michael and I kept in touch sporadically over the phone. We wouldn't speak for months at a time and then we would both rattle off ideas and thoughts that we'd been storing up for the months of silence until our phone conversations became these epic two-hour marathons. At some point we realized we could probably call each other more frequently. This cut down both on the conversations' urgency as well as their interminable length.

I started going to Endstation Theatre in 2008 to see Michael in Romeo & Juliet. I went again in '09 to see Midsummer and last year I got the bright idea to go to Endstation to volunteer so that I could spend time with my friends at the theatre and spend a more extended period of time with Michael. My first day at Endstation in 2010, Michael referred to me as his best friend. Funny: it's a phrase I haven't used in forever. I had a best friend in high school, but most of my best friends have spouses nowadays, so I haven't thought of anyone else as my best friend in quite a long time. But there was Michael, claiming me.

And, see, Michael has always been – if not mysterious – a figure of infinite fabulousness for me. I have always felt intimidated by him, by his knowledge of fashion, his ability to execute fashion, his intense knowledge of literature I still haven't read, his interest in high modernism, his ability to pick an excellent bottle of wine (or whiskey or vodka) and to find a perfect speakeasy in which to drink, his selection of friends... I could go on. I have always felt dangerously inadequate when I'm around him. I am learning to feel this way less, of course, but in a way I am still very much in awe of Michael and his abilities, tastes, and goals. And the feeling I have toward him is now, perhaps one more akin to admiration than inadequacy. (We should admire our friends, I figure, and I admire many of mine.)

Michael is my best friend, too, and even though I have a brother named Michael, I insist on constantly referring to Michael in conversation with my family without adding a last name. I just assume everyone knows to whom I am referring. I was saying that to Michael just the other day...

Michael is an extraordinary artistic mind with discriminating and exquisite taste. He is also a very good director, and will get even better. His work is something I am both proud of as his friend, and proud to help with as a sometime collaborator. I treasure every bit of time I get to spend with him in both New York and in Virginia, and I look forward to many more hours sitting drinking coffee and looking forward (and backward, too, but mostly forward). As with all of these pieces, this one feels inadequate and incomplete. How is it possible to describe or thank your best friend for all he does for you? But, then, I have felt inadequate with Michael before, and I expect that will never go away fully.

29 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Jaime (Locals edition - 4 of 4)

I met Jaime somewhere around 1995 or 1996, I suppose, though I don't remember ever sharing classes with her (except Choir - which was the most kick-back class in the schedule). I know we had study-hall together, though, because our last names were near each other in the alphabet. I always thought of Jaime as the most unconventionally cool person in our group of friends, which sounds like an insult, I suppose, but really it was more like I could never predict what she was going to do. My Christian conservative bourgeois childhood did not prepare me for the likes of a girl who who walked into the movie theatre without paying and smoked cigarettes behind the gymnasium and bought her dress for homecoming for $4.00 at the Goodwill. I thought Jai was the coolest.

After high school, when Jai and I became much, much closer than we were in high school, I remember her telling me some time in 1999 or so (we were in a Hollywood Video store) that she wanted me to be gay so that she could have a gay best friend: probably the most ingenious strategy I can think of to get a young sissy to come out of the closet. I've already talked about just how much time Jai and Derek and I spent together during those years after high school, so I won't repeat all of that here. Something was shared between us during those first college years that deepened into something else altogether afterward. Jai and I would spend hours together. I'd visit her after rehearsal at her work (Starbucks) and sit for hours reading while I waited for her to go on break, and then I'd wait for her to close and we'd chat for a while after that.

Jai was then and still is heavily into dream interpretation, and the two of us would pore over the meanings of dreams, over the philosophy of dreams, over the ability to see one another through our dreams. We would talk very seriously about ethical principles and drug addiction and parenting and friendships. We've always seen our own friendship as a kind of paradigm – or, rather, measuring stick – for other friendships that we've shared over the years. We've been sort of unfair that way, judging the way our relationships with others have worked against the ease with which our own relationship has worked for the last ten years. I can think of no person with whom I am at a greater ease. I can think of no person with whom I feel more comfortable. I can think of no person for whom I have to explain less about what I am thinking.

Even better, I have felt comfortable trying on ideas with her: new political philosophies, new positions with which I am struggling, new attitudes toward people or concepts. Jai has an underlying a priori comprehension of my position and spirit that allows me to work through ideas without judgment until I am finished and judgment of kind is (as it always is) necessary. I have said for many years that the difference between family and friends is that family members always seem fixated on how one used to be (or more appropriately, how they have been imagining one used to be) whereas friends grow with one, so that we are always changing and our friends change with us, and fixate so much less on who we were, focusing instead on who we are for the moment and who we wish to be. Jai has been my model for this line of thinking; she has been the ideal friend, with whom I have felt no competition, on whom I have depended the most to understand me when I least understand myself.

When I write about the locals – something I haven't done before this month-long experiment – I can't help but think of them also as a group: the titles of their posts bear this out. We meet as often as possible and have these conversations that flow and merge and split and merge again. I can remember countless instances when Sarah and I split off into our own conversation while Derek, Jaime. and Anna have been in another, but each of us is aware of what the others are saying, even while still paying close attention to the thoughts of our own interlocutor. This, to me, is the ease of friendship that I am trying to describe: a way of being with a group where everyone is aware of the dynamic as a group, but also highly attuned to the feelings and thoughts of each individual in the group. It may be that only the locals group of all my groups of friends has been insular enough or old enough were this has become possible, but nevertheless it represents to me a kind of perfection of friendship - a perfection which is also a becoming, because we are always aware, particularly with the distance that now separates us, of the ways in which we remain changeable and growing.

These moments of growth and expansion have become even clearer as my friends have gotten married, and I want to speak (at least briefly) of Jai's husband, John, a man I know the entire group loves and with whom we all have a deep friendship. John has complemented Jaime in such a lovely way, and I am always so delighted to see him, as a brilliant man and clever thinker in his own right apart from Jai. (My favorite thing about John, though, is easily his laugh, which is hilarious and infectious, and which I find impossible to separate from his truly remarkable stubbornness. There is no story to attach to this sidenote, but I did want to point it out.)

I already feel like this post is too long, and with so many of these writings, they have felt inadequate to me. There really are no words – sometimes Jaime and I actively look for them as we speak on the phone – for the way our affection for one another and trust in one another has deepened over the years into a kind of psychic knowing of one another, rendering explanations, apologies, and stress unnecessary. To speak about gratitude here also misses the point entirely. I wouldn't be who I am (for better or worse) without Jaime, and in a way I think my love for all of my friends is indebted to her love for me, because I have had in her a model for a friendship that has been, to me, irreplaceable, incredible, immeasurable.

28 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Liz

When I first met Liz I was welcoming her to Florida State as a student recruiter. The faculty were really excited about her and wanted me to make a good impression. I even had to have a phone conversation with one of the faculty about how important this visit was. I met Liz on my birthday, then, in 2007. Appropriately we met at a bar. (Hey, it was my birthday.) Actually it's totally appropriate because it's me and Liz. She was quiet and a bit shy (intimidated?) at first, but she warmed right up and we were talking about theatre and what we liked and disliked in no time.

When Liz arrived on campus she arrived as a whirlwind – immediately the social organizer and wild child of the department, with pink hair and five-inch heels. I was, obviously, charmed. And even more charmed was I by her ability to make ridiculous jokes about theoretical principles. I can't remember any of them now, but we had numerous running jokes about Derrida and Freud. And we used to crack ourselves up by joking about the constant use of the parenthetical (re) in academic writing. You know the one I mean: (re)membering (re)historicizing, (re)collection. Liz and I started making jokes like (re)bellion and (re)alism and p(re)datory and mo(re). We would be cracking each other up with this stuff.

Liz got me through all of my theatre history classes, too. We had four theatre history courses together and we would have to sit across from one another so that we could communicate silently during class, and then when class was over we would call each other and decompress the day's events, arguing with statements the professors would make which with we were not allowed to argue in the classroom. This was a great relief for me for the full three years of school that Liz and I were here together. We would go through these arguments together, fully discussing how best to think about the problems with which we had been presented, changing the questions, reforming the approach. Her approach was almost always through nationalism and mine was almost always through gender and sexuality. We found ourselves constantly overlapping with our questions. (As it turns out, the nation and gender are deeply embedded with one another. Who knew?)

Liz and I have also loved to spend an evening drinking unholy amounts of wine at each other's houses in Tallahassee or at the delightful Clusters & Hops. Grad school can take a lot out of a person and make one need a lot of (a) wine, (b) cheese, and (c) emotional hand-holding. Liz and I have been able to do that for one another, especially when we were the only PhD students on campus for a while, and I have been and continue to be so grateful for our relationship and the way that we have been able to support one another.

I also appreciate Liz's generosity, her ability to insist that we take care of ourselves, to move away from work for a while and spend time doing what I always call care of the self. This doesn't just mean drinking (although it obviously includes it) but going to the opera or to dance performances or just sitting down and having a nice meal and sharing some cigarettes (none for me, thanks) with friends. Liz also always participated in Ryan's gay soul washing events. With Liz, the soul-washing isn't always gay, but it is often a really really healthy step away from the behemoth power of the graduate-school grind.

Liz is in South Florida now, and I haven't seen her in quite a while – almost a year, actually – but she'll be up to Tallahassee to visit in a few weeks and I see a trip to Clusters & Hops in our future...

Thanksgiving in August - A Quick Thought

One of the great things about doing this exercise for the month of August is the reminder that I have had to give myself to be grateful for the things that I have in life even when I am upset or depressed or – rather more frequently – feeling like I don't want to be grateful, that I might want to be selfish or difficult or complain. I say this today from a place of feeling slightly lonely and sensing the long stretch of the dissertation before me as I hit a rougher patch of writing. What this exercise for the month has taught me, though, is that reflection on gratitude can be a productive way out of doldrums like these, even when I would prefer to dwell in them instead of move past them.

27 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Rick

I met Rick in 2006 when we started as part of the same cohort in graduate school. Rick was the lone technical director in our cohort, and it was partially for this reason, I think, that we became such good friends. I am not sure if I said before what a great joy it was having a cohort in graduate school that was so close across all of our disciplines. All of us were close and remain close: lighting and costumes and scene design and management and theatre studies and directing and technical direction. This is my sixth year at this school and I have never seen a group as close as we were. Fun story about meeting Rick: Rick is, of course, just a nickname, but the first day of orientation, they passed around nametags for us all to wear. Rick had already shaken my hand and introduced himself, but when I got the nametags, I passed him his (which said Enrico) and he gave me this funny look because I clearly should not have known his name. I did, though, because, as I pointed out earlier, I had been stalking everyone before I got to school.

Our very first week of grad school, Rick invited a bunch of us over to his house for dinner and he made homemade pasta for me and Alison and Ryan. It was lovely and we met his dog and Rick and I bonded over jazz. He was playing the Miles Davis score for Elevator to the Gallows and I either recognized it or had mentioned having seen the film; I can't remember which. Rick has all kinds of things like this up his sleeve at all times: he knows films and books and reads articles like a madman, devouring culture like few people I know – and he has an opinion on all of it.

This is one of the chief ways Rick and I communicate now that he lives far away in New Jersey: he constantly shares articles with me about, say, Michael Cimino, or Werner Herzog, or – alternatively – Judith Butler. It is a delight to have someone like him in my life who is constantly reminding me to pay more attention to the world I'm in and stop being so rarefied and desk-bound.

One of my best memories of me and Rick is Thanksgiving 2007. A bunch of us grad students got together and ate until we were stuffed and we were all also fairly drunk. Rick and I, however, decided we were going to go to the movies and then left the party to go to see the late show of No Country for Old Men. When the movie was over Rick just sat there and he said "If this was playing again tonight I would just sit here and watch it again." Actually, I think we went another time to see No Country. Rick and I have been to a ton of movies together, and we also always fight about them. One of the true delights of knowing someone like Rick who sees a lot of movies is that even when he is wrong about a movie (how dare he dislike Me and You and Everyone We Know, for example! – I believe the direct quote was "twee indie rubbish") I can respect his opinion. Often I enjoy our fights about movies more than our agreements about them.

Rick is also in the frequent habit of "purging" facebook friends, a practice that I both recommend and which scares me. I also am never really scared that Rick is going to purge me. For this, I am grateful. So, this one goes out to my buddy Rick. He is not with the lord, but he is from the lord.

26 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Wahima

I met Wahima in the Fall of 2000 when she started at Cal Poly Pomona. I had been in the department for a little while and it was starting to feel like home. I loved Wahima immediately, although we didn't become friends right away. First we were in Hamlet together (that must have been Winter 2001), and then by the end of the school year we must've been really close, because I have this picture of us from May or June of 2001 – I can tell because my hair is dyed black from when I played Elvis in Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Wahima and I spent tons of time together after that. I am not sure we ever really acted in anything together, though, maybe a reading of Henry VI (parts 1, 2 & 3). Wahima was an extraordinary help on our production of Gross Indecency, and she was always helping out at the Pomona Downtown Center when a few others and I were trying to get a theatre company started up way back in the day (that whole situation is best forgotten and Wah would agree with me). More than anything, Wahima and I worked together with her as an actor and me as her director. She was Alice in my production of Closer, and she starred as Bernice in the Thornton Wilder short play of that name; she also played Silvia in my Two Gentlemen of Verona, and when J&E produced Howard Korder's Boys' Life in Westwood, they asked Wahima to play one of the women in that too.

We have worked together so much – and I think she is so incredibly talented – that Wah became one of those actors that I thought of whenever I read a play. Justin and Elizabeth were always that for me too. I read plays and think about which role Wahima would play if I directed it. (I still have a fabulous production of Normand Chaurette's The Queens in my mind with Wah and Fran Bennett and Linda and Ashley and Elizabeth that will probably never happen.) It's hard for me to really describe how important it is to have an actor like this in my life as a director. Because of my love for Wahima's abilities as a performer, her image works her way into my readings of things. I can see how productions would work, how roles can come alive. It is a wonderful gift for a director to have someone like that in his life.

Wahima has given me much more than that, of course. She has loved me unconditionally for years, even when I am difficult, when I do not have much to give, when I am testy or temperamental or sad. And she has always been incredibly generous with me, making space for me when I come to visit, taking time out of her schedule whenever I have needed it – both in California and in New York, where she now lives. And Wahima has made it so much easier for me to simply exist in my close-knit group of college friends, who have mostly been couples since we've known them. They have all been couples and Wahima and I have always had each other; we have been virtually our own couple, and it has been lovely. We have come to depend on each other for this relationality and for so much more.

Wah lived with me for a while in the Summer of 2006 when I still lived in Pasadena, and we used to get into this wonderful rhythm, coming home from work and spending time with one another. I was still working as an accountant, then, and Wahima would bring me sandwiches from Starbucks (where she worked) so that I would have something for lunch. I remember this time very fondly.

I only get to see Wahima once or twice a year these days, though we speak frequently and I visit New York when I can. Sometimes we meet up in California, as well (and recently, Kentucky, but that's another story). She is easily one of my favorite people in this world, and when I see her we are both usually really emotional. I picked her up from the Nashville airport in December last year and we both almost started to cry. I assume we all know this feeling of just being able to be with someone we love who we haven't seen in far too long. When Wah and I get the chance to see one another, this almost invariably happens. I am so grateful I have her in my life, so happy to be friends with someone as funny and beautiful and talented (both as a singer and an actor) as she is. Any time we spend together is not enough time.

Also: follow her on twitter – @Wickedwa 

25 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Julie

I met Julie in 2006 over the phone. We contacted one another because she needed a place to live and I was looking for a roommate. I'm not sure who put us in touch with one another, but it was a fated meeting. I had a vibe about Julie instantly. At the time, I was getting information from someone else in Tallahassee about the school, as well, and I recognized that other person's energy as negative, immediately knowing that it was something from which I needed to steer clear. But with Julie it was different. We immediately started talking about movies (M. Night Shyamalan, of all people) and how much we disliked Jane Austen, and even more importantly, we started pouring tea about who else was going to be at school with us.

We spoke on the phone so much back then, that by the time we actually met, we were already on hugging basis. Julie was the best grad-school sidekick. We proofed all of each others' writing – she was always better at this than I – we goaded each other into going out to parties even though we needed to work; we complained about some of our teachers; we gossiped about our cohort; we decompressed the days together. It was great. Julie also used to trick me into seeing scary movies: for a while there we were both a little obsessed with Snakes on a Plane – Julie probably still is.

I want to say that I think the best part of all of this was the socialization. I consider myself somewhat of a loner, but Julie is not about that, and she was always interested in us spending time with other people out together. When Julie and I got there the other grad students in the School couldn't believe that people in our Theatre Studies area were out drinking with them. Julie and I attended almost everything. Grad students were throwing parties: we were there. Theatre Studies people are back to hanging out by themselves now – much less socialization goes on within the department. And if Julie were still here, I know that wouldn't be happening.

Julie moved off to New York in the summer between our first and second years and then moved back when we finished. I always get a chance to see her when I am in the City, and we always have the most hilarious times. There is a sense, of course, of being left behind that I always feel as people leave Tallahassee and move up to the City without me. It's difficult having to stay here and let everyone go on ahead, knowing I'll get there eventually but needing to spend the time to get the work done. Still, it is great to have her up in New York, and I love hearing her stories and reading all of her reviews.

Julie and I are also crazy Oscar buddies. This is probably our favorite thing right now. The last two years together we have watched the Oscar nominees (Julie watches more than me) and blogged about it and chatted about it over the phone and shared ways of watching online for free. It is always a delightful time and we love teasing each other about what movies are good (our tastes have always differed) and what movies are terrible. This is honestly one of the great highlights of my year.

My favorite thing about Julie has always been the gossip, though. And I don't mean this in an evil or snarky way – I don't think of gossip like that, really. Gossip isn't about speaking of others negatively, for me (not sure if Julie will agree with me on this theory) gossip is about making one's own life a little more dramatic in the retelling of the story. As we gossip the stakes get higher, the betrayals get deeper, the wit gets snappier, the drama goes up. Julie and I have always done this. It's a practice of  making the world more theatrical, and I think, in a way, it's probably about coping with some of life's banality. In any case, Julie and I have had more fun trading stories and reading other people than I can begin to recount. She is a dear, dear friend, and I am so grateful that I have her in my life.

24 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Derek (Locals edition - 3 of 4)

I met Derek in high school, but I didn't really hang out with him back then. Like most of my high school friends, the real formative years for my friendship with Derek were in the few years after high school. In a way, we became drinking buddies before we were friends. My friend Jaime really brought us together. She loved us both, and if D and I didn't know each other all that well, well, Jaime was going to make us friends anyway. It worked, obviously. Me and Derek's senses of humor are fairly close to identical, and we ended up having amazing relaxed times together, particularly the three of us. Some of my absolute best memories come from this period in my life. I cannot even begin to consider counting the hours and hours I spent with Derek during these couple of years.

Jaime and Derek and I used to hang out every day during the summer – I can't really remember which summer. 2000? 2001? We would meet and spend time together early in the day around 10.00a or so and then we would say goodbye and all go take naps – I would almost always go watch a movie – and meet up again in the evening. And in the evenings we would just hang out in Claremont. There was this coffee shop back then called Rick's where we spent time for lack of anything better to do. Or we would just stroll around Claremont, sit in the parking lot of Rhino Records, walk to the library. (Wild times.) Other days I can remember hanging out at Borders for hours or WalMart or the front stoop of Jaime's then-non-stepmother Linda's house. I don't know how we managed to kill as many hours as we did, but we talked about everything under the sun back then.

I came out to Jaime and Derek before I came out to anyone, and I remember wondering whether my parents were gonna kick me out of their house and what I would do if they did. Derek said, "Well, you will always have a home with me no matter what." We were, like, twenty: it was an extraordinary thing to say and I've never forgotten it.

Two summers ago D and I roadtripped up to Seattle to visit Jaime and John. I had just gotten ordained as a minister and insisted on blessing passing cars. I almost got pulled over once and insisted to Derek when the policeman pulled over the car in front of me that it was because I was a minister. Derek was over the whole thing. It was hilarious.

Derek is probably the most dependable of all of my friends. I never wonder what he's thinking, what's going on, whether or not he's okay. D is always okay. I never ever worry. And maybe sometimes I should, but that is just the kind of relationship the two of us have. One year I don't think we spoke at all. Actually, we have probably gone without speaking for six months more than once. He was living in Nevada for a while when I was in California, and more recently I have been living in Florida even though he's back in California. No time away from each other ever seems to have any effect on our relationship. We always have dinner just the two of us away from everyone else in the group of friends (I lie: Sarah comes sometimes). Last Christmas when I was in California I met up with a huge group of people in Fullerton or some such location and after everyone left Derek and I (without planning this ahead) went and had coffee by ourselves without telling anyone else. We just sort of knew we needed to. It was great.

These are my favorite times with Derek these days. When we hang out there is never a production. It is the same as it was when we had just gotten out of high school. We go to the liquor store or the grocery or Costco. A great deal of bonding can happen at a Costco.

More than anything else, I consider Derek my family. If I needed to I could go back to that moment when he told me I'd always have a home with him, but I don't even need to do this. Derek reminds me (and the rest of the locals – and indeed his own brother and sister) all the time that we are his family. That he loves us more than anything else. That if we ever need anything, he will be there. Having someone like that in my life makes it easy to be grateful, and it makes me feel like it's okay to fail at things. Even if I really suck at something, someone is going to love me on the other end of it. That, to me, is what really having a family is all about, and Derek is mine.

23 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Rae

When Rae and I met I braced myself. Later she and I talked about it and she told me she had done the same. We were both afraid we were going to hate each other on sight. It didn't happen. It's funny to me how, in so many ways, we were sensing each other's vibes before we ever encountered one another – like the mayor of that city in that Artaud essay about the plague. And then when we met, more than anything else, we were intrigued by one another.

I was directing Rae in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that year, and she designed the costumes - putting everyone in American Apparel. I loved it. She adorned herself, as Titania, in a gold lamé two-piece costume paired with enormous fuscia stilettos and thigh-high blue stockings. It was incredibly sexy and I was delighted. We even gave our production company the name "Gold Lamé Productions" more as my own joke than anything else.

Rae and I spent loads of time together that summer and, after the show was over, took a road trip to Endstation in Virginia to see Michael and Natalie in Romeo and Juliet. We sat under the stars and philosophized about the people we were traveling with, and about sex and monogamy and pleasure. Rae and I have always connected immediately when it comes to sex - although we've never actually had sex with one another; go figure.

One of my very favorite memories of her is when I came back from a conference on sex in 2009. I had had an amazing time at the conference, learned a great deal, and then when I came back to school, had no one with whom I could really discuss the conference. My cohort of grad students simply didn't understand any of the theories I had read or the ideas I was trying to think through. But I had dinner with Rae that week – sushi if I remember correctly – and she understood everything and was completely excited about it, and began to riff on the ideas I was talking about. It was a wonderful moment, and I was so grateful for it.

Since then Rae has moved all over and I have tried to encourage her in all her decisions. She lives in Korea now (like you do) and she's teaching and vacationing and making difficult choices. I envy this total lack of necessity; I admire her boldness, her sexuality, her ability to live her philosophies. One day, we promised one another, we will read De Sade together. Juliette, she told me, or really anything except for 120 Days of Sodom. Because 120 days is just too much sodomy.

Rae continues to be a great support in my life and one of real understanding for my own theories about life and love and sex. I am so grateful that she gets me when I talk about my work, that she is honestly excited about my work, and that she – though she isn't even an academic – has constructive and helpful feedback on it. I appreciate her a great deal, and miss her lots.

I'll leave you with an exchange the two of us had quite recently:

Aaron: All of a sudden this feels just like such a repeat of my old bullshit. Ugh.
Rae: They woo us with different hair and different height and taste in music and food BUT THEY ARE THE SAME EVEN WHEN THEY ARE DIFFERENT.

There I Go Rising

Love her.

Back to (Talking About) the Future

Sometimes it takes me a little while to get to things.

I had initially put José Esteban Muñoz's Cruising Utopia: the Then and There of Queer Futurity on my comprehensive exam list for Critical Race Theory, but it eventually (and wisely) got replaced by my professor in a move to include more foundational texts on my reading list.

And, well, there are a lot of things to read. I have shelves of books I haven't gotten to yet.

But as I have been writing (and writing and writing – made it to page 27 today) I have noticed my own debt to queer theory, not simply because it is the discipline in which I have done the most reading (though it is) but also because queer theories have allowed me to have an easier life. I have found these theories helpful in explaining my own world, the life-worlds of the students who come to me needing advice, and situations in which my friends and I find ourselves. Today I wrote the following paragraph for the dissertation as a sort of apology-cum-acknowledgement of the place of queer theory in a dissertation that is supposed to be in the field of theatre studies:

If this book seems heavily dependent on the field of queer theory and on theories of sexuality, it is because those fields of study have felt comfortable and capable addressing questions that other fields have deemed unworthy of interest and shameful. This is, of course, not a book about queerness per se, but rape, no matter the genders of the persons involved, is not a normative sexual experience by any measure. Male/male rape in particular is queer because it replicates and perverts a homosexual sex act, and queer because rapists and victims both frequently understand themselves to be heterosexual. We might further understand male/male rape as queer because rape is an act invariably and ineradicably linked to criminality, shame, and secrecy – attributes still considered immanent to queerness itself in many parts of the world.

And so tonight I picked up Cruising Utopia – it's a relatively thin volume, after all – to read a little more in this discipline I so love and for which I am so grateful. Muñoz begins the book like this, and the genius of such an opening struck me immediately. I highlighted the page in its entirety beginning with his first sentence:

Queerness is not yet here.

What??!?! Oh yes:

Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future.

And a little later down the page:

Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of this moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds. Queerness is a longing that propels us onward, beyond romances of the negative and toiling in the present. Queerness is that thing that lets us feel that this world is not enough, that indeed something is missing.

If this all resonates with me in particular in this moment, it may be because I have lately been so down on myself for trying to imagine the future, because I have been striving so hard to live in the moment.

And it makes me wonder. Fantasies and imaginings of the future are part of the pleasure of the present. Perhaps instead of focusing on only the present it might be possible to conceive of temporalities in altogether different ways, where the present and the future are not mutually exclusive of one another.

More on this soon, I am sure.

22 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Allan, Carlos & Marcos

In many ways my friendships with these three men are inseparable from one another (and from my friendship with Justin, who I wrote about here), but I also have and treasure unique relationships with each of them. Still, I will write about them together because we have worked together often and because our friendships seem to me imbricated with one another.

I remember first meeting Allan at an audition for a production we did in college of Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Allan got cast; I didn't. I was kinda bitter about it, mostly because I loved the show so much. I also loved Allan in the show.

I can't remember when I first met Carlos... It must've been in acting class – actually I remember he was in a scene from Hello, Out There! with this girl Amber. I remember also really really wanting Carlos for the scene I directed the following quarter from Mario Vargas Llosa's Kathy and the Hippopotamus. I can't remember if I got him for that scene or not... ugh. All of this was so long ago.

I first saw Marcos in a production of David Rabe's In the Boom Boom Room that I pretty much hated. Marcos (predictably) took off his shirt. Marcos and I were supposed to be in a production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia together, too, but that didn't happen because of family reasons, and then Marcos also got cast in the production of Twilight that I wasn't in.

The three of us did many shows together. Allan and Carlos and I were in Linda's production of Othello, and we took countless classes together. Allan and I did a ridiculous scene from Shopping and Fucking for Linda's dialect class. And I remember an amazing scene in an acting class where Marcos lip-synched while eating a half-gallon of ice cream, using a giant spoon as a microphone. We're not going to talk about The Myth of Pomona. Carlos was in the first piece I ever directed, a short play by Tony Kushner which was (surprise, surprise) about sodomy. Carlos was just wonderful in that show and he immediately became one of my favorite actors to work with. Marcos was in my production of Patrick Marber's Closer a year or so later, and we had a great time working together.

By senior year of college, we were all working together constantly, and plotting and being part of a self-styled clique. When the opportunity arose for us all to do a show together, we jumped. I directed Gross Indecency: the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, Carlos and Marcos acted in it – Carlos was particularly moving – and Allan produced.

Allan was always silent during rehearsal, thinking way more than he ever said, and supporting me without ever questioning me. But on several occasions, Allan gave his opinion. I always took every note he had. They were  invariably on target and usually pointed out something I had been avoiding but needed to deal with. I have always thought of Allan as older and wiser than me (he is, of course), and I have also always found him inspiring and encouraging. He will scoff at that if he reads this – I don't think he sees himself that way at all – but he has always pushed me to be better, asked me to work harder, told me I needed to do more. And these high expectations for me have meant the world to me. It isn't that I feel inadequate when I am with Allan or when I talk to Allan, it's that being with Allan always makes me want to better at what I am doing.

Carlos is one of the slickest people I know. We have such a similar sense of things, but what I particularly love about him is his attitude about the world. He has the ability to approach life with a devil-may-care attitude that involves working hard but also being incredibly laid back. It's impressive, frankly. And whenever I see him we always end up laughing – at each other, at Justin, but even more frequently at the absurdity of the world in which we live. I appreciate this attitude so much, and I try to cultivate it in myself. Carlos doesn't spend a lot of time acting anymore, but he is also one of the best actors I have had the privilege of working with/for – in acting classes as a scene partner and as an actor I have been able to direct. I remember one of the first days we ever met, I think, our teacher Leslie had us (in a fairly stupid exercise) choose love or hate and then sit across from one another without dialogue and see who won. I chose love and Carlos chose hate. I won. There's a lot of mutual love between us now, so I guess it's safe to say I'm still winning.

Marcos is cool. Really cool. He's also incredibly earnest, which, of course, isn't cool at all. Marcos is also one of the most generous, gregarious, delightful people to be around. To this day he is the only one of my college friends who has come to visit me in Tallahassee. Marcos drove up from Orlando in the summer of 2007, and we hung out in Tally for a couple of days after my first year here. It was a total blast. I get to see him every once in a while when I am back in Los Angeles, as well, and every time I do I remember just how much fun he is to be around, how well he can work a room, and (dear lord) how much he knows about making a cocktail.

Before I close this overly long post, I want to note that when I saw Allan and Carlos at E&J's wedding this summer, Carlos brought up our late friend Andrew and the three of us had a moment where we just paused not knowing what to say. The absence of Andrew in our circle as we drank our Newcastles expanded between the three of us and I thought for a moment looking at these two friends of mine that we might all cry for a second. Someone toasted Andrew and we talked, instead, of happier things. Sharing this moment with Allan and Carlos, though, will be one of the things I remember most about the Summer of 2011. There were no two other people who could have shared grief over Andrew with me like that. I am so grateful for that.

Each of these men has meant so much to me in my life, and their friendships continue to be rewarding and fun – and if we see each other only sporadically, when we do see each other, those times are rich and filled and memorable. I have looked up to each of them in a lot of ways, and I will continue to do so as we get older. There is so much to learn from one's friends when you have friends as truly incredible as mine.

21 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: John

I'm not sure when I met John, but I know when John and I became good friends. It was the summer of 2008. All of the other graduate students leave in the summer – most go to summer-stock jobs or internships in places across the country. Not me. I work nowadays at Endstation Theatre Company in the summer, but I also always teach classes. This means that I am in Tallahassee when everyone else is gone. And when everyone else is gone, John is still here. Since he graduated from the Communications department in '08, he has been making a living in Tallahassee. So John is my year-round friend, but even more importantly, my summer friend.

The thing is, he's a great friend. He is always hugely encouraging, always giving me new music to listen to, always telling me about new books, stories in newspapers, art I should check out. He designed the gorgeous poster for my production of Crave in 2009, and he is constantly pushing me to try new things.

His work with the Mickee Faust Club in Tallahassee has proved particularly fabulous. He's an excellent director of work there, and has contributed superbly to the quality of that theatre's work. Even though he's straight – yes, I do speak of that like it's a disability – John is fiercely passionate about queer issues and about disability issues of accessibility and enforced able-bodiedness. Having an ally like John for the queer and disabled communities in Tallahassee is really exciting to me. I think he got more excited about the Trevor Project than I did!

John and I did the P90X program once, and because he is a regular practitioner of yoga, we have also done yoga together a couple of times. Doing yoga with John is one of my favorite things to do, and he is one of my favorite yoga partners. I am not a competitive person when I do yoga, and though John is über-competitive about most things, when it comes to yoga, the two of us just jell in a cool way. It feels supportive and encouraging and almost exciting – like exploring new territory together.

John has also been the person in Tallahassee most proud of my accomplishments, most ready to celebrate the things that I manage to get done, most excited about my work. I find myself looking forward to telling him when I finally send off an article to a journal for publication or finish a test. And he always treats these accomplishments like real work, with an eye for how much time I have actually put into them. It's a really generous approach to work that isn't his own and to which he doesn't have a relationship. The important thing for John is being my friend and that he knows I've spent a long time working on something.

I want to also say that John introduced me to the only television show I've watched in the last five years, HBO's The Wire. He insisted that I would love it, and I became duly obsessed with how brilliant it is while drinking white wine at John's old house on Sharon Drive. John and I have shared such times in Tallahassee while waiting for everyone else to come back to this town, and I know that I am being honest when I say that those have been some of our favorite times in Tallahassee. The summer is sweltering here, but it has been great for our friendship.

I think I should also mention how fierce of a defender John is when I tell him about my guy problems – when I have guy problems, which is not that often. I don't know anyone who dislikes my last boyfriend more than John, and he has been able to steer me clear of several very bad mistakes when it has come to relationship drama. I am eternally grateful for this support and affection. It means a lot knowing that someone is defending me against bad-boyfriend behavior and convincing me that I am a good catch even when I am not willing to defend myself. For this, and for all of our friendship, I am very, very grateful. Happy birthday, buddy.