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

30 June 2011

The Future of Love

One of the great lines in Sarah Kane's Crave – a play about need, obviously, but also a play about wanting hunger that powerful to go away – is the following non sequitur:

Because love by its nature desires a future.

Like many of Crave's lines, I am not sure what this means or what the speaker's point of view is about the sentence. But what the line suggests to me is a struggle to which I relate.

I have this ability to leap down mental rabbit holes and start to imagine futures that exist only in my mind, possibilities that exist for which I fill in all the details, creating an imaginative universe where these possibilities come to fruition. I mean something like this: I know I want to get a good assistant professor job out of graduate school, so when a possibility opens up, I begin to imagine where it will be, who I will meet, what kinds of classes I can teach, where my research will move after the dissertation is over... you get the idea. But this isn't real, of course. It's a fantasy, a lovely one, and one that is certainly possible, but that is what my imaginative fantasy is, a series of possibilities that feel extremely real because I've made them real in my mind.

I blame this struggle on being a Pisces, usually – mostly because I have Piscean friends with similar abilities. And most of the time, this is a very good trait to have. It allows me to be very intuitive with students and their capabilities, to know how to help them through difficult things. I also feel like this trait is part of the reason why I understand dreams so well.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, this trait has gotten me into trouble once or twice. Probably more times than that, if I am honest with myself. What I mean is this: it's really easy for me to imagine entire futures for relationships even when they are still in their most nascent states. We probably all do this, right? (I always think it's funny when people run home after a date to check their astrological compatibilities. As though my horoscope can answer the questions What will our kids look like? and Am I still going to love him when I'm fifty?)

But this is just not the right way of going about things. And the reason for this is that each tiny, almost imperceptible stage of a relationship, of getting to know someone, of learning to trust someone, of synching up with his or her rhythms is its own space of beauty.

Part of enjoying the time that we're in is about avoiding the future, allowing ourselves to worry less about where we're headed, and to pay more attention to the moment in which we are living now. The future is great, of course; it's a fantastic place to live, really. In fact, my heart cries out for the future, begging the future for its secrets. But the moment I want to live in is my own moment.

To talk about the piece I'm working on and not question whether I'll be able to come back next year. To dance with a girlfriend and not wonder when I will next see her. To play Risk with my friends and not worry about whether or not this will ever happen again. To sit and have a sandwich and a beer with my best friend in a random coffee shop in Lynchburg VA without wondering when we'll be able to gossip like this again. To kiss the man whose hand I'm holding and not scare myself by asking whether or not he's going to want to kiss me tomorrow. To hug my mother and be in that moment without the shadow of doubt about her health.

How, in other words, can I ask love to avoid desiring its own future?

24 June 2011

Spending Time with Shakespeare

I am in Sweet Briar, Virginia again this year, working for a company called Endstation Theatre. This year's Shakespeare production is the Twelfth Night, and I am having a delightful time.

There are more penis jokes and ass jokes and vagina jokes than I remember ever seeing in a Shakespeare play. Or maybe I am just more attuned to them these days.

There's a great moment when Sir Toby Belch tells Cesario (who is actually the lady Viola in disguise as a boy) to dismount thy tuck which in our more modern idiom means something like unsheathe your knife and get ready to fight, but it also cannot help but mean: somebody's coming to fight you, dude, so get your dick out.

But it's not just penis jokes and bawdy humor, Shake-a-speare has down pat, and I'm gonna share another sonnet, since I'm thinking about him. The following is sonnet 14, which my friend Linda (she's calling herself the sonnet-bearer!) will be reciting at the wedding of two of my absolute best friends in the world. This sonnet contains some absolutely lovely sentiments, that I think bear directly on lasting love.

So, imagine the following as said to two people very much in love, as though it is advice from another.

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet, methinks, I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;

Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind;
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By aught predict that I in heaven find;

But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thyselves, to store thou wouldst convert:

Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.

17 June 2011

Story Time

So I was at Costco today buying a pizza for $7 and a bottle of Beaujolais-Villages for $10.

Because I'm me.

And in the checkout line, the woman in front of me has the same pizza as I do as well as an enormous jug of olive oil and a very large tub of mayonnaise (nobody needs that much mayonnaise).

So the woman (who is in her late fifties, I'd guess) gives me a little look when she sees my bottle of wine and pizza. And because I am a troublemaker I say, in a friendly manner, I'm obviously about to have a fantastic evening.

I see that, she says, I was thinking I might add my pizza to yours and see what we can cook up together.

As long as we involve that tub of mayonnaise, I say, I think this is a great idea.

We laugh and then continue to chat in the line. She offers me a coupon for the pizza (you don't need them at Costco, so I declined), and when the cashier asks her if the mayonnaise is hers, she says yes, and the one pizza is mine but the other pizza, here, is my friend's. We laugh again. We are having a great time in this checkout line.

But she is taking a little too long in the line for the cashier, and then she forgets to hit the last button on the little credit-card apparatus. The cashier looks at her impatiently: Do you want cash back?

No, she says, Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry. And then she refers to me, this young man just got me going! 

I was cracking up.

And the cashier was not having it. Have a good day sir, he says.

Thanks. I will.

16 June 2011

Gender and the Brain

Read a great article this morning on entitled "Top Ten Myths about the Brain". The whole thing is great, but my favorite part had to be the last myth on the list: #10.

Myth 10.
Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

Women are thought to outperform men on tests of empathy. They do—unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women. The same pattern holds in reverse for tests of spatial reasoning. Whenever stereotypes are brought to mind, even by something as simple as asking test subjects to check a box next to their gender, sex differences are exaggerated. Women college students told that a test is something women usually do poorly on, do poorly. Women college students told that a test is something college students usually do well on, do well. Across countries—and across time—the more prevalent the belief is that men are better than women in math, the greater the difference in girls’ and boys’ math scores. And that’s not because girls in Iceland have more specialized brain hemispheres than do girls in Italy.

Certain sex differences are enormously important to us when we’re looking for a mate, but when it comes to most of what our brains do most of the time—perceive the world, direct attention, learn new skills, encode memories, communicate (no, women don’t speak more than men do), judge other people’s emotions (no, men aren’t inept at this)—men and women have almost entirely overlapping and fully Earth-bound abilities.

I mean, I'm not surprised, are you?

14 June 2011


I have heard many people say that their favorite actor from the 1970s is Dustin Hoffman or Robert De Niro. There's also Jack Nicholson and Jack Lemmon and Roy Scheider and Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty. I like all these guys, but my favorite - that's my story and I'm sticking to it - is Al Pacino and has been for ages.

It's easy to say that he yells a lot in his performances these days. Fine. He has a lot to yell about. But, let's just go back a moment: Serpico and The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II and Dog Day Afternoon and ...And Justice for All. are really just the beginning of a career for a man who has continued to produced excellent, surprising performances for the three decades since ...And Justice for All. The man continues to choose difficult roles and is choosing, more often than not, excellent material as well. It seems unfair to compare Angels in America or The Merchant of Venice to, say, Meet the Fockers and Everybody's Fine, but... well, I just made the comparison. My point is that I think Pacino has continued to challenge himself and add to his own work with engrossing and powerful performances even though he is over seventy years old. It's a fine body of work, and I hope the fine performances keep coming.

Love him.

13 June 2011


The folks over at CTG have evidently lost their collective minds and decided to be brilliant! What a cool idea for a series: the people in theatre who support and contribute to it without ever walking onstage. Interviewed above is one of my favorite people in the world, Danny Lampson


I have been posting so frequently about history and nostalgia, you probably think, dear reader, that I am becoming obsessed with the past. But au contraire; that is only partly true. What I am becoming interested in more and more is the way that we see the past. Why we need it. Let me offer a question:

Of what is the past productive for us? What does it give us?

These days I am reading Raymond Williams's wonderful book Marxism and Literature and
A) wishing I had read it when I was a first-year graduate student,
B) remembering how one needs to write the history of things before one begins to speak about them, and
C) feeling better about my own hesitation to actually write. There is so much to know before the writing starts.

But back to nostalgia.

One of the awesome things Williams says is that we think that tradition is some kind of fixed entity, a real thing. But to be more accurate, "tradition is in practice the most evident expression of the dominant and hegemonic pressures and limits. ... What we have to see is not just 'a tradition' but a selective tradition: an intentionally selective version of a shaping past and a pre-shaped present, which is then powerfully operative in the process of social and cultural definition and identification." The past, in other words, is always being put to work in order to influence the present.

And that for which we are nostalgic is also a kind of produced feeling that another era or period was better than our own.

This is all preface to the two movies I've seen so far in 2011, both of which are actively about nostalgia: J.J. Abrams' Super 8 and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

I liked Super 8, and I really appreciated its brand of nostalgia - more a nostalgia for childhood than for a specific time period (like, say, American Graffiti or Avalon). The movie is cool, too - like the last Abrams movie - a great cast and lots of fun ideas.

People are saying the movie is derivative, and it is, but that's sort of okay for this sort of thing, I think. Super 8 has a lot of generic themes about being a kid, and it's hard not to be derivative in that department. I think this is mostly because we tend to re-imagine our childhoods so that they actively fit these images and tropes that movies give us. Many white people probably have re-imagined their childhoods so that they match the childhoods of the children in E.T.: the Extra-terrestrial and, oh, I don't know, American Beauty, if that makes sense.

My favorite part of Super 8 was seeing a lot of good actors - the film just kept surprising the audience with new ones: David Gallagher was a total trip and I loved seeing Dale Dickey, and especially Glynn Turman. Also: loved Michael Giacchino's score.

And I loved Woody Allen's new movie. LOVED. It's a total delight with even more wonderful cameos. The plot is totally nonsensical, of course, but the movie is just really really smart about nostalgia and the ways in which we pretend other time periods are better time periods. In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson is obsessed with Paris in the 1920s, and then, somehow, finds himself there, visiting with Picasso and Cole Porter and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and Hemingway and Gertrude Stein (and even Djuna Barnes!). It is hilarious from start to finish and also filled with wisdom and wit.

In Allen's film, the performances of these famous people don't match what we know from history about these people; instead, Allen has his actors play the characters like the fantasies they are. Zelda and Scott are exactly how you'd expect them to be: constantly drunk, attending parties every night, dancing until dawn. And Hemingway is as intense and self-important as you imagine. Salvador Dalí is an absolute lunatic. The actors in these parts are absolutely great; Adrien Brody as Dalí is giving a particularly inspired performance that might actually border on genius. I could not stop laughing.

In typical Allen philosophy, too, one must learn to live in the world one inhabits. (Think Purple Rose of Cairo.) Nostalgia is only good if it helps us to make the present better - not by going back, never by going back - by going forward. Allen, as usual, I think, encourages us to live with the world we have and stop trying to make it into something it used to be - especially because it was never really "what it used to be" in the first place.

More Jacques Tati for Me

One of my favorite movies from last year was the Sylvain-Chomet-directed animated fairy tale L'Illusionniste (not to be confused with the very boring film starring Edward Norton from 2006). Anyway, one of the reasons I loved L'Illusionniste so much was that it reanimated (literally!) a film star whom I absolutely adore: Jacques Tati. So it was with glee that I noticed that one of Tati's movies was playing on Netflix Instant.
Mon Oncle is an absolute delight from start to finish. It is about modernization and new technologies and the jumps and starts that accompany shifts in technologies, but more than anything, Mon Oncle is about silliness and clever Rube Goldberg jokes that get more and more complicated with each scenario. I loved it. So funny.

12 June 2011

Jane Seymour Fonda

She is one of the most inspiring of all public figures, to me. It isn't just her extraordinary, raw, and powerful performances in so many good films from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but also her dedication to social justice, her ability to age gracefully, and her constant re-evaluations of herself and her actions over time.

On one of her recent blog posts (she blogs!), she wrote the phrase "teach what you need to learn." I love this idea, because it approaches teaching from a place of one's own need to be taught. In thinking about my own pedagogy, I was reminded last week just how much listening is a part of teaching. The students - and this has been persistently true no matter what I am teaching and no matter who the students are - have to teach me how to teach them. Put another way, I need to learn (in every case) how I can best help them to learn.

Love her.

09 June 2011

The Briefest of Reviews from 1928

Reason to love Netflix #7,922: I have been wanting to see Sadie Thompson for years. Mostly because I, of course, love Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. At any rate, I haven't been able to find it anywhere. All of a sudden, though, it popped up on Netflix Instant. So I watched it for free one evening a week or two ago. The restoration is cleaner than expected, the story is delightful and sexy, and the acting is simply superb. Highly recommended!

06 June 2011

Season 4 of The Wire

This show is so amazing. Amid so many beautifully written characters, this guy Bodie is just the best.

And if you've never seen The Wire, you need to RENT IT as soon as possible.

03 June 2011

The Amateur

I am spending some time working on an essay about amateur theatre. It's taking me longer than I want it to, and this is partly because I am finding it difficult to write the essay without spending some time (indeed, rather a large amount of time) justifying the fact that I am writing about amateur theatre at all. I mean, who writes an essay about community theatre? Community-based theatre, sure, but community theatre? So, the following justification is what I have come up with...

Theatre performed by amateurs, often referred to as community theatre, is largely ignored in scholarship on theatre and performance and for reasons that, perhaps, make quite a bit of sense. Critical discourse about specific cultural products and artistic endeavors legitimates those products, bestowing on them a certain amount of respect concomitant with the academic gaze. If scholars are reticent about creating a critical discourse about amateur theatrics, then, they have many reasons for such reticence. Amateur theatrical productions of plays often happen many years after their world premières, and speaking about original productions makes much more sense than speaking about those productions’ delayed reflections. Amateur productions are also frequently performed by amateur actors with limited training; they tend to be done on small budgets, in small spaces, and for relatively small audiences. It is easy, then, to view community theatre as committed to reproductions of vastly more important original productions and as smaller in every way when compared to those originals.

If, however, theatrical productions are never the same twice because of the specific medium of live performance, and if each production of a play or other performance text re-inscribes that text through repetition, then the widespread critical silence around amateur theatrics ignores the flexible capabilities that theatre studies possesses to examine cultural events as they are repeated in society. Revivals and other repeat performances – including those produced by amateur theatre practitioners – re-inscribe and re-articulate cultural norms and hierarchies in addition to rehearsing and repeating challenges to those norms and hierarchies. Amateur theatrics are, in fact, an integral component of the dissemination and transmission of the knowledges, political strategies, and formal innovations that professional theatre practitioners wish to introduce into the cultural lexicon.

Maybe. I sent this to my friend Ayana and she was into it. What do you think?
...and I also have to figure out where something like this goes in an essay. Sigh.

Marina Abramović : Three Questions

Marina Abramović answers 3 questions [04.15.11] from The Wooster Group on Vimeo.

My level of obsession with this video is approaching unnatural.

I don't know where the art goes.

02 June 2011

What I'm Reading...

Currently catching up with Sharon Bridgforth's Love Conjure/Blues which is just as good, so far, as The Bull-Jean Stories. Bridgforth's work connects to something in me spiritually. I don't know how she does it or what kind of queer desire is connecting me to this work, but it's there.

I am only about twenty pages into Love Conjure/Blues, but I already have something I want to share. If you're like me you'll need to read this aloud. I have read almost the whole book aloud so far. The words just don't seem to me to want to stay on the page...

we is peoples borned to violence. not our making and
not our choosing. just the world we came to. fighting
like animals leashed in a pen. maimed if we don't
win. killed if we don't fight. so we been
perfecting/fighting to win
the whole of our time here. and though violence is
not our first nature - sometimes
violence boils the blood/explodes in the veins.
sometimes violence
shows up unexpected
and just claims a nigga.

In the preface to the book, Joni Jones says that "To tell a story is to construct a history, to assert a vision of reality. A history links the living with ancestors and divinities across spatial and temporal dimensions, moving back to retrieve lineage lessons and forward to cast a vision of what might be."

Thinking, as I have been, about writing histories and telling stories, this section just hit me as a way of approaching history. History always moves both ways. I write for the future and I write for the past. And the question is about affect. Why do I want to reach what I am trying to reach. And who is this writing for?