Monday, December 22, 2008

Things to do to get into the holiday mood.

- Every year, I have trouble getting into the spirit of things around (I'm going to say it even though I'm an self-described agnostic) Christmastime. This year has been no different. With temperatures in Atlanta approaching and occasionally surpassing 70 degrees and with me not working at the bookstore for the first holiday season in eight years, I still feel that I have little grasp of this "most wonderful time of the year." So, since this is the year of my perpetually changing game plan, I had to try something other than the usual holiday plan of "Watch THE REF. Cuss out my bass-ackward family during a screening of HAPPY FEET." So I'm trying to psych myself up for things by, for the first time in what feels like a long time, trying to be happy it's Christmas. Not trying to be happy as a matter of some gimmick, plan or assignment. Not trying to be happy because some book tells you that it's better to be happy than sad or better to be positive than negative. I'm flying blind here at Christmastime, playing fast and loose with my writing even, and - damn it - I think I'm doing OK. Not great. But OK.
- Above is a photo of the VA Hospital on Clairmont Road in Decatur, and because I work for a great company that I love that gives me a sense of service through its contract with the military, I very happily joined a group of my co-workers to go caroling in the halls for the disabled, sick and injured veterans in the nursing home section of the hospital on Wednesday. We were grouped with other volunteers, who were distributing stockings to the servicemen. I wore a pair of reindeer antlers for the first time since I played an ailing Rudolph the Buford Middle School production of "Randy the Red-Horned Rainmoose" with my friend CJ. And, at the VA hospital, I sang and sang and sang, sometimes well and sometimes not. (Another Christmas goes by without me being able to truly nail a solo on "O Holy Night.") But I did my best. And the experience wasn't bad, even if the VA hospital felt to me like a really sad, crowded place. The songs lifted spirits for some of the vets, and my spirits were lifted, too.
- I went to the office holiday party. I wore my blue pinstripe suit. I talked with the really nice guy from HR whom I never get to see because we work opposite shifts. And it was great to talk to the CEO again. And it was great that the guy who gave me a ride to the party won "Employee of the Year." And it was great fun when the band - made up of Crawford employees - actually attempted to cover Bob Dylan's seemingly impossible "Subterranean Homesick Blues." And it was great to boogie - yes, I used the word boogie - with the CEO's assistant to "Sexual Healing." And then I went to a hookah bar with some friends of mine who had their own office's holiday party that night and had a really, really good and really, really light-headed and overly relaxed time with some apple tobacco, salsa music and a dimly lit, curtained booth filled with pillows.
- JaCKPie, my improv theater, has its own holiday tradition. Its big reunion show is on Sunday, and the original JaCKPie duo of Chris Pierce and Jim Karwisch will be performing. This is a treat, and - if I can get away from work, I really, really want to be there. I miss playing at JaCKPie, for the place and the philosophy behind the place really did change my life. (And if you want to change your life and boost your creativity and learn how to work on teamwork and positivity and attitude adjustment and trust in relationships and trust in an environment that is a safe place, you should take JaCKPie classes, too. BLATANT PROMO. BLATANT PROMO.)
- Earlier this week, I went with the roommates James and Mauree - wow, I'm living with people - to a read-through of the latest Out of Hand Theater performance, and I signed up for their weekend theater boot camp in January. I can't wait for this. It seems really different from the way I'm used to approaching theater. Mauree's been training with this group for months now, and she loves it.
- As of last week, I've lost 23 pounds since September through Weight Watchers, and I hope that saying that doesn't mean I've jinxed myself. (I mean, damn, I actually weigh what is listed on my Georgia driver's license.) Still, tonight, because I needed to get into the holiday spirit, I went to Barnes & Noble and ordered myself a grande Godiva Mint Hot Chocolate and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. And I refuse to feel bad about it because it made me feel like it was Christmas. And it was worth it. (And I'm probably not going to eat at all tomorrow, even if I'm supposed to.)
- I love that, the week of Christmas, I'm showcasing my lack of religion by reading THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH, a rollicking, fun, violent read about building a cathedral in the 12th century, and going to the movies to see DOUBT, which was OK but I didn't really find the play to be a satisfying read a couple years ago.
- I'm working Christmas Day. A couple years ago, on Christmas Eve, I made the mistake of seeing MUNICH and SYRIANA back-to-back. They were good movies, but watching them consecutively made me feel like I was spending too much of my holiday in war-torn Lebanon. This year's movies, thankfully, are plentiful and don't seem to follow any sort of weird, unified theme. I mentioned that I've seen DOUBT. I've also recently seen THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (boring, even with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS star Kyle Chandler and MAD MEN star Jon Hamm in IMAX), TRANSPORTER 3 (which, for the regular readers of this blog, I saw with Kacoon and still need to write about), TWILIGHT (ugh, though not as bad as that damn book - I hate Bella), SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (pretty good), MILK (made me cry), FOUR CHRISTMASES (eh), HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (won me over, and I was resisting it ...), AUSTRALIA (crazy and old-fashioned but not too bad), QUANTUM OF SOLACE (disappointing), VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (I really liked this, particularly batshit crazy Penelope Cruz), RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (very good) and SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (great, and I could watch it about a dozen more times without figuring it all out) ... Do not talk to me about current movies with Will Smith in them or movies with dogs in them.
- Oh, and if you don't watch absolutely fantastic MAD MEN, get the DVDs for yourself this holiday. Set in the '60s, it's all about beginning of the advertising boom, operated by sexist, misogynistic adulterers who keep lots and lots of secrets and have lots and lots of sex and the women under their thumbs.

I mean, "Peggy, this isn't China. There's no money in virginity."

"Try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology ... The men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use."

- Movies I want to see this week, including things coming out on Christmas:


- I've still got shopping to do for my nephews and the rest of my family. Living with them this year wasn't the disaster that I thought it would be. In fact, we came away from all of it seeming to understand better how to get along, when to walk away from one another, what we all seem to want and how exactly not to get in each other's way. (I hope I don't jinx it by saying anything.)
- A friend of mine sent me an e-mail with a very good holiday message in it, and - since I have grudges I should release and forgiveness I should grant and seek - I'm going to repost it - despite its sentiment and its catch-all approach to creating holiday magic in your heart - here. Hell, I need this more than anybody, even if I'm better this year than I have ever been. There is so much work left for me to do for myself.

"This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a love letter. Share some treasure. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Find the time. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Listen. Apologize if you were wrong. Try to understand. Float envy. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Appreciate. Be kind, be gentle. Laugh. Deserve confidence. Decry complacency. Express your gratitude. Go to church. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love. Speak it again. Speak it still once again."

- Happy holidays, you guys. Do your best to have the best time that you can. And now I will make the yuletide gay.

Friday, November 28, 2008

He was a young American.

So, of course, the day after I write something indicating my general bad feelings about myself at the moment, I want to write something else a little more hopeful, a little more encouraging to show that my head's not entirely in a bad place right now. I'm not taking down what I wrote yesterday. But I slept on it, so I feel a little less anxious. And, well, it's a holiday that I enjoy (or it was before midnight), and that's put me in a better mood.


- A family that I'm getting along with better.
- A job that challenges me.
- The opportunities I've had to write for stage and perform onstage this year.
- My new house.
- The two people in my new house, who also challenge me.
- Friends who call. Friends I can call. Friends who have lunch with me. Friends who talk to me. Friends who are here. Friends who are abroad. Friends I've met in person. Friends I've not met in person but still consider friends.
- The fact that I can wake up in the morning and feel differently than I did the night before.
- I have myself. My ridiculous, messy, weird, trying-too-hard, trying-my-nerves but still trying self. And, I guess, hope should be contained in that. I'm not a perpetual optimist. I'm not an easy fella, no matter how you mean the word "easy." As long as I put myself out there and experiment with changing my life, as we all do, I continue to have all the promise that's contained in the next breath.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I've kept with me and what I've thrown away.

The last time that I decided I needed a therapist, it was because I had a really bad date that I couldn't get over. At all. The chats before the date led me to believe that I was legitimately connecting with this person. And then we went to the movies to see CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. I was nervous. And then I was awkward. And then I was stupid. And then I was uncomfortable. And then I tried to send him an e-mail the next day to explain what was going on in my head and why I wasn't behaving like the nice, lighthearted, jokey person that I'd seemed like in the e-mail. I was this odd, perpetually insecure dude who'd managed to mask all of that desperation to connect with someone through a sense of humor.

I couldn't let go of the fact that this one guy liked me, then didn't and wouldn't talk to me about it. He wouldn't talk to me about it because, you know, some people you just don't owe an explanation for that kind of thing. I understood that - the way that you understand things on paper - yet I still couldn't let it go. I maybe e-mailed too much in the beginning. Then I tried to e-mail and pretend like everything was all right with me, thinking that he might e-mail me back if I was just cool again. But he sent me one last e-mail, saying, "You have confused the hell out of me," and that was it.

What I wanted the last time that I was in therapy was to find a way to connect with people. Three years of therapy, and I had an outstanding balance due to my therapist that I still haven't completely paid off. I had a blog. I had improved confidence. I had medication - which I got through two appointments with a mean psychopharmacologist who treated me like I was responsible for my own misery and full of shit, which is probably true but not what you want to hear from someone you're asking for help. And I had a challenge in my head that led me to believe that I was once again capable of being an artist, going out and meeting people, finding a community where I fit with people who have similar goals and interests. (It was not the gay community, though I am gay. I can't find my place in the gay community. We'd talked about how I was going to connect with other gay people in therapy, but I never managed it. I just figured I could find other friends, other gays, other romances, other connections in places where I felt comfortable. And gay-centered places and large, concentrated groups of gay men, as a result, still scare the holy living fuck out of me.)

I thought I was doing so well. The therapist told me that I didn't need to come as often anymore, and I thought that I'd had the best experience with therapy I'd managed in my life. (He was my third therapist.)

This was a couple years ago.

I don't think that I've backslid into dangerous behaviors and regressed to the point that I was when I had the bad date and called the last therapist. But apparently I still had more work that I've needed to do.

But I have yet to even look beyond the occasional, non-committal web search at finding a new therapist. I don't want back on the fucking pills again. I don't want to talk about my childhood again. I don't want to do that kind of therapy again. I don't want to need therapy.

It's unfair that there's something wrong with me, my depression, my brain chemistry, my outlook and my ability to connect with people. I'm a nice person, and it's unfair that I have to go through this. It's unfair that I just can't fit in. It's unfair that my brain won't let me let things go. It's unfair that I have to deal with this shit, and I know everyone has shit to deal with. But I've worked and worked and worked, and this is unfair that I still have so much more work to do.

There are pictures on Facebook of the guy I had the bad date with. He's on a beach in Hawaii with his boyfriend. Another person I was once obsessed with got married a couple months ago in California, and I sent him well-wishes, as we have forgiven each other for the mutual emotional trauma that we inflicted upon one another. A guy I used to bug constantly in college is now someone I can say the occasional hello to on the Internet, and he doesn't seem to mind talking to me.

Other people would've been able to say goodbye to such things. Other people would've been able to let go of someone after they've been dismissed. I can let go nowadays, easier than I could when I was in high school or college, but it still takes me a hell of a long time to get over someone or some slight or some past anxiety. It keeps me up at night. Things upset me, and I explode. I get angry. I'm suspicious of people who try to be nice to me. I don't trust easily. And I try way too hard to be liked. I destroy apartments through neglect and self-punishment. Any random happening can put me on the defensive, where I feel like I'm being misunderstood and can't let that stand.

I thought that by understanding the roots of where these feelings came from - my past and my family and my disability - that I could learn to forgive, learn to cope, learn to survive and then learn to thrive.

I don't want to go back to therapy because years of therapy have only gotten me to this point, where people still say I'm ridiculously awkward, where I still have panic attacks about going to gay bars, where people are wary about being onstage with me, where I'm unable to find a man who wants to share this life with me.

I'm a good guy whose emotions betray him, whose lack of trust and desperation turn him into a villain, an outcast. I'm someone who tries too hard to do good and ends up alienating people who just want to relax and have a good time and who didn't sign on to spending time with me in order to help me cope with my baggage.

I have baggage. I need help. But I don't want to go to therapy. At least not the therapy that I'm familiar with.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Downward-facing dog.

It's not that I'm at any sort of stopping point with my HOW TO WIN FRIENDS project. I've just joined a couple cults that have broadened my focus.

Today, I joined a yoga class at my office, and it hurt like holy hell. The instructor said that she'd try to find modified positions that would make me feel more comfortable, but I'm going to invest in some kneepads in the meantime.

Last week, I joined Weight Watchers because Jenipher's mom Jan - who likes me but whom Jenipher says is not allowed to like me better than her - was teaching the Monday night class near my house. Tonight, I went to my second meeting and got a sticker from Jan because I'd lost a significant amount of weight in my first week. Tonight's meeting was all about providing yourself with positive reinforcement.

I'm doing good things lately.

Friday, August 22, 2008

PRINCIPLE THREE: Arouse in the other person an eager want.

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are." - Dale Carnegie

Taking on this principle, the last of the book's "fundamental techniques in handling people," was tough, really tough, even though I've learned about it in improv class before and can apply it in my scene work. What does this mean to those of you who don't do improv? It means I can create characters who can come to understand what someone else's character wants, and I can build a scene around either helping them gain that goal or thwarting their goal.

Of course, in improv, it creates a better scene if you create an obstacle toward someone's goal. It creates tension, and tension is more interesting onstage than an easily solved problem.

In life, blocking someone else's goal for the sole purpose of building tension just makes you an asshole. Working to understand someone else's desires and concentrating on the benefits they hope to reap over your own wants, desires, hopes and goals is what Carnegie suggests doing.

And I found it tough to do it. I'm selfish and self-centered and self-loathing and self-indulgent, and my initial reactions to situations are usually filtered through that self-interest.

But, since I'm trying to map my progress in this project on a regular basis, I did find one example today of how I've dealt with this specific principle. And it's a fucking doozy.

My mom took the day off work today so that she could go to Glamour Shots and get her casket photo taken. She went with her best friend Debbie, who also wanted a coffin-topper portrait in soft lighting.

As Mom explained to me, she and Debbie had discussed doing this photo shoot for nine years, but the plan moved from discussion to action a couple weeks ago when Mom found a two-for-one Glamour Shots coupon in the newspaper. They redeemed it today.

Debbie and Mom didn't just want updated, good photos of themselves. They wanted their going-away portraits. Mom wanted the photo that we're going to put on her casket during her wake.

Debbie and Mom devised this plan, as I said, nine years ago after Debbie's sister died. Debbie's sister - who was fine-looking but not a knockout - had a framed, filtered-lighting Glamour Shots photo of herself in heavy makeup looking her most "fashion model beautiful" atop her casket during the viewing of the body, and Debbie's family loved the photo so much that there was an actual fight over who got to keep it after the burial. And Debbie's sister's lying, cheating ex-husband apparently stole it off the coffin during the service when it looked like the photo was going to go to some other relative.

My mom said she and Debbie made a pact after that white-trash funeral photo theft incident that they should have pretty pictures taken of themselves for their coffins before, as she suggested, they became craggy, ugly, fat old women. She didn't want us to use a photo of her that was from the 1980s, and she didn't want a more recent photo that was unflattering. So she went to Glamour Shots today.

(My mom's pretty. But my mom doesn't think she's pretty. Just like I'm cute. But I don't think I'm cute.)

She told this to my stepfather and me, and our reactions were different.

My stepfather Jerry, with his Southern twang and his idea that our family funerals should be all about weeping, wailing, snake-handling and histrionic, down-on-your-knees begging for mercy from an almighty God (even though he doesn't go to church), was vehement in his disapproval of my mom's funeral photo shoot.

"THERE AIN'T NO MATERIAL THINGS LEFT AT THAT POINT! YOU AIN'T SUPPOSED TO FOCUS ON WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE! IT'S SINFUL!" Jerry roused to my mother, and she actually would laugh and argue her point, rather than just stay quiet like she usually does with Jerry, who prefers to proclaim his conclusions rather than listen to other people's points-of-view.

"We've been talking about it for years, Jerry," she explained. "And Debbie and I want to do this before we get any uglier. Have you seen some of the photos they run on the obits page?"

Jerry scoffed and said he'd just have her cremated. (I scoffed at that, for I'm betting he dies first.)

My mom's whole perspective on this photo shoot for the past couple weeks has been refreshing, actually. She's been very matter-of-fact about all the deeper ramifications of this, like that she's openly acknowledging that she's going to die eventually. She knows that the photo shoot is shrouded in this morbidity, and she's tackled it with a certain admirable, sick sense of humor.

As a result of this, my main objection to the photo shoot was not that I didn't want Mom to plan her funeral. (She's been carrying around sheet music for it in her briefcase for years. I know that. She's just being zealous about preparation.) No, my main objection was her choice of photography studios.

"Seriously, Mom, I know photographers who could do this for you," I said to her today while she ironed three outfits that she wanted to wear. "Why Glamour Shots?"

"Well, we have a coupon," Mom said. "And Debbie and I want to do this together. You know how we'll probably get there and just start laughing about it. We've wanted to do this for years."

I understood what she wanted. I understood why she wanted it. So I tried to work with that by telling her what my fears about the whole thing were.

I said, "I don't want you to wear a hat. I don't want you to wear a boa. Don't clinch your collar. I don't want you to do any shots where you rest your hand on your chin. I don't want them to light the shot so much that it looks like you've been glazed. I don't want the photo on your casket to make it look like you were the madam at some New Orleans brothel."

It was wrong of me to concern myself over how potentially tacky this whole thing might be. It's not my funeral.

My mom explained to me that Glamour Shots has changed.

"You wear your own clothes now, so I won't be wearing a hat or a boa," she said, propping up the iron. "They do your makeup while you're there, but I'll still be in my own clothes. I've got the black-pinstripe suit, the red suit and this denim one that will, you know, look more casual. Don't worry about it."

My mom hasn't worn much facial makeup in years. She abandoned lipstick when she started dating my stepfather. She's never been a Glamour Shots type of woman before. I had mixed feelings about this whole thing because I couldn't quite grasp what she was out to prove about herself.

And then, while she was going over the clothes, I thought that maybe my problem with all of this is that, because I'm her son and because I love her, I see something in her that she doesn't. It's the same thing I can't see in myself.

And so I looked at my mother and said, "You know you're pretty, right?"

She rolled her eyes.

"Oh come on," I repeated, "you've always been pretty."

She kept ironing.

"Even when you were a kid, you were pretty. You're pretty now. You dress well. You're pretty, and you know that."

She thanked me, but, unfortunately, I don't think she quite bought it.

Still, this evening, she called me up and said, "I didn't wear a hat. I didn't wear a boa. There was one shot in close-up where they told me to rest my head on my arm, and I did that. But most of them came out really good. I got several 5x10s of one where I was wearing the denim, and you can have one of the wallet-sized ones."

My mother is not dying. My mother just allowed herself this fun, silly act of vanity to fly in the face of aging and death. And I just want her to like herself and have fun. I think she wants to like herself.

Today, at that photo shoot, she did.

When I put that photo on her casket one sad day, I hope I remember this. And I hope I laugh about it.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The lovely woman in the above photo is not my mother, just some nice person who posted her photo on the Internet.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

In appreciation.

"Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare." - Dale Carnegie

My friend Zach Steele owns a bookstore in Decatur. It opened last June. Because I'd been out of touch with him, I found out about Zach's bookstore while I was hitting on this straight guy during the Armistead Maupin book signing at Outwrite Books. The heterosexual guy worked at Georgia Center for the Book, and he and I were doing this random chit-chat while I was trying to picture what he looked like naked. (I did not know he was straight at the time. I mean, jeez, it was an Armistead Maupin book signing at Outwrite. It's not my fault for jumping to the wrong conclusion. And he was cute.)

During the chit-chat, the straight guy and I were talking about self-published books, and I told him that the worst self-published book ever written was this Southern-fried, end-times novel called APOCALYPSE SOUTH by Kyle Watson. (The book has a scene that takes place in a traffic jam on I-285 during the Rapture. It's absolutely hilarious.)

And the straight guy told me that he'd seen APOCALYPSE SOUTH before and, in fact, had a friend with a marked-up copy of it with notes on the edges where an entire bookstore staff had commented on how bad it was. And I told the straight guy that I was familiar with that copy of the book, for I had once worked with the bookstore staff that created it. The straight guy told me that Zach, my one-time manager, had the copy and read it to the staff of his new bookstore at every meeting they had.

And, thus, the cute, straight guy and APOCALYPSE SOUTH led me to reacquaint myself with Zach. The day after the Maupin signing, I e-mail him and discovered Wordsmiths Books in Decatur. A few days later, I'd walked through the doors of their first location in Decatur, a pretty place with unfortunately low foot traffic. Zach wasn't there during my first trip to the store, which is why I was able to focus on the store and fall in love with its charms in my own way. It's a beautiful place with a warm vibe. It feels good to be there. It feels comfortable to read there. It was the sort of place where I wanted to know everyone's name.

I came up with my own dream for Wordsmiths that first day. I wanted to do a reading there. I wanted to sign copies of my own, as-yet-unwritten books there. I had this feeling stronger in Wordsmiths than I'd ever had in any location of the bookstore that had given me paychecks. In part, this was because it was independent. Mostly, I think I was just charmed to be standing in the middle of Zach's dream store. He had the idea. He wanted something. He went for it, and he achieved it. It made me want to tie my own ambitions to his. I envied his success, and I hoped that Wordsmiths was a place where fulfilled dreams were contagious. That was last year when I'd just begun discovering places like JaCKPie in the city, places built on optimism. I wanted a part of it.

So I e-mailed Zach the next day and told him that I'd enjoyed going to his store and was tempted to jump up on the microphone and read one of my essays. And, even though at that point he'd never read an essay of mine and had never heard me perform anything, he told me at the time that I was more than welcome to jump up on the mic whenever I was in his store. And within a month, Wordsmiths had its first Open Mic Night, and I brought "Prayer for the Waffle House Faithful" to read. When I stepped up on that stage, I'm fairly certain that Zach and his staff didn't know what to expect from me. During the reading, I noticed that I was getting a lot of laughs, particularly from Zach and his wife Alice. By the time I was done, Zach came onstage and said that I was more than welcome to perform at every Open Mic Night. It was one of the best compliments I've ever gotten in my life.

Since then, Russ Marshalek, the events coordinator for Wordsmiths, has proven to be just as supportive of my work as Zach. He's asked me to read at other events at Wordsmiths and said that my Phi Kappa brother Will Young and I are the store's favorite homegrown performers. Russ even helped me film a scene of THE AMBER NASH SHOW video in his apartment complex elevator.

I love these guys. I love Wordsmiths Books. It has shown me nothing but love, and it has supported my efforts as a writer and performer.

And now it's in trouble. Because of debt incurred at the location it has since moved from, Wordsmiths is in danger of closing, and I want to keep the place open forever. Fundraising efforts are ongoing, and I would like it very much if you could help out a place that's becoming an important part of the Decatur and Atlanta communities.

View it anyway you like. Go to their website, and read about what's going on from the owner himself. Just help them out if you can. Pick your reasons. Please help.

Do it because good people need your help. Do it because you want another place where you can buy books. Because people who've helped me out now need help. Because a local, small business needs help. Because it's a cool place. Because you remember what the cool, small bookstore in your town used to be like. Because I've not written a book yet, and I want Wordsmiths to still be there for when I do or for when any of my friends do. Because the continued existence of mom-and-pop stores suggest the basic American dream can still survive. Do it because places built on optimism are places that need to stick around.

And thank you for your attention and help.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

PRINCIPLE TWO: Give honest and sincere appreciation.

"I shall pass this way but once: any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Old saying referenced in HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE


Trying to think up a more interesting way to blog about this than just "I tried this principle this week, and this happened ...," I tried to think of something that I'm randomly grateful for. And, for some reason that hit me when I singing along with my car stereo, I realized that I am grateful that I never got to perform a solo number in my high school's choral variety show. The people I suppose that I can thank for this are Mr. Fowler, my high school choral director, and my late Grandpa Carr.

The reason that I am grateful that I didn't perform a solo isn't because I'm scared to sing in public. I like my singing voice, actually. I'm not great, but I'm not bad. Since I grew up singing with my mother the formal choral teacher-turned-mortgage banker and two aunts who also taught high school chorus, it was sorta expected that I'd be singing my whole life - even if I never showed the sheer talent for it that my elders did. (Seriously, Aunt Carol is a very, very accomplished soprano.)

Still, because I was one of those theater kids (or would've been if I'd been at a school with a functional drama department) and because I was a former member of the Atlanta Boy Choir, I wanted to be center stage at every concert and, after it was created my junior year, the song-and-dance variety show, which is a spectacular program in Buford even now. But my moment in the high school spotlight never happened.

And I am fucking grateful. Because now I have no embarrassing "song-and-dance" moments to live down.

It's all about song choice. You'll see what I mean.

My junior year, I heard this '40s tune on television because it was the theme song from my favorite show, "Homefront," which was this really, really good post-WWII soap opera. The song was "Accentuate the Positive" by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, and my mother - ever resourceful when it came to music - bought the sheet music herself so that I could try out for Mr. Fowler. It's a great song about spreading joy and being really, really happy in the face of adversity. But, when I tried out, I'd only heard the hook of it. I didn't know about the deep, deep bass, gospel-churchy "Come to Jesus" part that opened the song, and I didn't rehearse it enough. So I ended up sounding like a fool during the tryout, which made me angry and made me throw a stupid fit where I cried in front of the teacher. (I cried a lot in my younger days before testosterone kicked in and made my voice drop. I can sing that song's deep, deep bass parts now. Not so much when I was 16.)

So when junior year didn't work out, I thought I would try extra, extra hard my senior year to really get a solo and really give a performance that would amaze people. So I picked Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," which is a great song that I can really sing and did decently well with during first tryouts. And I was supposed to sing it, everything was set. And my grandfather died the week before the show, so my brother and I had to leave rehearsals to go to Florida. And coming back from Grandpa Carr's funeral, I really didn't feel like polishing a song-and-dance routine wherein I sang of my love for beautiful ladies to a group of dancing, dolled-up teenaged girls. The number was cut. Now, at 32, I can honestly say, "Thank you for dying, Grandpa. Your timing is excellent."

If you're reading this blog, you probably know my attitudes and preferences really, really well. Now, if I'd mentioned to you that I'd performed song-and-dance numbers to "Accentuate the Positive" and "Oh, Pretty Woman" in high school, what are the chances that my melancholy, homosexual ass would ever be able to live that down? (And you know I would have already told you this story if it had actually happened.)

I honestly and sincerely appreciate that I didn't get to perform those songs, even though I was really, really upset about losing both opportunities at the time.

Hindsight can be sweet.

Tonight, after an excellent improv class where my confidence and attitude is improving, I met my friend Scott (yes, that Scott - the ex-almost-boyfriend Scott) for dinner at Steak 'n' Shake. And I tried listening to him. I tried not bringing up all the baggage and bad memories that I usually bring up. I didn't dwell on bad things. I didn't bitch at him. I was happy to see him, for - because we are comfortable with one another - I have fun with him and relax with him. And I must say that it was one of the best evenings that we've had together in a while because I tried to pay attention to him and concentrate on what he wanted. I really, really tried to apply the principles of the book, and he said he noticed a change in me.

Yes, I'm typing this from Scott's. Yes, it's his webcam. Yes, it's 5 a.m. No, we did not. Thank you.

My improv teacher Jim does read this blog. I found that out last week after he e-mailed me to ask why I blogged about him not replying to my e-mails. That entry last week was me trying to reason out what I was doing wrong and how I could improve my approach with him. I applied those principles stronger this week, and I think I'm in a much better place with him and with my performances in class. Jim's an exceedingly positive, encouraging and supportive guy. As I read in this book about "recognizing and satisfying other people's wants," I'm reminded of performance lessons that he already taught my class.

As I continue to work on these things, now that he knows what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, I'm very happy to say that I have his support.

This week, I went back to my bookstore because Kurt wanted to see the new Tori Amos comic, and I got to see Daniel the Violin Guy, my friend Cheryl the Chef and James the Future Roommate. It was a really good day. I miss the bookstore and miss those people. I need to move back to town, but these things will all happen in time. I expected it to happen quickly, but patience will allow me the chance to work through some financial problems that come when you face the amount of change that I have this year.

I just keep reminding myself that the changes were positive.

Kurt's become a good friend to have around.

I really like this book. Thank you, Dale Carnegie.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

PRINCIPLE ONE: Don't criticize, condemn or complain.

"Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? ... Why not begin on yourself?" - Dale Carnegie, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE


I would say that this first principle has been something of a bitch to apply to my life, but that would be a complaint. And, if I am dedicated to this process, I can't be dedicated to it halfway. Of course, Carnegie admits that he found himself backsliding in regard to this one. It's a process, and all I have to do is get better at it. I can do that.

It turns out my tattered paperback is not a copy that once belonged to my father, though my mom told me that he took the seminar when he was working for Hartford Insurance in the '70s. My copy just looks old. It turns out that my well-intentioned, oftentimes too-involved mother bought me this book to try and motivate me to get along with people and behave like a normal, undepressed kid when I was in high school, and I ignored it - except to carry it around with me from move to move to move until its pages yellowed and its cover got stained and beaten to hell. She routinely used to mention the book to me as though it could solve all my social problems and help me fit into future workplace environments. (She thinks it helped my dad with relationships and success, though would he be a divorced, twice-laid-off insurance exec if he'd really, really been good at keeping friends?)

I think I carried it from move to move because I thought it belonged to my dad, but the back cover mentions that it's been updated for life in the "complex and competitive" 1990s - and he stopped living at our house in 1982.

So, by reading this book after she told me to do so for years and years and years, my mother's arrow has reached its intended target. I'm reading the book. So the next time she tells me that I'd be better off if I'd read it, I can scoff and reply sarcastically with, "Oh yeah, well, I have ..." Except that it'd be really, really negative to say something like that, and it isn't even that funny. She means well, even if it comes off as dismissively judgmental sometimes to my ears, which have been honed to interpret everything intended as helpful with a degree of skepticism and venom.

I've been living with her for two months, and she's been good and nice and patient. I should have more in savings than I do, and I should be further along in my apartment search than I am.

There is much in my life that I need to work on. It seems too small to work on the fact that I'm a self-involved smartass. But maybe it'll be like dominoes, one thing will affect the next until a sea change comes in my attitudes and situations.

In trying to explain the backstory of how I picked this book and why this book in particular is the one I'm blogging about, though, it should be said that this was my mom's go-to suggestion of how to "fix" me whenever I had hardship or was having difficulty in friendships or work. This book was the salve she suggested I apply to my damaged psyche, and she told me that it did wonders for my father, with whom I have a sometimes connected, sometimes utterly disconnected relationship. So that's the "why" of the blog. I want to see my mother's remedy and my father's fabled "inspiration" affect my life.

So here's how I've applied the first principle this week:


I was nice to my stepfather whenever I saw him, asking him his opinions of what he watched on TV and saying hello whenever we were in the same room. And, this week, when he cleaned three rooms of the house while my mother was at work, I was impressed and maintained a good opinion of him. (Of course, it leads me to wonder how much cleaning I should be doing. But, well, I'm usually only at the house awake between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m.)

So, well, my stepdad vaccuumed, and I thought it was a cool thing for him to do.

In my communications with my improv teacher Jim, I've tried to be positive and encouraging, asking him - a little too bluntly and obviously after going on about myself for days before picking up the book - how I can be a better friend to him (in an e-mail that he didn't answer). And I tried to be upbeat in an e-mail reply to an announcement he sent me about an improv show he had this weekend (which he also did not reply to).

I shouldn't have made my attempts at positivity so blatant, such a 180-degree turn from the last conversation I had with him on Tuesday where I worried too much, criticized myself extensively and then asked him to hug me. When I tried talking to him this week, it came off as a desperate attempt to make amends, fix things and restore order. In short, I was a handful for him this week, and a freaked-out overreaction from me probably won't restore his faith in me that things are going to get better.

I need to chill with him, and I need to relax. In the meantime, I'm going to try a positive, smile, quieter poker face.

And I'll let you know how it goes. (He does not read this blog.)

I had another good dinner with my friend Kurt, who does read this blog. At one point, I made a self-effacing comment about whether he actually thinks I'm cute - which he's said. It was just another way that I was condemning myself. It was wrong to do that, particularly in the way that it seemed like I was just digging for compliments from someone whose friendship has been a reliable, reassuring thing that I can trust.

Kurt saw the book, and he asked me how old the copy was. That's what prompted the realization that my copy was put to press in the '90s.

The most significant chance I had to apply these principles this week, and the one that I've been most unsure about addressing, was my trip to a guy's apartment on Friday night. We will call him "D," even though I don't think he reads this blog (and probably won't in the future). I've not blogged about my personal life in quite some time, but, if I'm going to examine how these principles are affecting my life, I would be remiss if I didn't mention - at least in part - what happened on Friday night because HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE and this project was mentioned specifically.

Shortly after I arrived, D saw that I had the paperback in my hand and asked me how it was going. I told him that it was going pretty well, though I said I was having a difficult time remaining positive and not complaining about stuff. I mean, I was aware that I complain a lot - for I know my temperament - but, geez, so much of what I say is negative.

I mean, it's almost as though "guy who bitches about things and people in a clever way" is who I want to be known as. (OK, it's a lot like that's who I want to be.) I'd never realized so completely as I did this week that being "that guy" is a silly thing to really want to be. I've done a lot of damage to myself by being that guy. If you want to be a harsh, critical, melodramatic person, why is it a surprise that you need help winning friends?

D sorta playfully mock-criticized the book, the way I always have with my mom. When he heard the first principle, D said that much of what he says is a complaint, criticism or condemnation. (We have that in common.) And it didn't seem to be a temperament that he wanted to lose. He said that people come to him for that sort of spice. (It was yet another moment this month when I felt, with D, like I was dating someone with my exact personality, and these moments kinda horrified me.) And, when he said that, I thought about whether I wanted that in a boyfriend, someone as jaded and bitter as I have been. I know what it's like to pride yourself on your negative temperament. (I still do it.) But how can I get better if I am growing close with someone who doesn't appreciate that I'm trying to improve or thinks that it'd be a stupid thing to try? I know I've made jokes, but I want to explore this process seriously. His reaction was such a bummer.

The remainder of the evening went downhill from that. There were some good moments, some fun. I really, really wanted to connect with this guy, for we did have things in common. And I would like to connect with someone.

At one point, my mind was wandering about things that weren't working, and D asked me if everything was OK.

"I'm not supposed to condemn, criticize or complain," I said in a smart-alecky way.

It was our third and probably last date.

I saw a lot of myself in that guy. I saw a lot of what I want to change about myself in that guy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Ah yes, you are attempting a new way of life."

By the time I was four years old, I had developed this rather in-depth conviction that I was either an alien from outer space or the savior of mankind. Or both. I'd seen Superman and Spider-Man in cartoons. I'd seen Luke Skywalker in the movies and sang songs about Jesus Christ in children's choir. My mom, without meaning to, encouraged this conviction. She told me that I was special, not just because I could walk on my wobbly legs like Bambi did when he and Thumper stepped on the frozen pond. She told me stories of my difficult birth, my surprising survival against incredible odds, my remarkable singing voice, my sweet temperament, my kindness toward all the people I met, the weird birthmark on my head and my unexpected intelligence. That was my origin story. I was supposed to be another hero. All I had to do was wait for my superpowers to show up. I knew that they were coming.

And, based upon some conclusion I drew after closing my eyes really, really tight and putting the palms of my hands against my eyes until I saw "stars," I thought my superpowers were going to come from another galaxy far, far away or, like, Heaven. (Jesus was just another guy with superpowers to me at that point. I knew all the words to "Jesus Loves Me" and the "Theme from Spider-Man.") By routinely inflicting that injury on myself, I figured that I was actually receiving some kind of message from the place that I was really from. My cerebral palsy wasn't an affliction that caused difficulty, it was something from which I would eventually derive power. My mom and dad were not my real mom and dad. My little brother would bite me and fight with me because he was merely normal and understood that a supreme being like myself didn't belong with them.

Kids want to be superheroes. Kids play pretend.

On the last day that I was in daycare at Lithia Springs High School before my family moved to Buford, I remember that it was raining and darkly stormy and that the drops were beading against the window of the daycare classroom. I was told that we were leaving Lithia Springs, but I didn't understand it. I didn't understand that someplace else was supposed to be my home, that I wasn't supposed to be "from" Lithia Springs anymore. So I put my hand against the window, acted like I could touch the raindrops, that I could freeze them in place or command them to move down the window. I imagined that I had powers, that I had control over the weather. I didn't want to go to the town with the dumb name. "Buford" just sounded like a dumb name. "Lithia Springs" sounded mythic to me in comparison, the name of a goddess or a radioactive element. I sat in the classroom, looked up into the dark sky and tried to imagine that my real life - the one where my future as a hero was set in stone - was beginning. I closed my eyes, pressed my palms against them until I saw stars and waited to receive the message telling me exactly how to become a superhero. I might've imagined voices telling me what to do, but the voice sounded to me like mine. I wanted something else, someone bigger than me, to communicate to me, to tell me that everything was OK. But the whole thing was just a game I was playing, one where a four-year-old boy had power over the universe, where it was only a matter of time until I fulfilled my destiny and all the things that I didn't understand would eventually be explained. Until it was time for us to go, I sat Indian-style against the window, concentrated on the raindrops hanging in front of me and tried to make them move.

I wish I still had that sense of power, that certainty, that belief in single-minded purpose as strongly as I did when I was a child. But things happen. If that sense of myself as "special" or "a superhero" was gone completely, I don't know that I would even mourn it, but there are still elements of it within me. I still dream. I still stubbornly believe that I'm doing the right thing.

Somewhere along the way, though, the idea that I was supposed to help other people got lost, replaced by the notion that I was important and that other people were supposed to pay attention to me. And the me that I have become is not totally the me that I wanted to be when, you know, the aliens were sending me my special purpose and weather-controlling superpowers from Heaven.

Somehow I got off-course when finding my special purpose. This wasn't supposed to happen like this. I was always supposed to be able to fit in with people and talk to them. I'm not supposed to be this self-centered. I'm not supposed to be this sarcastic. I'm not supposed to EVER be a complete dick. I was never supposed to complain, and I was never supposed to have any reason to complain. My destiny was supposed to be set. I was always supposed to be the hero.

I am not always the hero. I'm not always nice. I'm not even remotely cheery or an optimist. I feel like I barely smile. In fact, I can be a self-centered, self-defeating ass. In fact, I can be a downright drag. I'm the dark one. I'm the villain sometimes. There are times when even my friends really, really, really need their space from me.

I want to get better, and this book can help me.

I want to be the hero again. And that's going to take a lot of work.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to win friends and influence people.

My mistake happened this weekend. It was the sort of error that you wouldn't notice unless you were really paying attention. Somebody said something to me while I was onstage doing a comedy show, and it threw me off my game. I kept going with the comedy show, but I stopped enjoying it. Eventually, that little seed of self-consciousness grew into a tree of insecurity. By the end of the show, I'd started struggling and was not having a good time, which is a real shame when you consider that I was doing something that I love doing and had taken time off work early to be able to do. But, at the time when I was onstage judging myself and in a panic, I'd forgotten why I was there. I was just up there, trying to get onstage, trying to get my groove back, trying to survive. It was not a total disaster, for me struggling through a show can still generate some decent comedy - and I had people onstage who weren't "in their heads" like me, people were trying to help me.

My problem was that I wasn't returning the favor. I was thinking about myself, my level of comfort, how *I* was doing, how the mistakes that were happening were not my fault.

But it was all my fault that I had a bad show. It was all my fault that I didn't have a good time. It was all my fault that my mind wasn't where it should've been and that my job as a performer wasn't done the right way.

The people who were trying to help me should've gotten an equal lift from me trying to help them, but I was not doing that. I wasn't trying to make them look good. I was out there in a panic, putting myself into a bad mood while trying unsuccessfully to save myself.

That can't happen again. And I can't keep going over it in my head. So instead, I'm going to work on my attitude.

I have a task. I'm setting it for myself and working on it alone. I'm not going to worry about what I did wrong. That's in the past. I'm going to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I don't want to be in my head so much that I can't see the effect I have on myself or other people anymore - onstage or in my life. I need to focus my energies outside of myself and relate to people better.

When I changed jobs, had the puppet show happen and had to move back in with my mom for a couple months, there was a book at her house that I've sold to many, many people at the bookstore called WHO MOVED MY CHEESE. It was just sitting around the bathroom, and I picked it up, more to scoff at it than anything else, but reading it actually provided me with a lot of comfort in regard to the changes that I was going through at the time. And, when the changes come again, I hope I'm better able to face them.

So I've picked up a couple more self-help books from a box of my father's stuff - specifically Norman Vincent Peale's THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING and Dale Carnegie's HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE - to see if they'll help me fix my attitudes and my way of dealing with people. And, last night at Steak 'n' Shake when I started to read my father's old copy of Dale Carnegie's business motivation book, HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, the book said that you should write down and constantly review how you used the principles of the book in everyday life.

I figured that it might make for interesting blog entries and improve my improv skills, and I do have a legitimate desire and curiosity about how to improve my relations with other people. So I thought I would try it.

OK, so here's a new personal project.

I'm going to apply HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE to my life, and I'm going to blog about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Things to do with a freeze ray.

- Last night after my improv show, someone told me that there was a new Joss Whedon musical, which I thought incorrectly was some kind of stage show. No, instead it's a three-part video called DR. HORRIBLE'S SING-ALONG BLOG, that's available at the website until the end of the day and thereafter only available through iTunes, according to the "master plan" on the website. It's a comic-book plot with fun music starring Neil Patrick Harris as an evil genius and Nathan Fillion as a superhero in a really tight shirt, and I recommend it (and not just because of Fillion's nipples).
- Saw THE DARK KNIGHT. Absolutely amazing.

- A couple days ago, I was watching the trailer for WATCHMEN, a movie coming in March that's based upon the best graphic novel ever written. (TIME called the Alan Moore book one of the greatest novels ever written, a friend of mine called it "the CITIZEN KANE of comic books." Both assertations are correct.)

- Lupo tells me that I have to see MAMMA MIA! because it's just that awful, featuring the worst choreography he's ever seen in a musical. He compared it unfavorably to GREASE 2. Who wants to go with me???
- Emily just e-mailed me to ask if I knew about six-word stories, which paint a picture in spite of their lack of length. After finding this website, I wrote this one: Mother wept as the soldier knocked. THIS WEEK'S ASSIGNMENT: Write a six-word story in the comment section.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Things to do in someone else's dreams.

- My friend and improv cohort Jeremiah Prescott is the only person onstage in PushPush Theater's work-in-progress movieplay, INTERSECTION OF DREAMS, and I saw it on Tuesday. Good stuff. It's romantic, contains much dream logic but tells a clear, somewhat creepy story. It's very experimental, but I recommend it.

- I already have my tickets to THE DARK KNIGHT: THE IMAX EXPERIENCE. I'm going at the end of my shift on Friday to the Mall of Georgia IMAX theater. I can't tell you how excited I am to see this movie. I just hope that my expectations for it aren't too high. But I love Christopher Nolan, and I love BATMAN BEGINS.
- I started listening to Tom Perrotta's THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER audiobook at work. Its narrator is Campbell Scott, an actor that I've had a crush on since I saw DYING YOUNG in 1991. His voice is so smooth. Everyday at work, listening to him talk about a sex-ed teacher's difficulties in a right-wing, religious suburban community, Campbell's voice makes it all so soothing and right.

- The French trailer for TRANSPORTER 3 has been posted on YouTube, and Kacoon and I have already made plans to see it when it's released in November. (My first reaction to the trailer was, for the record, "Sweet Jesus, he's in his underwear!") Kacoon said that this one looks better than TRANSPORTER 2, and I agreed because it looks like it has more Jason Statham shirtlessness, a fight scene that requires the bad guys to strip a suit off the Transporter and a girl that looks like she's had at least one meal in the last two weeks.

- Lately, I've been listening to some Rilo Kiley, and I realize I'm late to the party on this one. But UNDER THE BLACKLIGHT is a good album.
- A couple weeks ago, I wanted to ride on the Ferris wheel that was at a roadside carnival on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, but friends of mine refused to join me at a roadside carnival for what would only be a 20-minute stay. I was just in the mood for some Tilt-a-Whirl action, you know, maybe some cotton candy or something like that. I was in the mood to put myself in danger. I wanted some thrills, twists and turns, something like a roller coaster. On Wednesday, though, I finally found someone who was willing to go on an amusement park ride with me: my two-year-old nephew DJ. He and I hopped on the Merry-Go-Round at the Mall of Georgia, and he had fun, even though I wouldn't let him have the black horse that he wanted because I was afraid he was going to fall off it and break his head open. Heck, even the horse I put him on managed to freak the hell out of me. DJ is this little, fragile kid I adore, and I was deathly afraid that something would go wrong. Even though he was strapped in safely, and nothing bad did happen. I can't believe people are ever able to relax about taking care of their own children. I was freaked out that my sister-in-law Samantha trusted me to put her child on such a ride, which went from being cute, quaint and fun - at a distance - to looking to me like a giant death trap while I put DJ on the horse. Parenthood must be like one long, sustained, paranoid panic attack. High praise to those of you who manage it. Once the ride ended and DJ was back safely on the ground, I felt better and realized that it was all fun. But, geez, that ride was scary. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Do any carnival rides scare you? Have you ever had a bad experience on one?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Momentarily gone.

My domain name expired, so I just renewed it. Blog will be down for a day.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Card in a drawer.

A couple days ago, going through an old drawer of cards and Valentines, I think I found a holiday card sent to my mother from her Aunt Averial. (I always thought she had an "Aunt Averille" or "Aunt Avril," but, to trust the card, it's "Aunt Averial.")

My mom can't talk about her aunt without tearing up, but I always try asking about her. My mom's aunt, you see, was sent to an institution and lobotomized during the 1970s - I think - after having a nervous breakdown. But, to hear the stories from my mother, Averial wasn't crazy. She was smart, strong and a battered wife. Apparently, for speaking out against her husband or defying her husband or something like that, she was institutionalized. When she wouldn't comply with being locked away, her husband had the authorities there treat her "madness" by cutting off a portion of her brain so that her personality would subside, so that she would lose the supposed crazy defiance she had for being a strong, smart and independent woman trapped in a bad marriage.

I found out about this in an odd way. There were occasional mentions of Averial's lobotomy, none with too much explanation, but I got the most detailed descriptions of the story after I watched ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and asked my mom if she's seen the movie in the theater. My mom tells me that she had to walk out of the theater while seeing it with my dad in 1975 because the ending - which, sorry to spoil it, features a creepy, creepy lobotomy - reminded her too much of what Averial had gone through.

While driving through Paulding on a trip there while my grandfather was in better shape than he is now, we drove past the "county institution," though it wasn't the one where Averial stayed. It was an earlier one, maybe from the 1920s. It was a dark, renovated shack - practically falling down. My grandfather pointed out the graveyard with no marked graves. He pointed out to me that, in the '20s, that's where parents were encouraged to send their children if they were retarded or disabled or such, for that was how mental health was treated in those days. It was horrifying, particularly for someone born disabled, for I often wonder how my life would've gone if I'd been born at a time when disabilities like mine - even ones as mild as mine - were treated with "care" that was a good deal more harsh.

Her name was spelled "Averial." As it happens in the family, her handwriting was almost exactly like my mother's.

Another trip to the library.

A woman here keeps lightly smacking her children when they get loud. I don't know whether to be offended or to find such discipline of children quaint.

I have eight minutes to write something profound.

OK ... peanut!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Things to do while I'm in suburbia for the summer.

- Last night, I saw WANTED, the hilariously violent Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy assassin comic-book movie. Every friend of mine who'd already seen it (and, in some cases, seen it twice) said that it was the most crazy and satisfying "summer movie" they'd seen this summer. And it didn't disappoint. It was, in fact, a hell of a lot of fun, and the combination of seeing people getting shot in the head and getting to hear Morgan Freeman's crisp diction as he says "kill this motherfucker!" was worth the price of admission. Best action movie since IRON MAN.

- Granted, WANTED is no WALL-E, which is a masterpiece that's equal parts romance and sci-fi. I'm assuming that you've already been to the theater to see it. If you haven't, nothing should keep you from it.
- Meanwhile, at the Center for Puppetry Arts (Oh, come on, you knew I had to mention it ...), this nice couple I met at a party are staging this show called THE DRAGON KING, a Chinese fable about an old woman who travels to the bottom of the sea to find out why it's stopped raining in her country. The show's touring the country, and I always recommend stuff at the Center for Puppetry Arts. It runs through July 13.

- Dad's Garage has extended the run of the great SONG OF THE LIVING DEAD until July 19, so there's still a chance to catch musical numbers like "Why Are You Cornholing Me, Jesus?" at the theater. Highly recommended.
- Or, if you're me, you can go to the library to check your e-mail and find out that all sorts of interesting people have moved into your hometown since you graduated high school.

- I've been watching all sorts of TV on DVD lately. My copy of the first season of MAD MEN should, UPS-willing, arrive at my house tomorrow. Meanwhile, Netflix has allowed me the chance to become obsessed with this show called BURN NOTICE. SLINGS & ARROWS, before that, was fantastic. And I'm really enjoying the 1976-set trading-spouses drama SWINGTOWN on And, above everything else, did you see that mid-season ending of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? Good Lord.

- As for books, I've now completed JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL after trying to read it for years. (Thank you, downloadable library audiobook!) I've also read my friend Emily Giffin's latest bestseller, LOVE THE ONE YOU'RE WITH, and now I'm debating what to read next.
- I'm in Level Five of the improv classes at JaCKPie now, and my experience there has changed my life for the better. I highly recommend taking part in the new JaCKPie Level One class if you want to add some fun to your life and some positivity to your existence. The new Level One will be on Thursday nights, beginning within two weeks. You can sign up for it at, and I strongly suggest that you do so.
- As for this list coming back, I thought it would be a way to get me writing regularly and paying attention to what's new in art again. Plus, I thought it might drum up some readership. (I'm a whore.) Actually, I thought it'd be nice to drum up topics of conversation again. THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: So what's the most fun thing you've done this summer? What movies, books, TV, stage shows and music have you enjoyed lately?

Friday, July 04, 2008

What I've kept with me and what I've thrown away.

Things are changing at my office, though I'm not sure if things are changing for me this time. So much has changed since I started this job in March, what with my forced departure from Barnes & Noble to the loss of my apartment, that I should start feeling more comfortable about change and loss.

A couple days ago, it talked with my old bookstore manager about the changes here in the office and how they might affect my potential return to the bookstore, but I don't know if it's going to work out - and I don't know if it should. I mean, I didn't honestly expect to work two jobs as I approached middle age. But why am I not relieved? So much is changing and so much was supposed to have changed for the better, but I'm still shell-shocked by much of it.

I don't feel like myself. It's another Independence Day that I've spent inside working, and routinely I've been calling people on the phone to assure that they have plans, that they're having fun and that they've been taken care of.

But, in spite of all these changes, I feel like I'm still not taking proper care of myself.

I didn't really want to spend another Fourth working, but I actually said that I was OK with working this shift when I was asked. (Someone just walked in while I was typing this to alert me to the fact that there might actually be work to do, but my shift here ends in nine minutes. I have friends to meet.)

Is my life better? I think so, even though the evidence is harder to discern when you actually examine the details of my life.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Mediocre men of the hour.

So I'm here at the library again on Monday, this time to grab some addresses for packages that I need to send. In the process, I have a bag filled with a variety of things that I should probably use today - blank index cards, a pen, the copy of JONATHAN STRANGE that I'm almost finished with (yay). I've got it in my head that I should either spend the day making some headway in my apartment search or, at least, write something. I really, really think that I'd be better off in the long run if I fucking wrote something, though searching for an apartment is important. (I keep thinking I should do that with James, the future roommate.)

I had a date last week. If I'd not vowed to never blog about a date again, I would give details as to the look, shape and feel of the day I spent with the guy - not to be confused with the look, shape and feel of the guy. When there's something to say, I'll say it. In the meantime, I feel like using whatever inspiration comes my way to write something fictional again. I think I'd have more fun getting back to my imagination.

Played an improv show last week, and it felt pretty fantastic to do it. I was mostly comfortable onstage, trusted my scene partners and felt like I was playing to just have fun, which made the audience have fun. I told my stepmom yesterday that I played a Mafia hitman trapped in prison, and she just laughed at the thought of it. (This was cool, for all week I've still managed to think about how much better I could've done if I'd just given my character an accent, a physical affectation or more specifics. The character I played was cool, but, given the chance to play him again, I'd play him far differently.)

I want to just have fun without appearing to worry too much or try too hard.

I like Mondays like this at the library. It feels like pleasant routine.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Book update.

I'm on Chapter 29 of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, and it's still rather good.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Shannon Jenkins photography, August 2008.

These were actually taken in August 2008 by my improv classmate/teammate Shannon Jenkins, who is an excellent photographer. I'm very pleased with these and intend to use them throughout the site very soon.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Hey, this book is really good.

I'm now in Chapter Eight of JONATHAN STRANGE, in the audiobook, and it's actually really good. I was right to recommend it to so many people without reading it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

As I've researched the library.

There are all sorts of downloadable audiobooks available to check out from the library. This is fantastic.

The first one I've grabbed to listen to is JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL, a book that I used to recommend and have routinely tried to read but have never been able to finish.

A couple weeks ago, I was able to borrow a friend's audiobook version of Sarah Vowell's ASSASSINATION VACATION, and I found listening to them to be a very useful way to pass time while working.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The first thought I had when I woke up this afternoon.

I turn 32 on Saturday. Isn't that the oldest Jesus ever got? Oh my God, that's as old as Lorelai was during the first episode of GILMORE GIRLS. I am now as old as Lorelai. I could have a 16-year-old daughter. Oh my God, what would I do with a 16-year-old daughter? Would she even know me? Would I prefer a daughter to a son? I guess I would. I mean, I wouldn't know what to teach a 16-year-old boy. Or a 16-year-old girl. (Hell, do I still behave like a 16-year-old?)

Wait, does that mean there's still hope for me? Lorelai didn't find the love of her life on GILMORE GIRLS until she was way older than 32. Awesome.

Another Monday at the library.

A computer glitch is causing the Bank of America website to give me an old balance, rather than a current one - which means that the next couple days are going to be fun for me. I love not knowing exactly how much money I have at my disposal. (I check my balance online to assure myself that the balance I keep is correct, so I have a general idea of how much money I have. But who knows what surprises may be in store?)

Saturday was great. I played an improv show, then went for food with Mauree. Then, we met up with James. And James, Mauree and I went to Fado in Buckhead, which was terrific. Mauree told us stories from her life that I'd never heard before, adding to her charm. I'm so glad that she's my friend.

I keep reading Batman comics while I'm at home. I've not been writing so much. I coped with some emotional stuff this weekend. And I'm seeing the zombie musical at Dad's with Katrina tonight, so that should be fun.

Weird as this may sound, I miss having two jobs. Which is to say that I actually miss having two paychecks, for I was used to having generally regular income, rather than just income every two weeks. (Silly complaint, I guess, but I was used to whatever potential financial crisis seeing some kind of relief every Friday. Now I look at the bank balance, and it freaks me out. And this is while I'm living at home and shouldn't have as many bills. But the cost of gas is killing me.)

Oh well, this will all work out. Heck, there may not even be a problem, and I'm worrying for no reason.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Odd encounter.

At 3 a.m. last night, I walked the Buford town circle. A homeless prostitute approached and propositioned me. We were once in school together. I did not get a "favor." I did not buy her food. She left me at the circle, and I finished my walk and went home.

Monday, June 09, 2008

13 minutes remaining.

I'm writing from the library again. I kinda like the gimmick of this. The timer telling me that I only have a limited time to use the computer because the rest of the rabble - without Internet connection in Gwinnett County - want access to the library computer, as well. The wait for these is slightly less intense than the wait for computers at the airport terminals, those computers that never work or never let you access your e-mail accounts, though you try in vain anyway to get them to work.

I need to go get my oil changed. I have a DVD of UNTRACEABLE that my mom rented from Blockbuster, and I watched it and feel it is my duty to return it to the store. It wasn't a bad movie. It wasn't great. My mom and stepdad like "torture porn" movies. Their favorite is SAW. If you weren't concerned about my upbringing before or uncertain about my potential for long-term relationship success, keep in mind that my mom is depressed and unable to let herself be happy, my stepdad is ignorant and dissatisfied, and they watch "torture porn" movies.

I'm trying to thwart the example they've set me for marriage.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fun at Gitmo.

At my job, I occasionally edit photos from Guantanamo Bay, and today's photos of the frisbee golf course there made going to prison in Cuba look like lots and lots of fun.

Monday, June 02, 2008

At the library.

I was gonna head to the garage to get my oil changed since it's my day off, but a call to the bank to check on my balance tells me that maybe it'd be better to do that sort of thing on Friday, when I get paid and have money. I was also gonna avoid hanging out at my mom's house tonight - since I finished the cheesy, underwhelming ending of TWILIGHT, that teen vampire romance novel that I was reading - but it looks like I'd be better off staying in and saving some funds. I've got a DVD of THE SEARCHERS to watch on my computer, and I've already picked up the vampire romance's sequel.

But now I'm at the Buford Library, which is now more like a Buford community computer lab that just happens to still have some books, and I figured I could spend some time outside the house here without spending money. To my surprise, they have comics here now, so I picked up BATMAN: YEAR ONE. Also, since I've been watching SLINGS AND ARROWS on Netflix, I assume that I should get around to reading KING LEAR before they start performing KING LEAR in Season Three, for enjoyment of that show deepens so much when you know about the plays the Canadian troupe is performing. (Don't gasp. I've never read KING LEAR, even though my copy of it is in storage.)

So I grabbed one of the computers here, checked my e-mail and have 13 minutes left on my time before the vultures start circling. So I figured I would post a blog from the library, for it's always usually interesting to do that when I'm in Buford.

Except now, until at least July 15, it looks like I'm going to live in Buford again.

Even though the circumstances aren't nearly as bad as I suppose they could be, Buford still sucks.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Don't change your plans.

So last night, a friend of mine told me to meet him at the bookstore so that we could go see IRON MAN. He knew I'd seen it already, but he wanted me there because he thought it'd be more entertaining to spend the evening with me than to be alone.

At 9:15, I showed up at the bookstore as discussed, and he wasn't there. By 10:15, he still was not there.

I left a couple texts, placed a couple more phone calls and then headed to Relapse Theatre, where I'd intended to go before my friend suggested that I change my plans to hang out with him.

The Relapse gang, who had seen me earlier in the week when I'd been forced to vacate my apartment and move in with my mom temporarily, asked me if my week had gotten any better.

I told the gang that, on Tuesday, I was supposed to have wine with someone, but that person forgot. And I told them that a different friend asked me to a movie but didn't show up.

Most of the people said, "Oh, sorry," then looked sideways - trying to find someone to change the subject.

At one point, they tried to suggest that maybe something had happened to my absentee friend.

"Yeah," I said brightly, "maybe he's dead or something."

"Um," a Relapse friend said.

"No, it's OK," I said. "If he's dead, it's probably from a drug overdose, so he probably died happy. You know, one of those moments of pure bliss where it's great up until the moment you realize that you're not breathing."

The Relapse friend was still optimistic.

"I bet death is like that for everyone, not just drug addicts," he said. "You know, like, you get the moment of pure bliss right before you go ..."

"You think so?" I asked. "I always thought my death would be kinda horribly painful."


"Yeah," I said, "I think I'd be screaming right up until I hit the pavement."

Only one person laughed.

I can't let this get to me.

I lost my apartment, moved in with my mother, was asked to drinks by a friend who later forgot that he asked me to drinks and was then abandoned by another friend who told me to meet him. That was last week.

It's a new week.

Friday, May 30, 2008

If you don't like the weather in Atlanta, wait five minutes.

Where did all that earned hope and self-esteem I have go? I swear to you, it was just here, like, a minute ago.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writing as though no one's reading.

Staying at home with my mom, there is no Internet, so I'm actually trying to write something without the immediate gratification of having it read. I'm sure I'll eventually upload some stuff here - when I have my own home again. But, in the meantime, it's nice to write stuff and have it marinate in my head, solely belonging to me.

I heart Sami.

Is it horrible that I want to go to the Rite Aid Health and Beauty Expo at Cobb Galleria next week ONLY because Alison Sweeney from DAYS OF OUR LIVES is supposed to be there?

Saturday, May 17, 2008


So, because AMBER NASH SHOW is playing really well to XPT's sold-out crowds and the parking lot pieces in XPT AUTO SHOW are fantastic and bring a level of fun and enthusiasm to the audience and to the puppeteers performing them before the show even starts, I've been feeling good about life and mostly satisfied with the work I've done. (My puppeteers and performers, though, are all brilliant and supportive, and I will love them forever for the gift that they have given me this week.)

As something bad must happen to accompany all the good, just to remind me that there are moments when I can feel like a complete failure, I'm being kicked out of my apartment for being packrat messy and for not reporting a problem with mold in the apartment. They had to rip out a wall of my bedroom, and now they've given me seven days to vacate the place.

So, because I'm an adult now, I have a plan. I'm running home to live with my mom for a couple weeks and finding a storage facility to put my stuff. Then, in the next couple of weeks, I'm moving into an apartment with my friend James. (Start praying for him now.)

I'm going to be OK. I'm just freaked the fuck out right now.

I want to get past the worry and the panic and all the bullshit and just deal with the problem, but that's the thing with depression. It causes you to not be able to bring yourself to move, clean, take out the garbage, do the dishes, stay inside the apartment. Depression causes me to not like myself enough to take care of myself, to instead escape into the things in my life that are working, escaping the responsibilities of life that aren't as fun, paying bills, cleaning the apartment, etc.

I'm crazy. I have mental illness. I've got to fix some things. I've been trying to fix them for 30 years, but when are they going to be fixed?

This is a journey. I'm going to try not to worry about it. I'm going to instead fix it.

I have to, eventually. I don't have a choice.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Tonight, the show was attended, I swear, by 40 people I knew. It was really, really cool.

Thanks to everyone who turned out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


This has been the most amazing experience. It was great to see and experience not just THE AMBER NASH SHOW, but several of the pieces that I wrote for the parking lot come alive.

People laughed in all the right places.

And, hilariously, this also happened.

Thank you, Matt. I didn't know it was possible for my night to be any better, but you just made my night better.

And, in college, I liked you, too.

Oh wait, my night just got even better.