Wednesday, February 29, 2012

MISTRESS ILSA rides again

MISTRESS ILSA will be part of a line-up of one-acts for Double-Down Productions at the end of March. More details to come - and more Wall Street fat cats to punish!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

damn you ACLU!

Does that ACLU know how to work the liberal guilt or what? They sent me a pledge for money mailer but my finances have been tight lately so I was going to throw it away - but they sent me a tiny bound copy of the US Constitution - and you can see it right through the mailer window envelope.


Could you? Look at it!

And now of course I have to send them money, I can't just take their tiny constitution for free like a bum.

Oh they are good.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - March 5, 2012

Exact same parity score as last week. They're really settling into the 16:6 male-female ratio.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: 0%

March 5, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 16
female: 6
gender parity score: 27%

Last week's score
Total writers: 22
male: 16
female: 6
gender parity score: 27%

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How I spent my Sunday morning

I spent my Sunday morning riding back and forth between Ditmars and Queensboro Plaza on the N training making a 10-minute video out of the NYCPlaywrights February Play of the Month. That's Valerie David playing Mike Ideglio's mother - although Mike's character doesn't know it.

I thought that the trains would be empty because we did this at 9AM and who the hell is awake at 9AM on a Sunday morning?

Lots of people, it turns out, it was almost weekday rush-hour levels of traffic. It took two and a half hours to record and there were actually fewer people on the subway at 11AM than at 9AM. I'll remember that next time.

Before we began I imagined we'd have the train to ourselves, but of course it didn't work that way, and at first I was bashful about doing video work in front of all the passengers. But pretty soon I forgot they were there, and when I noticed them, they were an unexpected annoyance. I asked one young man to move to the other side of the aisle so we could use his seat, and when some guy asked Valerie for directions while I was trying to shoot an important scene, I got really annoyed with him - and he was all apologetic for ruining our movie!

So now I'm in editing mode. Ironically I decided to shoot on the subway because the radiator in my apartment is so damn loud - the subway is louder and the sound quality is pretty crappy. Although at least the subway is supposed to be loud - unlike random hissing noises coming out of nowhere while shooting a script-in-hand reading in my apartment. Still, it would have helped if I'd had some kind of clip-on microphone set-up, but I didn't. I relied exclusively on the microphone in my crappy Panasonic camera and how we have to do some post-shooting audio work. Oh well, that's show biz.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

time for tea

I was taken out for tea for my birthday today. But first I had to take a picture of Mr. Fuzz lounging on the Queens phone book.


And I also took a walk around Gramercy Park while waiting for reservation time. I took this photo through the fence bars.

Here's what it looks like with bars.

Near the park I noticed this adorable little house.

Finally... tea!

We were too posh to pour it ourselves so we had this guy do it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heidi Goennel

Since I've been perusing back issues of the New Yorker, I'm really taken by the cover work of illustrator Heidi Goennel, and I really don't know why they don't use her work now - they don't seem to have used her for covers since the early 1990s. She's still around - here is her web site.

I just love her flat color arrangements that are both beautifully abstract  yet completely figurative.  There's just something about that look that I really love. I'm going to have to buy some prints one of these days.

Some more of her New Yorker covers:

She does well with water.

She's not big on faces - too many small areas, but that's OK, it's a style choice. Anyway I love the composition here, especially the way the yellow is balanced.

This might be my favorite, with the giant foreground Easter eggs - for some reason this doesn't show up in searchs of the Conde-Nast store.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Silence Dogood speaks

I've been researching the American Revolution as part of my work on THE RIMSKY-KORSAKOV AFFAIR - the connection is that the British Ambassador to Russia, James Harris, tried and failed to convince Catherine the Great to hire out Russian soldiers to the British to fight against the American colonists, much like the Hessian troops.

And the info-trail being what it is, eventually I was reading up on Benjamin Franklin and discovered this absolutely fascinating bit of Franklin biography:
As a teenager, Franklin worked as an apprentice in his older brother James' printing shop in Boston, where The New-England Courant was printed.
Franklin never got anything he wrote published, so, at age 16, Franklin created the persona of a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood. Once every two weeks, he would leave a letter under the door of his brother's printing shop. A total of 14 letters were sent. The first letter began:
It may not be improper in the first Place to inform your Readers, that I intend once a Fortnight to present them, by the Help of this Paper, with a short Epistle, which I presume will add somewhat to their Entertainment.
And since it is observed, that the Generality of People, nowadays, are unwilling either to commend or dispraise what they read, until they are in some measure informed who or what the Author of it is, whether he be poor or rich, old or young, a Schollar or a Leather Apron Man, &c. and give their Opinion of the Performance, according to the Knowledge which they have of the Author's Circumstances, it may not be amiss to begin with a short Account of my past Life and present Condition, that the Reader may not be at a Loss to judge whether or no my Lucubrations are worth his reading.
 I find this fascinating and it's all I can do to prevent myself from immediately starting a play based on this. I dare not start it because I have two unfinished plays going on right now, not counting all the ones on the back-burner.

Silence Dogood has her own Wikipedia entry.

All the Dogood letters can be found here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - February 27, 2012

The parity level is down one percent. So the parity rate holds steady at just a little better than 50% - that is, the current rate is 25+% and parity would be 50% so the parity rate is half of where it should be. And that's looking at single issues. If you wanted to achieve parity over the New Yorker's entire run, you'd have to publish 2 - 3 female writers for every male writer in every issue for the next 87 years.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: -1%

February 27, 2012

Total writers: 22
male: 16
female: 6
gender parity score: 27%

Last week's score
Total writers: 25
male: 18
female: 7
gender parity score: 28%

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Adult men who like to watch My Little Pony

They are known as bronies (bro + pony)

My Little Pony originally started out as a plastic toy figure for girls almost 30 years ago, in 1983.

But the MLP that bronies like best is the animated series, especially "Friendship is Magic."

Here is a sample:

I find this entire concept confounding, but I do like that there are men who are able to break the strongest taboo in our culture - liking girl things.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

David freakin' Garrett

How is it that I have never heard of this god of all studmuffins before? David freakin' Garrett:

I discovered who he is because I was researching the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and Garrett broke a world-record for violin speed by playing R-K's Flight of the Bumblebee.

He attended Julliard, helping to pay for it by working as a model! And looking at him, you can see why. If Catherine the Great was around today, she would certainly recruit this guy. He's like Ewan McGregor crossed with Kurt Cobain crossed with Paganini. If there was ever a candidate for cloning, it's this guy. If I could get him to play the Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov character in my play about Catherine the Great I could die happy.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Well after half a year of research I've finally begun my Catherine the Great play, titled "The Rimsky-Korsakov Affair." The titular character, Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov was one of Catherine the Great's lovers (i.e. "favorites") but cheated on Catherine with her best friend Countess Praeskoja Bruce.

I keep reading that Ivan, an accomplished violinist, was an ancestor of the composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but I'll be damned if I can find anything that explains exactly how they were related. It isn't a direct father-son connection, but that's all I know, so far.

With my culturally-impoverished Philistine upbringing, it's a safe bet that I first heard the name of the composer in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine - the head Blue Meanie's mini-me says the name at 0:33 -

Although I also discovered a fascinating ad campaign from the 1970s that uses the name as an exclamation in response to carbonated-beverage-induced euphoria:

I plan to use the composer's music during the play's production, which is obviously an anachronism, but as my friend Bruce observed: "nobody will know." And it's not unprecedented - I used the music of Gottschalk in my JANE EYRE production, even though that composer's work would not have been performed in the early 19th-century drawing room of Thornfield Hall - Gottschalk was born in 1829.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ionescopade - not my cup of cafe au lait

I got to see Ionescopade this week thanks to the free tickets through an NYCPlaywrights web site promotion deal. I didn't have high expectations though so it wasn't a huge disappointment. This review at Back Stage pretty much covers the problems with the show. And also Time Out New York. The New York Times finishes it off. Although I find it objectionable that all the reviews give a shout-out to the "comic" song, a little girl mourning her dead cat. That got one of the biggest responses from the audience the night I was there. And I think there are two reasons why people would laugh at a song about a dead cat. First because there was so little in the show that made an emotional connection with the audience that they were all desperate for something human and familiar, and second because many people who aspire to being thought intellectual believe that the mark of an intellectual (not to mention hipster) is to laugh at cruelty and pain.

Also the show was very Frenchy (except for the British bit which was like Monty Python) and very 1950s-eque. Especially the mime part.

The production values were pretty good, and nice costume color co-ordination, but I could have done without all the images of Ionesco's old man face all over the stage facade. Nobody needs to look at grizzled ancient old man faces at twenty times life size.

But my pal Bruce rather liked the show and one of the cast members is an old colleague of his and they got to catch up a little, so that was OK. And hey, at least it was free.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Me Bum Bum Train

My actor pal Amanda Thickpenny was performing in my THE SLASH this time last year. So what's she up to these days while attending the Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts? Well for one thing performing in the best-titled show ever You Me Bum Bum Train - she writes about it on her blog.

But apparently it's like Fight Club and nobody's allowed to talk about what goes on during this show. Although Richard Mason of the web site Don't Panic seems to have broken the rules...
Entering the Train I found myself at the entrance to a night club. A bunch of gurning teenagers asked me for cigarettes before I was told to move on by a bouncer. I stumbled down a flight of stairs and found myself in a young girl's bedroom. We had a brief chat where I asked her if she had slept alright and she said she had. Then I was in an airport security check where I was searched by an officious German security guard who confiscated my bag and valuables. From there I stumbled into a dentist’s chair who tried to pull a perfectly healthy tooth. And so the Bum Bum Train continued. 
Well OK then. It sounds interesting, but nothing could live up to the title.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

mistakes of the masters

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres is one of my favorite artists - or at least his drawings are among my favorite works of art. I don't care too much for his paintings - they are overly-slick and have a ceramic sheen that shellacks the life out of them. His drawings, because they are not fussed over nearly so much, retain a feeling of aliveness and spontenaity. You can see the difference between his final oil portrait of Vicomtesse d’Haussonville and his graphite study for the painting.

See? He just shellacked the shit out of that portrait.

I don't doubt that Ingres was a very accurate portraitist - although probably with a tendency to flatter his subjects the way all fashionable and successful artists of the period did.

But one thing he consistently had trouble drawing was limbs, especially for his female subjects. You can see it in these two images. In the graphite drawing he made the Vicomtesse's hand normal size but her index finger is freakishly long. But OK, that's a study, and you can make mistakes in a study that you can correct for the final painting. And he does correct it - her index finger in the painting is a natural size - but now the rest of her hand is freakishly large! In the drawing she's wearing a long-sleeved dress, but you can see that the sleeve on the figure in the drawing would not fit the gigantic wrist of the painting - her wrist is as big as her neck.

I should mention that I approve of this pose - a woman with her left index finger resting against her face is a classic look (ahem).

I won't even get into the freakish angle of the Vicomtess's right arm - exactly where is her right shoulder supposed to be? You can see the entire painting here.

In this  next portrait - not a study for an oil but a complete finished work of art in itself, graphite on paper -we see that Mlle Jos├ęphine Nicaise-Lacroix has an upper arm that is almost as large as her entire waist. Granted she was probably wearing a corset, but still - that's one hell of a hefty bicep, especially for someone we can be fairly sure hasn't been pumping much iron lately. But at least her right hand looks a normal size. He liked that pensive lady look for his portraits.

I just discovered I missed a recent exhibition of Ingres's drawings at the Morgan Library. I'm kicking myself for missing it, but at least they still have interesting things on their web site like this widget, which allows you to zoom in on Ingres's work so you can see all the pencil strokes at larger-than-lifesize. The drawing of Mlle Nicaise-Lacroix is featured in the collection. Here's a close-up of her face from the widget:

Monday, February 13, 2012

note to dead guy - women are-too funny

The sweet irony of Christopher Hitchens writing a stupid pointless article like Women Aren't Funny in Vanity Fair in in 2007 is that we are living in a time when there are more women making a living as comedians than at any time in the history of the world.

And no, I'm still not sorry he's dead. Katha Pollitt had quite a few interesting things to say about the late Hitchens - she worked with him for 20 years.

While I was rifling through Youtube looking at Louis C. K. I was struck by the amazing variety of female comedians. From the Bob Newhart-esque Ellen Degeneres to the completely unique Sarah Silverman. Some samples:

Margaret Cho - she might be my favorite

The classic Ellen Degeneres

Kathy Griffin - I don't follow reality shows or pay attention much to celebrities - so the fact that I still find Kathy Griffin's work hysterically funny is a real tribute to her skill.

The immortal Roseanne

Silverman is just mind-blowingly random

Tina Fey, of course.

Judy Tenuta's not active too much these days, but her act was bizarre and funny.

And the precursor of them all - Lily Tomlin

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Louis & Ewan

I had heard of Louis C. K. but never saw his work, or knew anything about him, other then he is supposed to be very funny. I happened to be looking at some clips of him on Youtube and I was absolutely amazed by this clip, where he confesses his desire for Ewan McGregor, although Louis is straight:

Normally I would think he was not serious - he's a stand-up comedian and they're supposed to say surprising things -  but I actually think he is serious and who could blame him? Ewan McGregor really is a beautiful man. And I am really impressed that Louis C. K. can stand there in front of an audience and admit this. How refreshing.

McGregor himself has no trouble playing gay:

And nobody can wear a kilt like Ewan McGregor.

It always amazes me how much kilts look like the skirts of the Catholic school uniforms I wore in grammar school. These schools had no pretensions of being Scottish but for some reason that pleated & plaid look was all the rage.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

around Central Park...

This must be new - on the steps in front of Lincoln Center they have LCD display texts. It was hard to get a good picture but you can make out "of Lincoln Center" in the image above.

Speaking of Lincoln Center, here is the David H. Koch Theatre for ballet. Yes, that David Koch.

I'd heard of the Wollman skating rink of course, but I've never actually seen it full of ice and skaters until now. I should try skating there one of these days - ice skating is one of the very few sports I can do reasonably well.

Wow this store was full of freaky antiques, like the masked centaur lady statue.

And here we have a bust of Richard Wagner - you can see me taking the photo in the mirror behind Wagner

Friday, February 10, 2012

I want Sarah Vowell's job

Not only does she get to write about things like the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but she gets invited to talk to Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow about it on television. That is what you call a goddam awesome career.

As if that isn't enough, she's a friend of They Might Be Giants.

Ooh They Might Be Giants videos...

They really pioneered do-it-yourself videos.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


The most popular person I've ever known, my dear departed Earl Rich, used to always warn me against the "groupmind." This amused me because if there was ever anybody who was in a position to benefit from like-thinking and conformity, it was Earl. Although maybe I shouldn't say benefit - he used to complain that he never had any time to himself for all the people competing for his attention - his wife, his immediate family and his large group of friends.
Well, I never had much use for the groupmind myself - I've never been popular in part because I've always been more interested in expressing my opinions than in being liked. And for a woman, especially, this is a huge drawback - women don't get to be crusty curmudgeons, our first job is to be agreeable.

In any case, I was pleased to find some vindication in last week's New Yorker article Brainstorming Doesn't Really Work, which is not available in its entirety online alas, just the abstract, which says:
By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, he has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields. Discusses the work of Charlan Nemeth, whose studies suggest that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing that Osborn thought was most important. “Debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition,”
Later on, the article discusses the relevance for theatre:
Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren't predictable. And recognizing the importance of conflicting perspectives in a group raises the issue of what knds of people will work together best. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, has spent his career trying to find what the ideal composition of a team would look like. Casting around for an industry to study that would most clearly show the effects of interaction, he hit on Broadway musicals. He'd grown up in New York City and attended his first musical at the age of nine. "I went to see 'Hair'," Uzzi recalls. "I remember absolutely nothing about the music, but I do remember the nude scene. That just about blew my mind. I've been a fan of Broadway ever since."
Uzzi sees musicals as a model of group creativity. "Nobody creates a Broadway musical by themselves," he said. ""The production requires too many different kinds of talent. " A composer has to write songs with a lyricist and a librettist; a choreographer has to work with a director, who is probably getting notes from the producers.

Uzzi wanted to understand how the relationships of these team members affected the product. Was it better to have a group composed of close friends who had worked together before? He undertook a study of every musical produced on Broadway between 1945 and 1989. To get a full list of collaborators, he sometimes had to track down dusty old Playbills in theatre basements. He spent years analyzing the teams behind four hundred and seventy-four productions, and charted the relationships of thousands of artists, from Cole Porter to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Uzzi found that the people who worked on Broadway were part of a social network with lots of interconnections: it didn't take many links to get from the librettist of "Guys and Dolls" to the choreographer of "Cats." Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before - a common practice because Broadway producers see "incumbent teams" as less risky - those musicals  would have an extremely high Q. So a musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q.

Uzzi then tallied his Q readings with information about how successful the productions had been. "Frankly, I was surprised by how big the effect was," Uzzi told me. "I expected Q to matter, but I had no idea it would matter this much." According to the data, the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low - less than 1.7 on Uzzi's five-point scale - the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn't know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. "This wasn't so surprising," Uzzi says. "It takes time to develop a successful collaboration." But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the ninteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent - Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on - but Uzzi's data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far about the historical norm. "Broadway had some of the biggest names ever," Uzzi explains. "But the shows were too full of repeated relationships, and that stifled creativity." 
The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy. The ideal level of Q - which Uzzi and his colleague Jarrett Spiro called the "bliss point" - emerged as being between 2.4 and 2.6. A show produced by a team whose Q was within this ranged was three times more likely to be a commercial success than a musical produced by a team with a  score below 1.4 or above 3.2. It was also three times more likely to be lauded by the critics. "The best Braodway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships," Uzzi says. "These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently - they had a familiar structure to fall back on - but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but the weren't too comfortable."
Uzzi's favorite example of "intermediate Q" is "West Side Story," one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. In 1957, the play was seen s a radical departure from Braodway conventions, both for its focus on social problems and for its extended dance scenes. The concept was dreamed up by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Berstein and Arthur Laurents. They were all Braodway legends, which might make "West Side Story" look like a show with high Q. But the project also benefitted from a crucial injection of unknown talent, as the established artists realized that they needed a fresh lyrical voice. After an extensive search, they chose a twenty-five-year-old lyricist who had never worked on a Broadway musical before. His name was Stephen Sondheim.
I've run NYCPlaywrights play readings with the idea that playwrights need to hear what people who aren't part of their in-group think about their plays. Far too often I've seen theatre groups completely dominated by insiders who are simply an echo-chamber for each other and no real criticism is allowed to be expressed - not fully, not completely. Now most people like it that way, but it doesn't make you a better writer. Quite the opposite. It's nice to have studies like these vindicate my approach.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

We are all interested in the future for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives

There's all kinds of classic stuff available online for free, including the immortal Plan 9 From Outer Space.

There's an excellent web site, The Public Domain Review, which has gathered the best of all the free stuff together. Some other fascinating stuff:

Biography and images of Phillis Wheatley a black female slave genius.

An article on, and links to the unique Flatland. I read this when I was 18. Because it's totally trippy.

An amazing Film collection including Battleship Potemkin!

Charming 19th century story books with illustrations including Old French Fairy Tales, from whence I got the illustration below. Good stuff!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Yorker Parity Report - February 13 & 20, 2012

The parity level doubles from last week to 28% - which is near the average New Yorker parity rate. I do the count according to by-lines so Andrea K. Scott was counted twice.

The New Yorker Parity Report

A regular report on the gender parity - or lack thereof - of the current issue of The New Yorker based on table of contents by-lines
Includes fiction, non-fiction, poems. Does not include illustrations.

A score of 50% means that half of all writers in the issue are female.
A score of greater than 50% would mean more female than male writers. This never happens.

Parity change from previous week: +14%

February 13 & 20, 2012

Total writers: 25
male: 18
female: 7
gender parity score: 28%

Last week's score
Total writers: 21
male: 18
female: 3
gender parity score: 14%

Monday, February 06, 2012

January 2012 play of the month

Lorenzo Scott and Keona Welch are just awesome actors and this is probably the best play of the month we've done. It took me hours and hours to edit this together, and clearly I could have done better if I had alot more takes. Also I have no control over my damn radiator and so some of the sound is crap because I had to do some major audio work to get rid of that awful loud steam-heat hiss.

But considering we recorded this script-in-hand reading in a little over an hour, I think it came out pretty well. The stellar performances, of course, are key.

This is one of the best plays we've done, although it's not perfect. Since I've gone over the play many times while editing the video, several things jump out - the subjects raised come up sort of randomly - I think the plot could be re-organized to have a stronger impact.

And the woman portrayed, Jacqueline Smith, is still alive and kicking and has a web site now to protest the Civil Rights Museum. I didn't realize she was a real person - and that the author used her real name, until after we announced that this play was the winning selection. I don't want to get sued by Jacqueline Smith - she's obviously incredibly tenacious - hence the big disclaimer at the beginning of this video.

I am working on a play CELIA - I started writing it before I met Keona, but once I met her I realized how absolutely perfect she is for the role. I have to finish that play so I can get her to star in a production. I really don't understand why she isn't starring in movies now, she's so young and pretty and talented.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Football = socialism

Bill Maher - Irritable Bowl Syndrome from Fraser Davidson on Vimeo.

Extremely well-done animation sequence (the guy is a pro) for an extremely astute Bill Maher commentary. This almost makes me care about football.

But then I read this article from the New Yorker: Does Football Have a Future?
Throughout most of the Super Bowl era, football was understood to be an orthopedic, an arthroscopic, and, eventually, an arthritic risk. This was especially obvious as the first generation of Super Bowl heroes retired and began showing up at reunions and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies walking like “Maryland crabs,” as a players’-union representative once put it. But a couple of incidents early in Tagliabue’s tenure left him with a sense of foreboding. “In 1991, my second season, Mike Utley went down,” he said, alluding to the paralysis of a Detroit Lions offensive lineman. “A year later, Dennis Byrd went down. Once you see two injuries like Mike Utley’s and Dennis Byrd’s, you begin to see that there are long-term consequences to injuries on the football field.” He meant long-term consequences of a sort that you can’t joke about, while patting your fake knee or hip and complaining that you can no longer navigate stairs or play with your grandkids. Byrd, who was a defensive lineman for the Jets, gradually taught himself to walk again, after being given a prognosis of partial paralysis, and delivered a rousing pep talk to the Jets before their upset victory over the Patriots in the conference semifinals, earlier this month. Utley’s moral is a grimmer one. As he was being carried off the field on a stretcher, he didn’t yet know that he was paralyzed from the chest down. He stuck his thumb up, and the fans applauded.
Horrible. Boxing is no longer a big sport because of the horrific injuries - football can't be far behind.

The story of Jennifer, the naughty receptionist

My actor/dancer pal Carolyn Paine makes love to the camera - and a dirty cheatin' no-good two-timin' other-woman's man - in the Oprah Network's show "Unfaithful" - she gave us many of the background details about doing this show - apparently getting paid to lie around in bed with a cute guy all day isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

No, I will not pay a fine for your 10-minute play

Well I guess I should have seen this coming. I put out a call for plays to take place on the subway for the NYCPlaywrights play of the month - to be videotaped in an actual subway car - and in addition to the usual crassness, monologues and plays that were way over 10 pages I had to deal with people who expected us to go through quite a bit of hassle - or break the law - for their 10-minute play.

One play called for a dog who just sat there for 10 minutes.  Dogs are illegal on the MTA unless you have a service dog (like a seeing-eye dog) and I am not about to track one down - or rent one - just for a 10-minute video sequence. I told the author we couldn't use her play, and she said she figured I could get permission to use a regular dog when I was asking for permission to videotape on the subway. I didn't bother to tell her that I wasn't planning to file a filming permit with the city of New York for this thing either.

I guess I should feel flattered - clearly NYCPlaywrights is coming off as a much more sophisticated outfit than it actually is.

Then there was the play that called for the actor to tag the subway door, you know, with permanent marker. Then there was the one that called for gunplay in a crowded subway car.

Get real people.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master

I can't believe I have never read the Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master before. Dictated to someone by the presumably illiterate Jourdan Anderson, it appears to be genuine and was published in a couple of contemporary newspapers - just months after the end of the Civil War and as such is an extremely important primary-source historical document.

I was especially interested, although naturally horrified, to read the last section, which touches on the issue of slave rape, an important component of my developing play CELIA:
In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown-up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve--and die, if it come to that--than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Years later when Mark Twain wrote about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he completely glossed over this aspect of slavery - although I guess he'll be forgiven because those books, even Huck Finn, are considered children's books.

The best part of the letter is when Anderson, in response to his old master asking him to come back and work for him, asks for back pay :
"...we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams' Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire. "
And the last sentence is good too:
Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

Anderson was an absolute master of the passive-aggressive form.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

This may well be the very apotheosis of Jon Stewart

If you can watch this interview Stewart did with Yale's Jonathan Macey without the deepest respect for Stewart, you are a fool. This is maybe the most amazing thing I've seen yet on television. I'm a long-time fan of Stewart and I think this is the best thing he's ever done. Paul Krugman himself could have done no better.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Jonathan Macey Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

billions and billions and 420

I've been researching various "recreational" drugs (via the Internet, not physically) for my developing play PALMYRA, NJ and found this amusing article by Carl Sagan about his own drug use.

I wasn't at all surprised he had spent some time as a psychonaut - I remember a certain section of Carl Sagan's "Dragons of Eden":
In dreams we are sometimes aware that a small portion of us is placidly watching; often off in a corner of the dream, there is a kind of observer. It is this "watcher" part of our minds that occasionally - sometimes in the midst of a nightmare - will say to us "this is only a dream." It is the "watcher" who appreciates the dramatic unity of a finely structured dream plot. Most of the time, however, the "watcher" is entirely silent. In psychedelic drug experiences - for example, with marinjuana or LSD - the presence of such a "watcher" is commonly reported. LSD experiences may be terrifying in the extreme, and several people have told me that the difference between sanity and insanity in the LSD experience rests entirely on the continued presence of the "watcher," a small, silent portion of the waking consciousness.

In one marijuana experience, my informant became aware of the presence and, in a strange way, the in-appropriateness of this silent "watcher," who responds with interest and occasional critical comment to the kaleidoscopic dream imagery of the marijuana experience but is not part of it. "Who are you?" my informant silently asked it. "Who wants to know?" it replied, making the experience very like a Sufi or Zen parable. But my informant's question is a deep one. I would suggest the observer is a small part of the critical faculties of the left hemisphere, functioning much more in psychedelic thank in dream experiences, but present to a degree in both. However, the ancient query, "Who is it who asks the question?" is still unanswered; perhaps it is another component of the left cerebral hemisphere.
And I remember thinking as I read this: "yeah, I bet his 'informant' was ole Carl himself."

But it wasn't as if Sagan was hiding his experiences - "Dragons of Eden" was published in 1986 but he had already written this essay in 1969 for something called in Marihuana Reconsidered. It says, in part:

I had become friendly with a group of people who occasionally smoked cannabis, irregularly, but with evident pleasure. Initially I was unwilling to partake, but the apparent euphoria that cannabis produced and the fact that there was no physiological addiction to the plant eventually persuaded me to try. My initial experiences were entirely disappointing; there was no effect at all, and I began to entertain a variety of hypotheses about cannabis being a placebo which worked by expectation and hyperventilation rather than by chemistry. After about five or six unsuccessful attempts, however, it happened. I was lying on my back in a friend’s living room idly examining the pattern of shadows on the ceiling cast by a potted plant (not cannabis!). I suddenly realized that I was examining an intricately detailed miniature Volkswagen, distinctly outlined by the shadows. I was very skeptical at this perception, and tried to find inconsistencies between Volkswagens and what I viewed on the ceiling. But it was all there, down to hubcaps, license plate, chrome, and even the small handle used for opening the trunk. When I closed my eyes, I was stunned to find that there was a movie going on the inside of my eyelids. Flash . . . a simple country scene with red farmhouse, a blue sky, white clouds, yellow path meandering over green hills to the horizon. . . Flash . . . same scene, orange house, brown sky, red clouds, yellow path, violet fields . . . Flash . . . Flash . . . Flash. The flashes came about once a heartbeat. Each flash brought the same simple scene into view, but each time with a different set of colors . . . exquisitely deep hues, and astonishingly harmonious in their juxtaposition. 

Since then I have smoked occasionally and enjoyed it thoroughly. It amplifies torpid sensibilities and produces what to me are even more interesting effects, as I will explain shortly. I can remember another early visual experience with cannabis, in which I viewed a candle flame and discovered in the heart of the flame, standing with magnificent indifference, the black-hatted and -cloaked Spanish gentleman who appears on the label of the Sandeman sherry bottle. Looking at fires when high, by the way, especially through one of those prism kaleidoscopes which image their surroundings, is an extraordinarily moving and beautiful experience.

 Also of interest on the topic is a web site Erowid: Documenting the Complex Relationship Between Humans and Psychoactives, which includes the handy The Psychedelic Experience FAQ, written in the 1990s by some Finnish guys who go by the names of "Gnosis and Nip." I found this of interest:
The ideal tripping location is at once:
  • secluded, so that you don't run into friends/relatives/neighbors during the trip
  • in the countryside, so you can get away from the bustle and noises of the big city and enjoy nature
  • familiar, so that you feel safe and comfortable there
  • comfortable, ie. enough mattresses and beds for everybody
Unfortunately, finding a place that fulfills all these conditions is not possible for most of us, so you'll have to settle for less. If you live by yourself, great, just make sure that you remove all links to the outside world for the trip (disconnect phone and doorbell, tell friends and relatives not to visit). If you still live at home with your parents, pick a time when you're absolutely, completely and totally sure they will not come bursting in halfway through your trip. Consider renting a cabin in the woods for a weekend or maybe just a motel room, youth hostels and the like are quite cheap especially if you split the cost with a larger group. Here in Finland, there are thousands of cheap summer cottages, almost always located right next to a lake and some forest, that fulfill the criteria of an ideal tripping location perfectly.
I noted recently in a post on Steig Larrson's Millenium trilogy that the Swedes are big on small cabins in the woods. Apparently this is a pan-Scandinavian phenomenon.

Here is another especially interesting section:

3f. Triptoys
Triptoys should only be pulled out after the peak is clearly over and your group has entered the phase where you have some energy again instead of just floating in hyperspace. Of course, some people just continue with music or more spiritual pursuits. In alphabetical order:

  • Books are an acquired taste. Most people find reading difficult, but for others reading while tripping is the only way to understand, for example, Joyce.
  • Citrus fruit, especially oranges. A mindblowing combination of smell, texture, and taste. Juice is a decent substitute.
  • Crayons or paints for drawing.
  • Drumming can provide a nice trance-inducing experience, either one person doing it for everyone (the Michael Harner shaman approach) or the group doing a drumming circle.
  • Gelatin-based foods, ie. Jell-O, chocolate pudding, etc. Wiggle wiggle wiggle... Gummy worms are nifty too.
  • Glow-in-the-dark anything, preferably not skulls and skeletons though for obvious reasons.
  • Flourescent anything.
  • Flowers (fresh ones) look gorgeous and smell wonderful.
  • Food is another category of its own. In addition to the perennial favorites of citrus fruit, candy and Jell-O, try ice cream, baby food (the fruit-and-berry kind), carbonated soft drinks... Only small portions are needed though, during a trip you can't really _eat_, only _taste_.
  • Incense, especially when it's dark and you can wave the glowing end of the stick around and create serious tracers, or watch the smoke drifting with a flashlight. The smell also adds a nice touch to the atmosphere.
  • Koosh balls, the bigger the better, are positively cosmic. I especially recommend the "Rainbow Koosh" which is big and colorful.
  • Mirrors can be interesting, but also risky. Unless you have high self-esteem, and most people don't, it's common to see your face become covered with hair/bugs/pimples/whatever when you look... but then again many people love mirrors when they trip, and there have been cases where people's self-esteem improved after an extended mirror-staring session.
  • Movies almost deserve their own section. Since everybody has their own favorites, I'll just list the most popular ones. _The Mind's Eye_ and _Beyond the Mind's Eye_, both pure computer animation, are classics. So are Disney's _Fantasia_ and _Alice in Wonderland_. _Koyaanisquatsi_ (sp?) is another favorite. Avoid 'mind-fuck' films like David Lynch's works, _Natural Born Killers_, _Tetsuo_ etc; they're too scary and hard to follow when under the influence.
  • Musical instruments, esp. guitars, are fun to play with.
  • Nature is the ultimate triptoy, period. I extremely strongly recommend going outside, especially at night; I am fully convinced that the forest at night when tripping is *the* coolest thing in the universe. Along with the beach when it's sunny outside, and a lake at sunset, and a snow-covered field on a moonlit night, and...
  • Stroboscopes set to around 20-30 Hz are neat. Warning: Strobe lights may cause seizures in people with undiagnosed epilepsy, test them out beforehand.
  • Stuffed animals are a must, they're a familiar link to reality, and more importantly they're fun to hug, play with or throw around.
  • Television is an ambivalent one; some people like it, others can't think of anything they'd want to do less during a trip. If you want to give it a shot, cartoons (esp. "Reboot") are probably best.
  • Vocal play. Toning (playing with only vowel sounds) or glossolalia (made-up language using vowels and consonents) can be very interesting, either as a group or going around the circle one at a time.
  • Water: you can drink it, you can splash it, and if there's enough you can even wade around in it or (eek!) immerse yourself entirely in it. I would not recommend actually swimming during a trip though, especially in unfamiliar waters. 
 So now you know all about "triptoys."

Interestingly, the FAQ doesn't mention a "watcher" - not the thing that Sagan discusses, but there are two other items mention that are a bit similar in the section on Hallucinations. FYI - CEV and OEV are "Closed-Eye" and "Open-Eye" visuals:

The Guardian (CEV or OEV)
A few people, including yours truly, are lucky enough to have a constant hallucination that lasts for the duration of trip and even afterwards; Castaneda mentions these in his books and calls them "guides" or "guardians". Two forms include a little blue lattice containing red and green blips, and a bright red star. These may or may not recur in different trips and also flash back after the trip itself is over.


Entities (CEV, rarely OEV)
Encounters with other beings are a recurring feature of high-dose trips. I will not tackle the complex philosophical issues of what they are (if anything), how they got there, and what they mean; all I know is that they exist. Some common types:
  • The "mantid", an alien-looking insect-headed creature that tends to appear extremely intelligent and aware and neutral/negative towards the tripper. Can be green or grayish-white.
  • The so-called "DMT elf", a gnome-like playful, funny and usually friendly entity.
  • Happy dancing little people that appear in large groups.
  • Shapeless, but conscious, masses of hyperspace protoplasm.
There are other types, but these four seem to recur quite often.

"Entities" sound closer to what Sagan was on about. Fascinating stuff.