Pompous and Circumstantial

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Natalie Portman gave the Class Day address at our mutual alma mater last week, and despite her nerves she did a ‘Professional’ job (okay, I’ll stop). It was refreshing to hear her recount the experience of first setting foot in such an overwhelming and impressive place full of overwhelming and impressive people – and comforting to learn she made many of the same mistakes I did.

The world is full of brazenly confident people, and Harvard Yard has more than its fair share. For Natalie, there were five different peers who announced on day one that they would be President someday; I only remember two in my first days, but we both believed all of them from the sheer force of their conviction. Bold declarations are impressive, and those of us not in the habit of making our own are inclined to be won over by their swagger.

(This is the only explanation for a particularly disastrous dating choice of mine freshman year; he told me he was the smartest, funniest guy in the room and I believed him.)

As I quickly learned, though, there is no guarantee of any substance behind the bluster. For every Babe Ruth who backs up a called shot there are a dozen Donald Trumps who are full of shit.

Both Natalie and I reacted to our bold new world in the same way: by letting it intimidate us. We accepted these people’s brazen visions of the world, their standards for greatness, and their definitions of success. Instead of asking ourselves what we wanted out of school or life, we worried about not being good enough – and once someone else is allowed to make up the rules, there really is no way to come out on top. Just ask any six-year-old.

In this past year, I have been drawing inspiration from Albert Einstein’s “Annus Mirabilis” (1905), in which he published four papers each of which was a major breakthrough in its own right. One of the recurring themes in discussions of his unparalleled achievement is the complete unwillingness Einstein had to ever accept any unproven principle as a given. Because he refused to believe time was an immutable constant simply because everyone else assumed it was and no one had seen evidence to the contrary, he was free to explore his own imaginings and now the world understands relativity. You’re welcome, world.

When we free ourselves from belief in how things are “supposed to” be, we open the door to far deeper understanding and far greater achievement. As Natalie put it in her speech, we should remain ignorant of the limitations the world has assumed for us. Or, as that six-year-old would put it, “Sez who?”

Look to the bumblebee for inspiration. For centuries, the world of physics expended a great deal of energy and hot air over the fact that a short, fat, fuzzy insect with stubby wings should not be able to fly. And yet they fly anyway. Mainly, as mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah pointed out, because a bumblebee does not understand the laws of thermodynamics. It simply doesn’t know it can’t fly.*

[*Also, as has recently been determined, it doesn’t flap its wings up and down like other flying things but rather front-to-back with a slight tilt, as though treading water. This creates mini hurricanes above each wing, with low-pressure centers that make it easier to stay aloft. But “because of ignorance” is more romantic.]

If Forrest Gump taught us anything, it is that if we dive into that box of chocolates listening to cries of “beware the cherry cordial” and “butter creams are the best”, we will very likely be disappointed, but if we go in hoping for a sweet treat, we will probably get one. At least I think that was the point.

In other words, don’t believe everything people say (especially about themselves), don’t believe everything you think (especially about yourself), and – to borrow from Stephen Colbert’s commencement address at Wake Forest – define your own standards for success and happiness. Then go for them. Everyone else can go suck a cherry cordial.

Right Said Red

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In celebration of this past week in MC1R recessive genes – during which Ireland chose marriage equality via popular vote and Scotland reaffirmed creationism does not belong in science classrooms – I present my ode to the redheads of this world. It was written years ago for a drunk character in an autobiographical screenplay, but remains just as strong and true to this day. (And for the record, redheaded women are equally great.)

A Taste For Ginger

Fire-engine, orange, straw, or deep rust

No proverbial stepchild; In Red-Heads I Trust.

You may be just 2-ish percent of the people,

But sans you our lives would be – dare I say? Feeble.

Vivaldi, Van Gogh, William Blake, Joyce, and Byron

Plus one William Shakespeare – all hair like a siren.

Mark Twain, D.H. Lawrence, and George Bernard Shaw:

All pale and be-freckled when seen in the raw.

In music, there’s Garfunkel, Morrison, Nelson,

Axyl Rose, Johnny Rotten (they can’t all be handsome).

The wisdom of Churchill, the guts of John Glenn,

Oh where would we be without red-headed men?

With no Chris Columbus the earth would be flat,

Nor ever would move – Galileo found that.

Both Richard the Lion and Eric the Red

Had fiery carpets to match their bright heads.

And then there’s the classics, like Archie and Opie,

Beaker and Clifford, and boys christened Weasley.

With actors and athletes we’d be here all night,

From Redford to Tracy to snow-god Shaun White.

The POINT is: brunettes, blondes, albinos – don’t linger.

I for one will hold out for the sweet taste of ginger.

Time Weights For All Man

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AlTime is a flat circle. No, wait; Time is an increasingly desperate “news” magazine. Time is an herb to the blind and spelling-impaired?

Time is all of these things, and also none of them, for time – like color and popularity – is merely a product of our own perception.

We know this because 110 years ago a bored 26-year-old patent clerk started daydreaming and ended up having the best year of his – or of anybody’s – life. It’s a good thing there weren’t more people inventing things in Bern around 1905.

Exactly 110 years ago this month, that bored patent clerk – who was still bored even after publishing a paper in March that would become the foundation for quantum physics and another in early May about Brownian motion – started thinking about Galileo and Newton, and how the motion of objects is relative to the motion of an observer. He then asked a question no one else ever had: What about light?

That got him daydreaming about speeding trains, and the universe was changed forever. Literally.

[What is it with men and their fascination with vehicles? Galileo and Newton determined relative motion by thinking about boats (while a man walking on a ship’s deck may travel 10 meters in 10 second from his own perspective, he travels much farther to a person on shore also watching the ship sail by), and Einstein used trains to show that a beam of light bouncing from floor to ceiling travels one distance to an observer on the train but a longer distance to an observer watching the train from a hill. Boys and cars, man. It’s genetic.]

By the end of June, 1905, Albert Einstein had published his Special Theory of Relativity, which stated that if light truly does always move at a constant rate (which experiments had shown but scientists had been reluctant to accept), then time must be just as relative to the observer as distance and motion and acceptable fashion standards (shoulder pads, anyone?).

Suddenly, a clock was nothing more than a series of countable moments; a second merely an agreed-upon unit that only stays consistent so long as we remain still relative to the time piece. As soon as we accelerate that clock out the window, those seconds get longer. So…time doesn’t fly as it flies.

Our bodies already know this; the heart is a clock, beating out a series of countable events, and the faster we move the slower time progresses. Stay active, stay young.

Before 1905 played out, Einstein managed to blow minds open one more time by proving that mass and energy are on the same spectrum (or, as it is more commonly known, that energy (E) equals mass (m) times the speed of light (c) squared). This equation gave us the power (nuclear power) and Einstein the ability to reach his most influential deduction of all – which, given his work thus far, is certainly saying something.

If light is energy, he thought, (paper one) and energy has mass (paper four), then light has mass and should be affected by gravity (it is – eventually, in 1919, a solar eclipse allowed experimenters to prove that light does indeed bend its path when traveling past a large body such as the sun). And if the path of light is bent by gravity, Einstein continued, then so must time be affected (paper three).

It took a decade to work out the math, but 100 years ago this November Albert Einstein was able to present his General Theory of Relativity, which tied the fourth dimension (time) to the three we already knew so well (space) to introduce the idea of Space-Time as the fabric of our universe. A fabric that, like a fabric should, gives and curves around heavier objects. The larger a mass, the more it tells both space and time to “get bent”. That’s gravity.

So if time, like light and space and anything else with mass, is affected by gravity, it makes sense that time itself has mass. Finally! That explains the Sunday evening doldrums, when the weight of the weekend that hangs behind us requires a Herculean effort of will to drag into Monday morning.

It also explains why, as I try to fall asleep some nights, I can physically feel those ounces of time passing through me – from future, to present, to past – adding their weight to the ever-increasing mass of time that lies behind. One. Heartbeat. At. A time. How much farther must I carry that weight toward the unknown destination in my future? Can I keep moving forward as it keeps getting heavier every day? At what point will it weigh too much and drag me to a complete standstill – or backwards?

On these nights, I find it comforting to remember E=mc2 and the fact that the accumulating mass of my past also increases its potential energy. The longer it takes me to get…wherever, the brighter I can burn when I do.

Other times, I just roll over and find a fuzzy cat ass in my face. A cat ass in the face is pretty much the best life has to offer anyway, so what’s my hurry?

Don’t Let the Hodor Hit You on the Way Out

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There is a Hodor-sized hole in my heart right now. I knew the medieval BFG was going to be absent from Game of Thrones this season, but now that we’re almost halfway through the emptiness is palpable. No lumbering innocence. No verbal nuance. No exquisite torture from simultaneously craving more “hodor” and dreading his last.

[For those unaware, the character Hodor is a large but gentle servant of the Stark family who speaks only one word: “hodor”. Imagine Lenny from Of Mice and Men hooked up with Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy, had a three-parent IVF baby with The Hulk, wrapped it in wolf pelts and tossed it backwards a few centuries. He’s perfect.]

My own Hodor is also missing this season. He, too, was a large, joyous man with an unfortunate penchant for accidental damage and a real name other than Hodor. [Geek of Thrones: fictional Hodor’s given name is Walder.]

One Hodor can do plenty of damage, intended or not; two Hodors can really mess a girl up.

Human Hodor and I bonded over our mutual love for his namesake. When I described the character to a GoT newbie as “simple-minded” and he amended, “simple-worded, not really minded,” it was the first time I realized I completely loved how human Hodor’s brain worked.

Hodor became our talisman. One evening after a Thrones viewing he bid me farewell with a kiss and a “Hodor.” It was ho-dorable. Soon, it was our standard greeting. First thing in the morning: Hodor. After receiving a thoughtful gift: Hodor! In exchange for a lovely plate of eggs: Mmm….hodor.

Before long we had hodored our way into being completely hodor about each other. Then, after a deep and emotional talk one night, he left the room and hit me with a simple text: Hodor. “Hodor too,” I replied, and that was that. Like Westley and Buttercup, we had no need for “I love you.” As Hodor wish.

Scientifically, fictional Hodor is an extreme example of a person stricken with expressive aphasia – when the Broca region of the brain suffers trauma, leaving speech limited but comprehension intact. Giant Hodor was probably a giant baby, so perhaps his mother dropped him a time or two. My own Hodor did not have the excuse of a head injury; his affliction was more traditional: fear.

From early on, he was honest about his commitment skittishness. The word “relationship” frightened him, even though the trappings of one did not. In practice, he seemed pretty gung ho about the actions of a relationship, so I didn’t mind that he was more comfortable saying “Hodor” than “I love you”. The meaning was clear to both of us, so I didn’t worry. I probably should have worried.

In the end, my Hodor turned out to have more going on in his head than he was aware of (though in his case it wasn’t a warging Bran Stark). When we broke up, he refused to admit that his fear might be greater than he thought, insisting instead that he must just not love me. Oh, the Hodor!

Maybe it’s true – maybe he didn’t – but like his namesake, Hodor also doesn’t know what happened when he ceded control of his brain for a moment. He doesn’t know that on the last night we spent together (three days before he bolted), he actually told me “I love you.”

He doesn’t know this because it was one of the last things he said before falling asleep – right between “”I love my bed” and “I also miss the coffee” (he had been out of the country for a while). I’m not sure which made me happier – that he said “I love you” instead of “Hodor” or that he placed me ahead of coffee. Holy Hodor, Batman!

I have no idea what to do with this information now. It wasn’t worth making a big deal of at the time, and I did not know our next conversation would be a breakup. At that point, it seemed a little awkward to mention it.

But as Hodor knows, little words can pack a big punch. I have recovered from many romantic devolutions caused by many problems – not being right, not being ready, not being even remotely interested; I’ve never had to get over someone who loved me back but didn’t consciously know it.

Hodors leave big shoes to fill. What’s a girl to do? Oh right, stare at Peter Dinklage for a while. Mmm…hodor.

Noisomes Off

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If I could have one superpower, I would choose the ability to blink leaf blowers out of existence with my mind. My faithful sidekick would do car alarms. We would be The Sound and The Fury – fighting for peace, quiet, and the manual way.

Leaf blowers are stupid, especially in the city. They accomplish no more than a rake or broom, in barely less time, and do it all while polluting the air with ear-splitting noise and filthy dust. Gas-powered leaf blowers (which is most of them) do all of that while also spewing toxic fumes, making them simultaneously noisy and noisome.

‘Noisome’ is one of those words that makes no sense, because it should mean “loud” but instead means “offensively stinky or unpleasant”. That dissonance, though, is what makes it the perfect word to describe the current state of communication in our culture.

We have a problem with noisome discourse – increasingly disagreeable, foul, and loud – and just like the leaf blowers, the problem is largely fueled by GAS:

GENERALIZATIONS – all of which are terrible. (See what I did there?) Too often we inflate our arguments by shouting that “all cops are bad” rather than “this cop is bad” or that “all men are pigs” when at the moment only that man is a pig.

[Why is ‘pig’ a derogatory term? I love pigs. They are smart, and clean, and taste like bacon. We should all be pigs!]

The problem with arguments inflated by generalizations is that they are easily punctured by a single anecdotal counterexample – thus letting the air out of what may otherwise have been solid logic.

ASSUMPTIONS – which not only make asses out of us, but likewise also leak a noxious stench into the air. When we hear words leave a fellow human’s mouth these days (or see them typed), our instinct seems to be to immediately assume the most racist / sexist / elitist / ageist / atheist / anti-whatever-ist intentions behind them. Sure, taking offense is fun, but why not allow for the possibility someone is curious, mistaken, or just plain dumb instead of horrible? Assumptions are dangerous; it only takes a single spark of defensiveness to ignite an explosion of anger and send civility up in flames.

SELFISHNESS completes the toxic triumvirate in our GAS. Not just “shut up and let me talk,” selfishness, or the “my way or the highway” variety; we have also become selfish in our refusal to accept partial agreement or any personal fault. High on the fumes of our own opinion, we focus all our attention on winning that last minor point against an ally instead of working with them to battle the larger problems facing both of us. As with any gas, the overall pressure of selfishness increases as the force of our need to be 100% right gets divided by a smaller and smaller area of focus, ultimately resulting in a blowout.

This chemical cocktail of generalization, assumption, and selfishness is fueling a lot of sound and fury in our world today.

As science has shown, GAS will, once released, expand to fill any available space. It may not seem harmful at first, and is even tempting since GAS can burn colorful and bright or give us a quick high that makes life briefly hilarious. But it is not healthy to breathe and can quickly turn dangerous, which is why we should stop releasing GAS entirely.

It won’t be easy. GAS is often hard to hear, mostly impossible to see, and no one ever wants to admit it comes from them (even though we all do it). But GAS is filling our world with an odious cloud that is highly combustible, poisonous to ingest, and toxic to our environment.

On Earth Day, let’s all stop spewing this GAS into the air and let clearer heads prevail.

Manual Husbandry

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Call me bitter, or single-in-my-thirties (synonymous, I hear), but I have decided arranged marriage sounds like a pretty solid idea. Sure, the ideal is to catch eyes across a room, discover mutual attraction, nurture a true connection, and fall madly in love – but I only write movies, I don’t live in one.

In the continued absence of kismet, alternatives must be found. There are countless ways for the fairy-tale-challenged to help fate along these days, from mixers and speed dates to apps and algorithms, but as a wise motivational poster once said, Keep It Simple Stupid. An arranged marriage just may be the Ockham’s razor I’ve been looking for.

To put it another way, I am frakking tired, and it sounds so blissfully easy! Now, I’m not saying I want to let a bunch of complete strangers match me up via some insane reality show where you get married first – probably naked or blindfolded – and only learn each other’s names after. But why not put my trust in people who know me well and love me?

I recently stayed with married friends who were lamenting during the visit that hubby’s younger brother needed a someone. He had recently moved to their town, so it had become their mission. Jokingly, they said I should move there too and marry him, because then they would definitely love their sister-in-law. With the safety of 3,000 miles between my home and theirs, I joked back, “I’m in!”

Ah, but there is always truth in comedy. The thing is, if all three parties (me, them, Brother), were willing to ignore “reason” and dive in, the whole arrangement would probably go swimmingly.

They have known me for almost twenty years, known Brother his entire life, and they love both of us too much to fix either of us up with someone lame. (Plus, they have other family to answer to.) Brother and I have met, and I already know he is smart, funny, and cute; if he is also half as kind and generous as his big sibling – whom I have always adored – I am sure he would make a terrific companion. As long as he doesn’t hate me, what could possibly go wrong?

Sure, we’ve barely conversed, and I don’t know if he likes cats, and no one has test driven anything, but marriages have overcome worse problems – at least neither of us is Kanye (or Robert Durst). Tim Gunn has taught us time and again that we humans have a remarkable capacity for Making It Work – even more so when the die is already cast.

And the benefits! Oh, the plethora of pros that outweigh the petty cons! At this point, I am a fully-baked cookie, so there is no more need for trial and error. Little evolutions will always happen, but by now I am not going to suddenly turn into an asshole any more than I am going to suddenly get better at being wrong. If a man and I are compatible off the bat, we can expect to remain so (assuming he is also fully baked – by life rather than pot). The financial savings alone should we skip courtship and go straight to commitment is inspiring.

This is also why people get so much more efficient at dating with age, but even efficient dating is still a lot of work. There are so many other important things in life that require time and attention; if there is a way to go from zero to partnered without trawling the massive dating pool, sign me up! Yes, the “systems” of computerized dating are designed to cut the work, but they also turn the koi pond into an ocean and the increased volume outdoes any algorithmic advantage. In the end, we spend even more time devoted to catch and release.

Friends can help, which is why one of mine recently asked me to join him in an OK Cupid pact where we each had veto power of the other’s potentials – but if we’re gonna go there, I say let’s GO THERE. Instead of letting a trusted friend choose the audition pool, why not let them pick the winner? Worst case scenario, it is a poor match and the two of us can bond over our mutual disappointment in our former friend. They say common ground is the first step toward connection…

So far, I have fallen in love several times and never had it end in partnership, usually because, while he loves me back, his eternal adolescence leaves him scared of commitment. If the commitment Band-Aid has already been ripped off, he can relax and just enjoy me!

Having tried the other options – choosing for myself, letting chance decide, being set up by a mutual friend, acquaintance, co-worker, and even an ex – with nothing to show for it but exhaustion, the blissful simplicity of an arranged marriage sounds divine. Besides, there would be something truly backwards if I were willing to put my fate in the hands of chance, geography, math and near-strangers, but not dive in when two beloved, trusted friends point and say, “Jump.” Right?

Of course, in this particular case we are all left-brained logic types, so the joke will remain a joke. My right brain just wanted to jump up holler that she’s game.

(But don’t tell my mother; I’m not quite ready for that arrangement.)

Irrational Pastime

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Happy Pi Day!

According to Schoolhouse Rock, three is a magic number – and it is. But just as pi is equal to a little more than three, pi itself is a little more than magical. It is downright metaphorical.

Mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers have been chasing down the elusive number for thousands of years. Pretty much since we gained awareness of numbers themselves, and round things. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter was a constant number or that the number was just over three, but several hundred lifetimes would pass before we got more accurate than that.

What do you get when you divide the circumference of a jack o’ lantern by its diameter? Pumpkin pi!

The true quest for pi was borne out of our desire to “square the circle”. In a literal, mathematical sense this means finding a simple – or at least consistent – way to calculate a square with equal area to any given circle. Symbolically, squaring the circle is a much deeper human desire.

Circles have always been mysterious. They represent the infinite, even sometimes defined as “a polygon with infinite corners.” With no beginning or end point, they symbolize that which is eternal and immeasurable. According to Nietzsche and Matthew McConaughey, time itself is a flat one. Even this post is circular (it ends where it begins). Circles are unknowable, spiritual.

Squares, on the other hand, are a symbol of all that is solidly defined. They are firmly knowable, easily measured, comfortably comprehensible. There is a reason one of the earliest words in our culture for the nerdy and rule bound was “square.”

To search for an exact value of pi – to seek to square the circle – is to attempt to make the unknowable known. To define the undefined. Another term for pi is the “circular constant”, or in other words a mystery that is rock steady.

What was Sir Isaac Newton’s favorite dessert? Apple pi!

Historically, some have considered this quest to understand the mysterious a dangerous game. The poet John Donne wrote the verse, “Eternal God – for whom who ever dare / Seek new expressions, do the circle square, / And thrust into straight corners of poor wit / Thee, who art cornerless and infinite,“ explicitly condemning the search for an exact value for pi. Many more, like Archimedes, devoted their entire lives to the quest. All of them died without reaching it.

Because, of course, the quest is impossible. It took us several thousand years, but eventually (by the 18th century) we humans finally proved that the number pi is irrational – its digits go on forever and never repeat. About a hundred years later, we also determined that pi is transcendent, which means it is not the solution to any algebraic equation. Irrational and transcendent – just like the human mind.

Those two vital discoveries – that the circular constant is both never ending or repeating and impossible to equate – combine to prove without doubt that we cannot find a square with equal area to a circle. The circle, quite literally, can never be squared.

“Secant, tangent, cosine, sine, 3.14159!” – MIT cheerleaders

So the number pi is simultaneously proof that some things can never be known and that there are rock-solid constants we can rely on. Constants such as our drive to always dig deeper and know more, even if we can never understand it all. No wonder pi is the most enduringly studied number in human history.

These days, pi continues to symbolically bridge the mysterious and the defined. It has become our computational bedrock, used to test computers for bugs or weakness, and at the same time our mathematicians are scouring its digits through billions of decimal places (and counting!) in search of any pattern or logic to its order. So far, we’ve found nothing. It is proving uniquely and stubbornly random.

“Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.” – Albert Einstein

On March 14th, we celebrate this metaphorical number by eating pie, something both circular and delicious. We also celebrate another wonder of the universe – Albert Einstein, who was born on 3/14/1879. Einstein himself is a perfect representation of pi’s duality, as his life continuously bridged math and creativity, science and spirituality, and social consciousness with humor. He understood better than nearly anyone the perfect paradox embodied by pi: that the more we learn, the less we know.

Or, to put it in terms of the constant itself, “the wider the circle of light, the larger the circumference of darkness.” (Not an Einstein quote, but one of his favorites.)

Happy Birthday, Albert. And…

Happy Pi Day!

The Silence of the Clowns

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In space, no one can hear you scream. On Earth, they also can’t hear you scream if you have laryngitis.

For the last five days I have been without a voice. Speechless. Unable to make sound. It turns out that this is a long time to go without speaking; things get pretty surreal.

My mind first started to fight back with experimentation. I tried any and everything I could think of to break through the silence. Gargling salt water helps, but gargling itself is pretty weird without sound. Whiskey doesn’t help at all, but does improve morale. Hot bath – not great. Hot shower – better, but comes with guilt when living in a drought state. I drank gallons of tea, sucked pounds of lozenges, ate buckets of soup…not even headstands helped.

At a certain point, I started to wonder if maybe my voice would never come back. I also wondered if that would be such a bad thing.

Sure, there were a few moments when my lack of vocal power was distinctly frustrating. Not being able to call my cats in from outside, for example, or tell a new suitor that I heartily approved of what he just did with his tongue (hey, I wasn’t contagious). The worst was not being able to call my parents; I realized that 3-4 days is the most I want to go without hearing their voices.

The rest of life without out a voice, though, isn’t that bad. I have never liked answering the phone to begin with, so it felt pretty great to literally not be able to. It took some quick thinking when the pizza delivery guy called (some quick running, really), but otherwise I decided that it probably would be fine if I never spoke again. Heck, it might even make me better at life!

This revelation isn’t too surprising, since for the longest time I was an actual enemy of my own voice. I hated that people mistook me for a boy over the phone; I hated how high and squeaky it got when I spoke passionately; I hated that I couldn’t disguise it or control it more – though really what I lacked was the confidence to control it.

As a solution, I worked to avoid my voice as much as possible. I became afraid of the phone. In French class, I could only get so far with reading and writing, but still I refused to practice speaking. While I can sing, the idea of singing solo in front of other people was (and still is) mortifying. Even my comedy changed, as I settled comfortably into the role of straight man in my sketch groups, in order to avoid the humiliation of “doing voices”. And then, I found a way to stop speaking altogether.

This is the part where I reveal my darkest, creepiest secret: I used to be a clown.

In my high school, students had to take a semester of oration as an English credit. Most people opted for Public Speaking, but a few of us chose Theatre Production, also known as Clowning. One of the English teachers had actually been to clown college, so he taught it as a course from which grew our school’s clown troupe, which did community service around the city.

For two years, I was one of those clowns.

The goal in creating a clown character is to be completely disguised, hence the face paint and funny hair and fake noses. I loved the idea of being unrecognizable as myself – it was liberating. But in creating Harmony, my clown, I balked so badly at finding a voice that I turned to Harpo Marx for inspiration and chose to be mute.

Harmony wore bells, carried a horn and various whistles, and communicated via kazoo, but never spoke. I had to eliminate my hated voice in order to feel completely free.

Surprisingly, silence didn’t make comedy harder. I couldn’t rely quite as much on my wit, but years of children’s theater, slapstick comedy, and marching band made it pretty easy to make the joke without words. I was even comfortable humming! As a non-clown, as long as I can still whistle, whisper, clap, stomp, and bang on things, I know I could do fine without a voice.

After my clown days were over – which I admit wasn’t until after college – and I hit the real world, a funny thing (funnier than clowns) happened; through improv, sketch writing, and adulthood, I found my real voice. I became a writer. And the more I discovered that I actually had something to say, the more I got comfortable saying it, the less I hated or feared my physical voice. I’m not saying I’ll be voluntarily singing in front of people anytime soon, but I have gotten quite comfortable making noise.

Last year, at Sci-Fest Los Angeles, one of the plays depicted a world where political dissidents were punished by having their vocal chords surgically removed. They were then given a choice: life in prison, or total freedom with the promise to never write another word. A lifetime of “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know”, nothing more. It was the most terrifying play I have ever seen.

A life without a voice box would be inconvenient, sure, but livable. A life without a voice would be a nightmare.

(I’m still pretty happy to have it back, though.)

Fifty Shades of Green Eggs and Sham

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Happy V-Day! Ladies, let’s celebrate this year by wanting more than to have sexual “liberation” forced on us by an older/wiser/richer “savior Prince”. Dr. (Seuss)’s orders.

I am Sham.

Sham I am.

 

That Sham-I-am.

That Sham-I-am!

I do not like that Sham-I-am.

 

Do you like BDSM?

 

I do not like yours, Sham-I-am.

I do not like BDSM.

 

Would you like it in a book?

 

I would not like it in your book.

I would not give it any look.

I do not want BDSM

I do not want it, Sham-I-am

 

Would you like it in the dark?

If it’s just a harmless lark?

 

I do not want it in the dark,

It is not just a harmless lark.

I do not like your F-ed up book,

I will not give it one more look.

I do not like fake S&M,

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Is it better done with force?

If he beats you like a horse?

 

Not done with force.

Not as a horse.

Not in the dark.

Not as a lark.

I cannot like your violent book,

It should not get a second look.

You do not get BDSM,

You want a master, Sham-I-am.

 

Would you? Could you? If he hit?

Let him! Let him! Just a bit.

 

I would not, will not, go for it!

 

You may like it.

You will see.

Would you like to be set free?

 

I cannot let you set me free,

As I already pleasure me.

I do not need it done by force,

I do not need to be a horse.

I do not need the total dark,

I do not need a messed-up lark.

I do not need your sad bad book,

I do not need a single look.

I do not want warped S&M,

I do not need it, Sham-I-am!

 

The pain! The pain!

Again! Again!

Could you want it with more pain?

 

Not with pain! Not to free!

I say again, Sham, let me be!

I do not want a man to force,

I do not want to scream ‘til hoarse.

Your fantasy is pretty dark,

Abuse and rape are not a lark.

For girls this is an evil book,

And victimhood is a bad look.

I do not like it, Sham-I-am.

 

Say! With a fox?

Look, he’s a fox!

Would you if the guy’s a fox?

 

I would not, even with a fox.

 

Would you if he’s super rich?

 

I would not, could not be his bitch.

Not for a fox. Not if he’s rich.

I do not need to be set free,

I do not need it, Sham, you see!

Not as a lark. Not as a horse.

No need for dark. No need for force.

I will not read submissive books

No matter how risqué it looks.

 

You do not like BDSM?

 

I do not like your savior scam.

 

You do not like it, so you say.

Try it! Try it! And you may

like the nightmare Christian Grey.

 

Sham! I do not need your muck.

I already like to fuck!

 

Yes! I like the sex and stuff.

And my libido is enough!

I like to do it in the dark.

I sometimes do it as a lark.

I’ll also do it in the sun.

I’ll even do it just for fun!

And by my choice. And just for me.

Because it is so good, you see!

 

So I do not need an excuse.

Or else a psycho savior ruse.

And I already have no guilt

For being sexy to the hilt.

And if I want BDSM

I’ll find an equal, unlike them.

 

So take this f-ed up book and scram.

We do not need it, Sham-I-am.

Rock, Paper, Sisyphus, Shoot (Me)

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I imagine if Sisyphus were alive today he would be a New Hampshire-ite. (New Hampshirino?) He would at least be a New Englander. Heck, he may already be Bernie Sanders. And I don’t just say this because of the futility that is shoveling in the midst of a New England winter.

Everyone thinks of endless futility when Sisyphus is invoked, but rarely do we remember why he was sentenced to such a fate. In life, King Sisyphus was a practical leader who placed his own judgment and passion above silly customs and superstitions like “the gods”.

Zeus steals the river god’s daughter for his own version of Fifty Shades of a Rape Fantasy and no one dares to speak up? Not Sisyphus – he’s all, “I’ll tell you where your daughter is, river god, if you promise to give my people water.” That’s good leadership. Angry Zeus sends Death to chain Sisyphus up in punishment? Clever boy says, “Hey, Death, you mind showing me how those chains work first, so I’m less nervous?” BAM. Death in chains, King S back on Earth – Live Free or Die, baby. Literally.

Even when he eventually did die, Sisyphus refused to stop living. He talked Persephone into letting him back up “just to haunt the wife a little”, then simply refused to leave until he’d had his fun. Sure, his lust for life and complete disregard for what is “supposed to” happen made his ultimate torment inevitable, but I’m pretty sure Sisyphus would have done it all anyway. You only live twice; what is an eternity of monotonous labor in exchange for greatness?

Great victories are always balanced by great struggle somehow, whether it be before or after. Call it Newton’s Third Law of Emotion. The problem is that in the midst of those darkest moments – as our strength is on the verge of giving out – it is impossible to know if we are about to be victorious over Death or about to watch that damn rock roll back down the hill for the umpteenth time.

There is a moment near the end of The Two Towers that is one of my favorites because it perfectly captures this uncertainty. Frodo, after months of mental torment and in the middle of a seemingly endless upward climb into Mordor, is feeling understandably desperate. To distract his friend from complete surrender, Sam starts talking about adventures:

“I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for… But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered… Folk seem to have been just landed in them… But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end.”

Sam then asks the magic question: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

“I wonder,” says Frodo, “but I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale…the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

Frodo is convinced at this point that he is pushing a ring up a hill in complete futility, but of course we know that he will end up victorious over death. I like to re-read this part of Tolkien’s masterpiece in the midst of my darker moments. True, Frodo is attempting to destroy the source of pure evil and I am merely trying to bring some respectful and multi-dimensional portrayals of women to our modern mythology, but a struggle doesn’t have to be epic to completely suck sometimes.

Hollywood may not be Mordor, but can come close. The need to write is my ring/rock, and the patriarchal, nepotistic power structure is my uphill battle.

Lately, I have been feeling more like Sisyphus on the hill than Frodo in the midst of a dark tunnel leading eventually to light. If we’re lucky, in these darkest times we find ourselves in the company of a Samwise Gamgee – someone to give a little perspective, or at the very least a distraction for a moment or two. I am thus blessed, and so am prepared to keep pushing this rock no matter how many times it rolls back down the hill.

Life could always be worse, after all. As my own Samwise put it recently, “Sisyphus is better than syphilis.” Truer words have never been spoken.