Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Page

There is a broad debate about Shakespeare that I find endlessly frustrating: whether Shakespeare belongs on your bookshelf or in the theatre. There is intense partisanship on both sides, but my anecdotal experience leads me to believe that the theatre crowd is the more numerous and influential one. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a well-meaning educator tell a group of students that “Shakespeare is meant to be heard aloud, not read. Shakespeare belongs on the stage, not the page!”

I take issue with the entire debate, not any one conclusion in that debate. My experience with Shakespeare has been both literary and theatrical, and I refuse to believe that either way is entirely sufficient. I think that a reasonably proficient reader with no theatre experience can absorb about 80% of what Shakespeare offers and an experienced theatre-goer who has seen Shakespeare’s plays but never read one probably absorbs about 75% of the depth. Think of it as a venn diagram.

I worry about the future of the language arts, both in education for children as in the culture of adults. It feels as though our attention spans have been shortened by the new media of the 21st century: smartphones, social media, youtube, &c &c &c. It also feels as though educators are capitulating to young people’s attitudes instead of trying to shape them. Instead of teaching them that education and self-improvement can be a difficult and slow process that reaps benefits in the long term, we try to give them what they already have: fast, cheap, instant gratification.

Shakespeare is entertaining, and Shakespeare undoubtedly wrote primarily in order to entertain, so there is obviously nothing wrong with the statement that you should see Shakespeare performed. I work in the theatre and I am constantly telling people that they should go see Shakespeare’s plays. But I wholly reject the idea, constantly asserted by many educators, that reading Shakespeare is a waste of time and that the only real way to learn Shakespeare is to perform in the plays or watch others do so.

Setting aside the idea that a piece of art should always be appreciated in its original medium, which one may or may not agree with, you have to account for historical changes when you look at Shakespeare’s plays. What I mean is that, even if you think that a play should only be seen and never read, and a book should only be read and never adapted into a film, &c &c &c, you have to understand that so many factors have changed since Shakespeare’s lifetime that seeing a Shakespeare play in 2017 is nothing like seeing a Shakespeare play in 1600 and there are many places where a close reading of a play fills in the gaps left by four centuries of history.

Shakespeare’s audience had a much more trained ear than we have today. Shakespeare could have counted on his audience to notice a lot of nuances in sound that a modern audience will almost always miss. A contemporary audience could be counted on to notice differences not only between verse and prose, but between different styles of verse and irregularities in that verse. A modern audience isn’t used to that kind of speech and will often be bored or annoyed by attempts by directors like Peter Hall to maintain verse rhythms in productions. Shakespeare often uses changes in speech patterns to indicate changes in psychological states, and while that can be easy to see visually on the page or to pause and examine, it moves too quickly on the stage for most people in the 21st century to track.

Additionally, there is a problem of pronunciation. Shakespeare’s accent and pronunciation were very different from modern English, either British or American. This has prompted an entire field of study dedicated to decoding ‘Original Pronunciation,’ using a variety of textual clues to determine what the English that Shakespeare spoke actually sounded like. For example, we know that for Shakespeare, ‘love’ rhymed with ‘prove,’ and ‘Macbeth’ rhymed with ‘heath.’ This means that a Shakespeare production would have sounded very different to a contemporary audience, and so many meanings that rely on the sound of words may be lost. A modern audience will miss out on a lot of puns based on now-obsolete similarities in the pronunciations of words, and they will miss out on the structure to poetry provided by rhyme.

There are two minor but related points as well, which have to do with the actual content of the plays. Shakespeare’s plays were often like SNL sketches, packed full of references to contemporary events and politics. The Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, recent failed harvests and military conscriptions were all referenced in Shakespeare. A modern audience member might not understand the Porter’s jokes about ‘the equivocator’ in Macbeth, but a contemporary groundling couldn’t have missed it. Another thing that Shakespeare could have counted on, was a certain degree of education in at least his wealthier audiences. Shakespeare’s plays are chock full of classical allusions that typically escape a modern theatregoer. How many people in 2017 know who Aeneas was or his relationship to Dido? Could they name the sun god? Or his sun? Of course not all the history and not all the literature is forgotten, and among the more academic types in the audience many of the allusions might still resonate, but you can’t count on it the way that Shakespeare could.

The very last point I would make is that Shakespeare’s plays are usually cut for time in modern performance. Depending on the play, you may only see 60-80% of the text spoken on stage at a performance. I don’t resent that at all, I personally think cutting the text is one of the most interesting and truest ways of interpreting the plays. But a person who only sees the play and never reads will undoubtedly miss out on some wonderful language.

These four points illustrate the biggest reasons why I think that reading Shakespeare is equally as important as seeing Shakespeare. Of course if I spent all my time around PhD literary scholars who hated theatre, I would have ended up writing the inverse blog entry about all the things you miss in Shakespeare if you only read the plays and never see them, all the physical comedy and the music.

I refuse to participate in the debate about whether Shakespeare belongs on the page or on the stage, because I refuse to admit that a dichotomy is necessary. Shakespeare is so rich that privileging any approach at the expense of others robs you of so many opportunities for exploration. But I will fight to the death on the point that theatrical and literary approaches are discrete and equally necessary for understanding Shakespeare. Anyone who dives into performance without a close reading of the text with notes and historical research will misunderstand words, and anyone who reads the plays without ever going to the theatre will miss out on the sounds of the words and the moment when an actor truly brings a character to life in a way that goes beyond what you imagine in your head as you read.

As with so many things in Shakespeare, it isn’t about either/or, it’s about both/and. Shakespeare belongs both on the page and on the stage. Don’t trust anyone who tells you otherwise.

Pics or it Didn’t Happen

What changes faster, culture or technology? What makes you feel older faster, a new custom or a new artifact?

I think a lot about the ways that cellphones have changed our lives, and perhaps that’s because my peers and I straddle the advent of cellphone ubiquity. I got my first cell phone right before my 18th birthday and I was among the first to get one. I actually only got my first cell phone because I had moved out on my own and was living with around six roommates and it just wasn’t feasible to share a landline with that many roommates.

Getting my first cellphone at 18 means that I still haven’t lived with a cell phone for as long as I lived without one, which is something most people a little younger than me can’t say. I’m among the last people who can remember calling my friends’ houses and asking their parents if they could talk, and who showed up at my friends’ houses and knocked on the door to see if they wanted to hang out. Either thing would be unimaginable to people currently younger than 25.

Much has been made by folks older than me about the paradigm shift in social behavior that accompanied the advent of the cellphone, especially the smartphone. It truly does feel to me like an enormous change, but I wonder if that hypothesis will be borne out in the long-term or if it will turn out to be no bigger of a change than was caused by the telephone, the telegraph, email, &c.

I don’t want to ramble about cellphones for a long time because I think it’s a topic too big for this blog post. But I did want to talk about one feature of smartphones of which I have become hyper aware lately, which is the compulsion to take photo and video of everything. It has become more and more noticeable especially in the context of live music. When I go to shows now, at least half of the audience is watching the majority of the performance on their phones. When I go to see my favourite band, I try my hardest to always be in the very front row so as to avoid trying to see a vast sea of glowing screens between me and the musicians.

I’m not opposed to documenting important moments, and there are certainly moments in my life that I wish had been documented, but I also think there is something to be said for letting an experience and a memory be ephemeral. Documenting a moment always requires you to think about the documentation rather than the moment. You aren’t living in the experience as it happens because you’re trying to capture it to live in it later.

I don’t think that the drive to capture a moment — like any of the other impulses driven by the ubiquity of smartphones — is necessarily new, it’s just amplified by the fact that everyone can do it so easily now. But I do wonder about the psychological drive that causes someone to want to film their favourite band’s entire set rather than watch it. How many people actually watch those videos later? And if they do watch them later, do they make productive use of the video? Meaning, do they do things with the video that they couldn’t have done with the live experience? Do they watch and rewatch, zoom, pause, &c? If they don’t get more out of the video that they could’ve gotten out of the live experience, why film it? Do they even save the video or are most of them using something impermanent like Snapchat to broadcast the set to other people who aren’t there? If, in a hypothetical scenario, all of their Snapchat contacts were present at the show, would they still have felt the need to film it?

I don’t mean to place any kind of judgment on the act of filming necessarily, I just am curious about the impetus behind it. In general I support decisions made out of genuine enjoyment and am skeptical of decisions made out of compulsion or fear. Much has been made of millennials’ addiction to social media, and once again, that may or may not be borne out in the long-term. But I do wonder if it is possible for a person to know whether their use of smartphones and social media stems from a legitimate desire to enhance their lives through long-distance interaction or whether there is a compulsive need to avoid “missing out” by attempting to be interacting with everyone at once.

Or perhaps there is a fear that anything that is not documented is not permanent, anything not permanent is not real. That because we live in a world of constant documentation, anything that isn’t recorded in some capacity is thought of as not as real as something that has been photographed or filmed. If the most minute banal aspects of our day to day lives are documented, what can we say about a big event that isn’t?

“Pics or it didn’t happen” used to be an ironic challenge, but it seems that it has become the standard. If you can’t prove something happened with photos and video, you may as well not even tell the story.

I’ve tried to avoid the temptation to document everything that happens to me because the moment that I am pulling out my phone and adjusting the angle of the photo and checking the light level and focusing is a moment that I am not present, not actually engaged. I don’t ever want my favourite band to look at me in the audience and see a guy who appears to be more interested in his phone — an object I have on my person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week — instead of the musician I only get to see a couple times a year.

It may or may not be the case for everyone, but I would rather be living my life than documenting it to enjoy later.

Helianthus

What I love about sunflowers is their lack of guile. Of course there is a measure of egotism and narcissism in that, because I also see myself as a creature that lacks guile. A cautious and distrustful mystery of a person may fall in love with a rose, and a diva may love a gardenia. But me, I love a sunflower.

It’s said that sunflowers are optimistic, and while that may be generally true, I don’t think it is necessarily their defining trait. The sunflower is a frank plant. It is straightforward about what it likes, and it wants that in great quantity. The sunflower goes to the buffet of life and fills every plate to the brim with its chosen food. It needs no invitation; it has a zesty indulgence of few wonderful things in large amounts.

Many flowers, like many people, require a great deal of coaxing to open. They go through life closely guarding their hearts, their desires, their dreams. They may wait their entire lives for someone to become intimate enough to ask if they’ve dreamed their entire life of becoming a sailor. They may, like Dickinson, die without ever having opened the contents of their secret heart. This isn’t beautiful or heroic. There is no afterlife; if you die and no one ever truly knew you, that is oblivion.

Worse than never opening is opening in secret. People indulge their secret desires in the dark and pretend their blood is very snow broth.

The sunflower loves the sun and it loves the spring warmth. It wants them constantly and it grows and grows, spreading bright yellow — or sometimes red — arms to the sky in a gesture of childish enthusiasm.

I plant sunflowers in my backyard every spring and as the sun spins through the air, higher and higher off of the horizon, I stretch and grow with my yellow compatriots. We thrive in the rising temperatures and the bright rays bouncing off our skin. We reach for the sky until the solstice and then we fold and bend and return to the Earth.

Me and my sunflowers are not creatures of restraint. We are not complicated or varied. We don’t get bored of the same pleasures. We do not pick and sample, we devour. I only love a few things in life and I take all I can get of them. I drink the summer sun and Shakespeare and a Richmond thunderstorm. Life is too short to pretend you don’t want the things you want. The sun goes down and you die and maybe no one ever knew you. Spread your arms with me this summer. Gorge yourself on everything you love. Grow big and tall, stretch and exalt in your life.

Mountainish Inhumanity

A few weeks ago, at the end of January, I took a week off from my day job to attend the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Baltimore. STA — pronounced acronymically as “stah” by everyone — is a large, international meeting of directors and theatre company managers who get together annually to discuss the future of Shakespearean theatre.

I don’t want to discuss the conference in detail because the task would be to monstrous; there were too many things to discuss, too much to learn. I came away with such complicated and overwhelming feelings that if I tried to write about my experience as a whole, I would get so discouraged by the enormity of the task that I would never begin.

I will try to write a few shorter posts over the coming weeks talking about individual points and moments from the conference that stuck with me, in the hopes that it will be more digestible.

There was a shadow hanging over STA — as there was over the entire country — at the end of January. Donald Trump had just been inaugurated and immediately began issuing statements, signing executive orders, and announcing cabinet picks that had the sane portion of the country very, very nervous. The conference, therefore, took on a much more politicized atmosphere than you would normally expect.

There was a lot of talk about the practical concerns of doing Shakespeare in Trump’s America; how do we fund our theatres if Trump eliminates the NEA? But there was also a lot of talk about the artistic concerns of doing Shakespeare in Trump’s America. How do we use our art to welcome people of all kinds, both into our audience and into our organizations? What plays should we be staging to highlight the aberrant and frightening nature of this administration’s rise to power? Richard III, by the way. What can Shakespeare offer to a world suffering through the delusional monomania of the ugliest, pettiest, and stupidest man to ever be president of the United States?

We were all at STA when we heard the news that Trump had issued his travel ban on people from seven Muslim majority countries and halted the flow of refugees into the US. As a group of artists, progressive and idealistic people trying to learn how to be more welcoming, we were watching as the leader of our country was using rash, authoritarian tactics to keep people away. To say that the discussions were emotional would be an understatement.

As it usually happens when I begin trying to put my thoughts into words, I found that Shakespeare had already said everything I could but he had said it much better.

There is a play about the life of Thomas More, famous Catholic zealot, wherein he speaks to a crowd of people in London who are rioting to try and expel immigrants and refugees from England. The rabble as depicted in the play are Trump-supporter types: uneducated, xenophobic, frightened, and poor. They are calling for the “strangers” to be driven away, and Thomas More attempts a bit of rhetorical crowd control, appealing to the people’s humanity and empathy.

The speech that More gives to the riotous crowd is remarkable for a few reasons. As any high school student knows, Shakespeare didn’t write a play about Thomas More. But Shakespeare was a prodigious collaborator, and he wrote the speech that More gives to the London crowd but none of the rest of the play. It is the only bit of manuscript that we have in Shakespeare’s handwriting, other than signatures on various legal documents.

Shakespeare seemed to have a compassion for the downtrodden and discriminated against, as well as a healthy distrust of mobs, so the speech fits very nicely into the portrait I have of Shakespeare in my head.

The speech from Thomas More is one of my favourite speeches in Shakespeare and it is a shame that the play was too controversial to be performed in his lifetime. On Sunday after I had left the conference, I was eating lunch with some friends in DC on the way home to Richmond and I started talking about the conference and how much of it was spent discussing Trump and his new policies. I talked about how no matter how far away we get from Shakespeare’s lifetime, he always has something important to say about current events. Technology changes, people don’t. The racist ignorance that drives away strangers today is the same racist ignorance that drove away strangers in the 16th century.

Not having the speech memorized, I looked it up on my phone to read a bit of it to my friends. Overwhelmed by lingering emotion from the conference, frightened for the future, exhausted from lack of sleep, I started stuttering out the words of the speech and broke down crying in the restaurant.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

You’ll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line
To slip him like a hound.
Alas, alas! Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whether would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.

Past Year’s Accountability 2016

janus-coin

 

This is the eighth year that I have posted a recap of my goals for the year. There are a lot of people in my life who know very little else about me other than my New Year’s Resolution blog post. It’s the way in which some distant friends and acquaintances keep track of the events of my life, which is touching to me in a way that wasn’t the case in 2009 when I started this tradition.

This tradition is called Past Year’s Accountability, because I believe that goals only matter if you hold yourself accountable for them. I post my list publicly as a way of shaming myself into doing better. I genuinely think it has helped me to stay focused along the way.

The end of every year sees people on social media complaining about how terrible of a year it was. They say the same thing at the end of every year. No year ends with everyone raving about how great it was. It’s the same boring, predictable gloominess ever year. Looking back on the year as a whole, 2016 was actually a pretty wonderful year for me. Not my mood of course, that was terrible as always, but the events of the year were pretty good. I seem to be bitter, angry, resentful, and unhappy no matter how much good is coming my way in life.

If there is one barometer of a year for me, it is travel. The more I travel, the happier I am. I traveled almost as much this year as I did in 2009, which I usually say was the best year of my life. I went to California, Canada, and England and I also saw more Shakespeare plays in one year than any other year of my life. How could that be bad?

If you would like to check back on past year’s progress, you can view my 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 20132014, and 2015 posts as well.

1. Start on my back tattoo.
I really need to stop making tattoo resolutions, especially ones that are as expensive as starting on my back. I traveled quite a bit this year which ate up all my discretionary income. I got my face and left hand tattooed but I don’t think that deserves half credit.
2. Take at least three months of consistent ballet classes. 
I am giving myself half credit for this resolution because while I didn’t hit my three month mark, I did take ballet classes, both group classes at Richmond Ballet and private lessons with a friend who is a ballet teacher. I hurt my back and my shoulder in the gym and had to take some time off from the gym and ballet but I think I deserve half credit for the work that I did do.
3. Take at least three months of consistent BJJ classes.
I’ve been really missing training BJJ lately and at the end of last year I had planned to try and return to training but I just couldn’t afford it. A couple of years ago I realized that I was making too many resolutions that were based solely on my ability to afford things and I tried to make an effort to avoid those. Looks like I need a reminder that not everything should be based on money.
4. Publish Brief Candle 3. 
I wanted to publish the third issue of my Shakespeare zine, Brief Candle. Not only did I do that successfully, but I think that issue three is the best issue thus far. I finished it in time for the Richmond Zine Fest, an event that I’ve been meaning to table at for a long time.
5. Give two Shakespeare lectures.
In the last couple years, I’ve been doing more Shakespeare education. My goal for 2016 was to teach at at least two schools. I taught at three, including a full day of lecturing to seven classes at St. Margaret’s as well as teaching a full Shakespeare program at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center. I also lectured on Othello at St. Gertrude. Full credit here.
6. Go to Disney. 
I love few things as much as I love Disney and I hadn’t been since my honeymoon. My wife and I went to California for our anniversary and went to Disneyland. Full credit here.
7. Publish Animal Rights zine with Phinney. 
One of the ideas that I was most excited about when 2016 started, was the idea of collaborating on a vegan zine with my best friend. He spent years working with animals on farm sanctuaries and I thought that he could provide an interesting perspective on animals that no one else really could. Most people know how awful factory farms are, but few people know what life is like for animals who have been rescued from food production. Some of Phinney’s stories of the animals he worked with are heartbreaking, some are beautiful, and some are just puzzling. I had hoped to sit down and have him tell me stories about his work but after months of asking him repeatedly, I gave up on the project. I wish that somehow I could penalize Phinney for this failure because I was offering to do all the work and it was only as a result of his refusal to talk to me for an hour or two that it never happened.
8. Publish Honest Mistakes.
Honest Mistakes is a collection of short stories and essays I’ve been working on for almost six years now. I made significant progress with edits and rewrites this year and will likely be ready for publishing in the next month or two but I don’t think that I hit any benchmarks worthy of claiming half credit for this resolution.
9. Publish a creative zine of some kind.
I realize that in recent years, most of my writing has been academic and not creative. I had hoped to put together a zine of poetry, or fiction, or a collaborative art zine with someone but it never panned out. I did publish two zines this year but neither of them were what I had in mind when I wrote this resolution, so no credit there.
10. Reread Moby Dick.
I commonly tell people that Moby Dick is one of my favourite books, but I read it so long ago that I barely remember the finer details. I normally have a policy against rereading books. In fact, prior to rereading Moby Dick this year (full credit!) I had only ever read Shakespeare plays multiple times. I enjoyed Moby Dick even more the second time, because I know my Shakespeare so much better now than I did when I was 14. Melville was so influenced by Shakespeare that it really takes an understanding of Shakespeare to appreciate Moby Dick.
11. Donate at least $100 to any number of charities/non profits.
I raised $150 ($124 of which was my own money, the other $26 came from coworkers) for the ongoing relief effort in Nepal after their spring 2015 earthquake. I work for an Aveda salon and Aveda has a special relationship with the people of Nepal and I wanted to raise money for them for Christmas. I did the same thing last year but I raised way more money this year than last year.
12. Do something special marketing-wise for King Lear in the spring.
In the spring, the theatre company that I work for did a production of King Lear and I was really excited about it for a lot of reasons. Some of my favourite actors in Richmond were involved and the closing night of the production coincided with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. I really wanted to put together some special marketing gimmicks to try and create buzz for the show. I organized two significant marketing efforts to help with the show. Full credit here.
13. Write ten blog entries.
I wrote seven entries for this blog this year, not including this one. That’s definitely worth half credit.
14. See a show at the Globe in London.
I’ve been to the Globe in London several times to take tours and visit the exhibits and to see a show in their new indoor playhouse, but I had never actually seen a show in the Globe. As a Shakespeare fanatic that seems absurd. This summer I spent almost three weeks out of the country and saw eight Shakespeare shows in 18 days, including two at the Globe in London. I also saw four at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, and two at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon. On my birthday (August 26) I saw an afternoon matinee of Macbeth, and at 11:59pm the same day I saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Of all the shows I saw on the whole trip, I think the Macbeth I saw at the Globe was my favourite. Full credit here, obviously.
15. See a Shakespeare play I’ve never seen before.
This is pretty self-explanatory. I’m trying to work my way through seeing the whole canon. I’ve read and discussed every play with my book club, but there are still a bunch that I’ve never seen. While on the trip that I mention above, I saw Two Noble Kinsmen at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon, as well as Richard II and Henry IV 1+2 as part of the ‘Breath of Kings’ history conflation at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. I wish I could give myself quadruple credit for this resolution.
16. Table at the Zine Fest.
I have been wanting to table at the Richmond Zine Fest for a while but it’s a big commitment to get together enough material to make it worth it as well as taking the time off of work. This year I registered to table, finished the third issue of Brief Candle in time to sell at the fest as well as edited and reissued some old zines for the occasion. Full credit.
17. Go to the symphony.
I wanted to try and support the arts in Richmond more, including the opera and symphony. I didn’t get around to going to the symphony this year but not necessarily because I was too lazy or broke, the Richmond symphony just didn’t do very much that I was excited about. I’m not a classical music buff, there are only a few composers that I love and if the symphony isn’t doing something big by one of them, it’s easy for me to forget to buy a ticket. No credit here.
18. Go to the opera.
Another arts resolution that I did follow through with. I went to see the Virginia Opera’s production of Romeo and Juliet in February. It wasn’t very good, but I went! Full credit.
19. Produce Measure for Measure film.
The summer of 2015 I came up with the idea of trying to do a very fast, cheap, film adaptation of Measure for Measure and shoot the entire thing on an iPhone. I talked to one of my closest friends, Mary Sader about starring in it and helping me to direct and this summer we managed to make it happen. We raised money for a few props and food for the cast, cut the script down to 45 minutes, cast a bunch of our friends, and shot the thing at a feverish pace in less than a week. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to see the film after it’s been edited by my long-suffering assistant director, Austin.
20. ***
There was one resolution on this list that I accomplished, but which I find too embarrassing to publish. It is a petty thing that I wanted to do this year that a few people know about, but which I would be petrified to talk about publicly. Y’all will just have to trust me that I accomplished this thing and that I deserve full credit for it. I’ve never lied to you before.

My total for this year was 13/20 or 65% which is actually my highest percentage ever, beating my 2013 score of 58.3%. Do y’all think that I am getting more done or am I just writing myself easier resolutions? Either could be likely I suppose.
I finished writing my resolutions for 2017 while I typed up this post. Check back in a year to see how much stuff I did not accomplish in 2017.

 

Many a Man Has Good Horns

Cuckold

After my last serious, monogamous relationship ended in 2008, I became really disillusioned with the entire concept of romance, love, marriage, monogamy, &c. I spent years avoiding any romantic commitments like the plague and hurting a few feelings along the way.

In 2012 I met my wife, and in 2014 we got married. It’s been a long, strange journey that has changed my mind about some things and reinforced my feelings about others.

I readily acknowledge that my initial suspicions about monogamy beginning in 2008 were more about protecting my feelings and avoiding commitment than they were about any moral stances. But along the way, I really did come to believe that monogamy hurts relationships and reinforces people’s insecurities and fears and at this point, I wouldn’t ever go back to being in a monogamous relationship.

My wife and I have been non-monogamous since day one, but what that has meant has evolved over time. I don’t have the time or energy to delve into the intricacies and minutiae of our entire relationship w/r/t monogamy, but there are some things I wanted to touch on.

Why non-monogamy? The main reason is that we find that our relationship is much more honest as a result. Most monogamous couples have to consistently lie to one another, pretending to only be attracted to one person, and pretending to the believe their partner when they say the same lie. My wife and I don’t ever have to pretend that we don’t find other people attractive. Lying about anything undermines the trust of any relationship. If she ever told me that I was the only person she was attracted to, I would begin to doubt any other flattering or positive things she ever told me.

I don’t believe that humans are built for monogamy. I believe that most people have wandering eyes, and that most people would be happier in their relationships if they could sleep with an attractive stranger once in a while. I can attest to the fact that almost every single time, no matter how fun or physically satisfying the experience is, it will only serve to remind you why you enjoy your partner’s company more than anyone else’s.

Monogamy is about obligation, and I don’t believe in building relationships on obligation. I spend my time with the people whose company I enjoy, not the people I am ‘required’ to spend time with. Given the option of spending time with anyone I know, I’ll choose to spend time with my wife 99% of the time. Not because I have to, not because her feelings would be hurt if I didn’t, not because I don’t have anyone else to spend time with, but because I enjoy her company more than anyone else’s.

People always ask how we deal with jealousy, which I always find a hilarious question. If monogamy were the cure for jealousy, then why are monogamous couples always at each other’s throats over jealousy? Jealousy comes from suspicion, rumour, fear, uncertainty; none of which is part of my relationship. Knowing that my wife is attracted to other people and knowing when she sleeps with other people means I don’t ever have any uncertainty. I know who my wife is interested in and I know who she sleeps with and vice versa. Having that honesty and openness means that I don’t have to worry about it.

The biggest problem that my wife and I face is the misconception that my wife is simply a passive victim whose husband steps out on her. The false pity that people in my life — my coworkers are the worst offenders in this regard — heap on my wife is insulting to both of us and is based solely on an outdated idea that women are not as interested in sex as men are, and that women use sex as a bargaining to obtain commitment in relationships. It’s as ubiquitous as it is stupid. My wife is a wonderful, strong human being and the idea of anyone pitying her infuriates me.

The most amusing, perplexing, and sometimes enraging part of being in an open relationship is the reaction from partners and potential partners. Over 9/10 of women who message me on dating sites only do so to ask me the same three or four questions about the logistics of my relationship. After satisfying their curiosity they generally make some insulting remark or convey their moral outrage at the very idea of my marriage.

The most salient interactions I’ve had with women w/r/t to my open marriage have been with women who regularly cheated on their partners with me when I was single, but were disgusted by the idea of being with someone in an open marriage. It is such a specific circumstance that it seems impossible that it could have happened more than once, but it did. I’m not bitter at being rejected physically — obviously no one is obligated to sleep with me for any reason — but I was amused by the idea that so many women find a faithless monogamy more ethically palatable than a faithful open marriage. And that is the crux of why I don’t believe in monogamy. Monogamy is the great lie of great lies; it values the overt display of faithfulness rather than the true practice of faithfulness. There can be no honesty in a system built on a dishonest premise.

Christmas Day Christmas Night

polar-express-photo-courtesy-of-warner-brothers

I truly think that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hate the winter, and I hate being cold, but I love Christmas.

It might be unexpected that such a strident atheist would be so in love with Christmas, but in spite of my disbelief in the metaphysical claims of religion, I love many cultural, philosophical, and artistic elements of Christianity. In the same way that an anthropologist can appreciate the evolution of human culture without adhering to stone age ideas about the nature of the universe, I am fascinated by the ways in which Christianity attempts to conceptualize man’s place in the natural world.

Christianity co-opted the pagan, naturalistic celebration of the Winter Solstice. After the solstice, the days begin to lengthen. The sun(Son) brings light to the Earth. The pagan worldview was intrinsically impersonal, humanity was a species among species in a world that wasn’t especially concerned with the survival of any particular one. The world is a mysterious, inscrutable web of unsympathetic forces which we must navigate at our peril.

The Christian view anthropomorphizes the natural world. We do not have a sun; we have a Son. Nature is given a human face, the intention and care of a Father. The forces which preserve or destroy life are understood through the lens of man’s will, his emotions, his personality.

The process by which these forces are bent and subsumed into the Christian worldview leaves a disjointed, patchwork theology full of conflicting elements.

I like to think of Christmas as made up of two elements, daytime and nighttime. These two elements are encapsulated by my two favourite Christmas movies: Elf, and the Polar Express.

Daytime Christmas is Elf. It is bright and loud, secular and optimistic. It is beautiful and accessible. It praises the basic virtues of altruism and naïveté. Daytime Christmas is shopping malls playing Michael Bublé. Daytime Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It is the doublethink that latches onto anything festive and cheerful to offset the fatal dark and cold of early winter. Daytime Christmas is the Christian Christmas in all its heavy-handed cultural baggage.

Nighttime Christmas is The Polar Express. It is quiet and mysterious, frightening and ephemeral. Nighttime Christmas is the Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It is the long long night that a child doesn’t have the experience to know will give way to the augmentation of the light. Nighttime Christmas is confusing and incongruent. Nighttime Christmas is the warning of a ghost about the vices of ignorance and want. Nighttime Christmas is a pagan intrusion; it is uncertainty.

Christmas is the end of a dark night’s triumph through our world and the resurgence of a cycle of light and life. It is a cultural and religious juggernaut appropriating what it can’t obliterate. It becomes a museum of human ideas the cycle of life. It is a steamroller decorated with twinkling LED lights with an underbelly of all the west’s hopes and fears caked onto the cylinder.

If you only pay attention to the gaudy tinsel you’re missing the point, but that’s also the truth if you only scrape the ground looking for philosophy. I am a Pagan and Christian atheist. I’m a gluttonous westerner unwilling to renounce either the ugly or the beautiful. I am optimistic every day and frightened every night.

I fucking love Christmas.

Make America [Blank] Again

11chappatte-facebookjumbo-v2Like everyone else in the western world, I’ve been thinking a lot about the US presidential election and about Donald Trump specifically. I didn’t want to sit down and write the same kind of political analysis that has been everywhere else. I’m not a pundit. I’m more interested in trying to conceptualize the election in a way that makes sense to me on a human level.

What’s funny is that for very different reasons, the issues of veganism and animal rights have come up in my thought exercises trying to understand the left and right reactions to Trump’s election.

On the left, the refrain that I keep hearing from my friends is that of ‘community.’ People constantly talk about the need to stand together, to support one another and build a ‘community.’ There is an irony to all of this that has kept me from attending any of the marches or protests, which is that the community that everyone is advertising isn’t real. To a person, everyone I know who has taken to the internet talking about community recently are the kind of exclusionary, cliquish assholes whose entire identity is based on making other people feel unwelcome. The irony couldn’t be greater if it were Regina George and Gretchen Weiners organizing these marches. Of course I didn’t support Donald Trump, and if these marches were intended to produce an actual result, I would attend. But a march that serves no purpose other than a group hug with a bunch of the least friendly people in Richmond, I can’t be bothered.

I started thinking about the phenomenon of caring about community while not caring about individual people and I realized that I should withhold some of my moral superiority because it is the same approach I take to veganism. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not an animal person: I don’t like to play with animals, I don’t have any pets, and narratives about the abuse/neglect of individual animals are the least emotionally resonant for me when I think about animal rights as a broader movement. This sets me apart from most vegans who were brought into the animal rights fold as a result of an emotional connection with individual animals. I take the same attitude toward animals that my left-leaning friends take to their community: namely that they feel no empathy for individual people, but are greatly concerned with the broader welfare of large populations. Of course that’s giving them the benefit of the doubt, but it helped me to make sense of their position.

Trump’s supporters have been classified as racist, sexist, xenophobic rednecks since the beginning of the election, and it is obviously true for a large swath of his base. But obviously this isn’t the case for all Trump voters. There are people in my life who voted for Trump, not because of his racist and sexist remarks, but in spite of them. Much was made in the news of people who voted for Obama twice and then voted for Trump. How do you explain that voter? Some people obviously thought that Trump was right about big enough issues that they overshadowed his problematic views on other issues.

Putting aside his repugnant personality, I disagree with Donald Trump on nearly all of the policy issues on which he has stated a position. So it was hard for me to imagine agreeing with him on anything so strongly that I would be able to overlook the fact that he is a rapist and a racist. Once again, I spent some time feeling morally superior and ideologically pure. I would never vote for anyone who would say such disgusting things about women, no matter how right they might be on other issues.

I tried thinking of any issue important enough to me that I would overlook horrific remarks about rape. Then I thought about Gary Yourofsky. Yourofsky is an animal rights activist who has been arrested for direct action and who has made a career giving lectures about veganism. Some of his videos on YouTube have millions of views; he has probably converted more people to veganism than any other single activist. Yourofsky is a favourite of new vegans, but many in the AR community have distanced themselves from him because of a few cringe-worthy remarks about wishing that people who support animal abuse would endure those same abuses themselves. He infamously said that he wishes women who wear fur coats would endure a rape horrific enough to scar them. He’s spent over a decade dealing with that remark. He’s done everything except say that it was a mistake and apologize for it.

Gary Yourofsky isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t send his videos to people and when I’m looking for a AR leader to follow, he isn’t the one I fall in line behind. But if there was going to be a vegan running for president, it would probably be Yourofsky or someone like him. His personality isn’t that unlike Trump’s, even if he is a much better public speaker. He’s got enough ego for ten people and he is convinced that he is the only person with the right answers.

So what if Gary Yourofsky ran for president on a vegan-centric platform? What if he was as viable of a candidate as Donald Trump was in late October? Yeah it’s a laughably improbable scenario, but what would I do? Would I vote for a quasi-misogynist like Yourofsky because he had the right ideas about bigger issues? Honestly I would. If we don’t end animal agriculture, there won’t be any misogynists or women for them to hate because the human race is going to become extinct. So I guess I do understand the position of some of the reluctant Trump supporters. Obviously all of this is just an irrelevant thought exercise because just because people believe Trump might be right about important issues doesn’t actually mean he is. But it doesn’t make me feel a little bit better about the people in my life who voted for him that I don’t want to believe are bigots.

I don’t really have any answers or any conclusions to draw. I was just trying to make sense of human behaviour that I found baffling three weeks ago. And I guess, to some degree I have.

Use and the Stamp of Nature

I find myself less inclined to write blog entries the older I get. It’s funny to think that this blog has existed in various forms for over ten years — although with some of the more embarrassing entries deleted — and has documented an arc in my intellectual life as I’ve become what passes for a full-fledged adult. People don’t really read blogs anymore, mine least of all. So it probably matters very little that I don’t register my two cents on current events or issues as often as I used to.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly I write less in general than I used to, and when I do, I tend to want to save that writing for a print project of some kind, a zine or an upcoming book. Secondly, as it concerns writing about political subjects or current events, I feel much less certain of things than I ever have. When I was younger, things seemed much more clear-cut than they do now and I could sit down for an angry hour and rattle off an essay with a direct conclusion. Each time I sit down to write something now, I second-guess myself until I have convinced myself that I am either not knowledgable enough to write about the subject, or that the issue is too complex to explain in a blog entry, or that my opinion means so little to anyone else that I may accomplish the same effect by thinking about the issue alone in my room.

When I was younger, I possessed a peculiar blend of confidence in my ability to express an idea and lack of concern as to whether that idea was expressed perfectly. Now that combination has been inverted. I am much less confident about my writing and also much more concerned with polishing a piece to perfection.

I am now trying very hard to get back into the habit of writing more often, not because I think that an eager mass of readers is awaiting my perspective on every significant issue, but rather to build the habit of sitting down to write consistently. The hope is that each time I sit down to write, it will lend an easiness to the act, that use will change the stamp of my lazy nature.

I will try my hardest to use this blog more as a sounding board and less as a place for polished, finished pieces. Hopefully the uptick in quantity will balance the possible drop off in quality.

Brief Candle 3 Released

bc3cover

The third issue of Brief Candle is printed and available for sale, starting at Richmond Zine Fest today.

The making of Brief Candle has been an evolving process over the almost three years I’ve been working on it. Design-wise I’ve decided to move into a half-page size and to streamline the look, using fewer images and embracing the fact that it’s a literary zine and people who are willing to look at a Shakespeare zine won’t be put off by the fact that it’s not a picture book. For years I was attached to the full-page size because I thought it made my projects look more credible, more ‘serious,’ but I’ve come to find that it’s actually a bit cumbersome and unwieldy so this is my first experiment with moving into a smaller size.

I think this is our best issue yet, the quality and variety of the pieces are what I’ve wanted from Brief Candle from the beginning.

The first batch of BC3 are only available in person but I will post them for sale on the website if I have any left after today, or after I get more printed.