A New [Works] Experience

This is a guest post by my friend Alex Lammon. Alex is a blogger who just finished the trainee program at the Richmond Ballet. Since Alex’s previous two posts on her blog have been about a theme and issue that matter to me and relate to our friendship, and since my most recent post was about the last show that Alex danced in Richmond, I approached her about doing a cross-blog collaboration. I’ve published a piece over at SlamminLammon in her “No One’s Youer Than You” series and she wrote this about her experience dancing in the Trainee New Works show.

For many ballet dancers, we spend a majority of our rehearsal time learning different works that have been around for years, most often, passed down by former dancers who danced the pieces in their prime. One of the ultimate experiences for a dancer is to have new works created on them. That is why it is incredibly exciting for dancers when a choreographer sets a work on their company or them personally. As a dancer in a new work, it is a thrilling experience to be part of the creative process. The piece is created on you, which means that sometimes the choreography will be tweaked to your strengths. There is also the possibility that the choreographer will ask you for ideas and opinions, putting even more of your influence in the piece. Stepping on stage to perform your new piece is an incredible experience, you know that you’re the first to enter this territory. It can sometimes feel like an explorer venturing out to new frontiers, charting new territory.

When it was announced that we Trainees would be participating in a “New Works” show with pieces choreographed by company members of the Richmond Ballet, I was overjoyed that I would get to be part of the creative process of choreographers whose dancing I admired greatly. Unfortunately, when the time came for the choreographers to watch the dancers and decide who they wanted in their pieces, I was on a leave of absence, spending a month in NYC training with a contemporary company. Luckily, I was placed in the corps of my fellow Trainee, Zane Ellis’s piece. I felt very fortunate to still be able to take place in the “New Works” show, especially since I was in a piece by the only Trainee choreographer in the show.

However, during the first few weeks of rehearsals, my friend, who was cast in Fernando Sabino’s work, broke her foot and had to bow out of the piece. I offered myself up as a replacement since I had plenty of free time, only being in one other piece, and Fernando invited me to attend the rehearsals. At first, I was just going to be a replacement for my friend until she was able to come back fully, but her full recovery wouldn’t come in time for the show, and I was put in.

I can definitely tell you that for the first week or so, I was filled with guilt. She had been chosen by the choreographer and he had seen something in her that he wanted to use for his work, perhaps I would be letting him down if my dancing wasn’t up to what he imagined. I also felt guilty that I was taking my friend’s place. Even though she physically couldn’t be in the piece, I still had the slight feeling that I had taken what was hers. She even assured me that she was okay that I was dancing in her place, but it still took awhile for me to feel completely at ease.

Our rehearsals for all our works kicked in to full swing… sorta. Because company members are the choreographers and Trainees are the dancers, rehearsals had to be squeezed in between company and Trainee rehearsals. The company was in going strong with several studio series performances, Minds In Motion work, and a tour to New York City. Sometimes we would have several rehearsals a week. Sometimes we would have one 30 minute rehearsal, and then nothing for several weeks. Of course, I would not be in all the rehearsals that were called for a piece. For Zane’s piece, he would spend some of the shorter rehearsals in the beginning working with the principal, soloists and demi-soloists individually. Sometimes I would go several rehearsals without running my corps work which meant that I really had to keep up remembering choreography and corrections on my own. Finding a time in between rehearsals to go over the piece was absolutely necessary.

In the case of Fernando’s piece, my fellow dancers and I would try to run the whole piece as much as possible (especially the closer it got to the show) because we had to keep our stamina up. If we didn’t, you could almost ensure that the level of dancing would go down, and someone would probably have to scrape our fatigued bodies off the studio floor after we melted into a pool of exhaustion, sweat and tears. One does not just get up and run a marathon. One also does not get up and run Fernando’s piece out of nowhere.

You. WILL. die.

Despite how grueling the pieces could be, I thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsal process. Both Zane and Fernando were a delight to work with. They both pushed us hard, looking for the best dancing we could give and how far we could push our bodies. The most admirable thing they did was milking us for all we were worth, yet being so considerate and respectful of how we felt. If I couldn’t do a certain step, I was never made to feel like I was incompetent or a lesser dancer because of it. They would work with anyone struggling and try to get them to execute the step they had created, but it was always in a positive way.

Sometimes choreographers can approach teaching a step in a negative way or refuse to accept that they may have created a step too hard for a dancer to do. Because of the positive rehearsal environment that Zane and Fernando had created, I was willing to do anything they proposed. No matter how crazy the step was, I was willing to put all my effort in to it with zero hesitation. Of course, as a dancer, no matter what the choreographer was like, I would work my hardest to give them what they wanted, but I feel like with the positive environment, the pieces reached their best potential. I was also filled with such immense pride that the choreographers were so great and from the company I danced for.

During Fernando’s rehearsals, I learned so much about how my body worked and how to move in an efficient way. He would work with us for a long time showing us exactly how to execute a step, not only to make it look its best, but in a way that didn’t require more energy than necessary. He himself would get down on the floor, rolling, twisting and flipping to show us what he wanted and how doing it his way was the best. He made everything look so easy, but my fellow dancers and I sustained many bruises and bumps in our efforts to match his flawless movements. With his expert coaching, we were all able to get our movements closer to what he wanted. Fernando had great advice and we learned about everything from how to execute floor work to how to walk in high heels. He is a quite knowledgeable person!

The rehearsal process continued and we got closer and closer to the show, costumes were chosen, stage rehearsals took place, but the stress levels rose. I began having stress dreams the week before the show.

Since Zane is a good friend of mine, I felt an extra pressure to do well in his piece. I had a firsthand view of how our performance of his piece affected him and I didn’t want to let him down. Because I care about him and what he thinks, the stress dreams I was having were about his piece. I dreamt that it was a dress rehearsal the day of the show and I didn’t know that he had added in a combination at the beginning of the piece that we did in the middle of the rows in the audience. I was completely lost during that section and didn’t know what I was doing when I got down to the stage. From there, I kept messing up the choreography and making huge mistakes. At the end of the dress rehearsal, he came down in tears and was so disappointed that his piece had looked so bad. He was humiliated that the artistic staff had seen such a horrible rehearsal and sternly told us that we had to do better for the show.

It was one of those real-life dreams that when I woke up, I spent several minutes feeling like what I dreamt was real and feeling awful about it. I vowed to not let that be a reality.

By the day of the show, we were all riding on a cloud of nervous and excited energy. There was only going to be one performance for the “New Works” show which meant only one chance to nail everything. Not only was this a one shot show, but it was the last show I would ever perform in on the Richmond Ballet stage. If there was ever a show to put your all in to, this was it for me.

Before I was to go on, I was watching the piece before me and fighting back tears. I was surrounded by people I cared for dearly and had just spent months working for choreographers I admired. I was about to share this special moment with them and so many people in the audience who meant so much to me. Watching my fellow dancers lighting the stage up made me so happy, but also tearful because this was most likely my last time dancing with many of them.

My time performing went by in a blur. I didn’t really have time to take it in and reflect on what was happening until we were standing in line for our final bow. The feeling of gratitude is the best way to describe how I was feeling at the end of the night. Grateful to have been able to dance world premieres and be a part of the creative process in creating those works of art. Grateful to have worked with enjoyable, talented and hardworking dancers and choreographers and that my body had been able to push itself and perform these beautiful works. Performing in “New Works” was a priceless experience that I will never forget and to me, the very epitome of what it means to be a dancer.

“Escaped” and “Train of Thought” RB Trainee New Works

I love the ballet but I don’t often write about it because I am intimidated by its technical nature. I can be moved to tears by a performance but when I sit down to try and describe what it was that affected me so deeply, I lack the vocabulary to effectively describe anything I’ve seen. The only time I’ve ever written seriously about the ballet was after Richmond Ballet’s performance of Romeo and Juliet, and I only felt qualified there because it was a story ballet that was based on a Shakespeare play that I know very well and because Malcolm Burn’s choreography is so linguistic in nature that I felt like I was analyzing a theatre performance as much as a dance performance.

My intimidation is increased exponentially by the fact that many of my friends are dancers with the Richmond Ballet, so I am always talking to people who are most familiar with the aspects of the performance which are most opaque to me. I am honestly terrified of sounding stupid when I talk about ballet, that as an audience member and not a dancer I am perhaps missing the entire point of a performance I’ve seen.

With that caveat, I would like to talk about the Richmond Ballet’s New Works II performance Saturday night.

The New Works II performance was a chance for dancers with the professional company — plus one faculty member from the school and one trainee — to choreograph new short pieces on the trainees. The trainees are the top level students in the school at Richmond Ballet: one step below the professional dancers. The trainee program is usually two years, but occasionally dancers will get to stay in the program for a third year if there are special circumstances.

The vibe was experimental, dancers with little or no experience choreographing expressing themselves from the other side of the process, getting to create a piece and coach younger dancers.

Although it was a show that was obviously going to be less professional and less polished, I was more excited for this performance than anything else recently because it gave me a chance to see some of my friends choreograph for the first time and it was a chance to see some of my friends who are trainees take center stage for the first time. Two of my friends in the company were choreographing and two of my friends in the trainee program were dancing for the last time in Richmond.

There were six pieces total, and I enjoyed all of them but there were two in particular that struck an emotional chord with me.

My favourite piece of the evening was Escaped, choreographed by Mate Szentes to music by Yann Tiersen. Before each of the pieces, the choreographer gave a short introduction; Mate said that his piece was about a mental escape into a fantasy world where you can be with the person that you want to be with, someone you know that you could never be with in reality. The dance was a pas de deux, a duet between Dominique Jenks and Dylan McIntyre. Once again, I should say that I am not an expert in the technical aspects of dance, so my impression of it was purely emotional.

The music from Yann Tiersen was aching, minimal, and beautiful. The lighting was stark: a wide spotlight in the center of the stage that served as a kind of boundary, perhaps delineating the real world from the fantasy? Dominique began in the center of the light with Dylan slowly circling her at its perimeter. Their partnering was the best in the entire show, coordinated and powerful. The sense of yearning that Mate described in his introduction was clear throughout. Each of their beautiful movements together was punctuated by a painful separation as they moved from the center of the circle of light out to its perimeter. You can never fully immerse yourself in your fantasy, reality always needles you throughout that you are living a lie. At one of the piece’s most poignant moments Dominique came to the edge of the stage, at the perimeter of the light and leaned out en pointe toward the audience as Dylan held her arm. Was she trying to reach us? Trying to escape the circle of light? Was the circle the fantasy or reality?

I found out later that Dylan and Dominique are dating, which I would imagine made their chemistry on stage easier to portray. When Dylan approached Dominique for the first time, I started crying and spent the rest of the piece trying to watch carefully through misty eyes. Mate said in his introduction that he thought the theme of yearning and fantasy were both universal and painful, and I think he was probably right. This piece hit me in every dark, abandoned, cobweb-infested part of my romantic heart. It was like being young and falling in love all over again, with all of its inflated gravitas and world-ending emotional swells.

I was told by someone else from the ballet that Mate envisioned this pas as a component of a full ballet; I really hope that Mate is able to flesh out his complete vision soon. If he is ever able to complete the piece I would buy a dozen tickets for every performance and give them away to strangers just to make sure everyone could see it.

The other piece that really moved me was Train of Thought, by Fernando Sabino to music by Philip Glass. This ballet couldn’t have been more different from Mate’s piece. It was for a larger group — five of the female trainees — and went in a separate emotional direction. The dancers wore a simple white collared top with a black midi skirt. The costumes, paired with the dancing gave a kind of severe, repressed, Prussian feel to the whole piece.

For much of the piece, four of the dancers moved in unison in movements that were more coordinated and controlled, while one dancer was more free, expressive, and often melancholic. This pattern rotated, with different trainees rotating into that place as the previous integrated back into the group. This didn’t feel like the traditional corps de ballet and soloist structure that I’m used to seeing in story ballets because the single trainee never seemed to be exalted among her peers, if anything it felt very much the opposite. Whenever one of the trainees was apart from the group, she felt othered, like she was experiencing an ecstasy or a overpowering grief that the rest of the group could never understand. Either through her own emotional isolation, or through the lack of empathy from the group, she was alone. The tightly controlled costuming and movement of the corps (for lack of a more accurate term) gave the impression of a society that desires conformity and decorum and doesn’t allow people to feel deeply in public, so they must vent their secret hearts in isolation.

This inversion of the corps/soloist dynamic was important to how I understood the ballet. The corps/soloist arrangement comes from classical ballet originating in the Renaissance in Europe and in 17th and 18th century Russia, a time of intense class hierarchy when the masses of the people served to raise powerful people onto pedestals. In a democratic world, society can often serve to crush the weak rather than raise the strong. It is a different, more postmodern idea of how communities work.

The painful beauty of the piece was in the way that different dancers rotated into and out of the corps and soloist positions, allowing us to see that a repressive society is actually composed of a group of individuals who all want to feel. There is an agonizing hypocrisy to the fact that we resent a repressive society when we are in pain, but we are willing to be complicit members of that society when it is hurting or ignoring someone else. Camus said “The slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown.”

In general, I don’t love Philip Glass as a composer so I may have reservations about the possibility of adapting this piece into a longer ballet solely for that reason. I think that his music worked wonderfully for a shorter piece — especially this one because of the themes I identified — but the repetitive minimalism of his music loses interest for me after about 15 minutes.

It is dangerous to analyze the work of artists you know; they are present to tell you when you are wrong. But this is what I left the performance with. Insofar as themes and ideas in art are in the eye of the beholder, this is what those pieces were.

Once again I should say that I liked all the pieces in the show, but for various reasons I feel much less comfortable writing extensively about the other four. I also think it would be charity on my part not to go on for another 2,500 words trying to cover the others in incoherent rambling the way I’ve done these two.

The next Richmond Ballet performance will be Studio One in September, featuring a piece called “Portrait of Billie,” about Billie Holiday, Balanchine’s Tarantella, and a new piece by Ma Cong.

Disconnect

I’ve talked before about my issues with cell phones, at least as it relates to the use of the cameras on them, but I thought it was worth talking about issues of connectivity as well. This could be thought of as an extension of that earlier entry, and will repeat some of the same points for different reasons.

I got my first cell phone when I was just about 18, and that was only because I had moved out on my own and needed a phone independent of my six roommates. I was one of the first of my friends to get a cell phone, and because I’m of a generation that got our first cell phones later in life than most today, I still remember a time before 24/7 connectivity and social media. I still haven’t lived as long with a cell phone as I lived without one, which is an interesting thought in and of itself. For that reason I think me and people my age are more aware of the changes in digital communication, &c since the advent of social media and ubiquitous cell phones more or less bisects our lives.

I remember being really impressed early on by the convenience of cell phones: being able to call someone from the store to ask if there was anything else I should remember to buy while I was out, being able to let someone know I was running late to a meeting, but it was the advent of texting that really was a game-changer for me. I have always hated talking on the phone, even as a kid before cell phones. Being able to carry on private, silent conversations with the ability to think precisely about what I wanted to say was a big deal for me as someone who likes to be thoughtful and precise in what I say and who hates being overheard.

But over time I noticed in my own life that not only were all of my friends spending their entire days staring at their phones. People stopped looking at one another while spending time together. No matter who you’re with, you’re always trying to interact with someone else. People’s attention spans seem to be dwindling, and while I can’t be the etiquette police for other people, I can try very hard in my own life to make sure that when I am not as engrossed in my phone.

Some of that effort involves old fashioned self-control: ignoring my phone when I’m spending time with my friends. But I decided to take an additional step to help reinforce my efforts to pay less attention to my phone: I disconnected my cellular service when my contract expired four years ago.

The thing that makes smartphones so hard to ignore is also the thing that helped me disconnect from my own, namely that the phone can function independently of the carrier and act like a computer or tablet. When my contract with Verizon expired, I simply called and told them to disconnect the service. I turned on Airplane Mode to keep my phone from trying to connect to cellular service, and enabled WiFi so that it can connect to the internet. I paid a one time ~$20 fee to transfer my number to Google Voice, Google’s free internet-based phone service and connected that number to my Google Hangouts account.

So, for the most part my phone works the same way, with a few minor tweaks. I can make and receive phone calls and send SMS text messages through Google Hangouts. If I want to use iMessage with other iPhone users, the messages show up as coming from my email address rather than my phone number (because my phone doesn’t recognize my phone number as connected to an iPhone because it’s routed through Google).

There are two big differences. Firstly, my phone only connects when I have wifi, so if you call or text me while I’m out riding my bike, or driving, or on the bus, or in the park, I won’t receive it until I arrive somewhere with wifi (my house, my work, or a Starbucks). Secondly, I don’t pay a cell phone bill anymore, which means I’ve saved about $4,000 in the last four years.

Of course, given the ubiquity of wifi, taking this approach doesn’t disconnect you quite as much as you’d think; plenty of people have no idea that I don’t have any actual cell service because I still respond to calls and texts without major delays. But it does help in some substantial ways. Because my phone doesn’t work 100% of the time, and doesn’t work when I’m in transit, I have become much less addicted to checking it constantly. Once you internalize the knowledge that your phone doesn’t always have new information for you, you stop checking back on it constantly. It helps break a cycle and force you to check your phone when you can and when you need to, and ignore it when you’re out and about. It also saves you a ton of money. Not having to worry about my cell phone bill — among other things — has allowed me to work fewer hours and stress less about money.

If I were a true luddite, I’d have simply thrown away my smartphone rather than trying to find a compromise to keep it while using it less. If I saw no value in my smartphone, I certainly would have sold it or given it away. But there are many legitimately important things that having a cell phone enables me to do that would be impossible or at least much more difficult to do without it. Taking pictures of my work in the salon, keeping track of my calories and fitness goals, and mapping directions are the biggest non-frivolous uses of my cell phone. While I could simply buy a digital camera and use a notebook and pen to calculate calories and macronutrients and fitness progress, and carry around an atlas, keeping a small rectangle in my pocket seems like a more efficient way to do all that.

However, cellphones are not invincible. My iPhone 5 is showing signs of aging; it slows and freezes at inopportune times, &c. When it finally becomes inoperative I’m not sure what I will do. Part of me wants to let it be my last cell phone and perhaps invest in an iPad mini, something that can serve more purposes while at the same time being less accessible (since it can’t fit in my pocket and be reached for discreetly at any time), but part of me wants to simply let it go and make do with my laptop.

I’m trying to navigate a fine line between allowing myself to benefit from the aspects of technology that save me time and allow me to live my life better while rejecting the things that waste time and keep me from living my life. It’s a hard thing to acknowledge an addiction or a compulsion. What parts of your life, what habits are you rationalizing and defending because you’re afraid to give them up? It takes serious introspection to recognize an unhealthy cycle and try to break it.

I think I’m doing a little bit better than most of my peers, but is that setting the bar too low? I don’t know.

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.