I had a pretty good weekend–it’s the middle three performances of the play I’m in, with the last three coming next weekend. Had a nice time after each one hanging out with some of the folks from the cast and crew. (Me and one other person are in the running for making it to each after-show gathering.)  At one, spent a lot of time discussing science fiction and fantasy books and reading and such, and it was a strange relief to be talking about it with someone who is just a reader–not in the industry, no aspirations to be a writer, no real strong opinions on the health of the genre or anything like that. Just… a reader. As I mentioned before, I can be really sensitive to hype and over-discussion, and that was just the antidote I needed.

The longer I go into the run of this show, the more I’m convinced that this one of the best decisions I could have made. Now, I won’t be performing in the next show, but I am going to be helping out, and I’ve volunteered to get more involved in the actual running of the theatre as a whole. So I’m hoping that by keeping my hand in I can kind of expand my social circle and cement myself a little more into this particular community.

In other news, we went house-hunting this weekend and spotted a couple of really nice houses in our price range. We’ll see if anything comes of that…

Spock-Leonard-Nimoy

If I had maybe had a different blog post for the day, it was gone when I learned of Leonard Nimoy’s passing this morning. I don’t quite have the conscious, concrete connection that my friend Tobias Buckell has, but there’s still something there. Star Trek reruns were my first real exposure to science fiction, and Spock always stuck out as a very different sort of character. Nimoy brought him to life expertly.

Lately I’d been impressed by his class, and by embracing the role the kind of defined him (coming back for the reboot movies, the Audi commercial, etc.) And now, reading Twitter and such, I’m impressed by how many people he touched. Reading through them all helped me deal with my own grief, and get me to a place where I can probably work through the rest of the day without blowing my nose too much more.

Tonight, I’ll think of him when I go on stage. And again when I go to do some writing. Not just about the characters he played, but about the life he lived and how he seemed to embrace it all.

 

I was driving around Ann Arbor today, dodging students in my nimble little car, and thinking about the stories I tell people in person. I remember, quite vividly, ranting and raging at a couple of friends in a nearby Mexican place last winter-ish about my terrible job. Not the job I have now, but the previous one, the one that first got us to move from Grand Rapids to the Metro Detroit area. That job, as I’ve told many folks, served only one purpose: to remind me how awful supposedly-great jobs can be. I won’t go into it now, since I’m pretty much over it, but suffice to say that for what looked like a decent IT job, I found myself regularly wishing I was just in one of the factories making paper plates.

That led me to realize that, given what I said recently about not talking about my current job, I’m finding it rather easy, mostly because I don’t have anything that I need to get off my chest. It’s a job, it’s got its rough bits, but usually a quick “can you believe that?” over dinner with the wife gets it out of my system. And that led me to realize that one of the reasons I tell stories is to ameliorate stress.

From there I found that I better understand why I would tell stories about Iraq. Not that I was still under the specific stress of being there, but being there had been such fantastic, unfathomable stress that I was still trying to cope with it and ameliorate it years later. It helps that the stories I often told were funny, or funny from a fairly benign perspective. I didn’t have any truly horrifying stories, and I try to be pretty scrupulous about not overstating or exaggerating things; I never fired my weapon in anger, I’m not any kind of crazy hero (and I’m not saying that just to take advantage of the meme that says that only the true badasses downplay their experiences–seriously, it just wasn’t all that).

I often thought I was telling stories to entertain and educate, but it turns out they had another purpose. So, thanks to everyone who has listened to me going on about these situations (work, war, etc.) in person. Turns out you were doing me a solid. It’s entirely possible you already knew that, in which case, a double helping of thanks.

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Today’s lunch hour was mostly dedicated to reading lines for the show. I did some basic social media maintenance as well, but mostly I’ve been going over my lines, hoping to keep away the rust that might set in after five days without performing the show (as it will be by Friday when we hit the stage again). It’s a little nerve-wracking, as well, since I know my wife will be in the audience Friday. Turns out, I’m perfectly happy getting on stage and being ridiculous in front of strangers, but it’s a little different with people I know and like. I know why, of course, I wouldn’t be much of a introspective navel-gazer if I didn’t, but it’s all very boring and includes a few, “Because of this, then that, then also the other thing too.”

That aside, I am hoping to see more people I know come out to the show the next two weekends, since I’ve otherwise seen no one, which has me oscillating a bit between disappointment and relief. There’s also the possibility of a review in a local indie paper, which is all kinds of exciting.

And yeah, one of these days I’ll stop talking about this show, and anyone who is reading can have some relief. I likely won’t be trying out for anything again until auditions for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” come up in Julyish. Then it’ll all be boring talk about writing (since I think I’m contractually obligated not to talk about work). I will certainly miss it, though, even if you won’t.

I got a new headshot over the course of the show, courtesy of one of the members of the theatre. He also took a bunch of show pics on the night of dress rehearsal. Verdict? I look fat and frumpy in the suit they have for me, but oh well. Just goes to show I a) need to further improve my diet and exercise and b) should probably get my own suit (or two). I’m lucky enough not to be in an industry that demands them, but they’re obviously good and useful things to have in your closet. One of the few things that has held me back so far has, of course, been my optimism about losing weight.

But, I guess, I could always buy something bigger and have it tailored down on that happy day where I’m more pleased with my general health and fitness level. (And yes, I know that good health & fitness don’t necessarily correlate with lower weight… but I’ve been on this roller coaster enough to know that, yeah, in my case they generally do.) We’ll see how my latest attempt to track food intake and such works out. (Haha.)

I will tell you, though, that is something that has become significantly easier with the right tools, at least for me. Now my scale talks to my phone, and my phone tracks my steps, and I keep track of my workouts on there, and track my food intake, and so on and so forth and… yeah. Way easier than all the times I would try to put that stuff into spreadsheets or notebooks. Still not utterly automatic, but… you know… close enough, maybe.

Anyway, all that to say there’s now a very recent picture of me on here, off to the right there. Bask in its glory! (Or… something.)

Had a great opening weekend with the show, and Sunday turned out to be our best performance, in front of our liveliest audience. Hell of a rush, especially when we nailed one particularly troublesome scene. It’s the trouble with fast-paced farce, it’s so damn easy to get a scene derailed, even by something as simple as an actor missing a line by a beat or two. (Says I after my weeks of experience being in a single farce. Weeks, I say!) So yeah, it’s the trouble with this farce anyway, and I can see it translating that way broadly to the genre. But, bottom line, we kicked some ass with it, and it was a heck of a lot of fun.

I was also kind of talked into running for a spot on the Board at dinner after Sunday’s performance. Not that I expect to be elected, though I didn’t expect to be cast in this show, much less offered the lead part. Still, that’s way away in June or July or something. We’ll see if it would be “one thing too much,” but I have ideas on what I can scale back or eliminate if/when it all gets to be too much. Right now, as I’ve said, I’m just glad to be meeting local, creative people and getting involved in something outside of the apartment. I’m not looking to establish any empires, or steer a theatre group to my vision (since, shh, I don’t have much of one), mostly just looking to put down something very much like roots, since we’ll likely be staying in this area for quite some time.

Tomorrow I’m going to try to get back into writing at lunch (beyond the blog) on the regular. I had sacrificed a lot of lunch hours to memorizing lines, but now I probably only need a couple of refreshers to carry me through the next two weekends of performances. We’ll see what I do end up writing. I’ve allegedly got some collaboration projects in the hopper, so we’ll see if those take over my time in the near future, or if I go off noodling on my own.

Jack Lemmon & Matthew Broderick in "A Life in the Theater"

I’m rapidly coming to grips with a lot of mental/emotional sensitivities lately, and one of them seems to be hype. I certainly remember experiencing it before now (Harry Potter was the big example), but lately I’ve found that nothing ever really sounds good when it comes to reading or movies. And I realized that’s because I follow too many authors and readers on social media. Which is silly, on some level, because I love talking about this stuff, but social media has been so deeply co-opted by marketing sensibilities, that I find myself kind of numbed by it all.

Now, this isn’t a condemnation of social media in general, or one of those hand-wringing “what has it all come to” type posts. It’s just… me. Penicillin is great for 99% of the population and saves a lot of lives, but if I take it, I’ll blow up like a balloon and die. And I’m thinking it’s a lot like that for me. I’m happy people’s books get hyped and spread around on social media. I hope like hell if and when I publish, it’ll work like that for me. It’s just a thing that seems to work in reverse for me.

Thinking about it, I realized that part of the problem is that I’ve come to miss just discovering things. My “golden age” for reading (and watching movies for that matter) was when I would just wander the aisles and pick up what looked interesting, primarily back in high school. I discovered some lemons that way, but I also discovered a lot of what became my favorites, and hidden little gems. Just the other night at dress rehearsal I was mentioning the David Mamet movie A Life in the Theater, starring Jack Lemmon and Matthew Broderick. None of the other actors I mentioned it to had seen it, but it’s a great little film (adapted from a play, of course–with a recent production starring Patrick Stewart, no less) about working actors in New York, and I keep thinking about it now that I’m acting again.

It’s much the same with books. I discovered my favorite author, Lois McMaster Bujold, that way just browsing the sci-fi shelves in the library. Now, I know part of this is just a change in general awareness. I can’t put a lot of genies back in bottles, and I’m probably always going to have some low-level awareness of authors and works if I plan to continue pursuing a career as a writer; it’s almost unavoidable, unless I go full recluse. (And you never go full recluse.) So I understand I can never quite recapture the magical feeling of discovery that is often what I feel is missing when I read a book or rent a movie these days.

But I think that, lately, it’s hype that’s kept me from even trying.

Audition night. My lucky number.

About three months ago, I followed a whim and decided to audition for a play. The reasons were fairly simple: I missed being involved in the theatre, I needed a creative outlet that wasn’t writing, and I felt like I needed to find a new social scene in my new area. (The expected social opportunities not really materializing like I thought they would.) I’d done theatre in high school, a bit at university, and once in “regular adult life,” and I’d enjoyed it each time I’d done it, and made some good, if not lasting friendships along the way. So, I requested a script and went to auditions, figuring I’d offer to help out with set construction or props or something if and when I didn’t get offered a part.

So when they did offer me not just a part, but the lead… well… I was a bit taken aback, but pleasantly so. They asked if, given my limited and distant experience, I could reliably memorize the metric butt load of lines, and I said yes, probably. They wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have a panic attack over it all, and I said I’m sure I wouldn’t. I did have a few, of course, but just the same I managed. We started rehearsing just after New Year’s, then went without our scripts at the beginning of February. Last night was our final dress rehearsal.

Tomorrow night we open, and I couldn’t be more excited. We do nine shows across three weekends, which is the most ambitious I’ve seen in a community theatre. I’m not complaining, though, I enjoy the long run and multiple opportunities to perform. The show is a damn good one, I have a few funny lines, and I’m surrounded by wonderful actors and crew who make the whole show come together, very much in a “sum is greater than the parts” sort of way.

And along the way, I’ve made some friends that I hope remain friends for a good long time. I hope to perform and work alongside them for many years to come, whether in this theatre or others in the area. That whim worked out pretty well for me after all.IMG_0198

Last night I was fiddling around, consolidating and rationalizing my family’s digital archives, and stumbled on some old writing. I actually got caught up in reading a couple of the stories I’d written. As fashionable as it is for writers to lambaste their older stuff as rough and unproven… well… I think I liked what I was reading. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, and I’m sure I could do better now (particularly thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal’s short story writing class–highly recommended, btw), but there was something about those stories that I just loved.

Part of it, I’m sure, is that I was very much writing the sort of things I loved to read and I wished there was more of. Particularly, sprawling science fiction intrigue/spy type stories that interconnected on various levels. I’ve been focusing on some fantasy projects recently, and while I really enjoy those two, it’s fairly clear to me after just a half hour perusing old stories where my heart lies.  I may need to get back to those soon.

I’m not a diarist. I never have been, really. My attempts at journaling and such would be laughable, were it acceptable to laugh at such awkwardness. The closest I came to managing it was on a university trip to Russia in 1997. But even then, I was often days behind, and wrote my entries as though I were writing them that day, which just seems… so weird and beside the point. My friend Jim would actually journal as we walked around, and tried to do the journalist’s thing of counting his photographs and making notes of what he was photographing. Eminently sensible, but a trick I could never pull off.

Mostly I was too busy immersing myself in the moment, and that’s been my downfall in a lot of ways. Life has always been too interesting for me to pause from it and take a moment write it down and collect my thoughts.

And such was always the problem I had with blogging. The other time I really was hitting a stride in terms of journaling was back in 2004, when I was deployed to Iraq as a Marine. Though then, it wasn’t so much a diary as a broadcast letter home, one that saved me from writing a bunch of individual ones, which I didn’t have a lot of time for. Though, of course, that was also a rather dishonest account as I often concealed the threat we were under to keep people at home from worrying. The few moments of unalloyed honesty (frustration with my superiors, for instance, or a reference to someone in my unit being arrested) were filtered and hidden to keep me from winding up in front of my CO answering uncomfortable questions.

Otherwise, and perhaps especially because of Iraq, I’ve always felt the need to justify my blogging/diarying. As in, most of my posts (published and otherwise) would start with some kind of rationale for the writing of them. And the irony was that after Iraq, my life seemed altogether too pedestrian to chronicle with any kind of regularity. All that left me was commenting on current affairs and throwing my two cents in on the topics currently up for discussion among the people that I followed regularly in social media.

The thing that I missed, of course, is that writing itself is reason to write; and these days, I’m starting to feel like I’m emerging from some kind of hibernation. I’ve held back, considered, thought, observed–things I’ve gotten decently good at, I think–but now I feel like I’m ready to start writing and communicating again.