Thursday, November 29, 2012


I went to the opening of Peter Pan's Shadow, Part 3: Foreverland, by Jeremy Menekseoglu. I was thoroughly charmed by it.

Of all 3 parts, I liked this last the best.
The bodiless talking-head mermaid left me particularly impressed.

After I attended a reading of the piece, I asked Jeremy how he was going to have a talking decapitated mermaid's head on stage. He told me it would be "easy", but it sounded hard to me! Well, somehow the way they did it worked. Sarah Scanlon, who played the mermaid, deserves praise for pulling that off. It's mostly done with suggestion, not illusion. But in fantasy pieces, people are willing to let their imaginations run riot with well-crafted suggestion.

The play focuses on the recurring tragedy of the charismatic alpha male who refuses to "grow up", who attracts swooning women, but who cannot fully return their love. You know, what is sometimes called the Peter Pan Syndrome. It's rough on relationships!

There are emotional moments throughout the play that were just mesmerizing.

I guess that means that even though there wasn't much yelling,
the acting was utterly compelling.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Up For Grabs

Since Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned his congressional seat, 2 weeks after winning re-election, we've all been wondering who will take his vacated position.

Well, today Mel Reynolds announced that he's in the running. The funny thing is, he already held that seat. Jackson took that seat after Reynolds vacated it. Reynolds, you see had some trouble with the law.
Reynolds held the 2nd Congressional District seat from 1993 until October 1995, when a Cook County jury convicted him of several sex-related charges, including having sex with an underage volunteer campaign worker. While serving time in state prison, Reynolds also was convicted on federal financial and campaign fraud charges. President Bill Clinton commuted Reynolds' sentence to time served in 2001.
The story says he "no longer has to register as a sex offender".
I guess that makes him a valid contender.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Opportunity to Tune

I came across an interesting thought in an Ann Althouse post today. The context is about a crazy prank, but that doesn't matter too much:
One girl knew he was a fake. You see her at about 3:00. I think it's not a mere coincidence that the young woman is strikingly beautiful. Well-tuned bullshit detector.
"Not a mere coincidence." Althouse isn't quite saying that all strikingly beautiful women have well-tuned BS-detectors. But you can see where they might have extra opportunity to tune that instrument.

Competitive males in pursuit of a mate
have sometimes been known to generate
in excess.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Choking on Food

Last month I saw a story about a guy who died after winning a bug-eating contest - roaches and worms were on the menu. I wondered what had done him in, since the bugs weren't thought to be toxic as such. Now they tell us:
Edward Archbold died "as a result of asphyxia due to choking and aspiration of gastric contents," said the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office. It said his airway was obstructed by bug body parts, and ruled his death was an accident.
So, like too many rock stars, he choked to death on his own vomit. I wonder if he was drinking to celebrate his victory. Alcohol suppresses your gag reflex somewhat, and also can upset your stomach, a potentially dangerous combination.

But... what a weird way to go.

He gobbled worms with vigor and vim.
Now I figure they're nibbling him.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Munchausen by Internet

I read an interesting article about "Munchausen by internet", by which the author means people who sign onto internet health forums and pretend to have a health problem.  He offers a list of tips for spotting the fakers, of which this one jumped out at me:
5. There are continual dramatic events in the person's life, especially when other group members have become the focus of attention.
In other words, the faker works to stay in the forum limelight, making up drama.

Paradoxically, the medical establishment treats the fakers as having an illness - namely Munchausen Syndrome - an "illness" that consists of falsely claiming to have a real illness. It's a psychiatric disorder, of course.

Bear in mind, if you fake an illness for a semi-practical reason, such as collecting undeserved disability payments, that doesn't count as Munchausen. That's just malingering.
Unlike individuals who engage in MALINGERING, people with factitious disorder and Munchausen syndrome are not primarily seeking external gains such as disability payments or narcotic drugs—though they may receive them nonetheless. In some cases, the fabrication or induction of illness is an expression of jealousy, rage, or the desire to control others.
So the theory is they really are "sick"
but not with what they claim to have... that's just a trick.

they're sick in the head.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Trot

Ran the Beverly Hills Turkey Trot 5k today.

Took first in age group. Race goes by my house. Thank you Marsha and Romeo for cheering me on!

If you're lucky enough to still be able to run when you're 60, your odds of taking first go up. I feel like the tortoise in the fable.

As your competition diminishes,
you have better relative finishes.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Arab Autumn

What is wrong with these Egyptians?
Supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Morsi clashed Friday in the worst violence since he took office, while he defended a decision to give himself near-absolute power to root out what he called ‘‘weevils eating away at the nation of Egypt.’’
Don't they understand that his virtuous intentions justify dictatorship?

He surely wants power
in order to shower
goodness and light
upon those trapped in night.

No? Well, maybe you're right.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Endings

From Playwriting Seminars 2.0:
There's nothing wrong – and in fact everything good – about a happy ending if that's the logical outcome. The problem with happy endings is that more often than not, they defy the logic of the story.
I just want to note that the same ending can be tragic or happy, depending upon who the protagonist is.

I have to say
that if only the play
was mostly about MacDuff...

the death
of MacBeth
would be happy enough.


You have to hand it to the Pilgrims for their ability to admit mistakes:
It’s wrong to say that American was founded by capitalists. In fact, America was founded by socialists who had the humility to learn from their initial mistakes and embrace freedom.
But it's also worth remembering that the first successful English settlement in the Americas, in Jamestown, really was founded by capitalists:
Late in 1606, English entrepreneurs set sail with a charter from the Virginia Company of London to establish a colony in the New World.
Success did not come right away to the Jamestown settlement, either. Famine struck within a few years and, "Only 61 of the 500 colonists survived the period".

Of course, I understand why we focus on the Pilgrims on Thanksgiving, since we trace the holiday back to them.

But I'm not sure why they are so often treated as if they were the first settlers.

It's kind of a mystery,
at least to me.

Sometimes I wonder if there could be
Northern bias in our history?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Forgetful Me

There's an exercise I go through after I write a long story, such as a play. I go back and look at the notes and early versions it evolved from.

Often I am surprised.

I just did it for this new thing I've written, and, sure enough, I was surprised. It somehow evolved out of 2 quite different abandoned story attempts, the first involving an encrypted laptop, and the second involving a private school. The main thing these 2 attempts had in common - was that they both involved a lawyer. The thing I finally wrote ended up involving 4 lawyers, so I guess I had lawyers on the brain. Well, I have 4 close relatives who are lawyers, so perhaps I can be forgiven for that.

I had completely forgotten that the immediate impetus for Start Number 3, the start which I carried to completion, was an article in the Chicago Tribune on February 20th this year:
Heavy-equipment operator Mark Michelsen, 49, is threatening to rip up or fill in the subdivision detention pond he unwittingly bought for $11 at a tax sale if the village or homeowners don't pay up.
I found the article fascinating, but I didn't actually use the story in the article, although my story did end up involving a legal dispute over a pond.

Funny how going back to replay the tape
to see the way a story really took shape
is so often an exercise
in surprise.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Is Coming

I see friends working on developing their gratitude in November, by thinking of a new thing every day that they're grateful for.

Isn't one day a year enough
to be grateful, and stuff?


If it's good to embrace a sense of gratitude,
maybe it should be a whole-year attitude.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I'm rereading Richard Toscan's Playwriting Seminars, and recently reread his section on Theme, where he advises you not to try to write a play with a message.
Nearly all contemporary playwrights would say it’s a fool’s errand to try writing a play driven consciously by a predetermined theme or message.
It's more or less the opposite advice from what Lajos Egri gave in his famous The Art Of Dramatic Writing.
Central to Egri's argument is his claim that the best stories follow the logical method of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, or dialectic, to prove what he calls a "premise." A premise, as Egri describes it, is a thematic truth.
My newest play, currently entitled "O'Brien & O'Brian", was done by the first method. But I felt like it had some thematic unity, so I sat down today and thought about what the story meant. Sure enough, I perceived a thematic thread.

I've tried both ways, conscious and un,
depending upon my vision.

I think either way can get the job done,
and neither deserves derision.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

At The Mound, On Stage

That's a photo from last night, left to right you can see Sam Bell as the pitcher, Gavin Maloney as the catcher, and Greg Wittenberg as the umpire. (Not pictured is Vince Nuno, who played the coach.) I thought the young men did a fine job with my play.

The young men playing the pitcher and catcher actually play those positions on their high school team. Which made costuming easy for them!

Of the 9 baseball plays, mine was the only one that involved actors playing players on the field. You can see where it would be hard to put much of a baseball game on the stage - the stage is too small, the actors aren't real baseball players, etc. In a movie, of course, you can make it work quite well. But I was able to "cheat" by putting up an "at the mound" discussion, the impromptu conference where a catcher goes out to talk to a pitcher about what is wrong. At the game, in the stands, it's an odd sort of moment. You watch the discussion, but you hear none of it. You wonder what they are saying, but you just don't know.

In my little plot,
they say quite a lot.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Energy of Grief

My 10-minute baseball play, At The Mound, seemed to play well last night. The 4 young actors did a fine job playing pitcher, catcher, umpire, and coach. I had an all male cast, which kind of balanced some all female pieces.

The play, whatever else it is about, is partly about one of the ways men, young men especially perhaps, deal with grief - by channeling the energy - the anger - into something else.

I'll see it again, tonight.

The energy of grief
seeks relief.


You may have read about ORCA:
It was supposed to be a "killer app," but a system deployed to volunteers by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign may have done more harm to Romney's chances on Election Day—largely because of a failure to follow basic best practices for IT projects.
What "best practices" would those be? Beta testing and stress testing. In beta testing you let end users test the product. And in stress testing... well, let's look at how the competing campaign handled that:
The election was still 17 days away, and this was a live action role playing (LARPing!) exercise that the campaign's chief technology officer, Harper Reed, was inflicting on his team. "We worked through every possible disaster situation," Reed said. "We did three actual all-day sessions of destroying everything we had built."
If you want a product that's best,
that is how you test.

As someone who has supported himself for some decades by writing computer programs, I suspect some sort of managerial groupthink hubris infected the ORCA effort.

The elephants built some tech, but failed to test in beta,
while the donkeys recruited nerds who really knew their data.


I heard a knowledgeable economist say that he didn't really know what the effect of going off the fiscal cliff would be. He seemed to think it might even be beneficial. I mean, at least it would involve "spending cuts," although he indicated that, as so often, they aren't really reductions in what was spent this year, they are reductions to scheduled increases for next year.

Is it mainly the word "cliff" that makes it sound
like a fully fatal fall to the ground?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Snooper's Dream

Google is popular with your government - as a source of data:
The search and ads company today released figures revealing that it was asked to hand over user data 7,969 times by US agencies in the first six months of 2012 - an increase of 26 percent over the previous six months.
Which brings us to General Petraeus, and the story that just keeps rolling downhill:
Oddly enough, the leader of the intelligence gathering agency was brought down by Gmail...
Well, Gmail and his email with a female...

Reducing National Debt

Jason Fichtner:
At more than $16 trillion, the United States’ gross national debt has grown to equal its gross domestic product—a level that for other nations has marked an economic tipping point.
I think this is why economics is called the dismal science. When things are looking dismal, economics tells you your glass is even less than half empty.

I've decided on defiance
against the dismal science.

Why worry about the national debt?
We don't really have to pay it yet!

If we just keep growing it bigger,
it'll pay itself, I figger.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Productivity Runneth Over

Whew. What a writing-productive long weekend. (Had Veteran's Day off.) Finished first draft of new full-length play, previously entitled "High Water," and then "Over Flow," now provisionally entitled: "O'Brien & O'Brian". Of course, the title may change again, but this is the first title I've had a good feeling about as fitting the play. What I don't know is whether that title will sound attractive to anybody. Well, we'll see who complains about it.

Over the years, I've had to rework the "final exchange" dialogue quite a bit. I'm hoping that's not true this time. Well, we'll see that too.

It's a play that features lots of Irish names,
and characters pursuing secret aims.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Currently 800 Something

Illinois uses its electronic highway alert signs to flash a running tally of state traffic deaths, in between useful traffic alerts. That means I end up looking at the sign longer.

That's dangerous, I fear.
And, yes, traffic deaths are up this year.


I'd like to say "Thank you, vets",
but they come in 2 separate sets.

And today I'm skipping the healers of pets,
and thanking the ones with rifles and jets.

Brecht and Copyright

From David Mamet's book, The Secret Knowledge, which I was just previewing on his website:
As a youth I enjoyed—indeed, like most of my contemporaries, revered—the agitprop plays of Brecht, and his indictments of Capitalism. It later occurred to me that his plays were copyrighted, and that he, like I, was living through the operations of that same free market. His protestations were not borne out by his actions, neither could they be. Why, then, did he profess Communism? Because it sold.
This is funny and apt, but there's an underlying question, of course.

Why did the road to hell
sell so well?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chekhov Shorts

You don't usually think of Chekhov as being laugh-out-loud funny, but the audience was laughing out loud tonight at Chekhov Shorts, a collection of 3 of his early farcical one-acts.

I went because a friend of mine, Chad Sheveland, is the cast. You can see him below, struggling for control of a dueling pistol in "The Bear".

Chad's performance was excellent, as I expected. And I was pleased that the other actors were also playing at a high level.

Chekhov's mature plays have a reputation for subtle humor, but these early plays are loaded with humor of a broader sort.

His later plays are thought of as delicate flowers,
but his early efforts already show raw power.

UPDATE: Belatedly realized that I had previously met another actor in the show, Ginger Leopoldo. She was also very funny, so here's her picture too:


Never Take Counsel Of Your Fears

Never take counsel of your fears. Have you ever heard that phrase? Have you wondered where it came from? I like it, so I've wondered.

I started looking it up today, and I saw some people attributed it to Andrew Jackson or George Patton. But on Google Books, it first appears in 1858, in Brownson's Quarterly Review, in a piece called Conversations Of Our Club:
"Never take counsel of your fears," replied Father John, "and always hear a man's whole thought before you fly in a rage at him. I wish the Catholic public in our country to take higher views of what a collegiate education should be;"
I can't quite tell who really came up with the phrase. The piece claims to be "reported for the Review, by a Member." Was it really just a piece of reporting? Was there really a Father John who said exactly this?

Or did Anonymous, as from his earliest days,
turn this perfect phrase?

The Demand for Flammable Flags

Many Pakistanis fear President Barack Obama’s re-election will mean a surge in America’s unpopular drone campaign, but for those making and selling US flags to burn at protests this could be good news.
Yes, they manufacture the Stars & Stripes -
just to express some anti-American gripes!

Well, even without the drone campaign in particular, you could expect a lot of anti-American protests in Pakistan. They weren't too happy when we coptered those SEALs into Abbottabad to kill Bin Laden, either. I'm not sure what it would take to get them to like us again.

Not that being liked is, or should be, the chief goal of our foreign policy.

We could always try the Ron Paul strategy of not being Team America: World Police. He's pretty consistent about it. But a lot of people aren't.

Some say they want us to stop
playing global cop,
until some outrage occurs that they don't like.

Then they're on the phones
calling for the drones
to strike.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Current Affairs

Undercover boss
takes a lover and a loss.

In Passing

A penny in the pool goes splash and dives,
The waves pulse out a pattern that goes on.
We're here a while, plunging through our lives,
And leaving love behind us when we're gone.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Last Hurrah

Going out in glory:
Dead candidates win elections in Florida, Alabama
Their days were done,
but still... they won!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Dietary Preference, For Future Reference

An explanation is offered for why animals might "get the taste for human blood":
"Since human blood has more salt than animal blood, once wild animals get the taste of salty blood, they do not like other animals like deer," Dhakal told CNN.
If predators like to eat us because we're salty,
my pretzels-for-breakfast habit may be faulty.

Thoughts on Directing

I've been directed, and I've watched a bunch of directors work intensely with other actors, but I hadn't tried it myself until last week. So these are just some first thoughts on actually doing it.

I was lucky in my cast, which was assigned to me - two very talented young women who worked very well together. And they had to work pretty closely together, since they ended up inside one double-dress, playing conjoined twins.

I was lucky in my script. It was a literary, poetic script, which plays to my strengths. And it was by a friend, so I had a preliminary feeling for the emotional tone and intention.

My first crisis was finding a place to rehearse. The theater was available - but not during the time slots we needed to rehearse, given our three schedules. One of my sisters was able to give me downtown space to use, for free. Well, I arranged for free admission for her and my brother-in-law in return, but it was a lot less than I would have paid to rent space!

I could have rehearsed at my house, but I'm far south of downtown and the actresses both live north of downtown. It would have meant extra travel time for them.

So, we had some deep conversations about the script, sharing insights and suggestions. The actresses came up with a lot on their own. I did feel I was able to contribute something material now and then to how it was being acted. This felt to me like the most mysterious part of the process, but it seemed to go well enough. I followed my "instincts" mostly, since you don't have time to do much else.

As one of the actresses said afterward, a lot of being a director is scheduling and finding props! I did round up a nice set of props, from a couple of thrift stores and from stuff belonging to my wife. I found a nice photo of a garden to be projected behind the scene, and I found some fun introductory and closing music. I worked with the person running tech to actually develop a lighting change during a certain part of the script.

One thing I didn't really get to do was blocking - telling the actors when to move and where to stand. My actors were sitting at a table for the whole script - until the end when they stood. That's what the script specified, anyway, and we stuck with it.

Being conjoined, they were stuck on each other.
I wondered what giving birth was like for their mother.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

In My Experience

Electoral joy may soon cloy. But nothing about defeat tastes sweet.

Animal Scandals

If an alligator makes an allegation, must the ostrich suffer ostracization?

Monday, November 05, 2012

TOW7 is History

I was very pleased with both of the plays I was directly involved in at Theatre of Women 7, which is now history. I had fun watching the other plays too.

As my brother in law said, the great thing about 10 minute plays is that:

Even if one leaves you vexed or perplexed,
it's over soon and time for the next!

Okay, that's not an exact quote from my brother in law. He said it without rhyming it.

I see that Anna Menekseoglu has uploaded a video of Saturday night's performance of "Two Girls, One Heart", which I directed.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Falling Back

Cat thinks I need to get out of bed,
so she can be fed.

And she doesn't understand me when I say:
we've got an extra hour to sleep today.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Ending Soon On A TV Near You

This may seem controversial
but my favorite thing to view
is a juicy election commercial!

What will I do
when the races are through?

They leave me reeling
with dizzy fun.

(I like the feeling
of being spun.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Ick Factor

David Axelrod described the message coming from President Barack Obama days before Election Day as "coming from his loins."
Is this part of the macho dominance narrative - the idea that voters pick whoever seems like more of Type A leader? A lot of people see the dramatics of debate as really being settled by who seems to "own the stage" more.

It's okay if you speak from your heart,
I'll applaud if you speak from your head,
But when a pol speak from his loins,
I don't want to hear what he said.

Secret Cases

The Chicago Sun-Times reports on a local judge who says there are "secret cases" which are ruining her life. They must be very secret, because the head judge says they don't exist.
McDunn insists, “I’m not paranoid.”
"I'm not paranoid,"
is one of those phrases you want to avoid.

Just saying it makes you sound