Thursday, December 29, 2005

What's In A Face?

Ok I have something really cool to show you all today. First, you may want to read my friend Chris Clark's blog (link on the right) for a funny introduction to this process. Basically, this family history website is beta testing a new face recognition software. You upload a picture of yourself and it matches you mathematically with celebrities that look the most like you. Chris made it seem like so much fun that I'm going to shamelessly plagirize his idea and show you my results, and then I suggest you all go try it yourselves. I'm not sure how accurate this program is, I got a few different results on the same pictures in multiple tries, but here's the highlights:


I started with this picture, which you may recognize from my blog profile. It was taken in London and I think its a very flattering picture. The site says the program works best with your face facing directly into the camera, but I thought I'd give this a try anyway.

And here were my results:

Wilhelm Roentgen, 64% A German-born winner of the Nobel Prize in 1901. Ok, I guess thats kind of flattering.... right? I mean, he looks like a polygamist, but at least he was smart.






Clark Gable, 53% Even though I personally never found Mr. Gable to be all that good-looking, he was quite the hot stuff back in his day, apparently. At any rate, this is much better than the Nobel nerd.






Jacques Chirac, 50% Oh no! Say it ain't so! Not the Head Frog himself, la Presidente de la Republique du Freaking France! Ok ok, obviously, I used a bad picture. Because I don't look like Chirac any more than I look like Bush or Blair or any other megalomaniac world leader.





After that, I decided to try another picture:

This is, of course, my old BYU ID photo, taken circa 2002. It is directly towards the camera with little background, which makes it ideal for this kind of analysis, but is, I think, far less flattering than the first picture.

Ironically, here were the results:


David Beckham, 51% The captain of the England football team ("soccer" for all you internationally-challenged) and quite the handsome devil, if I do say so myself - even if he is married to one of the Spice Girls (Posh Spice? Spicy Spice? I can't remember which one). At any rate, this is much much better...





John Updike, 49% Yeah, he's old, but this is a respected American author so, hey, I'm flattered.









Daniel Radcliffe, 49% That's right, folks: the one and only Harry Potter. No wonder my forehead is always hurting!








Keanu Reeves, 47% No surprises here. I've been getting this one for years. In the Philippines they called me "Elder Reeves." He's a good looking guy, but I'd be more flattered if he were a half-way decent actor. Still, he is THE ONE so I'm not complaining.






Alec Baldwin, 45% Another good-looking yet dubiously talented actor. Is this program trying to tell me something? On the other hand, it's waaay better than Jacques Chirac (for crying out loud)....






Out of curiousity, I checked to see what females I looked like. Here's what came up:

Beyonce Knowles, 44% Huh. I really don't know what to say about this one. Never would have guessed in a hundred years. I like to shake my "groove thang" as much as the next guy, but still.... anyway, take the matches you get with a grain of salt, is what I suggest.





Try it out at www.myheritage.com. Let me know how it goes for you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Retrospective and Resolution

Hi, everybody.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. I know I did. The gifts have been opened and stacked into a neat little pile to be properly inspected. The wrapping paper lies strewn about the floor – a forgotten casualty that stands as a testament to the orgy of commercialism that now is over. Your dear friends and family have gladly received your gifts and either broken or exchanged them by now. The tree looks less magical and more like a large plant dying slowly in your living room. There are no more Christmas songs on the radio, and thank heavens too because if you heard “Christmas Shoes” one more time you were going to barf. All this can mean only one thing: Christmas is over. And that can only mean one other thing: time to look forward to a new year! 2006 is almost here, but before we say goodbye to good old 2005 I thought we'd look back at the events of the past year in a brief and fairly reductive sort of way.

This year: I graduated from college. I experienced the real world work force first hand and found it to stink. I was in six plays and had three jobs. I went to Vegas and Disneyland once each. I moved to Orem, and so did my family. I began to worry about things I had never worried about before: insurance, my weight, car problems, graduate school applications, US foreign policy, etc. etc.

In broader news, the year was full of events: the Iraqi consititution and general elections, the London bombings, Hurricane Katrina and the mess that followed it. In entertainment, a number of big movies were released this year, not the least of which was Star Wars Episode III, which finally, after twenty eight years, brought George Lucas' science fiction epic to its final conclusion with a resounding “eh” from audiences worldwide. In sports, a number of teams played a number of other teams, and about half won and half lost. In weather, it started cold, got much much warmer, then got cold again. Thats about it.

Actually, I got curious earlier today about how I had spent my time this year. I crunched some numbers and came up with this graph:


As you can see, an overwhelming amount of time was placed into the category “Other,” which means I have no idea what the heck I was doing. This is over 3,000 hours worth of unaccounted time. A big chunk of that is probably video games, some of it is movies, reading books, and hanging out with friends, some is vacation and weekends, not to mention household chores, errands, grocery shopping and the like. It is the filler time, the little stuff you do in between the major things. It all adds up to about one third of my over-all time. I find this a bit surprising. I know some of it was necessary fact-of-life type stuff, but still: I had 3,000 hours worth of free time, and what do I have show for it? What did I really accomplish this year?

New Year's resolutions are fast approaching, and that means last year's resolution (not to make any resolutions) has nearly reached its expiration date. At that time, I'll be free to make a new resolution, to start fresh and really take control of my own destiny. And this time I'll do it, I really will. I feel charged with a new sense of purpose and motivation. I swear by all that I love that in 2006 the number of wasted hours will be changed!

I think I'll shoot for 4,000. Its nice to have goals.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Thus goes everyone into the world but I...."

This weekend a good friend of mine from high school got married. The ceremony was in Arizona, and though I could not take the time off of work to drive down there and offer him my condolences in person, my parents (who consider him as their own son) were in attendance and assured me it was a lovely experience. I'm happy for him, honestly. He couldn't have chosen a better bride to keep him out of trouble. They are heading to Salt Lake City for their honeymoon (which seems a bit unfortunate to me but nobody asked my opinion) and so they were in town last night where I was able to see him for a few hours. He seemed happy and, more or less, the same as always; it's still early.

I think of marriage rather like I think of bungee jumping: I'm sure it's great if you like that sort of thing, but I don't really have much of a desire to give it a try. It's the big craze these days; everybody's doing it, even members of my own gender who I had previously expected to have better sense. As President-for-Life of the Bachelor Club, it has been my solemn and sad duty from time to time to formally excommunicate members of our noble brotherhood who take the final plunge into everlasting matrimony. I wish them well in their new-found life, but it is my responsibility on these occasions to serve as a reminder to them that with this drastic change of lifestyle many doors are now closed to them. No longer will they stay up until four in the morning partaking of Playstation and pizza in equal proportions, surrounded by their brothers who will never ask them if their butts look big in the sauce-stained jeans they are wearing. I suppose one eventually outgrows this sort of thing and no longer has any problem giving it up in exchange for married bliss, but to those of us still lacking the “maturity” to do the same this so-called institution of “marriage” amounts to nothing less than treason and betrayal of the highest order.

As I am now twenty and four years old, well within reach of the official “danger to society” age limit set by my conservative community, many friends of my age have now been married and they are all, without exception, far less fun than they used to be. Therein lies the axiom I convieniently coined just moments ago off the top of my head: “The price of marriage is everything cool.” My newly-married buddies promise to still hang out sometime, but it never happens. Usually we lose all contact for several years until I receive an announcement that they have successfully procreated. The only exception to this is my friend Aaron, who was married already when I met him, and whose wife is so phenomenally awesome that she not only encourages him to do cool things but participates herself. Not all men are so lucky.

I have nothing against the female species, but I must admit that most of them have absolutely no sense of what is cool. Mention the X-box in mixed company on BYU campus and you'll see what I mean: cold, level stares of disdain from girls who see Microsoft's little electronic device as competition on a very personal level. I could provide a long list of reasons why video games are preferable to the fairer sex, but I would hardly be the first to do so and I have no desire to be labeled a chauvinist (perhaps its too late). I'm a liberal, after all; I'm 100% for women's rights. I shout, “You go, girl!” when I read feminist literary theory. And yet in situations of love and dating I find myself, like Shakespeare's Benedick, to be “a professed tyrant to their sex.” In fact, the similarities between this famous character from “Much Ado About Nothing” and the women-hating persona I frequently adopt are so striking that I often use lines from the play to express myself:

“I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love.... May I be so converted and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not!” (Act 2, Scene 1)

The problem is, however, that in Shakespeare's story Benedick does end up falling in love and getting married, saying:

“In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” (Act 5, Scene 4)

Does Shakespeare have a point, or is he only another traitor to the Bachelor Club? Does even the President-for-Life (PFL) burn with a inner passion for another's touch? Does he fear to live his life alone? Does he scorn and mock that which he only fears he will never obtain? Or does he love already, secretly, and hides his love beneath a mask of frivolity? We cannot tell, and to say too much would be a violation of the standards of his high office, but of this much we can be sure: he is but human, at the end of the day, and video games and pizza aside, it is the human predisposition to love and seek love in return. It may be that one day you will hear him say with Signior Benedick, “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

But don't hold your breath.

Friday, December 09, 2005

God Bless Us, Every One

Call me a Scrooge, but I've found that the last couple of years Christmas just hasn't carried the same sense of wonder and excitement it once did. When I was a kid, I was ready to pee my pants every day in December just thinking about the twenty-fifth, which crept closer so slowly that the month was always filled with blissfully tortuous anticipation. The sense of suspense, the agony of not knowing what the fantastically wrapped boxes contained, was only heightened by the lights, the music, the snow, and everything you knew meant it was Christmas time. Back then, my heart's desires cost about twenty bucks and, tragically, seemed both completely unobtainable and the key to my whole life's happiness. This was the season, then, when miracles of a very practical kind could happen; objects only admired on the shelf, or at a friend's, or in some abstract sense of obsession could literally become my own and wind up, eventually, in pieces somewhere in my closet.

I like to consider myself a little more sophisticated now, and consequently it takes a bit more than a cheap toy to make my day. And anyway, anything I really want that badly I can just go out and buy – that's why I force myself to go to work every day. So what does Christmas have left to offer me? Many adults seem to enjoy the season as a time to be with family, but now my family lives five minutes away and I see them once a week, so there's hardly anything special there. All this adds up to make Christmas seem very anti-climatic this year. The thing thats seemed the most appealing so far is the two days off of work, and thats a depressingly low drop on the anticipation scale from ten, fifteen years ago.

Perhaps this is another symptom of a greater problem in my life: I just can't seem to grasp the fact that I'm a grown-up now. I'm constantly having to remind myself of this fact. When I was twelve, twenty-four seemed impossibly old and mature, a time in life when work, bills, sex, and babies would all seem natural and appropriate - not video games, practical jokes, sleepovers, and the word “cooties.” But now that I'm here, I find myself pulled in two separate directions: the pull to become a man and put away childish things, and a deep reluctance, I daresay a total phobia, of parting with those remnants of a simpler age and dealing with the complicated mess of the adult world. This explains, at least in part, my disappointment with Christmas lately: I want so desperately to experience it the way I did as a child, but am finding it increasingly difficult if not impossible to do so. You can't go back to Neverland.

Yesterday, I decided that it was time to do a little Christmas shopping. This is the first year when I've had a full-time job with a decent income, so this rightfully is the first year that I need to take buying gifts seriously. Nobody really expects a poor college student to buy many presents, but now that I'm graduated and working its a whole new ballgame. When my roommates put nicely wrapped packages under the tree for me, I remember quite suddenly that I would be expected to do the same for them. I knew this, of course, somewhere in the back of my mind, but I'd grown so used to not being expected to give many gifts for one reason or another that it took a little time for the idea to impress itself upon my mind. I don't want anybody to think that I'm selfish or stingy with money or anything. On the contrary, I have no problem spending money on my friends and family – I am more than happy to do so. But buying presents for people is difficult and exhausting, as I was to find out on my trip to the mall last night.

Like many men, I find the concept of secretly buying things for people very difficult, though I personally enjoy the suspense of not knowing what somebody has given me. The problem is figuring out what that person would like. If it were simply a matter of somebody pointing out what they wanted, then buying it and giving it to them, this would all be a piece of cake. But I am also aware, in theory, that the effort and stress put into finding a suitable present is as nice to get as the gift itself. We like to know that somebody cares enough to put time into it. When I arrived at the mall, I decided I would just browse the various shops while trying to think like the people on my gift list until I found something they would like. This turned out to be very difficult, and when I wandered into the video game store, I knew I was failing.

“OK,” I said to myself, “What would Person A want, if he were here? Let's see... he's very practical. He's probably one of those people who likes getting socks and underwear for Christmas. And every time he comes to the mall he looks at clothes. Lets try that.”

It was a breakthrough - I'd never think of looking at clothes when shopping for myself. Encouraged by this progress, I entered the Gap and began searching for something suitable. It was at this point I realized that all the clothing looked the same to me. This sweater seems nice, but would he like it? What size does he wear anyway? I have no idea! Socks are one size fit all, practically, but can I really live with myself if I got somebody socks for Christmas? I looked around, dazed and overwhelmed and not at all sure what the heck I should do. I fingered a few shirts as if considering their texture and quality, but really I was just stalling.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the salesman/clothes model.

“I doubt it,” I said, and shuffled out of the store. I tried three other stores with exactly the same results. The last thing I wanted was to buy something that had to be returned on the twenty-sixth because it was the wrong size or some hideous color that clashed with somebody's entire wardrobe, so, being unable to make an informed purchasing decision, I decided to try something else. I wondered through most of the mall with largely the same result. Eventually, however, I did make a few purchases, though far fewer than I had planned. I told myself I'd try a different mall next week, or maybe look online, but secretly I knew that I was only procrastinating the difficult process. Before leaving, I stopped a little booth to have my merchandise gift-wrapped.

It was here, while waiting for the nice lady to wrap up my presents, that I began to feel very grown up and mature. Here I was, buying presents like an adult, like my parents. I'd have real presents to put under the tree, nicely packaged with a little bow and ribbon. I leaned against the booth, trying to look very suave and sophisticated. I'm buying presents, I emoted, with my own money and on my very busy schedule because I'm a successful but generous man with many friends and relations. I promptly knocked over several display gifts at the booth and spent a few moments trying pathetically to set them back upright and looking as perfectly placed as they did before, which I think probably ruined the whole image I was trying to set up. I laid a ribbon I had accidentally torn off on top of one of the boxes in the nicest way I could, took my packages, and left the people at the booth a big tip to apologize.

When I got home and placed the packages under our admittedly beautiful Christmas tree, I realized suddenly how excited I was for the big day. I didn't much care for the boxes with my name written on top. I wasn't imagining, as I did as a kid, their possible contents, or the fun and pleasure I would derive from them. I was thinking about the look on my friends' and family's faces when they opened the gifts that I had laboriously picked out for them. I was thinking about the joy and happiness they would get from my efforts. Suddenly, Christmas seemed a wonderful and beautiful and perfect thing that made me shake with excitement from head to toe, and I felt filled with love and light and happy to be alive. I understood, perhaps for the first time in my life (despite all the TV specials, despite all the talks in church and lectures in school) the magic of Christmas, the joy of the season, and the fulfillment of giving. I drank a glass of Egg Nog in celebration of my newfound enthusiasm for the holidays.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot more gifts to buy....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

It's not every day that you get to spend four hours with people you really like, laughing at everything and anything, bask in the adoration and the occasional scorn of hundreds of elementry school children, and take on the persona of one of the most famous dramatic roles ever. For me, its every Tuesday. For the last year and a half I have been part of a traveling Shakespeare show that performs for children in elementry schools all over the area, and today is my last day in the group.

I auditioned for the group two years ago, to play Orlando in "As You Like It." The director of the group, my friend Chris, said I was good but there just wasn't a part for me. Once I had spat out the bitter bile of failure, I moved on with life and tried again in the spring for the next year's show, "Cymbeline" and got in. I did that for two semesters, and of course had to do it again this year when I heard we'd be doing "Hamlet."

What was it about the idea of performing Shakespeare to children that intrigued me enough to keep auditioning for this group? In fact, I had been told by several fancy-schmancy acting type people that it would be a waste of my time and talent, and was advised to avoid the group at all cost. I have a nasty habit of ignoring advice, good or bad, but in this case I'm glad that I did. Not only was performing the show often fun and rewarding (excepting only that one junior high school in Magna) but I met some of the most amazing people and laughed more than in the rest of my week combined. Some of the friends I made are no longer in the group, like Adrian and Tim and of course Celeste, but some of those who were with me that first year are still part of the team I will be performing with in just a few hours. My darling Spencer, my dear friend Laura who is mad at me right now and has every right to be (I'm sorry, Laura), the delightful Debra, the ever irreverent Chris Clark, and our amazingly efficient and patient stage manager, Becky. We've been joined this semester with two new friends who have made this past semester so much fun: David and Fallon.

I can't quite explain how much I have looked forward to Tuesday afternoons for the past year and a half. Especially in the past semester, when performing the show has been such a joy. Our version of Hamlet is a bit goofy and simple, but I think its really solid with real substance to it that the kids really enjoy. There was a lot of concern that a stuffy old tragedy like Hamlet could never hold the attention of 2nd through 6th graders, but I'm here to tell you that every school we've been to so far has told us how amazed they were that the kids were as interested and focused on the play as they were. I think we underestimate kids, we expect little of them, we don't think them capable of very much. Most of them handle Hamlet just fine; true, we help them out and make it easier to understand, but in the end its still difficult material and they are getting it! They haven't been filled with notions of "Shakespeare is boring and impossible to understand" that so many adults have to get over. They are a blank canvas, and I'd like to think in my idealistic way that we are shaping their perceptions of the Bard and theater in a postive way that will last the rest of their lives.

And to be Hamlet! Even in a one hour children's theater adaptation, there is such a thrill to perform those famous lines, to take upon me the mantle of that mythic figure. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. But being Hamlet is only a small part of the fun of my Tuesday afternoons. The best part of the whole experience is riding in the van to and from the school, when we as a group of friends can talk and laugh and bring up old jokes and make new ones, make fun of cheesy Christmas songs, hear embarrassing stories from Chris's past, discuss inappropriate and awkward subjects with ease, spread gossip about famous people, and argue about where to eat.

That's what I'll miss most, my friends, when I'm stuck at work on Tuesdays from now on. I'll miss Arctic Circle, I'll miss singing in unison at the top of our lungs, I'll miss screaming "We're going to roll over!!!" every time Becky makes a slightly sharp turn, I'll miss the way Chris covers his mouth while giggling at something he knows is scandalous, the way Spencer enjoys being the ever-present butt-grabbing threat. I'll miss picking out the hot teacher, trying to convince jaded and cynical children that yes, this is a real sword, miss delivering the most famous lines of the English language right into the faces of ten year-olds, miss the inside jokes, the stories, the pranks, the bathroom humor (being delivered, as it is, in the bathroom). But most of all I'll miss you, my friends. I know most of you aren't doing the play next semester, but to those of you who are I just want to say: I hate you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tis the Season to Be Blogging....

It's that time of the year again. If you hadn't been indoctrinated with Western culture since your birth, you might think everybody collectively goes insane in the month of December. We put electric light on the outside of our houses and bring trees inside. We listen to the same set of about twenty different songs over and over in countless variations. We scarf down candy, rush to the store to buy junk we'd never look at any other time of the year, and force our children to sit on a strange old guy's lap. It's like the world is upside down!

Such is the phenomenon of the American Christmas season. Each year it starts a little earlier, though the majority of people still complain if you start listening to carols or put up your tree before Thanksgiving. But once the turkey's cold its no holds barred all out Yuletide action. But in all the furvor of the holiday, have we forgotten the true meaning of Christmas? Do we remember how and why it started in the first place? Gather round children, and hear the old familiar story.

You see, kids, thousands of years ago, long before baby Jesus was born, the pagans held a great celebration every year at Winter Solistice. There were many different kinds of pagans, and they each had their different traditions for this occasion, which we have inherited. For example, the Norse people gave us the Yule log and the Romans gave us the special spirit of hedonistic eating and drinking that makes the holiday so special today. And then Christianity came along and gobbled up all the older traditions, combining them into the Christmas we know and love. So remember, as you enjoy your holiday season this year, don't forget the inspiring story of the pagans; or as I like to call them, proto-Christian-Americans.

Seriously, though, we do some weird things this time of year which have nothing to do with the reasons we claim we are celebrating. What on earth does mistle toe have to do with baby Jesus? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, or suggesting that mistle toe should be banned... Its just that most people, including me, have no idea how these things really started, but its a tradition! You have to do it, you see, even if you are confused about why. Perhaps thats why we're constantly being reminded every year to keep in mind the true meaning of Christmas. We are warned that we'll get so busy getting and spending that we'll forget the stuff that really matters. There are plenty of people willing to be critical of the commercialization of the season, and to sell you their book or tape or video to help you keep in in the true spirit. But a lot of the confusion about the meaning of Christmas comes from the fact that the holiday is a hodgepodge of traditions and symbols from varying and conflicting mythologies, and you can't blame commercialism for that. And besides, its not the job of the corporations to remind you of things with a deeper metaphysical significance; the system doesn't work that way. It's their job to make money, and they do this very well. That is called capitalism, and if you want the luxury cars, playstations, designer clothes, and comparatively steady employment that comes along with it, you have to give up some things. Here's another, practical and sensible way to look at the situation: my roommate told me he doesn't mind all the commerical hype of Christmas because its good for the economy! And we want the economy to be good, don't we?? It's the American way!

Honestly, the commercial parts of Christmas are now such a integral part of the mood of the season that, were they suddenly taken away by a green furry grinch, it just wouldn't be the same. Never mind the presents, I just can't imagine anybody wanting to sing "Dah Boo Doray" if there were suddenly no carols on the radio, no candy canes, no decorations or TV specials or Rudolph - all products of the commercialization of Christmas. I know its a bit out of character for me to defend consumer culture, but all I'm saying is that its a bit tricky to hold the fond feelings most of us have for the season and our childhood memories of it while at the same time blaming business for taking advantage of it to sell products. We're perfectly capable of celebrating the holiday in a deeply and profoundly religious way on our own, with our families. Just don't be expecting the business world to do the same. It's a whole different ballgame.

And another thing - big companies, faced with an ever more diverse and particular consumer base, have began replacing the belief-specific "Christmas" with a more neutral and all-encompassing "holidays," to the shock and horror of many traditionalists. Soon, they cry, Christianity and all it stands for will be FORBIDDEN, and after all this is a CHRISTIAN country!!! Celebrating Christmas should be mandatory for all Americans! I think we can all agree that such people need to calm down. Last time I checked, the obscure Latin motto of this nation was "E Pluribus Unim," or, "From Many, One." America is supposed to be the big melting pot where people of all relgions, races, and walks of life co-exist peacefully. What is so wrong with big companies prefering to use more inclusive language? Does it deny you the right to celebrate your beliefs in the way you desire to in your own home? Most of what is called "political correctness" can also be called "good old-fashioned politeness and consideration for other people."

So if I can wave at my Jewish neighbor and say, "Happy Hanukkah," and he can smile and say to me, "Merry Christmas," and we can both really mean it... well, I don't know what else to call that if not peace on earth, goodwill towards men.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Thank You

I'm pretty much an ingrateful little jerk, as many of my therapists have said, but once and awhile even I feel the need to express my gratitude to the people who make my life so worth living. So I thought that I'd do it on my blog even though 1- its kind of late being several days after thanksgiving and all, and 2- most of the people I'm going to thank don't even know I have a blog and, in some cases, don't have any idea what a blog is. I hesitate to name specific names here mostly because I can't possibly list every single person who I am indebted to and appreciate in my life, and I'm tired and pressed for time and so I don't want anybody to feel left out if their name isn't on the list. But then I remember point #2 of my previous list and I think I'll probably be OK. If I miss anybody, its not becuase I don't love you. Ask me in person and I will tell you why I am thankful for you and then I will put you on my blog in a place of honor. I'm going to put the names in alphabetical order, too, so that nobody can feel slighted for having their name futher down on the list (though techinically this is good news for my friend Aaron). Alright, here goes. Let the touchy-feely stuff begin:

This year, at Thanksgiving time, I am grateful for the many wonderful people who brighten my life and make me feel like I'm worth something. Here are some of them. I am grateful:

To Aaron (and Mandy), for opening up your home and making me feel part of the family, like a brother, and letting me be part of a truly epic story and make truly epic friends.

To Adrian, for all the advice on the ladies, for your infectious enthusiasm, and for inspiring me to write.

To Bekah, for always looking up to me and liking me more than Blaine.

To Ben, for all the nerdy male-bonding as well as the wicked cool chemistry on stage in 2.1

To Blaine, for getting all my jokes, for quoting stuff from memory with me in perfect unison, and for being my best friend and cohort for as long as I can remember.

To Celeste, for being larger than life and amazing to watch, for letting me share the stage with you, and for punching me with joy when you see me. We're going to be in a show together again, you just wait.

To Chris, for making me crack up all the time, even on stage, for reminding me not to take anything too seriously, for the confidence you've given me, and for all the crazy stories.

To Dad, for teaching me how to laugh, for always being proud of me, and for being my friend.

To Dai, for explaining so much of the world to me, for all the fascinating trivia, good food, book recommendations, erudite conversations, and for shocking people who deserve it. I'm sorry.

To Dana, for being wonderful and reminding me what selflessness really means.

To Darci, for being so darling and adorable that I smile to see you, for listening to all my rambling stories, and for not always agreeing with everything Tyler and Leif say (You go, girl!)

To Debra, for being so fun to act with and be with and for keeping your boss in line.

To Derek, for getting in contact with me again, for reminding me that not all my memories of childhood are awful, for still being my best friend after years and years of separation.

To Grandma and Grandpa, for the food, the hugs, the example, and everything.

To John, for reminding me to look for the beauty in everything.

To Laura, for liking Hedwig as much as I do, for making life seem fascinating, and for loving art and beauty and England so much. You're a wonderful person.

To Leif, for being patient with all my faults, for loving all my strengths, for always being two steps ahead of me, for being the friend I can't live without, but most of all for changing the way I look at the world and making each day an adventure.

To Luke, for being so unique in a world full of carbon copies, for being honest and open, and for being such a geniunely good guy.

To Mom, for making me feel special and loved no matter what, for being there when I needed you most, and for giving birth to me. That was such a turning point in my life.

To my favorite Aunts (you know who you are)and your wonderful children for putting the fun back in "family function."

To Nick, for listening to me even when you didn't really want to, for trying to create things with me even though the marriage of our minds has only produced ugly, warped children due to my defective genes, for that laugh of yours, and for taking me up into the woods that night. Seriously man, that was way too nice of you.

To Say Jay, for being a good conversationalist, for liking Two Gents, and for always posting comments on my blog.

To Spencer, for the gaming, the skinny dipping, the debating, and the teasing - and most of all for making me laugh.

To Sylvia, for teaching me to dress well, for being supportive in all my decisions, for the intelligent discussions about theater, and for being my home away from home when we were in England together.

To Tyler, for making everything in life so much more amusing with your droll wit, for being a good friend to Leif, for your Homer Simpson impersonation, and especially for that eyebrow thing you do that makes you look all skeptical and condescending - it's so you.

To the guy who invented Egg Nogg. Really, dude, you rock.

To everybody I know who has made me smile.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Backstage Confessions

A production of a play is made more by what you don't see than what you do. When you go see a play (as I'm sure you often do, since all readers of my blog are cultured and intellectual), you don't see the hours and hours and HOURS of rehearsal and discussion and preparation the cast and crew gave to put the show together. You don't see the intricate web of movement and interaction I can only call "the backstage dance." It's made up of all the cast members not currently on stage, as well as stage crew and costumers, moving about to get into position for an upcoming scene, prepare a prop, discuss the progress of the show and the audience's reaction, flirt, or talk about things totally unrelated to the play. As you get comfortable in the routine of the show, you find yourself in the same place with the same people at each point during the play. It's really quite a remarkable feat of collaberation and cooperation. Each person in a group of twenty to thirty people has their part to do in putting on this show, and every single person's part is indispensable. If somebody were to suddenly decide not to do their part, the play would collapse and so we are all acting on trust and faith in each other.

The cast of a play is like a bizzare family. By the time you see a play performed, every member of the cast has developed a relationship with every single other member. Some of those relationships are stronger than others but you can't spend that much time collabarating with somebody and not develop some kind of relationship, even if its a negative one. Tensions and arguments flare up, like in families, but if you've got a good cast you work through those and come out even stronger. You all share a desire to make the performance a good one, and to avoid looking like an idiot. You bond even more when others uninvolved in the process are predicting your failure. What makes the situation all the more complicated, however, is that each cast member has not just one but two relationships with each other cast member. They have their real life actor/actor relationship, and then a totally different on-stage character/character relationship they have been developing to make the show real. These two relationships are often at odds with each other. The two guys with little to no stage interaction may be better friends than the two guys who are best friends on stage. The cute couple who end up together at the end may each actually be attracted to somebody else in the cast. The coolest, most social guy on stage may actually turn out to be, to your surprise, a huge Dungeons & Dragons nerd. The flamboyantly gay character could have a big crush on the leading lady. Only members of the cast know all this information, and only they see this hidden layer behind what is happening on stage.

I don't really know why I'm writing all this, except that it is on my mind. I'm finishing up yet another play, and realizing that, like all the others, in a few weeks it will all just be a memory, and our little family will break apart. We'll all still have special feelings for each other, but it will never be the same. Theater is immediate, it is always in the "now", and when its over it can never be revisited. Recordings never do a production justice. I'll miss the complicated relationships, the strange double personalities, the synergy and collaboration. I'll even miss sitting quietly offstage listening to my cast mates, my family, tell a story; and watching as, hidden from the view of the audience, the leading lady flirts with her lover's best friend's servant in the wings - her feet on his lap, his hand on her leg, laughing softly together until its time to go on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Return of the Blog

No, I'm not dead.

And no, I've not given up on the blog. Not yet. If I were to try to describe how busy I have been over the last few weeks, your head would probably explode - and I can't very well have you messing up my nice clean blog, can I? Just trust me when I say that I've had precious little time to do much of anything in the last little while, and what free time I did have went to important computer gaming in order to save my remaining sanity.

The play has been going quite well. Much better than was generally expected, actually, so I really encourage you to come and see it if you haven't yet. Just thought I'd mention it.

I got a new job this week. Yes, its a big deal. As you are aware if you have read my blog at all before, [understatement coming] I didn't really like my previous job [understatement finished]. So I now have a brand new job closer to home in a more typical office setting.

The problem with having a degree in English (well, one of the problems) is that the kind of work you end up doing is difficult to explain in casual conversation when somebody asks, "Oh, what do you do?" It was especially difficult for this job since I wasn't even sure what I was going to be doing, exactly, until Tuesday. So whenever I got "the question," it would go something like this:

ME: Hey, I got a new job!

THEM: Great! Where?

ME: This place in Orem.

THEM: Really, what's it called?

ME: Amacai?

THEM: Oh.... (blank look) So, what do you do?

ME: Um.... its technical.

THEM: Technical?

ME: You know.... web.. computer.... stuff.....

THEM: Ah.... well, good luck with that.

With the general result that I felt like a complete moron. Now I know exactly what I do at work, but its no easier to explain. I'm doing taxonomy of databases, but that hardly means anything to anybody. That could be an advantage, however. For instance, if somebody asks what I do I can just say, as I did last night, "I'm a taxonomist" which sounds impressive and mysterious enough. What it means is that I spend my time categorizing businesses and services into hierarchies and subcategories for yellow page-like databases. It sounds really boring, I know, but I really like it so far. It's right up my alley. But by using a big word like "taxonomy" I hope to scare people off from asking more questions. I want them just to accept that I have a very important job with a big, strange name and simply be impressed. I can't go answering silly specific questions about what I actually do!

The problem only comes when somebody actually knows what taxonomy is. Typically, it applies to the categorization of animal species, which is something people might genuinely be impressed by. Here's what happened last night:

ME: (smugly) I'm a taxonomist.

THEM: (excited) Wow! So you categorize and classify animal species and specimens?

ME: um.... I categorize!...... stuff....

THEM: (disappointed) Oh.... I see.

That's what I get for being pretentious. And I'm not the only one at work with this problem. I was discussing this with a coworker yesterday, and he said that he just tells people he "maps databases." I think thats fine, but it seems a little lackluster. With just a little word substituition, we can make the job sound much more exciting than that. I suggest a few simple changes: we replace the word "maps" with "shoots" and the word "databases" with "terrorists." Presto! Nobody thinks you are wasting your life anymore!

A little imagination can go a long way....

Monday, October 24, 2005

Another Shameless Self-Promotion

Well, once again I'm too busy to bother updating my blog, which can only mean one thing: there's another play coming up! Yes, indeed, within a couple of weeks I will be opening a new show at the Pardoe Theater on BYU campus, so I thought I'd make a fuss about it now so you can all work it into your schedule. You are going to come and see it, right? All signs indicate that this will be the last time I perform Shakespeare in this area, so it could be your final chance to see me and the Bard together - a match as fortuitous and fateful as gunpowder and fire, oil and water, England and France, and Hannity and Colmes.

The play is William Shakespeare's "The Two Gentleman of Verona," in which I play Valentine (also known as Gentleman #2) and it performs Tuesday-Saturdays starting November 9th through the 19th, at which point it breaks a week for Thanksgiving and then returns for a final week of performance, November 20th through December 3rd. So there are plenty of chances to come see this highly original interpretation of a highly skeewampus Shakespearean play. I'm not sure what "skeewampus" means, but its a word my mom uses a lot. And the use of italics should denote a somewhat ironical and wry tongue-in-cheek tone of voice.

No, seriously, its going to be good. Elizabeathean laughs galore, some serious emoting from yours truly and, best of all, a real live dog on stage! You really don't want to miss this!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Head Shots Opinion Poll

In keeping with the general theme of complete egocentricity and self-absorbedness on this blog, I now present to you a selection of nine pictures of my face. I went to a photo shoot yesterday morning, because I need head shots in order to become the fabulously wealthy and successful actor I was born to be. I picked out these nine as the best of the 100 or so shots she took, and now I present them to you for your opinion. The photographer recommended that I show them to my friends and relatives who know me best. Apparently, the person in the picture would naturally pick out the ones that they feel are most flattering, rather than the ones that best represent their actual looks and personality. That is your charge, my friends: peruse the photos and then post a comment under the ones that you think are the best based on those criteria. You can vote for no more than two! As always, I value your frank and honest opinion. Good luck!

Number 1 Posted by Picasa

Number 2 Posted by Picasa

Number 3 Posted by Picasa

Number 4 Posted by Picasa

Number 5 Posted by Picasa

Number 6 Posted by Picasa

Number 7 Posted by Picasa

Number 8 Posted by Picasa

Number 9 Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

It's October, which means not only do I get to start dipping into my nifty fall wardrobe but also that Halloween is upon us. I think its great that we devote specific holidays to various basic emotions of the human psyche. Halloween = fear, Valentine's day = love, Thanksgiving = gratitude, St. Patrick's Day = envy, and Christmas = greed. We're just missing wrath, lust, pride, sloth, gluttony, and inadequecy. Clearly, more holidays are necessary. But that's a subject for another day. We don't want to give Halloween less than its due.

Because seriously, how cool is Halloween? Its way off the scale on the cool-o-meter. When else can you see even the most pious and sensible people indulging in a little of the supernatural and occult by dressing up their children as vampires, witches, or ghosts? Well, that's how it was back in my day anyway (which was soooooo long ago), but today kids dress up as Jedi, princesses, Harry Potter, or Spiderman. They are totally missing the point! The whole costume tradition started when a group of highly superstitious and paranoid people (inspired by their leader, a man named Rush Limbaugh) thought that by dressing up in scary or intimidating outfits they could scare away evil spirits, sort of like reverse psychology. They hoped that the ghosts would see them and think "Ah! A ghost!" and run away in a marvelous post-modern-esque reversal of roles. But thats clearly not going to work these days! What self-respecting evil spirit would flee from six-year old Sally in her Princess Buttercup get-up? He'd be the laughing stock of the evil spirit community! Everywhere he'd go, other evil spirits would say, "Watch out, Bob, there's a princess behind you, and boy does she look like a mean one!" and he'd say, "Yeah, yeah, enough already! It was two-hundred years ago for crying out loud!" But I digress.

Even if costumes have gotten a little less intimidating, the Halloween festivities still include plenty of dark and creepy stuff. One local tradition involves going on fun and safe group dates at haunted woods or houses where people in costumes jump out and try to scare you. I think this just shows that people like to be scared, within certain limits. There is a sort of thrill of adrenalin when you are freaked out. Plus, I'm pretty sure the reason those haunted places are so popular for dates is so that you have a reason to cling on to each other and cuddle up close. I know thats why I go! Oh wait, I never go.... Ok, I know thats why various friends and acquaintances of mine go! You know who you are... perverts.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot of frightening things lately because I've been given the assignment to write a scary story for my semi-regular writing group, and I'm a bit worried because I've never tried to write anything like that before. So I'm trying to analyze what is scary so that I can use it in the story. Consequently, I'm very interested in not only why people are afraid, but also what things exactly they fear. My friend Chris is terrified of snakes and of somebody grabbing his butt while he walks up stairs. My mother fears her eldest son will never give her grandchildren. My roommate fears that he might not actually be perfect. As for me, I think what I fear most is the unknown. It used to be the thought of being alone the rest of my life, but I got over that one. Now, its the unknown. The times I've been most scared is when I didn't know exactly what there was to be scared of, when my own imagination made the terror for me.

At scout camp one summer, our troop was taken out into the wild where we gathered around a fire and were told some scary story about a ghost or something like that. The location that this story had supposedly taken place was nearby, and we were challenged to find our way there one at a time and fetch a white feather (which was somehow relevant to the story) to prove our manhood and courage. Sounded like a piece of cake to me. I was a fairly rational and intelligent child (I was! Stop laughing, Mom) so I knew that it was just a story and that there was nothing to be afraid of. However, once I got out into the woods on my own, I remembered that I was also a fairly emotional and dramatic child. All around me was the quiet darkness of the wilderness; I could hear nothing but my own footsteps. The darkness is a blank canvas for the imagination; it gives you nothing to judge your situation with, nothing to build upon or understand. It's emptiness, hiding something but revealing nothing, is what got to me the most. In these sort of situations, I've often had the chilling sensation that I was being followed or pursued or watched, and I felt this then. I found my way to the little house that was haunted, according to the tale, and saw the feathers that were my goal. I stopped about fifty yards away, staring intently at the dim shape for any sign of danger. I could see very little, so imagination began to fill in the blanks with terrifying results. Fear gripped my tiny heart and I felt I could not take another step further. Where I was standing was fine, but the next step into the darkness leading who knows where was impossible. It wasn't what I could see, but what I couldn't that scared me. I have always been inclined to bear those ills I have than fly to others I know not of. Luckily, I found a feather on the ground where I was, so I was saved having to enter the building itself. I ran like a crazy man until I was just within sight of the campfire, at which point I walked suavely and unruffled into camp holding my feather and boasting about how easy the task had been. My feather was small and dirty though, not long and pure white like the ones my friends brought back, so I think it had to be obvious I had chickened out. Serves me right.

So what I want to know is this: what scares you? I'm conducting a little poll. I know there are lots of people who read my blog regularly but who never ever post a comment. Here's your chance, I'm begging you. Everybody who reads this must post a short comment telling me what scares them. You can make it anonymous if you like, and I promise not to tease you. It's very good for the soul to confess what terrifies you. Its called naming your fear. Clearly identifying what scares you is a good step in overcoming it. Or, if thats too uncomfortable, tell me what movie or book or whatever really gave you the goosebumps. I'm just curious. So go on and do it. And I mean everybody!

Sunday, October 02, 2005

What A Coincidence

I’m sorry for the very depressing tone of my last post. I know it has occasioned some worry amongst my friends and family, and I appreciate their concern for my wellbeing and happiness. Let me just explain that I was having a very bad day. Ok, so maybe it was more of a very bad week.

Strange things were happening. Coincidences kept popping up everywhere. Nearly every day last week, somebody I knew turned out to know somebody else I knew through some tenuous connection that only just came up. Somebody I hadn’t talked to in years accidentally called me. Stranger still, and I am not making this up, for several days last week I could not drive anywhere without every single intersection I came either already having a red light or turning red just as I approached. It took forever to get anywhere. Eventually, I started to become aware that this was a strange phenomenon. Statistically, I should hit a green light eventually, and I eventually did. But I think I had a three day run going of only red lights. It got me a little anxious.

More to the point, my mood was rapidly declining for reasons mostly beyond my comprehension or ability to explain adequately. A large part of it had to do with the job, of course. I can’t explain what I felt at work – words are horribly inaccurate for how complicated and unpleasant that feeling is. I still cannot put a finger on what it is about that situation that just eats me up inside, but I knew I was not happy and, high wage and flexible schedule aside; I just couldn’t go on that way. It was in this mood when I was feeling trapped at work that I wrote the last post. I felt like I had to send a little signal flag for help while imprisoned in this black pit of a job. Every now and then life’s little struggles catch up to me and I start to feel that way. It’s awful. But I digress. It was during this time that the next coincidence happened.

I went to talk to my boss about my dissatisfaction at the same time that my boss had learned that the possibility of me being hired full-time as originally planned were now slim-to-none. The company had decided to try to fill the position with employees eliminated from down-sizing in another department, regardless of whether not they were qualified. Talking with her, I realized clear as day that with no job satisfaction or security, there was little reason to delay the inevitable. She was extremely sympathetic and supportive, and is letting me stay on there with fewer hours a week so that I can have both an income and free time to look for something else. I was extremely enthusiastic about this arrangement, the proverbial load lifted from my shoulders.

At home, I immediately set to work updating my resume and scanning the net for new job possibilities, keeping in my mind everything this job had taught me about what I do and do not want in potential employment. I saw a listing which looked interesting, if a little less of a wage than what I wanted, and made a note to send off my resume at some future time. I went to lunch, and then noticed that there was a voice message on my phone. It turned out to be a message from the very same job I had just been looking at, but which I had NOT yet contacted. They had seen my profile up on the Department of Workforce Services website that I put up months ago and decided to call me, on the very same day I had decided to look for another job and within hours after I had just seen their listing on that same website. As the cherry on top of this grand coincidence, their offices just happened to be in Springville, right across the street from where I am working now.

The interview went well, but I did not get the job. I did not want the job, really. The guy told me I was too good for it. I got a big boost in confidence that I’m in a good position to get a job that I enjoy. I just do not know yet what job that could possibly be. This is what I’ve come up with: 1 – Something with a measure of creativity and analytical thinking, 2- Something that further hones my verbal and written communication skills, 3- Something with a positive, supportive, friendly work atmosphere, 4- Something closer to me than Springville, 5- Something which does not require using the phone or trying to sell things to people. 6- Something which does not feed me fattening food while limiting my physical activity level, thereby making me fat 7- Something where all my coworkers do not listen to Rush Limbaugh, watch King of the Hill, have handgun and pickup truck collections, and believe Fox News. Oh, and 8- Something that lets me have Tuesday afternoons off to be Hamlet. That’s not too much to ask, is it??

If anybody knows of any opportunity that comes up, let me know. I’d appreciate any assistance from my dear friends or, hopefully, one of their influential relatives.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Empty Blog

I think I’ve run out of gas. I’ve lost my passion; I’ve lost my joie de vivre, my drive. I’m feeling apathetic to almost everything. I’m bored with politics, I’m bored with idealism, I’m bored with art. I’m bored with friendships, with feelings, with all social interaction, with every form of recreation that I once used to idle away my time. I’m definitely bored with work, but I’m bored with not being at work. I’m tired of being me, but I’m even kind of bored with being somebody else. At our performance of Hamlet yesterday I could feel nothing for the first time when playing that role. There is nothing to look forward to now. I go to bed reluctantly, because there is no reason to welcome tomorrow, but there’s certainly no reason to stay awake. And what kind of life is left when all your desires and passions are gone, when your day is focused on what you don’t want instead of what you do, when your dislikes and disinterests are now somehow running everything, when your choices are to determine what course of action you would dislike least instead of love the most?

“I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth. This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire – why it seems no other thing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel… In apprehension, how like a God….”

I apologize to those who regularly check my blog hoping to find something funny. I’m bored with funny. I highly recommend that you read Chris Clark’s blog – the link is on the right of the page. He’s got plenty of funny to go around. As for me, I really have nothing more to say. Good night, sweet prince.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Movie Review #1: The Corpse Bride

People are always asking me my opinion about movies. Seriously, any time I watch a movie people ask me, “How was is it?” This has led me to believe that I am widely regarded as an artistic sage whose opinion is valued in all the right circles. Therefore, I have decided to write up reviews on my blog for whatever movie I happen to have seen recently. Besides, its not like its that hard. All you have to do is write your personal opinions, however biased or baseless, and then assign the film a letter grade. Plus, Eric Snyder makes it look like a lot of fun and so I thought I’d give it a try. Don’t expect me to be anywhere near as clever as that guy, though. It ain’t gonna happen. Anyway, here goes:

The Corpse Bride
Directed by Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Rated PG

A group of friends were going to this one, so they invited me. I readily accepted their invitation, not only because they are fun, interesting people, but because I was interested in seeing this movie. Tim Burton films are always a bit of a departure from the mainstream style, which is nice every now and then. He has also produced some really brilliant stuff. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas – so all and all I had really high hopes for Corpse Bride.

Let me just say first of all that I love the medium of stop-motion animation (or clay-mation or whatever you want to call it). Sure, its not as flashy or versatile as CGI, but its certainly come a long way just in my lifetime. Plus it has qualities the best computer graphics will never totally replicate: tangiblity, depth, three-dimensionality. It takes a long long time to do, so kudos to those with the patience and skill to pull off complicated shots such as those featured in this movie.

The style here is pure Burton, from the dour black and white and gray of the human world to the grotesque blues and violets and greens of the underground city of the dead. Many of the characters sported delightfully exaggerated features, huge hair, gigantic chins, etc. The result was a world that was visually quite engaging. The concept of the story is also interesting: a nervous young man forced into an arranged marriage with a girl he has never met practices his vows in the woods, unwittingly marrying himself to a dead woman buried beneath his feet. There’s certainly a lot of fun to be had with that idea, but honestly I felt it wasn’t developed as well as it could have been. Plot progression happened rapidly and almost disjointedly, leaving little room for basic character development which would have made me care about the characters a lot more than I ended up doing. The ending scenes of the movie were jarringly anti-climatic, and when the credits rolled, we looked each other and said, “Oh… I guess that was the end,” which is never a good sign.

I also felt that the movie fell into the same trap that has plagued a lot of the recent animated films. They created a funny character who they knew was funny, and then milked every ounce of humour they could from that character, sometimes in scenes that seemed added on just for laughs but are actually irrelevant. There were some geniunely funny bits in this movie, but then some of the more goofy characters (i.e., the maggot who lives in the corpse bride’s head) began to get more and more screen time just for gags. Its been happening a lot lately in this kind of movie, though I do feel that Pixar has for the most part avoided that temptation. And to its credit, Corpse Bride didn't do it as badly as it certainly could have.

Still, there was a lot to like about Corpse Bride, if for nothing but its sheer zaniness. Several parts of the movie made me turn to my companions in delighted shock. One final negative note, though: I had hoped that the musical score would rival some of Danny Elfman’s previous work, but, in my opinion, though functional for the mood of the piece, it wasn’t nearly as strong as, say, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I guess that was really my problem when watching this movie. I kept comparing it to Nightmare and finding it lacking, instead of giving the movie a chance on its own terms. That may not just be my fault, though, as Tim Burton seemed to be going for the same style and feel in many respects. I’m sure I’m not the only one who made the connection.

In conclusion, delightful animation, wacky and fun design, with characters who didn’t get the development they deserved, all wrapped up in a plot that, while really interesting, left me unsatisfied.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Venting My Frustration

I really shouldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio. Its just bad for my health. Sometimes I get so angry and frustrated that I feel like I’m going to burst a blood vessel. All I want to know is how I am anti-American because I have serious concerns over the motivations, the justifications, and the false allegations involved in the beginning of the war. I want to know how I denigrate the service of our troops by lamenting their deaths and wondering if they were really necessary. I want to know why those who think like me (by recent polls, the majority of Americans) are called, as one talk radio lady put it, “angry people without the love of God in their hearts who hate everything.” I want to know why it is assumed that because I criticize the war, I must hate our troops and want them to die. I want to know why logical, reasoned arguments against or in criticism of the war are so often countered and drowned out with intensely emotional, passionate appeals to patriotic sentiment and vague nationalistic slogans like “defending freedom.” Yes, that sounds good but what does that MEAN? And moreover, how does it render the concerns of the American people somehow irrelevant?

The current administration has repeatedly blundered and lost the trust of the people. Their national approval ratings are at an all-time low. But due to the strength and volume of the voices of right-wing loyalists shouting in our ears, at times you’d think this was the most-loved and effective government in the history of our nation, achieving near deity-like status. Well, that’s the liberal media for you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Confession

This is difficult for me, but there's something thats been weighing on me for the last few hours and I really need to get it off of my chest. Sometimes I am a compulsive liar. Lying comes as easy to me as eating and breathing, actually. I'm an actor. And sometimes I lie for no other reason but to lie, like I can't even help myself. Kind of like Natalie Portman in "Garden State," only I'm not as bad as her. But at least I have the decency to feel guilty for most of my lies, especially those that are so blatantly a lie and when I'm quite aware that everybody knows I'm lying. Then I feel like a jerk. So, lets have the truth:

Yes. It was me who farted in the van. I don't know why I didn't just confess, it would have been the proper and manly thing to do, but I just kept lying about it and I don't know why. I'm not particularly embarassed by the act itself - I think I may be lactose intolerant or something, and geez sometimes it just comes out and thats life. But for reasons beyond my comprehension I felt a near obsessive-compulsive urge to flatly deny it, even when everybody knew it was me. Please forgive me, my friends. I'm so ashamed... oh god, I need help.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Working Man, Part Two

Work sucks. Am I the only one who thinks so? It seems quite absurd to me that, with each second of life being finite, precious, rare moments that will never come again, most of us will spend the overwhelming majority of our lives at work. Many Americans now work for corporations and spend all day every day participating in one small part of bigger processes they have no interest or control in, counting the minutes until they can go home, where they have a bite to eat, relax a few hours, then go to bed and wake up the next day to do it again. And so it continues week after week for years until finally one reaches retirement when finally one can start doing what one wants to do, instead of what one must do. Does it seem silly to anybody else but me that we put off living that long? That we must sacrifice so much of our limited time in order to survive?

It will not come as a surprise, actually, that I’m writing this at work. I’m doing so in order to look busy. Its nearly 2:00, and I only have a little over an hour left before I can go home. I’ve finished everything I have to do today. I’m not particularly interested in making up some kind of project to start so late in the day, and nobody is particularly interested in thinking up things for me to do. I cannot, of course, look like I’m not working, and so I sit and type and pretend to be intensely busy while the people around me do the same. The whole situation reeks of absurdity. You may call me a bad employee, but that’d be unfair and my feelings would really be hurt, and then you’d have to buy me flowers to make it up to me. So save yourself the money and don’t call me a bad employee. Actually, you should see how hard I work most of the day. It’s just that when my work runs out (none of which is vital in the slightest, but which I resolutely take seriously anyway) I think its absolutely ridiculous to have to find something to do. Yes, the last hour of the day is my lazy hour.

I blogged a month ago about how lucky I was to find this job. And I was; it’s been really great for my odd schedule, allowing me to be in both evening plays and still perform Tuesdays with my Hamlet touring group. (Which, by the way, performs at BYU next weekend. Everybody go see!!) It also pays pretty well and, when I get hired on as an official Nestle employee (which should happen any day now) I’ll even get something of a raise. So its absolutely perfect, except for one thing. I really just hate it. Now, not quite enough to make it worth quitting and go through the ordeal of looking for another one, and yet not quite so little that I can just grow numb to it over time. Most of the time I’m pretty good, but every couple of weeks or so all the pent up irritation floods out and I feel that if I spend another minute in this place I’ll literally die. Spontaneously. Poof. I had one of those yesterday, and it was not pretty. I once went through a period of my life where I was forced to be someplace doing something that I did not want to do for a very long period of time, and the parallels between having to work all day and that experience which shall remain nameless were causing me to panic. All the traumatic memories came back, you see. Of course I was just being completely dramatic, and today has been much better but there is still this problem of work. Frankly, I’d rather be doing something else.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t have to contribute to society, or do an honest day’s work to make a living. But so many people hate their jobs. And since people’s lives are largely dominated by work, some of those people hate their lives. There are plenty of people who love their work, and I think that’s very important. When you like what you do, it becomes part of who you are. The time you spend during the day at work isn’t a obstacle to your goals and desires, its part of them. On one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, “The West Wing,” the characters spend literally every moment of the day on job. But they like what they do, it consumes them, its what they want to do with their time. Its not just for the money, which is good because working for the White House isn’t the way to go if that’s your only motivation. If I had a job that I loved like that, I guess I wouldn’t complain so much about work. But the question is, what job is there that I would actually like doing? I mean, obviously being actor would fit the bill, that goes without saying. But besides that, so I can have some back-up plans, would you all please suggest a career that you think I would be good at and enjoy? There will be a prize for the best suggestion!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Coming of Age in an Age of Simulacrum

When I was a kid, I loved movies. Well, that sentence is somewhat misleading: its not like I didn't love anything but movies, or that I no longer love movies today. But since I'm going to talk about movies and my childhood and, specifically, how they are related, I thought I'd start of with a topical introduction in the form of a statement of facts relevant to the subject. There was no need to mention anything else and so I didn't - so get off my back, ok? Anyway…

When I was a kid, I loved movies. I have very strong childhood memories attached to various films of the 80s and 90s. The great thing about watching movies as a kid is that you are largely oblivious to how awful most of them are. For example, at various points in my youth, I actually believed that "Masters of the Universe," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "Independence Day" were good movies. Children have no idea what good acting is like, or how to recognize a plot that's made of pointless drivel thinly disguised by high budget special effects. Ok, so most adults have no idea about those things either, but that's beside the point. Kids see everything with a child-like wonder and imagination that allows them to be sucked into the world of the movie and really experience the story. They never say, "Yeah, right, like we're supposed to believe the car wouldn't have blown up by now." They just say, "Whoa.... Awesome!!!" The only mistake a movie can make is to be boring; other than that, its all believable. Nobody can suspend their disbelief like children.

I believed the movies. The earliest movies in my life were probably "Star Wars" and "Superman II" which I watched over and over on VHS until I thought that, if I just tried hard enough, I could switch off the light switch with the Force or fly like a bird and/or plane. I watched "Mary Poppins" and really believed that imagination could take me to a cartoon wonderland. Other movies had lessons for me as well. "Beauty and the Beast" taught me never to judge a book by its cover because good-looking people are often evil. "The Princess Bride" showed me that love conquers all and revenge is OK as long as its on a bad guy. And "Jurassic Park" taught me not to trust dirty capitalists using genetic cloning to create a theme park of dinosaurs for their own financial gain (and boy has that lesson come in handy a few times).

The problem is, so many of the messages you get from these movies turn out to be total crap in the real world. I mean, I was just talking about movies before, but if you look at all the morals kids are picking up about life through other media like TV programs, storybooks and fairy tales, etc. etc., you'll see that they are dramatically unpreprared to face reality. Most of those things teach kids that people live happily ever after, or that if you are nice to others they will be nice to you, or that you can grow up to be whatever you want. I'm not sure why we continually present children with a sort of idealized version of life. I have a few ideas, but I'm probably wrong so I won't share them. Regardless, we do lie to children, if somewhat subtly, and I should know. I'm an idealist, and that started a long long time ago when the movies first starting preaching to me their simple, seductive brand of idealism. You can imagine how difficult it has been for me to discover that no, not everybody lives happily ever after, that bad guys don't always get what they deserve, the hero doesn't always get the girl, and, confusingly, good and evil are often very hard to tell apart. There aren't any black hats/white hats in real life. But I can handle those disappointments, I guess. Just a little bit of maturity and you can begin to see through those ideas.

For you literary theory fans, what we're talking about here in many ways is simulacra, that symbol which does not represent anything, that copy for which there is no original. It is a representation of a "reality" that does not in fact exist. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, your homework is to read Jean Baudrillard's essay "Simulacra and Simulations," or indeed pretty much any treatise on post-modern critical theory. And yes, there will be a quiz. So anyway, its all been one big disappointment. It feels a bit like the friends of my childhood have betrayed me, have been lying all this time, but by and large I'm coping with it all.

Except for one movie, whose betrayal struck me deepest of all. One movie, whose message sounds so wonderful, so encouraging, so close to how the world, if it made any sense, should be that it took me a long, long time to realize it was a big fat lie. It's a movie that I now regard with a mixture of affection and some bitterness, like an ex-girlfriend. I'm talking, of course, about "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," the great 1971 musical with Gene Wilder. Yes, I have seen the recent version with Johnny Depp, and no, I'm not going to talk about it. Because its irrelevant, thats why! Refer to my first paragraph...

Anyway, the message of that movie seems to be, "if you want something badly enough, you'll get it." Well, isn't it? Charlie hasn't a hope in the world of getting a golden ticket - he only gets one chocolate bar a year, doesn't he? But Grandpa Joe insists he has more chance than anybody else because he wants it more. And then Charlie, by some miracle, gets one and ends up getting the whole factory and everything he's ever wanted for himself and his family. The movie ends with Willy Wonka saying, "Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted.... he lived happily ever after." And I ate this up! I BELIEVED this! If I truly wanted something enough, I would get it. If I didn't, I probably didn't want it badly enough. I should have had my first hint something was wrong when I was seven and wanted to be a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Show so badly my whole body ached, or when I wanted a Nintendo, or to play a big part in the 10-minute play we did in 4th grade. I got NONE of those things. But still I believed that Charlie and Willy Wonka and Grandpa Joe couldn't be lying.

Well guess what, kids. I hate to break it to you, but take it from somebody who knows firsthand. Sometimes, no matter how badly you want something, you won't get it. That's life. It doesn't matter if its a part in a play, a successful career in acting, world peace, a capable President, an excellent singing voice, good looks, wealth, the item you purchased on E-bay that still hasn't arrived, popularity, a blog successful as Chris Clark's, the ability to live up to your parents' expectations, having a normal life, or even just having somebody who could never possibly love you love you - it just doesn't work. Is it any wonder then that half the time I hear the song "I've Got a Golden Ticket" I grow bitter and cynical and want to say, "Well, how nice for YOU, Charlie Stupid-head!" or something mature like that?

The other half of the time? That's when I sing along at the top of my voice, weeping with childish joy and thinking hopefully of my future years; because for that brief moment, if I can dream it and want it then it will be mine - and everything will be happy ever after after all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My Blog and Other Disasters

I was recently informed that the name of my blog is somewhat misleading. While I certainly do ramble, a certain critic who shall remain nameless felt that these ramblings were not deranged. He is correct, I do show a staggering amount of logic and reason in each post considering my self-proclaimed intention of writing "Deranged Ramblings." In our post-modern world of media marketing, however, such a disparity is hardly uncommon, and so I think that my faithful readers (all three of you) will not have any problems if I continue in failing to deliver anything truly deranged. You will indulge me, I hope, in a little false advertising. That being said, if anybody, including the aforementioned critic, has a suggestion for a more apt and interesting title for the blog, I'm all ears.

In other news, the recent hurricane and its damage to the Gulf Coast has dominated the national media. I mention this for historical interest. One day I'll be able to look back at my blog and see what was going on in the world at the time I wrote this. The abundant footage on TV of Katrina's devastation have reminded me, and probably many of you, of the awesome power of the elements compared to the relatively limited abilities of man. Do you ever catch yourself feeling, as I sometimes do, that in this modern day and age its crazy that we should still be limited by the weather? After all, we can build microscopic robots and clone sheep, so why can't we keep it from raining on our proverbial parade? The problem is we get so impressed with our own technological developments and ingeniuity that we begin to get this idea that we are untouchable by outside forces. And yet here one natural disaster has nearly emptied a major American city. Stuff like this happens a lot in other places, like with the tsunami and all, but I think Americans don't really consider anything totally real unless it happens here. Were you worried about terrorism before 9/11? I wasn't, even though acts of terrorist violence have been around for a long time. But I digress.

My own personal experiences with the destructive power of mother nature are somewhat limited. But that doesn't mean you don't get to hear about them. When I was really young, my family lived in California and were in an earthquake. Thats hardly breaking news: earthquakes are part of the Californian lifestlye as much as trendy clothes, surfing, and multi-culturism. Its not even considered a big deal unless its like a 8 on the Richter scale. But for a little kid, its a pretty scary experience. My brother and I were playing in our room, pretending we were in a rock band. I think he was playing the drums, and I was singing. The building began to shake, as if suddenly our house was made of Jell-o, and we did what any sane little kid would do. We ran to mom. We were scared, but I think my mom got the worst shock of all of us. She was in the shower at the time, and had the unpleasant experience of realizing that if she were to die she would be found naked. Nobody wants to go like that.

Thats the worst I've ever been through, and it wasn't even a very bad earthquake. I lived in Nebraska for a few years and lived through some tornado alerts, but none ever actually happened. I've always been dramatic, with a penchant for playing the martyr, so every tornado warning seemed to me to be the beginning of the end. I remember watching the news as they covered the developing storm and thinking for sure that it was all over, I was going to die. I was all ready to hole up down in the basement with the washing machine and a flashlight as I listened to the building collapse above us, until the walls finally caved in and put us out of our misery. I held my brother close one time and told him in a scared whisper that we were going to die, but he was unimpressed. He seemed more interested in playing with the flashlight I had ready, and I couldn't get him to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Of course, the tornado never actually formed, leaving me looking silly. Typical. But now I watch the scenes of chaos on the news and can't help thinking what we all think but are a bit embarrassed to admit: "Thank God.... Thank God its not me...." Of course we wish all those affected the best, and do what we can to help, but we can't help but feel glad that we are safe and sound.... until you realize that you live right next to a fault line and wonder with some dread when its going to be your turn...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Allegorical Experience in Art and Culture

Its been a very busy week, but I finally have a few moments to spend with my lonely blog. Just hours ago I returned to Utah from Las Vegas, where I spent an enjoyable two days and far too much money on fun but frivolous things like clothes, a pair of sunglasses, and tickets to a preview night of "Avenue Q" (which won the Tony for Best Musical over "Wicked" and totally deserved it, I don't care what you other theater people say - it was so good). But what I want to talk about, mainly, happened the night before I went to Vegas, during our Saturday evening performance of Macbeth.

Macbeth started last Thursday, and its been going pretty well. The audiences have been a rather decent size considering the venue is difficult to locate and, lets face it, we're doing not just a Shakespeare play but a bloody tragedy dressed in punk/goth clothes. Thats not generally what appeals to the theater going audience of Utah Valley (whose average age is over 100), but we've had some very interested and appreciative audiences, so I guess miracles can happen. If you haven't seen it yet, you really should. Remember, www.arte-ut.org.

The Castle Ampitheater where we perform, though rather hidden, is a great place to put on a play. The stage overlooks a perfect view of the valley and the sunset. The only problem with it is that it happens to be within half a mile of a water park called Seven Peaks, which hosts dance/swim parties on weekends and likes to play really bad music really really loud (really bad music is almost always played loudly, have you noticed? I think its to obscure the poor quality of the music by blowing people away with the decibels. But I'm being a snob again.)

The music is pointed towards the mountains, so that it won't disturb homes near the water park - which means its pointed straight at our play. The sound echoes perfectly off the mountains behind us so we can hear every beat of the bass and every grunt and moan of the singer. Suddenly, during Act 3, Macbeth got a hip hop soundtrack that literally drowned out everything people on stage were saying. We were shouting, but it was hardly any good. Performing Shakespeare is rather difficult; performing Shakespeare well is extremely difficult and requires an immense amount of concentration. In addition, watching and enjoying and understanding Shakespeare requires some mental focus and concentration on the part of the audience as well. Its certainly not passive entertainment, like action movies, where you can just switch your brain off and enjoy. Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of entertainment, I enjoy it myself often; but Shakespeare is different and, potentially, more rewarding. A huge distraction like loud music is almost enough to make one stop the show and go home. There seems little point to continue if the actors can barely even hear each other. It makes the whole production seem a bit unprofessional, which of course it is but we don't like to be reminded of that fact.

But more than that, I realized, while standing off stage in a frustrated rage, that the whole situation was a good representation of something much greater. Here we were, a rag-tag bunch of players trying to perform some classical theater to an audience that, for all intents and purposes, wanted to see it. And then there is the forces of mainstream entertainment and popular culture sounding out louder and more powerfully than we ever can, drowning us out, making us irrelevant, outdated, unspeakably unmodern. We don't seek to destroy pop culture, we have no wish to force our art onto those who aren't interested. Our Shakespeare was not intefering with their techno, so why should their techno interfere with our Shakespeare? Why is the music so loud, so flashy, so stimulating and exciting, if not to force itself onto as many people as possible, to swallow everything up? (I'm speaking metaphorically here) I felt like David against an impossibly huge Goliath who I had no wish to fight, but who sought my death anyway. But I'm dramatic that way.

In Vegas, we stopped in the nice mall area of the Venetian hotel to watch a group of performers in Italian Renaissance clothing sing music from famous operas. They were really good, but the small crowd that gathered to watch was unimpressed. They were either old people who were sleeping or couldn't hear, or people stopping to admire the costumes before pushing on. When the group finished, they bowed graciously. I was the only one clapping. Everybody else kind of yawned and went looking for more beer and slot machines. I thought that by clapping, loud and clear, I could at least get some people to feel like they ought to be polite enough to applaud the effort of the performers, but it was no use. The crowd seemed mostly apathetic, one of the most pernicious diseases of our time.

I know I can be a snob. I try really hard not to force my qualitative judgements on what art is good and what is bad onto other people. I try not to say that what I enjoy is substantially better than what you enjoy, because I hate it when people do it to me. But I am reminded how far I am from that ideal when things like this happen, because I can't help myself from thinking that Shakespeare really is better, more important, and more enlightening than the dance party music, or that opera is better than slot machines, and that therefore the whole world is upside down. I may say "To each his own," and really try to mean it, but the truth is sometimes I'm as snobby as anybody else in feeling that I'm right and everybody who disagrees is crazy or uncultured. That makes me feel guilty, but perhaps this confession will make me feel better.

But don't point the finger of blame at me; you do it too, you know you do. I guess we're all a bit of a work in progress. But between you and me, that work would be a little easier if SOME people would turn their damn music down.