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Archive for June, 2010

Eclipse is Coming

BEHOLD. My latest anti-Twilight piece. Performed this past Saturday to a dour post-Ghana loss crowd at Ricochets in Lincoln Square. Enjoy.

This week in culture. For those of you just emerging from Monastic retreat and/or a coma, there exists a book and film series known as The Twilight Saga. Chronicling the romantic entanglements of teenager Bella Swan, vampire Edward Cullen, and werewolf Jacob Black, the quartet of young adult novels have made their author, Stephenie Meyer, the second bestselling writer of the decade, topped only by JK Rowling. Thus far, the first two film adaptations, Twilight and New Moon, have grossed more than 1.1 billion dollars combined. Suck on that, Sex and the City series. Or, as I like to call it, Sex and the No-Effing-Way-Will-There-Be-A-Third-Movie-Praise-Allah-Peace-And-Blessings-Be-Upon-His-Name series.

In any event, after such dizzying financial success (New Moon almost doubled the box office of Twilight) there was no question of whether or not the third book would receive the big screen treatment, only whether Eclipse, opening this coming Wednesday, will satisfy the emotional bloodlust of the fans, known as Twihards. Since the movies have transferred the books thus far with unstinting faithfulness, one can only imagine that Eclipse will be a tremendous success.

Wait a moment. How do I know that the films are so true to the books? Well, you see. I have watched them. And, as of this week, I have read the first three books. Why? For this writing assignment. Christopher Piatt owes me some motherfucking scotch. Truly, though, I did it to myself. I believe strongly that knowledge of a subject is key when taking up arms and opposing it. I am not unlike the Christ in this regard. You’re welcome.

What is Twilight? Oh. Allow me to catch you up.

Bella = new girl in town/ponderous asshole. Everyone digs her. Edward = hottest guy in school/vampire. He sparkles in sunlight. He also has serious stalker tendencies, which in the Twilight universe are romantic. They love each other SO HARD. Like WHOA. But they can’t have sex without marriage/mutual vampirism, because Edward’s magical vampire cock would snap Bella’s weak, mortal vagina in half. On top of which, Bella’s always, like, physically threatened by other vampires, and stuff? She can’t DO anything about this, but luckily her stalker boyfriend Edward, or pseudo boyfriend Jacob (Native American/werewolf, ’cause in a Mormon fantasy brown people are shape shifters. Natch.) are always there to save her whining pale ass. Ever after. The end.

Outsold only by JK Rowling.

Stephenie Meyer has an origin story similar to Ms. Rowling, who envisioned the Harry Potter epic during a train ride. Mrs. Meyer, a Mormon mother of three, claims that the story of a young girl and the sparkling vampire boy who wants to fuck her, eat her, or both, came to her in a dream. This is not unlike the birth of Mormonism, which began when Joseph Smith claimed that an angel had visited him at night, and delivered unto him a book of golden plates chronicling the one true God. His “translation” of said golden plates became The Book of Mormon. Both Meyer and Smith have inspired cult-like followings. Both have had criticism leveled at them for their gender and racial politics. Both have made a metric ton of money off of their respective fantasies. Joseph Smith envisioned a faith in which a man could marry as many women as he wanted. ‘Cause he was a fuckwad. Stephenie Meyer envisioned a universe where an emo wallflower can inexplicably attract hordes of men whose fascination with the inner workings of her empty mind exceed even her own. ‘Cause she is a fuckwit. That both found such rabid literary success with next to no writing skills is a story that could only exist in America. Go team.

So what’s the appeal? Bella is a bizarrely inactive protagonist. A typical bit of Bella brood-porn: “Jacob was better, but not well enough to call me. He was out with friends. I was sitting home, missing him more every hour. I was lonely, worried, bored… perforated—and now also desolate as I realized that the week apart had not had the same effect on him.” Honey… Also, for all the protestations that Twilight is the new greatest love story ever told, Bella’s two suitors treat her with contempt most of the time. However, Edward and Jacob, when not forbidding Bella from driving her own car, telling her how idiotic she’s acting, or laughing goodnaturedly at her general uselessness, can barely stop talking about how fascinating they find her. This fascination, more than the existence of vampires or werewolves, is what makes the franchise a fantasy, and a drug. In many ways, Twilight is a perfect emotional time capsule of what it’s like to be a thirteen year-old. At the moment in our lives when we are quite possibly the most insufferable, we believe that the thing to which we are most entitled is someone who finds everything we do riveting. Edward sneaks into Bella’s room just to watch her sleep. It’s not creepy, it’s romantic that he’s so drawn to her. Jacob swears he’ll protect Bella from a evil vampire bent on her destruction and then in the same breath blames Bella for her own predicament. He’s not condemning the victim, he’s looking out for her. Both boys want her so much that at any moment they could lose control and drain or maul her enticingly fragile female body. This inexplicable and condescending fascination might explain why adolescent girls are binging on the stuff, but it also renders their devotion unsettling. I don’t believe Bella Swan will draw young woman to vampirism or Mormonism any more than I believe Harry Potter convinced a generation to pursue sorcery, but while Rowling’s universe sports a healthy, “Friends work together to overcome adversity” dynamic, Meyer has constructed a world that idealizes one-sided power dynamics and romanticizes a woman’s suffering. Bella’s love hurts her, so it must mean more. It ain’t love, really. It’s obsession, but that’s all we have to go on when we’re thirteen and don’t know anything about partnership. Also, vampire abstinence? Just as boring as human abstinence. It’s 2010. Fuck already. I’m all for young girls being told that choice and waiting are viable, honorable options, but not when the only reason to wait presented is the fact that your sexuality is dangerous, can turn a man into a beast, and that you will die as a result. Counter-productive, Ladies.

But these are the trappings that of the worst kind of fan fiction, the stuff that’s little more than a hastily scribbled wet dream. And Twilight is its own fan fiction. Twilight is what happens when a teenager rewrites Wuthering Heights with vampires and lots of references to Wuthering Heights. That the quality of Twilight’s prose is on par with bad fan fiction only adds insult to injury. To give you a taste, I will now present a dramatic reading from Twilight:

Chapter 13: Confessions. Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn’t get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal. Now and then, his lips would move, so fast it looked like they were trembling. But, when I asked, he told me he was singing to himself; it was too low for me to hear. I enjoyed the sun, too, though the air wasn’t quite dry enough for my taste. I would have liked to lie back, as he did, and let the sun warm my face. But I stayed curled up, my chin resting on my knees, unwilling to take my eyes off him. The wind was gentle; it tangled my hair and ruffled the grass that swayed around his motionless form. The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.”

[Throws glitter.]

My personal favorite writer’s tic of Meyers’ is when she picks adjectives for the Native American Jacob. To describe his decidedly unsparkly skin, she uses the word “russet.” A lot. She goes to the “russet” well not once, not twice, but 12 times, and that’s in New Moon alone. Honey, we get it. His skin is reddish-brown in color. Pointing that out every time does not make you post-racial. It’s fine if you have Reservation Fever, but you have to own it.

400 pages a book. I did it for you. [Drinks scotch.]

I could go on and on about how I believe Stephenie Meyer has done a lot of harm against “womens,” or “bitches.” But, at the end of the day, it’s just an inexplicable cultural phenomenon. There will be more, and some will appeal to me, and some will not. Also, it’s important to remember that 13 year-olds are people, too, and that it’s not easy to be a teenager. Stephenie Meyer was 13 once (and always). I bet she was a shy girl, big eyes focused on her dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights, . In fact, in the interest of research, I recently purchased her 1987 diary on eBay. From which I will now present an excerpt. [Pause.] No. Really. I swear.

[Opens diary. Begins to play “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton.]

October 30th, 1987. Dear diary. I have now unlocked the secrets in the song “Angel of the Morning.” It took 139 listens, and two ruined compact discs, but I have done it. I understand. It’s almost Halloween. I love this day best. It’s the only day when we’re free to show the world who we really are. Isn’t it ironic that we’re dressed like monsters when that happens? I wish someone besides me understood that. I wish I could go to school everyday and have people understand that deep down inside, I should be Juliet in Verona or Alice in Wonderland instead of Stephenie in Phoenix. But even if told my friends that, even if I dared bare my tattered soul, it would be for nothing. I have accepted this. If I could be anyone in the world, I’d be Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Either Catherine, or that Baby Jessica who got the world to love her by falling down a well. But, probably Catherine, since not even love could save her from the well of her soul and I know exactly what that is like. I was having a conversation about Wuthering Heights with my soulmate-to-be, who does not exist yet, but I’m only 13 so he has at least four years to show up.

Side note. Diary, I know it’s a sin but sometimes I pray that God makes “Angel of the Morning” four books long instead of four minutes. It is the greatest love story ever told.

Anyway, soulmate-to-be and I were arguing sweetly. He doesn’t understand how I can read the same story over and over, especially since he finds Healthcliff and Catherine to be co-dependent, self-destructive psychotics. Boys. His eyes were vivid with real interest now, trying – again – to unravel the convoluted workings of my mind. He reached across the table to cradle my face in his hand. “What is it that appeals to you?” His sincere curiosity disarmed me. “I’m not sure,” I said, scrambling for coherency while his gaze unintentionally scattered my thoughts. “I think it’s something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart – not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end. . .” His face was thoughtful as he considered my words. After a moment he smiled a teasing smile. “I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality.” “I think that may be the point,” I disagreed. “Their love is their only redeeming quality.” And he understood. Because we go together so well, we’re just like a bucket-a milk and a basket-a toast. And tonight he will watch over me as I sleep. I will sleep beneath his dolorous gaze, his hand hovering just over my hair as I slumber, fingers powerful, strong, mighty, wistful, and godlike enough to crush my face. And when the dawn comes I shall awaken to him singing “Angel of the Morning,” and he WILL LOVE ME FOR EVER AND EVER AND EVER SO THERE. That’s all for now, Diary. You’re the only one who understands. Or comprehends. Or gets it. Yours in Christ, Stephenie.”

Eclipse opens June 30th, 2010. Take your soulmate of choice.

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New Review!

Suicide, Incorporated – 4 stars

The Gift Theatre. By Andrew Hinderaker. Dir. Jonathan Berry. With Joshua Rollins, Michael Patrick Thornton.

Men don’t ask for help during crisis—that’s what the employees at the titular suicide-note editing and consultation firm believe. Chicago playwright Hinderaker’s sarcastic premise (which surely will irk some, depending on their own feelings about self-harm) is that a saboteur joins such a firm with the intent of keeping its clients alive, though he himself is slipping into an emotional tailspin. But that’s just the premise; the story is a gut-punchingly honest examination of how men join together to brave a world in which they cannot stand alone.

It’s a tricky setup, yet the Gift shows its usual canny casting abilities. Rollins, as sensitive double-agent Jason, navigates desolation with brutal intelligence and empathy for everyone but himself. But it should come as no surprise that the heart of the play is in Thornton’s hands. As Jason’s first and possibly last client, the astute actor barrels past any satirical inclinations the script may have and finds a heartbreaking honesty in a man who has truly, permanently ruined things for himself.

While director Berry handles the minefield terrain with a steady hand, the visuals are a bit cramped. Dan Stratton’s utilitarian set of blinds, tables and rolling chairs hasn’t helped the sight lines in the Gift’s tiny space. The staging needs a bit of air—but perhaps that’s the point. Hinderaker’s world is one in which everyone must relearn how to breathe.

Read more: http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/theater/86733/suicide-incorporated-at-the-gift-theatre-theater-review#ixzz0rapLHkKK

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Hello all. Long time no blog. I’ve been traveling, performing, and rewriting, and whatnot. I am busy. And lame. Blame. Whatevs. Your hair looks awesome.

Couple of things.

1. Hurray! My play A Twist of Water has won the People’s Choice XYZ from About Face Theatre in Chicago. There will be a reading in October. There will also be a Rt. 66 reading in July. And one in Austin, TX. Later today. I feel pretty.

2. Hurray! I’ll be performing at Paper Machete again on June 26th. As the Machete’s newest cranky feminist correspondent (my first installment being a take down of “Sex and the City 2”), my newest piece will be on the “Twilight” franchise, Mormon allegory, and, once again, how the things women love hurt women. I’m going to have no friends by the end of the summer.

3. Hurray! My short play Strapped, which you may recall in video form a few posts back, will be remounted at Lifeline Theatre’s Fillet of Solo this coming August. Missi Davis’ perfect ass shall be on stage once more.

In the words of Rufio, “Bangorang.”

4. Hurray! I was able to once again perform with The Encyclopedia Show last night. However, it was the Austin production that kindly invited me. The show’s theme was The Future! My topic was “Damn Kids These Days: 2089 AD.”

It. Was. Baller.

Below you will find my transcript from the evening. It went hella well. I’ll be coming back. Enjoy.

This is the year I say good night. The year is 2089. I am 105 years old.

That’s not such a long run anymore. However, emphysema remains irreversible and degenerative. I’ve known that sucker would get me since I was eleven, watching my grandmother’s lungs collapse like sodden bread. My middle son is a doctor. He complains often these days that my physicians were reactionary and not preemptive. Microscopic, sentient bubbles have been installed to press my alveoli out and pull them in. I know I’m not breathing on my own, but the effect is uncanny. It’s not awful. Well, yes, it is awful, but comfortable. Muted. In any event, it’s almost time.

I’m back in my parents house, by the remnants of the Atlantic. It’s now a mile’s walk from oceanfront property to the ocean proper, but even a mile’s proximity to salt water settles me. I am surrounded by the relatively young. They come in the room quickly. They leave quickly. They have no idea what it means to linger. Damn kids, with the music and the clothes and the hoy-hoy.

My great-grandchildren are in that time of narcissistic self-reflection and flagellation known as adolescence, and have little time for an ill relic with cataracts and wet lungs. But my grandchildren have started to inquire whether I’d like to hear my eulogies before the funeral. To edit them. I remind my middle-aged grandchildren that history is written by the survivors, and I’ve no interest in skewing what they thought of me. Anyway, I have a fair idea.

My children are very old, but they are still my children. And even dead, I will worry. Because the phenomenon we keep hoping for as we wrinkle and shrink and expire is that the younger generations will get to some mystical point of evolution where everyone works in conjunction. Everyone helps everyone. It hasn’t happened yet. We do not stand together. And, I had such hopes for my children.

My first daughter I named Kipling, for I am of an Anglophilic persuasion and Rudyard won my heart when he said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” And I felt so daring to have finally conceived after decades of claiming it meant nothing to me. I had the fervor of the newly converted. I prayed stories to my torso like the born-again mother I was, telling Kipling Parrish what and who she could be, promises forming as subtly and precariously as her spinal cord. And I silently told stories to myself of what and who she would be, forgetting that I shared everything with her, making the mistake of trying to write my daughter’s life. She never forgot the history of my expectations. It makes sense that she tried the hardest of all my children to please me, and of all my children I pushed her the hardest to go far, and of all my children she lived the farthest away from me. Miles and miles and miles. Her distance is my pride and my punishment, and she will be the last to arrive for the funeral because of the difficulties in travel these days. But, she will be the first to go through my clothes, and papers, the first to begin the necessary packing away.

The boys came next, one after the other like two hurricanes in eighteen months. Doyle and Isaac, a storm cloud followed by laughing rain. They said Doyle was the smart one and Isaac the handsome one, and though a mother believes her sons are both, well, you act a certain way, and was it my fault that Doyle liked the books I liked and Isaac didn’t? Isaac always had friends; I didn’t worry about him. Doyle kissed other boys from the age of four on, and though he insisted his generation didn’t care I always stood at the ready to eat any thugs alive. Isaac was easy. Isaac demanded nothing of me except the usual entitled everything of the last born. I can see Doyle now, combing through my vintage paper books to find the right verse to release into the air like a funereal dove. He has his father’s voice (and no, I won’t discuss him, the less said the better). It’s a tenor well suited to his sister’s namesake, but the secret Doyle kept from me is that he always hated Kipling. In every sense. Something to do with imperialism. He settles on Auden. Not “Funeral Blues,” which I appreciate, but “For the Time Being,” which begins:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes – Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, and the children got ready for school.”

Well done, Doyle. The moment should be post-Christmasish, tired but wired with everyone tallying the sum worth of events. Doyle will read it, friends will say “Well done, Doyle,” but in a distracted, salty way because Kipling is home, and Kipling is so rarely home, and Kipling will be the focus and Doyle will drink. Isaac is sad. He’s answering calls, and writing sincere thank you notes, worrying that the recipients will be disappointed to discover he was the author instead of his more eloquent siblings. It was a mistake thinking my baby boy knew his own worth simply because his physical parts complimented each other so effortlessly.

My last daughter was Hazel. I never told anyone about her. What can you say about a dot that blinks out during the night?

I remember feeling a cold vastness. Carl Sagan said, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” He was talking about the cosmos, and not children. After Hazel, once the boys were grown, once Kipling made her choice in career, I found I was drawn to the night sky a great deal.

I saw Halley’s Comet in 2061. I had seen it before. In 1991, I was 7. My father took me to the middle of a nature preserve just north of Saint Augustine, Florida, and, together, we climbed a beachside widow’s walk and he held me up to the night slashed with icy light. In 2061, I was 77. I had the idea that it would be nice to see it with my children, all of us together. But, Doyle was away. Something had befallen his middle girl. Kipling was living in the Xenophon canyon of Mars.

Could she visit?

No, no, mother. I have work.”

Yes, of course. You have to put names and proof of ownership on red rock.”

Well, what did you expect, naming me after the man who wrote ‘The White Man’s Burden?’”

It’s a satire, Kipling!”

Not when we’re determining who lives next to the only flowing water on the planet, it’s not.”

She couldn’t visit. Isaac was with me. He never married. He’s good about chores. My youngest son carried me to the roof. We sat together for an hour, watching Halley creep with deceptive patience across the visible sky. He smiled and said, “Still goin’ strong, Hailey.” “Halley,” I corrected him. He apologized softly, used to it. I wished I could take it back. I ruffled his hair, because unlike me he stayed a towhead and it was almost blonde enough to cast light. I almost told him about Hazel, to explain my inexplicable distance. But…

There was a solar eclipse on May 11, 2078. My father’s birthday. He’d been dead for thirty-one years.

Transit of Earth from Mars in 2084, the first and last time that happened in the 21st century. My daughter and those others living in colonies on Mars saw the Earth as a small black dot roving across the sun. Insignificant. Also, I had lived a century.

I had lived a century. My eyesight was just about to go, so I looked as much as possible. I looked down from the night sky…and my children were scattered.

Nina Simone always wailed that the 22nd century would have no oxygen in the air but I didn’t realize she was speaking directly to me. It hurts to inhale. The revolutions have come instantly these last years. I can’t remember all of them. My brain was only built to hold so much. I’ve asked the young ones to explain the world around me, but pausing seems to bewilder them. They hurry along to the next inundation of change. Why can’t they do me the courtesy of telling me why, when we, when I worked so hard to better communication and connection…why do they insist on hurling themselves through space? As isolated and bright as a comet, though comets visit more often than the young, why…? Why did I not teach them to rally together and cast more light than they do alone?

Why, as we precious Earthlings become Martians and civilization marches towards stars, galaxies, and whatever lies beyond our snow globe, why does family never change?

I was not a believer in doomsday at 26 and I am still not at 105, but I have made mistakes and the 22nd century is almost upon me and I. Am. Tired.

So, this is the year. My sister and I will walk into whatever constitutes the ocean. 105 and 102 and a half, because the deal in my family is that sisters go at the same time. We will both of us drown, all at once, not by inches and not in a goddamn bed. My gorgeous younger brother (I never realized how much Isaac is like him!)…my brother stays behind. At 98 he has more work to do.

My sister’s younger, her eyes are better, and her spine is straighter, so she’s the one to pull us over the breakers. Behind us there will be a conflagration of those I failed with the best intentions. Those who have survived me. I haven’t been able to see them for years but I can imagine. I imagined them before they were born, writing three pages on deadline at the age of 26. They are a black clothed dot roving across a mile of sand, bare foot on an alien shore, their shoes held in one hand, doing me the courtesy of standing together, as I desert them.

I wish them good night.

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Little Shop of Horrors – 3 stars

Little Shop’s earworm doo-wop score and endearingly shabby story of a murderous alien plant have become a staple of high-school auditoriums, and for good reason: The dark humor of nice-guy Seymour aiding the destruction of Earth still hits, the songs are hummable brain candy, and domestic-abuse victim Audrey pulls heartstrings like a mofo.

The downside is that productions can ride the coattails of that built-in affection. Sanders-Joyce has done little more than prop the show up; Jodi Kurtze’s choreography sleepily mimics the girl-group hand jives of the ’50s and ’60s without slyness or invention. D. Graham Kostic’s costumes are perfect winking tackiness, but La Costa’s revival lacks a cohesive vision for the technical elements. Also, just a suggestion, double sound-check those mikes.

But, man, is the cast great. Jonathan Hymen, a perfectly nebbishy Seymour Krelborn, opens up some serious pipes in “Skid Row.” As sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, Tom Moore is perfectly at ease channeling a vampiric Elvis. But it’s Erin Elle East as Greek-rock-chorus member Chiffon who steals the show with the hands-down best voice in the ensemble.
Read more: http://chicago.timeout.com/articles/theater/86315/little-shop-of-horrors-at-la-costa-theatre-company-theater-review#ixzz0qDJn4AzT

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Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from The Magicians by Lev Grossman: “In a way fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”

So…more requests for short pieces have been piling up. I’m in the midst of dealing with the notion of actually reading the “Twilight” series (For a good damn cause), and drafting my Encyclopedia Show Austin text. SO! More oldies but goodies. From 2009’s KAPWA benefit, a piece on the hurricanes besetting the Philippines.

I grew up on a barrier island in Florida. I remember Atlantic cyclones. I know hurricanes. Cyclones of water and wind traveling at great speed. We always ran. Many stayed, but my family always barricaded the windows and went west to Tallahassee. My parents had a series of photographs in our home of what had happened in 1968 when Dora came through. There are sloping dunes walking down to the beach, but in the pictures from 1968 there are cliffs where the water came up and clawed off the earth. It’s as though a god slid from the Atlantic, took the island’s face in its mouth and bit. Swallowed. Took it out to sea. When I was small I looked forward to them. No school. When we’d return from the mainland our streets were flooded, and my mother would turn the rubber lids of trash cans upside down in the temporary creeks so we could float from block to block in makeshift rafts. But for all the accompanying child-like wonder those photographs stayed in the back of my head. Black and white, small, square, but lurid. Graphic. What was to come. So we learned to buy lumber when the sky turned green, to remove the machetes we kept lodged in palm trees to cut the fronds and lock them away from the wind. In the aftermath we helped our neighbors, and surfed, and prayed for continued luck.

During the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season Florida was hit by four hurricanes in a row: Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne. Two of those names mean “Free.” Two mean “god is gracious.” I do not know how storm names are chosen. Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne: they sound like four siblings from a children’s book, they could easily replace Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as they step into Narnia. They do not sound like the starving gods they were. Charley was the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Andrew devastated Miami. Frances decimated the entire agricultural economy in the Bahamas. Ivan was the size of Texas. And Jeanne. Jeanne killed 3,000 people in Haiti. And they all visited my home. In 2004 I was already living here, having chosen predictable cold over capricious whirlwinds. When I could get my parents on the phone they always said they missed daylight. It had been months that the glass windows had been boarded up. But even so, we were very, very lucky. Inconceivably lucky.

Pacific cyclones are typhoons. This month, four hit the Philippines. Ketsana. Tree. Parma. The only definition I could find for that was “hand.” It might be wrong. Melor. Soldier. I think that’s wrong, too. Mirinae. Galaxy. This progression in naming, even if the second and third are wrong, I understand. The first blow is a tree, powerful and long reaching, but a part of nature. Awful, but sometimes things simply happen. The second blow, hand. A fist. A slap. Have we not suffered enough? The third, a soldier. The envoy of your enemy. The one who makes war against you. The last, galaxy. Does the entire universe conspire for our destruction? It seems that way. Ketsana, Parma, Melor, Mirinae.

A replacement of the world. Not even the smallest token of nostalgia remains. 500-year storms. So awesome is the sight and sound of this force that it is unthinkable that the ocean could summon up that kind of anger more than twice a millennia. And then another one comes along within the decade. Or the week. It teaches you that decimation is a constant. It may come at any moment and wipe your existence clean. You are not permanent. That is an important lesson.

There are 8,141 miles between Manila and this room, a place no typhoons can reach. So, why are we here? Well. Typhoon means “big wind.” That’s Chicago, isn’t it? Do 8,141 miles matter if there is community, if such winds as we have can send our thoughts and lives back and forth?

Carl Sandburg wrote, “The mob? A typhoon tearing loose an island from thousand-year moorings and bastions, shooting a volcanic ash with a fire tongue that licks up cities. The mob? A jag of lightning, a geyser, a gravel mass loosening…the mob…kills or builds…the mob is Attila or Genghis Khan, the mob is Napoleon, Lincoln. I am born in the mob—I die in the mob—the same goes for you—I don’t care who you are.” He knew something of mobs. He was from Chicago. He knew something of community.

Decimation is a constant. But so is community. Any disaster is a test, but only a cyclone is built to resemble a vast eye. Believe what you’d like, and I’m an agnostic myself, but it’s as though the universe has come to see how we behave after it bites us on the face. There are 8,141 miles between Manila and this room, a place no typhoons can reach, but no matter our age, no matter a childhood in Luzon, Andersonville, or Atlantic Beach, Florida, we are here because every single one of us is governed by the uncontrollable, and if this month the Universe turned its awful eye on Manila next month it could be us and there is a bond in that. Typhoon, hurricane, fire, closed fist. Do we kill or build? I am born in a whirlwind. I die in a whirlwind. The same goes for everyone. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your latitude or longitude is, or if your language’s pulse is different from mine. Life is a storm, and survival is dependent on how we treat each other if we’re lucky enough to have clear skies. We are here to pray for continued luck. We are here to be together with a city connected to us by wind. We are here to offer our neighbors an open hand. Thank you for coming.

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Epic Fail

Today’s sentence(s) I wish I’d written, from season 1 of Party Down: “Dragons are fantasy. And there’s magical talismans, or a magical sword, or wizards, or fuckin’ crazy not real animals, all these basic things that break the laws of reality? That shit’s all fantasy. I’m into hard sci-fi. Fantasy is bullshit.”

Oh, Roman. You angry, angry little prick.

“Sex and the City 2” seems to be doing poorly at the box office. I’m not mourning that fact, but having now read many reviews of the film, I have to say there’s some serious hate going on here. To lighten the mood, I present a piece of mine from a few years ago, that deals with sex and Islam in a warm, delightful fashion. Enjoy.

EPIC FAIL

Good evening. When I asked what the theme for tonight might be, the lovely and leggy Ms. Kasey Foster sent me this reply: “From the looks of things, I think an appropriate theme to work with for the evening is failure. How great, funny, depressing, and uncomfortable it can be to watch. I’m not sure what everybody has in store, but from what I’ve heard, there will be a lot of new attempts, with little fear of, and more so, expectancy of failure.

When I read that the first thing that struck me as an interesting topic was the recent popularization of “FAIL,” or “EPIC FAIL” as internet catchphrases, a phenomenon I consider to be a linguistic failure, like nicknames or text shorthand. They’re interesting, they’re happening whether I like it or not, but at times I feel as though English, never a completely sane language to begin with, is spiraling into Miss California craziness.

So, as always, I present a somewhat rambling discussion on EPIC FAIL, as supported by my own personal experiences and information I discovered on Wikipedia, the website that embodies more completely than any other the notion that reality is subjective, in the hopes of providing amusement and reassurance to everyone here tonight, the lot of us pilgrims beset with failure more often than we’d like.

Show me a person who charts the optimistic course in life, turns that frown upside down, and says, “There is no such thing as failure, there are only set backs,” and I will show you a person who has never tried to find employment or nookie online. Therein lies mostly failure. It’s personal failure, not national, not irreparable, but failure none-the-less.

For example.

I’ve had some good times because of the internet. Sometimes it’s convenient. Sometimes it’s scary fun. Sometimes it’s so friggin’ cold in Chicago you’d squeeze between Dick Cheney and his gimp for animal warmth. And I am not against internet dating, per say. I have many friends who found loving, fulfilling relationships, or arrangements, specifically because of the internet. On the internet the odds of you finding someone are good. But the goods are odd.

An anecdote. Let’s not call it autobiographical. Please. But let’s say most of it happened. A gentleman and a lady, both in their twenties, he late, her early, meet online and decide to embark on a real world encounter. They are both very intelligent, and make each other laugh, however they come from very different backgrounds and have completely divergent religious beliefs. The lady is a staunch agnostic. The gentleman is a self proclaimed “ devout, yet liberal, Muslim.” What could possibly go wrong in an arrangement that is almost completely about guaranteed sex? They have a first date. A lovely time is had. The point arrives in the evening for the guaranteed sex. The gentleman says they must talk first.

The lady replies, “Is this about how there’s no premarital sex in Islam?”

The gentleman says, “Yes, but fortunately there’s a way around that.”

The lady replies, “Atheism?”

“No. Heh. No. We can become temporarily married in the eyes of Allah by reciting a verbal contract in Arabic outlining an agreed upon time period for this ‘marriage.’”

“Oh, we can, can we?”

“Yes.”

Now this young lady is by no means stupid. She is also not really that interested in dating the gentleman long-term. However, of all the bizarre lines she has heard from men, never once has one said ‘Let’s get married in the eyes of Allah.’ And she believes more firmly than anything, in doing weird stuff for the story value afterward. She has rolled Life Yatzee. It has come up Temporary Islamic Marriage, and who is she to refuse?

“Okay. Let’s get married. In the eyes of Allah. Blessings be upon his name.”

Five minutes later, contract spoken, Allah totally fine with what’s about to go down, the lady’s shirt has come off. The gentleman’s as well. Fun is being had.

“Before we go any further,” she says, “You should know that I’m made entirely out of pork.”

Her new husband laughs. It’s fun to tease about faith.

“Funny you should say that,” he continues. “Because I’ve never actually done that with a girl.”

“What? Eaten pork?”

“Not…pork…”

“Oh. Oh. I see. How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Yikes.”

But back to this lady, who is a kind, and instructive younger lady, and instead of deriding someone for lack of knowledge or experience, she says, “Well, if you’re going to date agnostics you’re going to need to learn.”

And to his credit, the gentleman says, “Okay.”

BTW, gentlemen in the room, if you are not even willing to give oral sex a go, and if your lady is not willing to give it a go, that is a motherfucking EPIC FAIL.

All’s going well at first. Instruction’s being given and taken. A tepid and uninspired time is being had, but first time out of the gate, who expects more? What the lady perhaps should have elucidated beforehand was that there were certain bits of improvisation that were to be left off the menu entirely. In the heat of the moment, for some reason unknown to God or man, the gentleman decides it will be a good idea to bite the lady almost as hard as he can.

In response to this gross overstep the lady does the most sensible thing in the world. She screams bloody murder, kicks him onto the floor, throws the gentleman his clothes and shouts, “Go back to Schaumburg!”

There is nothing in this world more lonely than the sense that we have failed, that we were unable. Lacking. It lingers, like a gin hangover, crystal clear nausea and headache. “I failed. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t do it.” Sexual shenanigans aren’t meaningful failures in the long run, but not having said something when you knew a friend was suicidal, hours toiling toward a life’s blood project only to see it dissolve in the chaos of unrealized potential, the knowledge that Bush and Cheney have still not been prosecuted for war crimes: that is failure.

An anecdote with which to end. Let’s not call it autobiographical. Let’s say it probably happened, an early example of the nature of failure, or perhaps optimism. There was an abnormally tall seven year-old being raised a Southern fundamentalist Christian. She already had many questions concerning the practice of getting up for church at dawn, a place memorable to her only for its reliably boring stories and forced consumption of grape juice and bread squares.

“Why couldn’t our Jesus make his blood and body something awesome like milkshakes and chicken? Why am I wearing a fucking dress and stockings in Florida? Why is it called Clarissa Explains It All when Clarissa never addresses these issues? Why won’t anyone let me watch Ren & Stimpy? Childhood is bullshit.”

Anyway. In the middle of every church service, all the children yea big and under are called to the front for the mini-sermon, when the minister explains complicated religious matters in a way that children are sure to understand. One particular Sunday he explains to his tiny congregants that one of the many reasons why God is way better than the Easter Bunny is because God will always love us and forgive us for our missteps. Our failures. Many questions leap to the mind of our intrepid seven year-old skeptic.

“Didn’t God make us in his image? Isn’t it impossible for God to be wrong? How angry does the Easter Bunny get when I mess up? Whatever. That bunny brought zero Jolly Ranchers last year. He is the one who sucks.”

And then a few more thoughts occur to her. She raises her hand, is called upon to testify, and says the following. In front of everyone.

“My mom and dad say there’s no such thing as failure. There’s your morals, and you stick to them, and if you do then when things go wrong it’s not failure, it’s a set back. And my mom and dad are really smart, so I think they’re right.” And her parents have two solid seconds to beam with pride before she adds, “They also said there’s no Easter Bunny or Santa Claus so why are you saying there is?”

All I’m saying is…some perspective.

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