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Archive for October, 2010

To The Inconvenience. With Love.

With two months still to go, I’m calling it. The regret of 2010. I did not say goodbye to The Inconvenience’s childhood home.

For the past few years a commune of bright young things, holed up in a loft above an antique store, did what few theatre companies can boast: they made art on their own terms, with grubby hands, and packed the house each and every time. Be it party, concert, play festival, or unnamable bacchanalia, if it was at The Inconvenience, then it was a happening.

They are not gone quiet. They are gone legit. They are percolating in various corners of Chicago, plotting God only knows what kind of havoc. Imagine a pack of wild dogs with night vision set loose in a barn. That is what it will be like when The Inconvenience has 501(c)3 status and a storefront. Or whatever. I can not begin to handle what they’ll spring.

I got to hang with the lost children a few times. They did two of my plays and asked me over to warm up the crowds once or twice. What struck me time and again, aside from the repeated feat of thrilled masses, and how uniformly attractive the ensemble (and their audience) is, was a sense that someone in the room was close to splitting the atom of theatre in the 21st century. They had tapped into something, and even if the algorithm wasn’t yet traced on the January condensation coating their windows, the air was charged with invisible reactants. Ryan Bourque may have caught some on film (if anyone could, he’d be the one), but we can’t be sure.

This past week they shuttered their hyperbaric chamber. I was in California. Doing homework. And in the weeks prior to their final, housecooling party, a voice in my head, shouted down by the pragmatic crew in charge of day-to-day, kept asking me when I would buy my ticket. When am I emailing Missi? When am I begging them to let me grab the open mic? When am I finding the skirt that will be the skirt I wore to The Inconvenience’s closing? I did not do any of those things, and it snags, like a fishing hook suddenly catching in your palm. Why was I not paying attention?

It’s not mourning, because they’re not done. Quite the opposite. They will only get better. But that loft was where they were young and detonating. Future tenants will gaze at the charcoal shadows of reeling artists burned into the walls, the ones that not even bleach can strip, and wonder what seismic event transpired. Then they’ll wander out into the year-long Chicago fringe, tripping over the audiences in the street, the generation of viewers called to action, the newly converted wild dogs running loose in The Inconvenience’s brilliant apocalypse.

Farewell, Nuisance. So long, Thorns. Godspeed, Vexation.

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Hello. My name is Caitlin Parrish. I’m a writer and a teacher and a straight ally.

There were a lot of days during my childhood when I almost didn’t make it out of my childhood. For lots of reasons, one of which was that a lot of kids thought I was gay, and they thought that was a decent reason to call me names, hold contests to see who could make me cry the most, or hold me down and throw rocks at me. When I was eleven or twelve I started thinking that it might be better to not exist, to just wink out, like a television set turning off. Silence seemed better than static. Because when you’re surrounded on all sides by hostility, you start to believe that you will be forever at war, and forever threatened, and forever in pain. It’s not true, but the thought of living like that is daunting. I was lucky. I had family who dragged me kicking and screaming through adolescence. And, I had theatre, which has always been and always will be a haven for the picked on, and the misunderstood. And books, which helped articulate the promise of a world beyond my hometown. And, eventually, even though sometimes it felt like it would never happen, it got better. It gets better. It gets wonderful.

Sometimes the present is a prison sentence. Sometimes the present is long. But, it is a certainty that the Earth will spin and days will pass and you will grow. The pain you feel now is not a death sentence and it is not your future. Your future consists of friends who love you, not an edited version of yourself, not you despite something, but you, you completely and without reservation, because you are priceless and you have always been priceless. Your future consists of sex: great sex, regrettable sex, hilarious sex, educational sex, delicious, revelatory, ecstatic sex. Your future consists of undeniable love, of connections with other people that will stagger you. It might take some time, it might be fraught, but the future is always better than the past.

Those people hurting you right now? They’re ignorant and they will miss out on everything great, which includes you. A lot of adults will tell you to ignore them. That’s not always possible. I think it’s better to remember. I’ve made a career remembering, and writing in detail about how unfortunate people can be. And, let me tell you, getting paid to name awful characters after the people who once tortured you is really, really satisfying. They get the pleasure of being called out, forever, in print, as sadists, idiots, and bigots. You get cash money. Remember them. Be better than them. And then, one day, you’ll realize that you can still remember them, but they have stopped mattering. They’re weightless. They’re behind you. Because in the future you have way too much to do and see to spend time on the useless creatures who took their shortcomings out on you.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to be gay and grown up. But, I can tell you with total assurance that being an adult is light years better than being a child or a teenager. I can tell you that you have friends in the breeder camp. Your allies are present. We adore you. We need you. We have your back. We’re at your side. We’re grateful everyday for your light and life. And we can’t wait to meet you.

Your future consists. It stands firm. And so many people stand with you. Be strong. Move forward. Persist.

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Persons of Interest

I do not think marriage is for me. I do not think motherhood is for me. I have ruled out neither possibility, but the warm fuzzies and uterine clock have yet to make their appearance on the scene. Want to hear me talk with longing, you’ll ask me how I feel about creative collaboration and my dreams of future projects. This, of course, has not and does not stop people from assuring me that I will change my mind, that they will have a long and good laugh once I settle down and have kids, certain in their assumption that I’m being…I don’t know. Willful?

A few months ago I was at a bar with my boyfriend and his work friends, a fine, welcoming group. One of them, a woman I had just met for the first time, walked up to us and asked without prelude, “So, are you the one who doesn’t want kids? That’s gonna be a problem.” My horrified boyfriend had discussed it with his family (to head them off at the pass), and they had discussed it with others who discussed it with others who apparently discussed it with this invasive woman. What I find remarkable is that before she asked me my name, my profession, or how my day had gone, she demanded information about the inner workings of my relationship. Few people would, by way of introduction, ask a couple which one of them tended to orgasm first. But, when it comes to children, most feel a right to know. Not if you’ll be having them. But when. “When I have my EGOT, a popular and long-running show on television, three well-trained dogs, and you learn some goddamn manners. When all of that happens, I’ll think about it. Comma, you asshat.”

What a strange cadre, the women who claim no metal rings or bloody birth pains. We are persons of interest. We have not been formally accused of a crime, but we are suspect. At the very least, it is assumed that we are not telling the whole truth.

My complaint is not over an injustice. It’s no great hardship to answer questions or smile politely. I’ll be doing both for some time it seems. Especially around the holidays.

This Thanksgiving I’m going to Nashville to meet the significant other’s significant extendeds. They are a lovely people, by all account. Dialect and accent of the hills, eyes on the water still running in the streets, and hearts in the right place. Without question, they’ll be asking the question. Probably a few times. Three sets of grandparents. Three sets of inquiry. This is all right. If I were grandparent to Ryan Duke, I’d want to know when his newest incarnation was coming, too. I’d want to know if there was a degree of legal and spiritual certainty that another adult will be there for him with love and mad skills. They are family. They have a right to ask. I have a right to answer and smile politely. Even if they use “GAY” as a perjorative. “Caitlin, you’re not Getting Any Younger.”

Sometimes, I’m asked to write original pieces for weddings. Not as often as I’m asked to write eulogies, but often enough. Acquaintances are quicker to hire Persons of Interest for a grave matter. After all, we will die alone. But, two years ago a friend of a friend asked for a sonnet that the mutual friend would read.

Isn’t the ultimate act of kindness

an outstretched hand and a new beginning?

Isn’t the bravest show of blindness

to offer balance in a world of spinning

uncertainty? When we say, “You are safe.

You will laugh with me, and my arms will catch

you when family dies, when you lose faith,

and, together, we’ll keep a strong watch.”

Love is only the accumulated

trinkets of generosity, unseen

by those seeking bells and whistles, fated

for the good, who say, “You can lean

against me, though I don’t know when the storm

will cease.” This is marriage, and love’s true form.

Afterwards, various friends and family of the wed came up to say they liked it or didn’t but appreciated the effort none-the-less. The questions ran the gamut. “So, do you have someone? Or you married? No? Why not?” At the time I was single and had been for a while. After learning that, even the critics were impressed. A solitary woman had written appreciatively, and perhaps even well, about the realities and draw of marriage. It was as though they’d seen a blind woman accurately paint the couple from life. A touching and strange feat. Those were the people who believed me. A good number thought I was lying to save face and hide jealousy. I am jealous of no one who dresses formally and uncomfortably.

Luckily, my friend whose friends were getting married spent the evening with me discussing the mother of the bride’s dress and its eerily similarity to the tablecloths:

I like weddings. I liked it when my aunt and uncle recited a Pablo Neruda poem instead of vows, the former in English, the latter in Spanish. I like the obvious joy it brings to new husbands and wives, and their significant extended. I like the undiluted hope. I like the promise of marriage. But what I love more is the idea of a love without contract or audience. I want plenty of contracts in my life, promising me creative control and money for work delivered and that which I am owed. When I go home I want quiet rooms. And, if someone is there waiting for me, I want a friend who likes my last name just the way it is, and a two-sided desk. That’s where I’ll be sitting while I work, and age, and try to remember the names of people who thought “childless” and “unmarried” were synonymous with “purposeless” and “lost.” When I am an old woman I shall leave my books to nieces and nephews, who will remember me as an adult who let them be.

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Audio of Me!

Hello Friends.

The good people over at The Paper Machete have posted a podcast of my gig from two weeks ago! To hear my words in my voice, go here:

The Paper Machete

Yay!

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I came from Chicago a little over a month ago.

I drove across the country with my mother.

Chicago gives up its beloved hard, as my friend Michael Slefinger says. This was evidenced in my case by flight cancellations stranding me in Atlanta overnight before finally meeting up with mom in Florida the next day, followed by the pair of us driving through a five hour long lightning storm, which lasted the entire time we were in Alabama and Mississippi. I could have told the weather that I had no desire to linger in Bama or Sippi. It needn’t have bothered making threats.

It started once I took over driving. Mom was re-reading “The Chosen” after an heroic six hour stint behind the wheel. I drove us across a two mile bridge spanning the Northern Gulf, at the end of which was the densest storm I have ever seen.

‘We’re driving into God’s fist, mom.” She looked up.

“Yes, it seems we are.” And she put her book away.

At first it was only all the water on Earth. Torrents. Full force gale. At one point we drove in an underground tunnel that had a foot of water on the bottom (my worst nightmare is being trapped in an enclosed space under water – that was fun). My mother has been both a nervous driver and passenger for a number of years now. She had the bad luck to receive the news of her own mother’s death while driving. That, coupled with a congenital dread of getting lost, has made car contact at best a chore and at worst a panic-stricken nightmare. I know that the storm was worse for her than me. I was almost happy about it. I sure as shit wasn’t going to see any Gulf Storms in LA. Bring it, Jesus.

So he did. With bolts of pink lightning on all sides.

Anyone familiar with Wolfgang Peterson’s film adaptation of The Neverending Story will recall the various obstacles the child-warrior Atreyu faces in his quest to save Fantasia. One such trial involves Atreyu walking between two enormous Sphinxes. Anyone passing who does not “feel his own worth” shall be obliterated by lightning shooting out of the Sphinxes’ eyes. Facing a five day trip to Los Angeles, and feeling all the doubt, regret, and exhaustion of the last 24 hours keenly, I couldn’t help but feel like I was passing between two malevolent sky cunts hell bent on my destruction. Thank God Forrest was on the scene.

“Just so you know, I know how your brain works, and this isn’t a sign,” she said, as she white knuckled the door handle. “LA is going to be just great.”

At one point we’d thought we’d been hit. There was an enormous flash of coral to our left, and the car was pushed over by the simultaneous BOOM. Mom screamed and I did the cartoon gasp of one thrown into ice water. It wasn’t enough that I had to leave my best friends and city and lover. It wasn’t enough that AirTran got to bend me over a table in Atlanta. No. I had to get hit by fucking lightning.

Los Angeles, you better be paved with platinum and good times, ’cause I will drown a bitch.

After nine hours we arrived in Metarie, LA. Never been? Don’t worry about it. It’s a place that exists solely to make you wish you were in New Orleans. Our first hotel was a Days Inn hidden behind a projects. It had its own IHOP attached, and as we pulled up a cop was wrestling a 12 year-old boy to the ground in the lobby for stealing eight dollars.

“Mom, how much was the room you reserved?”

“Seventy dollars…”

“Yeah, we’re eating that and going to the well-lit Holiday Inn.”  $70 was way too high for an evening of rape and car theft.

“Fine with me. And why don’t you book the hotels from now on.”

Mom and I drank dinner, a double scotch each, giggling at how well we travel together, and hoped for easier days.

It’s a miserable sensation, thinking you may have made a grievous error in judgment, one that could very well condemn you to years of unhappiness, and know you have a week of driving to contemplate your own stupidity while Texas smirks at length and burns. Honestly, had our second day not ended in Austin and Michael Slefinger, I might have broken down completely outside Houston.

Michael? Michael and I lived together for the better part of three years. He answered a craigslist posting for a roommate. He wore fake glasses. I made tea. We have had high opinions of each other ever since. Michael is one of those rare creatures it’s always a pleasure to see. Explaining his enchantment is difficult, because it sounds so general. He is witty. He is brilliant. He is good. He is 5 feet and 7 inches of analytical thinking and Motown minutiae. His rage is a long-distance runner, methodical and unstoppable, ever-conscious of its final goal. He is a dark flame, hollow cheeked and slim, with smirking black hair. He reads slowly, but with depth. My dream job would be writing things that he says out loud: plays, television, street corner philosophy, whatthefuckevah. It has been said that there are three completely charming men in America: Barack Obama, Tom Bergeron, and Michael Slefinger. If he has ever been at a loss, there are no witnesses yet living. He is the friend to hold onto. I will know him all my life, which leads me to believe that somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good. If he were relegated to using only two words, they would be, “You’re welcome.”

Also, the precious imp’s an agent of upheaval. He picked up and moved to Austin last December. He threw everything he owned into a jank Jeep, shot winter the bird, and drove 19 hours non-stop to a city that promised only a job interview. Surely he was the man to talk to on Day 2 of a five day journey to the West. (Also, when in Austin, do check out his work in The Encyclopedia Show). Aside from that (ever since they fought over who would carry his luggage after he went through surgery and he lost), he worships my mother. He’s not alone, she’s liquid sunlight, but I’m especially keen about the two of them becoming a united front. I feel as though they could solve things. Or, at least, create a better class of dinner party.

Mainly, it was to check in with a person I respect who bet everything on a risk with no guarantees and came out the other side better for it. You cannot have faith until you have a religious experience on Earth. Similarly, you cannot trust that you will land on your feet in desert country until meeting up with someone thinner than you who landed just fine.

And he was, is. We had a lovely dinner and I was reminded of the opportunity being presented. I go not to praise Los Angeles but to bury it. Chicago is not going anywhere. Erica Weiss will be curating our theatre careers with the efficacy of Tom Hagen. Ryan Duke will be joining me as soon as he’s able.

So, with all this in mind…quit yer bitchin’, Parrish.

The last three days were shockingly easy. Mom and I do travel exceedingly well together. She drives first shift, I take second. She has an uncanny ability to locate the finest hole in the wall lunch locales. I book a mean $80 hotel room. Texas was wide, and empty, and beautiful, like a smoldering moon that turns the sky ultramarine. We alternated between mix CDs and listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” on mp3. “Eat” was surprisingly enjoyable. We turned it off during “Pray” and never made it to “Love”, both of us agreeing that Elizabeth Gilbert is kind of a whiny bitch. We stayed in Las Cruces, NM (“the crossings”) and Phoenix, and passed all the other cities with pertinent names. And, finally, after nearly 40 hours of driving, she dropped me shaking and ill at my new doorstep.

I can’t emphasize enough my mother’s importance in my life. When I was a hideously unpopular kid and I called her my best friend she hugged me and said, “I love you, but I’m not your friend until we’re both adults.” When I was a repressed high schooler bound for Chicago she hugged me and said, “Don’t call us more than once a month. Start smoking pot. Don’t bring home anyone under thirty.” When she put the keys of my West Coast car in my hand and jumped in a cab, she said, “You’d never be able to live with the ‘what-if’ if you didn’t do this. Erica will be fine. Just tell her that you’re on a two year deployment and Los Angeles is safer than Afghanistan.” She cried haltingly all three times, but she said what was necessary. If I am very lucky, I will have half my mother’s kindness, and half her spine. I will say half of the necessary things she has said. I will never have her runner’s legs, but I can work on the well-placed comments.

The cab whisked her away, and I was alone on Park View Street, a darkening lane of palms and hills.

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The Bristol Games

Friends! Here’s my latest piece from last week’s Paper Machete in Chicago. If you still haven’t checked out Chicago’s premiere salon in a saloon (every Saturday at 3pm, in Ricochet’s Tavern), then I don’t have much to say to you. Enjoy!

This week in culture.

A director has been announced for the film adaptations of the wildly successful young adult trilogy The Hunger Games.

First published in 2008, The Hunger Games quickly established a fervent teenage following, as well as a steady adult cult. The final volume, Mockingjay, was published just over a month ago, and in its first week unseated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as the number one bestseller. The lucky man picked to direct what will almost certainly be a franchise comparable in popularity to Twilight or Harry Potter, is Gary Ross, who is perhaps best known for creating Pleasantville. Trilogy author Suzanne Collins, a former screenwriter for Clarissa Explains It All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, will adapt her own work for the screen.

Following in the footsteps of JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer, Collins’ work is ostensibly for younger readers but has captured a large adult audience. However, this time the zeitgeist has neither wizards or vampires tapping into the childhood dreams of readers. The Hunger Games, as well as its following volumes Catching Fire and Mockingjay, are an unrelenting portrait of where our culture of celebrity worship and war may be taking us.

Set in a future in which America has been obliterated by nuclear war, there has risen an oligarchy called Panem. Ruled by a state known only as The Capitol, Panem consists of 12 districts, each poorer than the last. Some time in the past, the districts rose against The Capital, but the rebellion was quickly quashed. However, as punishment for the insurgency, each year the districts must pay a blood debt. Two children, a boy and a girl, are selected to compete in a real-time, televised battle to the death. These tribunes are put through a lengthy make-over and interview process, not unlike the weeks and weeks of pre-competition audition footage American Idol broadcasts, during which time the audience can pick favorites and the editors can turn children with a death sentence into characters with whom the viewer at home can fall in love. And, of course, forget more easily once they’re dead. The competition itself is a combination of The Running Man and Lord of the Flies, and Collins pulls no punches. The children kill and are killed brutally. Our hero is Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl from District 12 who must survive not only the games, but the political machinations of a government and percolating rebellion, both of which want to use her for their own devices. The writing is excellent, but merciless, and it’s made explicit that even if Katniss emerges victorious, the past will probably never leave her. Usually, I would categorize Collins as an author who does not love you. But, within The Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen, there is enough rebellion of the individual against a horror-show reality that a definite grace comes through. What makes The Hunger Games important, and their success thrilling, is the message Collins sends to her young audience: “All governments are lying cocksuckers, and it is up to you to stop them.” How wonderful, that the 16 year-olds who will be voting in 2012 are hearing this now. Especially if Sarah Palin wins the Republican nomination.

Also of note this week. The ABC network has premiered the eleventh season of Dancing with the Stars. Once again, what constitutes a star varies. There are Grammy winners, actors, comedians, football players, and some afterbirth from Jersey Shore. When a reality show personality appears on a second reality show, it’s like a snake eating its own tail, eternally recreating itself as another iteration of itself and consuming the soul of the world. Does the snake realize that its the same snake, that it has not changed because it is paid to dance instead of lick body shots off a transient? Or does it just keep kissing its own ass and complimenting itself on the taste?

The premiere episode drew the highest ratings of the night, with over 20 million people tuning in. But the reason was most likely not the predictable has-beens and should-never-have-beens. The draw this year seems to be an outlier amongst the trained performers. Teen activist Bristol Palin.

While it’s understandable that those people who once had the spotlight for music or sports or film would want it back, even by way of circus or popularity contest, why on Earth would Bristol Palin seek it out? What has it ever done for her? Bristol Palin’s celebrity has been a double edged sword from the word go, and both sides hurt her. Even to her supporters, she was her mother’s political liability, a pregnant teen whose body and future had to be orchestrated to tow the party line, an unwed mother rewritten as a pro-life champion. Two days after Sarah Palin was introduced as John McCain’s running mate, Bristol’s pregnancy and engagement to Levi Johnston were publicly announced to the media. The requisite free-for-all followed, every media voice and their mother discussing whether Bristol’s pregnancy made her a hero or a whore, a pawn or a player. Why now, after the election and the continual humiliation from Levi Johnston, would she leap back into the limelight? Well, it might be money. Contestants on Dancing with the Stars are paid $200,000 to compete, with a $100,000 bonus if they win. In interviews Bristol demurely states that she works in a dermatologist’s office, but as a teen activist and abstinence advocate she pulls down tens of thousands of dollars per appearance on the speaker circuit. She makes enough money to have founded her own company, BSMP LLC, to manage it. Perhaps Bristol wants to use her latest foray into the public eye as a springboard for recreating herself as someone besides her mother’s daughter. That seems unlikely, based on her first routine, in which she began sporting a brown up-do and conservative gray suit that her dance partner ripped off to reveal a thigh high red dress. Their song choice? “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” Whatever her reasons, when this teenage girl agreed to dress like a fetishized version of her mother, who was not in attendance, she ensured that the idea of Sarah Palin remain energetic, lusted after, and cheered. One can only hope that the judges’ scores of 6, 6, and 6 were a sly nod to the spectacle.

It’s no coincidence that a recent number one book and the number one rated television show share teenage girls appearing in reality competitions. We are fascinated with the gulf between a person and the persona they present in order to endure the spotlight. But, the girls and the lessons they teach could not be more different. Katniss Everdeen, over the course of three books, shows us the celebrity experience from backstage: Katniss is coached, plucked, threatened, and brutalized, before being sent off to die for the cameras. She is a prickly and magnificent bitch who wants only to survive, a pawn who schemes constantly to change the rules of the game. Bristol comes to us with no backstage effort. We only see her delighted and dancing, a princess with no thoughts beyond the score she’ll receive. Katniss tells us that the narrative these shows give us is far from the dark reality. Bristol takes her shame on the road for money, and shimmies as best she can with residual baby weight. These women are the two sides of the coin flipping in the air over our culture’s soul. Land on Katniss, and we start to reevaluate the cannibalistic nature of celebrity. Land on Bristol, we ramp up the circus, picking younger and younger subjects for tabloid servitude.

But what if the coin lands on its edge? It makes me wonder about the generation being born now, the babies whose pictures are posted on Facebook immediately, celebrities of a sort from the cradle. Will they pull back from a culture of exposure? Will there be a revolution of privacy in the next twenty years? Will they be exponentially more unsheltered? Or, will they take up the cameras themselves, reaching through the images broadcast to the people beyond, not isolated behind the computer or television, but truly, globally linked? Everyone a celebrity and no one a celebrity.

Until that time comes, Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays and Tuesdays on ABC. All three installments of The Hunger Games are available for purchase. Examine the two extremes, and hope the kids figure out something better.

UPDATE: Bristol’s second routine? “Mama said, ‘You can’t hurry love’/’You just have to wait’…” Sarah actually showed up this time, too.

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