observances on observance

Lent 2005 began when I woke up in bed with a (Mormon) boy on Ash Wednesday before scurrying off to mass to get my ashes. It ended last week on Palm Sunday, when I didn't find any time to go to services, opting instead to go to a 'gay sauna' in Paris. I toyed with the idea of giving up drinking for forty days but soon fell off the wagon. I tried to think of other things. For a while, I was trying to read one new entry from my "Book of Saints" for each day but that didn't last long either. In the end, I didn't give up anything -- unless you count going to mass, which I "gave up" on more than one occasion (usually because I'd been out drinking or partying the night before).

And today was Easter. I observed it in the chapel at the nursing home where my uncle now lives. Whenever I go home to Boston for any length of time these days, I spend a major part of that time at the nursing home and a major portion of the time there at mass. My uncle, a priest, was severely incapacitated a couple of years ago with a stroke. He goes to mass in the chapel every day; though he can no longer celebrate the mass on his own, he sits on the altar wearing some of the clerical vestments and joins in on some of the prayers. He can't move or speak as he used to, but deep inside the Holy Spirit is moving.

What is the story with my Catholicism these days? What excuses do I have? None. It isn't as if I've been missing mass for any good reason; I haven't decided not to go. Often when I do go (like this morning) I'm reminded of how important my faith is to me and how sustaining the Eucharist is. I cling to the fact that I'm Catholic. The teachings of the Church, the scriptures and the rituals all have immense value for me. It's not as if I'm a gay man who's been "turned off" by bishops railing against same-sex marriage or something like that. Those social teaching issues are a connundrum to be sure, but for me they are not the core of the faith. That's all posturing; it's not eternal. And what is eternal is what I value.

So why don't I feel the way I once did? Exhaustion? Fatigue? Neglect? Or could it be that I do still feel the way I did? External forms of worship don't mean a thing. I'm not beating myself up for missing mass or for not abstaining during Lent. Those things don't matter in and of themselves. But, when I'm honest with myself, I recognize a diminishment in my spiritual energy. I'm too easily distracted from my faith; I don't pray. That energy's being expended somewhere else.

And, yes, that "somewhere else" is often a bar or a club on a Saturday night 'til 4am (though I've still been known to make 11:30 mass the next morning--but that's usually when I haven't brought somebody back with me). My spiritual energy, though, is also being channelled into my job with the formerly homeless, into my volunteer work with disadvantaged youth. I wouldn't be doing those things at all if I hadn't been raised as a certain type of Catholic, imbued with values by my aunt and uncle. In terms of hourly expenditures of time, I'm probably living out my commitment to Jesus' teaching more now than at most other periods of my life. Yet it can also feel like I'm just riding the subway between Sodom and Gomorrah.

I haven't been to confession in a very long time (since last summer?) and I sincerely love to go. I love it when it really gives you an opportunity to do some honest soul-searching and self-assessment. I don't go all that often because I really do try to take stock and say, "What am I really sorry for? How do I really want to change my life?" It would be hypocritical, for example, for me to go in there and confess the number of times I've had sexual relations with boys when I have no intention of stopping. [Maybe I'll try to be a little less profligate about it, but that's just a question of degree.] Who would I be fooling?

Accepting that drinking, sex and things of that sort aren't necessarily sinful doesn't mean, though, that you're off the hook. In fact, reaching that point opens you up to deeper self-analysis. Those sorts of misdemeanors, the types of sin that get policed prominently by conservative ideologues, don't actually go very deep. They're external acts, that's all. Again, it's the spirit that counts. Rather than listing all the times I've sucked someone's dick (which, though it may shock some people to hear it, can in certain circumstances bring you closer to God), how much more important it is to really discern how I may have turned away from God on a deeper level, how I might be acting out of pride or vidictiveness or pettiness or jealousy. Or anxiety, another thing that God does not want. Or despair.

In other words, I value ritual (whether it be confession or the mass) when it provides a format for deepening my faith. It allows you a way in. Therefore, I shouldn't be beating myself up about my half-assed Lenten observance (and I'm not). I shouldn't feel guilty. Every mass is an opportunity to get more out of the faith that I profess (so is every moment of one's life, for that matter, but a mass is sort of like a pre-packaged opportunity). When you pass that up, you're only cheating yourself.

Luckily, there's always next week.


get real

This trip to France that I just came back from was sort of unlike any trip I've ever taken before. I keep saying that to people but I have yet to express exactly what the difference was. I tried it in the previous blog entry but didn't quite hit upon it -- perhaps that was because I was still over there and didn't have any distance at all yet on the experience. Here's another try.

Disregarding how incredibly restful and relaxing the trip was (and it certainly, certainly was), there was also something sort of pensive and introspective about it, but in a way unlike the pensiveness and introspectiveness I'm used to. That's the difference! I've been on many a trip in the past four years that has prompted me to think about my life. These trips have prompted me to write (for pages and pages) in my journal about where I've been headed and what I've learned.

I didn't open my journal once during this trip.

I didn't have any impulse to write an email to someone detailing everything that was happening to me and analyzing its significance.

What has happened exactly? Why did this trip feel so weirdly (and wonderfully!) cut off from the rest of my life?

The amazing thing about all of this was that it was not summarizable into a little nugget, a moral for me to interpret for myself and assimiliate into "the next stage" of my life, as most of my recent traveling experiences have been. There was something sort of dark and ambiguous and (dare I say it?) mature about it, as if I'd grown up. Moved beyond summaries.

I don't know if any of this is making sense. It's only starting to come together for me as I write this. My life is moving in a lot of different directions right now and I think my experience of this trip reflects that. I've returned home to some big decisions: Where will I live once I move from Menno House? How long will I stay in my job? How much do I really want a relationship and who with? I'm of two minds about all of these issues. I know what I used to think about them and I also know how recent experience has slightly altered those assumptions. How tiny collisions with reality have made me question what I thought to be true, what I had planned out for myself as my life.

Because everything before this past year, all of those journal entries and manifestoes I wrote were essentially utopian. They were ideal visions culled from books. Ideas gestated in a period of leisure known as my "academic years." But since the fall of 2003 (during which time I have not taken a vacation, until this past week), there's been nothing utopian about what I've been doing. It's been about compromise; about saying, "Hey, I dreamed up all that stuff while I had time and space to dream but now I actually have to do it." And as much as I railed against consumerism in all its many forms, I still have taken on a new-found fondness for buying new clothes. And as much as I remain committed to peace and justice through my writing and my occupation, I've also started missing church more often. And as much as I still see myself as a radical, anti-commercial artist, I also recognize the benefits of networking to establish some kind of traditional theatrical credibility. In other words, things are never really gonna be all one way. As Susan Sontag has said, "The very nature of thinking is but."

I wrote a play this past year, since I started working my job, called Charity, and it took me a long time to write and it's different from my other plays. In some ways, it's more cynical about the world. It invetsigates the truth behind various ideals and in the end it sort of concludes on a note of ambiguity as to whether they can survive in this world. My other plays had "messages," as much as I tried to hide them, but this one is more of an investiagtion. I'm trying to work something out. The process of living through 2004 has made me question a lot of things, most of all my own assumptions about what I believe in, and how I see the world. And that's all for the better. Questions can only make our beliefs more meaningful, right? If they withstand that test?

I just came back from a reading of an older play of mine, called Three Days in the Tomb, which a lot of people have found to be somewhat polemical and message driven. I thought it was a very good reading and it really struck me as I sat through it that there was far too much in the script of me giving the message and giving it again, unchanged. Seen in the light of all that 2004 has taught me, Three Days seems restricted to me, caught inside its own ideological intentions. It feels very "conservative" to be saying that, like I'm T.S. Eliot or somebody telling you that political art is less worthy than something created for purely aesthetic reasons. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying that it's harder for me to think in messages these days and that's good. I'm gonna start re-working the play soon and expanding all of those contradictions. Yes, but--

Does this make me a "realist" now? Is that what I'm saying? Have I switched from Dorothy Day to Condi Rice? I don't think so. But I guess I have learned that Dorothy's followers (of which I'm still one) could learn something from the way that Condi sees the world. Without ever having to deny their values. They have to acknowledge that there's always going to be a but.

What does this have to do with a trip to France? If you can figure out all of this connections, then I should probably marry you -- or pay you. I hope people post comments on this blog entry because it's only starting to make sense to me and I wonder what others feel.

I'm back from a trip that had a huge effect on me and I'm not prepared to say what it was. But.

There's gonna be a lot more of this.


off the map

I'm writing this from Paris, where I seem to have found myself for the past several days. This has felt like a vacation completely outside of time. Unmoored from all schedules, all responsibility. In the profoundest sense, I have felt for the past week as if I don't exist.

Travel agencies often talk about vacations as "escapes," but they often don't feel like them. You're full of enthusiasm to see the sights, to get to know a place or to go out eating and drinking. I haven't been doing much of that. I've been to Paris two times before and I guess I didn't realize how much I'd already seen, how familiar with everything I'd be. Absolutely no inclination to return to the Musée D'Orsay or to go inside Notre Dame. No inclination to do much of anything really except to spend some time with David and Mike. But time spent mostly tracing paths around the city, not going anywhere, not even spending much money at all. Haven't had too many big special meals, haven't really even painted the town red.

It hasn't felt so much like I'm in Paris, more like I'm nowhere. It's fantastic to realize that no one back home knows where I am. I feel like I've disappeared. The "real" world of my life in New York feels completely gone, infinitely distant (even though I'll be returning there in about 48 hours). There's an Emma Thompson/Antonio Banderas movie coming out in Paris this week that was never, to my knowledge, released in the US (it got terrible reviews in international festivals). The title is "Disparition." That's me. Disparu.

There's a primal thrill to this feeling, like that moment in Tom Sawyer when everyone thinks he's dead and he gets to watch his own funeral. I hadn't realized what a burden my life had become until I was released from it, released from everything. Because even all of the things I treasue - my job, my theqter projects, time spent with my friends, New York nightlife - they possess a cumulative weight. How fantastic to sneak out the backdoor of your life (a life that could hardly be much better than it is, frankly), to sneak out and really be gone.


the turtle carries his home on his back

Last night, I reconnected with a trusted friend: my Dana Design Swift Traveler backpack (the one I have, unlike the picture, is dark green). When I took it down from the shelf above my door and opened it up, it had that musty air of nostalgia. We've been through a lot together, she and I: Eastern Europe, England, Ireland, Russia, Japan, and a trek across the United States. We've camped out in tents, spent long hours in cars and trains, pounded the pavement on city streets. She may look a little bit worse for wear, but I like to think she's just "lived in." Lived in a lot. I practically lived out of this backpack for about two and a half years of my life, the "wandering years."

It's been a year and a half since I've gone anywhere. The only trips I've taken since moving to New York have been on the Chinatwon bus up to Boston to spend holiday weekends with my family. This trip is different. I'm going further away and I'm going through old rituals: packing up my passport, placing toiletries in the convenient Dana Design pouches, putting my journal in there for in-transit meditations, filling up the sleek "scout pack" for day trips once I get to my desitination (some have compared the look of this little detachable pack to a turtle shell, not inappropriately).

I'm going to Paris, a city I've been to before. On the list of places I wanted to return to, I must admit that it was not the highest on my list. I've been there twice before and it was not a city I fell in love with (Red-baiters take note: I much prefer Moscow and East Berlin). I'm going because Air France had cheap flights and because my friends David and Mike are there. All the circumstances are perfect for a relatively cheap, much needed getaway. Istanbul, Bombay and Rio will have to wait. I don't want to do anything while I'm there. No cathedrals, no museums. I want to hang out at spots my friends know and wander around, soaking in the daily life.

Everyone seems surprised when I tell them I'm going to Paris on vacation. It seems unusual, unexpected -- and I guess it is. There was a time when I was always traveling, packing and unpacking this backpack and hauling it from one temporary stop after another. These familiar traveling rituals seem quaint now that I have a "home," now that I'm setting down roots in New York. But Menno House can't be my home for long. I'm already starting to think and worry about the next journey, the struggle to find an apartment in New York's cutthroat real estate market next fall. The challenge of reconfiguring my life all over again, made all the harder by how successfully everything has ended up this past year and a half.

But I don't need to think about that for a few months at least. Now it's goodbye to work for a week and goodbye to New York. Bonjour, vacances!


unbearable lightness

Young gay men in online personal ads like to tell you that they're "not into drama." You read this all the time. And, by this, they do not mean that they're uninterested the newest revival of a play by Ibsen or John Millington Synge (usually quite the reverse). What they mean is that they don't want any "drama" from you, the prospective date. No histrionics, no intense emotions, no accusations, no neediness, nothing over-the-top. Save that for the stage.

So many people write this on their profiles, that it leads you to wonder, "Who's 'into' drama? Who would actually enjoy that kind of painful, overly emotional intensity?" Well, as a matter of fact, I would. Or rather, I might.

In the past few weeks, I've been doing an awful lot of listening. Listening to friends on my cell phone or in person, hearing about their relationships. Long-term relationships that have been going on for a year or more. New relationships that are hot and heavy with sexual passion. Simmering relationships that are building towards something. Relationships that all of these people are pretty worked up about, relationships that have some kind of vast all-consuming impact on their emotional lives.

I've always been a decent listener in these kinds of situations, but in the past few years I've really developed my skills. A while back, I participated in an informal series of workshops on listening run by a Chinese Catholic nun (no joke) who has done a lot of work on conflict resolution and peace negotiation. I began to learn the importance of listening objectively, of reflecting back to people what they themselves are telling you rather than interjecting or imposing your own agenda or interpretation. I'm always talking to my friends about trying to achieve balance, to look at things objectively, to go after what's healthy for them and not to make unrealistic expectations. I'm also always telling them, in different ways, to look at what they have and to see that it's good. Like Friar Laurence in Romeo & Juliet, I'm always saying, "There art thou happy."

And it seems to help. Seems to calm people down, to get them to see the situation anew. It leads them to new ways that they can approach these intractible problems with lovers and potential lovers. You can't avoid the drama, but you can manage it.

And people are always thanking me and telling me that I seem so well-adjusted, sensible. They tell me that the advice I've brought them around to is "absolutely right." How do I have this preternaturally mature sensibility for what it takes to maintain a healthy, stable, committed romantic relationship? Perhaps because I've never had one.

The great irony of it all is how trivial my romantic affairs are right now. They have their passing pleasures and they have their annoyances, too. I become mildly frustrated at times with some guys who I've been seeing off and on for a while when they send me mixed signals or act weird or confuse me with their behavior. They don't call and then when they do they act all lovey-dovey and then they ignore me again. But I don't get worked up really and I don't feel too rejected because I don't have a whole lot invested in these interactions. I haven't really shared a lot with any of the guys I've been seeing and I haven't really come to care about them (or them about me) so their behavior doesn't really get to me. The annoyance isn't deep, it's superficial -- a mosquito bite rather than an open wound.

I love the word "blithely." I associate it with 1930s screwball heroines who carry on blithely in the face of comically complicated situations. I'm living my life quite blithely these days. Yes, days at my job can be long and frustrating. I sometimes wish that my artistic career were moving further faster. And I wish that I could meet someone who's either a) ready to sleep with me anytime we get together or b) my soulmate. But these aren't really grave concerns. Fundamentally, I like my life. No matter what frustration I may be feeling at the moment, I know that things are on the whole moving in a positive general direction and this keeps me well-balanced. I blithely go about from one thing to another, bouncing back from little obstacles and troubles. I don't really need to take any of the advice that I give out to friends. I live it. But I live it in situations that are remarkably less intense than theirs.

Deep down, I worry that it's all too balanced, that nothing really gets to me and that maybe it never will. You're supposed to come to a measured, mature understanding of life after going through all that messy emotional painfulness first. So where am I headed? Where does all this "wisdom" come from -- did I pick it up by reading books? Is it real at all if I haven't earned it?


popery potpourri

In Harvard President Lawrence Summers's controversial remarks about the possible differences in intrinsic aptitude between men and women, I was struck by the following:

...the data will, I am confident, reveal that Catholics are substantially underrepresented in investment banking, which is an enormously high-paying
profession in our society; that white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association; and that Jews are very substantially underrepresented in farming and in agriculture.

He's operating under the assumption that all three examples are commonly accepted observations. Sure, there aren't a lot of white basketball stars and there aren't a lot of Jewish farmers but, I asked myself on first reading it, would most people instinctively assent to the assertion that there aren't a lot of Catholic investment bankers? Has anyone ever given thought to that? And, if it is the case, why is it so?

I read those remarks a couple of weeks ago. Then today, at my non-profit job, I was mailing copies of our newsletter to the directors of our partner service agencies. I filled out one envelope for a man named "Joe de Genova" and I thought, "Oh, a nice Italian name." Then the second one, for another social service agency, was to "Sister Paulette LoMonaco." An Italian nun. The Executive Director of the organization I work for is an Irish-American woman named [deleted to protect identity], who used to work for Catholic Charities and wrote her Master's thesis on the Catholic pacifist monk Thomas Merton. Obviously, the Catholics are underrepresented in investment banking because they're too busy helping people!

There are, of course, many ways to be Catholic. You can be Mel Gibson. You can picket carrying pictures of fetuses outside abortion clinics. But it seemed like Larry Summers and I (and perhaps Max Weber?) were on to something.

Tonight I was at a teachers' training for a youth theater program that I volunteer for. I'm one of the founding faculty members in their "Community Performance School," where kids from the outer boroughs are offered theater classes completely free of charge by professional volunteer artists. There's a lot of philosophy behind what this community does and one of the central ideas is "radical acceptance": the kids who work in this and the other youth programs are told to face up to the fact that they are poor, something that is very uncomfortable for them to do sometimes. But the idea is that one can only develop from a realistic understanding of one's actual circumstances. You have to radically accept who you are so that you know where you're coming from.

Conversely, many of the teachers need to accept that they are affluent (I'm not going to use the word "rich", because I'm not and never have been, but I am indeed quite affluent). Not just in monetary terms but (even moreso) in educational and cultural copportunities and experiences. That's what I bring with me when I come to teach these kids. Our facilitator this evening said, "Lots of rich people are taught to feel guilty about their privilege. We don't want anyone to feel that way here. We want them to acknowledge it and share what they've been given with people who don't have it." The idea isn't to understand or to empathize, but to accept that we come from different circumstances, with all that that entails both positively and negatively. I'm giving short shrift to the arguments, but they really do make a lot of sense. They're really right on the money, in fact.

Now, at these teacher trainings I'm always introduced as "the guy who went to Yale and who is a Rhodes Scholar etc. etc." and these other people who don't know me get this picture in their heads of Ivy League privilege. My housemates get that picture of me sometimes, too, I think -- as if I grew up eating Buffalo mozzarella and imported Balsamic vinegar during our weekend trips to Tuscany. I might eat that food now and I did indeed go on a trip with my family to Italy recently, but when I was growing up I was eating Shake n' Bake chicken and I wasn't going on vacations anywhere.

The Shake n' Bake was not about being cheap. We were upper middle class certainly. But that's not the way my father or my aunt behaved. They were more likely to drive a car into the ground or wear a wool sweater until it had almost no armpits before they would buy a new one. My father had famously accrued so much unused vacation time working for the Justice Department that, at one point, he could have taken an entire year off of work with pay. Growing up no one in my family ever treated themselves. We were not spenders, not consumers. We retained that anti-materialist streak which I associate with our Catholicism.

Abstaining. Self-abnegation. These are the hallmarks of my Boston Irish relatives. My grandfather was a butcher and my father worked his way through law school. I, great-grandson of immigrants, was the first in my family to go to an Ivy League school. When I think of my family history, I don't think of myself as a son of privilege. I think of my aunt and uncle who gave up material comforts to join religious orders -- helping the poor, protesting against war and injustice. I think of my father who has spent his entire legal career working for the government, never in private practice, satisfied with his comfortable but hardly exorbitant government-issue salary. They give to charity, they don't buy a lot of stuff. They don't take a lot of time for themselves. In fact, I think a lot of my early resentment of my stepmother (who introduced me, my father and everyone in our family to imported Balsamic vinegar) stemmed from my sense that she was corrupting my father's anti-materialism. I saw her as an agent of bourgeoisification.

In these discussions of "privilege" that we were having at the teacher training, I inevitably felt like shouting out, "OK, so I didn't grow up in the inner-city, I don't have any realtives who were incarcerated, but I'm not your typical white rich kid either!" I want to make these distinctions, want to specify that, although I may never have felt material deprivation, I am also not accustomed to extreme luxury. Those are my instincts, but then I check myself. On the spectrum of privileged white youths mine may not have been extravgant but it was more than comfortable.

The biggest privilege that I never appreciated until this year was not having to take out any school loans or financial aid. This was partly because I was an only child, partly because I could apply my deceased mother's Social Security dividends to my education, but it was mostly because my father was well-off enough to pay. And so I graduated without any debt. I was then privileged to be able to choose a job doesn't pay much without worrying how I would pay off my loans. I got a whole mess of academic opportunities, I was exposed gratis to whole lot of broadening experiences that helped me get the kind of jobs I'm doing now. I worked really hard, but I was starting out from a very favorable position.

What does all of this have to do with being Catholic? I guess I've digressed a little. But these reflections have helped me understand some aspects of the cultural divide between me and, say, my black and Latino co-workers who earn the same salary I do and pay out regularly for big-ticket status items like an IPod or DirectTV or designer label jackets. It's a sign of pride, coming from the communities they grew up in, to be able to buy those things, to have earned the money to buy them. I, on the other hand, am inclined to want to give things away, to survive with as few material goods as possible. When you consider my educational background, I'm deliberately choosing to work for a salary well below my earning potential which, to a lot of people with less than me, wouldn't make much sense.

This is where Larry Summers doesn't get the whole story. (Almost nothing, I'm starting to realize, is really explained by "intrinsic" qualities.) I might be inclined to live the way I do because I was raised Catholic, but I'm able to choose it because of all the opportunities I've been given from childhood onward. Opportunities that I did absolutely nothing to deserve.


the buck stops where?

Yesterday, I saw a documentary called Gunner Palace about the daily lives of soldiers living out of one of Uday Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. It's a great movie and I hope it gets wide distribution. The strength of the film is that it takes its time to capture the texture of daily life for the soliders -- patrolling the streets during the day, night raids looking for suspected terrorists, partying by the pool, rapping, playing guitar, training the Iraqi Civil Defense forces, interacting with Iraqi translators and civilians. It gets you into the rhythm of life there and also keeps you attuned to the length of time that the soliders have in their tours of duty. Titles on the screen announce how long each individual has left in Baghdad: 300 days, 200 days... The movie is funny and full of attitude (it takes its cues mostly from the soldiers themselves). It has a great soundtrack, too, featuring lots of rap and freestyling performed by the servicemen. In fact, the picture of war it shows is remarkbly like David O. Russell's Three Kings, a movie that, though fictionalized, seems with each passing year more perceptive, more accurate, more amazingly ahead of its time.

In an effort to demonstrate that this film is not Farenheit 9/11, the marketing for Gunner Palace emphasizes that it's the soliders own stories, told by them, with "no politics" and "no B.S." What they mean I think is that the film is not about partisanship, though it does confront tough issues. In one of the most powerful moments, right at the end, a solider says, "I don't think that, in the history of the world, a person has ever killed another persona and something good came out of it."

Watching it in a dowtown New York movie theater (the Angelika) with an audience that was almost certainly made up of anti-war liberals was an interesting experience. Very few people responded vocally (though I laughed quite a lot myself). It's not an agitational piece like Michael Moore's film; it won't leave you shaken in quite the same way that most of us were after watching Lila Lipscombe's grief. In fact, the soliders continually express their perception that, unless he or shew has a family member in the service, the average American isn't really thinking about what's going on in Iraq.

I think that's true. It's certainly been my experience, despite the fact that my unlce, a retired Marine, is over in Baghdad right now. For most of 2004 I followed casualty reports in the New York Times with a self-satisfied sense of indignation that fuelled my opposition to Bush. Since the Iraqi election, there has been far less coverage of the war on the front pages (it has fallen off the radar screen much in the way that the Afghan campaign has). Instead, I get worked up about things like Bush's Social Security and Medicaid proposals. How have we forgotten so easily when it seemed like we cared so much?

Opposition to this war offers a fascinating case study of how our society has changed since the 1960s. Yes, the anti-war campaigns that began in 2003 as the war was being planned did seem to signal a widespread re-invigoration of protest culture. Everyone wore buttons and went to marches. Everyone posted their favorite anti-Bush cartoons on their refrigerators. This was especially true in New York over the summer: during the buildup to the Republican National Convention protest became the "new black." Oppostion to the ruling party was a fashion statement. Time Out New York offered a guide to protest activity, along with its club and restaurant listings, recognizing that marching would be the "in" thing to do for the month of August. But it now seems like it was a second-rate, knockoff version of dissent. Did society ever come to a halt? Was anything really disrupted at all?

People got worked up about protesting because of media saturation, but the commitment didn't run deep. Once the news cycle was over, the population at large moved on. Include myself in this assessment: when I get emails now from the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition about marches on Washington, I tend to delete them. I feel bad about it, but somehow it all seems irrelevant, ineffective.

Part of the superficiality of the 2004 protest fad was that it got entangled to our cult of personality. Bush became a figure to rage against, a stock enemy. We were busy focusing on him rather than on the issues. Much of the progressive rhetoric in 2004 never got beyond "Bush is stupid," "Bush is a hypocrite" or "Bush is a Christian fundamentalist." Opposition to Vietnam transcended party lines: the war was waged by Johnson and Nixon. What would we be saying if it were Kerry (who voted for the war) in the White House now? Would things really be any different? Farenheit 9/11, powerful and funny as it was, contributed to this failing. I can see that now after watching Gunner Palace. It muddied its critique with too many clips of Bush gaffes to make us feel satisfied that we on the East Coast were smarter than the man in charge.

What we needed was something to challenge us, to make us ask if we are not equally responsible for allowing all of this to happen (and to continue to happen), for continuing to pay taxes, continuing to support a tepidly oppositional Democratic party. That's tough stuff and I certianly don't think that I'm able to dish it out, given the level of apathy and political inconsistency that I've fallen into recently. But that's the conversation we need to start.

The politics of blame allow everyone to be comfortable. The politics of collective responsibility force us to admit that as long as our nation continues to wage unjust war, torture detainees, or to target the poor and the marginalized, each one of us is morally diminished.


job satisfaction

High on the endorphins of my first ever salsa class, I had a little epiphany as I came home tonight. My job(s) right now all involve facilitating some form of fun. Being a fun-maker has become my specialty.

At work today, we offered our first salsa class for the tenants, something I've wanted to have in the building for a long time. And I was pleased with the turnout -- six people, men and women of different ages and abilities, all seeming to enjoy themselves, not wanting to stop when the time was up. On its best days, my job is all about this: bringing people together, allowing them to get to know one another, to explore their creativity, building trust, having a great time. On Monday, I facilitated a fabulous session of our long-running Drama Group in which our tenants were reading free-writing that they'd done about their family history and then everyone was up on their feet acting out the characters. We have a tight-knit group now and I'm amazed at the lack of hesitation and unself-consciousness of these people who have never been trained as performers.

It's rubbed off elsewhere in my life. I am paid to be a professional party-planner, and then, last Sunday for the Oscars, I planned my own personal party (by far the largest crowd I've ever had). I brought more people together, fed them, tried to keep them entertained and intermingling.

I growing comfortable in that role of "facilitator" or "prompter" -- pushing people to expand their boundaries, to become creative. My theater projects recently have been with young people and they've mostly involved me making them comfortable so that they can create, not teaching or directing so much as coaxing them into offering something of themselves up for the group. Even in this new project that I'm working on with Kyle, Desiree, and Michael, I'm fulfilling that same role -- not writing the script but creating "assignments" for Des and Michael, trying to come up with prompts for their creativity, to spur them on.

It's easier than ever these days for me to talk to people, all kinds of people. I think it's a sort of occupational fringe benefit. What does this mean about where my career is headed? No longer an auteur, instead a sous-chef stirring the pot, getting all the flavors to mix? Not exactly, I can still be individiually creative when I have to. And there's always a certain amount of healthy egotism involved in leading a group. But I'm learning methods of collaboration. I'm learning patience and trust. As job skills go, those are pretty good ones.