Arbitrary Semantic Choices in Writing

You like that title? It almost sounds academic, when in reality, this post comes about because I’m in the middle of a major project at work and this idea of arbitrary semantic choices has been a minor frustration for me.

Arbitrary decisions in language are nothing new. In the book You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws and the Power of Words (oh my, no Oxford comma in that title…), Robert Green pointed out that much of the “rules” in Elements of Style, that near-Bible from which most future writers establish their hard-and-fast grammatical rules at an early stage, are arbitrary decisions that William Strunk codified due to personal taste, and E. B. White enshrined as rules forever flung in the faces of High School students, everywhere. Now to be sure, I follow quite a few of those rules as obsessively as any other writer. Much of what is found in the pages of Elements is common enough and accepted enough that we may as well call them “rules,” but they are, in fact largely not rules, as opposed to personal preferences given the gravity of rules due to time and repetition. Some of these rules — and not just the rules in Elements, which is a fairly simple and non-expansive tome — are not necessary to follow in order to accurately convey meaning. Very rarely does a split infinitive confuse a reader. Ending sentences with a preposition is a throwback to Latin, where sentences could not end with prepositions. I still have trouble letting this one go, but (deep breath) it is okay to end a sentence with a preposition (Hell, half the time when I try to rewrite a sentence to not end in a preposition, the linguistic gymnastics required makes its construction highly awkward).

Am I here to have an academic discussion about grammar rules versus guidelines? Well, no. Not really.

I’m here because of the word “if.”

“If,” as you may or may not know, indicates a conditional statement. “When” does, too, and both are very similar in their usages, but there is a key difference. The difference is that when the outcome of the conditional statement is not guaranteed — for example, whether proper paperwork has been submitted with a formal request — “if” is the proper choice. “When” only applies when the outcome is pretty much guaranteed. There is a difference between “if the appropriate paperwork is included with the request” and “when the appropriate paperwork is included with the request.” That difference is, namely, people regularly do not include the appropriate paperwork in the goddamn request!

So, “if,” am I right?

Apparently not.

The coordinators of this particular project that is giving me some amount of grief have declared war on the word “if.” Their policy is to always replace “if” with “when,” regardless of the proper usage. Now it’s their project, and ultimately, I’ll do whatever they want. If they want “when,” then they’ll just replace it after I submit the documents. I can’t stop that, and other than raising a bit of a grammatically ideological stink, I will let it it go. But it’s wrong. It’s an odd arbitrary choice they are making because, I believe, they feel that corporate-slash-executive types don’t want to see “if.” Because reasons.

Similarly, “should” and “must” are forbidden. Now, these are process documents, and “should” is pretty wishy-washy when outlining a series of steps that one is expected to follow, but “must” has pretty important usages, here. There are more than a few steps that, if not followed, shit will break in very ugly ways. “Must,” usually italicized for emphasis, makes a bit of a point in a stale list of steps. “You must do this because if you don’t, you will destroy sensitive data, wipe out the backups, and kick start the zombie apocalypse.” Yes, if you are following these procedures, you do the steps. But sometimes, it’s well worth throwing in a little extra imperative language. No one is going to be confused by using “must.” Or “if” versus “when.” And in fact, “if/then” is a staple of IT, so I’m more inclined to use that construction.

And that’s what this is about: these arbitrary requirements do little or nothing to improve understanding, and sometimes make it harder to understand. “When the proper paperwork is provided” is great and all, but what if it isn’t?

Which leads back to my original point about the arbitrary nature of some grammar rules (not all of them are arbitrary… if your subject/verb agreement is wrong, you are wrong, and I will cut you). Yes, we writers and editors and language junkies like to be right. We really like to cling to old rules that, in practice, do not hinder understanding. In some instances, the old rules cause misunderstanding because no one uses them anymore. If you’re confused by the sentence “that information is what I based my decision on” because it ends with a preposition, and don’t find “that is the information upon which I based my decision” to be a bit stumbling and awkward… well, you’re probably a grammar nerd (for the record, I like the latter construction… there’s a gravitas about it). But I’m betting that there isn’t a lot of confusion around the first statement.

I eagerly await angry replies from my grammar nerd friends. Bring ’em on!

On My Writing: The Male Gaze

One of my current up-in-the-air plays (of three that I’m working on but – apparently – not managing to finish) is posing an interesting problem. One, I’m having my usual “can’t seem to focus on this and get motivated” problem, but I’ve since come to accept this as a normal part of my creative process. It’ll pass, eventually, but not without me vaguebooking a bit about it from time to time. It also poses a problem that it’s an only slightly fictionalized story about the life of one of my friends. Since I wouldn’t write about someone’s boring life, you can bet that it is super colorful.

The bigger problem, though, is that ever pesky “male gaze” issue.

According to that great testament to all lazy research, Wikipedia, the male gaze is:

“…a concept coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey. It refers to the way visual arts are structured around a masculine viewer. It describes the tendency in visual culture to depict the world and women from a masculine point of view and in terms of men’s attitudes.”

Basically (though that is pretty basic, there), it means that as a man, writing about a woman, I’m likely to – no, going to – inaccurately portray this character because I’m not a woman, myself. Look, guys, it’s almost as if my previous post about privilege and not being able to fully understand an issue that doesn’t impact me directly applies in this instance!

It’s a worry, particularly for this story, because my goal is to portray this character as a strong, driven, dedicated woman who is also vulnerable, kind, and open-minded. If you can’t see where the male gaze is going to go haywire in that short list of descriptors, then you clearly aren’t as big a fan of Joss Whedon as I am. I like this character. She calls out to me. And I’m totally going to blow it in portraying, realistically, the character of the person who inspires her.

I’m already trying to address this, though, in the way I’m writing the play. To acknowledge the male-gaziness of it all, I’ve decided to frame the story as a male writer writing the story of his friend’s colorful life. I directly address the fact that they both know that he’s going to screw up the POV to some degree. To avoid any misunderstanding as to the spirit of the story, the very first line of the play, before the lights are even up, is, “Let’s get one thing straight… I am not your manic pixie dream girl, got it?” Of course, I plan to add in some sexual tension between the two later, because drama!

So my solution may not be pretty, but I think writing a play about a male writing a story about a female and explicitly referencing the problematic aspects of the male gaze (there are a few opportunities for light humor there, too), I can better manage audience expectations. Of course, the whole mess will rely heavily on my friend, and on my own ability to really listening to what she has to say to me. Listen, ask questions, document, add drama (I’m still going to take some dramatic license, of course… it’s what I do).

It’s a recipe for… well, something, anyway. A thing. That… that has words.

(Coming soon, Ben laments on his inability to end a post without just petering away… like a… kind of weak thing.)

Politics, Privilege, and Shitty Metaphors

It may well be time for me to get political. For one thing, I need to write more, and I think about political topics often. Perhaps more importantly, this upcoming election is shaping up to be important, and if I can do nothing else, I can try to make solid, reasoned arguments in favor of what I see as the direction this country needs to travel.

In doing so, it’s important that I make some disclaimers, first. I am liberal. Very liberal. I consider Obama one of the best moderate Republican presidents we’ve had in a long time. I have climbed aboard the Sanders train and am pulling the whistle. Toot-toot, motherfucker. I am also a godless heathen (atheist and proud of it). I consider myself an ally of the LGBTQ community.

I am also a straight, white male in the upper middle class bracket (if such notions as “middle class” can still be said to exist), which means we have to have a little talk about privilege, first.

Wait, wait! Come back! I know some of you may have turned off at the mention of privilege, or are already queueing up your angry comments. Let me try to talk you off those ledges, though, with my thoughts on privilege.

Yes, I have privilege, and everything I’m going to write has to be seen through the lens of the straight, white male with comfortable income in America. When I try to present a political argument or point, or make a social observation, I always try to remember that I am often not making this point or argument from the perspective of those most affected by the ramifications of it.

Here’s how I look at privilege: privilege is not what I am given for being a straight, white American male. Privilege is what I don’t have to struggle against because of it.

Crappy metaphor time!

Consider life as a 400-meter dash. Everyone running it has to run that same 400 meters from start to finish to consider the race completed. Because I grew up in a culture of privilege, I get to start right at that starting line (or, well, close enough… it’s not like I’m heir to major financial empire or anything. In fact, we were on food stamps when I was young, and while that means I struggled a little more, it was considerably easier for my family to rise above those beginnings due, again, to no one actively making our social advancement more difficult). I still have to run 400 meters, to be sure. I’m not getting a head start. I don’t only have to run 300 meters.

Some folks, though, while still having to run the 400 meters from start to finish, have to start behind me. Minorities. Women. Those born in poverty. “But Ben,” I hear some of you saying, “that’s just the same as if everyone started at the starting line, and you got to start 100m ahead of it!” It is similar, I’ll grant you that, but there are subtle differences. Privilege is about how close to the starting line you get to begin your race, not how far ahead of it you get to line up. Depending on where you define the baseline, you may find some differences. If I define the baseline as my own situation, then I suppose you could say that someone who is born into wealth gets a head start, but I don’t define the start line based on my societal position. I have privilege, but I could have even more privilege. However, I’m still super-privileged in the grand scheme of things.

The point I’m trying to make with poorly thought out metaphors is this: when I support the LGBTQ community, I try my best to remember that—by not being LGBTQ myself—I cannot pretend to speak for them; I can only speak with them. I’ve never experienced hatred flung their way by bigots. I don’t fear for my life when I go out for the evening. I don’t know what it’s like, therefore, I cannot comment from a position of 100% awareness. I can, and will, still comment, and still offer my support and opinion, but I know full well that I do so from a position of safety and comfort. The same goes for racial issues, gender issues, class issues, and so on. Religion is the one area I’m in the minority (at least in the great state of Texas), but it is trivially easy to keep my views to myself. I hate to appropriate language from other groups who are targets of bigotry and hatred (I almost used different language, but decided to leave this in as a great example of privilege in action), but I “pass” as religious until I indicate otherwise.

So please, as you read anything I write going forward, know this: I benefit immensely from privilege and try to remain aware of that as much as humanly possible. However, if I overstep my bounds, please call me out on it. I still make mistakes. I still understand things incorrectly based on my lack of first-hand experience. If I am wrong or misstep, I want to know so that I can correct myself.

Okay, with that out of the way, on with the show…

I’d Prefer Not To Be A Curmudgeon, Thanks

There is a thing that has been going on that, while I’ve seen a lot of on Facebook or Twitter, has been one of those things that happens all the time. Older people decrying the predilections of younger people. I am as guilty of it as anyone else, especially when I’ve had a few drinks and someone is playing music that isn’t from the 90s (an era in which I shunned music from the 90s for music from the 60s because “hipster” wasn’t a defined thing yet). “Kids these days,” one might remark, “and their taste in [music/art/movies/books/technology/social interactions/etc.].” Many of us forget that, at some point, we were the kids with the different tastes from our parents’ generations. We wail and moan that the shit today is considerably worse than the shit from our days. We compare lyrics of cherry-picked songs we enjoyed to cherry-picked songs that are specifically chosen based on perhaps simplistic lyrics from current artists that we don’t like. As if Nirvana, or Social Distortion, or the Clash, or the Beatles, or anyone else didn’t have the occasional turd or two. We opine that kids spend more time communicating on phones and computers than in person. We often cry, “but when I was your age, we managed to plan stuff out and get together without smart phones!” Some of us post pictures of rotary phones or dial-up modems on social media and challenge anyone who will listen to dare to be old enough to know what this particular artifact of some long-ancient time might be. As if being alive during a certain period in history is worthy of praise.

Again, I’ve done this. I am not accusing without reflecting. The ruts from the rocking chair on my porch are well-worn, and my cane well-shaken at many a child who dared venture upon my lawn. I turn 40 in just over 2 months. I still refuse to let go of what I see as the “proper” use of certain words, like “literally” and “decimated,” simply because popular usage has left historically proper usage in the dust. I still don’t care for Taylor Swift. Hell, I still use “Taylor Swift” as my stand-in for “I don’t get music these days.” I know maybe two Taylor Swift songs. My daughter, eight, just got a Taylor Swift album. She may end up loving Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift may be the artist who “gets her.” I may want desperately to introduce her to Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the Butthole Surfers as the definitive musical library that she should love goddammit.

But you know what? I also loved Ah-Ha. And Europe. And Starship. Not Jefferson Starship or Jefferson Airplane, but “We Built this City” Starship.

Truth is, I find myself hard pressed to complain about this generation. Sure, I may not like all the music they like, but there is some great stuff out there. I won’t get into what I like that is current (*coughMusecoughandholycrapdisturbed’scoverofsoundofsilenceisgreat*) because someone will have an opinion on it and it won’t match my opinion and I will, of course, be wrong on the Internet.

Language? Grammar? Okay, some things I won’t let go of. “Literally” has a very specific meaning (screw recent definition changes), “decimate” means destroy only a measly 10% of something (not completely wipe out), and “penultimate” will always and forever mean the second to last, but I have to let go of other things.

One of those big areas, especially since I have a child, is how the younger generation communicates. Look, you may not think that kids being on social media all the time is healthy, but I’m going to suggest this: when I was growing up, I associated with only those people I shared geographic proximity to, with the exception of family and few friends that I’d moved away from and wrote letters to (ending sentences with prepositions… can I let go of that one, too?). My daughter will be able to communicate with people all over the freakin’ world, with ease. Yeah, yeah, there’s a risk she’ll end up communicating with someone who has ill-intentions, but it’s small (especially since we’ve been working on having her be smart about how she uses the computer, and also, overblown risk) compared to her potential exposure to a world I never had exposure to. I had one pen-pal in Alaska, I think, through a school program once. She’ll be able to engage people everywhere with ease. The kind of understanding she can gain from that — the awareness of the larger world — is, in my opinion, unmatched by any opportunities I had as a child.

And shit, I wish I’d had a cell phone when I was younger. I might not have accidentally stood up my future wife once in college if I had (she was — and inexplicably still is — very understanding).

Therefore, in 2016 and beyond, I vow not to be a curmudgeon about stuff. I promise to remember that the stuff I liked and did was both important and meaningless in equal measure, as was the stuff my parents liked and did, as did their parents, ad nauseam.

I encourage you to do the same. I mean, don’t like what you don’t like, but for Christ’s sake, stop holding up your own likes as some sort of badge of superiority. Put down your cane, get off your rocking chair on your porch, and have a beer or something.

On Functional Immortality

I’m creeping into an age group where I begin to think more on the issue of mortality. Not because people in my own generation are dying around me (though it happens), but because the generation ahead of me – aunts, uncles, older colleagues, etc. – are starting to reach the phase where it’s not uncommon for them to shuffle off their mortal coils. I often think about mankind’s never ending quest for immortality. Until recently, actual immortality – instead of mystical immortality via religious conventions – was relegated to horror and science fiction. As a race, we ceaselessly explore immortality, and it’s usually done with trepidation, if not outright fear. Vampires have immortality at the cost of feeding on human blood, usually a fatal process for the victims. Zombies are immortality of a sort, or at least, the idea of resurrection (another way of beating death) gone horribly awry. Immortal alien beings tend to show disdain for humanity because, after all, a finite human life takes place in the blink of an eye to an endless creature. Even various incarnations of god have a tendency to trivialize human life, promising that the short stretch of mortality we all suffer through, slogging our way towards eventual death, is but a small stain of shit before an otherwise glorious afterlife.

Science reality (as opposed to science fiction) struggles with finding ways to “cure” the aging process – the inevitable breakdown of cells that eventually leads to organ failure and death regardless of how well you treat your body. It’s often addressed with worst case scenarios, at least by the pragmatic. Scenarios where only the rich will be able to afford a cure to aging when it’s released (color me cynical, but I assume that this is exactly what will happen should Big Pharma create a non-Oil of Olay anti-aging cream, or some other such nonsense). Others posit that without people dying to make room for births, the population explosion will result in a scenario that will make dying from natural causes preferable to living on an overpopulated world where, likely, one has to wait for population slots to open (due to death from unnatural causes) before having children. Given how the invisible hand of market capitalism likes to touch us all in our bathing suit areas, I suspect it wouldn’t be long before business was booming in the “murder for hire” field. Want to have a baby but there aren’t any open population slots? No problem! We’ll open a slot for you, for the low, low price of ten-gazillion dollars. Call Strategic Reproduction Services, today!

Immortality in that way is, in my unscientific opinion, unworkable until we can populate other planets (and we’d better find a way to get out of our own solar system to do it… otherwise, we’d be facing the same overpopulation problems in a nebulous future). I think, though, that the best hope we have as a society for practical immortality lies in a digital setting. I think it’s very likely, given the progression of digital storage media and computer processing power, that we eventually will have systems where we can replicate the neurological pathways of the human mind, both in its capacity for data storage and speed at which it processes external and internal stimulation. When we get to that point, we should be able to upload a digital copy of all that we are – our memories, our individual responses to externalities, out emotional states, etc. – into a digital world. Immortality could then be possible, for as long, at least, as someone keeps the machines plugged in.

This does, naturally, bring up a whole host of philosophical hiccups.

If you’re the kind of person who believes that what makes humans human is the presence of a soul – whether a divinely crafted “energy”[1] source, a state of mental enlightenment that can be massaged in your feet, the sum total of various past lives. If what makes us human is the existence of a soul, than it is unlikely that it can be quantified in such a way as to be digitally stored. And honestly, if that’s the case, then the process of death and the reuniting of the soul with the great cosmic whatever-you-call-it is damn near the same thing I’m describing here. That said, I take a more scientific view of what makes us human.

Who we are is defined by the ways we experience the world, how our brain processes those experiences, what chemical and hormonal changes it triggers to give meaning to that experience, and how it stores the memory of those experiences. All of this originates in the brain, and if we can perfectly replicate the human brain in all of its glorious complexity, if we can break down the “1”s and “0”s of our mind for storage and duplicate the speed and complexity at which our brains process everything they process, then I firmly believe that we can continue to exist in a digital medium long after our bodies have rotted away and our bones turned to dust.

There are still some tricky spots, though, even if a true 1:1 brain to hard drive conversion can be made. The biggest as I see it is this; even if I copy my brain, my sentience, and my consciousness into a computer, I am still going to die. This wouldn’t be a transfer; I wouldn’t suddenly find myself in a Tron-like digital land. I, the Me-Prime, would still be here on Earth, looking at a hard drive that contains an exact replica of me, and still racing toward cellular decay and organ failure. The digital me – Me-Secundus, if you will – might be just as me as me am… er… I am.

So the Ur-Me (because it’s never not about me) can persist. Everything that Ur-Me is has been stored away and saved. Ur-Me’s experiences, Ur-Me’s memories, how Ur-Me processes the present and applies that toward decision making in the future, is immortal. Ur-Me continues to learn, and change; develop and “grow” by being the sum-total of memory and experience. Me-Secundus will then become Ur-Me, once Me-Prime takes a dirt nap.

Which, all told, means that I’m totally still going to die someday. But I’ll also live on in immortality.

At least until some joker puts a magnet too close to the hard drive, and then I’m fucked.

Possible Argument for the Existence of the “Soul”?

So while thinking more on this topic, I created a second scenario to try and understand the relationship between Me-Prime and its offshoots (Me-Secundus and so on) to the Ur-Me. I tried to get a better sense of what it means for a point-of-view to die (the idea above that even if my thoughts, thought-process, and memories were preserved exactly and placed into a digital environment where they could continue to develop and be built upon, that this physical me would still be just as dead as if he hadn’t preserved his brain-data). Rather than trying to differentiate between a “back up” of myself vs. the actual self, I expanded my scope to extra-dimensional thinking.

Accept, if you will, that the idea of multiple universes is accurate. There are, for this argument, an infinite number of universes existing “out there.” Assume also that in two universes – U1 and U2 – two versions of me – M1 and M2 – develop in the exact same way. These universes are exactly the same up until a termination event. That means that M1 and M2 have the exact same data set in their noggins. Every experience is exactly the same. Ever thought, emotion, reaction to stimulus, etc. are precisely equal. Were this a mathematical equation, it would be expressed as follows:

M1 = M2

Simple enough, right?

Now, assume that some entity develops universe-hopping powers. This entity hops into U1, vaporizes M1, and instantly replaces M1 with M2 from U2[2]. Naturally, there’s a divergence of the two universes and U2 will take a path where M2 vanishes without a trace one day. But fuck those guys in U2 because they’re not terribly relevant to M2 anymore.

M2 has no memory or awareness that he has been taken from U2 and placed into U1. No one is even aware of the replacement, including M2 (or M1 who ceases to exist in the blink of an eye). From M2’s perspective, nothing has changed. Because U1 and U2 followed exactly the same paths up until M1 was removed from existence and M2 was kidnapped from U2, M2 and everyone who M1 interacted with will never know the difference. Thanks to that equation above, because M1 = M2, then M2 is now functionally M1, with one exception; point-of-view (and even M2 isn’t aware of the change in PoV). The multiversal PoV has shifted for M2.

M1 has been eradicated from the living world of U1 just the same as if he’d fallen into an industrial-grade incinerator. Those specific neurological pathways that existed in that specific brain are non-functioning. Just because, however, their exact duplicate pathways – and therefore, memories, thoughts, emotions, sense of self – exist in M2 who equals M1 doesn’t mean that the original M1 isn’t dead. M2 will lead as normal a life as M1 would have, and the interactions that M2 would have had with others in U1 will be exactly the same as had M1 survived. Remember, we’re not talking about a Fringe scenario where there were preexisting differences in the two universes, therefore Peter 2 is not equal to Peter 1, but two universes that – prior to the entity eradicating M1 and replacing him with M2 – were exactly the same while occupying two different “spaces” in the multiverse.

My head hurts.

So, back to poor M1. M1 is dead, but lives on as M2 because no one knows the difference, including M1 (who is gone) and M2 (who isn’t aware of the shift because there is nothing there to tip M2 off to the shift[3]).

If M2 is functionally the same as M1, did M1 really vanish from the multiverse and get replaced by M2? Is M1 M2?

I’d say “no” because M1 ceased to exist and M2 was taken from another (now diverging) universe (but again, who the hell cares about them, right?). It’s just like my prior argument that a copy of one’s brain, no matter how exact, is still not the equivalent of the Me Prime living on forever in a computer.

So what is the difference? That relative “position” if you will between M1 and M2 across universes? That means there is something different about the two. So what the fuck is that difference?

Were I inclined to spiritual bullshit, I’d call it the soul. I will not. Just acknowledging that there is something completely unique about an individual and is separate from (or rather, exists on top of) his or her memories, thoughts, and reaction to stimuli doesn’t necessitate bringing spirituality into anything. What is that unique value? Can it be quantified? Can it be captured? Separated from an individual? Transferred somewhere else? Is it even something confined to any given dimension or universe? Could we be keyed into some extra-dimensional/extra-universal variable?

Perhaps. And perhaps this would be the thing one might call a soul were one so inclined. It would be a value that cannot be stored, sorted, or “written down”. It would, therefore, be impossible to achieve any form of immortality other than biologically extending physical life. Losing one or the other – the mind or the body – would terminate immortality because that extra variable on top of life is calculated from those two values (again, mind + body + who knows what the hell else?).

[1] I absolutely hate using the word “energy” like that, as if it’s a physical thing like water, but I’m using it in a metaphysical way here because I’m talking about metaphysical people and their metaphysical beliefs.

[2] But not Bono

[3] Let’s also assume at this point that the entity responsible for this pops off and is never heard from again, nor will any other entity hop over and say “holy shit, M1 you are really M2 from U2!”

Act I Has Come to an End… On to Act II

It has been, now, two weeks since the closing of my first produced play, The Importance of Eating Earnest. I am filled with both a great deal of satisfaction and, dare I say, happiness at its success, but am of course sad that it’s come to an end. Who wouldn’t be? As a writer, my first real success (and hey, I actually got paid for this, though I donated all but a token amount back to Cone Man Running, the production company that put Earnest on… I just wanted to be able to say I was a paid playwright) feels like it should be ongoing. Sadly, it’s come to an end, for now.

Closing night was amazing. After the last performance of my show, and the final performance of Michael Weems and Bryan Maynard’s Give/Take (and equally fantastic and funny show), the cast and crew of both shows closed out the Obsidian Theater and turned it into our own private club, complete with music (“popular” music that I may have tried to change to 90’s rock because no matter how hard I try not to be, I am an old man who gets curmudgeoney with music) and lighting. There was drinking. Quite a bit of it, I think, based on my hazy memories. But I felt that I deserved it. Closing your first play that ran for two weeks (three weekends)  calls for a bit of a celebration. It was fun. It was amazing. It was an entirely new experience for me and it exceeded my wildest expectations. And sadly, it’s done.

For now, that is. Earnest may have new un-life as I prepare the “world premier” script to start sending around the country for possibly more performances. And I’ve got two scripts in process, with a rock opera as a grand experiment planned after those. This single play may be over, but the “play,” as a philosophical concept, continues. The show must and will go on.

And of all the things I’ve taken away from this experience, it’s this: I believe I have been adopted, if you will, into the Houston Indie Theater scene. I’ve done some stuff in the past with Cone Man, to be sure, but this one helped forge new connections and – dare I say – the beginnings of a few new friendships. Thanks to a stupid idea about a farce with a zombie I had *grumblegrumble* years ago, I feel welcomed into a new world. A world of crazy theater people who are up for just about anything (including taking on a role with not one single spoken line, as Kamran Taherpour did playing Earnest, the titular, undead character in The Importance of Eating Earnest) is one of the few things that would convince me to reconsider a move back to Houston (I mean, a lot of things would have to come together for that to happen, but in the list of “pros and cons,” the theater scene would be a top pro).

So, to my new, adopted creative family, thank you for rocking so wildly. And to the cast of the World Premier of The Importance of Eating Earnest:

1. Megan, your poor, put-upon, mostly innocent yet slightly racist (xenophobic?) Laura was, much like the best boobs money could buy, perfect.

2. Ruth, you managed to put the “villain” in “Machiavellian” (yeah, it’s not exact, but your portrayal of the manipulative, sexually insatiable Katherine was).

3. Jonathan, for fooling at least my own parents into thinking you actually were British and for managing some amazing comedic timing and expressions.

4. Eddie, for perfectly nailing the pompousness and ignorance of William (I assume you are not a “small penised windbag,” though you played one admirably).

5. Cassandra, for portraying the closest thing to a good character in this play, and being willing to layer on the “apocalyptic bosoms” each show.

6. Bob, for taking on not one, but two completely doomed roles, and mumbling your way through unintelligible Cockney (and to Bryan and Sam for stepping in when you had to deal with some heavy stuff mid-run).

7. Bryan, for the spot-on, BBC documentary narration. And finally,

8. Kamran, for taking on a role that relied on physical humor, expression, nuanced moaning, and no spoken lines, and then defining how Earnest should be played if and when if runs in the future.

To say nothing of Christine Weems for directing those crazy people and finding out how to take my goofy little, gimmicky play and making it a masterpiece. Her tireless wrangling of the actors (and more often than not, getting the show’s lazy-ass writer to turn stuff in) brought it all together.

So my thanks to all these wonderful people, to Cone Man Running for taking the chance on my play, to Obsidian Theater and its tireless tech crew, to Michael Weems for reading the script and offering suggestions, to every actor and actress who took part in the numerous readings, and to every person who came to the show – including Houston-based friends, Fort Worth-based friends, and my awesome and always supportive parents who came down from Naples, NY. Hell, going back even to my first, unsurprisingly zombie-themed short Armageddon Tired of All These Zombies and its amazing cast, Tim, Randi, and Autumn, and director Lauren, I owe you all, and countless more, a debt of gratitude.

Now, on to the next story! Who has some funny stories from Home Owners’ Association meetings?

The Play’s the Something, Something…

I am a mother fucking playwright.

I wanted to go with something a little more elegant to open this, but really, “I am a mother fucking playwright” pretty much sums up what’s going through my mind right now. I think it’s an apt description: I wrote a play and it’s getting produced. Hence, “I am a playwright.” “Mother fucking” was added for color because I like to swear, and don’t get to do so often because of the constant presence of my 7-year old daughter.

Writers Take Black-and-White Photos While "Writing," So I'm Told

Writers Take Black-and-White Photos While “Writing,” So I’m Told

This weekend marks the culmination of many years spent writing the play in question, and even more years writing (and more often than not, not-writing) and claiming that I was a “writer,” even though the reality was more hobbyist writer than professionally recognized writer. Oh sure, I’m a technical writer by trade (favorite joke stolen and paraphrased from the game Fallout 3: “They asked me if I was a technical writer. I said, ‘Technically, I’m a writer,’ and they hired me.”) so technically (oh puns, is no other form of humor as great as thee?) I am a writer by profession, too. It’s just that very few aspiring writers, sustaining themselves on dreams of the next great American novel, consider a pay-the-bills writing job the pinnacle of their hopes and dreams. Don’t get me wrong: I actually like my day job. Coworkers claim to pity me when I get a major documentation project, but I love being tasked with documenting disaster recovery test procedures or mapping the process flows behind automated phone systems. I’m like that weird kid in class who always ate paste and got excited by the prospect of homework.

And I suppose it’s disingenuous of me to leave out the fact that I have, in fact, had several plays put on in front of audiences. I’ve participated in three 24-hour play competitions (12 hours to write on randomly chosen topics, 12 hours for the director and cast to rehearse and put on the play), been part of the Best-In-Show winners in two of those, and had one of those shorts repurposed and put on as a part of another anthology of short plays. Those were amazing experiences, fueled by passion, sleep-deprivation, and, well, lots of booze. “Write drunk, edit sober” Hemmingway supposedly said, but I’ve never had much use for editing, anyway. Those plays were fun, and an amazing experience (and I hope to do more), but I still felt like the true designation of playwright had to come after a full-length play, put on for than one night, and possibly reviewed by someone, somewhere.

This weekend (Saturday, August 8th, for posterity’s sake), a full 14 or so years after a pretty-good script was spawned from a stupid idea and put in the hands of a great director and cast, I will be a mother god-damn-fucking playwright. The Importance of Eating Earnest is going to run for something like ten shows in Houston, Texas. It’s already seen a little bit of pre-show press. I expect it to be reviewed, and thanks to the strength of the cast and crew (and yes, my brilliant god-damned writing), I suspect those reviews will be strong. I really feel like I should go into this managing my own expectations to be cautious, but I can’t bring myself to do that, in no small part because the people bringing this story to life are too good and have worked too hard for me to even allow doubt to creep in. They won’t fail my words, and my words won’t fail them.

A Mother Fucking Photo Editor, I Am Not

A Mother Fucking Photo Editor, However, I Am Not

So, even though the play hasn’t opened as of this writing, I’m still calling it.

I am a mother fucking playwright.

An Introduction of Sorts

I have a particular anxiety.

Okay, to be honest, I have a lot of anxieties. They don’t call it general anxiety disorder because it’s specific to the concern that penguins are behind global warming as an attempt to kill off the polar bears, although I think that’s a pretty legitimate concern and fuck those short-sighted penguins and their destruction of the human race thanks to an age-old grudge. No, this anxiety is tied to my writing. That one aspect of my life that I have always considered my defining trait.

A bit of backstory is in order. When I was growing up, I was always going to be something. Something real (discounting the years I was going to be a time traveler or Optimus Prime). Have a career that made sense and provided financial stability. Regardless, while I was always aiming to be something with money-making potential—because that’s what was expected and God bless rugged American individualism—I always, always, figured I would write on the side. Eventually, the side-writing would pay off and I would be able to indulge in my “hobby.” It seemed like a solid plan. Hell, I’m “technically” being paid to write right now as a “technical” writer, though that’s hardly the dream I dreamed as a little kid writing what would be Scooby-Doo fan fiction these days.

Back then, in the days of unbridled potential, I had ideas. Stories. Creativity oozing out of every orifice. I “doodled” story ideas in notebooks in classes. I wrote in furtive, marathon spurts that could last for days. If my writing was compared to sex, the Kama Sutra would be equivalent to the Cliff’s Notes for teenage, fumbling experimentation.

Somewhere along the line, that died. My particular anxiety appears to be coming true. That the well is dry. The literary sperm count is too low, and, honestly, maybe I can’t even get the old creative juices flowing anyway. That’s my anxiety. That’s what keeps me up at night.

That’s why I’m doing this. Indulging myself in the narcissistic exercise that is blogging. Writing for the sake of writing. Practice. Like an athlete well past his prime, but in complete denial of his eventual and inevitable decline, I’m giving it one last go. If I can’t make this work—if I can’t get the prose equivalent of a raging hard on—then I may as well hang up the “writer” nameplate and stick with the technical writing that is currently paying the bills.

A warning, before I leave you for now.

I may not get political often (or I might), and same goes for waxing philosophical and metaphysical. Here’s the catch. I am a liberal atheist. I intend to be civil if I broach those topics. If you—whoever you are—are going to lose your shit over that, stop reading. Seriously. Save yourself the anxiety.

Anxiety is something I know a bit about.

Fucking penguins.

Turning on the Lights


Hey, look at this neat place. All empty, waiting to be filled with unoriginal, oft-repeated, echo-chamber (much-hyphenated, apparently) content.

Mostly, I’ll be talking about my writing, I think, but with the occasional sociopolitical/religious commentary.

Until then, let’s see what we can do with the place.