The Carousel is Burning

Every time I type the word ‘bureaucracy,’ the spell-checker has to fix it. I don’t like the word or the thing itself. However, bureaucracies are necessary for the efficient management of large numbers of people; they are necessary in government and the government is only as good as the people running the bureaucracy. So, the distressing part of the article I mentioned yesterday (which is now missing from this site): Why The Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming From Inside The White House by Michael Lewis at Vanity Fair, is the giant gap in the number and quality of employees left in the Dept. of Energy.

Trump, with his cartoon sycophant sidekick, Rick Perry, is going about the destruction of this department the wrong way. It needs to be dismantled piece by piece in a structured and cautious manner. If some parts need to be saved or protected or are dangerous then you can’t just blow the place up or let it rot away. A plan, based upon understanding of the bureaucratic structure and how it evolved into being will be the guide for how to go about dismantling it. So, whether the intent is to keep it going or to dismantle it, the person doing this must FIRST understand it.

The Education Department is being destroyed much more efficiently due to the theologically driven Betsy Devos. She may not understand what education is in the real world but she is confident of what she wants it to look like in the future. There is a plan and she seems to be methodical in her pursuit of that goal from what is being reported. I hate where she is taking her department, but she is doing a better job of transforming the place than Rick Perry is with his ignorance-based technique. Any damage she does will only harm this generation of students with little permanent damage (except for the children which is bad enough). Perry, the stock Comedia clown that he is, has the fate of the planet in his hands, with no plan nor comprehension of his responsibilities.

Long before I started blogging I predicted that the US would fail in the same manner as the Soviet Union. I attributed the USSR failure to its overwhelming bureaucracy that made tractors more valuable as scrap metal than functional machinery. I predicted that our fall would take longer, but that our bureaucracies are so overwhelmed and cumbersome that they needed some trimming down.

The choice to perform the task of destruction is based upon ideology. The task of destroying a bureaucracy (ideology aside), can be done with callous disregard of its purpose or with respect for its intent. Bureaucracies of all stripes have a natural tendency to feed on themselves and grow new appendages and form knots of intricacies around themselves. Governments have massive knots of intricacies tying one entity to another. A significant disruption in one can have unforeseen ramifications throughout the system. The haphazard circumstance of the Department of Energy is our equivalent to the fall of the USSR. The potential for total system collapse is upon us and we’ve got Sapino the clown running the thing!

So, I have major disagreements with the choice to destroy governmental bureaucracy rather than fixing it, but those objections become irrelevant when the process of destruction has so little regard for the safety of the world. Rick Perry obviously never read Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Use it Rick, Use it. Become Responsible!

Look, We can fight about ideology another day if we survive. Go ahead, destroy the Department of Energy. Just do it responsibly, with integrity, use common sense. Hire the experts necessary to dismantle the bombs and the grid and the materials that will kill us, safely. There is way too much at stake to play silly clown-games with this stuff.

Send in the clowns: Scaramucci

When I saw the addition of Anthony Scaramucci to the cast of characters already playing at the White House I was dumfounded. This guy is his name. He is a stock character from the history of performing arts going back to the 16th century. He is the personification of his name!

Trump is truly running a Reality TV Show in the White House, but the most recent addition to his cast is an archetypical character with a long history. Commedia dell’arte in Italy and France was a popular performing art style with companies that traveled from city to city performing stock stories using stock characters each having a stock of “bits” associated with their character known as “lazzi”. We still use these characters today such as “Harlequin” and “Pantalone,” but Scaramouche is the same name you hear in Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. It is still a familiar character ‘type.’

The stock character from Commedia dell’arte with the name Scaramouche (with guitar above) is known for certain traits. Scaramuccia, or Scaramouch are other spellings of the character’s name which means “little skirmisher.” His character evolved out of Commedia’s ‘Braggart Soldier’ character known as “Capitano” and is a stock ‘clown’ character as well as a ‘masked henchman’ and sometimes a ‘servant.’ He is portrayed as sly, adroit, supple, and conceited. This character migrated over time from Comedia into the Punch and Judy puppet shows. Punch would regularly punch Scaramouche’s pet dog so the dog puppet’s head could come springing off his body.

The purpose of the “fool” or “clown” character archetype in storytelling has evolved out of older Commedia traditions into a character who provides a foil for the actions or comments of the protagonist or other powerful characters in the story. The king has his jester who is vulnerable to abuse but often provides depth and understanding due to his presumed inferior position. The Shakespearian character ‘Bottom’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is even named for his lowly status. The clown called Feste in Twelfth Night is one of my favorites. He sings this mockingly somber ode to encourage sexual promiscuity amongst the youth:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;

Present mirth hath present laughter;

What’s to come is still unsure:

In delay there lies no plenty;

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

The drunken companions he sings to respond:

SIR ANDREW

A mellifluous voice, as I am true knight.

SIR TOBY BELCH

A contagious breath.

SIR ANDREW

Very sweet and contagious, i’ faith.

What is a contagious breath? It is meant to be funny because the fool’s song is a woeful tune with lyrics ignored by the characters listening to the song. The meaning is masked by the style of delivery, but the audience gets it. Who is the real fool here?

Shakespeare made use of historical character types and improved their use in storytelling, they may still seem to be the stock ‘type’ at first but he makes them deeper and more fully realized. This evolutionary advancement of character in storytelling continues to this day. Unfortunately, Trump is playing to the Commedia-Style Reality TV audience who want simple, easy to understand, stock types without subtlety. Anthony Scaramucci is the contemporary blunt character modeled upon his sly, conceited, historical character’s theatrical name. 

By casting his office with ‘types’ instead of professionals Trump shows us a warped agenda. He was upset that Reince Priebus didn’t fight back. He wants a show, man, send in the clowns! Make them laugh, make them gasp, but be sure to distract. The meaning is supposed to be masked by the style of delivery, and the audience is not supposed to get it this time. ‘Dis ain’t no Shakspeer yous know.’

I question the intelligence behind the deception. Sure, the show is being ingeniously cast, toward what end we aren’t told. Stock shtick gets tiresome quickly and it certainly is not the way to lead a country. The novelty of a foul-mouthed clown is short lived; expect it to get real ugly real soon.

Spirit of Positivity

We were so close.

Then came January 20th and the inauguration with its ominous speech from Hell.

There was no ‘shining city on a hill,’ no one was ‘having a dream,’ there was no “What can I do for my country?’ instead there was: ‘American Carnage,’ obscure references to an “us” that seemed to  be someone else, and a promise that certain members of a religious group:

we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth”.

I started to write a positive post here but it’s already gone astray, sorry. I’ve been thinking about the future and how to remain positive about it. When I first moved to the Island of St. Croix I saw bumper-stickers saying, “Positive is how I live.” I automatically thought it was about having HIV and taking proper care of themselves, but I saw the phrase everywhere, it was on way too many t-shirts and store-fronts for that. Turns out it is a non-profit effort to give local children a useful attitude toward the future and prepare them for success in their lives. How Cool!

A friend of mine volunteers her time in the library at a local elementary school. When Trump was elected her students asked if that meant they would have to go to Africa since they have dark skin. How positive can life be if that question is on their minds?

Some things are beyond my control, so I’ve decided to look on the bright side of life. I’m tired of being depressed and anxious about the future so Positive is how I will live. I have many reasons to be positive. For example, my home is well above the 17’ rise in sea level predicted within the next 30 years. We checked the FEMA tsunami prediction maps before purchasing the property. The projections were made with existing water levels so, adding another 17’ above that puts us in…Oops, did it again. Stay positive!

We’re putting skylight windows in to brighten the interior of our home, a generator for the frequent power outages, and glass windows instead of screens and storm shutters that will help with rust and mildew. I’m going to stop right here lest I venture into less-than-positive areas like the corner of the bedroom that seems to be separating from the rest of the house, so I won’t even mention that in the spirit of positivity.

I’m volunteering for the PRIDE events celebrated in September here. A large chunk of the local gay community on this isolated island is still living in the Boys In The Band era of the 1960s while the ex-pat gay community is loud and proud and a big part of the development of the West End of the island. My task is to bridge that gap between the closeted crowd and the loud and proud crowd with a party for our allies during PRIDE Week. The theme is “Harmony.” I know it’s going to take more than just one event, but this is a positive with no downside. We’re here, We’re queer, We’re allies, Let’s have a party together, so we all can get used to it.

No cynical ending to this post guys, I’M POSITIVE!

https://www.stxpride.org

Rules of Acquisition

Stephen Fry spoke in an opinion piece for the NYT  about the importance of a monarchy and how we in the US might attempt such a thing: “But ritual and pageant, costume and custom are to public life what metaphors are to language; they bring it to life and move it from the abstract to the real.” Fry suggests we elevate someone, anyone to the position of “Uncle Sam” or “Aunt Samantha” to be the US equivalent of the King or Queen in a monarchy. He says that putting on the “show” of a monarchy will make our shared ideals real in the way a metaphor does in language. That sounds interesting although I wonder what commonality we would use to identify the essential “Sam” of our nation.

I’m veering off from what Stephen said now (he also spoke of the need for leaders to explain their actions, etc.) by asking if any common ground exists between the ideology of the Obama era and Trump’s current amorality? My first thought, as elementary as it may be, is, ‘don’t kill other people,’ part of the law of reciprocity, it’s a shared value for everyone. The second item on my list of assumed fundamentally shared values was ‘don’t steal from other people’ but after a second or two I realized Trump doesn’t actually share that particular fundamental value. He doesn’t pay workers for work done. He lies (fundamental 3) and breaks promises (4). He cheats (5) but cheating and capitalism are practically synonyms anyway. He “grabs ‘em by the pussy,” (6) another form of theft that is also: assault, humiliation, demeaning, disrespect, belittlement, male entitlement, and violation. I could go on, but I stopped even numbering because the search for unifying values begins and ends with one – don’t kill! Wait, Mitch McConnell’s health care plan will kill people. That is the end of commonality.

Ladies and Gentlemen there is no value that we hold in common. 

This was too simple, I’m not ready to give up, let’s try a more established set of rules:

The Ten Commandments (modified to be inclusive),

1 Thou shall have no other ideologies before me. Obama’s ideology is to seek the greatest good for all, and Trump’s is self interest – money, ego and golf.

2 Thou shall not make any graven images. Obama preserved vast plots of land and historical locations as national parks; Trump builds gold plated hotels with his name on them.

3 Thou shalt not use the ideology’s name in vain. Obama protects our environment for humanity’s sake and Trump destroys it for monetary gain.

4 Remember to keep the holy days a time for ritual and reflection. Both men play golf but Obama prays introspectively. Trump plays in the temples that bear his name while banning the people whose rituals and reflections he doesn’t comprehend.

5 Honor and get along with thy father and mother. Trump constantly belittled Obama’s parentage as he does the heritage of all immigrants. How does that honor his own parents?

6 Thou shalt not kill people. Trump’s major go-to guys, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are seeing to this. The ACA attempted to prevent avoidable death. “Trumpcare” doesn’t care.

7 Thou shall not commit adultery – “grab them by the pussy.”

8 Thou shall not steal. Already covered that.

9 Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Tweeting Trump’s unTruths.

10 Thou shall not covet anything. Like money, attention and hot chicks, or walking into contestants’ dressing rooms?

Well, That was an exercise in futility.

Outside of the Ferengi “Rules of Acquisition” (from TV’s Star Trek series) there is no known code or set of moral guidelines that fits Trump’s behavior. Trump plays by his own set of rules, none of which seem to fit with the ‘Golden Rule,’ the Law of Reciprocity in any way. Here’s a sampling of the Rules of Acquisition: 126 A lie isn’t a lie, it’s just the truth seen from a different point of view,  90 Mine is better than ours, and 144 There’s nothing wrong with charity … as long as it winds up in your pocket. See what I mean?

So, establishing Stephen Fry’s idea of a ‘Sam’ uncle or aunt monarchy would have been perfectly viable during Obama’s era while impossible now. The right wing back then held ‘Judeo-Christian’ values as the foundation of the country, however, now that Trump is almost a saint to the Evangelicals – Christians (in theory at least), God has been replaced with gold. The new Golden Rule is: “Screw thy neighbor and make them pay for it.” Take Mexico and the wall for example.

The right wing spent the eight years of Obama’s administration saying: ‘no’ without clarification of what they would do instead. Now that they have all three branches of government the best they can put forth is a SCI-FI TV show’s farcical metaphor of capitalism run amok? All hail the new Uncle Sam – Trump, the hairy-eared Grand Nagus of Ferenginar.

“But ritual and pageant, costume and custom are to public life what metaphors are to language; they bring it to life and move it from the abstract to the real.” If we did as Fry suggests it would give us a metaphor so ugly that it would force us see just how repulsive and distant from Judeo-Christian values we actually are. No amount of pageant, costume, custom or ritual can hide the vulgarity of the Evangelical hero, Trump. It is time to bring the metaphor to life, to make this abstract real enough for even a Christian to see.

Trumpian Coincidence

Christians who love turning coincidence into evidence of a god should be having field day with this one. An iceberg the size of Delaware just broke off Antarctica at the same time D. Trump Jr spills the beans about collusion with Russia. The first is proof of climate change and the second is proof that Trump is guilty. Both lead to abrupt endings. It’s definitive evidence of God’s displeasure with Trump. Or God’s displeasure with humanity. Or, more rationally, it is the basic cause and effect of nature: “stupid will out.” If you heat the planet up – ice will melt. DUH! If you elect pollution and prejudice to power it betrays itself. DUH! Either way humanity pays the price.

Of Shame and Embarrassment

Have you no shame?

Shame on you for suggesting that!

Take the walk of shame down the hall of shame.

I can’t, I am beyond shame.

What a shame — you’re naked;

cover your shame!

But, I have no shame.

Well, it is a bit small, but nothing to be ashamed of.

Adam and Eve left the garden, ashamed.

Ain’t that a shame?

A low-down dirty shame!

The strong-arm enforcer of our own psychological behavior is “shame.” It is a great tool of conscience to protect our own standards of virtue. We may be prewired for it, but the specifics of shame are learned from our home life and society. Those rules become deeply embedded within our core.

Embarrassment is the emotional reaction when someone has, or is seen as having broken a convention of their group or society such as walking into a room with a fly zipper down. It’s intimately tied to shame and guilt but not as profound: toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe. Shame is internalized. It is the emotion of knowing yourself to be flawed. It is personal. Those who feel shame know that they are bad. An embarrassing moment passes by. Shame lives within.

I know of a person who is a master of preemptive shame. He tends to speak in ‘lectures’ when he wants someone to know what the rules are. His lectures are structured to include an experience of preemptive shame so that the listener will truly feel the shame of the violation during the lecture. He means to instruct the listener thoroughly by using this technique, so he wants the lesson to be experiential. As children his offspring would walk away from one of these lectures feeling guilty for something they hadn’t ever done nor considered doing. The extra gut-punch of preemptive shaming was effective, I mean his lesson was learned, but it also had an effect that wasn’t beneficial. Shame lives within, so the build-up of unearned and undeserved shame became psychologically problematic. The repeated implication of fault at an emotional level of this magnitude destroys self confidence regardless of its cautionary intent.

Guilt is the product of shame. If you violate the laws of a group or society you must pay the penalty.  If the violation is small the punishment is embarrassment alone. When the severity of the offense grows, guilt is added to embarrassment. Additional shame is required to produce that guilt. It’s a simple progression. Problems arise when people start thinking for themselves instead of following the existing rules.  Rational thought often invalidates older codes and the chimera of theology. Rational thought voids shame as a mechanism for conformity and control.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself” is the older person’s cry to the young “offender.” If the response is “Why?” there had better be a good reason. Rational thought is the foundation of social rebellion. The emotionalism of both racism and civil rights were put into rational context by Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963  Letter from Birmingham Jail. He was publicly shamed by the police, but it was five white religious leaders who tried to shame him with a letter published in the local paper. He turned around in the adverse discomfort of a jail cell and rationally and emotionally tore down their bigotry and made the rational case for action. It provided an extraordinary moment of clarity in a charged environment of conflicting values. His document is now a standard text for college freshmen across the country. All because he stood up and said this is why you can’t shame me. He gave reasons. Among the multitude of lessons available from his letter is the assertion that reason can be a tool to defeat irrational shame and guilt.

So when does sex become shameful? Religions have always made it so, but to the enlightened rational mind, where should the line be drawn?  Well, child rape by Priests or other adults is obviously on the bad side. Any rape for that matter, or perhaps we could say unwanted, harmful or involuntary sex is wrong. Incest that leads to psychological problems, or genetically mutated offspring is wrong. There is some concern for keeping sexual relations out of public view.  That just about covers it.

Those who would support only conventional sex may use ‘possibilities’ as a rational argument against the full range of sexual expression such as, possibly, acquiring a disease, or getting pregnant, or some other unintended consequence. That risk is as fundamental a risk as can be found in any other activity, depending upon its form, so the “possibility” argument is not persuasive. When the religious argument is used the debate shifts away from rationality making it irrelevant. Moral standards of the society on the topic of sex tend to be based in religion not rationality. All that is left is the ‘ick’ factor: ‘it doesn’t feel right,’ ‘that’s just icky,’ ‘I would never even think of doing that!’ Some may wish to keep their children ignorant of sexual variety. The non-participating public’s icky feelings are not a rationally persuasive argument. There is no rational argument outside the question of harm against any sexual expression. So, why be ashamed?

When I came out of the closet to my parents I preemptively eliminated the possibility of them shaming me. I spent several years coming up with a strategy that used personal confidence and absolute surety. I’d read most of the limited available literature in 1979 and anticipated their response. They had no knowledge of what being gay means, so they argued from their built-in prejudice with its theological underpinnings.  By eliminating the option of shame from their arsenal of argument it was easier to show them their own ignorance of the topic. This was the healthiest way for me to share my identity with them.

Shame is the glue that binds moral societies together. Unfortunately, it becomes a useful tool for adult bullies. They thrive on destroying reputations. They often remain anonymous while manipulating others to achieve their goals. Adult bullies are usually smart and enjoy playing out strategies that undermine a person’s credibility. They choose their targets capriciously. They manipulate the target’s need to avoid shame. Adult bullies are patient and covert, their strategy plays out over time. If reputation weren’t such a valued part of identity, and shame so devastating, especially in the workplace, the bully’s play toys would disappear.

I don’t mean to imply my parents are bullies by saying this, but by removing the potency of shame when I came out to them I removed their ability to use the bullying tactics inherent in the manipulation of shame to “fix” me for being gay. There is no easy mechanism to fight an adult bully. They are secretive and plotting and evil in their intent. In the workplace 70% of targets leave their job. Only 10% of bullies are found out and fewer are punished. Fighting a bully demands that you lower yourself to their moral level (assuming you can discover who they are). This action alone is devastating to reputation. You end up using the bully’s tactics to fight; that is humiliating. The bully has the advantage of being psychologically driven to do harm while the target is forced into uncharacteristic and abusive behaviors for their own defense. They become a bully to fight the bully, but there is never a winner. The choice to compete in this battle itself destroys reputations.

Ain’t that a low-down dirty shame?

Smile With My Oppressor

Art, as a tool of life and love, is available to all of us. We make use of it as both creator and consumer. Passions must be expressed and managed. Dreams must be interpreted. Sorrows must be soothed. Anger must be assuaged. Depression must be diminished. Love must be loudly proclaimed.

Art and passion are largely ignored in the conscience of daily life because they are surreptitious components of existence. We are often not aware of their presence:

  • If you are going to get a root canal you know that there will be pain and discomfort. To help with this an endodontist will often hang detailed pieces of art throughout the office to give the patient something else to think about. The mind wanders into the world of the painting not the anxiety of anticipation. In contrast, a car dealership wants you to focus on nothing but the car. Their walls are drab, grease-marked and devoid of interest. You have no choice but to look at the highly designed automobile. And don’t get me started on accountant’s offices — the most interesting artifact I’ve ever seen in one of those is a plastic snow globe.
  • The carpet in a funeral home has a dark field and richly detailed patterns and deep colors to help somber people with their lowered heads pass from thought to thought. A blank, solid-color carpet would be harsh, unfeeling and stressful to look at.
  • A high volume restaurant wants people to eat quickly, then leave. The music is structured to cycle through songs that motivate customers to leave. It’s just like the utility company that plays one awful scratchy song repeatedly while you are on hold for hours on end. They want you to give up on that $6.58 mistake on your bill out of sheer aggravation.
  • Had a run-in with the boss, a teacher, an enemy? Jump in the car; crank up the tunes.

My escape from stress is to read Harry Potter books. They are all quite long, easy to read, well constructed, and they transport me into another familiar world so I can forget about this one for a while. I am also an artist so I don’t just consume art, I make it.

An artist creates a product to express an idea or emotion. People who specialize in creating art have structured their minds and bodies to be suitable for the task. Amateurs too, conceive and produce art. All of us have the capacity to generate art, sometimes, without being aware we are doing it. Sometimes, whole communities cause art to thrive due to cultural standards existing within their shared experience.

In school I fell in love with the word, ‘zeitgeist’: it means “the spirit of the times,”or the common undercurrent of thought or a societal attitude present within a culture. The esoteric nature of a zeitgeist means that it is hard to define because of the ebb and flow of time and change, but those who are creative and tuned-in can illustrate it best. In society it often becomes manifest through artcreated at a particular time. The resultant artwork is a snapshot of the spirit at that moment. Think about the evolution of Rap and Hip-Hop music which came into existence through the zeitgeist of urban ghetto life. The social undercurrent of poverty, drugs, prison, guns, racism and death evokes imagery that is violent and crude, but honest. Honesty is holy even if it’s an ugly truth. Unexpected listeners such as teens from rural farms who have never even driven past a ghetto recognize the truth inherent in its form, and the passions evoked by these cultural artistic expressions. The music and its presentational style comes from a pure and honest evocation of a holy truth. 

 

Every person experiencing that life could give you a list of problems in their daily lives as well as lists of their dreams and aspirations. Making a list, complaining, reacting to death and misery simply isn’t enough to ease the pain. So, just like the metamorphosis of blues and jazz in previous generations, a new art form evolved into existence to make harsh reality bearable; rap and its stylistic successors came along to speak the truth of the urban zeitgeist. The spirit of that group, at that time, became manifest through the art of music and words.

It is the next evolutionary musical step begun in the Harlem Renaissance where queer clubs, forced into hidden dark corners of Harlem’s cultural shadows, provided a natural breeding ground for the Blues with it’s sexual double entendre and joyful put-upon sadness. Artists such as Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Gladys Bentley, provided a foundation for the Blues stylistic form. It’s a long road from this lament in the blues standard from 1928, “nobody knows you when you’re down and out” to the forceful bluntness of “they don’t like my rhymes, see my style is like lecture, but I’d rather die, than smile with my oppressor.” from Lowkey, “My Soul” in 2011. Both recognize the (same?) problem through the context of art, while the attitude has changed over eighty-some years from “woeful acceptance” to “we are fighting here.” They both reflect the time and place from which they came.

Three Dots Blinking – The Messenger Is Dead

Contemporary movies and TV shows often have trouble keeping up with the changing tide of technology and the way it is used by characters in their stories. The cellphone, for example, voids traditional dramatic devices such as the messenger. Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “Just use your cellphone, stupid” during some TV show attempting realism? Young folks text one another at all hours of the day and night, who needs to wait for a letter, a telegram, or messenger? Think of those science-fiction movies where the “scientist” character explains the “science” behind the fiction. Siri just doesn’t have the same dramatic impact as a fully realized human character who takes time to research the answer and provide the solution at the last possible moment.

A ‘text’ simply isn’t as dramatic as seeing a bloodied messenger from the battlefield. The blood on the messenger’s costume and face tells its own story, the audience is able to imagine what he has been through. A soldier simply answering a phone doesn’t convey very much of that kind of context.  Dramatic time has to be manipulated to the storyteller’s advantage. The time it takes to get the message through the battlefield causes tension, which builds drama. Will he get there in time? Instant knowledge may help win the battle, but it changes dramatic time as a tool for storytelling.

The shape and drama of a story is determined by strategically revealing or not revealing information from one character to another or to the audience. Dramatic tensions build as expository information is revealed or kept secret. The play could start with a gun shot, allowing the events of the story to be revealed strategically over the time it takes to present the play; the same story could also play out first and then end with the gunshot. Either choice can be theatrical, based upon the strategic use of dramatic tension.

The audience needs to be teased, but they want it to be done artfully with skill and imagination. The playwright’s job follows the same strategy as a highly skilled prostitute. (I’ve tried using this metaphor with college students, but sex for them is instantaneous so they don’t grasp the concept.) Good sex takes place over time, it starts with simple, gentle stimulations with small peaks of arousal followed by periods of rest. This is repeated with increasingly more variety and intensity of stimulation, persisting over a prolonged period of time. The peaks of excitement and valleys of rest – tension and release as Martha Graham described it in dance – provide a cumulative biological need to climax, to purge, to have a catharsis.

Playwrights follow the same procedure engaging the mind and heart instead of the crotch. They stimulate your intellect and emotion with a question, What’s going to happen? Who are these people, what is their circumstance, who should I care about? The answers come in the form of exposition which provides details that answer basic questions. Those answers lead to more sophisticated, interesting, intellectual questions. Events build to peaks of tension followed by a release; each set of peaks and valleys takes us deeper into a greater involvement with the characters and the world of the story until the moment of release – the climax, near the end.

So the future of storytelling is going to evolve with a new generation. The landmark story of the Millennials is Harry Potter; yet Wizards don’t use cell phones! (Think of the problems that would have been quickly solved in that story if they did!)  It is one thing to speak to children of a slowed-down, fantasy, wizard world, distant from their own, but present day realism is a different matter. How would one authentically, yet artfully, portray the contemporary world we live in? Kids with heads tilted down, focused on phones and ears plugged with music are boring. All the drama is in the device! Three dots blinking in sequence, how will she respond? Snore!

Reputation and Chelsea Manning

 

Chelsea Manning has me considering reputation and vulnerability. There is an article about her in the NYTimes this week,  The Long, Lonely Road of Chelsea Manning, by Matthew Shaer. Toward the end of the article the reporter describes the time they spent together after her release from prison,

 

“But she is determined not to dwell on her reputation, and for that week in Manhattan, she seemed happy being free.”

That comment stuck a cord with me.

Repute means the things other people say about you – gossip. Reputation is a more formal version of gossip. Reputation is associated with the time, place and community in which a person exists. It is temporal but feels at times as if it is eternal. Reputation relies upon the word of the people around you and how you interact with them. Reputation is subjective and easily altered at the whim of ‘others’.

Reputation has weight. People often carry that weight through life without exploring what it truly means. They become attached to the values they associate with reputation and work to maintain them. They identify with the reputed merit of their reputation and believe it follows them around like some sort of aura that anyone can perceive. If they are merely consistent in their approach to life and moral actions that aura may indeed be perceptible to all people in areas beyond the home space.

Some people construct a facade to maintain a reputation. They don’t have the consistency of character to allow a natural aura so they construct a theatrical costume to wear in the world. This conveys for them the elements of reputation in a socially acceptable manner. Society establishes rules to guide everyone toward a unified facade of conformity. Those who don’t abide by the rules acquire ill-repute.

So, you could be a ‘natural,’ a good and consistent person who happens to fit the mould of conformity easily and earn a good reputation. You could be a person who doesn’t fit the mould comfortably who wants to be a conformist by making a ‘facade’ of conformity. There are those who will ‘never fit’ the mould through choice, circumstance or misfortune. Then there are those who choose to ‘change’ the mould as Chelsea Manning has done.

It is an easy thing for a conformist to condemn a non-conformist, after all there are a lot of identical opinions out there. But then there is what Ben Platt said in his Tony Award acceptance speech this weekend: “The things that make you strange are the things that make you powerful.” This is blasphemy to the conformists yet obvious to the Chelsea Mannings of the world. If your strangeness makes you double-down on your facade, or excludes you like a never-fit, life is less comfortable and often painful.

When you nurture and honor the unique strangeness that is you, the facade is unnecessary, you declare yourself as one who will fit, and you cast a new mould that includes your contribution to society. Chelsea’s path had many twist in it that made it even more of a challenge, and she was ready to die rather than conform. The strength of her character built her a new reputation more noble than any she’d had before. It’s a bittersweet place to be, but anytime you fight a bully there is no reward for winning. Society and the pressures of reputation in that society are a bully-like force, it is the way of the world, to break the pattern is to re-define “reputation”.

The character of a natural is the same as Chelsea Manning’s. Her’s is an honest state of being; it is natural for her. She is not living behind a facade, a lie to deceive the world, she doesn’t need one. She has demanded a place to fit within the greater culture. The things that made her strange to the norms of reputation are the things that made her strong.

Think about the journey her reputation has taken. She was bullied in school and boot camp until she found her niche in intelligence. She, out of principle, broke rules and was sentenced to jail. She was vulnerable in that place, but had little reputation to lose. She transitioned quite publicly there, teaching the world about that process through her unasked-for notoriety and survived the process as an enemy to some and a hero to others.

If you fear the destruction of your reputation then the bully can keep you right where he wants you. Get rid of that fear and the bully no longer has power over you. A reputation is ephemeral, it ebbs and flows, it can be rebuilt when it is damaged. It is based in what other people think and you can’t control that. But you can control what you think about yourself.

The best way to get rid of the fear of damage to your reputation is to “know thyself.” Confidence in who and what you are allows you the fortitude to endure the inevitable assault. When you choose to oppose the attacking force, being fearless is like pulling their horses out from under them; they lose their momentum and gravity throws them into the dirt. This is especially effective when sexual and gender identity issues are in play; those old stereotypes are lies based in ignorance, they deserve to loose momentum.