Saturday, July 21, 2018

On Seeing Blood Knot at American Players Theatre

For months I've seen an entry on Josh's and my calendars for today that simply said, "A Surprise Event". This morning, as the time to leave the house neared, Josh spilled the beans: He bought tickets for a tour of American Players Theatre behind the scenes, and then two more tickets for us to see APT's Blood Knot, by Athol Fugard.

The promotional image for Blood Knot
on APT's site.

I had a bit of trepidation hearing about the play we'd be seeing after learning from a friend Dana Pellebon on Facebook that APT cast Jim Davita, a white actor, to play the role of the light-skinned brother from South Africa in the play. (You can read a couple of articles quoting Dana.) I don't think I would have chosen to buy tickets to see the play; however, Josh bought them during the early-bird sale in March, so I wasn't not going to go. I'm glad I went.

The play is being performed in the Touchstone Theatre--APT's smaller, indoor theatre. Having purchased the tickets so early, we got tickets in the front row, house right, with a thrust stage. It was fun to see the set up close after seeing the floor being installed during the tour.

Gavin Lawrence played the darker-skinned of the two brothers. As always, the acting was excellent. I've been familiar with Davita's acting for years and was happy to see that Lawrence, who has 30 years of theatre experience, was an equally commanding presence on stage.

I enjoyed the writing, the acting, the set, and how they handled the scene changes--all very creative. And it was also challenging to watch. It was difficult to hear Zack (Lawrence) describe his interactions with a woman in the past that sounds pretty clearly like rape by the time he finishes the story. I found it pressing on old trained feelings that I as a liberal would prefer not to feel. And that was only the start of what got pressed.

I found myself distracted throughout the performance by the fact that Davita was a white actor playing a light-skinned black man. He plays the more educated of the two: he knows how to read when his brother doesn't, and the writing has Maurie seeming more sensible than the more-irrational-seeming Zack. More liberal discomfort. Why did Fugard (a white South African) write it this way? Discomfort in the theatre is powerful, and he sure puts it to good use.

Maurie drops the n-bomb six or seven times in the play. The audience gasped the first time (I kept myself from laughing); while I knew it was coming I still cringed. The penultimate scene in the play is almost a dream sequence where the brothers are playing out stereotypical oppressive/submissive white/black roles. Even in the moment, I could tell metaphor and allegory abounded, although I couldn't grok it all at that point--and I am sure I haven't yet, either.

And I got more and more frustrated. During that scene, It seemed clear that part of what was happening was a light-skinned black man, who had passed for white for a time, was caught between hating the oppression he lived with and hating himself for casting part of his identity aside so he could have a respite from the oppression. So, to see a white actor playing this part, the inner struggle I just described seemed to be supplanted by simple racial tension. I thought it would have had more impact had the part been played by a light-skinned black man.

Then there's a twist: in researching his acting history, I happened upon A Statement on "Blood Knot" Casting from Actor Gavin Lawrence. I had wondered what his opinion was, and I sure found out. He states that if Maurie had been played by a black man--no matter how light his skin--when seeing that man call his brother a n---er, a primarily white audience could easily let themselves off the hook, and disengage from the play because "that's not me." I think it would have actually been more powerful for me, but perhaps I overestimate myself.

And the final paragraph:
If what you come away with after having experienced Blood Knot is a problem with the casting, then I humbly submit that you’ve missed the point, or that you have some other agenda – either way I have to say that you’re clearly not “woke.” And for those who jump on social media bandwagons based on headlines without doing your homework, please work on your critical thinking skills. When a situation of racial or cultural appropriation in the American theatre truly calls for response and action, I’ll be right there with you. This production, however, is not one of them.
OK, so this all isn't as simple as I thought. I left the playing feeling like a good cry was in order (I hate watching inhumanity) and agitated by the casting choice, thinking it was a misstep. I can see now that there's a whole lot more to think about. And learn about.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Please Bail Me Out!

I'm in "jail" this weekend raising funds for the Center for Creative Learning, to allow more vets and survivor of trauma to get support in their healing. Please help me raise bail! There are three options for donation:
You can also learn about My Life at the Center.

Thank you!

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Life at the Center

When I was 25, I fell in love for the first time. It was with someone I'd known for over a year. The spark of attraction was there the whole time, but couldn't be acted upon due to the nature of the relationship. After that period passed, a relationship formed that was full of passion, urgency, longing, seeming-fulfillment, etc. It didn't last long—any objective observer would have seen it coming, needing no more clues than the first sentence of this post.

I got dumped.

It hurt.

A lot.

It's one thing to greatly want a relationship, and live with the yearning; it's quite another to get some satisfaction and then lose it. It's more frustrating and painful to not have what you know than to not have what you've never experienced.

It was a difficult time. I did some therapy, which helped a lot. After a few months, my therapist suggested I do a weekend called Taking It Lightly at the Center for Creative Learning. Two months later, November 4-6, 1992, I sat in the front row of chairs in the course room at 7 pm on a Friday night of this workshop.

I had a transformative weekend with 11 other students and a staff of a dozen people or so. We all shared what was challenging in our lives, and things that happened earlier in our lives that led us to make the "old decisions," as they're called, that keep us from thinking clearly about our life currently, which then keeps us from getting what we want.

A purple directors chair
Mid-morning on Saturday of the workshop I remember looking at the purple directors chairs that instructors used while teaching and thinking, "One day I'm going to sit in that chair."

Immediately after the workshop I felt like a million bucks. It was very freeing to let out some pain and make new decisions and support others in doing the same. I wondered if this high would disappear after the weekend, and I'd return to be the person I was before the weekend.

I didn't. I found myself wanting to learn and grow more. I joined the volunteer assistant staff at the next three monthly Taking It Lightly weekends, then in March 1993 I started a 10-month instructor training program called the Professional Excellence Program (affectionately called PEP). I continued to assist each month and soon began apprentice instructing Taking It Lightly, then in 1993 co-instructed PEP. I continued to apprentice-instruct, then co-instruct the weekend until I became a Certified Instructor in 1998. Being certified means that I can teach anywhere, anytime, alone if necessary (although this is never optimal, as I would later find out).

The Center for Creative Learning is owned and operated by Patricia Clason, who has been doing self-development/healing work for many years. Other programs are also available at the Center, including Taking It Lightly—Renewal, which is a weekend specific to those who have experienced sexual abuse, and Healing Warrior Hearts, which supports military personnel and their families.

The work of the Center has also gone beyond the building where it resides in Milwaukee, all the way to other parts of the country. Taking It Lightly was held for years in Madison; it has been held numerous times in the Detroit area, and I've had the honor of instructing there around 30 times. I've also taught in Indiana, North Carolina, and even Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Thousands of people have been through weekends offered by the Center. Their experiences have affected them, as well as the people in their lives. There are currently a second and third generation of people born to those who have done the weekend, many of them attending weekends as well. And grads live throughout the world. The ripples created by Patricia and the Center spread through the world as well.

The heyday of courses like Taking it Lightly was the 70s. During the 20+ years of my involvement, I have witnessed a slowdown in people attending such courses (there and elsewhere). With the downturn in the economy and the overall pressure in a capitalistic society of being productive and creating income for others being touted as being most important, people have less time and money to look inward and give outward. While the Center is legally a for-profit entity, it has always operated as a not-for-profit. Any income from courses has always gone right back into the Center.

The societal pressure I mentioned above has created an environment where income from courses is not sufficient to support the Center. This weekend we are holding a fundraiser at the Center, to make more funds available for scholarships to programs and the Center itself. My "wanted" poster:

During the weekend, we will be hosting Google Hangouts of us playing improv games, etc. I invite you to watch for me on Facebook (you need to be a friend to see) and Google Plus (public) to find out
when we'll be online.

I also invite you to make a contribution to the Center and its programs:
Thank you for your consideration.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Understanding Alan Turing

I'm playing the role of Alan Turing in the upcoming StageQ Queer Shorts 8 production, Of Machines and Men, which starts June 7, 2013.

Alan  Turing
In case you aren't familiar with Turing, he was a Brit who helped end World War II by cracking Germany's Enigma code. He is considered the father of computing and artificial intelligence. He was also a gay man who was convicted of the crime of homosexuality, and given a choice between prison and taking estrogen therapy for one year. He chose the latter, so he could continue his important work. He ended up dying by cyanide poisoning; it was ruled suicide, but I don't believe it's so cut and dried. It could have been accidental, given the experiments he ran in his home.

While the play, by definition of being a "short", is no longer than 10 minutes, the playwright has done an amazing job of weaving together the important aspects of Turing's life and thinking. As I learn my lines, I see more and more of the intricacy of the script, and am pleasantly blown away.

I've been reflecting on experiences in my own life that help me understand a bit about Turing.

My First Database

I have always been fascinated by computers, data and programming. I remember one sunny morning when I was four years old. The sun was beaming in our front living room window. My sister Jane had already taught me how to read, and I had been going around the house with pencil and paper, writing down all the words I could find. This morning I was focusing on the clock we had in the living room, that looked a little like this one:

The seconds were kept by a continuously turning wheel showing five-second increments. The hour, 10-minutes and minutes were tracked by a wheel that flipped a card at each change.

At four years of age I sat down with paper and pencil and watched this clock. I wrote down the time as it changed (I think I probably would have done this in 10- or 15-second increments). After doing this for several minutes, I stopped and looked at what I had written down—my database, if you will. I wasn't sure what I was attempting to accomplish, and indeed, could not find a value for it in the moment. I did it because I had the intuitive sense there is something valuable here. I couldn't figure out the value at the time, so I stopped.

The First Computer

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, we got a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Computer—I think it was a gift from my Uncle Charles, when he got his first IBM. And it came with the 128k extended memory cartridge, that slipped into the slot on the right side! I began to learn formal programming with this little machine, including making a video game of first one tractor then two attempting to run down hapless animals (forgive me, I was young). Although, the animal got the last laugh if the two tractors collided, standing on its hind legs and taunting the farmers.

The Next Computer

In 1981 I started high school. Also new to the school was its first Apple ][e, complete with two—count 'em TWO!—5.25" floppy drives. I learned Apple Basic, devouring it eagerly. One of our math teachers took a summer class so he could teach the computer course. Because I was a freshman, I couldn't take the class, so I taught myself. The school soon got more of these computers, and I stayed every night after school (when I didn't do cross country or track) and wrote programs.

My First "Turing Moment"

In his day, Alan Turing had to face the disbelief and scorn that people had for his concept of "thinking machines." I remember the first time I faced something similar. I was just learning Apple Basic, and create some sort of simple Hello World program to get the machine to do something. Getting machines to do things really got my imagination going. I was showing a couple fellow students this simple program, and a teacher came in the room, so I showed him. The first thing he pointed out was a misspelling in the output text. I could tell from his tone that he wrote off the computer, and my efforts, because of this error.

To this day I must always be ready for how others cannot see past the literal images they see to the power and potential of the program behind. Also not to take this kind of thing personally.

My First Big Project Failure

I loved those years during high school as I was learning to program. Eventually the students in the computer classes would ask me for help while we were in the lab after school. Not only did I help them figure out whatever problem or assignment they were working on, I went on to show them what else they could do. I learned that the computer teacher told his students not to ask me for help—apparently I was teaching them too much!

My senior year I think I decided to not go out for one of the sports so that I could spend more time programming. At that time the girls gymnastics coach came to me with my first Request for Proposal (albeit verbal)! Keeping track of scores at girls gymnastics invitations was apparently a painful endeavor, with scores from all of these girls having to be tracked and tabulated on a board. She asked if I could write a program to do it.

FINALLY! I could take this passion and DO something with it!

I met with her and learned what today I would call the "business rules." What's the maximum number of teams at a meet? 8. How many girls on a team? How do you calculate the scores? How do you round the scores? Etc. I developed a very efficient program that showed, I believe, the 8 teams across the top and events going down the side. To enter scores, the user would hit a letter corresponding to the column and row (much like a spreadsheet), and the computer would ask for the score, then do the calculation.

The Fatal Flaw is Revealed

I tested the program and showed it to the coach. She loved it. The day came to use this child of mine at an actual home invitational. I rolled the cart down to the gym, and someone helped me carry it up to the stage, where the judges or whatever sat. I got the roster for teams and began entering them into the program.

Then my heart sank.

There were NINE teams! Not eight—NINE! I had designed the entire program—all of the logic, all of the display—on there being EIGHT teams, as I was told! I went to the coach and told her the problem. "Well, can't you just change it to allow for nine teams?"

Can I just change it? NO! I can't just change it! I don't think I yelled at her (I was way too polite for that), but I told her that I couldn't after furiously trying for a short while. I'd insert a metaphor here of an artist making a huge change to her piece of work or an architect changing the design after the project is half done, and you get the point.

I walked out feeling very frustrated and angry, and defeated. It was that experience that taught me the power of...

Always, Ever and Never

Today one of the first things I have to teach clients is the absolute meaning of these three words. Programming is very different from engineering or other disciplines in that most disciplines allow for approximations and estimations: in music you can be in tune enough, in engineering you can use approximate values1, but with a computer you must respect ALWAYS, EVER and  NEVER.

When I was told there would be eight teams, I should have asked, "So it is NEVER, EVER possible to have more than eight teams at an invitational? EVER?" In answer to questions like this, people often respond with, "well, not usually, so I wouldn't worry about it." My job is to worry about things just like that.

Despite this first "failure," to this day I continue to have a passion for helping people automate time-consuming or monotonous tasks, as well as helping individuals to connect through systems and data.

I am not Alan Turing

I am certainly not Alan Turing—I'm not the genius he was. However, my life history has given me some preparation for understanding what he faced, both in terms of working with computers and living in the world as a gay man. I'm continuing to do research into who Turing was, so that I can portray this hero of mine as best I can.

I want to do him justice.

Please Come See the Play!

Queer Shorts 8 is opening June 7. I hope those who live near Madison will check it out! Reserve your tickets here.

1I eagerly await the rants from engineers because of this statement. ;o)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Baby Technology

It's interesting to me to discover the technology surrounding babies. For instance, the bottle. it has 5 parts: the body of the bottle, the cover, the nipple--obvious enough. The bottom is not solid, and there is an inner (latex?) diaphragm that is domed up a bit--this doesn't let anything leak out the bottom, and I imagine with the negative pressure of sucking, allows enough air in so that the milk can come out, yet without coming out too quickly. Nice. Elegant.

Then comes the technology for cleaning the bottle. I intuited the bottle brush immediately--don't remember eve seeing one and knowing what it is, yet when the glass scrubber didn't fit inside it was obvious pretty quickly. Does it really need the swivel handle? Perhaps with having to clean bottles for every-three-hour feedings this would save the wrist over time. Hmmm. What's with the little nubby spongie thingie at the end? Oh--would that be the right shape and size to clean the bottle nipple? Sho' 'nuff.

Then the making of the formula. Two level, unpacked scoops. Hm. Can't find the scoop--found it with a fork. Hm. What an odd shape--so long and thin--why is it shaped that way? I'm sure there's a good reason; I just can't imagine why. [Making the formula] oh. That's why--if it weren't this narrow, most of the formula wouldn't make it into the bottle. Boy, these folks have had a number of years to figure this stuff out, eh?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TE-I (Loving Messages) Follow-Up

Last week I wrote this thought experiment on Loving Messages. It didn't take long before I had the opportunity to put the thought experiment into action. In most cases I will probably not name the cast of characters involved, for pretty obvious reasons; and I still want to share my results.

Within two hours of writing that post I passed something on, which I considered to be rather considerate. In return I got something akin to a lecture about the concerns of sharing what I did. There was no thank-you for the action, just what could be perceived as criticism.

As the communication started, I had full awareness that this was the perfect opportunity! I was aware that an initial reaction of frustration was welling up. I took a deep breath, and listened for the loving message. The concerns were valid, and the love was found in the very fact of the concerns being expressed--if there weren't caring, there would be no need for the expression of concern. Where in the past I might have gotten very frustrated by the conversation, I listened for the love, and ended up fairly neutral. This was a success.

The next opportunity came that evening. I was driving Josh and myself home after dark. I was about to turn left onto our street, and there was a car waiting at the stop sign there; I was going to be turning in front of them. As I started the turn, they starting into the intersection! I quickly steered away from them, toward the curb, to give them as much room as possible to stop. I was sure that there would be impact, and there wasn't. I sat for a moment and took a breath, then continued on down the road.

It's a bit harder to find the loving message in this "communication." The easy way out would be to look at the fact that they didn't hit me, and that's too easy--I would want to be able to find the loving message even if they had. My tactic, then, is to simply let go of the judgment about what happened: instead of thinking they are a dumb $@#$% for not looking where they're going, I just let that thought go. I have no idea what was going on in the person's head: maybe they were rushing somewhere in an emergency, or to someone they love. Or, perhaps they simply weren't paying attention. It doesn't matter to me. I chose to simply take a breath and let it go. As a result, I had a peaceful time getting ready for bed (while the adrenaline dump subsided), and falling right to sleep.

As if to test my resolve, the near-identical thing happened the next day: I was turning left in front of someone at a stop sign, and they nearly drove into me again! It wasn't quite as close a call as the previous night, and I wondered what I was doing that was attracting this. I'm still working on that one.

The results, so far, from my thought experiment are very good. I continue to incorporate the process into my life. I'll give more updates as I believe they are pertinent/interesting.

It's All About the Heart


Last night I took my third annual CPR refresher. The protocol has gotten even simpler to remember, and the teaching style has been greatly improved to be much more hands-on than the previous more-informational style.

If you haven't yet gotten your CPR training, I highly encourage you to do so. Keeping someone's blood moving through their body is absolutely crucial in case of a heart attack. Our blood has enough oxygen for 10 minutes, yet it won't do any good if it's not moving. When CPR is rendered, it's quite possible that there will be no neurological damage due to hypoxia.

We also learned (again) how to help someone who's choking, whether they be an adult or a 2-month-old.

In the Taking It Lightly weekend I do a lot of "heart work." I'm very happy that I know how to do this kind of "heart work" as well.

For information on CPR training, visit

Friday, May 08, 2009

Thought Experiment I: Loving Messages

This post is the start of a new intermittent series on Intermittent Inspirations where I will consider "what ifs" that pop into my head. Paul Wesselmann inspired this idea when he, Josh and I had dinner the other night, although he doesn't know it yet. I hope you enjoy.

Last week when I was driving to Milwaukee to teach Taking It Lightly at the Center for Creative Learning, I listened to podcasts. I so rarely take the time to listen in my daily life, so driving trips are a treat for me in this way. I heard an episode of the Get-It-Done Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More. Stever Robbins (yes, Stever) does a fantastic job of sharing truly valuable tips for being more productive, especially with work and technology.

In this episode he focused on saying "no" to difficult requests, say from a boss or a teenager. I was blown away that he interviewed Byron Katie! She's the author of Loving What Is, which is a fantastic book about questioning our beliefs, accepting reality, and letting go of a lot of the painful and troublesome thoughts that we live with on a daily basis. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's a brief excerpt of one of the role plays that Stever and Katie did:
Finally, a teenager who wants the car.

S: I'm a teenager and you're a mother.
S: Hey Mom! Can I use your car to go to the movies?
K: No, actually, no.
S: All the other kids' parents let them use the car.
K: Oh, my goodness, it's true, isn't it? You know, we really have different lives.
S: If you loved me, you'd let me use the car.
K: You know, it's so interesting you would say that. You know, I love you with all my heart, and I'm not letting you use the car.
S: Mom, I hate you! I hate you! Everything in my life that's wrong is wrong because of you.
K: Oh, honey. I'm so sorry you feel that way. I adore you.
Did you catch that? No matter what message she received that would normally be considered disrespectful, hurtful or hateful, she responded with love. It was almost as if she didn't hear anything but love. And this leads to my thought experiment:

Thought Experiment: What if we only attended to the Love in all incoming messages?

This doesn't mean that we wouldn't hear the words of messages if they weren't loving; it means that listening to each word we would only hear Love (or perhaps a request for it). When Stever in the role play said "Mom, I hate you!" she didn't respond by hurting back, punishing or judging, she simply expressed sadness, then said she adored the teenager.

It's easiest for me to do this experiment when thinking about a small child who is upset: wouldn't it be easier to understand the child doesn't believe it when she says she hates you? She's lashing out because of some kind of pain. I imagine having compassion for the child, holding her and telling her I'm sorry she's upset, and that I love her anyway.

Well, now apply that to anyone. Let's say I bump into someone in a store and they say something that would normally be thought of as unkind. If I knew that five minutes earlier they had learned someone very close to them had died, wouldn't I be able to have compassion for them, and let the less-than-kind words go right by? Would I instead be able to simply recognize they are hurting, and understand it wasn't about me, so that I didn't need to take it personally?

If compassion is possible in that situation, why not in every situation? Why should I ever take unkind messages personally? How could they ever truly be about me? Even if it's someone I know, even if it's someone who's very close to me, isn't everything they say still about them? What is the benefit of taking anything personally that anyone says? Is there one? What is the benefit of NOT taking things personally? I can't even count them.

I had an experience in this vein while teaching a few years ago: I was leading an activity that had a goal of helping people learn to ask for help. The students were given a task to do individually that was not very possible to do alone, without help. From the previous day, I had identified one of the students as being hyper-independent. She (gender determined by coin toss) immediately reacted when I gave the instructions for the activity. She was angry, and an observer may have perceived that she attacked me. Happily, I was unsurprised by the response. I knew that it wasn't about me, but about her fear of not having the answer, not being able to control the outcome by herself. I responded, "Whoever told you that you had to have all the answers?" She immediately broke down in tears and told a story of just that--having to be in charge, not getting any support, and having to do it all herself. She did the activity and got a huge gift of being able to let go of some of the charge connected to those thoughts.

If I had taken what she said personally, I wouldn't have had the resources to respond the way I did. What do you suppose would have happened if I had responded defensively? It wouldn't have been pretty, and she probably wouldn't have gotten the gift of releasing some of her pain.

When I'm instructing it's a lot easier to respond in that way, because I'm in "instructor mode." I'm not that clear-thinking every moment of every day.

What would happen if we simply didn't respond to anything but the loving content of messages, or responded only with love or positive regard to all communications? Think about your interactions at work or school. With friends. With family. This last one is probably the toughest, since familial relationships are so primary, and thus so tied into our basic emotions and reactions. Imagine the following interactions:

child: if I don't get the car tonight, I'll hate you forever!
parent: I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm afraid you can't have the car tonight, and I love you.

spouse: Why are you embarrassing me by wearing that again?
spouse: I'm sorry you're embarrassed. I love you and I'm wearing this again because I like it.

boss: This report isn't very good--this semi-colon should be a dash, there's an extra space here, and [...]
employee: Thank you for the feedback; I appreciate it.

Do these examples sound ridiculous? Do you get tense just reading them, perhaps thinking another response is appropriate?

Simply imagine what it would feel like to not take anything personally. To see everyone consistently with unconditional positive regard. To not need to get tense or afraid or angry about what someone thinks about us or says about us or anything else. How would things be different in your primary relationships? In your family? At work?

I'm committing to working on this thought experiment in daily life as best as I can. I'll write about my experiences.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this first thought experiment.

Dealing with Bacon Part II

In a previous post I discussed bacon--emails that I've signed up for, yet aren't a high priority. I've been fine-tuning my bacon-wrangling, and thought I'd share my progress in case others would find it useful.

In that past post I discussed the special Bacon folder I created, and how I created rules in Outlook to look for specific senders and move those emails directly into that folder.

Now I have a much simpler method that doesn't require my adding email addresses to my Outlook rule every time a new sender shows up in my inbox.

Because I use Gmail, there's a little trick I can use when signing up for things. With Gmail, it's possible to create on-the-fly email addresses. Let's say my email address is (which it isn't). You can create an unlimited number of email addresses by adding + after the username and anything you want, and they will all be delivered to you!

So let's say I sign up for something, and want the emails they send me to go into my bacon folder. Starting with my fictitious email above, I'd sign up with the email Then, with the rule I have in Outlook that puts all emails sent to that address in my bacon folder, I'm all set! (Other email providers may have similar services--YMMV.)

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have only important emails in my inbox!

I also use a number of Outlook rules to intelligently put emails into folders based on project or group. I can see them all using the Unread Mail folder, and when I'm done reading them, they are already filed!

This combination of systems has helped me to automate a great deal of my inbox cleanup, meaning I have time for other things. I can't recommend these types of automation highly enough.