Monday, January 30, 2012

Dealing With Demons

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write about an emotional dilemma that’s been possessing me lately without being nakedly (and boringly) personal about it--and look--as usual, when I let my fingers do the writing, I managed to answer my own question by my use of the word “possessing” at the beginning of this sentence.  Because I am literally possessed by this thing.  I cannot stop thinking about it, or hearing it talk in my head.  (“Talk.”  Heh.  I’m lucky if it’s not shouting, and I’m lucky if I’m not shouting at the same volume when I’m arguing with it.)  And I think it’s a common enough occurrence for all of us to be so possessed--by an event, a fear, a person, a loss--that it might be entertaining and instructive for y’all to see how I’m dealing with it.

“With what?” I hear you ask.  Call it a demon.  From the ancient Greek daimon (δαίμων), a disembodied spirit.  (Which totally fits one of its attributes, since being possessed by one is like having an alcohol problem.  See below.)  And this spirit is almost totally negative, or a negative influence.  When I’m possessed by something positive, I want to hang onto it as long as possible and it always seems to sift through my fingers.  But when I’m possessed by something negative, even a court order can’t get it to vacate the premises. 

So how do I try to evict it?  Several different ways, all of them useless:

TALKING TO YOURSELF PERPETUATES THE  NON-CONVERSATION.  As I said, this thing has got me talking to myself a lot.  This talk consists of equal parts fantasy conversation (where I win all the arguments with God), zingers I could have said and didn’t (“If promises were cash, you’d be bankrupt.”), and relentless repetition of the same point, like someone trying to hammer a nail into a stone (which pretty much boils down to the same three words: “How could you?”)  Are any of these three going to solve the problem, never mind make me feel better?  Hell no.   None of them are conversations--they’re all monologues.  And monologues are great for venting, but for getting rid of a daimon?  Forget it.  This is why, if I'm talking to myself a lot and getting nothing in return but an echo, then the next logical step is to look for an echo outside of myself.

TALKING TO OTHER PEOPLE PERPETUATES THE NON-CONVERSATION.  On one side, I get the pleasure of hearing my friends tell me that God owes me one, that Life is unfair, that I have good reason to feel hurt and lost, and that I deserve better.  On the other hand, every time I speak of it, my daimon hugs me even closer.  It doesn’t define the problem--the problem defines me.  And the one thing I need all this talking to do--give me clarity--is the one thing it can’t do--it makes everything muddier--it’s like swirling a stick in a pond, it brings up all the crap from the bottom that should stay on the bottom.  And I'm back at square one, trying to clean myself off and not blame someone else for getting me dirty.    

BEING REASONABLE IS LIKE USING A BAND-AID ON A SUCKING CHEST WOUND.  The failure of reason in situations like this points up the (heh) reason why the word “rationalize” has a pejorative connotation.  I can rationalize all I want about an emotional situation: I can stand face to face with Death and say “It happens to everybody,” I can look Loss in the eye and say “Yes, you took that one thing, but look at how much I still have,” I can smile at Rejection and say “And it’s your loss, not mine,” and I might actually feel good for a few minutes.  Fifteen minutes.  Thirty tops.  Till the daimon finds a chink in that rational armor of mine and starts poking me in The Hurt Place again, and Reason goes back to the blacksmith for another try at making itself impenetrable.  Which will never ever happen.  I can cause a blackout by using all the power on the entire East Coast to be rational and reasonable, and the daimon will be totally unaffected, like it has its own generator.  Which it does.  And the generator is inside me, powered by resentment, pain and the desire to hurt something.  Which is the outward expression of the desire to keep the wound open.  So how do I close the wound?

CONFRONTING THE SOURCE IS LIKE THROWING OIL ON THE FIRE.  If it’s a person, the urge to do this is overwhelmingly seductive, because (rationally) I should be able to cure the problem by going to the source, right?  Except that I don’t really want to cure the problem, I want  my pound of flesh.  I want to shake the source of that daimon until it hurts like I do, until he or she or it feels shittier than an overflowing outhouse.  And it will never happen.  Remember: the daimon is Popeye--he will answer everything with the same five words: “I am what I am.”  Meaning "It’s your problem, pal, so deal with it."  Is it fair?  No.  Will I shout myself hoarse trying and failing to get the source of my daimon to realize that it’s unfair?  You bet.  Does that make him, her, or it a cold unfeeling SOB?  God yes.  And don’t we all wish we could be so unfeeling.  There’s a great comfort in unfeeling.  Which is why there’s that extra tang of jealousy in my voice when I'm yelling “How can you be so unfeeling?”  And why saying it and either not getting a response or getting a response I don't want only makes matters worse.

THAT DOOR IS NEVER GOING TO OPEN.  You can bang on it all you want.  God is not going to answer you.  The guy who made all those promises and now acts like you’re a complete stranger won’t answer you.  The girl who used you as a sublet between Guy Apartments won’t answer you.  And here’s the thing: even if the door opens?  You are not going to get the answer you are looking for, because what you are looking for is a time machine--you are looking for a way to drag everything back to the point where it all went wrong, so you can make it go right.  The Arabs actually invented a number to express how many times that’s happened in the life of the universe; it’s called zero.  Which won’t stop you from trying, because there’s always a first time for everything, but you should also consider the implications of what you’re doing.  Or rather, where you’re standing.  And where is that?

YOU ARE ROOTED IN THE PAST.  This is probably the most aggravating thing of all--the fact that everything moves.  When you feel left behind by an event or a person, you have two choices--you can either start walking, or you can stand there and repeat all those hopes you had for the future, or all those vows that were made to you, as if they still apply.  But they don’t apply--which is why you’re standing there like someone bitching about a Windows XP program after your operating system changed to Vista.  It’s the equivalent of a sign that says I LIKED IT BETTER BEFORE.  And of course you did.  The important thing is to realize that it’s not stupid to feel that way.  The important thing is to realize that you were stupid to get attached in the first place, because (to be totally Zen about all this) all attachments are pain.  (Which is why Zen Revenge is the best revenge of all.  You chose her over me?  You moved in with him?  That’s an attachment, and all attachment is pain.  Which is the sound of one throat sub-vocalizing “Nyah nyah!”) 

YOU NEED TO MOVE ON.  Does that mean you have to stop caring?  You bet it does.  It’s the emotional equivalent of “You can’t fire me--I quit!”  And yes, it’s another suit of armor, and yes, your daimon will reach inside it and poke around at that wound like the armor isn’t even there.  But only if you stand still.  Motion is the daimon’s kryptonite.  Which is not to say that motion doesn’t hurt.  It does.  It’s just a better class of pain.  Think of it as pain with protein.  Pain with benefits.  Chief benefit?  When you leave the cause of your pain behind, you leave the thing that’s nagging you about the pain there with it.  It only travels if you carry it.  And if you move on and carry it with you, then it’s your own stupid fault.  Because bottom line, what you’re dealing with here?

WHEN IT COMES TO [INSERT PROBLEM HERE], YOU'RE AN ALCOHOLIC.  You are ingesting a poison that makes you think it’s a vitamin.  It’s not giving you what you need to live; it’s giving you what it needs to stay alive.  And the only way to get it out of your system is to cut it out entirely and go cold turkey.   Turn your back on it.  Walk away.   Do not turn around, no matter how many promises it makes.   Remember that you are walking away from a sweet but deadly lie--from something that time and circumstance changed from something you could depend on into something you can't rely on--from something you once believed in to something you need to keep believing in because it was who you were once. (Repeat when necessary: once.)  So if you want to believe in a lie?  If you want to live in the once and not the now?  Turn around.  Talk to that daimon.  Hug that needy clinger close.  Otherwise?  Cover your ears, shut your mouth and start walking.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thought for the day

If you want to hug a porcupine, then you can't really complain when you get stabbed by the quills.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

He's Evil, He's Evil, He's Evil

We're not exactly talking "subtle" here . . .

Oh Richard, you bloated spider, you humpbacked scene-stealer you.  When will you ever be part of a play, and not a star turn?

Sigh. Judging by the production currently running at BAM?  Never.

As with every other Dicky Three-Eyes I have ever seen, with the exception of Olivier's movie, if you take away the lead actor from this Bridge Project production, everything falls apart. If a good play is a mountain range, then this is a single mountain towering over a collection of little hills.  A great mountain, but still a mountain, with nothing to contrast itself against.  A one-man show, in other words. 

The beauty of that? You get to see Kevin Spacey go to town. And it's a great town, complete with incredible physical contortions a la Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.  Who’da thunk that the two most memorable male performances on stage in the last year would be a couple of autumn chickens pretzeling their bodies for our enjoyment?  In Spacey’s case, he really makes himself into a human spider, twisting his leg and using a cane to scuttle-walk back and forth across the stage--and then, delightfully, scuttle-march to the beat of kettle drums.   

The major flaw? Because Spacey’s Richard is so blatantly over-the-top evil, everybody else on stage look blind or brain-damaged--so instead of saying to yourself, “Look what he’s getting away with,” you say, “Why are they letting him get away with this?” Which, when you’re doing a three-hour play, is like riding a roller coaster backwards, slowly but surely bringing you further and further away from the fun and excitement, until you’re so distant from the ride that all you can see is the architecture. Plus your back hurts a lot.  (Thank you, Harvey Theatre seats.) 

There are a couple of brilliant first-half multimedia moments, but sadly these are undercut by the interpretation of Richard as an obvious villain. Even the dumbest politico in America knows that you do NOT show rage or frustration on camera. It may get a “look what he’s doing now” laugh, but it’s a laugh that takes you out of the play. But then there isn’t really a play here. Especially in the second half, where even the comic shadings of the first two hours disappear and Spacey does nothing but give a lesson on how to vary your yells over three octaves and 65 minutes.

For the Shakespearean purists at this blog (cough), director Sam Mendes didn't cut a whole hell of a lot, so for the first time ever I actually got to see a couple of the women scenes that usually never get done when this play gets produced.  And now I know why.  And have to ask myself, "Did that EVER WORK?  Even in 1594? Really?  You had four boy actors who were THAT GOOD in 1594 that you wrote a lo-o-o-o-ong scene for them?  Wow, Bill.  Cocky in your thirties, weren't you?”

This is also the final Bridge Project presentation, which is odd for two reasons: because the last two projects have had two plays in repertory, and because those plays have had more than one star.  Or more than one  mountain (See above).  But it’s not up to the level of the last two, and not least because it feels like the bus and truck Richard (or as we used to say, referring to Transylvania, the angry peasant and pitchfork tour).

Bottom line: it  makes me want to live long enough to see someone play Richard like a male femme fatale. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Songs for a Tuesday Morning: The smell of burning leather as we hold each other tight

Since I've been feeling more walled up than a Poe protagonist lately, here are three Wall Of Sound-related tunes, two produced by Phil Spector and one a loving homage to all things Spectorish.

"River Deep--Mountain High"  from 1966 barely climbed to 88 on the Billboard 100 and was one of the most expensive singles ever produced at the time, costing over $20,000 in 1966 dollars (that's $138,000 in Today Cash)--which didn't include Phil Spector's private arrangement with Ike Turner (Spector paid him $20K just to stay away from the recording studio while Spector cut the single and the album with  Tina Turner).  The failure of the single to chart depressed Spector so much that he didn't do another musical thing for the next two years except sing the phrase "Music critics suck" over and over again.

River Deep, Mountain High

This next one is not as Wall-of-Soundy as RDMH, but it's definitely memorable for its subject matter alone.  Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and recorded by The Crystals in 1962, the song was supposedly created after Goffin and King discovered that Little Eva (the singer on their "Do The Locomotion") was being beaten by her boyfriend, and when they asked why she put up with it, she replied that it was because he loved her.  (Shades of Carousel.)

He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss

And finally, on a (thankfully) much sillier note, we have this hot and sweaty duet between Fee Waybill and Re Styles from The Tubes' second album, which was arranged in Wall Of Sound style by Jack Nitzsche.  It's one of my favorite songs, and it totally deserves to be in a John Waters movie somewhere. Or have John Waters direct a video of it.

Don't Touch Me There

Monday, January 23, 2012

And I'll fall for her like an anvil through greased air

Noir sonnets: The Dame

She’s beautiful the way a knife is sharp.
   She makes me drunker than a fifth of scotch.
One smile and she can play me like a harp.
   Her heart’s a gun, and I’m the latest notch.
There’s nothing that’s beneath her or above her.
   She’s silk and silver, with a soul of sludge.
When she says “I” she means her and her lover;
   When she says “We” she means her and her grudge.
She’ll screw me till my life’s totally effed--
   She’ll say "I'll always love you" to my face--
Then hit the road and make me think I left
   (But keep the door cracked open just in case).
      She’ll find a way to make me hers for life,
      Then stab me so I never feel the knife.

Copyright 2012 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, January 22, 2012

La Sol y La Luna*

The sun always wears
a pair of black four-inch heels
The moon goes barefoot

Copyright 2012 Matthew J Wells

*I know, I know--"sol" is masculine, but for the poem to work, they both have to be feminine; and I'm also riffing on this great restaurant in Austin, so it's not only bad grammar but a bad pun.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Undead of Winter

It pretends to be warm but it’s not really warm, like an ice goddess in a fur coat. 

It feels like the world is coming alive, but it’s not, it’s still dead, it’s just putting the lie in alive, and I walk hand in hand with it because I want to believe it, because I feel the promise in the air, and frankly?  Because there’s nothing that makes me feel more alive than walking arm in arm with 60 degree Fahrenheit weather . . .

And life is what this femme fatale is after, my life, my warmth.  She leans in for a kiss, and I close my eyes, and like a door slamming in my face just as I walk up to it, a hard sub-freezing wind will blow it all away, will hit me like a thousand little nails, will slice through shirt and flesh to pierce my heart, the teeth of something that hungers for the warmth of my blood.

All I want to do is curl up into a ball, a ball of down, pun intended, with all my branches bare and my roots dried up and gasping.  And then the ground grows moist and I start to bud, and just as a shoot of green appears, it’s sliced away by an Arctic blast, to the sound of bitter laughter in the wind.

It’s not really warm.  I keep telling myself that, but the sun on my skin laughs at me and says I'm insane, of course it's really warm, would I feel this way if it wasn't?

All right, I think, it's warm, yes, warm, but it's heartless warmth, it's bloodless heat.  I keep telling myself that, but I have so much energy that my body is laughing at me, and saying that I'm delusional, how can warmth be heartless, how can all this energy be bloodless?

And I give in.  It’s a forgery of spring, but it’s such a perfect forgery that I don't notice it--I don't want to notice it--because it gives me what I want.  Until it doesn't.  

It’s a warm kiss that turns into a cold bite, and when it does, I think, “Thank God I’m so withdrawn that I can’t feel it.”

But I can feel it.

I do feel it.

I always feel it

Feel it in my bones
Feel it reach into my bones
The cold seductive touch
Of winter in my head

That says hearts do not beat
They are not allowed to beat
Or else they beat too much
For something cold and dead

Friday, January 6, 2012

Somebody knows me far too well . . .

I just received this as a holiday gift:

Thank you, J.

Let the SuperDickery commence.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Holiday Movies, or, What A Weird Species Humanity Is

War Horse.  There’s nothing that brings out a sense of humanity more than an endangered animal.  Audiences all over the world will say “Ho hum” while human soldiers are getting slaughtered left and right, but when a lame horse is going to get put out of its misery, the handkerchiefs come out and they start crying “Not the horse!  Don’t shoot the horse!”  In the entire rest of the film, there is only one comparable moment where you actually feel for a human being.  It’s a close-up of Tom Hiddleston’s face, and in that one close-up is everything you need to know about the stupidity and waste of war.  But in true Spielberg fashion, this film is about survivors, not the fallen--it’s the horse version of Schindler’s List.  And it’s built like a checklist of emotional buttons: heartless landlord (check), precocious but sickly girl (check), horse-driven echo of the Christmas Truce (check), equine version of Ben-Hur as a galley slave (check), a boy and his horse love affair (check), horses charging machine guns (check and double check).  And every button works; it’s like seeing an ex, the one who broke your heart, and watching her get under every piece of armor you’ve built up to protect yourself--and she makes you hate yourself for loving every second of it.  In other words, it’s very Disney.  How Disney?  This movie is so Disney that (my hand to God) the goose does comic relief.  

A Dangerous Method.  This movie feels like somebody said, “I bet you a  million dollars that you can’t make a dull movie about carnal desire and sexual neuroses,” and David Cronenberg went, “You’re on!”  I don’t know whether it’s the too-literal translation of the Christopher Hampton play to film, or the fact that the Brit and the Dane are playing the Jews (and the Jew is playing the Swiss guy), or the fact that Cronenberg really needed that million bucks, but this is by far the dullest movie in which you will ever see a half-naked Keira Knightley get spanked, and spanked hard, by a bored Michael Fassbender. I mean hell--Fassbender has more energy and verve in the trailer to X-Men: First Class than he does in this entire movie.  And Mortensen underplays Freud so much that he’s within waving distance of Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd.  All Vincent Cassel has to do is show up and he steals the entire movie.  In other words, don’t go see this when you’re sleepy.  But if you do doze off, try to remember what you dreamed, because it’ll be five times more exciting.  And ten times more revealing.

Barry Lyndon.  The most beautiful badly-acted movie ever made.  Hands down.  It was at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of their See It Big series, and I swear to God, if this was a silent movie?  It would be right up there with Citizen Kane.

Hamlet in Elsinore.  A 1964 version of Hamlet which just got released on DVD this fall.  I watched it on New Year’s Eve with my friend Meir, and we both agreed that (a) Christopher Plummer’s performance in the lead partakes a little too much of the first syllable of his character’s name, and (2) Robert Shaw as Claudius is the shit.  Holy crap, is he good.  Also: Michael Caine, in his only filmed Shakespearean performance (I know; right?), makes a perfect Horatio.  There are some weird cuts in the script (especially in Act Four: second Ophelia mad scene?  Gonzo.) and Plummer, alas, spends most of his time on-screen auditioning to be a member of the Barrymore family.  See it for Shaw.

Pina in 3-D.  If you’ve seen Pina Bausch live, you need to go see this.  If you’ve never seen Pina Bausch live, then you REALLY need to go see this.  It deserves (and will get)  its own full-length review in the next couple of days, so I’ll just say two things here.  Every choreographed move in this film, as in Bausch’s work, springs from an emotional impulse.  Which makes almost every movement in this movie so human that it becomes a symphony of carnal music.  Go see it, and we'll talk.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

4 lessons from 2011


If I speak your name
I’ll become untouchable
and not an option


Nothing like shared grief
to make a detached soul feel
like embracing life


Imaginary meals
can only ever feed
imaginary appetites


I want no part of it
but I will always feel hurt
if I’m not invited

Copyright 2012 Matthew J Wells

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Report Card


Movies Watched in Theatres: 55
DVD’s Watched: 90
Plays: 21
Operas: 2
Dance Performances: 6
Readings: 17
Music Performances: 27
Museum Visits: 13

Books Read: 35
Plays Read: 45
Poetry Magazines Read: 21
Comic Books Read: 441

Staged Readings Given: 0
Produced Plays: 1
Poetry Readings Given: 2

Stories Written: 3
One-Acts Written: 2
Full-Length Plays Begun: 3
Full-Length Plays Finished: 0
Full-Length Plays Rewritten: 3
Novels Begun: 2
Novels Finished: 0
Screenplays Begun: 1
Screenplays Finished: (pending)
Poems Written: 77

Blog Posts: 176
Poems Memorized: 3

Submissions:  27
Acceptance Letters: 0
Rejection Letters: 19
Awaiting Reply: 8


Guinness: 185
Other Beers: 82
Wine (glasses): 79
Wine (bottles) 15
Mimosas: 6
Bloody Marys: 8
Scotch: 14
Margaritas (frozen): 9
Shots of Whiskey: 25
Shots of Tequila: 16
Shots of Vodka: 3
Girly Shots: 7

Hookah Pipes: 2

Illegal Drugs: 0
Contact Highs: 2


Foreign Trips: 1
Foreign Trips Where I Was Treated Like A King: 1 (same trip)

Hang-Outs That Closed This Year: 3
New Hang-Outs Found: 0

Dreams remembered and recorded: 45
Dreams about smoking: 6
Dreams where I woke up saying “Where the fuck did THAT come from?”: 11
Dreams where I woke up saying “Guess I don’t need to go to therapy THIS week!”: 14
Dreams where Marilyn Monroe told me I was a better lover than Arthur Miller: 1
But not a better writer: 1

New Friends: 10
Ex-Friends: 6

All-Nighters: 5
Working Days of Drinking (8 hours or longer): 6
Nights On The Town With A Fetish Model: 1

Wild Animals Held: 1
Wild Animals Dated: 2

Resolutions made on 1/1/11: 5
Resolutions kept as of 12/31/11: 1
Lessons learned: 4