Internships galore!

The common complaint about a broad proliferation of internships popping up in the marketplace is this: companies are abusing a practice, traditionally used out of financial necessity or for educational purposes, in order to create a tier of temporarily unpaid labor. A problem, indeed. Yet the more insidious issue with this issue is the imbalance of opportunity it perpetuates. It stands to reason that people with existing means of self support will be more eligible for these audition positions than people who cannot survive for an extended duration without compensation for their work. Some people, who may be very talented and diligent but who also lack advantage, will thereby fall to greater disadvantage. Others, who possess resources, will accumulate additional resources and agency. Let me simplify: money biases opportunity; opportunity generates money.

I don’t fault the upper-middle-well-off-affluent-people-of-plenty who want to work and are willing to do it for naught but experience in the short term. The opportunity is there, and if it’s the right place and the right vocation and might be fun to do, why should someone turn it down? Just because someone approaches the upper end on the spectrum of material wealth doesn’t justify depriving that person of a chance to work. Good fortune ought not disqualify someone from earning. Just as it shouldn’t omit them from loving, suffering, learning, triumphing, or failing. Empathy is the product of effort given from the hands as well as the heart. And right now empathy between classes in this country is in severely short supply. Ensuring systematically that the haves can while the have-nots can’t will only serve to sharpen the lines that divide us.

Look. Just pay people for their work. Be fair and even generous. Don’t abuse the high unemployment rate. Don’t cultivate a meta-social atmosphere of desperation and resentment. And mostly, don’t pretend you’re a non-profit organization strapped for cash, or that everyone who wants to work for you is receiving compensation from a passionate desire to fulfill a higher calling. Hopefully they are, and you should seek those people out. Not because you can pay them less for more work, but because they will attend to tasks with aspirations towards extreme quality. But even those people need to eat and play, and many of them can’t do that without a paying job.

Flesh and blood hearts

When people sit in cafes with their laptops and other screened devices, sipping a poor excuse for amphetamine and chewing on invisible sugars, what percentage of that time do you think is spent floating around in the Wi-Fi ether? How much of “going to the coffee shop to work” is work, and how much is procrastination oscillating against distraction? Experience tells me that drift accounts for a significant portion of these sessions. My purely unscientific research puts the portion of effort spent disengaged in the task at hand at 63%. For college students, that number might jump up as high as 76%! We either don't really have enough to keep us productively occupied, or we just don't like to get to it. (Because getting to it means that “it” will inevitably be evaluated, and not starting down the path often seems easier than ending up at the other end of it. But that's a different topic.)

In their last issue, Willamette Week ran a story touting the ten best proletarian coffee shops in which to study. Their criteria for goodness included availability of fast Wi-Fi and an allowance to occupy a table for hours on end. The anti-virtuous locale in this exposé was Heart, on East Burnside and 22nd Avenue; the complaint being an abundance of wisdom about roasting, but too little warmth for the elite thinkers ostensibly invested in their labors. Given the figures in the non-study above, I applaud Heart for earning this distinction. They deserve even more kudos for something that Willamette Week didn't mention: they turn off their Wi-Fi on weekends.

Let me name my hypocrisy before someone else does. I love to sit in coffee shops for long stretches, doing very little that applies to my excuse for being there in the first place. All that science up above? That's all based on an estimate of my own historical habits. To wit: I've been sitting here, drinking iced coffee, surfing, and daydreaming for a couple of hours now under the pretense of composing this post. Guilty.

Still and all, my complaint about this pastime – and my concomitant admiration for Heart – is not really about lack of productivity. I actually believe that the circuitous route to a goal may often be the most fruitful. Mentally wandering around the periphery of an objective frequently builds associations that are impossible to see from the direct route. By all means, spend lots of time getting where you think you're going. It's merely that, if we are going to drift, then let's find venues that encourage us to drift together…live…in the flesh. I count ten of sixteen people in this present space living in relationship to a screen (yes, me, too). Some of them are sharing a table but living in entirely distinct virtual realms. Perhaps there are other people in other cafes on the other sides of all that Wi-Fi. Perhaps they are all over the world and indeed that's a miraculous thing that the Internet has done for us. But maintaining at least a little bit of live-and-in-person still holds value, and a lack of Wi-Fi may be a coffee shop's best attribute.

Thank you, Joanne

I think of Joanne as my second acting teacher. Skip, the first. Really, though, she co-taught that first class – Shakespeare – right along with him. That first class about acting that changed the course of my life in inexplicable and lasting ways; lessons that go on informing what moves me, and orienting me in the presence of critical decision points all these years later. When not knowing is an insufficient alternative, the choice that gets made might, if we could trace such things, very well wind back through relationships and neurons and labyrinths of previous choices, back and back to adolescent experiences during six short weeks in summer of 1988.

Skip enjoys pride of place in my memory because his teachings were overt. The exercises and explanations spoke largely to who we were already. He knew how to have fun while imparting knowledge to us. His teaching felt seamless; a natural extension of our identities. Joanne, however, aimed her work at who we were expected to become. Namely, self-directed performers responsible for our own growth on stage and, more, our meaningful communion with others. She wasn't about fun, and we were all terrified of her because of it. Learning from her felt like work. She generated within each of us something akin to the trying relationship that a reptile might feel for its body as it sheds dry, clinging, catching skin.

Part of the resistance surely was that her activities felt obscure; minimally connected to playing a character. What I know now is that she was encouraging us to engage something far more complicated than a fictional being. Joanne was getting each of us to grapple with a self: the deep core and wellspring beneath truly purposeful acting. She was trying to show us how to pose useful questions, and to creatively provoke our hearts and minds.

So there we all stood one warm afternoon, in a circle in a darkened classroom. The chair-desks used as a matter of course for conventional classes during the school year now all shoved and stacked at the margins. The only light coming from the sun, but filtered through a canopy of leaves and then diminished by tinted windows before reaching our strange ceremony. We were supposed to keep our eyes shut. Nobody was doing that very well, thanks to equal parts defiance and boredom. Whalesong echoed as clearly as it could from two meager speakers attached to a boom-box at the periphery. Besides not peeking, our objective was to join the haunting echolocation with the hum of our own voices. We weren't charged with anything as complicated as matching pitch or following rhythm. “Just sing with them.”

I don't know how I slipped from trying to conform to my peers' mockery of the moment, to keeping my eyes persistently shut. I'm not sure in what second my jaw dropped and allowed breath to carry my voice unhindered into the space. But at some moment I joined, and the floor and the walls and buildings around the walls and the few young years that accident upon accidental happening brought me to this place and nothing short of time itself…it all bent and then gave way. And maybe I breathed for the first time since I'd stopped breathing, as humans do when they acquire language. Now I had breath and a language both. I took the one in deeply and let the other out readily, without suppressing – without forcing – either direction.

As my heart rose up, my body stumbled with wooziness. I puzzled at my clammy palms and humid brow; my arteries pumping forcefully into my ears. Yet my eyes remained dark and my voice available up above, until the moment that my legs began to crumple down below. Destined for the cool floor. But I didn't hit the floor. Joanne, who in my recollection could have been doing nothing other than anticipating my collapse, caught me. She pressed a bottle of water into my hand and, whispering so as not to contradict the whalesong, instructed me to sit and drink.

Thereafter, when my teenage cohorts complained about the worthlessness of Joanne's time with us, I said nothing. Skip charmed me with his endless passion. But Joanne earned my respect with her conviction. Although I think of the former first when thinking about my life with in theatre, in truth they are together my first teacher.

do re mi faaaaaaaaaaaaa

I don't have Siri. I have her younger and less glamorous sister, Prototype Gretchen, who came with my iPhone 4. I like the little wiki-doodle clinging to the cord of my Apple earbuds that allows me to talk to Gretchen. I like to command her to do tasks like “next (song)” and “call Steven Crabgrinder on mobile.” But there's one particular job that Gretchen can't – or won't – do, because there's no way to tell her how to do it. Interested as I am in the way the human voice wraps around words, I often find myself wanting to scan back several seconds, several times in order to hear a particular inflection or phrasing that just happened. I don't need the whole track over. Just the last few moments. There is no way I have figured out to express this desire to Gretchen. She's seems to be an all or nothing type of gal.

When the magicians at Apple address this (they may have already done so, but I don't know because, like I said, I'm no acquaintance of Siri's), I hope that they choose some method other than crass speech. Calling out fixed durations, like “repeat five seconds,” may be direct and efficient but it's also uninspired. More elegant, and publicly pleasing, would be for the listener to add her/his own voice as instruction to the world. So, for example, if one would like to plunge backwards into the present track twelve seconds: press the dangly-widget and sing out within a particular tonal range. Perhaps the lower the pitch, the faster in reverse you go; the higher the faster forward. Imagine the street scene, as our musical devices encourage a musical world. Because out of that insular feedback loop between human and machine, some song should spring.

Caw

We're all fucked. I realize that crows are omnivores. However, I have of late seen them all too frequently dining on carrion in the middles of roads. This spectacle, coupled with a study I heard recently about how they can remember and I.D. human features better than any facial recognition software we've devised…this has me worried. They're hungry. They're everywhere. It's going to be a bloodbath.

Hitchcock's movie about this subject – featuring crows, by the way, in one of the most ominous scenes ever designed for the screen – seems pallid to a generation accustomed to high-octane horror. The supernatural and paranormal have superseded nature's ostensibly tamer threats. But think about it for a moment. What are we really going to do when crows in numbers approaching a bee swarm begin to suspect that living flesh may be more appetizing than tire-tainted squirl meat? Sure, you may be able to knock one or two out of the air before your eyes are plucked clean from their sockets. But you're not going to win against an entire murder, ultimately. They use gravity to crack nuts. They know what gravity is!

So watch The Birds with an eye towards preparing for battle. Don't let those waddling black bodies lull you into complacency. When you hear that call-and-response croaking from power lines above, look up to avoid triangulation, but do shield your eyes. Avian Armageddon is imminent. But you don't have to be one of the first to go.

Chew

Morning Edition recently presented a piece about the burden overweight people place on our planet. The problem of feeding flesh instead of mouths is especially acute in the United States. Though we make up approximately 6% of the earth's population, we account for about 33% of the overall weight wandering restlessly over this planet's surface. We can talk about calories and cavemen by way of seeking a solution. Pollan can chide us to eat food, and we can argue about meat fat, carbohydrates, and what the French do all day long. We can even turn our food consumption into a point system, perhaps hoping that our passion for sports will translate subliminally into a winning system for shedding pounds. We have done all these things, and experts tell us that our nation's people are still growing cumulatively bigger.

Let me suggest, unoriginally, that the problem of too much food and flesh should be viewed in a less compartmentalized fashion; that we need to consider the spirit, the psyche, and the entire body, rather than just the waistline. My fellow county-people, on this anniversary of our nation – when alcohol-laden, unfettered feasts surely threatens to push our share of the world's weight to 34% or beyond in a single hotdog-gorging day – let me propose a bold alternative to ever-more obsessive dieting: eat with your mouth. No. Not with utensils. Not with your hands. Put your mouth in your food and chew.

It has long been suspected that the geometries created by silverware, when used for eating, generates magnetic fields. Among other dangers, these invisible arrays probably disrupt the body's natural digestive processes and activate harmful micro-attributes in the food consumed. Furthermore, through a complex series of chemical reactions, metal repeatedly placed into and removed from the mouth siphons toxins out of the liver. When the eating session ends, those toxins are returned to the liver, forcing the organ to perform double duty. And I won't bother going into all the things leaching out of plastic utensils. But all the physiology aside, eating with implements separates you from your food.

Eating with your hands may seem like a viable alternative (and is certainly preferable to the fork, spoon, and knife), but this, too, has its problems. Even if you wash them as well as you possibly can, your hands still function like petri dishes cultivating harmful bacteria and viral matter. Scratching our bodies and touching foreign surfaces while dining is inevitable – and normal! When eating, and especially during social events that involve food, one should never have to feel like a surgeon who has just scrubbed in. Eating should be a rough pleasure, not a delicate procedure. And while bringing food to mouth with your fingers may be senorily thrilling, it also carries a high potential of delivering into your body pathogens alongside the critical nutrients. Beyond threats to your immune system, however, eating with your hands separates you from your food.

You know what doesn't separate you from your food? Grabbing it with your mouth and eating. And this method connects you with food in many respects beyond the obviously physical ones. Psychologically, eating with your face increases happiness. When have you witnessed a child in a high chair who, released from the parental dictates to “eat nicely” or “eat properly,” appears anything less than joyous? Or who does not rejoice on some instinctual level when Randy in A Christmas Story, induced by his mother's question about how piggies eat, smashes his face into the formerly undesireable plate of food before him. His snorting and laughing becomes contagious to everyone literally and figuratively present, as the nutrious food flows into his body unhindered by implement, microbe, or negative emotion. Research in science journals has surely demonstrated that happy eating increases the body's efficient and healthful processing of food, leading ultimately to moderation and reduced weight gain. Imagine being among a table full of adults at your favorite upscale restaurant, all gleefully devouring food like Randy. All knowing that your direct connection to that food will foster a healthy figure.

At an even more basic level, look to the dog or the cat or the alpaca. These and other animals are spiritually connected to their meals. They become one with the things they directly devour. Sure, the raccoon uses its hands, but observe that creature's sour disposition. Or the squirrel's stupidity. Or the chimp's covetousness. No, the happiest animals are the ones who do not aspire to anything more sophisticated than a face planted in something scrumptious. (The great exception may be the otter, who cannot be unhappy with that furry coat and aquatic agility; also who needs the blubber to survive in the cold ocean.) Bodies passing energy in the most direct and present way unto other bodies. This is the way to benefits including, but going far beyond, the mere reduction of weight.

So grab that patriotic potato salad with your mouth, my friends! Rip that hot dog apart with your incisors, just like an American should! Exercise your freedom to chew into that apple pie sans fork! Let's eat like pigs, and enjoy the physical and spiritual benefits that accompany our liberation.

Product

Skip lay in bed, naked from the waist up. His desire was to sleep. But, intending some months ago to paint his bedroom, he had removed all the window coverings. It was around 8:51pm in the early summer, not quite dark, and what drooping light there was left in the day kept him awake. He wondered if the neighbors across the way could see him, and if they cared that he was shirtless. Their shades were always closed, but Skip was convinced that they peered out from gently lifted corners to observe him frequently. Although he felt repellent without a shirt on, this was actually a welcome scenario bordering on fantasy for Skip. What if they, unlike he, were pleased with what they saw? Sometimes Skip would even linger near the dresser, pretending to check the weather or email on his phone, indulging these voyeurs across the courtyard.

9:04 and still light. And now Skip was losing his resolve to sleep. He sat upright in bed and scanned the floor of the dimming room. Clothes all fading to the same dusky shade of grey lay, limbs contorted, about the place. Leaving his legs on the bed and supporting his weight against the ground with his arms, in some bastardized fashion of downward dog, Skip began feeling around for a shirt. Something with long sleeves. The days were warming now that it was late June, but a chill still seeped into the valley each night. Short sleeves, blue jeans, too thick. Soon Skip was extended well away from the bed in his quest for a shirt, his upper body upside-down, legs nearly parallel to the ground, and his feet trying to hold him on the bed like an action hero hanging on to the edge of a cliff. Skip relished what the the spies across the way must think about this half-naked calisthenic spectacle taking place at twilight. Probably porno exercises, or something untoward like that.

Out of options within reach of the bed, Skip lowered his knee and crawled about until he found a knit shirt with the right weight to insulate his arms against what he imagined the air outside to feel like. He pulled the shirt over his head, laid on his back, and held out his arms. Probably blue-grey. Or perhaps green flecked with earth. Twilight was ending. Skip couldn't tell, and it didn't matter for a trip to the grocery store anyway.

He wanted a pumpkin to carve. Skip hadn't carved a pumpkin on Halloween or otherwise in at least five years. But tonight he wanted to cut very basic geometry into a pumpkin, making a classic Jack O'Lantern that he would light with a candle and set out front on his orange-tiled step. He would roast the fruit's seeds with plenty of salt and a little cayenne, and nibble on them while he carefully sculpted a face from the hollow shell. In his long-sleeve shirt, which the entryway light revealed as blue after all, Skip locked the door and headed to his purchase his raw material.

Past the front door of his conflicted admirers, out the complex's gate, east four blocks and over half a mile, Skip walked with self-congratulatory anticipation through the parting glass panels of Parker Puddin's Foodopolis. Bright, uneven light seemed to change the temperature at the threshold and welcome him to the great bounty of consumables. Skip headed down the paper products aisle, as this was the surest and most direct route to produce. Single rolls, double rolls of double-ply, triple soft triple rolls in six, eight, sixteen, or thirty-two count. How could one possibly decide correctly on toilet tissue from this wealth of options? And then again, how could one go wrong! The only thing to do was to try them all, to see which type, style, and brand of tissue best balanced comfort with effectiveness in wiping away residual shit fom one's ass. It was no different with paper towels. Well, somewhat different. Yes. If there was no difference, then one might use the less expensive product to wipe one's ass and one's countertop. Yet these are clearly unique tasks and surfaces, requiring entirely specialized tools. Thankfully, a handful of manufacturers who understand this have developed a variety of paper towel types that address the nuance of spilt liquid: dimpled paper, absorbent pockets, angular and curved patterns (a difference still open to scientific and scholarly debate). And all available with various aesthetic options, such as baby animals, or images of Americana to comfort one’s guests with a sense of timeless stability. A psychological antidote to the terror of having spilled a drink in another person’s home. Or for the stoic pragmatist, who advertises confidence through lack of decoration, no print at all.

Skip moved past all of these – and the facial tissues, the wet wipes, the innovations in paper-based dusting technology, all of it – without turning his head. He had come to Parker Puddin’s for a pumpkin. He did not presently care about how he would clean up the mess he intended to make on the kitchen floor. That would be a future trip to the Foodopolis.

The first items he encountered were the apples. Skip stood next to the large square bin of Braeburns and surveyed the area for gourds. Leafy greens, long root vegetables with bushy tops, multi-colored citrus balls, berries and more berries. And there, sticking up over the rolling hills of avocados, there was the hard-shelled flag he was looking for: the butternut squash. Skip approached, expecting to see the bottom of the tall pale surface tucked into a sea of deep green, bulbous yellow, and, of course, orange. Instead: more washed-out brown. More butternut squash. After scoping out the rest of the section, Skip inquired with a Puddin’ Pal, who informed him that all types of produce available were on the shelves for the consumer’s convenience. Skip thanked the Pal and meandered back to stare at the butternut squash. Maybe Gardner’s across town had pumpkins. Maybe. But that would require exact bus fare, and he didn’t like the way Gardner’s clerks always asked him how his day was going even if it happened to be 10:38 at night. Perhaps he should just put his plan aside until a more proper season bore the appropriate fruit. Perhaps he was tired enough to go to sleep now.

After twenty minutes of indecision, Skip picked out an eight-pound squash with a sticker that noted Chile as its origination point. He would proceed. He would cut out the insides from the bottom and design a small face for the lower third. So what if his Jack O’Lantern’s forehead was extra tall and long? Who would complain? And if someone did, Skip would invent a story about pumpkins in October, but butternut squash in June. With his Chilean squash, a baggie holding a pinch of cayenne, and a six-pack of single roll double-ply toilet paper, Skip checked out and went home to carve.

Fall

It was so easy to go to Australia. It was so easy to go. Everywhere we've been. It's probably still easy, as soon as the decision is made. Then you go. What's ahead becomes all important. What is supposed to be loses all its power to frustrate; loses its ability to rub frictively up against what is. Tack-punctured sandpaper versus flesh.

So why is it so difficult to make the decision? Do we really believe that all the promises they promised are going to come true if we stay and endeavor and buy? If we invest properly? If we post cleverly enough on social networking sites, so that mediated living feels momentarily less mediated. Maybe if I squeeze my eyes shut tightly enough and believe harder than the next guy, maybe I'll come up with a great and stupid Sky Mall idea that I can sell to bored business travelers on planes. Headed to their next safely incubated destination. Something to send back to their friends and family to make up for their frequent lack of presence. Maybe I'll win the lottery. Maybe god will touch my brain with his old bony finger and grant me the capacity to be a business mogul. I'll have golden rays of light radiating from my every move that people won't see. But they'll feel them, and thus feel god, and they will inexplicably want to be involved in all my business transactions. Because god loves capitalism best.

That's not faith. That's competitive bargaining.

Faith looks more like going to Australia and living in a van when you get there. Faith is letting the tears slide frictionlessly down your cheek as you step – standing upright…not on all fours – to the precipice of the grassy Cliffs of Moher. Faith is striking up a conversation with humility and gratitude. Faith is allowing yourself to be moved in the presence of others. Faith's grandiosity is small. It fits into your heart, or into the fourteen lines of a sonnet. But it shouldn't be contained in either place. Because its containment will contain you.

It's so hard. It's so easy.

A word for the wonderful

This is not going to be specific. It’s a persistent feeling and doubtless vague. It also clearly represents an era as I perceived it from the vantage point of a particular age. I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway and not worry about the need to justify it. Here it is:

We’re all going to be much better off as soon as our psyches can escape the 1980s.

Not to say that the era didn’t provide some great times. Of course it did. Culturally it often projected bliss. Back to the Future and Culture Club and Knight Rider required no critical thinking whatsoever. The Cold War was scary to consider in detailed terms, but we rarely thought about it in detailed terms. And when we did, at least it made everything seem polarized…and bi-polarized…which is a lot more pleasant than things seeming infinitely deconstructible and individualized. Envisioning life with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is somehow much more comfortable than contemplating a free-floating existence on McCarthy’s Road. Our political representatives postured and proclaimed back then, but if push came to shove we knew that we could all co-exist in that bomb shelter just fine. Even the repellent aspects held some modicum of allure. The self may have been as complex as ever, but we could always find our way like metal shavings clinging to the magnet if we needed to. Nostalgia for that level of moral, cultural, political, and social clarity is how we get so seduced by the 1980s.

We need to let it go. Blind unity at that scale is not coming back unless some global catastrophic event occurs, and let’s not invite that degree of devastation upon ourselves. We can do this. We can live as a world of radically diverse peoples and persons. We don’t need to be defined by a nation or a president or a god or – perhaps least of all – by a celebrity. We can cluster and re-cluster into groups that help us make sense of our identities. And those clusters should least of all be determined by what we reject. Hopefully they can be determined by what we rejoice in, and the energy we can generate through optimistic social mass. We don’t need the simplistic categorization of the 1980s. We don’t need categorization at all! Our political structures are desperate to hold on to the myth that association with a core group automatically aligns all aspects of a self. But you and I and each every other else is more complex than that world view allows for. We need to experience. We need to live. And listen. And converse empathetically. Consolidation of power by a very few depends upon generalized complacency. Hence, the 1980s. But we’re grown up now. And we can do this.

Craft

Perhaps my presence gives her mono. She falls asleep whenever I come over. Or narcolepsy? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an excuse, since she keeps calling me over to visit and appears pleased to see me each time I arrive. And she never asks me to leave, as she stretches out on the couch and drifts off, still with that gradual glassy smile on her face. It hasn’t always been like this, though it’s been this way for a while now.

It used to be that I would come over and we’d devise all manner of miniature adventures. We’d paint seascapes with watercolors on the smoke-colored walls. Or move all lamps and lighting instruments into a single room to see how bright we could make it. Once we lit small fires with gum wrappers and whatnot in the fireplace to see if the chimney’s passage really stretched into the sky, or if it had been bricked up. The fireplace itself was just so clean we couldn’t believe it had ever been used. Mostly, though, we would lay on the ground with headphones on, the two cords running through a jury-rigged contraption that let us listen to the same music. Staring up at the ceiling we listened to Thickfreakness, Polly, Tango Habanera, Elenore, Great Indoors, Galileo, the ravings of Antonin Artaud trying desperately and once and for all to have done with the judgment of god. For hours at a time we would slide from track through track to track. Everything temporal and spatial beyond song released us. Storms outside our hearts became irrelevant. We never fell in love. And she never fell asleep.

Now she greets me with a hug, and the remnants of projects unfinished and unstarted both. Cigarette cartons and handicapped dress forms and sheets of butcher paper partially filled with partial figurations. And then she suggests what we might do with green bottles of white glue and circuit boards, as she lifts a stock of discs in my direction so that I can pick out dozens of pieces for tonight’s hodgepodge medley. The music that will arrive much sooner than it does in her mind. I say very little, knowing that soon and quickly she will find repose on the sofa. And as her sentences break up into remote islands of words, my breathing grows deep with resistance to the crack I feel forming beneath my sternum, caving into my stomach at gorgeous exuberance receding.

Silence succeeds sound. I put my headphones on. I put hers on. I rest my head nearby hers and press play. My eyes wide open, hers effortlessly shut, we dream together for the next several hours. Then I begin the long, ragged walk home.