The Good, the Bad, the Ferguson

America’s pretty messed up right now.

We’ve got vitriolic divisions on racial lines, political lines, ideological lines, religious/non-religious lines… We’re divided on so many fronts, I still find myself unable to pledge allegiance to the flag. Why should I? It’s not true. One nation? Sure, even if a lot of people want to secede. Under God? Well, that’s definitely questionable. Indivisible? The only way we as a country could be indivisible right now is if we’ve already divided ourselves so much that we can no longer be divided. And we seem to be nearly there. With liberty and justice for all? That statement seems almost as laughable as “indivisible,” especially in the light of the events of Ferguson, Mo.

If you have no idea what events I’m talking about, go ye forth and seek ye a friggin’ newspaper and a house that isn’t under 6 miles of rock. The problems in Ferguson are so layered and numerous and ridiculous that one would THINK, as a nation, we could finally see eye-to-eye on something with only a few freak outliers in the data. I mean, we’ve got excessive, militarized police blowing responses out of proportion. We’ve got an unarmed, non-violent (at LEAST in that moment) person WHOSE SKIN COLOR OR CRIMINAL RECORD SHOULDN’T MATTER dead without a good explanation. If he was a criminal, he was executed without due process, a Constitutional right. We’ve got the freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press getting hampered by cops, not to mention the violations of the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. And you’d better believe that 2nd amendment wouldn’t get upheld if a Ferguson protestor legally had a gun. We’ve got proof of this sort of activity happening all over the country for YEARS without appropriate punishments. We’ve got scientific data showing a decrease in police brutality and harassment claims anywhere cameras are required to be in cop cars or on their person. We KNOW, without a doubt, that there needs to be change. Race shouldn’t even be an issue.

But, no. Nothing’s ever that simple. See, too much has happened. There have been riots and looting. Those are bad, so Michael Brown deserved it. He may or may not have stolen cigars. Therefore, he deserved it. Oh, and he’s black. Which makes a difference. Because when you’re black, if you’re not an honors student planning to attend Harvard with a spotless record, a 4.0+ GPA and have never smoked, drank, had sex, owned a gun or hung out with another person of color who is less “perfect” than you, then you’re going to be demonized. This guy says all of this much more poignantly than I can, so I suggest you read it.

I was born extremely lucky. I reached into the lotto bowls of race and gender and got white male. As a man, I will tend to get preferential treatment over women when it comes to being hired and paid. I have a far lesser fear of sexual assault and rape. As a white person, I don’t have to worry about being treated as a stereotype. I don’t worry about being frisked. If I were to commit a crime, I’m likely to spend far less time in jail than a non-white person. And if I get randomly killed by police, at least I won’t get my name dragged through the dirt postmortem.

But do you know what the worst part of this all is? Nothing will really change. People will pretend it’s an isolated incident, like Eric Garner choked to death in New York, like Rodney King in California, like Trayvon Martin in Florida, like Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, like Michael Bell in Wisconsin. It was a fluke. It wasn’t a symbol of larger problems. They weren’t perfect people, so they deserved it. They goaded the cops. For goodness sake, we’ve got a crowdfunding campaign in support of Officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot Brown, and you can see how many people are apparently GLAD the boy got shot. Because blacks kill blacks and no one complains? Because he was a thug anyway? Excuse after excuse after excuse.

Nothing will change because we allow it to stay the same. Because we choose to see people as different and lesser than the rest of us.

America is going to be one of the most disastrously failed experiments if we let this keep happening, but there’s too much pride, ego and ignorance blinding people to that fact. Hopefully, I’m wrong. Hopefully, Brown’s death will ignite a spark of change for the better. Because we desperately need it before we burn.

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Depression, the Genie and Me

Robin Williams wasn’t my favorite actor.

I mean, if you asked me who my favorite actor is, I’d say Johnny Depp (yeah, yeah, whatever). If you asked me to name some actors I would always go to see a movie they’re in, I’d probably tell you Alfred Molina, Julia Stiles and John Goodman.

But when I heard about Williams’ suicide, I stopped to think of all the ways he influenced me. And he really did. I can’t remember a single movie I’ve watched with him in it that I didn’t enjoy. I grew up watching “Jumanji,” “Fern Gully,” “Aladdin” and its sequels. I constantly watched “Hook” and quoted lines from it, though I admittedly more often imitated Dustin Hoffman chewing the scenery as Captain James Hook. I remember getting in trouble for repeating a line from “Mrs. Doubtfire” as a child. (The line was, as Williams imitated Porky Pig, “Bedabba dabba dabba, p-p-p-piss off, Lou!”, not that I actually knew the words I was saying.) In high school, I was introduced to the beautiful film “What Dreams May Come,” an interpretation of Dante’s Inferno. In college, I discovered “Patch Adams,” “Night at the Museum” and “August Rush,” as well as two of my favorite films of all time, “Good Will Hunting” and “Dead Poets Society.” It’s movies like those, especially the Academy Award-winning performance Williams gave in “Good Will Hunting,” that remind me that comedians often have a great capacity for drama. Even my lesser loved comedians, like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, have stunned me with their dramatic performances. But Williams had the special gift of making me love him both as a comedian AND a dramatic actor.

Even beyond acting with a bodily presence, Williams influenced me most notably with his impressions. Were they always great, pitch perfect imitations of specific people, like his John Wayne performs Macbeth? Nah. Could I always tell if it was Williams? Yup. I was the only one in my family that could tell from voice alone that Williams was not the voice of Genie in “Return of Jafar.” Even so, Williams had a talent for impressions and voices. His gift was in the total and complete dedication to the bit, as well as being able to switch from one character to another faster than should be humanly possible. I’ve always enjoyed doing voices myself, and it was Williams and Mel Blanc, the voice of many beloved Warner Bros. cartoon characters, that helped guide me in that direction.

He wasn’t my favorite actor, but that might be because I had trouble thinking of him as an actor. I thought of him more as a friend to hang out with, the funny guy with all the voices that could make me laugh. But there’s no denying that he was definitely one of the people I would always enjoy watching on screen.

That’s probably one of the reasons Williams is the only celebrity whose death I’ve cried over. It’s weird, right? Crying over someone dying when you’ve never even met them? There have been people I HAVE known in real life to die I haven’t cried over. I suppose that could very well be a testament to how powerful Williams’ gift of connection and humor and emotion was.

But if I’m going to be honest, that’s not the only reason I cried. That might not even be the main reason I cried. No, if I’m honest with myself, I think it was because Williams was depressed and almost no one knew.

Depression is definitely one of those things people at large are largely ignorant about, myself included. Part of it has to do with the fact that we use the word as a synonym for being sad. That ASPCA commercial with the Sarah McLachlan song? So depressing. Got an F on a paper you worked all night on? Now you’re depressed. Except there’s a distinct difference between momentary sadness, no matter how deep those moments get, and systemic depression. Depression isn’t cured by a funny movie or a pint of ice cream or hanging out with friends. It isn’t something you can just “nut up” and “get over.” And the worst part about depression? Based on my personal experience and the stories I’ve heard from other depressed people, depression is seen as undesirable and shameful, so the person that has it tends to do their damnedest to hide it.

Have you ever noticed that there are a lot of creative types, and often comedic types, that are on drugs or are depressed? Many of whom end up dead? People like Philip Seymour Hoffman (drug addiction) and Chris Farley (drug addiction) and Heath Ledger (couldn’t pull out of his roles). But everyone knows drug and alcohol addiction are things to seek help over. They’re obviously bad things, right? They’re self-destructive behaviors that can ruin your life. But when it comes to depression, most people shrug off the entire idea. Even though I am willing to bet that a large chunk of addiction is born of depression and the desperate attempt to escape that soul-crushing feeling.

Cracked.com, the source of many a funny thing on the internet, has more than a few articles about depression and anxiety in funny people. Here’s one by David Wong, who talks about why people constantly cracking jokes are often depressed. And here’s another one by Mark Hill, about misconceptions of depression. Wong’s article has many, many links to many, many other writings by comedians about depression, but these are the two I’ve read. And they have some good points, many of which I agree with, based on personal experience.

Yeah, I’ve kinda sorta admitted that I might be depressed before. Yeah, I’ve talked about it before. But people don’t seem to be too receptive to the idea until they see depression’s effects laid out in front of them. Until the man that never stopped being hilarious and bringing joy to everyone killed himself because he felt life had crapped on him one too many times, finally with a Parkinson’s diagnosis, people by and large ignore the issue.

I suppose it’s not anyone’s fault. In America, mental health and awareness has taken a veritable nosedive with absolutely no changes no matter WHAT happens. We have mentally unstable people shooting and killing in double digit numbers and nothing changes with our mental health system because the conversation become bluster about guns and gun rights. We have veterans returning home with PTSD and mental health issues, becoming homeless and forgotten, and nothing changes with our mental health system because the conversation becomes bluster about war and the people still fighting. And we have an Oscar-winning actor, a beloved father and husband, an immensely successful comedian, an intensely well-liked celebrity (which seems rather hard to come by sometimes), a man known for his voice who chooses to die by strangling that voice until it no longer exists… and likely, nothing with change with our mental health system because we’d rather focus on other stuff, be it injustice in Ferguson painting some bigger, disturbing pictures of America or be it dumping ice water on our heads to raise money for ALS and/or whining about people dumping ice water on their heads. Because as uncomfortable as those things might be, depression may be even more uncomfortable.

Here’s my personal experiences. As a kid, I was bullied for all sorts of reasons. I was too smart. I was weird. I looked stupid. I had glasses. I had a dumb haircut. I wore a suit to picture day. This caused me to develop a temper. And I got into fights sometimes, too. Not often, and I never went home bruised and bloody, but that’s because what fights I did get in I either refused to do much other than run away or, in one case, won by dropping a kid on his head. I didn’t have friends, either. Not really. There weren’t really any kids my age in my neighborhood, and my parents weren’t too big on my hanging out with anyone. That could be blamed on their being used to my older sister’s anti-social nature, but who knows. My one early creative outlet, playing violin, was taken away because I “didn’t practice enough.” When I eventually discovered acting, I fell in love with it. I got to be SOMEONE ELSE. That amazing feeling of escapism brought me so much joy.

This sort of thing continued for quite a while. My temper was an issue all the way into high school, with my father and I twice coming to physical altercations during my junior year of high school, altercations that were ultimately just him with his hand around my throat. My mother would take his side and say I shouldn’t have goaded him. That loneliness was not a good feeling. By this point, I’d buried myself even further into acting. While at the Alabama School of Math and Science, I finally found groups of socially rejected people who were just as nerdy, intelligent and ridiculous as me. My grades slipped as I focused my time and attention on the social connections I had never been able to have before. Eventually, I failed out, losing those connections.

In college, the struggle continued, but I found small groups to accept me, groups like the Quizbowl Team. A nerdy bunch, to be sure. And there were people on that team that made my social ineptitude seem like I was the most desirable socialite on the market in comparison. Plus, I had tampered down my temper throughout my time at college, and I started to find a way to be acceptable: Talk. A lot. Make jokes. Be interesting. Grab their attention for just a moment. Maybe they’ll just groan and roll their eyes, maybe they’ll laugh, but at least they’ll know I’m there. And I found people that didn’t outright reject me for that.

But it isn’t perfect. I’m not terribly funny. I consider myself a member of the school of quantity: If you crack enough jokes, eventually a good one will slip through. And it’s only through the past year of my job as a trivia jockey that I’ve become even remotely comfortable working a crowd directly, as opposed to in theatre when you work the stage/scene/character and the entirety of the performance works the crowd. I have tried to get better, to be a more desirable person to be around, et cetera.

And yet, I find that I’m still too honest for some people. On Twitter and Facebook, I was fully willing to admit when I was feeling crappy/lonely/hurt. Because I’m still trying to remind myself about the difference between a friend and a friendly acquaintance. Twitter followers, blog readers, Facebook friends… they aren’t the same as real friends. But I haven’t really had too many “real friends” growing up. I have my one best friend that I can call on whenever, and I only met her during my fourth year of college in 2010. I had a regular group of buddies I’d go out with to play trivia and board games, but jobs and distance have broken us up. At this point in my life, even more so than in college (though it was true in college), I don’t really have a group of friends I can say I’m truly a part of. I don’t have people I feel I can call up and say, “Hey, let’s hang out.” Maybe that’s due to years of being told, by words or actions, that I wasn’t desirable to hang out with. Maybe that’s because I just don’t understand social cues and don’t realize I do have friends like that. I dunno. But friends like that? Those are not the same as people you share internet social media information with, apparently.

Take a semi-recent example. A girl messaged me on Facebook to tell me I’m cute. I respond because why the hell not, what do I have to lose? We talk for a few months. We hang out a few times. She’s into me, I’m into her. All seems pretty great. Then, without any warning given to me, without any conversation about problems, she tells me we should stop hanging out. When I finally ask why two years later, she says it’s because I’m too depressing and self-deprecating. She suggests I see a counselor.

I would love to say this is some sort of isolated incident… but I know from my life and the lives of others it’s not. Misery may love company, but company doesn’t love misery. People don’t want to deal with miserable, depressed people. And why would you? Happiness is a good feeling. Sad people make YOU sad, and that sucks, right?

So, if you want to know why you’re shocked and surprised that someone you know was depressed and killed themselves, that’s exactly why. Because depressed doesn’t mean stupid. Depressed people know you don’t like to be around depressed people. Hell, I host trivia for 2+ hours five nights a week. Do you think I would still be paid if I told all of them how down I was? People don’t want a 2-hour sadfest. So those that are depressed, lonely, miserable… they tend to hide it. I’ve made the mistake in years past of thinking friendly acquaintances would care about my feelings, but they don’t. Those feelings are a drag. They’re a downer. So I’ve been teaching myself to try to keep my chin up, to “fake it until I make it” so to speak… and to really not announce my depression every time it hits me. And despite what those on my social media networks may think, I’ve been getting a lot better at just hiding my feelings in crappy eating habits and losing the desire to ever leave bed.

Am I depressed? …maybe. I’m too afraid to see a counselor and find out I am, that I’m not in complete control of my mind. Personally, I like to think I’m just having a slump. A really long one. There are good moments in my life that bring me cheer… and moments, even recent ones, that nearly kill me. I had one such moment last month. I asked two friends to kill me (only slightly joking before I broke down in tears). I ended up telling my tale to a cop that pulled me over for speeding later that day when my hand was shaking so badly I couldn’t get my driver’s license out of my wallet. He asked if I had any guns in the car. I didn’t get a ticket. To date, only 7 people, including the cop and the other person involved, know what happened. Not just because I hate myself for what happened and am afraid of what people will think of me… but also because I don’t know who’s there for me.

And that’s one of the worst things about depression. It blinds you to the people there for you. The lonelier moments are more clear than the ones with people who care. If someone like Williams, who had success and love in his life, couldn’t find a way out, what hope would someone like me, someone told to get over it, have?

So I hope I’m not depressed. Not just because it’s a pretty awful mental health disorder, but also because that’s a level of hopelessness I don’t want to think about. I’m not looking for pity. I’m not looking for close, buddy-buddy friends. I wouldn’t know what to do with them at this point in my life anyway. I’ve got some good things going on that I’m trying to focus on. The moral of my story, the point I’m trying to make, isn’t a personal one. It’s to say that I think everyone can do better. Everyone can be more diligent looking for depression. Don’t reject the funny person the day he or she drops the act around you and tries to tell you about his/her crap. We need to learn to accept the people we like for their good AND their bad. Don’t call suicide a selfish act. That’s like calling drowning after years of trying to swim to the surface a selfish act. The selfishness is in the people that see depression and ignore it. The selfishness is in people that don’t want to be sad so they give sad people distance. Some days, people want to be left alone. But it’s so much better to know someone is there when you walk back into the crowd than to know you’ll be alone whether you jump back into the crowd or not.

If we want anything to get better, we have to start taking steps on a personal level.

Robin Williams, you influenced me more than you will ever know, and the world will miss you. I hope maybe something good can come of all this sadness.

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Breaking the Hiatus

Well.

It’s been a while.

I’ve really fallen from my original “Write every day” mantra, unfortunately. I’ve let life and its busyness get in the way. And life has had some seriously hectic moments since last I wrote anything here. I lost my day job as a writer/editor, started hosting trivia 5 nights a week, directed a children’s musical and taught music theory, started doing private voice lessons (got one tomorrow, actually), created my white Thai chili, come closer to suicide than I have in a LONG time, acted in a whole lot of films/film projects… y’know, ups and downs.

I’m getting back to it because over the past few weeks, things have gotten hairy in America, and they’ve affected me in some way. There’s three big things that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now, one based on my personal life and two on national/world events. Hopefully, if I never write anything again on this blog, I’ll at least get these three things out. First, a post about Robin Williams, depression and me. Second, a post about Ferguson, Mo. Third, a post about alcohol and sexual assault.

I’m bringing the happy times, obviously.

I think I’ll try to write at least one a day over the next three days, Thursday through Saturday. Mostly because I can’t keep these thoughts in my head much longer, as they’re driving me bonkers. I may very well lose some friendships or respect with some of these posts. I have no idea. But writing is what I do, and I’ve been far too absent from it as of late. Hopefully, writing SOMEthing will help kick my ass into gear and write the things I want and need to write.

I can’t guarantee regularity, but I’ve gotta get this stuff out before the public consciousness moves on to forgetting something else.

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The Trouble With Portraying Sexuality

There’s something that’s been sitting on my mind for a while now, and I wasn’t really aware of the cognitive dissonance until I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine. In feminism, a movement apparently in its third wave according to academics, yet still struggling to find a unified front on many issues, there is a bit of an issue when it comes to the public perceptions of female sexuality.

Basically, it boils down to two views. First, you have the idea that sexuality should not be shameful. Sex isn’t something to shame people for having. Doing such can cause all sorts of psychological problems, first off. It’s a completely natural process that, unlike most animals in the world, is enjoyable for recreational purposes and is not solely a procreational action.

Unfortunately, when it comes to shame over sex, women get the worst rap. We all probably know the double standard by now… men who have multiple partners are conquerors. They’re virile. They’re manly. They can hold their tally like a trophy, the quantity of their conquests far outweighing their abilities (or inabilities) in the bed itself. Meanwhile, women are to keep their sexual lives quiet. Women with multiple partners are sluts. Shameful. Dirty. Broken. In a weird twist, sometimes people that want to help protect women from being sexual victims apply the term “victim” all over the place, even when sex is fully consensual… because it’s inconceivable for some people that a woman might seek out and desire sex. So, there’s the faction that wants to eliminate sex as a dirty word and deed, particularly for women. If a woman wants to be a stripper, let her. If she wants to be a prostitute/escort (when legal), why not? If she wants to dress provocatively, she should be allowed without being called names, or seen as “asking for sex.” Consent is different from how one dresses one’s self.

But then, there’s the other faction. The faction that says they’re tired of women being objectified and seen as sexual pleasure units. That’s tired of cleavage and boobs and butt on every single advertisement. That’s tired of having products directed at women (and men) because of their chromosomal makeup. Tired of the media using tired, false gender narratives and tropes, like the damsel in distress. But, mostly, tired of just being deemed as sexual, being boiled down to physical bodies and sexual performances. Tired of being “Hot Girl #3″ on the TV.

Now, some of these things are shared by both groups, like being tired of the tropes and the gendered products. But sometimes, even those things find fractions between the factions. Because, despite being feminists and desiring an equality between all genders and sexualities, there’s just too many problems and not enough solutions.

It is definitely a problem that women exploring their sexualities are seen as sluts and looked down on. It is also definitely a problem that society demands sexual performance from women. It’s a hypocrisy that continues to harm our social makeup where men expect sex from women, and women have the choice of either being degraded for complying or degraded for not complying. And then possibly being raped and blamed for it by society. It’s not exactly a kind world for women today (and the scary thing is that it seems like it might be kinder than it once was).

I’ll give an example of the disparity. In the BBC show “Sherlock,” a show I find to be quite fantastic, in season 2 we were introduced to what is perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most infamous female character, Irene Adler. Appearing in “A Scandal In Bohemia,” she is the one woman Sherlock Holmes has shown obvious affection and admiration for. To quote,

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. [...] And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

In the BBC show’s re-imagining of the character, she was recreated as a dominatrix, using her wits and dominance in the bedroom to put powerful people in compromising positions and obtain information she hoped to use to her advantage. In her first meeting with Holmed, she introduced herself in the nude as an attempt to throw him off his game. It worked. …but this portrayal exemplifies exactly the difference in the factions.

On the one hand, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman willingly working in the sex industry. (We’ll skip the discussions of abuse and slavery for now to make the discussion simpler, but I wouldn’t count anyone coerced or forced into that industry in any fashion as working in it willingly.) There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a woman using her body or sexuality for any (legal) reason, even to win a battle of wits against a certain private detective. However, some feel that being portrayed as a sex worker diminished the focus on Adler’s mental acuity and ability as written originally by Doyle. It felt like a cheap gimmick, a typical jump in today’s media to make the woman a sexual being, an object of pleasure.

This is, of course, not helped out at all by show-runner Steven Moffat’s rather well-documented casual sexism and poor treatment of female characters in his other show, “Doctor Who.”

Personally, I think the Adler character (unlike many of the women in “Doctor Who”) was well done. The sexuality wasn’t really a focus the way I saw it. It was never portrayed in a gaudy, ridiculous fashion. Rather, it was run as a counter to Sherlock’s discomfort with the sensual, as sensuality requires physical and emotional responses that he has spent years ridding himself of for the sake of logic and reason. Others, like my friend, disagree.

The sad thing is, there’s not really a way I can see out of this sort of conundrum. It seems perfectly obvious to me that both factions have absolutely correct and poignant points. Both of these hypocritical philosophies of our society (particularly American) are damaging. On their own, they’re bad enough. Combined, they are a maelstrom of harm and sexism. And that’s just for the women. It damages men, too, as does our portrayal of men in the media. So, should one aspect be focused on more than the other? Can both be fixed without a complete reset of social norms and ideals? Or is this something we will constantly be fighting against, one way or another?

I honestly have no idea what should be done about these problems, save this: We need to talk about them and realize they’re problems. While we may not agree on the solutions, as long as we agree something is wrong, we can start to work toward answers. And since the world is full of people smarter than me, maybe the answer is just waiting for someone to mention the problem to the right person.

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Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. :) Give it a try some day.

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Spice Up Your Life – Making Pasta

So, a while back, my parents got me this wonderful little pasta maker. It’s the Imperia CucinaPro Pasta Maker, and they are wonderful for getting me one. See, years ago in college, I tried to make a three cheese and buttered garlic popcorn shrimp herb ravioli. It was a delicious theory… but I’d never actually done it before.

Leave it to me to decide to make my first time out with a technique a ridiculously difficult version of it.

Anyway, all I had was this wooden rolling pin that wasn’t that great. It ended up that the pasta was a bit too thick and came out being more like dumplings than ravioli. It wasn’t an immense failure, per se… but it wasn’t a resounding success either. My mother ended up giving me a (I think) marble rolling pin… whatever it’s made of, it’s super heavy… and then, they gave me this fantastic pasta maker, along with a pasta rack and a ravioli press where you can fill in the raviolis and then cut a bunch at once.

Unfortunately, my counter space in my kitchen didn’t really allow for anywhere to place the pasta maker, clamp it down and still be able to turn the handle without it hitting the clamp. Until I got my new roommates, one of whom brought this little area for his coffee that has a big leaf and a lot of room for my pasta maker.

The fact that it took me this long to use it is the real travesty.

I followed the instructions left in the pasta maker’s manual as closely as I could… here’s what I learned from my experience.

1) MEASURE YOUR FLOUR CAREFULLY. It’s generally one cup, one egg, and that’s all the ingredients you need. The pasta maker’s manual said two cups, two eggs creates a bit more than a pound of pasta. I went with that. Now, the flour I used may not have been the finest flour ever, but I ran into trouble when I foolishly allowed for a bit of extra flour. The dough was not getting wet enough and mixing together at all. Plus, when I created the well in the flour and put the eggs in to whisk them, I got distracted and the well broke. It was messy. Fortunately, you can fix a mistake like too-dry pasta with some lukewarm water. You fix the egg spilling out by panicking and shoving it all back into the flour.

2) THERE WILL BE MESS. Holy crap will there be a mess. You want to mix your pasta dough by hand to make the best assurances for a smooth consistency… and it will be all over your hands. And everywhere else, really.

3) PUT IN EXTRAS BEFORE YOU MIX THE EGGS. I wanted to put some flair on and make the pasta Sriracha flavored. Because, again, I complicate things. Unfortunately, when the flour well broke, I panicked and completely forgot about the Sriracha until a little while into the process… I got some in, but not nearly enough to impart the flavor I was hoping for. Then again, it’s thoroughly possible that all the flavor of whatever you put in there will go away, which is why you don’t see too much flavored pasta in stores. Someone else probably knows better than me.

4) TWO CUPS OF FLOUR MAKES A WHOLE LOT OF PASTA. Like, holy MESS did I make a bunch of pasta. I was also foolishly not cutting the sections I was rolling out into smaller sizes… I ended up with a few sheets a couple feet long before I cut them. Definitely cut the sheets you roll out in half at LEAST once because they will get unmanageably long if you don’t. I only managed to succeed because I had a second person helping me.

Ultimately, though, the process was a success. Fresh pasta was made, boiled briefly and thrown into my pot of vegetarian chili for a much better version of chili mac or Cincinnati chili than the version I had last… The pasta was very thin and almost melted in your mouth, not distracting at all from the flavor of the chili itself.

Next time, I think I’ll either try for a slightly thicker pasta, maybe a spaghetti or maybe a ravioli again (gotta figure out how to make them not taste like water). Still, I think this ended up being a decent start to the new year and me trying out new techniques in the kitchen. I may try to bread and fry things next, but my lack of appropriate supplies may be a problem for that… My other dishes I’d love to work on are pad thai and ramen burgers.

Is there a specific type of dish you think I should try? Or a specific technique in the kitchen you suggest I should work on? As much as I love cooking, I’m still massively under-experienced in a lot of things… so I’d like to hear your input. It can be as simple or crazy as you’d like… And I’ll see about giving it a go.

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And We’re Back

Hello, all. I’m back.

So. It’s been a little while since I’ve written here, huh. Last time I wrote was March 12… and my last “real” post was Feb. 10. Almost an entire year…

…so it’s probably safe to say the “a post a day” experiment kinda fell through.

Still. Not too shabby. I made it an entire year and nearly a half with at least one post per day… that’s a lot of writing. If I had kept it up last year, I would have had SO MANY VIEWS. Even with basically 11 months of no writing, I somehow managed 13,948 views last year. Compare that to the year before’s 15,185. It makes me feel almost popular. Or, well, makes me feel like the lyrics to “Beauty and the Beat” are popular. But enough of that.

2013 was an interesting year. I got my first ever lead role, the opportunity to play Coriolanus in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” Less than a month later, I was cast in a TCF television pilot “Toss-Up,” again cast as the leading role. That opened up several other venues for me, such as a decently-sized part in a TCF short film produced by “Seinfeld” director Tom Cherones and a recurring role in the webseries “Alabama Ghostbusters.” Finally, in October, I was blessed/lucky/really really really super lucky enough to somehow manage to be cast as Jean Valjean in a local production of “Les Miserables,” my favorite musical and a dream role of mine for years.

I started out 2013 not talking to my best friend. Not because I was mad at her or something. No, rather because I’m the kind of person that can come to the conclusion (unfortunately often) that people are better off without me in their lives…  Around late February, I started dating a girl (my fourth girlfriend… possibly I only decided to date her beyond my attraction to her because I knew it would end when she went to grad school) that played my fiance in the TV pilot… and had we not dated, I wouldn’t have been asked to go to a wedding that my best friend was the maid-of-honor for, and I may still not be talking to her (as painful as that would be for me).

I haven’t managed to get “Camp Gethsemane” produced yet, sadly… I’m going to make a really big effort this year. It’s in the midst of yet another edit, a big edit that changes a few second act things and hopefully makes it all for the better… but a production would be amazing. I also haven’t managed to find a better job yet… though I did start hosting trivia at bars and restaurants around Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and the extra income is pretty nice. Also, I seem to be decent at it. People like me well enough. (P.S. If you know any bars/restaurants that might like to host trivia, let me know!)

It’s been a year of changes, for sure. A year of opportunities… not my worst year… and hopefully, not my best to come, but a pretty decent one all-in-all.

Which brings me to 2014. The new year. And new years tend to bring new resolutions. Something that, usually, I duck out on because come on. Those are made with the intent of being broken, most of the time.

Still. I feel I should resolve a few things. So I’mma try.

First, I am going to lose weight. I wanted to for Les Mis, but Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas were right there and it is pretty much impossible to lose weight during those holidays. I plan to shed at LEAST 40 pounds and KEEP it off throughout the year. Maybe even work out and get some toning and muscle, not this semi-sentient fat I have at the moment.

Second, I’m going to get something I’ve written produced. Hopefully “Camp Gethsemane.” I will do it, damn it. I have screenplays and plays at the ready. Some need work, yes. But that can be done. I just want something to show for my work.

Third, I am going to write at least five more of the projects in my head. It’s a tall order. I may need help with some to keep me honest. I still have to edit and polish some of the things I’ve already written. But I also need to get new things done, too. I need to write, need to produce. I have two one-act mythology plays and two screenplays that need finishing. The fifth, I have many many ideas that could be the fifth… And the desire to write new things may help me finish my old things. If you’re a writer and want to help keep me honest, please let me know. No joke.

Fourth, I am resurrecting this blog. But it won’t be a once-a-day blog anymore. That just doesn’t seem feasible. With trivia taking up several of my nights, and all the acting I did last year, writing once per day became basically impossible. Les Mis is one reason “Camp Gethsemane” has been mid-edit since October. Still, I hope to write in this blog semi-regularly… and maybe add a new segment where I try new things in the kitchen, things I’ve never done before, like new techniques (like frying things) or foods (like fish). Which brings me to…

Fifth, I’m going to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve been getting there. Hosting trivia has REALLY helped me become a more social and sociable person. As has finally being on stage in a visible way. I’m going to audition for more things in town, of course… but beyond that, I want to just do things I don’t normally do. Talk to people more. Hang out with people more. Being a hermit really gets lonely, and I really hate the feeling sometimes. And maybe, just maybe, if I step out of my comfort zone, I can be more comfortable with who I am. It seems oxymoronic, but trust me. I’m not intensely comfortable even in my comfort zone.

All in all, I hope to move forward with life in 2014. Professionally, romantically, creatively… I need to stop being stagnant. I need to stop being jealous of other people’s romantic and professional successes and start making others jealous of mine. I’ll let you know how that goes as it moves along.

Oh, and expect more of my randomness on this blog, because there’s a lot I wanted to say last year that I never got to… If 2014 is as ridiculous as 2013 was, I’m sure I’ll have a bunch to gab on about.

It’s good to be back.

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A Quick Update

So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog. I was already strongly considering dropping the “daily” feature of the blog due to life getting in the way and the blog taking up a decent chunk of time… It should be pretty obvious at this point that I’m not really doing this as a daily blog anymore.

Still, I do want to write more often than I have been. There are still many things to talk about. Movies, plays and restaurants to review, politics to discuss, subjects to ponder about… all sorts of things. And I plan to do so, just in a slightly irregular fashion.

To update about life, though: I finished the most recent version of my play “Camp Gethsemane” and have started in on three other plays now. After a few more people read this version of CG, I’ll go back to spruce it up again and then I may be at the place I need to be for a production.

I was also cast as the lead role in a TV pilot from the UA TCF department, which has designs to be shown at a festival in New York City. The show is called “Toss-Up,” and you can help out by donating some money to the IndieGoGo we have set up here. It’s a comedy about a high school history teacher/tennis coach basically forced by his boss into being the Quizbowl coach, despite knowing nothing about it. It doesn’t help that their team is pretty crappy. You can watch the brief teaser-trailer here to get a very tiny taste of the show.

I’m also no longer single… We’ll see how long she tolerates me. And I spent about a week and change being super deathly ill, like to the point where I couldn’t even eat or drink for a couple days without severe pain. It sucked and I still don’t know what I had, though I’ve got a good idea.

Also, for those curious, I got a record 50 percent of my Oscar guesses right, though I would’ve had more if I’d actually slowed down and paid attention to what some of the technicals are and what they mean. All I can say is that “Life of Pi” ruined me a bit.

Anyway, I do have an old review of “Othello” to put up, as well as a review of “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” which wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it might be, though I still found it lacking in certain areas. I’ll have a full review up sometime this week, I’m sure.

For now, my apologies on my lengthy silence. You’ll hear a bit from me from time to time. Just keep a lookout.

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Breaking The Leg – “Ain’t Misbehavin'” By Theatre Tuscaloosa

This is what happens when I let myself get super behind on posts. I thought I posted this on Sunday. Now I feel awful because I missed informing people about this show for two performances. Boo me. And my apologies.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” ain’t exactly your standard musical fare.

Produced by Theatre Tuscaloosa, and directed by Tina F. Turley, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” is set up during what seems to be the Harlem Renaissance. Set up like a big band show, it’s less of a musical and more of what’s advertized (finally, truth in advertizement), a “musical show.” Specifically, it’s the “Fats Waller musical show,” Waller being a jazz musician in the early 1900s. The show is a musical revue that, unlike a jukebox musical, doesn’t try to tell a story. Instead, it’s simply two acts of swingin’ song and dance.

That’s not to say there’s no acting involved. This isn’t your “American Idol,” stand at the microphone and sing affair (though it happens a few times, often for comedic effect). The actors in the show, Erika Evans, Alyssa Grubbs, Myiesha J. Duff, Will Travis and Willie Williams, play no characters, instead coming out to sing and dance to Waller tunes. In those tunes, however, they often take on certain characteristics, acting out the lyrics, which often leads to the women being competitive divas and the men being your stereotypical tail chasers.

The set, designed by Jameson Sanford, is simple and effective, capable of glamor and setting the mood while leaving enough room for the actors to dance the intense and what looks to be sometimes quite difficult choreography by Nick Rashad Burroughs. All the actors make it look simple, though, floating through their songs with power, grace and ease.

Again, there’s no plot to describe, no characters to really judge… it’s simply a couple of hours of good, fun song and dance. From fast-stepping jazz to slower, somber emotional harmonies. If you like music and dance, I’d say it’s worth your while.

The show runs Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Bean-Brown Theatre at Shelton State Community College. Go watch it and let yourself fall back into a time and place too many have forgotten through some very nice musical numbers.

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Spice Up Your Life – Tuscaloosa Chili Cookoff

I can’t believe I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa for nearly 7 years and didn’t know about the annual chili cookoff. Well, this year, I plan to make a big splash.

Today is the 12th annual Asses of Fire chili cookoff, sponsored by WellThat’sCool.com and hosted by Egan’s Bar, located on the Strip. Registration starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 3:45, with judging to begin at 4:15. Now, in my opinion, if you haven’t already made your chili, you’re a bit late for that… though I suppose you might have time to squeeze out a fresh pot before then. I like to let mine sit. I finished cooking my two chilies on Tuesday and am reheating them now to do final taste tests and manipulations. You can enter as many chilies as you like, but can only win once, and I think most that know how I cook chili know which two I’ll be entering… with some slight twists.

Anyway, even if you don’t have a chili to submit for the contest itself, you can still come and partake of the eating of it. Those that submit chili eat for free, but for only $5, you can have all the chili you can eat/all the chili that’s actually there, though chili is a thick, filling food so I don’t expect people to come back for fifths and sixths. Egan’s will also be running drink specials all day… which might be helpful for downing some of the more intensely spicy chilies.

If you’d like to try out some chili or have your own to throw in the pot, come to Egan’s. But be warned… I plan on my chilies doing rather well. Hopefully. …it’d certainly be nice, at least. And I plan on bringing some extra hot sauce if anyone really wants their tongues to be yowling in pain.

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