The Power of Teachers

Our short run of shows for the Little Women play ended yesterday. It was a warm, sweet, and tender play. The relationships between the sisters really stood out as the heart of the show. I stand in awe of how those women brought that dynamic to life.

It didn’t hit me that the show had ended until this morning. In the middle of a workout, I just started crying remembering the laughs, the frustration, the breakthroughs, and the discoveries we made along the way. Theatre has that impact on you.

Rare in life are the opportunities we have to be vulnerable and creative with a group of near strangers. It is truly one of the oddest forms of creative expression. However, there is a magic bond that forms between the cast which exists for only a brief, shining moment. If you try to hold on to it for too long, it slips through your hand like an alchemist clutching quicksilver.

For me, specifically, this show represents the first real stage experience I’ve had since I was in high school. I had a walk-on part in a production about 15 years ago but that was more of a goof than an actual role. So, I’ve given some thought to what might connect then and now. What ties together these two parts of my life separated by almost 30 years?

The answer is a teacher. In high school, I was a football player. It’s probably the reason I got my scholarship to Darlington. But, I hated it. I was injured, tired, and bored. Somehow, my English teacher David Powell convinced me to try out for a play called The Lark. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never seen a play nor did I know anyone who had.

David encouraged me to explore it as a way to understand some of the literature that I loved, namely Shakespeare. Presumably, he saw something in me that I didn’t know existed. That’s the superpower of a great teacher. Sure, there’s the ability to educate but more than that is the ability to recognize that which is not yet evident. It’s a clairvoyance that borders on the miraculous.

My grandmother was a performer in the years before I was born. She created a children’s TV show for the local station in our hometown. She did vaudeville-style variety shows and made puppets and even starred in a few musicals in our local theatre. But, that mostly happened before I was old enough to see it.

So, maybe it was in my blood. Even if it wasn’t, after that first day at rehearsal in 1992, I knew that I was hooked. I wrote one-acts and acted in plays and even helped direct a production of The Foreigner. But, it all fell away in college. A misguided attempt to “put away childish things.” Still, that thrill of the stage never goes away.

Fast forward to 2020. Like many of you, the pandemic made me look around and think about how I might better spend my time. On a lark, I enrolled in acting classes at the local community college. A friend of mine is a professor there and said they had recently hired a passionate, energetic young teacher to lead the drama program. It was fortuitous timing.

I might never know what Grae Greer thought when a large, 45 year old man with a family and a full-time job showed up on the first day of class. If nothing else, there must have been some curiosity. Whatever those thoughts were, in the following weeks, we would discover a shared love of the language and the performance. We would fall into that rhythm that a talented teacher and an engaged student can find.

We pushed each other. We agreed and disagreed. But, most of all, she welcomed me with open arms and nudged that part of me that went dim some time ago. She poked at it and brought it back to life in only the way that a true educator can do.

Grae and David are separated by a half a lifetime of experience but their willingness to engage me with honesty and curiosity is what each of us should strive for in life. Open, opinionated, smart, questioning, energetic, and with a high standard for excellence, they are the people who we run into in life that ask us to find the better part of ourselves and run with it. In short, they are educators.

All of that culminated in the run of shows over the last two weeks. It was an unmitigated pleasure to be a part of this cast and this show. I can’t wait for the next one. I wish that all of us find a teacher who can show us the way.

An Arts Collective for Owensboro

It would be awfully exciting to create an arts collective here in Owensboro.

It seems I’m often told that if I want to achieve something I should set a goal. Then, to make it concrete I need to write it down and/or share it with other people. That makes it more real and builds some accountability. In that vein, I share this idea.

My recent experience putting on a play with OCTC has convinced me that there are passionate, talented, and driven people who care about the arts (theatre, music, visual art, etc.) and how those activities can support, grow, and define a community. We have these people in abundance here in Owensboro. They are wonderful people with vision and experience and focus. I consider myself fortunate to have fallen in with some of them. It feels like the happiest of accidents.

If this is a happy accident, I’d like to grab fortune’s favor and make hay with it. What I’d like to do is to build some sort of nexus around which all these people, projects, and passions can orbit. Its foundation would be a multi-use space where theatre productions could be stood up, or an art gallery could exhibit, or a class on costuming could be held, or a musical performance could happen. A physical place whose mission is to provide space for the exercise of our collective creative spirit.

That word collective is important. Its members would share a mission of education and championing new visions of art in our community. Let’s paint with new materials. Let’s build sculptures with items from our environment. Let’s put on new plays that can’t be seen anywhere else. Let’s do Shakespeare in a way that challenges our assumptions. Let’s push on the political and social boundaries of our community. Let’s a be a force for change.

There are already people working to make this kind of change. I am not interested in diminishing their existing work or taking away from the reputations they’ve built. Instead, I want to enable and connect them with a space we can share and grow together.

There are a million things to consider and a million places to start. Stating my intention is where I choose to begin. Want to join me? Get in touch.

We Knew This About Pollution

I can see smokestacks from the chair I’m sitting in. They mostly belong to an older coal-fired power plant that rarely operates these days. However, as ProPublica recently published, there are several smaller facilities near me pumping Benzene and other chemicals into the air.

I think we all know that corporations like the ones in ProPublica’s article are polluting. But, I also think most Americans believe that those corporations are operating within some mandated set of guidelines. That is true, most of these businesses are operating exactly in line with the regulations that the government as set for businesses of this type. However, those guidelines are woefully inadequate.

ProPublica has taken a crucial step here and looked at each of these facilities not as individual entities but in the aggregate. That has allowed them to assess the pollution danger of an entire community based on the multitude of harmful polluters. So, even if one of these corporations is working right up to the limit, when there are 3 or 4 or 7 in a community, that combined effect is orders of magnitude worse for the people who live in that community.

Meanwhile, you and I recycle the glass bottle we drank out of and think that we somehow made a difference in our environment. These corporations, and the many other sectors of industry that play the same game, need to be held into account by a regulatory system that aims not to strike a balance between commerce and health but which elevates the health of a community above that of a corporation.

The Difference Between an Artist and a Engineer

I’m watching a replay of the Blue Origin launch. Specifically, I’m watching William Shatner’s comments to Jeff Bezos after they return. What he says is interesting, if not terribly novel. But, when I watched the video embedded at that link, what I’m struck by is Bezos’s behavior. In the middle of Shatner trying to share something that he clearly is feeling very deeply about, Bezos interrupts him and demands a bottle of champagne be brought over. Shatner stops speaking and recoils a bit. Bezos offers it to him and he declines.

Then, Shatner physically takes a step back from whatever grandstanding Bezos is doing. He turns away and looks to the horizon or perhaps off camera to maybe someone else he’d rather talk to. Dipshit Bezos just stands there laughing maniacally. When they return, you can tell that Shatner has put aside his real persona and is taking on some version of himself. He’s realized that what Bezos wants is a show and not something real at all. It’s a perfect illustration of how art and science and further, commerce, are uncomfortable bedfellows.

Shakespeare's Lights

I saw this in my Theatre textbook today: “Interestingly, the division into acts was added after Shakespeare’s day—his plays were performed outdoors during the daytime, so he included no intermissions.” He may well have included no intermissions but I don’t think it was because of illumination.

A few years ago, I wrote some software during a hackathon that proved illumination from candles would have been required in Shakespeare’s day even at outdoor venues such as the Globe. Also, many of the plays were first performed indoors at The Blackfriar’s. This supposition about illumination and Shakespeare is simply wrong.

If I get a chance farther along in my theatre studies, I’d like to take a really long look at this question. I’ll need to delve much deeper into theatre history and into astronomical observation. I think there’s a falsehood that’s been handed down through the years that feels just right enough but which history and science might help us confirm or deny.

Death Songs

I’ve been curating a singular playlist for as long as it’s been possible to have digital playlists. I’ve migrated this list from service to service and device to device. On occasion, I change out a song or maybe two. But, the core of the list seldom changes. This is the list of songs to play at my funeral, in no particular order.

Bring It on Home to Me - Sam Cooke
While the song is his pleading to his lover to come back, there’s still a swagger in the delivery that meets with that tasty saxophone part to make this so damn sexy.

Christ Jesus - Deer Tick
There’s an ominous version of this song on their album War Elephant but I prefer the version from the Black Dirt Sessions. It uses a ringing piano instead of a bass and the lyrics feel a bit more present. I’ve been a seeker my whole life. This song understands that frazzled energy.

Live Oak - Jason Isbell
This song touches on a feeling I’ve had many times. Any of us that have gone through things that expose our darker dualities get it.

Tired of Being Alone - Al Green
This is where Hall and Oates stole it from. Another pleading man who might not be fully honest with himself or his lady friend.

Holding Back the Years - Simply Red
For my Dad.

Song for Zula - Phosphorescent
I’m happy that I haven’t had my heart broken like this poor bastard. The fury in this song is scary but it’s delivered with such despair that it becomes beautiful.

Change of Time - Josh Ritter
Wrestles with infinities with disarming simplicity.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
Schmaltzy perhaps and beautiful in equal measure.

Atlantic City - The Band
Yes. A cover of the Springsteen tune. I like this version better.

Farewell Transmission - Songs: Ohia
Jason Molina is my favorite songwriter. He was able to see something in between the lines the rest of us fixate on. He was a conduit for a timeless yearning.

Many Rivers to Cross - Jimmy Cliff
There’s always one more river, Jimmy.

Jesus, Etc. - Wilco
I’ve often said this is one of the saddest songs but, jesus, don’t cry about it.

I’ve Just Seen a Face - The Beatles
That rush of love at first sight. It happened to me. It could happen to you.

Astral Plane - Valerie June
Her voice echoes an ancient Appalachia and then stretches to some future space zen godhead. It’s odd and tender and fragile and springs from the Earth.

A Little Bit of Everything - Dawes
The metaphors are strained but the feelings are real. I get the deep dissatisfaction this song finds a solution to.

No Hard Feelings - The Avett Brothers
I hope this is how it goes at the end.

The Maze - Manchester Orchestra
What a wonderful evocation of the complexities of loving someone to the point that it confounds you.

Gardening at Night - R.E.M.
My favorite band of all time and the first song of theirs that I ever heard. It will forever be at the center of my heart.

You can listen on this playlist.

Effusive Joy

If you’ve never seen someone step into something that scares the shit out of them and then do the work to get better at it with clear-eyed effort, you’re missing out on a core joy of being human.

When I was a teacher, this happened not often but regularly enough that it was the main payoff of doing that work. As I moved into my software engineer career, it was quite rare but the occasional person just starting their career would bring this kind of energy to the team. As I grow long in the tooth in my career, it’s more and more rare to experience this kind of challenge or to see others do it.

This is one reason, among so many, that I’m absolutely thrilled to be back in school taking acting classes. Every single session, one or more of the students throws themselves into a monologue or a scene. They leave behind any self-censoring or worry about what they might look like. It’s the best energy to be around. It reminds me of how we can move through the world without guile and without fear.

Sure, I want to build some skills and tools around my acting. I’d love to do it on a more regular basis. But, if none that comes to pass, my gift is witnessing these young people take hold of that moment in a way that I did not at their age. I spent far too much of my young adulthood afraid of what others might say or think. Or, I was lost in a land of privileged indulgence.

The days I spend with these classmates bring me joy I haven’t had in a decade or more.

A Rapacious Infrastructure

I’ve worked in the tech industry since 1998. Mostly, I’ve been building websites or more precisely, web applications. I’ve primarily worked in that middle space between the average business website and the larger infrastructure of the Internet. I build applications that are themselves the product or which enable some other product that the company may offer.

That means that for the last 23 years I’ve been a consumer, in one form or another, of the larger infrastructure companies that dominate tech today. Be that Microsoft, Google, or Amazon. These companies provide the bulk of the physical and material backbone behind almost all of the Internet. We’ve known for a long time that the data centers they run (and that large services like Facebook run) are environmentally disastrous. They are huge power and water users. They are eyesore blights wherever they are built. They are designed to run with minimal staffing so they don’t even provide many jobs.

It won’t surprise you then that they are also horrible employers and local citizens which often take advantage of sweetheart tax deals to extract the maximum from any community they are in without giving anything back. This shouldn’t surprise anyone paying half attention to anything else these companies do.

What can we as builders who use these services do? What can we as users of sites that use these services do? Can we democratize and decentralize? How does that work in a world with laws and regulations about data protection and privacy such as the healthcare world I currently work in? Are there viable alternatives?

These questions are just surface layer avoidance type questions. At a deeper level, we should examine the processes by which our local governments accept these deals. Where is the money going? Why are these kinds of deals repeatedly agreed to when there’s overwhelming evidence that they never pay out? Maybe there’s greater power in working locally to make it harder for these companies to act this way.

Streaming the Olympics

As Catie Keck points out in this article on the Verge, streaming the Olympics is a mess. One thing Catie didn’t point out that has been particularly vexing to me is how they’ve not included full DVR/VOD of any sports on Peacock. Especially for users that pay for the premium tier of Peacock, being able to watch full coverage of any sport seems like a no brainer.

Instead, I have to go to and sign in with a non-streaming TV provider. It feels like it’s intentionally designed to punish so-called cord cutters even though those users are the ones most likely to be paying for the premium Peacock tier.

I just don’t believe that any of this is a technical limitation. If they can provide the VOD on, then the content is surely able to be added to Peacock. I assume this has something to do with contractual obligations and rights management or something.

But think about this, the Games were delayed a full year. Peacock was launched on July 15, 2020 which would have been right around the time the Olympics were originally scheduled to start. Someone over there had to have been thinking then how Peacock figured into the plans. Then, they were given an entire year to improve on those, likely rushed, plans.

Yet, they’ve delivered a byzantine and punitive system with poor discovery and unclear capabilities. If anything could have boosted paid subscribers to Peacock, unfettered access to full VODs of all coverage could have been it. In our house, we’d have paid extra to be able to watch every minute of the equestrian events whether they be live or recorded.


The Routine Sequence

I’ve written more words in my novel manuscript in the last week than I have in months. I’ll give my therapist credit for this one. Don’t tell her because then I’ll have to do all the other stuff she wants me to do. That might actually make me, I don’t know, happier and more productive. Ugh.

I started working out four or five times a week in the morning before anyone else is awake. That routine has been helpful. I mentioned to my therapist that finding time to write was hard because the book is very emotional for me to work on. It’s a real bummer in certain parts. I then made the mistake of saying that I was “piddling around after my workout.” Big mistake.

She said, “Why don’t you take that 30 minutes of piddling around and make that writing time before your workout. Then, you can let the sweat and endorphins of the workout wash aways whatever lingering stuff is in your head from the writing work.” I have to tell you that she is 100% correct. It works flawlessly.

I usually spend more than 30 minutes writing but the plan works anyway. The workout helps wash out my brain from all that lingering stuff. It’s a little shocking how quickly I can forget what I was just working on. Still, it’s so refreshing to have an empty head.

What’s interesting to me about all this is that it’s a matter of sequencing. The activities involved haven’t changed. I’m doing the same things I was trying to do before. I’m doing them for the same amount of time. I’ve just changed the order in which I do them and it has made all the difference.

From on High

On occasion, I work in my living room instead of my office. Mostly, because it looks like this:

Today, while thinking about some function I had to write to sort and filter out an array of data, I was staring into those trees. I saw a squirrel jump from one tree to the next. The squirrel did this a few times and then, inexplicably, it missed. It banged against the branch it had landed on 5 or 6 times previously and fell all the way to the asphalt driveway below.

Because it’s a squirrel, there was no injury and the squirrel proceeded to climb the tree again and make the same jump at least 10 more times. Then, I realized my order of operations in the function was backward so that pulled me back into work and away from the squirrel.

Now, I’m eating lunch and thinking about the times I’ve failed to do something that might be second nature to me like jumping branch to branch is for a squirrel. Maybe it was something I do at work. Maybe it was part of a hobby I enjoy. Or, maybe it was something that makes me quintessentially me. Either way, I’ve failed at those things a number of times. Very rarely did that failure injure me in any noticeable way.

Yet, I have stumbled and stayed down or changed direction over the slightest mistake on a number of occasions despite not really being injured. I don’t mean in the physical sense here. I’m saying that sometimes I fail at a simple, rote task and it spirals me down for an hour or a day or maybe even a week. Unlike that squirrel, I don’t always bounce up and get right back to it. I might just lie in the driveway a bit and stare up at the tree branch cursing it and all the ones it connects to.

Is this a character flaw? Is it a weakness? I see lots of other folks run into walls much stronger than I’ve hit and they back up and bound over it even if their face gets a little bruised in the trying. I suppose I’ve done that, too. But, not as often as I’d like and not as often as I think myself capable.

What then keeps me laid out on the ground breathing in heavily and lamenting having to get up and try again? What’s the barrier that slows me down in that moment? Is it fear of failure? I’ve already failed. What’s to be afraid of now? Maybe, instead, it’s the fear of success. Because, success means expectation and expectations often morph into resentments.

If I’m always bouncing right back up, soon enough, my vulnerability comes into question. My need for help seems to diminish. It’s then that I become disconnected. I became separated from the support and guidance that I need. I seem much stronger than I am. When the real stumble comes, there’s no railing to grab on to. No shoulder to lean against.

That’s what keeps me on the pavement. There’s a need to live inside my frailty, my shortcomings, my limitations, if only briefly. It’s a way to say, “I cannot do this alone.” Nor should any of us have to. An individual can be incredibly strong. We’ve all seen it in our family and friends when things were dire. But, we don’t always have to be that way. We can stumble. We can be seen in our totality. And we can still be vital, loved, and creative in that struggle.

Mythic Spin-offs

I’m no horseman. I do live on a horse farm with almost two dozen horses. There’s a pig, a cat, and some dogs, too. The horses have an outsized presence in our lives here at home. But, I am not a horseman.

My wife is a horseman. She’s been around them her whole life. She has a connection to them that is as deep as the universe in their eyes. It’s impressive to watch her work with them. Even the quotidian tasks of feeding and walking are nuanced with communication both large and nearly imperceptible. After all her years of experience, she struggles to put words to that bog deep tug a horse can have on us.

Still, it’s immediately clear to any person with a scintilla of empathy, and I think I fit that rubric, that there is something mythic and mystical about a horse. Maybe it’s the large, expressive eyes. Maybe it’s the power quilted with grace. Maybe it’s that tingle of fear we feel when we are next to them. Something happens to a human being when they are near a horse.

I’m not saying anything novel here. This connection has been appreciated and written about at length. Instead of exploring what “the outside of a horse” might mean “to the inside of a man” (Churchill), I’m more interested in how we humans might find that mythic, mystical magic in other humans.

I’ve written elsewhere about the unseen connections that exist between trees. I’ve come to think that a similar mycelial network might exist between humans. Not in the strict sense of that word although ideas about synchronous gut flora among cohabitating people is interesting. I mean more in the sense that whether through geography, shared self-interests, or something much, much older, we might have a similar connection with another human as we do with a horse or a tree.

I’ll pause here to exclude dogs. Through selection and wonderful happenstance, dogs are simply perfect human companions. I’m interested in exploring something wilder and more dangerous.

Imagine the times you’ve met someone and known immediately that you would be friends, or enemies. What made that “gut instinct” (see?!) happen? Is it what they were wearing? Perhaps briefly. Is it what they said? That’s part of it. But, we know it as an unbidden response from our basest of our brain matter.

Across the depths of time and amidst all the stories handed down and even long forgotten, this person in front of us has absorbed whatever tiny particles still exist of that long ago. Maybe it’s DNA. Maybe it’s a carbon electron spinning ever so slightly faster. Maybe it’s a quark that’s here instead of over there. That’s the science of it maybe. More interesting is the distillation effect of our collective memory which has concentrated components that are compatible or incompatible into this one being.

We want to reason our way around these things. We want to “think clearly” about the decisions we make about the people we surround ourselves with. And we can. We aren’t powerless. However, we do not fully comprehend the power of the mythic past for which we are vessels nor how that power can ever so slightly leak out into our actions.

Like that feeling when we see a horse. We might be repelled. We might be attracted. Yet, we are never ambivalent. Our reactions to other humans are similar. I suggest that all of that is at its root a narrative of our being distilled down into an effervescent speck of time running headlong into a similarly charged speck within another person. Like two black holes smashing into each other. With that mass of myth, it’s no wonder that those moments can have a tremendous gravity around which we orbit spinning off the next story.

Whose myth have you spun off of today?

Tell Me More

I was thinking today about how we are drawn to those aspects of people we know that are either aspirational or cautionary. As in, “You won an Oscar?! Tell me more.” or “You were in prison?! Tell me more.” It’s always these extremes that we tend to want to ask questions about.

We seldom ask about the quotidian banalities except in a perfunctory manner. “Where are you from? Do you have any siblings?” Those questions lead to the ones we really want to know about.

I don’t know if this is a healthy thing for humans but it seems universal. We want to experience that which lies outside our own understanding.