Friday, April 29, 2016

HOW TO REMAIN FRIENDS WITH A DEAD MAN



I want this blog post to be about my new short film in order to promote it, but my creativity has it’s own mind and will take my initial salesman pitch, pull it a part, add it’s own agenda, and then cast it out into the world in multiple directions, making, what I believe to be, an interesting read, but a not so wise promotional tool.  So I will just say now before tangents invade, that this short film was first created for the stage with the help of the Chicago Neo Futurists and the film version, itself, was created with the help of the New York Neo Futurists.  It is about my dead friend, Peter Flynn.  He killed himself one day in New Orleans.  He hung himself from a rope on the edge of an outdoor staircase at his house, then supposedly tried to kick himself loose but then “accidentally” tumbled down the stairs, breaking his neck.  Peter liked to live on the edge and that is what makes this outlandish interpretation of his motives believable. The script’s goal was not intended to be cathartic, a device to release the pain of his loss.  It was intended to acknowledge the persistence of loss’ tight grip on the living, whether we like it or not, and to face it with a more understanding respect, permitting this knowledge of the unquenchable nature of loss to help us grow more mature rather than to stagnate in denial.

Being a writer and a performer for me has always been more of a fluid process than one about achieving specific goals marked and solidified by time.  I am one who floats simultaneously in multiple directions through ambling space more so than I am an artist traveling down a specific path planting mile markers, cementing my views in concrete, and sketching it out in my detailed topography map book.  But if I really try hard to contemplate my life long enough I can gather together blurry patches in my past and view them as stages towards being a better artist.

1. When I first started writing long form plays, I would let it pour out of me without self-reflection.  I would leave it up to my actors to help me figure out what the fuck I had just written.

2.  Before the point of meeting Peter Flynn, a friend, musician, artist, mad man, pain in the ass, I would refuse to call myself, writer, performer, actor or musician.  It was a bit pretentious, not wanting to be labeled.  Yet I still feel to this day there is something correct about that attitude.  But this hesitance to be labeled, I had felt then, was also based in a fear of disappointing myself and others, of claiming to be something I could never truly live up to. Peter would often give me the most gnarly angered look, with a grin tucked within, when I mentioned this, and he would say, “Fuck you!  You’re a WRITER.  Grow up!”  One night while at a friends wedding Peter wrote in the guest book, “The Road”, and then when I saw this I chose to write “The River.”  This began my furiously quick scribbling down of a play called The Road & The River.  On one of its more hidden levels the play explores the balance to be struck between unbridled spontaneity and well thought out intentionality.  This was one of the most important stages of admitting I was a writer amidst the memories of my blurred past.

3. The next stage of this viewing of my process was during my most well received play called, Living In The Present Tense.  It’s a somewhat nonlinear play that begins at the end and moves back and forth to its beginning.  (And yes this was written before Memento and Pulp Fiction, but way after Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal.  I say this to defend my influences.)  I chose this structure so that I could spontaneously come up with a scene, but instead of building the mystery forwards, I could let it unfold revealing it’s beginning.  I created it backwards so that the beginning was well thought out and planned and was a direct product of it’s ending.  And through analyzing this choice during it’s staging I began to realize that my structure choice was a mirror of emotions evoked.  It created confusion, but entertaining and enthralling enough to want to search out its meaning.  Its meaning was the betraying nature of seeking out meaning, and the structure and content were harmonious in this goal.  This was an accidental product that from now on in my work had to be thought about in advance and incorporated intentionally, there were no more excuses to NOT know what I was writing.  And here I can mention Peter again.  I was so excited to have him come see this play.  He hated it.  He thought I was cheating, that it was grand for the sake of being grand, and that it was simpleminded, and beneath me.  This could be true, in some ways I knew what he meant, but I also knew that he knew me well enough to know that that criticism would only make me fight harder to make those same choices work even better in my future projects.



4.  I could go forth exploring stages that I make up as I continue to write, but I will jump to the end.  The end was near the beginning of my work with the Neo Futurists.  Here there is a whole other series of blurry incidences that I could construct into a narrative about my growth as a writer.  I won’t.  I will just say that when Peter died, I wrote quite a few plays talking about his life, about our adventures, stories that I could never deny make me WHO I am today.  But like coming to understand the balance between spontaneity and intentionality, I started to realize these plays were good but lacked something, on some level all these plays fell flat.  To describe Peter was to NOT bring him back, it was a flimsy recreating of a complex human being.  The only way to turn Peter into a meaningful play, at the time, was to write about how I FELT about his loss, to express the emotion in actions and tightly scripted futile, metaphor laden, directions, “how to remain friends with a dead man.”  I took all the things I learned about how short pieces should have multiple layers and meaning, and that you don’t have time to dilly dally, so make every moment count, be abstract but also tangible, personal but also universal.  This is the closest I think I ever got to all those goals and the closest I will probably ever come to sharing the affect of Peter with my audience.

Order Of The Good Death

We don't post much these days on this blog, but it never seems to "die." The blog seems to constantly have a few to many visits each day.  Here is a Death related person I follow on Facebook that may be of interest to people that find morbid topics not off-putting but educational and life affirming.
ORDER OF THE GOOD DEATH

Aha!  I just found her Youtube channel too:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Statistics



I'm reading about death during the Civil War right now.

"The number of soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865, an estimated 620,000, is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War combined. The Civil War's rate of death, its incidence in comparison with the size of the American population, was six times that of World War II.  A similar rate, about 2 percent, in the United States today would mean six million fatalities.  As the new southern nation struggled for survival against a wealthier and more populous enemy, its death toll reflected the disproportionate strain on its human capital.  Confederate men died at a rate three times that of their Yankee counterparts; one in five white southern men of military age did not survive the Civil War."

-Drew Gilpin Faust, "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War"

And that's not including civilian deaths.  The Civil War changed how Americans, and by extension, the world, viewed death.  It forever altered the landscape of how we approach and deal with death.  More soon...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

27 Club Uber Suicide Club & Club 66

It never seemed odd or mystical, revelational for some musicians to die at 27.  I had always called the age 27, "The Age of disillusionment."  The age where your childhood and your adulthood begin to mingle and clash.  My friend Stephanie Shaw once said when I was 29 turning 30, "Thirty is the best age."  It was a great age.  Here are a couple sites I found today, one that rationalizes how an idea can be made popular with very little evidence behind it, once placed next to other "coincidental" ages of rock deaths.  People just like the number 27.  It's a 3 thing.  But noone is going to talk about a musician dying at 3, 6, or 9.  Here is also a picture of the newest 27 Club Amy Winehouse, whom I never heard of until she became part of this club that is about as illusional as my theory about the age of disillusionment.  And here is a picture of Bob Welch, who now belongs to the Suicide Club and the 66 Club.  Psychology Today.   A list of other rock death ages.  This is in response to John Szmanski & Peter Sebastian's post The 27 Club which now has 27,000 hits.  Good Work!  Also in the comments for that post there was also a reference to Saturn Returns, which is a more cosmic description of what I touch on briefly here.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to be less me when I die.

I was moments away from responding to a recent comment that was made on a post by Rachel Claff: Capsula Mundi.  The commentator was intrigued by the possibility of a human (dead) body being planted as a bulb for a future tree.  I must admit I am intrigued too, and may have to research to see if this approach has remained, or has become a viable option. (Because as we will see later in this post, the reality of a usable process and the propagating of it as a good idea do not always mean the same thing.)   I was going to make another comment about another biodegradable idea that was introduced many years ago involving turning the human body into compost (corpse to compost, cryomation) called Promession, named by the swedish biologist who conceived the process, Susanne Wiigh Masak .  I read about it in an entertaining book on death called Stiff.  I was going to suggest this as an alternative to being buried in fetal position in a bulb.  (Sidenote: I admit to thinking about death more than the average person, but sadly I do not ever think of more pragmatic aspects of death, like what someone should do with my decomposing body once I die. Or, who will pay my half of the mortgage once I'm gone, or who will legally receive my dwindling musical royalties once I'm too dead to do anything with them.) Anyway, I wanted to check up on this Promession process before responding, and through some quick studying I realized the process has not yet been released to the public, which I thought was odd since many of the articles made it sound like it was a done deal.  Articles written more than 12 years ago.  Then I read this statement by one of the franchises, Promessa UK, which states they are separating from the Mothership Promessa, I'm assuming due to lack of progress or perhaps a divergence in profit-making potentials.  The site that hosts this statement has a fundamental problem with the process, it lacks "soul."  But I am one of those that believes that the body is just a shell once dead.  I have not settled on my beliefs about the soul itself, but if I were my soul I wouldn't hang out for too long in my post-flatulent decomposing host, where I'd have to share the diminishing space with millions of ravenous microorganisms.  I'd like to read more recent articles about what is exactly going on with cryomation, but I don't speak the language of the Mothership Promessa.  Obviously I have more studying to do before I die.  I'll have to get on that... Oh look, Bunny!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Philosophy of Death by Shelly Kagan


The Philosophy of Death lectures by Shelly Kagan
I have always been fascinated with death. I used to (and still) have gothic friends. I always admired the ones that had a humor to their commitment to their interpretation of death, but my fascination for death was very different from most of theirs. For some reason or another many gothics become fascinated with "living death." And ultimately my interest has more to do with trying to remove all false perceptions I have of my own immortality, to face death without fear, so that I can attempt to live more honestly. A life that I feel can be richer, perhaps in ways that are not always pleasant, but more involved - knowing, for real, that this IS THIS, and this life that I know to be "me" pretty much is ONLY THIS for now. I fell upon these lectures by Shelly Kagan. It is amazing what you can watch for free on the internet. And this is basically a whole semester's course in the study of death... for FREE. This man frustrated me on many points, but I gotta give him his due. He carries you on the journey, giving you (at leas an illusory) chance to claim otherwise than he believes. He spends about half the lectures ruling out the possibility of a soul and focuses in on a physicalist point of view. This building of his argument is the most fascinating of the lectures, and continues through about half. When we as listeners grow to accept his physicalist point of view (for the sake of questioning) He then proceeds to figure out what makes death "bad," and what is a quality life, and why do we want such a thing? The lectures are about an hour each. I suggest giving them a try, instead of watching one of those sitcom's each night, or the endless amount of Cat videos on youtube, I see the allure of the aforementioned modes of entertainment, but I recommend bypassing those for awhile and buckle your seatbelt and allow this man to erase the existence of the soul. (Although, since I have also been listening to Existential philosophy, I am more skeptical to believe that being rational means that it is true.)

I also think he sits like a hippie.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dead Weight

One day Luke and I went to Home Depot in an I-Go car to pick up--something--for the show. On the walk to the car we arrived at an interesting question: how much does all the death weigh? How much would all of the remnants of all the dead humans weigh? As far as I know it is an impossible question to answer. We might not have been at the Home Depot when the question was posed. It is years later now, but often when FEAR comes to mind, this unanswered question comes with it, so tonight I did a little research and came up with a few, rough, rough, rough, estimates.

The first number I found is an estimate of the number of homo sapiens that have ever walked the earth. 106,000,000,000. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-living-outnumber-dead)

106,000,000,000 people. Ever. Ok. Ok?

The next number I figured I'd need is the average weight of those homo sapiens over time. After perusing a few sites and google books, I came up with roughly 173 pounds. So if we multilpy the two figures we find that if all of the 106,000,000,000 stood on a scale, they would weigh 18,338,000,000,000 pounds.

The problem is that I have found no way of estimating how much of that might still be around in a form that you could objectively say is part of a dead homo sapiens.

So we get guess-y.

If we assume that all of the organic bits are gone from most of the bodies, we are left with only the skeleton, which weighs 6 or 7% of one's total body weight. That comes out to about 11.25 pounds of the average body weight for homo sapiens. If all those bones are still around in some form, no matter how broken down they may be, to dust for instance, than that leaves us with 1,191,970,000,000.

We are left with One Trillion One-Hundred-Ninety-One Billion pounds of death.

Roughly.

These calculations began in my mind as a pile that somewhat resembles this one:


Which is of a landfill in Mexico City which, according to the article it comes from, is very large and unmanaged.