July 2, 2015

The Shirt Factory

Posted in Explorations tagged , , , at 4:17 pm by chavisory

Out for a stroll between rehearsal and a show one night last week, I walked a bit further than I intended and wound up lost enough that I was starting to have doubts of finding my way back in time for my own call time.  (I did.)  Happily, though, I stumbled across a place I’d been wondering about, which I’d been seeing signs without directions for…and resolved to go back to explore on my day off.

The Shirt Factory is a charming, and weird, in the best way, multi-use space of artists’ studios, shops, and historical displays, converted from a closed shirtwaist factory in Glens Falls, NY.

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Preserved and restored sewing machines line the hallways, some of which were built in the 1910’s and used continuously until the factory’s closing in 1996.

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Flashbacks to my time spent working on a show about the Triangle factory fire…

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The whole place is quiet, and creaky, and feels slightly removed from time, not to even mention the constraints on space, and light, and quiet that I’ve gotten so used to in the city, where they’re not non-existent, but they are so expensive and hard to find.  I’d like to live somewhere that places like this are more possible again someday.

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I put a quarter into this machine just to see what was in it, and got a pin-back button with a shark’s tooth on it… outside this door…

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I wonder what this is about….

April 18, 2015

Hair color, hypocrisy, and warped priorities

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:05 am by chavisory

So my school district had this policy, too–no unnatural hair colors, including red that was too bright. Kids were sent home under this policy a fair bit and it did not make international headlines.

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But aside from just thinking it was unfair and stupid when I was in middle school because I thought people should have a right to self-expression in ways that are harmless to other people, I actually just realized something, while commenting on a Facebook thread about this particular instance, about why it inspired such intense contempt in me for the school personnel upholding it.

The adults making and enforcing policies like this were people claiming that we should look up to and respect them, that they were entitled to our mental time and attention and a huge degree of control over our lives.

But supposed adults who could not deal with a child having green hair…were no way, no how, going to be people who could teach me how to survive in this world or make a life that I wanted to live.  That was a huge signal that the challenges relevant to our lives were…on a different order of magnitude.

Something in me was going “You cannot help me, if you seriously think that this is a big deal and expect me to as well.”  If a student’s loud hair is way outside the range of your ability to cope, if that is what bends you out of shape…you don’t have the maturity or adaptability or the ability to teach them that I need, to put it somewhat mildly.

It really undermined my ability to take those people seriously as grownups, let alone as teachers or authority figures.  It also really put the lie to the claim that so much of what happened in school was necessary to teach “social skills” or ability to work with people different from yourself…when how much clearer could it have been that tolerance for difference was for some people but not others?

September 16, 2014

The innocence and experience of Empire Records

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 3:09 pm by chavisory

The past few years have brought a series of movie and TV series anniversaries that…while I still can’t say I feel old, really put the relentlessness of time into perspective. The X-Files turning 21. The Princess Bride turning 25.

Empire Records turns 20 next year, making it older than I was when I first saw it. A generation of kids who weren’t even born when it came out are old enough to see it now.

This article (which is long, but worth reading all the way through) came up in my news feed recently about the story of its making and total commercial flop in 1995.

I first saw Empire Records when I was 15. I was at summer camp, one of the multiple summer academic programs where I spent my summers as a teenager. And literally all of my friends from the previous year had gotten too cool for me and stopped talking to me. It was the final night of camp, and the movie that had been voted on for everyone to stay up late and watch, was Empire Records.

I asked for it for, I think, my Valentine’s Day present the following year, and my mother bought it on VHS for me. I would name it without hesitation as one of my favorite movies for years, without ever being able to articulate why.

The article is an incredible nostalgia trip, and suffice it to say, the story of the making of the movie sounds almost as much fun as the movie. It’s comforting somehow to know that the cast of the movie were all truly friends, who loved making it as much as we’ve all loved it as we’ve grown up. Things surprised me (Coyote Shivers was Liv Tyler’s stepfather?! And A.J.’s checkered shirt was an “old-man” shirt? I thought it was the sexiest thing I had ever seen, though maybe that was just A.J. in it), and things didn’t (mischief and mayhem on the part of Ethan Embry), but a passage that really gave me pause finally gave me the scaffolding to explain how this became such an important movie to me:

Part of the feel of the film was also lost via Regency’s insistence that it remain PG-13, rather than have the R-rating of the original script; that’s why none of the characters could be shown actually smoking cigarettes or marijuana, why they couldn’t swear like actual teenagers, why Eddie couldn’t run his weed operation on the roof—why they couldn’t, in other words, fully behave like the teens they were meant to portray.

See, I actually have to epically disagree with Petersen and the filmmakers about this. I think it’s an immense strength of the movie that those sorts of depictions were dispensed with.

Because much as I love the movie, it’s not actually because I can particularly identify with any one character in it, as opposed to characteristics and combinations of traits and struggles of multiple characters (Corey’s academic prowess, with a hint of Warren’s resentment and insecurity and A.J.’s artistic ambitions)…and that even if I wasn’t there, the world they inhabited was a world I could inhabit.  (In some ways, unlike the world I actually did inhabit.)

And a huge part of that was the lack of completely rampant drug use and callous language. It’s not even that drug use or abuse wasn’t depicted in the world; it was—in Marc’s spending the day stoned on Eddie’s “special” brownies, and Corey’s admission of amphetamine abuse to keep up with schoolwork. It’s not, by a long stretch of the imagination, an anti-drug movie, but the world in which Empire Records exists isn’t one that revolves around getting fucked up. In some kind of wake of cynicism left behind by Generation X, there was this oppressive sense that real kids with real issues were all doing this stuff—and the movie as it turned out, apparently inadvertently, tacitly rejects that premise.

Because believe it or not, kids of my generation not doing drugs or acting out in those ways actually existed. Teenage culture without pervasive drug use actually existed, and the outlook that “oh this is what teenagers really do, though,” was a hugely alienating aspect of other movies about misfit teenagers for me (like Dazed and Confused, of which I remember not one single important thing).

I would hazard a guess that this aspect has actually contributed hugely to the movie’s long-term success, especially among, as the article notes, an audience slightly younger and more sheltered than that originally intended by the producers. The writing of Empire Records treats the problems and internal life of all of its characters with equal sincerity and seriousness, and that’s something that I really felt the lack of in a lot of media aimed more successfully at Generation X (even in things I did like and identify with in some regards, like Daria). It’s an unabashedly sincere and hopeful movie.

A movie like that, with a PG-13 rating, could be shown for movie night at summer camp, where a desperately lonely 15-year-old could fall in love with a story of hope that belonging somewhere exists. An R-rated movie with all the characters drinking/smoking/cursing for two solid hours, couldn’t.

It’s not an everyday occurrence that I aim heartfelt thanks to the MPAA for its contributions to a brilliant narrative decision, but today I do.

Because the themes of love and ambition, and enforced conformity vs. what it means to find a place where you really fit in the world, are pretty universal to teenagers, but contrary to a lot of mythmaking, pervasive drinking, smoking, and drug abuse actually weren’t. That wasn’t what teenagers all just did.

If Empire Records failed to coherently indict “The Man,” it did effectively undermine something snide and dismissive that had arisen in factions of teen culture, that very much conveyed that you had to be edgy or cynical or damaged enough for your problems or issues or dreams to matter.

Empire Records is exactly the movie it should have been.

empire records[Image description:  The characters Warren, Eddie, A.J., Corey, Jane, Joe, Lucas, Gina, Marc, and Deb sit on a building rooftop at night, under a lit neon sign reading “EMPIRE RECORDS, since 1959.”]

June 12, 2014

Who was I the last time I read “Native Speaker?”

Posted in City life, Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 12:05 pm by chavisory

I don’t re-read books very often, except for the handful that I read more or less constantly, just a few pages at a time before bed, infinitely.  The ones that I’ve re-read probably dozens of times apiece in the course of just opening them randomly to read three or four pages…while I have a midnight snack before bed, or wait for tea water to boil, or for my computer to finish processing a printing job.  Aside from those, I can probably count on one hand the number of books I’ve picked up again and re-read from beginning to end.  I don’t want to take the time, which sounds horrible.  But there are so many new things to read, and so many things I’ll never get to read for the first time as it is.

So a book that I choose to re-read has to be one that I both enjoyed that much, but also realize fairly desperately that I need to understand something about it more clearly that I probably didn’t the first time through.  Like that something about it rang an inexplicable bell, but through a murky fog.

Native Speaker was like that for me in college, when we first read it in Asian-American Literature class.  Having just read Chang-rae Lee’s latest novel, which is so different from this one in my memory, I was driven to take another look at what had attracted me so powerfully to his writing in the first place, in the story of a first-generation Korean-American professional spy.

I didn’t actually remember very much of the plot, still in the grip as I was of my memory of Lee’s fluid, lyrical grasp of the experience of being hamstrung by issues of language and culture.  But, unlike the protagonist of the novel, Henry Park, without any identifiable reason or claim as to why I had always felt like a foreigner, a non-native speaker—eternally and irreparably.  It was baffling.

It probably had fallen into a category of things I once held as “too perfect to let myself get too close to.”

Too close to me in some almost tangible way to risk letting myself know or love them deeply enough to eventually be betrayed or let down.

 

I’m an inveterate underliner and defacer of hard copies of books; it’s something I have to restrain myself from doing when I read library books, and one of the hardest things for me about reading on a Kindle, is the inability to mark pages and take notes by hand.  My copy of Native Speaker was already a several-times used book when I bought it, and there are incidental underlinings and bracketings from several semesters’ worth of Asian-American Literature students before me, in red, blue, and green—ink colors I’ve never used.  Notes so pedantic even I would never write them…more like the kinds of observations they felt like they were supposed to make, the facts they were anticipating being grilled on in a quiz, rather than actual personal thoughts or resonances about what the text meant to them.

Then there are just a few underlinings of passages, in black, in the kind of pen that I used religiously at the time, in what could be a younger, clumsier, slightly more pretentious version of my own handwriting.  Lines that obviously struck me acutely at the time, but I didn’t readily remember the lines themselves, or why; they didn’t form the backbone of my memory of what I loved about the book.

You don’t tempt fate; you ignore it completely.

Our office motto:  Cowardice is what you make of it.

I am the most prodigal and mundane of historians.

It comes flooding back, though.

There are few surprises to my refreshed memory of the book itself.  It is as gorgeous as I remembered on the subject of linguistic alienation.  (I kind of hate to say that I feel like it’s still Lee’s best book, but I do.)  I hadn’t remembered how it ended; I hadn’t had the experience yet for it to mean to me what it does now.  But more unexpected is this cumulative, accidental little self-portrait of 21-year-old me:  what I struggled with, what I was grasping at language for, what life felt like, what I knew clearly and just how much I didn’t know at all about myself.

(Reading a book set in New York City is also a vastly more rewarding experience when you live there than when you have little personal experience of the place.)

More and different passage of text hit me in the heart this time around.  I pick up a pen and start underlining again, this time noting the date in the margin.

In ten years I could be astonished to remember who I was now.

Stranger.  Follower.  Traitor.  Spy.

May 19, 2014

Miranda

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 12:28 am by chavisory

Is the Neapolitan night too quiet for her now,

Does she lie awake listening still
in vain for the melancholy thing’s watchful singing
in her cowslip bed

Watch her young husband’s slumber untroubled by memory
of ocean winds in the reeds,
squalls across the wild sand.

Will she ever be able to sleep not sensing
the gaze of a thousand feral and delicate voices.

Her feet are growing soft.
Her ladies dress her in the gray morning.
At breakfast she is learning
the weight of porcelain, silver,
brocade and whalebone, and ceremony.

Is the very silence of their desertion like freedom
to the spirit, she wonders, like peace?

Or does Ariel also not know
what to do with her own hands anymore?

***

(You ever suffer that experience when looking through old writing, when you cringe and go “I can’t believe I wrote that?”  I just had the opposite experience finding this.  I wrote it a few years ago.  I was working on a production of The Tempest at the time.  I found it while looking through old writing for various submissions, and loved it so much all over again I couldn’t believe I wrote it.)

March 11, 2014

“Exile and Sound,” at NeuroQueer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:48 pm by chavisory

I have a guest post up this week at NeuroQueer:

I’ve been realizing how much I need and miss the influence of natural sound in my life.  It’s like the cadences of those things are the language that my emotional concept of the universe was wired in.  I need it in a way so deep I don’t even know where to begin or how to describe.
It’s strange to think of being starved for sound in New York City, but it can feel that way.  The city is so abundant in every other variety of overstimulation imaginable, but incredibly poor in that one, although there’s plenty of noise.  It’s not the same thing.

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Visit to read the whole thing!

February 11, 2014

I have really complicated feelings about exhortations to tell girls they’re smart instead of beautiful, and also why I’m not a Ravenclaw

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 4:16 pm by chavisory

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{Moving image depicts Dr. Christina Yang from the show Grey’s Anatomy, gesturing dramatically and proclaiming “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant!  You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!”}

The title of this might be me at my most inarticulate, but I’ve got some complex emotional history here.

I’ve see this screencap from Grey’s Anatomy flying around Tumblr a lot lately, with kind of conflicted feelings.

And I want to cheer for it.  I want to agree with Christina in this scene.  I want to clap.  I do.  I can’t.  My heart sinks a little instead.

When I was growing up, I was over-appreciated for my brain—or what people wanted out of it—and not much else.

And I get why, for a lot of women, so much importance has been placed on physical beauty and a very narrow definition of sexual desirability by culture and media that to be told you’re beautiful can be diminishing, or a denial of any other aspect of personhood as vital or valuable in a woman.

But another kind of woman got written off early and entirely in the department of physical desirability, and got told intensely and persistently that our intellect was the only valuable thing about us.

And that can be just as objectifying as the inverse.  To be treated as if your body, your sexuality, is a mistake, is off limits from being considered an asset or a real and true aspect of our personhood or something we should even like about ourselves.

Because my physical experience of the world is as totally intrinsic to the kind of person I’ve become as my intelligence is.

There’s not really any aspect or component of a person of which it’s alright to say, “You may be valued for this alone.  This is all of you that matters.”

So yeah, I can understand the frustration of other women at being called beautiful as the highest possible compliment, when though that may be what society values, it’s superficial to what they see as their true selves.

That’s exactly how I feel about being called “smart.”  It’s the only way I was ever allowed to be valuable or worthwhile, but it’s almost completely superficial to what I actually value most about myself.

When I was growing up, it was my intelligence that was made a commodity to other people.  And that was all of me that mattered.

For a long time, I was resentful that intellect and insight were not valued or celebrated anywhere near as much as superficial beauty or things like athletic talent—by society, by the media, by the school system—because it was all I had going for me.

And then a time came when I was so, so sick of hearing how smart I was.

In retrospect, a lot of my academic accomplishments feel like stupid human tricks, compared to the qualities that I’m really proud of nurturing. And yes, I was actually proud of them, too, and wanted recognition for them.  But on some level even at the time, I knew that they were just the game I could play.  They were the game I could win, the hoops I could jump through.

In an end-of-the-year Thespian troupe party my senior year of high school, we had a ritual where the whole troupe sat in a circle, and we were supposed to go around one by one, and use one word to describe each one of our classmates.

I forbade anyone to say I was smart.  I frakking knew that already, and getting told what you already knew wasn’t the point of the exercise.  I knew that ad nauseum.  Tell me anything else.  Prove you know me better than that.  Tell me that something about me matters to you.

People said it anyway.

(Our teacher, blessedly, did not.)

There’s also this thing that happens where, once someone has gotten the impression that I’m so intelligent, expects me to not have a soul, a conscience, a sense of fairness, or a heart, and winds up really confused and disappointed when I do.

Other people’s perception of my intelligence has been over-leveraged as a survival tactic and bargaining chip for autonomy and personhood, for me to really be able to treasure it much for myself anymore.

***

I value my physical beauty now, idiosyncratic though it may be.  I love finally feeling at home in my body and the way it moves.  That’s a wondrous thing to me.  I love being made to feel beautiful by someone who really means it about the way that I really am.

I like looking in the mirror and liking what I see.

And I won’t feel that it’s some kind of a betrayal of womanhood to actually value that about myself.  After so many years of having that ability discouraged and confounded in so many ways, I get to have that.

***

Just as valuation of a particular standard of beauty above all other female attributes both devalues girls who can’t meet that standard, and devalues everything else about girls who do…how is valuation of intelligence above any other personal attribute not likely to devalue girls who don’t meet some conventional, one-dimensional standard of that?

I wish we could just stop hacking people up into pieces that are valuable and not valuable, acceptable and not acceptable.

I fear that this trading valuation of physical beauty for intelligence, really just winds up telling some girls “You do not count in this way.  Your physical experience of the world and your sexuality aren’t really things that deserve to be taken into account, because you’re a brain, and that’s what matters about you.”

December 2, 2013

Adulthood, green bean casserole, and cats

Posted in Reality tagged , , , , , , at 1:03 am by chavisory

“What do you suppose it means?” he asked.  “‘DO WHAT YOU WISH.’  That must mean I can do anything I feel like.  Don’t you think so?”

All at once Grograman’s face looked alarmingly grave, and his eyes glowed.

“No,” he said in his deep, rumbling voice.  “It means that you must do what you really and truly want.  And nothing is more difficult.”

“What I really and truly want?  What do you mean by that?”

“It’s your own deepest secret and you yourself don’t know it.”

“How can I find out?”

“By going the way of your wishes, from one to another, from first to last.  It will take you to what you really and truly want.”

“That doesn’t sound so hard,” said Bastian.

“It is the most dangerous of journeys.”

-Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

I’ve drawn this comparison before, but I was thinking about it again a few nights ago as I made myself a green bean casserole for dinner, for no better reason than that I wanted it and I could.

Life is like Cats.  The Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.

One night when I was nine, my parents were going out to see the touring production of Cats that was in town, and we were getting left with a babysitter.  I whined and begged to be allowed to go see the show—cats were one of my principal obsessions at the time.

“No honey, you don’t want to see this,” my parents told me.  “It’s not really about cats.  You’ll be bored.”

For many years, I tacitly accepted this—that the musical Cats was not really about cats.  I never even questioned what Cats was really about.  Something for adults, and therefore opaque and boring.  Not cats.

Then in my senior year of high school, I took an acting class.  And to give us an easy day one class period after a long week, we got to watch the PBS video recording of the musical Cats.  “Oh great,” I thought, “I’ll finally see what Cats is really about.”

It was a somewhat mind-blowing moment when those actors, in cat suits and gorgeous cat makeup, started to creep onstage.  Because let me tell you something, in case you’re not familiar with the show…

Cats, the musical, is really, literally, about cats.

It isn’t not about cats just because it’s also about life, death, faith, loyalty, and memory.  Like Watership Down isn’t not about rabbits, just because it’s also about persecution, oppression, idealism, and hope.

Likewise, I was told a lot that “Adulthood is not about just doing whatever you want.”  As if the freedom and autonomy to live and work in a way that was acceptable to me was some trivial, stupid thing that I was just going to have to get over.

I decided I would never be an adult, then.  Because if that’s what it meant, that wasn’t something I was capable of.

And then I grew up.

As it turns out?  Adulthood actually is about doing what you really want.

Adulthood really means making your own decisions about what kind of life you want to lead, what kind of person you want to be, what kind of mark you want to leave on the world.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not work, that there are no consequences or costs to those decisions, or that you never have to do anything you don’t want to do, or face things you don’t want to face.  It doesn’t mean that there are no obstacles or hardships.

But the decisions themselves, about what you’re doing on this earth and why—those belong to you.

So that’s how adulthood is like the musical Cats.

For some reason, people tell you that it’s not really about exactly what it is really about.  It’s just that the truth is both harder and better than anyone wanted you to know.

September 17, 2012

The Mystery of the Harmonica

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:54 pm by chavisory

I both enjoy and pride myself on my good memory.  It’s very good, very vivid, and very detailed.  To the extent that it often freaks other people out.

So, as my roommate and I were doing a little fall cleaning on this lovely afternoon before class for her and work for me, I am a little confused to find a harmonica of which I have no memory.

It was in my nightstand.  It has been for several years.  I have never and cannot play it, though I did try to teach myself briefly.  I almost tossed it right into the thrift store donation bag without a thought, before I noticed that it’s labeled “[My Full Name]–ASM,” in my handwriting, in pencil on the bottom of the box.

It is a Bluesband Hohner International, in the key of C.

So this was a harmonica involved with a show, and one that I assistant stage managed.  Which should narrow things down considerably; I can count on one hand the productions I’ve ASM’d.  Either it was given to me for the opening or closing of a show, or, I’m starting to vaguely suspect, it was mine to begin with (but why?) and I loaned it as a rehearsal prop to a production.

But still no solid recollection of which of my shows even involved harmonicas…to the extent that I would’ve been given one, or loaned one to the show.  Possibly one was in a show briefly but was cut early in rehearsal, explaining my negligible memory of it.

I’m going through old props lists now….