Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the "real world"

you know what i'm getting damn tired of hearing? older people telling me how their eyes were somehow opened when they entered the "Real world"--some new plateau of world experience and comprehension that suddenly dawned on them when they were slightly older than i am now. every time i encounter some loser who has recently graduated from or dropped out of university and has done nothing but work some mediocre job, pay bills, and drink beer they invariably tell me that they were hopeful and naive just like me until they day they entered "the real world." I don't quite understand how someone who has lived twenty some-odd years and done absolutely nothing noteworthy can dare condescend to another twenty-something student who is willing to at least go out and try on a career and independent living. Hell, at least I'm willing to go out and try. Most of these "real worlders" who have spoken to me did nothing between graduating and settling into a dead-end job and/or dead-end relationship and now have nothing else to do with their lives than grumble about taxes and remember how they were really cool 'back in the day.' And they'll continue to carp on about these two issues until they are forced into early retirement and fail to receive pension and eventually die, ever hopeful for some redemption in another life--a compensation for how much their life sucked.

When i inquire as to the nature of this "real world" as opposed what i can only suppose is the parallel universe in which I live, and when I might expect to encounter it (is there some sort of bubble i have to pass through?) I'm invariably told to wait until i'm out of university. I go on further to inquire as to just what the real worlder has done with his or her time since graduation, and i'm also invariably told the same thing. "worked hard, never had enough money." How in hell does this differ from the world that I'm living in now? at least they're being paid for their work, not paying someone else to make me do it. I work, physically and intellectually, about 50 hours a week, and must not only pay tuition but inordinate prices for my dormitory and those fun random fees that just occur as a daily part of university life. I eat in a restaurant once every couple of months. I buy my alcohol in the grocery store and drink it at home so I can afford it. I don't own a TV, keep the air set from 68-72 all year, get my books out of the library, and buy my tea on sale. If it weren't for my computer and the fact that i wear shoes you could say that i live a pretty bare-minimum American lifestyle. I make do--i have an on-campus job that pays for groceries, i earn good grades to keep my scholarship, and i'm more than a few grand into debt with student loans. I guarantee you I work harder and longer than many of these post-academia real-worlders and have endured the same hardships of life.

The only thing I can decipher--given what i know about them and myself--is that you enter the real world the day you stop having a good time. The day i stop living is the day i enter the real world. (at this point the jaded real-worlder may stop and stifle an outburst of laughter with a knowing eye-roll or a sneer out of one side of his or her mouth--oh this little girl, she has no idea what she's in for) Well i got news for you. The day i stop having a good time--the day i stop having hope for something better in my future is the day i end my life. If entering the real world requires losing passion and interest, i can only hope i have the strength of will to cease living before i reach the threshold.

One thing i have a hard time understanding is the religious real-worlder: these angry, struggling failures who attend church and claim a faith in some form of deity although every iota of their psyche knows that said deity will not redeem them or make life any more fun than its turned out to be. They can only pray that they have suffered and struggled for a good reason, and that when they keel over from all the misery of it there will be a big comfy chair for them to relax in and they will become fat and happy. Yet at their core, no matter how they mask it with this faith or train their minds to embrace it, they still fear death.

The day my ability to pursue happiness ends, so will cease my purpose in and excuse for living. I can only hope this is a long time from now, and not when i'm twenty-four like so many people. If you're not having a good time, there's no reason to stay at the party.

I'm having a good time.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Theatre South Carolina's production of The Cherry Orchard is over, and the set is struck. Completely. There ain't so much as a broomful of dust remaining onstage from that piece of literary schmutz. It could have gone well--it could have been the best show we ever did. But it didn't, and it wasn't. It was horribly directed, weakly designed, unattended, and intellectually uninspiring. The actors slogged through and did their absolute best with what was given them to perform. I'm almost certain the number of tickets sold did not cover the price of building the set. If you couldn't make it to the show, count yourself among the lucky.

I devoted over six weeks of my life to this steaming pile of road apples. Not that I had much of a choice, but that was six weeks I could have been out playing and laughing and drinking--I turned 21 in those six weeks--and, y'know, behaving like a normal university aged student. but instead I carried around everything from children's toys to guns to shoes to bookcases and helped avert crises before they occurred. I allowed myself to be yelled at for nothing in particular while my director tried to make me feel stupid for not taking care of things that were neither my problem nor my fault. I spent five hours every night staring at the wall and trying desperately to stay awake. Don't get me wrong--I joined this stage management team willfully, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. My PSM (primary stage manager) and co-ASM (assistant stage manager) were (and are) wonderful people who i value as coworkers and as friends. The cast and crew were friendly and hardworking, and all very capable with their tasks. But no matter how you excuse it, this show did not meet its theatrical potential.

The Cherry Orchard, for any reader who may not be familiar with this Russian text, is about the downfall of the aristocracy in light of the industrial revolution. Written by Anton Chekhov, the play follows six months in the lives of the members of the Ranevsky household--Lyubov Andrevena and her daughters Varya and Anya, Lyubov's brother Gayev, ex-serf and self-made millionaire Yermolai Lopakhin, and a small entourage of friends, neighbors, and employees--as they run out of money and eventually lose their estate on account of their own frivolousness and their inability to comprehend that the world around them has changed.

This is not a tragic story. The family has every opportunity to avert their fate long before the deadline--the estate going to auction--but they don't. They choose not to. And then they're surprised when they lose the house, the land, and everything they've always had to the young upstart--the money-grubbing Lopakhin, who intends fully to tear everything down--the house, the workbuildings, and the entire cherry orchard--to build a neighborhood of villas to be rented by members of the emerging middle class.

This is very much a comic story. The characters who lose are morons, and the right thing happens to them at the end. As a reader i felt the Ranevsky's got what was coming to them. My sentiments at the end were somewhere between "poetic justice" and "well its about damn time." This story is unique in that none of the characters undergo a change--they all end the way they began: stupid. What changes is the world. To use a trite term for it, the family did not learn to swim and go along with the tides of change, so they sank.

Chekhov could have very easily written the play as a tragedy. He could have had the world move forward and crush their lifestyles in spite of everything they did to save it. He could have made the world to blame. But he didn't. The characters must work to prove that they don't deserve their beautiful house, their disused cherry orchard, their river or their leisurely lifestyle. There is not a single likable character in the entire play, so the audience is obviously meant to Enjoy the fact that they fail and industrialism arises.


at Theatre South Carolina, directors are not expected to read and thoroughly interpret plays before they produce them. So our good buddy the director--an elderly faculty member with few friends in the department--played it Tragic. He tried to instill a feeling of loss, of sadness, and to encourage the audience to pity these poor, pathetic creatures. He didn't use the underlying meanings of each line to their fullest potential--or, it seems, to any extent at all--and instead played the scenes exactly as the diction of the text would imply. He skated along the surface of the play and failed to dig any deeper than to add recorded opera and blue lighting to the more boring speeches and play up slapstick humor when it was unavoidable in the text. What resulted was chaos. The audience had no coherent idea of what the atmosphere of the play was or what they were supposed to get out of it. And the end of the play truly proved that the director had absolutely no idea what the play was about--when the old head servant, Firs, dies--sick and alone in a locked house fated for demolition--the house falls apart around him and the last standing image of the play is a series of structures, made mostly of shadow, which indicates that nothing is left but the stark, cold, painful reality of industry.

Chekov did not write this ending. The ending in the script reads "Then silence, broken only by the thud of an axe on the trees far away in the cherry orchard." Thud of axes. People cutting down trees. People clearing away the last traces of the bourgeois. People working. Industrialism was a dream come true to 99% of the population. Finally--they were free from serfdom and had an opportunity to work and make their own way in life. Yes, the system collapsed after a few years, factory working conditions were horrible and people died of varying forms of cancer encouraged by harsh chemicals and textile dust, but Chekov didn't write Cherry after the fact. He wrote it about the downfall of the aristocracy and the uprising of the common man. It was a Good Thing.

A better ending tableau might have been the house falling down and a number of ruddy, healthy, brown-clad lumberjacks cutting the trees. Maybe one would pause to wipe his brow with a handkerchief and then return, and we could watch the dead trees fall. Or perhaps the old wall could collapse and behind it would be studwalls of several small houses with green lawns and a seedling cherry tree each. Or the stage could fade to black and you would hear the chopping, and maybe someone whistling, or the choppers singing a work song. Or something implying progress or at the very least work. Not this angular, ugly black shadow looming in the future. It undermined the entire play--the entire reason Chekov wrote it. The Cherry Orchard Celebrates the downfall of the dominant class. Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. Theatre SC failed miserably in its pursuit of honest portrayal of an important, historic piece. I wasted 6 weeks.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

bumper stickers

I just had a striking realization--i don't trust unoriginal bumper stickers. Cars that bear little yellow logos reading "smile--it confuses people" or "meat is murder" should not be trusted on the road, and their drivers should be socially avoided at all costs.

I just walked past a car with a small rectangle on its right flank reading "resistance is futile" with a big-eyed alien next to it. What does this mean about the driver? He or she is expressing to the world that they are in fact quite tame and boring. You know when John or Jane saw that sticker in the racks at the tat shop s/he lit up inside and thought "now There's a sticker that really expresses my individuality! When people read that they're going to think 'man, this driver is really cool.'"


the car is, in fact, owned by aliens who are attempting to fit in with human society by decorating their vehicle in a manner that seems nicely inconspicuous. Either way, and yes these are the paranoid ramblings of one who has failed to receive sufficient sleep for a number of months--trite bumper stickers should send up a red flag to indicate that this driver is a member of the "general public" that is often referred to but rarely seen. I don't actually know one off the top of my head, but i'd imagine a member of this grouping enjoys jerry springer, american football, and ready-made dinners, and dines at Applebee's restaurants on special occasions. They work in insurance, accounting, or another of several white-collar cubicle-based jobs, drink bud light, and always gripe about how lousy their life is but do absolutely nothing to improve it. They're the same people who fill that "barely literate" category--those individuals who can just about sound out the word "Bush" on a ballot and respond well to pop-up advertising but can only offer a blank stare and a bit of mouth dribbling when you ask them their opinions on the writings of Chekhov. They fill sidewalks and shopping centers with their vapid chatter about what happened last night on reality tv and parade around in the latest cheaply made, ill-fitting and unflattering fashions that they saw worn by persons of a similar character on said programming.

I fear this group, this They, this General Public, and i can only hope that through education and devout atheism i can avoid allowing myself to gain the same glassy-eyed, complacent, sheeplike quality of the societal standard. I'm okay with being mediocre--i have no wish to meet the expectations of the exceptional or endure the hardship of the pitiful--but i will not be General, normal, or popular. "It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority--by definition, there are already enough people to do that."--G.H. Hardy.

I could go into the specific offenses i take from being stuck behind some shit-for-brains driver who has taken the opportunity provided by driving too slowly to attempt to influence my opinions by quoting platitudes expressing that i should place artificial constraints upon myself and my civil liberties, but i may wish to drive that point into the ground at a later time.

So, in no particular order, i've selected 20 bumper sticker themes that you should be wary of, as the driver is either mind-numbingly banal or a visitor from another planet.

Meat is Murder, anything involving a request for you to smile, Honk if you're Horny, My other Car is a __, W: the president, any campaign stickers for either dominant party, Baby on Board, Choose Life, any image of sporting equipment, any image of a team mascot, any number of a sports player or racecar driver, any criticism of the driver or the reader, any form of "my child is an honor student", any popular band name or logo (unless the vehicle is owned by a member of said band), any quotation from the Bible or any religious leader, any other religious reference (including half-silly comments like "who needs GPS when you have Jesus guiding you?" or "in case of rapture, this car will be empty"), any slogan from a television show or advertisement (yes, i have seen a bumper sticker that read "can you hear me now?") any reference to beer, breasts, or bodily functions, or any form of rainbow, pink triangle, purple band, or other homosexual indicator. I don't care if you're gay. just drive.