Monday, July 28, 2014

The twins, if you didn't catch it last time I wrote about them, are odd. I don't know what the official word is, if there is one, but my working hypothesis is that they're both pinned somewhere on the end of the autism spectrum. I can't really judge now far in they are; I don't think they'd have a named diagnosis, especially since Asperger's Syndrome has been removed from the DSM-V, but they're both highly intelligent and have had a lifetime of incentive to learn how to fake normal, so I don't really know.

It took me a while to notice this. It's been previously established that I'm shit at picking this stuff up; the problem seems to be that while I notice the behaviors just fine, my brain flags them as uncommon and occasionally strange, but not unnerving, as I gather is often the case. A deficit in the standard array of social skills apparently automatically equates to a danger signal for most people -- they use it as an index for the more fundamental problems of bad boundaries, poor communication, and lack of empathy, I think, because in a good 90% of cases that's probably what it is. While Jack and Danny have some issues with the ambiguities of communication, they have perfectly good boundaries and are in fact extremely loyal and mainly very sweet, so as far as my alarms are concerned, the weird is just weird.

The pattern did not become apparent for me until I started consciously noting specific quirks. Danny has a lot of problems both reading and reproducing intonation in spoken language, for instance. I think he has a perfectly good sense of humor for pretty much the same reason that the Turing test paper makes me giggle until I make unattractive snorting noises, but even I miss a lot of his jokes at first, because if I'm not paying attention, I fail to notice when he's shifted into comedy mode. Interrupt Jack in the middle of a phrase, and when he gets back to the conversation, he'll pick it up on the exact word he left, rather than repeating the first part of the utterance as most people do. Neither one is great at making eye contact during conversations, although they will do it -- you get glances from time to time when they particularly want to know what your reaction is. Both of them are extremely blunt, without the slightest hint of malice.

Things like that. Small, but suggestive. They added up over time until it finally occurred to me that all of that was looking kind of familiar. A few things threw me; they are not particularly touchy-feely by the standards of the circus crowd they run in, but hugging people hello and goodbye is usual with performers, and neither of them seems averse to it. Both of them will hug me, at any rate, and generally they start it. I'm twitchy for my own reasons sometimes, and make it a point not to paw people who are only doing it because they think it's rude not to.

I didn't realize just how far down this particular rabbit hole went until a few weeks ago. Dale wanted to go see a show, and he can't stand existing by himself in the middle of a bunch of strangers, so he invited me to go with him. Danny and Ricky turned up at the last moment to join us, even though they'd just gotten back from something else, and Danny had evidently been up long enough already that he was just about falling asleep. I thought the evening went pretty well -- even including the part where it took me a few minutes to convince them that no, I really don't play pool -- until they were taking me home afterwards, and Danny suddenly started shouting at me. Out of absolutely nowhere. Stunned everyone into silence, including me, and I'm not easy to do that to.

I still don't actually know what action of mine set it off; the one example he gave wasn't an example of what he said it was, so I've really no idea. He wouldn't accept the apology I tried to give him the next day, on the grounds that if I didn't know what I wasn't supposed to be doing it wasn't worth anything. Which is a little backwards from how most people operate, actually -- normally I'd apologize for upsetting someone and then ask them to explain so I wouldn't do it again, because otherwise the upset would interfere in the cognitive work of elucidation. Even stranger, there didn't seem to be any sequelae. If he was still angry it wasn't apparent, but he was kind of resigned when I told him that I was yea close to telling him to go fuck himself if we couldn't get this straightened out in some sensible way.

Hmm, I thought. This is kind of strange even for Danny. He sounded both as if he was used to explaining these things, and also used to other people being pissed at him regardless of how much sense he thought it made. Danny's not an asshole -- just the opposite, in fact. If he keeps doing a thing that upsets people, it's because he can't work out a way to not do it.

I realized very, very belatedly that this was pretty much a textbook example of an overstimulation meltdown. I'd been doing a whole lot of high-context social communicating all evening long. Ricky and Dale are super-good at peopleing; Ricky has all the subtitles turned on, and Dale has them burned into the bottom of the picture whether he wants them or not, so I can do all kinds of teasing and sarcasm and fucking around in their personal space, and they get it perfectly well. Danny gets along all right, but it's much more difficult for him to unravel it all, and I didn't realize how tired he was until he started dozing off in the dark during the show. He finally snapped when he got stuck in the car with me doing all of that, and he was driving, so he could neither walk away until he cooled off nor bury his nose in his smartphone to cope.

By the time I tried to apologize the next day, of course, nothing was amiss anymore. Because it wasn't really me to begin with; it was me inadvertently stepping on the wrong part of an unmarked minefield. It's got some better signage now, I hope. I don't think he's being unreasonable so much as he's being very bad at issuing warnings -- I want to not do upsetting things, but if he thinks he's showing signs of being upset, he isn't, and I'd really rather he just tell me when he needs me to quit talking to him instead of waiting until he pops a sprocket. He may have had bad reactions to saying 'please knock it off' calmly in the past; tough to tell, particularly since I don't know how many times that would've had to happen before he'd decide it was an 'always' consequence and give up on issuing yellow cards.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I've been out of sorts most of this week. I feel stuck, in all kinds of different directions. Some of these are my own damn fault; I have someone asking me for proposals for audio plays, and I have no idea how to move forward on that, because I've never written an audio play before and I really have never been instructed to come up with a budget for an audio play before. It's overwhelming enough right now that I don't even know where to start.

I'm used to that one. I have some kind of weird anxiety disorder -- my medical records even say so now, right before the line 'just give her the Xanax, it's faster' -- and it happens from time to time. If I'm otherwise doing well, I can generally just bang on it until I figure it out. Other things, not so much.

On a whim, I posed a Facebook status today that basically went 'here's a Beyoncé song I've always wanted to do a thing to, and since it's all about a gigolo I think it would be really wrong to not involve Dex', Dexter Dix being the favorite resident manwhore of the group. I assumed that anyone who bothered reading it would go 'ha ha totally' and then ignore me, because that's frankly what they've all been doing.

Dex, it turns out, thought that was a really good idea. He's using the first-person plural pronoun to talk about it. I should be really happy that someone likes one of my random notions and wants to work on it with me. Mainly I'm just waiting to have the rug yanked from under me again. I have no idea how fair this is to Dexter -- probably not at all -- but given the community's history in the matter, I don't think it's out of line.

Most of them have figured out by now that I want to perform again. I get teased about it from time to time. I'll take it from most of the Sirs, because they're my favorites and since this is friendship I can be unfair if I goddamn well want to. The others have learned not to do it, because if they bring it up as a joke, I'll follow up by asking for real, and if I do that in person they'll have to resort to feigning sudden mysterious deafness rather than just not answering any of their email.

I have told most of them that I danced a lot as a child and want to get back to doing it again. I have gotten the response "Have you thought about burlesque?" from, so far as I can definitively recall, three people. Probably it's been more than that, but I hesitate to speak for the conversations that didn't strike me as memorable. I've made no secret of asking all kinds of stupid questions about history and style and practical matters like how you glue the fucking pasties on. A couple of them have actually suggested things to incorporate into a routine.

Mind you, I have not been demanding to be cast in anything. I keep telling people I would like to be evaluated. I want an audition, essentially. Formal or informal. Don't care. I am perfectly willing to begin at the bottom again; nobody knows me here, so of course I'd start out on the list of people they might call when they need Sign Holder #3 and all the stage crew is already busy.

They are all very encouraging. Until I ask them how exactly one goes about auditioning for one of the shows as a new entrant, and then suddenly there's dead silence. That sort of nolo respondere brush off is something you normally use on people who you think lack the ability to embarrass you for it later -- i.e., people who have so little power that they have no recourse in case of poor treatment, or just people you think you're never going to see again. It says 'you are not important, and I do not have to explain my actions to you'. The professional response to someone asking 'is there an open call?', even if you truthfully would not cast them if they were the only person to turn up to the audition, is either to tell them when and where it is, or to tell them 'sorry, it's not an open call', because if you're pre-screening applicants like that it's not an open call anymore.

If you're not having auditions at all, then you're just cherry-picking your friends for a showcase. You can do that, but if they know they're obviously going to be in your shows no matter what, the performers start performing for each other, or just for their own egos. You get parts not because you were the best for the role, but because you were what the author had to work with. You might be really talented, but how the hell can you tell? They have to use you even if you suck, because you're there. Your whole community degenerates from an art form to an insincere echo chamber.

Egging me on and then resorting to this is both profoundly unprofessional and disingenuous, which here is a grown-up word meaning 'lying in an annoyingly obvious fashion about whether they mean the encouragement, which suggests to me that either they think I am stupid or simply do not care about whether they have my respect at all'. It also makes me feel a bit like I'm being milked for volunteer labor -- they dangle the possibility that I might properly join the community someday when they want something, then pretend not to know what I'm talking about when I ask for something from them.

I've looked for ways of getting my foot in the door that aren't just camping on someone's front steps with a hoop in my hand and rhinestone underpants on. I've heard a number of the NYC burlesque performers mention working their way up from kitten. (Stage kittens are the people who scuttle around collecting the discarded clothing after the number is over. They generally dress up and do cute things while picking up everyone's pants, so the audience doesn't get too bored waiting for the next person to come out and get nekkid.) I can't do that here, because the troupes don't use outside kittens -- they steal performers who aren't in that particular show to do it, and the other performers keep going along with it, because apparently nobody here has ever heard of things like 'division of labor' and why maybe that would be a good idea.

I would go perform in a variety show for someone who was willing to give me an audition, but they don't exist. The shows are all run by the same groups who are stonewalling me.

Some of the troupes run classes in burlesque. I can't pay for them, and even if I could, I've been here a year and seen them mentor exactly zero people. One of the troupes who runs them has had two founding members move away in six months, and still show no signs of picking up any trainable newbies, in their classes or anywhere else.

I thought perhaps this was all just the local etiquette, such as it was. I've not done stage work for years, and never when I was old enough to do it professionally, or in a city big enough to have real art colleges and a film industry and people with active Equity cards. But no; I recently did a production with the Post-Meridian Radio Players, which is an all-volunteer group, but run by crew who are otherwise paid to do this for people whose shows have actual budgets. They held an open call, wherein I was given a chance to embarrass myself in front of a casting director, by reading sides that they provided. They contacted me by the end of the week. Since they didn't know me and I wasn't a part of a theater company who could vouch for me, they chose to offer me the customary very tiny first-timer part, so that I could prove that I would not fuck things up beyond all repair if I were allowed to say scripted words in front of people. Actors did actor work and crew did crew work, and everyone was very professional, which was to say we all told appallingly filthy jokes and argued politics in the green room, but everyone treated me as an equal participant who clearly had every right to be there with them.

I ended all that actually rather angry with the burlesquers. The PMRP production ran exactly as I expected a production to run from my experience as a teenage amateur, and the years I've spent as a working model. This is not a matter of culture clash; the burlesquers are acting like 15-year-olds defending their cool table in the cafeteria. They like how I want to sit there, but what good is having a club if you can't keep people out of it?

The local spinners and hoopers have been much nicer to me. (This is probably not surprising. "Circus hooper", as a practical matter, is often equivalent to "pothead Burner who gets an unusually large amount of exercise".) The hoopers have made it quite clear that I'm welcome to come to their practice dates out in the park. They might ultimately decide that I am not Hoop Troop material and never will be, but at least they'll have decided that after having watched me play with the damn hoop for a while.

This is all extra-puzzling because a lot of these people are my friends, and have demonstrated the ability to behave like perfectly cromulent human beings in that context. I've been thanked repeatedly and effusively for unrelated personal favors by individual performers, but the Sirs are subject to the above-noted unfair favoritism partly because they're the only ones who consistently remember to thank me for my free labor after I've worked a show. They're not completely blameless here -- I've been telling them I pre-emptively volunteer to work as an NU extra whenever they need one, and when they needed one, nobody goddamn asked me -- but they seem to be the only ones who think my front-of-house work is worth much.

I have a feeling that a lot of the cliquishness and total lack of procedure for anything is because, so far as I know, pretty much no one in the burlesque scene does any theater with their pants on. There's a fair amount of crossover with the circus performers, but virtually no overlap at all with community groups like Unreliable Narrator, or the people who do musicals over at MIT. I've tried being helpful and passing around casting calls for modeling gigs, only to find that none of them do that. Only two of them have ever mentioned so much as being within spitting distance of a real working film set, and given that it's Dale and Ricky, that might explain why I've at least gotten less addlepated behavior from Sirlesque than any of the others. One of the Rogues has a proper drama degree, but she doesn't appear to be in charge of anything, at least not yet.

Some of the musicians seem to have a clue -- a few of them have lots of clues -- but in general the impression I get is that the burlesque scene is a lot of teenagers running around with no adult supervision. They've figured out how to perform and even worked out some of the preparation, but there's no one around to remind them that other people exist, that things will exist once they're gone, and that they have let new people come play from time to time or their entire treehouse is going to wind up very empty someday. I'm rather pissed, because I think one of those new people should be me, but I'd think this was a very bad pattern of socialization even if I were already one of the established performers watching all my co-workers slowly get married and fuck off to Georgia.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Yes, I know, I keep vanishing. Sorry. I've been cooking a lot lately, among other things, so here is what I have been feeding Jazmin over the past few weeks. It's not so much a recipe as it is an algorithm for making a basket full of things from the grocery store into the kind of food that will convince your parents it is totally safe for you to live on your own after all.

Ingredients (things in parentheses are optional):

Some kind of [COOKING FAT]
3-6 servings of [MEAT]
1 large onion
1-3 cloves of garlic
(Some [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES])
(Some [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES])
1 box of [STOCK]
(One or more [HERBS & SPICES] of choice)
(Some kind of [BAKING MIX])
Flour
Salt
Pepper

Supplies:

A large [POT]
A [LID] for your pot
A [CUP] to measure with
A large plate
A medium sized bowl
A knife that will cut vegetables
A thing to cut vegetables on
Tongs or a spatula

[MEAT]

The ideal meat for this recipe is the kind that is on sale for 79 cents a pound. As a practical matter, any muscle tissue of any animal that is readily available in your local supermarket will become food if you simmer it in stock for several hours, which is what you are about to do. The end result would taste roughly the same even if you tried using shoes, although those would still come out rather tough to chew. If you are starting with raw frozen meat, thaw it to the point where you can pry the units apart -- e.g., chicken thighs -- or cut it into chunks -- e.g., a pork or beef roast. If you are starting with leftover cooked meat, make sure it isn't fuzzy.

If you are feeding people who do not eat anything that once had a face, you can also make this recipe with mushrooms or extra-firm tofu. Do not get fresh mushrooms wet (this is a general rule to observe whenever working with mushrooms; they're sponges and if you fill them with sink water they won't absorb the flavor part of your food). Press reconstituted dried mushrooms or tofu between paper towels or clean cheesecloths to remove excess moisture.

[COOKING FAT]

Butter (salted or unsalted), margarine, vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco), olive oil, or neutral vegetable oil will all work. Bacon fat would work as well, but I'm assuming that if you're the kind of person who thinks this recipe is useful, you probably have not planned that far in advance. Don't use anything weird or fancy like peanut oil or infused truffle oil or the like. You will need several tablespoons. Figure about half a stick of butter or the equivalent.

[SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES]

Potatoes, large-chopped or whole baby carrots, celery, turnips, jicama, sweet peppers -- big dense things that need to be cooked for a long time in order to become edible. If you wouldn't bother cooking it in the microwave on account o' it takes a long time and you'd have to do pain-in-the-ass things like score the skin and get up to turn it over a lot, it's one of these.

[RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES]

Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, tiny diced carrots, corn off the cob, etc. Things you get cheap in the frozen foods or canned goods aisle. If they come frozen, defrost them in the microwave first. If they come canned, drain any excess liquid.

[STOCK]

This comes in waxed-cardboard boxes in the canned soup aisle. Buy the cheapest kind they have. You can get low-calorie or low-sodium versions if you want, but the only thing my cooking is low in is cost, so it's probably going to taste odd.

If you're feeding a vegetarian, use vegetable stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a bird, use chicken stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a large dim-witted quadruped that might kill you if it stampeded, use beef stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from a sea creature, use seafood or fish stock.

If your [MEAT] comes from anything else, use chicken stock.

[HERBS & SPICES]

These mainly determine how the dish will taste and what you tell people it's called when you want to impress them with your cooking skills. You can get away with nothing but the salt, pepper, garlic and onion, if you're that lazy. Very nearly anything will work here. Curry powder or paste will give you, obviously, a curry. Paprika will give you a paprikash. Rosemary with chicken will probably get you laid. Just pick one and commit to it.

[BAKING MIX]

Bisquick, Jiffy, generic, etc. The powder that comes in a big box that you use to make pancakes. Note that if you are excruciatingly lazy, you can also use this instead of the flour listed above, but it will be a little weirdly salty.

[POT]

A large stew, pasta, or crockpot. It needs to be large enough to hold the [MEAT] and the [STOCK] and the onion and any of the [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] and [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES] you might want to put into the thing. The skillet you use for those Bertolli meals-in-a-bag is not big enough.

[LID]

Use the actual lid to that pot, if you have it. Since you don't, just use a plate bigger than the mouth of the pot, which also handily covers the part where I tell you to have a large plate ready. Make sure the plate says "microwave safe" on the bottom; that means it can handle being boiling hot and having weird hot spots along its surface, both of which are going to happen when you leave it on top of a pot of simmering liquid.

[CUP]

A cup. Note that I do not say 'a measuring cup'. You need a thing that will hold hot liquid that is bigger than a ladle, and will stay upright when you put it own. My cooking requires a very low level of precision, frankly; if you want recipes that weigh out to the gram, you are asking the wrong person.

Procedure:

Heat your [COOKING FAT] over medium heat in your large [POT]. Dump a bunch of flour onto your large plate. I don't know, like half a standard coffee mug. Add some salt and pepper to the flour until you feel like a professional chef. Mix it around with your fingers or a fork or something until it looks mostly uniform. If you're using paprika or curry powder, add some of that to the flour and mix it in, just until the flour has a funny tint to it.

Take a chunk of [MEAT] and roll it around in the flour mix until there's flour on all sides of it, and it doesn't look particularly damp anywhere anymore. Put it in the hot fat, ideally without burning yourself. Do this with all of your chunks of [MEAT], and leave them there until they're brown on the bottom. Then flip them over and leave them until they're brown on the other bottom. Do not throw away your plate of flour yet.

Chop the onion into chunks an inch cube-ish. Chop any [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] roughly the same size. Chop the garlic into chunks about the size of a pea or corn kernel.

When the [MEAT] finishes browning, take it out of the pot and put it in the medium bowl. Dump the [SLOW-COOK VEGETABLES] plus the onion and garlic into the bottom of the pot as a replacement. Cook those until the onions start to brown and look a little translucent. Poke them with the spatula/tongs as much as you want. Add more [COOKING FAT] if the bottom of the pot starts to look kind of dry and things aren't obviously sizzling.

When the onions are done, nudge all of the stuff in the pot away from the middle until you have a little puddle of the remaining fat in the center. Pour in a glug or two of [STOCK] from the box. Now take the plate with the flour on it and dump a couple of tablespoons into the liquid in the middle of the pot, and stir it with your tongs/spatula (tongtula?) until it looks uniform. Dump in a couple of tablespoons of flour at a time and mix until you have a substance that looks a lot like brown library paste. This is the beginning of a roux or a béchamel sauce, if you are interested, which you are clearly not, or you would be learning to cook from competent professionals instead of me.

Throw away the rest of the flour, and any salmonella you might have gotten in it.

Pour the rest of the box of stock into your large pot, and stir it a little bit, until the library paste dissolves in the rest of the liquid. Dump in your chosen [HERBS & SPICES]. A couple tablespoons of curry powder or paste will do it. Drop in a few twigs, if you're using fresh rosemary (you can fish them out later). If you're making a paprikash, dump in paprika until the liquid is red enough to make any random passer-by who peeks into your pot go, "Jesus Christ, what did you put in there?"

Put the [MEAT] back into the pot full of other stuff. If necessary, poke it until it's under the surface of the liquid. Let it come back to a boil. Turn the stove down to low (or 'simmer' if it's conveniently marked on the dial). Stir in your [RAPID-COOK VEGETABLES].

(If you are making anything that ends in "...& dumplings", bring out the [BAKING MIX]. Dump 1-2 standard coffee mugs of [BAKING MIX] into your medium bowl. Make a little dent in the pile of powder. Using your not-a-measuring-cup, carefully dip into the pot of stuff and get about a mugful of liquid without any vegetable bits in it. Works best if you sort of slide the cup down with the mouth along the inside of the pot. Pour a little bit of the liquid into the dent in the pile of powder and stir it in with a fork or a knife or a spoon or something that isn't your fingers, because it's going to be hot. Don't use a whisk, it's a pain in the ass. Keep adding bits of liquid and stirring until the powder turns into something with the texture of Play-Doh, and pulls away from the side of the bowl.

Dump anything left in the mug back into the pot.

Using your hands, pull off a golf-ball sized lump of the baking-mix-Play-Doh, and drop it gently into the liquid. Let it sit half-in and half-out, on top of the other stuff in the bottom of the pot. Keep doing this until you're out of Play-Doh. I know they look kind of pathetic now, but they'll double in size at least by the time they're cooked.

Put your medium bowl immediately into the sink and fill it with water. You will thank me later. Dumpling batter is indistinguishable from cement if left to dry overnight.)

Put whatever you are using for a lid on top of your pot of food. Do not touch anything for at least two hours. That can stay on the stove or in the crockpot on simmer indefinitely, if you check it every 2-3 hours and add some water if necessary to keep the pot from boiling dry. It will impress people by making your entire house smell like you actually know how to cook. Leftovers, if you have any, cope well with freezing and being reheated in the microwave. If you didn't involve dumplings, serve over your choice of egg noodles, pasta, mashed potatoes, rice, couscous, etc.

Friday, July 11, 2014

I went to see one of my friends in a show a while ago. He didn't want to spoil anything for me, but he did warn me that his solo number would be kind of intense.

Intense how? I asked.

You'll see, he said.

He started out on his knees. His character had just seen his entire world end, literally and figuratively, around him, leaving him with the now-useless remnants of everything he'd spent his life working for.

He hit himself. He clawed at his precious papers and flung them into the audience. He threw himself at the stage like he was angry at the floor. He peeled away his clothes like he was peeling away his skin, and when that wasn't enough, he took his tie and wrapped it around his neck and twisted--

It's only a show, I reminded myself. But that was my friend up there. A friend I almost didn't get to meet, because something not too far removed from that had happened, once.

He looked my way a couple of times. I couldn't tell if he was seeing me. I couldn't tell if he was seeing anything. I don't know what expression I was wearing at the time, but it probably wouldn't have been what he was expecting.

The audience whooped and hollered, because that's what you do at a burlesque show when someone starts taking off their pants. One of the other dancers commented that it was probably the sexiest number he'd ever done, and if I pull up the eidetic clips and look at them from a stranger's point of view, I get it. Having his self-consciousness stripped away made all of his movements raw and wanton. But all I could think at the time was: They don't know what they're seeing.

They thought they were watching a melodrama with striptease. The entire show was B-movie bizarre; the frantic jumping and auto da fé fit in neatly with the aesthetic. I knew the story that ran beneath it, and all I could see was thinly-fictionalized self-destruction, a complete and utter decompensation re-enacted for an unsuspecting audience. Catharsis, disguised as entertainment.

It was extraordinary, and extraordinary difficult to watch.

I don't normally share these thoughts. I assume they're some sort of overly-romanticized twaddle. I also assume it doesn't matter if I indulge the overly-romanticized twaddle so long as I don't bother anyone else with it. So I go, and I watch, and I leave in silence. If anyone else wonders why, they can fill in their own reasons.

I did tell him about it. It took a lot of guts for him to tell me what was behind it in the first place. It would be a poor way to pay him back, not telling him the things that sparked off in my head because I'd listened.

He told me later that he prepares for that number by sitting in a corner backstage and pushing himself into a genuine breakdown. Someone always comes to check on him to make sure it isn't real. It isn't. Or it is. Somewhere in between the two.

I wasn't alarmed, quite. I already knew he did things like that when deeply frustrated and upset, if somewhat less over-the-top in real life. Hitting walls -- or, to be more accurate, using large unmovable things like walls to hit himself. I don't think I could stop it from the outside, and I'm not even sure I should try. It's a semi-controlled release. A boxer's fracture is a small thing, compared to what he could be doing to himself. It keeps him sane.

But it was very hard not to reach out and try to touch him, as his co-stars were half-towing, half-dragging him away at the end. He was not quite entirely back.

He takes a lot of physical and emotional risks when doing this. I find I am okay with that. Not that my opinion would stop him if I weren't; just that the part where he gets knocked about on stage isn't the part that makes it difficult to watch. He's not doing that for the pain. It's self-induced, it's goal-directed, and it does actually accomplish what he's setting out to do. He takes his art very seriously, and if he gets a few hefty bruises while giving a performance he's proud of, well, he'll heal.

He also takes a lot of other risks by default. He doesn't take care of himself while working on something like this, not because it's a necessary part of the process, but because he can't -- getting into the frame of mind he wants involves letting go of your sense of self-preservation. He abdicates responsibility for the boring mundane things because he's not capable of handling them himself, and he would rather gnaw his own ears off than dump the task on someone else. It doesn't help his performance; if anything, it hinders him, because by the time show night rolls around, he's spent so much on rehearsals that he has no reserves left to draw on.

I pointed out that he's tangling with altered states quite dangerously close to what the BDSMers call 'subspace' -- hard to pin down in a brief description, but the gist of it is, subspace is the state of mind that some submissives slip into where they give up all control in order to also give up their own internal constraints. It's a form of dissociation, albeit intentional. The dominant partner is not in command so much as they're handed responsibility for making sure the scene goes as planned, that all boundaries are respected, and for halting things immediately if the sub suddenly finds they're not okay. He's handing himself over to the producer/director and the other performers on the stage with him, when he's like that -- only they don't necessarily know that's what he's doing, because I don't think he's really explained it to them. I'm told the producer/director is kinky and has probably figured this out, but as for the rest of them, who knows? The ones he's working with right now are all friends and genuinely care about him, but one of these days he's going to try that with strangers, and it may not go so well.

I told him he needed a tripsitter when he does this, and he needs to pick someone he's comfortable with and charge them with his aftercare. I expected an argument -- he is independent to the point of self-destructive sometimes -- but he seemed to think the idea made sense. He has a girlfriend, who is the obvious choice, but since he has managed to find a version of subspace for his burlesque that is ironically not sexual in nature, he could honestly pick anyone he trusts.

I nominated myself. I've watched over other people, and been the one in need of watching. I'm not easy to scare. I've guessed a lot of the terrible things he wanted-didn't want to tell me already. And I can really only vouch for me. He has trouble accepting help from other people, but I've gotten him to do it before, and his art may be the one thing that manages to outweigh the combination of guilt and stubborn pride.

I suppose I won't know until he tries it again.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Hello, tumblr. I have no idea who found the fleebwanger story or how, but thank you for passing it around? You did give me a small heart attack when I noticed that my visitor count shot up fourfold over the course of about 24 hours. I thought the Blogger stats page was broken. I also don't know who's been tweeting or re-tweeting things, because the t.co links aren't searchable and don't trackback properly to your posted statuses.

I haven't been posting much lately, because I'm potted in work, involved in some theater productions, and sorting a few things out. Sorry! I'll fix it sooner or later. In the meantime, you can also find me on Facebook and Twitter. I think I technically have a tumblr and a Pinterest and a bunch of other things that I've signed up for, poked at for a week, an then totally lost interest in. I only regularly follow the newsfeeds of people I know IRL (or have known online for a long time), but I do peek in on the wider world from time to time, and if you message me directly with something that is not a misspelled pickup line, I'll probably respond to you sooner or later.

You can also email me at miss.arabella.flynn on Gmail, and it will get answered when it gets answered. I do cover reader questions from time to time. Asking about weird social things is not only acceptable, but encouraged. I'm a sociologist -- my diploma even says so! -- and I get into other people's heads for fun. I try to refrain from doing it too much to people I talk to face to face a lot, but a celebrity with a public body of work is fair game.

I also have a Patreon page, but am so far not all that impressed with their market penetration. It took them a while to iron out some of their PayPal troubles, but they seem to have it all working now. You're not required to give me money, of course, but if people do that I can spend more time writing and less time gnawing my fingernails off over paying bills. Also, this method is a lot less messy than sending tributes of food directly to my adorable pet rats.

Cheers, and enjoy the archives.

Friday, July 4, 2014

When I was a kid, I used to think that sitting by the bedside of someone who was sick or suffering was something people only did in movies. Like in The Princess Bride, where the frame story is a grandfather reading an adventure novel to his grandson, who is home sick from school. Or maybe something that people used to do in Good Middle Class Homes, where Mother's "only" job was to keep the house and tend to the kids, but which had slowly died out under the pressures of modern life.

Certainly, no one did it for me. I learned early on that it wasn't much good to ask my parents for comfort. I remember my mother running herself ragged when I had the chicken pox, but it stands out to me, because I can't remember her ever doing that before or since. The main result of pestering either parent for help was that they'd stand around being crabby, especially if I tried it in the middle of the night. When I was ten or so, I decided that I could just hold my own hair back if I had to throw up at 3am, and tell them I was too sick for school when they came to wake me in the morning. Sitting at my bedside, keeping me company in an effort to make me feel better, was right out.

And yet, I found myself doing just that a couple of weeks ago, for someone who wasn't actually dying but probably half wished he was. There's a long and in hindsight kind of funny story about how I got there, but the gist of it is, I have a friend whose brain likes to give him elaborately sadistic migraines. I don't function when I have a migraine because I get holes in my vision, I can't concentrate, and I'm a terrible human being when I'm in pain; he doesn't function when he has his because his entire brain goes into kernel panic and starts shutting down processes at random until it accidentally hits a stable state from which to reboot. If I'm free when it happens, I offer to come take proper care of him. Occasionally he says 'yes', and this kind of alarms me, because he's the sort of guy who would respond to a major limb dropping off by asking around for some duct tape while assuring everyone in earshot that he's FINE! JUST FINE! REALLY! and that he can totally finish his basketball game. If he accepts help, that basically means that he can feel his brain starting to drip out through his ears, and it hurts so much he can no longer muster an argument for why I would be wasting my time.

This one left him temporarily aphasic, ataxic, visually-impaired, and it also mucked around with his cognition. He apparently thought he was covering for it well enough to go to a rehearsal. (Protip: When you have a migraine this bad, you look like you have a migraine this bad.) He called one of our other friends to give him a lift to the theater, and freaked her right the fuck out. I gave him my studied professional opinion of, "No you are fucking NOT running a slapstick routine like that, go back upstairs and lie down," and enforced that by standing in the middle of his front stairway until he gave up and did what I told him. It turns out it's really hard to argue with me when you can't operate words, although I am the one who once stole a roommate's shoes after she had passed out cold on the bathroom floor, then called her manager while she was still coming around to prevent her from going to work like that, so he was unlikely to win that one anyway.

(This also resulted in another entry in my list of Things The Burlesquers Make Me Say, the stunning triumph of logic: "If you can't feel your hands, how are you going to get your pants off?" I still think this argument holds water.)

Migraines are not dangerous per se. They just suck with the unrestrained gusto of a nuclear-powered shop vac. He had a long history of all the horrible symptoms, so I wasn't particularly concerned that this was the one time he was secretly all sneaky having a stroke. Worry-wise, my main one was that he'd hurt himself trying to do something physical while he was lurching around like a broken marionette. So mainly what I did was fetched him an ice pack, settled myself on the edge of the bed, and sat there, hand on his shoulder, while he buried his face in a pillow and stubbornly continued to exist long enough to outlive the excruciating head pain.

It seems to have been what he wanted, although I doubt I could have gotten him to say so even if he could have strung together a sentence. Any time he thought I might be getting up to leave, he started trying to interact with me; since he was still largely offline, it was mostly halting, agrammatic garble, with a lot of "I'm sorry" and "why do you worry about me so much?" mixed in.

This is usually the point in the proceedings where I realize I have no idea how I got myself where I am. I'm pretty good at knowing my own motivations, but why other people let me do the things I do is largely a mystery to me. People inform me of decisions, not the reasoning behind them. But this time, I do think I know why I'm sometimes allowed to take care of him, when other people are not: I know what this costs him.

He comes from a family background that is, in some ways, a lot like mine. It's a system where you're praised for not needing anything, and viciously ridiculed if you do. Wanting things is not allowed. Needing things is outright banned. Proper humans are entirely self-sufficient. Or else.

Asking for help is failure. It means you can't do something. It doesn't matter if the reason you can't do it is your fault or not -- asking for help because you fucked something up and can't fix it alone, and asking for help because a medical condition is preventing you from functioning normally are both a black mark on your record. How many times can you ask for allowances before people start thinking you just can't do your damn job? You need to control the uncontrollable, and if you can't (why can't you? what's the matter with you?), the only way to cope is to make sure that no one ever finds out you're not 100%. If you're not up to par, you have to make a choice between letting everyone think you're normally this incompetent, or letting everyone think you're so weak you can't deal with "just" a little stress.

How many black marks are you allowed before someone takes you gently aside and suggests that maybe you're not qualified to be a part of human society? A million? A thousand? One? If you were in school, they could bust you down a grade, but where do you go when you fail life? There isn't anywhere. Normal people -- people who have social support, and know they're encouraged to use it -- might be kind of vaguely afraid that if they crack they'll get teased for being the weenie who threw up on his date and had to go home. But if you were trained into self-sufficiency über alles, any admission of weakness risks annihilation. You can't know if the last time you knuckled under was the last of your allotment. It's not 'do I want to be tough or do I want to maybe annoy a few people by not finishing my work today?' It's 'if I tough it out alone, maybe no one will find out I don't belong here.'

This is not something you can unlearn in a day. Even if you've had it explained to you in little tiny words that you're not in that situation anymore, and you are in fact supposed to tell people when you need a hand, you don't stop being afraid. If you can make yourself ask, the anxiety of awaiting the punishment you instinctively think is coming is unbearable. If the punishment doesn't come, the guilt is crushing. You feel lost. You have no idea what to do with that -- kindness isn't a thing you deserve and you're not allowed to have it, so why bother learning how to cope with it? Even the positive parts are overwhelming. The gratitude comes in waves so big it hurts, and you can't tell anyone about it, because you're sure this is a massive overreaction and they won't have any idea how to respond. Even feeling thankful means you're fucking something up.

On the surface, that was a simple interaction: One of my friends felt like hell, so I came over and nursed him a bit and hung out until he felt less like hell, which turns out to be a thing that people actually do, or at least a thing that I actually do. But admitting that that's what he wants is like flinging himself off a cliff and trusting someone else will have put a net out to catch him, and it will be for a long time yet. Even when it works, you come out of it bruised.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two of the Sirlesque boys are twins, a fact which is brought to our attention by a minimum of one randy drunk woman per show, when she finally realizes why Jack and Danny look so much alike.

People for some reason seem to think that being twins basically makes you the same person with two separate corpora. I've no idea why, other than possibly cognitive laziness. I've known a few other sets of twins in my time, most of them in college. One was a set of fraternal twins who were no more alike than any other pair of siblings very close in age, and as I recall, the sister spent a great deal of time wanting to smack her brother across the back of the head to make him shut up. Another pair were identical girls, although you'd be hard-pressed to notice that unless you got up close and stared a lot. They made a lot of disparate sartorial choices. One of them went blonde and wore a lot of neckties, and the other one was a borderline-anorexic weeaboo who was terrified of getting any older than twelve. You know, the usual.

Jack and Danny are so similar in their broad movements that from stage-distance I am eternally grateful that they've decided on different tattoos. Jack cut his hair short like Danny's at one point and I just gave up until it grew back out. At interpersonal distances, they wear very different expressions a lot of the time, and make rather different conversation. The two of them do not actually think alike so much as they are stuffed with a similar (very large) amount of IQ -- which is largely heritable -- and have spent so much time together that each one knows perfectly well how the other one thinks. It results in the two of them doing this thing where they give each other significant glances and look like they're having the entire conversation telepathically except for the parts they disagree on, which they debate aloud as a series of apparent non sequiturs. If they do have a secret twin language, it consists mainly of bickering over details.

Danny decided to introduce himself to me months ago at a party, where he rolled up when we were both three or four or nine sheets to the wind, and picked a fight over English grammar. Which I won, because I was marginally less drunk. Also I was right, but mainly just less drunk. I thought it was funny then, and I thought it was even funnier when I found out he was a philosophy major in college, because starting arguments about the inherent ambiguities of esoteric logical systems is basically philosopher-ese for "hello".

(He was also wearing a Captain Mal costume at the time, if that makes it any better. Which he had lying around because of a number they do called "O Captain, My Captain". It's Captain Mal vs Captain Hammer -- in other words, Nathan Fillion vs Nathan Fillion -- which explains why it gets some of the loudest screams of anything they've ever done, even though nobody takes any clothes off.)

Danny ran hot and cold with me for a while. Sometimes I'd be greeted as a friend, sometimes he seemed unaware that I was even in the room. I tried to work out the pattern, but came to the inevitable conclusion that the dip switches for those settings were entirely inside his head, and I wasn't around enough to have any idea what flipped them. He's pretty consistently warm now -- in his own way; neither of the twins are terribly touchy-feely, and I make a point of respecting their personal space -- but it took a while to settle in.

I am lazy about handwriting things, especially names, so most people I'm around a lot eventually get kanji. Danny's is 静, shizuka, which means 'quiet'. This has gotten steadily more and more ironic over time, as he's now familiar enough with me that I often get to hear his entire thought process in meticulous detail, especially after he's had a couple of beers. (Which is sometimes at unexpected times. I keep a list of the odd things the burlesquers have prompted me to say, and he's the reason one of the entries is, "Why are you drunk at the gym?" Apparently their dodgeball league involves a lot of booze.) He's still low in volume, at least, and I find the strangely precise ramble rather charming.

Jack's, on the other hand is 羽, hane, 'feathers'. Like you find on pretty things that are up in the air all the time. His bio on the Sirlesque site at one point claimed he only did 'pirate-based burlesque', but this is inaccurate snark; both brothers are acrobats, and Jack is the one who does aerials. He talks to me less than Danny does, but I don't think it's intentional -- I think he just lives in his own head a lot, and isn't aware that it's noticeable. He used to start quite obviously every time I spoke to him, like I'd just reminded him that he was visible to other humans; now he's down to doing that only about half the time.

I told Jack once that one of the reasons I liked watching him work was that during his performances was the only time I could really read what he was thinking. Both eyebrows shot up and he went 'oh', but I still have no idea which part of that he hadn't realized before: that he wasn't policing his expression when he was up on the silks, or that he was policing it so well otherwise that nobody had any idea what was going through his head. I also told him once that he was interesting, and he thought I was giving him too much credit. How you can maintain that notion while hanging upside down by your ankles fifteen feet above the theater floor and stripping off your clothing on stage on a regular basis, I don't know, but the discrepancy probably explains why he thinks nobody's paying attention to him.

I've taken to entertaining myself lately by just walking up to Jack and delivering all the random observations and compliments that cross my mind, then wandering off again when he has no answer. He'll eventually quit being confused by this, but I have no idea what'll follow.