Wednesday, January 31, 2007

First Ann Richards...

...and now, Molly Ivins.

What is it about Texan women? Well, the stand-up ones, not the right wing, pushover, let's live in the 50s ones.

Ms. Ivins shot from the hip, spoke rather intelligently about her passions, and did it with a humorous flair. I used to read her vociferously when I lived in the CoSpgs. Lost track for a while, but over the last couple of years, rediscovered her.

I knew she was battling cancer, just didn't know how far along she was.

You'll be missed, m'am. Yes, you will.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lightning Round

Three topics and a rant just for my purposes. Seeking comments on:

*Six high school girls come up with a list to kill several hundred people, along with a few celebrities.

I think palAdam, puts it best. I do think sending the kids to jail is a bit of an overreaction. I, myself, authored such a list, which included my dad, the school's football coach, and most of the jocks in the school. It served as a fine way to blow steam, actually. (Thanks Adam, for the tip.)

*Should moms be drinking, while the kids play together?

Uh...look. As long as the mommies aren't spiking the pablum with everclear, what the hell is the problem here? It's not like the mommies go all "Girls Gone Wild," do they?

Right about here is where this country's puritanical roots really get on my damn nerves. If you're a parent that doesn't drink (assuming you're out there), and don't want your toddlers exposed to those that do, then keep the sprat at home, or find a babysitting alternative. However, this vice is a fact of life, and the more you behave like it's a taboo, the more likely your tyke will want to know all there is to know about it in about 12 - 14 years.

(Tip o' the keyboard to ~A~, looking forward to hearing your thougths on the matter.)

*Have you wondered what it would be FOXNews would do now that their political lovers are out of power and favor? Well, it's nothing new.

My favorite development, however, is the fact that CNN (and hopefully, MSNBC) is starting to call bullshit when it sees it.

*Finally, a rant for the B. Jones in me: Dear Sonics owners, It's really simple: You want my support, give me a playoff calibre team. Renton's giving you the land you need...literally, giving it to you. The talent at your disposal continues to be full of promise, if not execution. Your coaching staff sucks.

Get on it before the vote comes up.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Roundtable: ...And Don King as TBO

One of Stine and Ly's favorite games is casting shows and movies using nothing but the people we know in our immediate circle.

Occasionally, the game is turned around, in order to cast famous actors in our lives.

Invariably, my choice is Forrest Whitaker, preferrably the younger, slimmer version, but, like Oprah, my profile goes up and down.

However, knowing Hollywood's propensity to think "whatever, don't they all look alike anyway?", based on the average yokel's comments about me, they'd probably cast fuckin' Al Roker.

At which point, I'd contact my lawyer, and sue the fuck out of the production company.

Anyway, Prego's hosting this week's Roundtable over at Rustbelt Ramblings, and he asks "who would be you, in the movie of your life? Can you think of some particularly astute casting choices by Hollywood in previous biopics? And Esai Morales or Desi Arnaz?"

Prego, hate to say it, but I'm thinking Desi.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Yeah, But Is It Art?

The following is a long and rambling post, with a few tangential off-shoots...Here's hoping it's not totally incoherent.

So, 2007 is starting out somewhat promisingly (if slightly daunting; and mood-altering lingering sickness notwithstanding). This last Monday, I dove head-first into directing a new play: Katrina: I Too Am Worthy.

This would be the second show in a row, since my hiatus, that a) is a new, untested work, b) written by a Seattle/NW black playwright, and c) deals specifically with the black experience.

These three identifying markers really shouldn't be that big a deal, and the fact that it is such a beast should tell us all we need to know about the nature of race relations, not only in the Pacific NW, but in Arts and Academia in general.

Let's think about this: Since the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, it could be argued that African Americans have not had a major impact on the Arts world, with a few exceptions. Music is probably where it's been felt the most, followed by Literature, and the Visual Arts.

If you bend the rules to include Film and TV, the picture becomes even more depressing...Blaxploitation aside, it is only in the last 20 years that folks like Spike Lee, the Hugh Bros. and John Singleton have come to the forefront, while others meddle in mediocrity (Vondie Curtis, Ernest Dickerson), and others struggle in obscurity (Carl Franklin, Charles Burnett). It's telling that the success of low-middlebrow fare like Diary of a Mad Black Woman is seen as a breakthrough to reaching a new untapped audience.

The rest could be summed up in two words: Wayans Bros. White Chicks, anyone? How about Little Big Man?

This same malaise could be applied to TV, where, for every Roc, there's a Homeboys in Outer Space, Martin, or Bitch Be Crazy in the offing.

But nowhere is this deficiency more prevalent than in the world of Theater, specifically in the playwrighting realm. Could you name a contemporary to August Wilson? Or anyone who has that promise, or even as critically lauded as him? (If you have answers, please oh please share!)

Now, considering how little is known of this sub-genre of the arts, one would think that an attempt to understand what's happening within any given story would be necessary. How does the piece communicate to its intended audience?

Alternately, does everything have to be universal? And if not, could it still be called Art?

I suppose this could all be very academic; and I'm not suggesting that we turn off all critical demands upon a work. But, must everything be held up to the same scrutiny one would give Mr. Wilson? As usual, I'm open to debate.

I'll tell you what's driving this entry: I fear we're losing the ability to tell, and listen to, a good story. That, in demanding these higher expectations on a work, we lose sight of the story that's being told. We seem to have forgotten that even Shakespeare has written more than his fair share of pulp during the course of his career. What's wrong with pulp?

Take, for example, the reaction to Book of Nathan, by Joseph Mitchell. This is the piece I acted in at Theater Schmeater this last fall.

The reaction, by and large, was pretty positive, with the exception of some niggles and one largely negative review by an older member of the press. The nature of the niggles varied, from disliking the structure of the show (one half focused on a caustic father-son reunion, in which the characters re-lived their violent past, with the influence of racism not that far off; the other half was more of a modern day Greek chorus in which the numerous racial and class-based inequities of the world were openly discussed) to finding the religious talk of the former half a bit trite and biased.

I'm not about to discount the validity of these niggles, but feel compelled to point out that in a community where most discussions of religion end with an "Amen," the fact that there was any religious discourse is a promising sight. The same applies to the structure, where the majority of what's seen from this corner of the world rarely deviates from an "A leads to B leads to C" approach.

That aside, the story being told in the father-son half of the show, specifically that of the father, who was coerced by an Intelligence Operation to snitch and turn on his own people, is one that does not see the light of day often, if at all. Rarer still, the results of such activity on a man and his family. Yet, this aspect seemed to be waved away with a "well, of course that happened" kind of comment. I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Passe', but this isn't exactly common knowledge.

Do I need to stress the novelty of seeing such a thing on stage more than I have done so? The reaction of black audiences to the show was a palpable thirst and undeniable joy at seeing it take place.

At this point, which is more important?

Yes, ideally, any such work would be able to transcend any barrier. All I am saying is that in the still-somewhat-barren world of Black Theater, there needs to be room for growth and improvement.

"I did not write [Book of Nathan] for the [elder members of the press] of the world," is what Mr. Mitchell said upon reading that review, and I admire that stance.

Which leads me to Katrina.

Written by raw newcomer Donte Felder, Katrina falls prey to many of the pitfalls that befall any young new writer: Repetitive, on the nose dialogue; a reliance on coincidence; the insistence on a wrapped-up-in-a-nice-bow resolution.

There are a number of things the script has going for it, however: Regardless of the on-the-nose quality, the dialogue between characters is very natural and free-flowing; it doesn't belabor the obvious points; and, frankly, it contains a story that has to be shared.

A fraction of the show takes place in Seattle, but the bulk of it takes place on a roof in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina-related levee breakage. Felder's characters and situations are a composite of events that did take place in that place and at that time (Felder has family in NOLA, and talked to them extensively in the weeks and months afterward).

A sort of Lifeboat in New Orleans, except it really happened. Yes, Bush is mentioned. Yes, helicopters fly by and don't offer aid. Yes, people die, and sacrifices are made, and noble efforts ensue. But, for a short while, you are there, experiencing what these people are experiencing...In other words, it's a good story.

Sensationalistic manipulation, or a story that must be heard?

And really, what's wrong with a little sensationalism?

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Spout Off: Forever Young

[Edited to add a tip o' the keyboard to K. -- tbo]

Hello all,

The Missives return with a special edition of the Spout Off series, which has been largely absent for a bit too long.

This edition is brought on by this article in The London Times' website, regarding a controversial operation that took place here in Seattle a little over two years ago. (Great job by Children's in keeping this thing tightly under wraps for that long.) What happened: A pair of parents agreed to keep their encephalitic daughter developmentally stuck (both physically and mentally) at the age of 6 for the rest of her life.

The article's a fascinating read, if wholly and truly disturbing (the details surrounding her operation are shared); and that's without getting into the charges of eugenics that are being tossed about, or visiting the parents' blog.

Helping us to talk about this today are a proud poppa and a proud momma: Father of Livvie, and Spout Off Stalwart, JJ; joining him, in her Spout Off debut, mother of Pixie, Button, Elf, the Muffin Man, and Laundry Hexer extraordinaire, ~A~.

As usual, ladies first. ~A~?

I have to admit that my first response when I read "Ashley was sterilized and frozen in time, for ever to remain a child. She was only 6" was a knee jerk, "how the fuck could anyone do such a thing to a child?" But after reading the parents' blog, I began to understand that they had to make a decision that no parent should have to make and I am more outraged at the callous comments people have made towards these parents.

Majority of parents, including myself, are given the blessing of having fully functioning children or never knowing what it is like to have a child so ill that every decision made is self-doubted because it really does mean life or death.

Ashley's parents will never know the joy of her first steps, or her first day of Kindergarten. Even if Ashley's parents left her intact, her mother will never know the excitement and joy of going shopping for that first bra, celebrating her first menstrual cycle, or the pain of comforting Ashley's first broken heart; there will be no graduations. Either way, there was never going to be a father-daughter dance to "Turn Around"** at Ashley's wedding, first child for Ashley or any firsts for that matter. What we have to keep in mind, as outside observers, is that the way Ashley is will never change. She will always be a three month old infant. Although they state on their website that this decision was not a difficult one to make, my opinion is that on an emotional level it must have been. (But, I'm known to be highly sensitive.)

Having said all that, I do believe that Ashley's treatment should not be the norm for those with disabilities. Many children with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other birth defects have grown up to lead normal lives, obtain jobs, get married and have healthy full-functioning children. It's not an easy life for them by any means, and they may need help from friends and family, but they can live and thrive.

We are a society of conveniences and we tend to forget that just because we can, does not always mean we should. That also goes for passing judgment on the decisions other parents had to make for their ill or disabled children.

On a personal note, if I had a child like Ashley, would I do the same thing? Probably not. As the Fuquad may have told some of you, Pixie was born with an extra finger. Even though it wasn't a full finger, it was part of her, and it was hard for me to decide to have it removed.

If I struggled with something as small as a finger tip, then I don't think I could make the decision they did.

**Lyrics to "Turn Around"

Where are you going my little one..little one
Where are you going my baby own
Turn around and you're two
Turn around and you're four
Turn around and you're a young babe
Going out of the door

Where are you going my little one..little one
Where are you going my own
Turn around and you're six
Turn around and you're eight
Turn around and you're a young lass/lad
going out of the gate

Where are you going my little one...little one
Where are you going my baby own
Turn around and you're young
Turn around and you're grown
Turn around and you're a young girl/man
With babes of your own
JJ replies:

I’m going to echo quite a bit of what ~A~ had to say, mainly because I followed a similar arc in my thinking about the case. Much like ~A~, my first response was of the “what the fuck?” variety, though I do get my head involved in issues like this often enough to recognize that as a knee jerk reaction.

It is hard not to have a knee jerk reaction to the Ashley Treatment, and I think that the reaction is important for reasons I will get into in a moment. If one has any kind of open mind at all, it doesn’t take long contemplating the implications of the case to begin to see how complex it is, how unsuited to the mere knee-jerk. I confess that I didn’t read the parents blog until I noted that ~A~ had, and now think you absolutely have to in order to have an opinion on this case.

Much as ~A~ does, I believe after reading the blog that the decision to arrest Ashley’s development did not have anything to do with convenience for caregivers and family and everything to do with Ashley’s comfort. Ashley isn’t going to get better, a reality that critics of the family can’t seem to accept (much as they could not accept the same truth for Terri Schiavo), and further growth, breast development, and the onset of sexual maturity and menstruation would have only contributed to her discomfort.

The critics would seem to focus on the procedures as “unnatural,” but isn’t the entire goal of medical science to subvert the will of nature? By their logic, an appendectomy is unnatural, a caesarian section is unnatural, cancer treatment is unnatural. While, as ~A~ said, I don’t want quite want such invasive therapy as Ashley’s to become the norm, I can’t condemn it as more unnatural than medical science as a whole.

The question becomes, of course, where we draw the line: as ~A~ conjectured, she wouldn’t make the same decision with her own child, but what if the procedures weren’t a matter of comfort for the child but life and death? Or, what if you are older, have no extended family network, are in fact the only support for the child, and recognize that the child will outlive you, that others will have to accept the responsibilities and risks for your decision?

Back to the knee-jerk reactions for a moment, and in particular my own. For some reason, it was the breast bud removal description that most freaked me out, actually getting me to twist uncomfortably in my seat. But, really, every aspect of this story creeps me out. I think it creeps a lot of people out. And I think this is because medical science has advanced to a point that we have yet to show the willingness to wrestle with ethically, morally, even aesthetically. People live longer than ever, people survive far more conditions than they ever have. Would a frontier family ever have to face such a decision? No, of course not, because the child would have succumbed to some related ailment by this time. Ashley’s case, and specifically the furor around it, is a manifestation of a lazy culture, one which wants to make black and white of its grey world.

This thought comes out of the family’s term, to me the most creepy and chilling aspect of the case, “Pillow Angel.” But, it seems a bit of recognition and acceptance on the part of the family, because in Ashley we have the kind of case that pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a person. Not to be merely cruel, but Ashley is undeniably human and yet displays fewer characteristics of personhood than, say, my two cats, and is closer to a particularly finicky ficus. Surely, such descriptions would shock many people, because we are used to thinking in only person/not-person and human/not-human dualities. But, what I believe the Ashley case illustrates is a need to accept that we must learn to understand humanity on a continuum, that as medical science allows many more such lives to continue, we cannot hope to fit them into our existing boxes. And that this willingness to stretch our thinking extends to such terms as compassion, dignity and comfort.

In other words, the furor over the Ashley treatment isn’t about Ashley, who it seems will undoubtedly live a more comfortable life, and it isn’t about her family, who clearly love and treasure Ashley for who and what she is (accepting such truths as the possibility that Ashley doesn’t recognize family at all), but it is about the general populace’s inability to accept people for what they have become, to stomach the future that we are creating.
[~A~ replies:]

Although I said that I probably would not take their path if I was on the same road, at a life or death cross road it may be easier to be more decisive. Even though I stand by my opinion that a life or death decision is the cruelest one forced upon a parent, and one they should never have to make.

I have an online friend who's June 2000 child has been battling neuroblastoma for nearly 4 years now. I have been following their lives online the whole time and I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that they may have to decide to stop treatments and let their child's life run its course with out breaking down to tears.

I think that it is a good sign that we still have that "knee jerk" or creeped out reaction when it comes to something like Ashley's treatment. But what really gives it the power to create such emotion, especially in parents, is that the procedure is being performed on a child. It is still common place in this world that children are to be protected. Adults elect to have their bodies altered every day from piercing to sex change operations and we don't think twice about it. But I think I would have to say "What the fuck?" if I read that someone tattooed a child or pierced something other than their ears.

I know this is in the extreme, but makes for fun discussion:

Hypothetical story: Man and Woman want a boy. They tried to select male embryos but some how a female slipped in during IVF process and they gave birth to a girl. So in that last attempt to have a boy, they surgically alter the child to fit their wants.

Yes, this is extreme, but it could happen. I've been on online pregnancy expecting clubs with each of the kids and it's surprising to read the reactions of some people when they find out that the sex of the child they're going to have is not what they wanted.

I'm sure there's more I wanted to say, but I've been reminded that we need to go to the pet store to buy meal worms for a science experiment. Ironic, hunh?
[JJ replies:]

I would like to throw down a few random thoughts that I couldn’t fit in above, but that might inspire discussion:

- On Ashley’s parents’ blog, they mention that they became comfortable with the growth attenuation procedure after learning it had been routinely used to stunt growth of healthy girls in the ‘60s and ‘70s because tall girls were less acceptable. How much clearer is the necessity for the (continuing) fight for gender equality when you learn we used the chemical equivalent of foot-binding within our lifetimes?

- Ashley’s parents also note that they found it impossible to find reliable, trustworthy caregivers for Ashley, and my own experiences with home healthcare providers convinces me that is true. How much more painful might some of the choices be knowing that a sexually-developed Ashley would be a target for rape, and would be exposed to more potentially-dangerous caregivers were the family not able to care for her?

- As part of getting our thinking more flexible on questions of humanity and personhood, a thought experiment: what does it mean to be bored (which Ashley’s parents cite as a key concern) at Ashley’s level of development?

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