A number of key works, including the above listed, are starting to catalyze some profound movements hereabouts. It's making me feel lighthearted and hopeful, in a determined and seriously sober way.

I remember a moment back in high school, when I was a sophomore and it was one of those afternoons when it had just rained something torrential, but then the sun came out and all of Portland was a freshly discovered and shining city from some French Impressionist painting, all shimmering and blooming, and this incredibly voluptuously beautiful girl I had a crush on was standing on my toes, because she didin't want to get her feet wet on the shining pavement.

I feel kind of like that right now. But in a platonic way.



A Funny Thing Showed Up in the Mailbox Today

I have received official notice from Multnomah County in the State of Oregon, that I have now been appointed the legal Conservator for my mother, Irene Y. Jimenez.

This is a good thing, and cause for some relief. But it is also a difficult thing, something that I will need to work hard at to do well. Bring it.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us,



Passing back through Tri-Cities again. Optimistic little blooms have begun to poke and sprout through layers of wintery gravel mush, plans and plots multiply by the handful, small children are suddenly not quite so small anymore.

I taught some shadow-puppet workshops yesterday, where tidy legions of 2nd-graders quietly and diligently manufactured their little red horses with fierce determination, screwing up their faces and wrinkling their noses with the effort, laughing at my own clumsy handiwork. Portions of their school date back one hundred years, when bricklaying and corbeling were marks of civic dignity, long since abandoned for the public construction style which makes no distinction between the facades of elementary schools and penitentiaries.

Murals of children's book characters and constellations adorn the breezeways and open-air passages. Asleep in my motel room, I dream of painted stars and talking mice, and oppressive concrete walls knocked open by grim little 2nd-graders on horseback. Red horses, naturally.


empathy run amok

I've just spent much of this weekend reading Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood'--a book that is enjoying a bit of a 2nd Coming, after the success of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's performance. Between "In Cold Blood," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" and "Macbeth," all works that have dominated my reading list in the last week, it's been a hauntingly somber weekend for me.

I once performed the role of Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," some years ago now, back in high school. At the end of the play, three characters, including my own, are hanged as unrepentant and obstinate witches, and our production performed the hangings as backlit silhouettes behind a transluscent scrim, all three actors standing on stools with their heads thrust through nooses. A blackout preceded the sound of the stools being kicked away, leaving the audience to imagine our dancing legs. I always thought the effect to be spare and effective, a pitch-perfect conception.

Closing night, a technician had mistakenly placed the stool rather off the mark on the stage. I remember a split-second moment when I considered whether this would present any problems; but, this being closing night, and in playing a role so important to the action of the play, I overruled whatever qualms I had and thrust myself--I willfully and intentionally thrust my neck--into the awkwardly distant noose. As the blackout commenced, I lost my purchase, and my stool actually did kick away, and for about five seconds I found myself in the awkward experience of actually being hanged.

Previously the performance of this sequence in the play had been a matter of denouement; all the real obstacles, the real emotional scene-work--in short, the acting--had just been surpassed in the previous scenes, and all that was left was mere pantomime. This was shadow-puppetry. I pantomimed my hands tied in front of me. The noose was loose enough that I could just bow my head through it. This time around I was leaning forward, and then actually dangling. My untied hands were at my neck.

These were very quick moments. I remember feeling rather silly. That this was an exceptionally stupid thing to do. I remember a swelling terror. It seems unnecessarily obvious to say this, but it was startlingly painful. The pain of a rope biting into your neck was surprising, arresting, overriding, rather immediate and insistent, quickly eclipsing whatever else might have been running through my mind. It caught me completely off guard, to be expecting the non-sensation of acting a hanging, and then to encounter the very immediate sensation of being hanged. When the backstage lights came up, somehow I extricated myself from the noose, and hurried through the motions of curtain call.

I remember always having had a difficult time of adjusting out of that role after a performance. I remember seeing myself hoarsely wretching, tearlessly sobbing, perhaps self-indulgently, but genuinely so. But after closing night, I was in shock, very still, ashen. Castmates saw that something was wrong, and when they asked me about it, holy hell blew up, lots of people became indignant or sheepish, depending on what their role in that mistake was. I don't much remember saying anything beyond the most laconic description of what had happened. I do not remember feeling angry. I remember feeling nothing at all.

I do not know how accurate my memory is of these events. I get the impression that a lot of this experience is hidden from me, and that there is a strong impulse to color things in, supply the meat of details from half-imagined outlines.

Reading these books now, I've begun dreaming some of the dreams Capote describes the convicts Hickock and Smith as having had. (At the time of that case, Kansas was one of a number of states that executed its prisoners by hanging, a practice long since superseded by lethal injection as the preferred method of execution.) I can feel the details of slave narratives and bloody verses bleeding into my memory of this hanging, and I'm struggling to keep the experience discrete from those writings (which is why I'm writing this here).

There is a strange sense of guilt that has since crept into my understanding of The Crucible's closing night. Strange, because I certainly am not guilty of witchcraft, nor of murder, rape or absconding from a place of indenture. And yet, I don't know how to explain this, I've begun to feel as though I've gotten away with something. As though the crimes, and/or the injustices, perpetrated by or inflicted upon these men, are somehow slightly my own.

Writing this out, specifically tacking down these notions, clearly demonstrates their absurdity. I am not a runaway slave, nor did I murder my best friend, etc.

As I see it, the first job of the Humanist, as it is of the Actor, is empathy. I pride myself on my ability to sympathize, and even to identify with, the subject of practically any inquiry I take upon myself, any role or any cause. The principle of empathy is the surest safeguard any human being has against the perpetration of injustice. Empathy is what will prevent me from prejudice against another human, just as I trust in empathy to protect me from someone else's prejudice. This is, of course, an ideal, neither more nor less perfect in its application than any of the other principles ("Life & Liberty," "Due Process," "One man, one vote") codified in the US Constitution.

In this instance, the operation of this ideal is playing with my memory, transmuting a past event into an ongoing experience; when I think of The Crucible, I think of lynch mobs, I think of Scout and Atticus Finch, I think of Ft. Leavenworth and Birnam Wood.

The most startling piece of all of this, is the part of me that is actually relishing the confusion of so many details and sensations. Part of me is eating this all up, savoring it, even. The palpable strangeness of owning experiences that are not in fact my own; empathy run amok.



Birthday Note

Dear Mr. Garcia Marquez--

Your books mean a lot to me. They have enriched and contributed to an already rich and fulfilling world, and now I can't imagine a world without them. Thank you for writing them. Happy Birthday.

Best, and Many Happy Returns,


My Favorite People in Idaho.

Rebecca is half Swedish, half Mexican. She's in the 5th grade, which makes her about the age of one of the main characters in our play. She loves to bike and rollerskate, and we played and talked about motorcycles and siblings for the better part of an hour after our show.

Paige is the daughter of a teacher, tall and a little bit shy. She's quick on the uptake, picking up on things (especially if I drop anything), inquisitive and intuitive, and, like a cat, her curiousity usually gets the better of her shyness. She asks her questions quietly but assertively, standing on her own two feet.

Peter is a retired alfalfa farmer, with big crusty hands and wry little eyes. He speaks in a low, sardonic drawl, he drives a massive Ford SUV thoroughly festooned with wildlife advocacy bumper stickers. Not much gets past him.

Elsa owns and operates the Boise International Hostel. She owns a piece of ranchland on the outskirts of Boise, and she turned the three-bedroom house on the property into a comfortable little place, a welcome spot for folks passing through or wandering, after their fashions. She runs around all over the state, as a certified notary, and runs the hostel as a side-business.

Sylvia is the one-woman powerhouse behind Caldwell Fine Arts. For most of the last four decades she's been singlehandedly pulling in every and any stripe of performing artist willing to travel out to this exurb of Boise, everything from Chinese folk musicians to the Second City Improv group to the Western Opera theatre, to us, and our humble little effort. She lives three doors away from the performance space, teaches piano and plays the pipe organ in her spare time, when she's not landing grants and wrangling wayward performers from the far side of the world.

Kelly is the principal of a small rural elementary school, built like a linebacker, stocky and yet nimble on his feet. He has twinkling eyes that belie his firm, authoritative principal manner. He has a small daughter whose pictures utterly predominate his cluttered desk, and a thoughtful, direct way of speaking that brings kids to heel far more quickly than you would imagine.