This past weekend, my castmate and I trekked out to the World Center for Birds of Prey, established 35 years ago to rescue the endangered Peregrine Falcon in North America. After very successfully re-populating even some urban settings with this kickass raptor, they've expanded to shelter all sorts of magnificent birds, some for breeding conservation programs, but most because they're somehow injured or can no longer be (re-) introduced to their native habitats, which may or may not exist anymore.

There was an Aplomado Falcon, and a Eurasian Eagle-Owl (I want to be an Eagle-Owl!!), and a stately California Condor with wings that could shade half my family. There was a Bateleur Eagle from Africa, with a bright red mask and a piercing squawk that somehow managed to say, "What the fuck?" and "Hey, how you doin'?" both at once. But really, really loudly. Thanks to the really engaging, foul-mouthed grandmother conducting the tours, I now can't look at so much as a pigeon without imagining a Peregrine Falcon diving out of the sun at 242 mph, making straight for this flying little mid-day snack, knocking it out with its knobby talons and grabbing it mid-air, "to take it home for the missus and the kids."

* * * * * * *

The pace of this tour has settled into a relentless gear, the kind that does the high-pitched rattle on the freeway all the time. My poor castmate has just gotten floored by bronchitis, and feeling the descent of this show's energy, even in spite of my best efforts, is painfully expensive to sustain. You can only punch up the energy so far, you can dig down only so much; beyond which there's this wall you hit and then you can see the kids fidgeting in the shadows, you can hear their restive sighs, the older ones start giggling and you realize your puppet's feet are facing the wall while his eyes are looking at you, and your hood is up or your glove is caught on something or the tripod just tipped over in the middle of the show. (Most of these things haven't happened to me onstage... yet.) And then you realize something of what Clinton must have felt as he stepped out of office and sat down to watch the Middle East collapse like a domino stack of folding chairs.

Right now I write from Boise's airport, a plastic little middle-American affair, soft tones of grey in the air-conditioned chill. We cancelled today's shows to let the antibiotics take a whack at things. I'd planned on spending the weekend back in PDX, anyway, and today ended up being a much-needed breathing space.

My flight's overcrowded and, predictably, delayed. My hands are sore from my puppets. I need new boots. Military jets roar past from the Mountain Home AFB, not far from here. I watch the sun go down as the luggage conveyors rumble past, and the ground crew with their light-up wands flag away the massive, lumbering planes. Babies are crying, blond children stare at me, the air turns chill in the sudden evening. I'm going home.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us,



Am now in Boise, which is just moments away from the far side of the world. My cell-phone has snapped its antennae, which renders it about as useful as a cricket without its back legs.

Two shows in two different--very, very different--schools today. I try to catch them and write them down as quickly as I can, because they all start to melt together within moments; I remember
  • Penny, the music teacher in pinstripe pants who wouldn't stop smiling
  • The Custodian, a tall, wizened old man with the ZZ Top beard and the tired, stooping, loping gait, who appeared and disappeared very suddenly (aka "Gandalf")
  • Acres of children galloping with energy, tumbling over themselves. You need geiger counters and oven mitts to deal with these kids.

As opposed to the second school, where

  • the gym was bedecked with championship flags from some
  • National Competitive Rope Jumping tradition at this school, which after our performance brought out acres of teenage and middle-school girls and three boys (heh), who then proceeded to skip rope for two hours under the watchful, baleful guidance of a microphoned, be-whistled coach
  • we set up diagonally for electrical and basketball hoop voidance purposes. And It Was Cool.

I'm sipping orange pekoe tea and scheming about how to call home, and bone-tired from a long-ish day. I promise, o gentle reader, better ordered notes soon enough.

i can't get next to you baby,



I'm writing from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

There are two identical beds in my room, and a large picture window opening onto a view of a stagnant reservoir set snug in the soft brown hills. A few miles down the road there is the mother of all potato manufactories; piles and piles of dull russet things tumbling everwhere day and night, piles higher than grain elevators, acres of them in the open night air.

The road to my motel is a winding gravel affair, beset on both sides with abandoned semi's and derelict 24-hour greasy-spoon cafes. But inside, the motel is pristine, its Jackie chic vacuum-sealed since the Cuban missile crisis, soft pinks and faux-wood paneling, bare light bulbs and mod-ish curves and angles everywhere. Shiny, shiny.

The name of this strange, strange place: American Falls.

* * * * *

Today I performed and taught some workshops and generally squeezed out every spare ounce of energy with my puppets (damn things keep busting all over the place) and these kids. Lord, these kids, each of them bursting with the energy of a thousand suns, chaos theory incarnate, flesh and blood distillations of the passions and ambitions of generations of toil and rural sensibilities and migrants in the night, brought forth to torment and delight and provoke and endear the likes of me. I talked about Live Theatre and How to Make Your Puppet Live ("It's ALIIIIIIVE!!!") and such like.

Sample questions from Mrs. S's 5th Grade Class:
  • "How did, um, the, uh. The one, where, uh. ...?"
  • "Why?"
  • "Are you married?"

Every direction you look, rippling formations of birds are popping over the horizon, slender V's gingerly groping through the sharp October air, like so many frail ribbons in the breeze. It looks like so much courage, and so little in the face of mountains and hunters and exhaust fumes. But there they are, peeling off from some tired little marshland, stripping away like leaves from the trees, little more than dustclouds in the setting sun. I want to be a goose when I grow up. A silly, silly goose.

Reading: "Henry Adams and the Making of America" by Garry Wills; "The Divorce" by C.S. Lewis; "Go Down, Moses" by William Faulkner. Listening to: Jack Johnson, The Blues Scholars, The Four Tops, Vetiver, Liz Phair, Kanye West, Lucinda Williams. Eating: Mandarin Chicken and Spanish Chow Mein(?). Missing: The Hottie at Home.

reporting live from the interstate,



the sun went down in yakima, draping the barren hills in pomegranate tones

In the best traditions of Polyform beginnings, I enclose here the first of the mass e-dispatches which lead me to consider the revivification of this site. More forthwith.

paulmonster-von frankenstein

* * * * *

I'm touring "Ride the Red Mare" with Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre at the moment. This trip takes me into the heartland of Interstate America, where ranch-style prefab architecture reigns, where everyone speaks and eats in a culture of Super-Sized bonhomie, neon bright with potbellies and bleach-blondes and HBO and bumper-sticker patriotism. This could be Ohio, or Florida, or Oklahoma, or Nevada. Last night my castmate, my director and myself walked down a busy street somewhere off I-82 and picked up rolls and mangoes from a Mexican paneceria, while the low single-story skyline glowed and shone with purples and ochres. Las Siete Mares, Mexican Seafood. Black Angus Steakhouse. Les Schwab Tires. Motel 6.
This won't come as much of a surprise to you, but I've realized now more than ever how much I love and rely on my French press-pot and my stainless-steel thermos, my fancy little ipod and my seals and stamps for my letters. Traveling blurs the lines of my self, peeling back the sooty layers of complacency and poking the new bits to grow and change, and I'm finding how invaluable the small tokens--toys, really--are to this process. My pocket watch. A squirt gun. Rice paper. I need these small things to hold on to while the bigger stuff shifts and moves, like Howl's Moving Castle picking up and crawling a hundred miles up the freeway. I need to write my letters and walk in the dusty daylight, without which the indescribable sadness of these endless overpasses and off-ramps and barren homes and empty eyes would kill me.
We've had our first couple of performances with real-life audiences now; 500+ grade school kids per show, enthralled and rapturous to see live puppet theatre coming into their gyms. Today, after a show here in Kennewick, I walked into the principal's office to wrap up some paperwork and a cluster of 3rd-graders looked at me like I was Elijah coming down from his fiery chariot. Make no mistake; the expression on their faces alone is reason enough to get up every morning at the very nub and hint of daylight to haul a van full of lights and puppets halfway across the state. These are the most honest and engaged audiences ever: they're like the groundlings in Shakespeare's Globe, talking back to the characters and advertising their affections and distastes with wild abandon. They squeal and giggle and moan, their whole bodies shake and dance with emotion. I love kids. Who knew children's theatre could be so much fun?
Listening to: Lucinda Williams and Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Beethoven string quartets and Koko Taylor and Jack Johnson and Ray Charles. Reading: When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: Islam under the Abassid Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy; Tamburlaine Part II by Christopher Marlowe; Same Difference and Other Stories by Derek Kirk Kim. Eating: plums.
I'm in the Tri-Cities now, performing 5 shows in three days. This weekend I'm back in Portland for about 48 hours, and then it's off to Idaho. Send me your snail-mail credentials if you want a letter from the road; likewise, let me know if you'd rather not be bombarded with these occasional mass e-dispatches. You should know how highly I regard you, how much I miss you, how I wish things could be better for us all.

love lifts us up where we belong,



I'm dusting off the cobwebs and firing up the old polyform engine again. For some reason, one post from back in March keeps attracting the blogspam-o-matic anonymice. Otherwise, things look quite like the way I left them, back in July.

This is strictly an experiment, I'm making no promises. Since I'm on the road so much again, I need to streamline the mass e-dispatches once more and it just makes sense. Also, I'd like to think that things have settled and healed and moved along since the harsher depredations of the summer. We shall see.

I spent today in Hood River, touring 'Red Mare' and teaching puppetry workshops to grade-schoolers; this was great gobs of fun, except for the physical toll of getting up at 4:30 in the morning and hauling all our gear up a cruel flight of stairs and setting up, performing, and performing again all before noon. Still, great gobs of gooey fun. I Love Kids.

Hood River is a beautiful town on the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour east of Portland. We saw mist wreathing the hills on either side of the River, making floating islands out of tree-lined hilltops.

I am exhausted, and behind, and poor. But undaunted, and much smitten. Allons,




Remember how I said I'm ending Polyform (see below)? I lied. Watch this space; more soon.