Matters of Incomparable Importance

Hey, all you crazy cats and kittens--

I'll be performing this weekend in a benefit for Clowns Without Borders. I'll be busting out some new old worksongs in the interests of world peace, debt relief and the unalienable right to laughter.

Other kickass rockstars and sovereign dread lords performing that evening include the irrepressible Toby "the Patella" Lawrence, the infamous Amy Jo "Thermonuclear" McCarville, and the indomitable Sarah "Liane" Foster. It's like all the planets lining up on a single night, and you can be there, too!

All good people, proud and true, will be gathering at 7 pm on Sunday the 30th of April, at the Old Church in St. Johns. Directions as follows:

The old church is on Central Ave in St. Johns: going
north/east on Lombard, pass the "Welcome to St. Johns"
sign, turn right at the Starbucks, turn right again at
the T (by the community center), look for an old
boarded-up church building on the left. There's a
sign on the building that says "American Wilderness

Very gothic, I know.



Save the Date, all you madcap little prairie dogs. My birthday is coming up, and I'm fixing to storm the Galaxy Karaoke Lounge, down on 10th and E Burnside (across the street from the Doug Fir). Friday, May 12th, starting at 8 pm (my actual birthday is the 11th, but dammit if the Pope can mess around with the calendar, then so can I.) Bring friends and relations, and your customary predilections for unhealthy liquors. Oh, quit your whining, you two-bit unhandsome mis-proportioned reprobate! It's my birthday and it's time you showed me some proper respect. Don't make me bust out a thunderstorm on your pansy-ass.

tho stars in their courses strive against me, I remain,

your milk-chocolate bootylicious funkmaster,



Correction: Our sources tell us that the benefit performance does not, in fact, benefit Clowns Without Borders, but rather Sarah Liane Foster's "Nomadic Theatre Company". Polyform regrets the mistake.


All week I've been teaching and performing all day workshops--that is, oftentimes two performances per day plus at least two workshops with as many as 80 kids per workshop. When not expertly and fearlessly tossing my puppets around, I am a squishy puddle of goo that hardly has the energy to lift a finger. Especially when the really lovely kindergarten teachers walk by.

Such breakneck pacing is perfect for also working on a monumentally ambitious London project that comes replete with at least two more performance runs/happenings back in Portland, both before and after the English Invasion, in the latter half of July. And there's a benefit piece I'm working on, too... more on that soon.

I'm in Redmond right now, much comforted and fortified by the sight of such beautiful and intimate mountains just outside my window, and the rivers and the high desert air and the gorgeous kindergarten teachers. I have a room in a motel with a kitchen and a tub, which makes me very happy.

Stay tuned, more soon--

paulmonster-mt. bachelor


bathing in miracles

There's this hot springs out here in the middle of Idaho, a sleepy little mom-and-pop establishment that has two swimming pools directly fed by the springs themselves. The geothermal water is soft and plush, like silk draping your skin. It's the kind of water that makes you savor hours; it tells you something about why those near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures built bathhouses bigger than cathedrals.

Miracle Hot Springs draws all kinds of folk. There are plenty of retirees and outpatient-types, recuperating or visiting regularly for therapeutic purposes. There's the occasional broad dose of teenagers and college kids flirting and cavorting. And there are the curious wanderers, in the area to kayak or mountain climb, or to play with puppets in local elementary schools, lord knows what drives those people. The Springs have a suite of private tubs and four or five resident masseuses (masseii? masseese?), who charge unbelievably reasonable rates (as of this posting, $55.00 for 1 hour). You get a complimentary private tub to soak in both before and after your massage. For all intents and purposes, it's like getting 10 years added to your lifespan in one visit.

All the folks who live and work nearby are angelic and ethereal, and they speak in lilting, dulcet tones. They can glance a smile at you, and suddenly the world is brimming with hope and promise. Vistas of opportunity unfold like a Woody Guthrie song in your head. The great American novel unveils itself in the innermost chambers of your jubilant heart--it's true, I'm telling you it's there. Of course, it goes away about five minutes after you get back on the Interstate, but every time I visit Miracle Hot Springs I end up drafting half my Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech in the walk from the pool to the changing room.

Improbably enough, they've got a trio of alligators that somehow made their way up to this place. There's a painted box turtle, too, and they sit in their own little pond off to the side, their eyes veiled and still like stones, watching and waiting. From time to time they waddle away into the murk. It could be snowing, delicate friezes of ice might edge the pond, and these guys just bask by the font of the hot spring, waiting and watching. No doubt dreaming up their own great American novels that ultimately make for only tepid rivals to mine, because these guys are reptiles, after all, and they can be cold-blooded like Ahab when it comes to this sort of thing.




Rule Britannia

Alright, kids, I've held back from mentioning this too precipitously, but here and now things are starting to simmer and form up, so here we go--

I'm going to London in July, with Randall Stuart's Inkwell Communiques project. It's a performance that I've been involved with for years now. Every year it's a little bit bigger, a little bit more splendid, than the last. This year, it's UK-sized.

Stay tuned for details. It's not too early to think about whether you've got some airline miles to get rid of. We could sure use it.

Mind the gap,



Excerpt from my Letter to Zero, 4 April 2006

It's a heavily pressed time, as usual, for me. Mostly I'm trying to figure out exactly how it is that I could make $10.00 per hour at the Library and get roughly an entire paycheck refunded at tax season, and now make just about $7.50 per hour as a puppeteer and owe $100.00 in taxes. Surely there's a catch in this somewhere...

...All that I find lacking is even what scanty stability the Library afforded me; but beyond this, by far the most provocative element at hand right now are the books--the magnificent and determined little volumes that catch me up in tidal waves of meaning and rigorous discovery. Lately, Wallace Shawn's "The Fever," Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle," Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae," Simone Weil's and Rachel Bespaloff's essays on the Iliad, and, of course, the Iliad itself, have all been digging deep into the soil of me, mingling with my roots, gnawing at them. They represent something of a departure from what would usually be a well-balanced and much more even-handed reading list. Normally, I travel from book to book the way Canadian Geese migrate, constantly responding to the exigencies of the previous situation by seeking out the next venue as a kind of antidote. This is a tactic I've long relied upon to stave off the worst excesses of apathetic despair, or frustration, any of which would usually ensue if I spent too much of myself in any given place--a fact which has much to do with my generall wanderlustful temperament.

In this case, however, these works happened to all rise to the top of my reading list more or less simultaneously--and instead of threatening to subsume my tenuous sense of self-assurance (such as it is), these works of succeeded in stirring that same piece of me which still slowly--glacially slowly--cultivates my long-running Work Song Project; that is, the piece of me which now does nothing but wrestle with Jacob's Angel, in the impossible and irresolvable places of our beautifully fucked-up world.

(I often wonder exactly how it is that our Elders manage to live with the cumulative weight of so much memory, with the terrible responsibility of so much remembering. Is it even conceivable that something so rending as Alzheimer's could even begin to be a veiled blessing?)

Shawn's "Fever" is the monologue of a privileged artist traveling through an oppressed city. Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" traces a migrant-workers' strike led by doomed communists. Paglia's "Sexual Personae" follows the development of feminist imagery and sexuality through the roots of Western culture. Weil's and Bespaloff's essays were both written at the very beginning of the 2nd World War, recasting the Iliad against our modern propensity for slaughter.

I haven't been routed by the collective strength of these, yet. They obviously rest beneath my surface as I work and play with and teach my kids. But I write this here, and for you, because I know these themes hit home for you, too; once stirred, none of this ever really lies dormant for long...

...is there a chronically unfulfillable element here, endemic to the nature of these oppressive themes? I'm humming worksongs again as I walk down the street, mulling over these bleeding books...


Ruination Day

It's the 2nd anniversary of my Grandpa's death. Today, I'll be working on some scripts for my kindergarten class up at Ainsworth Elementary, and then building puppets with them and rehearsing a brief little story with them. This afternoon, I'll be attending a family prayer up at the cemetery, and I'll visit my maternal grandparents, there, too. In the evening I'll be attending a play at the theatre, and then getting some sleep.


Excerpt from my Letter to Jennifer H, 2 April 2006

...I much regret and am often frustrated by how often I'm caught, between the Rock of always being on the road, and the Hard Place of a performing artist's income. Tim Blake Nelson recently spoke of how actors subsidize theatre (emphasis mine)--specifically referring to how both the tangible and the intangible contributions we make towards our work entirely outstrip the crude, simplistic resources available to us as compensation. As usual, nothing short of a sea change in how this all goes down will do anything to make it any better, but the point is an important one, and one which continues to redefine a lot of my views about this slogging, heartrending, overcooked, two-bit, ass-backwards shell game which we call 'theatre' in polite company.

But then, as I see it, the true rub here lies in how fruitfully these unresolvable questions--like the question of how to rationalize perpetually subsidizing my own work--can be made to fuel and enrich this very same work. In these stages, and for these past several years, I haven't seen (or am not yet able to see) how to afford to do anything else.

Yesterday, I finished reading Wallace Shawn's "The Fever," a long monologue-confessional that wrestles with issues of conscience and meaning in the context of working and living in this world, rife with poverty and brutality as it still is. The text deftly conveys the desperate confusion of being conscious, and helpless, and both more or less by choice.

It is some evidence of the quality of Shawn's writing that I am only here and now realizing how difficult it is to write meaningfully about it. Shawn himself does not really conclude the monologue so much as he simply sets it down, in a kind of capitulation as painful as the issue it cannot resolve, but then just as much as easy as the simple act of leaving a book unfinished and open-faced on the bedside table.

"The Fever," and, to a lesser extent, Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" (which I also recently finished), are both spurring me back towards my old perennial friends, Cicero, Boethius, Bacon, Spinoza and Locke, anxious as I am all over again to somehow sustain the unsustainability of this contemporary situation. (It's as though the Fall of Communism, Globalization, the UN Charter of Human Rights and 24-hr. live TV coverage have all conspired to make brooding little Hamlets out of thinking people everywhere. Or were we all just like that to begin with?)

And I mention all of this because it does, in fact, and in its own perverse manner, go some ways towards resolving the earlier question of how to sustain the all but perpetual self-subsidization of theatre. Ironically, it makes me feel better, and its easier to stomach the intractability of my position, when I realize how comparably fucked-up the rest of the picture looks like.

Shawn stresses how much he's chosen to believe in a beautiful life, one that appreciates the loveliness of people and things, and even if this cannot and does not answer for any of the rest of it, this is still the only straw left to grasp, for me. It's the Noble Virtue of the Stoics, St. Augustine's City of God, Lenin's Dictatorship of the Proletariat. I choose to believe that it is worthwhile to do what I do, even as I question the wisdom of so choosing...