Unsent Letters Digest

Lately my letters take longer to write, turn out to be far longer and more meandering than my letters used to be, and are far more likely to be abandoned, unsent, as time spools away. Encountering drafts of letters in my big letter-book is like encountering sadly fascinating shipwrecks half-buried in the beach.


Excerpt from my Letter to Jen, dated 23 June, unsent.

...I just moved to a rad new apartment, of my very own, in N Portland, where all the women are strong and so forth. My books fit, which is extraordinary. 8 or 9 cats live in the villa-esque courtyard; they strategically position themselves, like sniper teams, covering every approach, every exit, every gap in the hedges. Whenever I come home, they troop around me like a protective detail, distancing themselves to allow optimum range of motion against, say, marauding raccoon hordes, or rogue Russian secret agents, or Voldemort's dementors. Two always follow me in--one on post at the door, the other clearing each room in my apartment, faster than I can turn on the lights.

Only when they're satisfied that my place is secure do they allow me to pick them up and cradle them (they rotate every other shift or so), reluctantly purring in spite of their training. I imagine the cats assigned to my protection detail are the cat equivalent of retired Brooklyn cat detectives forced into retirement by budget cuts, injuries sustained in the line of duty and too many run-ins against the NY Cat Commissioner. They see this as a dangerous gig, the result of bad luck and worse friends at headquarters, and the need to protect their pensions until they can catch a better break. In other words, I very much doubt that gruff little ginger, or the chubby, clipped-ear longhair would either of them take a bullet for me. But I find them reassuring just the same...

...It's troubling to say as much; but for me, this is the optimal level of current and projected work to have... my days and weeks are woefully tight, entirely without any margin for error, much less expansion of committments to the workplace or school. Attempts to do so have gone very poorly t o date--cause for concern, not alarm, but troubling nonetheless. It seems I'm happiest--as you no doubt know by now--only when I've my back against a wall, actively disputing some expected path or another (cue me in a Cyrano nose: 'No' to headshots, 'No!' to the Equity card chase, 'Thank you No!' to the college capitulations, 'Again, No!' to "normal" hours), and every time I try to buck my own trend and give 'normal'-cy a try, things go from strained to breaking with entertaining alacrity.

Lately , a number of respectable theatre people--or at least, what passes for respectable in these parts--have been goading me to audition more, to seriously take up the Equity path, to get representation and so forth. Nothing I haven't already heard elsewhere, but deeply flattering all the same, and all the more so as each passing season sees that many more repetitions of this same conversation, against some seriously growing evidence that my Public Service world, long the bulwark of my day-to-day survival and the mainstay of my civic conscience, is rudderless and all but failing.

It's noticeable, now; it's been a very long time since my Public Service interests--the EMT work, the homeless advocacy and addictions recovery--have been seen to flourish the way my Theatre world does, albeit beyond the pale of a more conventional reading of that term, 'flourish.' My conviction that the two should be deeply interrelated, equally prized priorities in my life has repeatedly foundered on my lack of formal credentials, my firmly rooted insecurities and the absence of unified role models...


Excerpt from my letter to Robert, dated 9 July, unsent.

Only now that summer's more than halfway gone, does it feel as though Portland has well and truly left the last winter behind. As if to compensate, summer now seems to rather insistently assert itself across the city. Trees sway despondently in the sudden, swelling heat. Noses and shoulders redden like ripening fruit, peeling delicately. Dogs and cats take on perpetually martyred expressions.

Time passes strangely, fitfully. Details have clearly shifted, but the topography of the emotional space I inhabit has not substantially altered from that of one year ago, or even arguably of two years ago. I don't necessarily feel like I'm absolutely frozen--rather, it seems I'm fighting one long, drawn out struggle, a decision that's well over two years' in the deciding.

The true nature of this decision remains ultimately hidden, as it must, until well past the currency of these events and days. That is, I can't begin to say what it is I'll be arriving at; I only know, now, that much is shifting, and not always in directions I understand.

I find myself constantly revisiting employment and vocational decisions. Opportunities to perform or teach seem to conflict with increasing intractability against the occupational demands of my 'day jobs,' to the detriment of both worlds. There simply are not enough hours in the day, nor can I consume coffee quickly enough to devote the full measure of time and energy and diligence necessary to do good work. I belive the difficulty stems from the fact that, as time goes on, my own standards heighten; also, the obvious solutions, once tried, tend to no longer apply again.

A friend of mine likes to underscore the importance of paths of least resistance. He believes too much credibility and glamour goes to the difficult paths merely because they are difficult. He posits that there is purpose behind a rooted obstacle; ignoring its purpose invites further and more profound mistakes...

But I ultimately think this approach to be no more inherently advantageous than any other. 'Ease' is every bit as subjective a criteria as, say, 'Good,' or 'Happiness.' Because nearly any conceivable outcome can be framed within either an active or a passive interpretation of those terms, using those terms as means to determine correct action looks less and less reassuring over time.

As a function of the tenor of these deliberations, I've been thinking about taking up one of the martial arts, perhaps aikido, or fencing. The regular physical practice of an adversarial discipline might provide the kinds of insights unavailable to me from the comparatively sedentary practice I'm currently pursuing.

And as I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps this is the point my friend is disputing; for me, the instinct to fight, fully and comprehensively, is both deeply expensive in all manner of ways, and deeply reqarding for me. The pieces of myself that carry my identity, that have survived and thrived over time, are the same pieces that have always forcefully insisted against prevailing expectations, conventional wisdoms, 'easy' choices. In an apt inversion of the applied rhetoric, it's comforting and even reassuring, for me, to have broadly defined and unstinting obstacles, against which I can easily describe myself in equally defined and unstinting terms. Thus, my desire to formally train in a physical discipline; I am addicted to the spoils of my own hopeless-case self-immolations, cannibalizing my own remains to feed the same habit.

This is a mode of thinking I blame on years of American war movies and the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Against which, as a surprising and unexpected new perspective, I've begun to consider the approach of the Quiche Mayans as recorded in their Popul Vuh, or "Council Book" (also called, "The Light that Came from Beside the Sea," and "Our Place in the Shadows," and "The Dawn of Life"). Among a great many other things, the Popol Vuh describes a way of looking at the world in diametrically opposed dualities are rather deeply interrelated and complementary conceptions: death, for example, doesn't necessarily mean the annihilation of life--beheaded heroes continue to advise their children and even impregnate their wives. The heads of patrilineal noble families are known by a title that translates literally as "Mother-Father." And the Quiche Mayan word for "world" translates literally as "earth-sky."

In the terminology of my own life, I've always hoped that, by braiding vastly disparate vocational disciplines, something stronger, better balanced and eminently capable would emerge. Perhaps the lesson of the Popol Vuh is to likewise embrace the overwhelming contradictions inherent in that intention as an element of weight and substance equally important, yet another strand in the braid...




I found a trunk of old stuff in my father's house, dating back to high school for me. Filled or almost-filled notebooks, stolen office supplies, crayons and oil pastels, blank tapes and cds, back issues of the NY Review of Books.

The notebooks describe a desperate and searching teenage dork, who thought rather much of himself but was too self-conscious to say as much, and rarely completed a full sentence. Said dork actually had a point sometimes, but usually failed to convey that meaningfully. Also had a lot of energy.

I took a lot of notes on random shit. I've got the entire Plantagenet lineage written down; important federal regulatory agencies formed since 1900; excerpts from the Tao Te Ching; an explanation of Griswold v. Connecticut; a breakdown of DNA construction theory... I was obsessed with as broad, as wide an angle lens as I could possibly hold. I think I still am, but in a less scattershot way, simply because I couldn't keep it all together. (I'm still fighting that battle.)

Regarding myself ten years ago is a strange experience. I think I had a sense that I'd take some hits through these years, but it clearly shows that I hadn't gotten knocked down yet. Now I feel more worn around the edges, a few scars to show for my troubles and all that. Not dejected, but certainly spent in some ways. I've narrowed some things down, but equally opened some things up... apparently, I still can't finish a sentence or clearly say what I mean.

I'm going to grab the trunk and haul it over to my apartment shortly. Context is important. Also, it's important to remember, and to see the evidence, that fountain pens were far too much trouble, and the resulting penmanship on my part is silly. Yes, I was one of those guys. Shut up.