Letter to J., 27 Nov 2009

Dear J--

You spoke of turning within for the winter. More and more it feels as though the real task, the main task of my world right now, is about opening my inner life until it matches, and becomes, the life I live outwardly.
I have, of course, no idea how to accomplish this, definitively. I only know, or see, the millions of little things directly in front of me, the petty things mingled with the profound--things like getting out of bed, or writing this letter, or writing that play, or feeding my cat, or, or, or, or...
My inner world is a mess of grand-scale things half-built; physical and emotional discoveries squirrelled away in readiness for something I'm not even conscious of; unfought arguments and lingering memories that don't want to fade away. This inner world has been pretty consistently so, for a s long as I can remember, only expanding in scale as time goes by.
Once, I was admonished by a soon-to-be-ex that, of all the people she'd known, I had changed the least--that in fact, I hadn't changed at all. At the time, I was much dismayed by this (I was a pretty miserable and unlucky boy when I first met her). Now, it actually makes some sense to me, even if I know she meant nothing comforting by that remark.
To a certain degree, my outward life already does reflect this inner constancy--my outward life is a kind of waking sleep, a continual process of waiting and holding my physical space in readiness for that which is next. Holding space in readiness has served me well thus far--it's like in those male-centric action movies, where the steely-eyed warrior concentrates on jumping-rope or disassembling guns for awhile, an aleaborate dumb-show that says, "Look at me, I'm a cold-ass motherfucker," which is invariably followed by scenes that are devastating or redemptive or humbling, as if to say, "Train by all means, but you'll never, ever be truly ready."
To be fair, I am not a cold-ass motherfucker, nor do I know how to disassemble a gun (and I'm pretty bad at jumping rope, too). But I really love, perhaps too much, that sense of deep inhalation, the coiling of the spring, the self-imposed discipline of calming, before storming. As a result, the performances I'm personally proudest of, and the things I've done that I believe I've done well, were none of them random, inscrutable flukes of fortune, but meaningful and intentional things that had to be cared for and nourished over time, that required deliberate attention and steady nerves.
But I can't say that this neat little story happens with any kind of frequency. In all honesty, most of my time is spent in that deep inhalation, physically hunkering down while my inner, emotional life tumbles and roils against itself, in spite of my repeated efforts to keep calm and sleep well. Maybe that's the real task of my life right now.
A piece of music, or a rare play, or most likely a finely made piece of writing, will cross my path, from time to time, sending me stirring and tumbling anew, hungry and fiercely inspired. They tend to prod me into an almost drunken, joyfully angry state, where I'm indignant that the rest of the world ignores so much loveliness or sacrifice or wonder. And then I get secretly, happily sick with my own ambition, to do the same but more, lusting for that righteous distinction of being unworthy of the world's neglect.

Happily Reading:
On the Shortness of Life--Seneca
What I Loved--Siri Hustved
Penelopiad--Margaret Atwood
The Developing Mind--David Siegel
The Harsh Cry of the Heron--Lian Hearn

Listening To
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
High, Wide and Handsome; the Charlie Poole Project, Loudon Wainwright
Madeleine Peyroux

These days I'm taking care of my Grandma during the day, and then teaching with PlayWrite at Portland Night High School. With winter, I'm always happy except I'm lonely--or lonely except I'm happy, it's always twinned like that.
I'm not taking care of my Grandma, so much as I'm studying her, so that I can recognize her ghost, which I think of as a joyful thing, though it may sound morbid; but also to discover her; counting her pills, tabulating her vital signs, the clinical facts which signify her earthly presence, while my head and my heart record her laughter, and the way she smiles at her grandchildren, and her fickle appetites, and her lonely sadness. Her confusion and her emptiness, that are themselves precious fragments--vital signs--of 74 rich and terrible years. I am studying her, for the time when, in every instance I say "I," I'll actually mean "We," and mean her as well as me, as I already do for my Grandpa, and my other grandparents, and every other person whose death I've witnessed. (No I'm not an axe-murderer.)
My cat Wendell has drawn in all his neighborhood friends to seek shelter in my apartment at night, and now their proprietary mien is so complete that I generally feel like an ill-mannered, boorish guest in my own apartment--clumsy, overbearing, smelly, and shockingly ignorant of polite feline society. I suppose they only tolerate me because I'm bigger, and I'm a soft heat source. Wendell is sympathetic but helpless.
I hope you're keeping snug and warm in your new home, and that your journey within is a fruitful one. Know that you are loved and missed--

ps--PlayWrite, in which I coach at-risk youth to write plays, and then they're performed by professionals, has a showcase on 14 and 15 December--FREE--call or email me for details...


Excerpt from my Letter to B, 20 November 2009

Dearest B--,

Last Tuesday I was handed this script... I was expecting something abbreviated, powerful, perhaps unfinished but bursting at the seams—in short, a typical PlayWrite play, as such things go.

I’ve coached and acted once before at this location, under PlayWrite’s aegis, and that was a profoundly overpowering experience, difficult and delicate work that paid off handsomely in the end, for the writer I coached and in the performances, too. So I had some idea of what I was signing up for in this round, and I went about it cheerfully and diligently, as best I could.

But I did not expect, nor could I expect to encounter a script that tore me up as powerfully as this one did. I was given to play Dirty Belly, a dirt clod, a terrifying and an anguished little guy filled with anger, and harrowingly vulnerable. On the surface, Dirty Belly is the antithesis of his author, S., a stout, powerfully-built young man who habitually hides behind a mystifyingly dry sense of humor, and a curtain of soft black hair that reaches to his chin. S. is the kind of teenager who commands a room by his silences; whom every girl watches even if he may not himself possess movie-star looks; at first glance, he is a massive, lumbering presence—until he picks up a basketball, which is when he brazenly displays a startling aptitude for cunning audacity. (At one point, he slapped away a shot attempt like I’d just disparaged his sister. Admittedly, my basketball skills are silly at best—a point I blame on the heartbreaking experience of being a Blazers fan in the early ‘90s—but still, to slap away a shot mid-air is a thing to see.)

We had a hard time reading S. throughout the workshop; he was often late, reluctant to engage, and his dry, unvaryingly cool and arch affect tended to distance himself from the coaches. But one-on-one, his work tended to be deeply engaging and rich, but this in fragmentary flashes, apt to dissolve away in his almost caustic humor, as quickly as it appeared. At the group check-ins at the end of the day, he seemed genuinely moved—as if himself quietly surprised at how personally involved he was becoming—and afterwards, in our own daily debriefings, we coaches would gather and puzzle fruitlessly over whether S. was truly with us.

The first week of PlayWrite is all group work, with the one-on-one stuff spliced in here and there, and we coaches make a point of continuously rotating so that, ideally, every writer will have worked with every coach at least once in the course of that first week. Week two sees an assignment of coach-to-writer for the rest of the workshop. I often feel like we all then slip over the horizon from each other, locked in our own careful, desperate little duels. We still gather as a group at the end of each day, and again as coaches to debrief, but these do little to suppress the lonely, quietly exhilerating and painstaking quality that now characterizes our work, as distant from one another as undiscovered continents.

In those debriefings, we caught flashes of what S. was doing via his coach, G., but of course I was too deep in my own writer’s work to fully grasp the implications. G. worked like a hero through S.’s surges and ebbings—and she is a far stronger and more experienced coach than I—but even so, at the end of Week Two, S.’ play seemed drawn up short, only just about to cut deeper into the heart of things. As scripts were assigned to the coaches-as-actors, G. took the unusual step of appending an entire extra blank page to his typed-up draft, to be filled in on the day of performance.

Myself and one other actor were assigned his play on performance day, with little time to prepare or rehearse. Having done these readings quite regularly for some years now, I know that only the most cursory forethought is given to these casting choices. All our customary efforts in performing a play professionally are necessarily abrogated in favor of concentrating on our writer’s needs. And rightfully so—often I’m given cause to wonder at how much more and better work would be accomplished if a few of these professional theatres could more closely follow our line.

G. and S. were both equally aware that the play could, and ought to go farther, but G. was understandably reluctant to push too hard, lest S. get trapped in a panic of perfectionism and lost time. T. (the other actor) and myself were mostly confined to a single read-thru, offering and asking for such input as we could, but mostly holding back, while G. and S. improvised a final, cautiously rushed writing session.

This, I think, is the heart of why the piece went on to overpower me so completely: I witnessed, in a removed, almost offhand way, a process which I myself had guided other writers through at least half a dozen other times before. Each word, each feeling is phrased so carefully that it indelibly affects the actor’s task. Whereas typically, I construe my obligation to be to find meaning and emotion in a given text, here it’s much deeper, unavoidably more personal: I must parse through the high flood of meaning and emotion running so vividly before my eyes, choosing the pieces that cry out most clearly, in the hope that I, as the actor, can in turn reflect and amplify my writer’s original passion.

This act of witnessing was unique to S.' situation. As a coach, the actor’s task is glimpsed at two or three removes; but as the actor, already cast and seated immediately before the writer, my whole attention was completely contained by the quiet, tense silences, and then the raw work unfolding in front of me, S. and G. both hurrying to catch every possible moment left to us.

Thus I never really got to take in his script, as such. Every spare moment was another line added, a word tweaked, another question answered or asked. We had once chance to run it on our feet before the audience arrived, and even that was just to get the words out loud.

Playing Dirty Belly live practically tore me apart. Laden with the knowledge of who S. is, and all the previous days’ history of dissembling and vulnerability, something of S. himself seeped into what I was doing with Dirty Belly, and quite to my own surprise, I found my own emotions ranging beyond my control. This is a dirt clod scared to death of being torn apart, yet who yearns to dissolve into a dust cloud; who loves—revels in being dirty, yet passionately hates the names he’s called as a result.

In the course of the play, Dirty Belly falls into a dark, filthy, terrifying garbage can. I was given a stage direction to scream—really scream—and in that moment, something deeply rooted in me tore loose. I’ve been told, by a number of people who were there, that my scream shook everyone visibly, but that S. himself was utterly still, intent. The play ends with Dirty Belly wailing in the dark, faced with the choice of grasping a fishhook lowered from above, thereby risking being torn apart in the process, or remaining alone in the suffocating dark. S. believes the play is unfinished.

Clearly, this play continues to haunt me. Dirty Belly, and by extension S., and now to a startling degree I myself, am still stranded alone in the deep bottom of the garbage can, and the fishhook gleaming overhead. I can think of nothing else except to write this out and send it to you, with my love, and the hope that this finds you well and thriving—

Stay warm, and travel safely—


My student these last two weeks, M, is happy. She's perhaps the sunniest person I know right now. Not ridiculous Disney-saccharine happy-sunny; her happy is like a pleasant simmer, a continuous pop-rhythm of speaking and moving that belies the terrible things she's experienced.

Every student in this facility has experienced terrible things, horrifying things that decimate and unravel any confidence most reasonable humans could possibly have. But the key to M's happiness is something unstoppable, something no memory, no wrong decision, not even the hint of violence can touch: M is in the middle of a lucky streak. She's getting out in 8 days. Her family has picked up the ball again, working with her therapists and the authorities to work their shit out. She's gone clean, and her best friends are going clean to support her. The play she's writing reflects this sense of momentum, this culminating build to her life.

I've had cause, in the past week of working with M, to consider the nature of lucky streaks, the momentum that overthrows everything in its path, until it doesn't again. I can say nothing to M that will broach this; she doesn't need to hear this, I wouldn't be able to articulate it properly, it's not a necessary discussion and it's not necessarily my job. "There is a tide in the affairs of men..." and so on.

But for myself, I've experienced that tide, several times. It ends when it ends, with nothing to systematically say how or why they do, just as they begin when they begin, without a fair means of predicting their onset. Riding them, or even trying to exploit them at all, has generally yielded indifferent results. Trying to anticipate the end, too, does nothing to alleviate the harshness of the end... witness, for example, how many highly intelligent, sophisticated and eminently reasonable people failed disastrously at anticipating and preparing for the end of the last economic lucky streak, and I don't think that was for want of trying.

This ties into a broader obsession I've had over a great deal of time, now, on the nature of the responsibility of memory, the cumulation of experience that then exerts an inexorable influence on my actions. My day-to-day tempo has predictably slowed; remembering what I've done and why, what I haven't done and why not, seeps into the active moments of doing things and not doing things, in a way that endangers my health, but that I find unavoidable.

In performance, my instinct and my desire now tends to more and more action, physically and emotionally, of greater depth and magnitude, as a way of counterbalancing this instinctive suspension that occurs in the rest of my waking life. Oh, these late 20s...

M's play is finished, and with any luck, nothing will have happened this weekend to undermine her budding momentum. She has a habit of eating as many as 4 pounds of sunkist orangines during our sessions, one after the other, the slices disappearing as quickly as she can speak. By the end of our sessions, she invariably has entire sculptures of orange peels dominating the table.

In the hope of learning something of how to sustain her kind of momentum, I believe I'll take up orangine eating now.




Years ago, A. was visiting her family, and we spent some time together. Neither of us happened to be in relationships at the time, and, after some tentative circling, we drew together again, surprised and moved by how hungry we were for our memories of ourselves. And for a while it was like when we were in high school, and we were lovers again, physically and emotionally intimate in a way that fed us, sated our appetites, like we had in our hands all we wanted from the world. I remember the shape of her mouth when we kissed, familiar and as known--really known--as if it were my own mouth, which it was, and the feel of her body nestled against mine, the shapes and the softnesses, the subtle changes, even then, from the few handful of years before, when we were still together.
I am so grateful, as time goes by, to have experienced such love. Which was not, which never felt fated to be lasting, and we never treated it as such. But we lived it, nevertheless, so fully, that I still feel the comfort of it, the knowing familiarity of it, like a sweater I could put on in the cold. My memories of sensory things--the touch of her tongue, the light of her eyes, the softness of her hips--are so vivid, their ghosts play at my senses, in the space between dreaming and waking. I sometimes wish I could forget the intervening years, casually misplace my maturity, and be again who I remember being then.




Why Are We Here?

[Note: below is a draft speech I composed for the Playwrite Showcase last week. I was asked to host and it was awesome. The speech I ended up giving was shorter and more tailored and worked just fine, but I like the broader points here so much that I'm posting it here, where I should be posting more things if only I had the wherewithal.]

My name is Paul Susi, I'm your MC tonight, blah blah blah...

Why are we here? That's the first question the lead coach asks every day of the Playwrite workshop program. It's a great question, it works on several levels: #1. It's easy. Most of us will know in real terms, why we enter a given room before we do. Unless, of course, we don't. 2. The question goes, "Why are WE here?" Which is great, it lays the groundwork for a collaboration between equally dedicated people, as opposed to the status differences of teacher and student. 3. "Why are we HERE?" We focus attention on the task at hand--not the big picture that paralyzes, not the home situation or the school or the rest of the endless reasons to do nothing, say nothing, write nothing--no, this room, this moment, this thing right now.

In the big picture, US household wealth went from 64 trillion in 2007 to 51.5 trillion by the end of 2008. 13 trillion evaporated. Oregon's deficit in this biennium is 850 million. The Literary and Education Dept.s of two major theatres in this city have disappeared, almost overnight. Which means we in the theatre community have mortgaged our futures, just as much as everybody else.

So Why are we here? Realists and cynics, who are perfectly rational and even lovable people, oppose arts funding for entirely understandable reasons. "How can we fund your thing," they ask, when I need to fund hospitals and schools and all those other things, too? What makes what you do more deserving, more real, than all those other priorities?"

Each of us in this room, every beating heart gathered here tonight has a stake in what happens, up on this stage. We are parents and teachers, counselors, coaches, actors and writers, and all of us, every single one of us, living, breathing humans that think and feel. But what we do here, everything from these last two years' worth of workshops to this night with you in this space here and now, is somehow less substantial, less quantifiable--less real--than the 13 trillion that evaporated last year. It's less real than the big pictures that paralyze--the endless reasons not to act, not to hope, not to write.

I'm at once both a realist and a fool, deeply serious and a deeply whimsical man. I believe that truth happens in the space between the irreconcilable, in the impossible places, the backbreaking moments between our writers and our coaches. Between humans.

In this theatre tonight you're going to see the impossible. Singing typewriters, needy toothbrushes, gophers who can't dig. An organization that fights tooth and nail for that most impossible of things, the 1 to 1 ratio. And most impossibly of all, an whole host of playwrights and songwriters who've spent most of their lives surrounded by realists telling them to do less, try less, hope for less.

Every word you hear sung or spoken tonight--aside from mine--was written by these humans seated up front. We're here tonight to recognize that, and to recognize all of our collective parts in that achievement.

I say the world outside is filled with impossible, imaginary, unreal things, bigger than any one of us, more than we know what to do with. We're here tonight, the reason why we're here is so that the rest of us can somehow learn from these writers, how to do the impossible.

So turn off your cell phones, forget about the big picture. Halfway through, there'll be a 15 minute intermission. And at the end of the evening, and again tomorrow, and again a week from now, I dare all of us to ask ourselves again, why are we here?




Excerpt from my Letter to B

...What does feel new at this point, at least to me, is a growing trust in the intuitive course of these issues. The back-and-forth, call-and-response quality of my vocational questings do seem to seamlessly fold into each other, piece by piece and slowly resolving into a larger whole, serene in its contradictions. Without any substantive evidence to say so, somehow I'm still convinced of the correctness of all this. Similarly, Plutarch didn't cite the decline of oracles as proof the gods don't exist; instead, he affirms that "the god's abandoning of many oracles is nothing other than his way of substantiating the desolation of Greece." Which I interpret to mean, in my own, sybilline fashion, that even my ample evidence attesting that I have no real idea what I'm doing, indicates only that my decisions are mine to make, and not that I don't exist, say, or that they're being arbitrarily made for me by an indifferent power, or such like. This is encouraging, I feel. One less thing to worry about, you know?




Letter to L and E

...Things go well here in Portland, though not without frustration. Sushiland just isn't the same without you unsavory types.

Your cookies in January inspired me, I think. Lately I've been coaching with an awesome group called Playwrite, in which coaches are paired up one-on-one with at-risk kids to write plays. Last week my writer was a 16 yr. old foster kid and abuse survivor in a residential rehab, a cutter on self-harm watch with pretty destructive and caustically cynical tendencies. Now, I think of myself as a relatively tough customer. Like I could beat you up easy, E, just a couple of quick jabs and a decent uppercut and you're done. L, that's harder because she's so cunning... But for whatever reason, for all kinds of reasons, this writer started getting to me. 3 hour sessions would leave me exhausted, like I'd just stormed through a 10 hour day. Keeping my humor and my composure began getting harder and harder.

Somehow, somewhere in there I remembered your cookies. Your splendid, splendid cookies, perfect little roundels of richly chewy wondrousness. Savory coasters of hope on which to rest my overflowing goblet of despair.

Encouraged and made determined by your example, I picked up an old recipe for Chinese almond cookies. Eggs! Almonds! Baking powder! Two whole sticks of butter! Emboldened rather than discouraged, and with your delicious examples enshrined in my memory, I quickly set to work.

At first, all I'd hoped for was something tasty to feed myself. But somewhere along the way (halfway through cutting up both sticks of butter into baby-pea sized bits), it dawned on me that the heaviness of the day was leaving me. Even more so when I was kneading the dough, my hands and fingers buttery-shiny and puffs of flour all over myself.

Since we can't give gifts to our writers, the next day I gave my fellow coaches as many cookies as I had left over, and then stopped at Powell's to pick up a cookie cookbook. Finally, I now have a relatively safe and legal outlet with which to satiate my remorseless urge to deprive the world of its butter supply.

As you may be able to tell from all this, I continue to move forward underemployed, skating along on an empty tank from paycheck to paycheck. Prospects abound, and such work as I do have slowly but surely leads to more. I have days where it feels like I'm holding my life together, with both hands and barely (as I seem to say with increasing frequency). But I also have days where tide and time are resolute allies, and the whole world is commonly conspiring to quietly favor my bravest designs. There's a vintage WWII era British poster that aptly captures the moment for me. On a socialist-red background, spelled out in big block letters, very simply, the words, "Keep Calm and Carry On." The whole thing surmounted by the British Imperial Crown.

My experimental theatre group, The FORGERY, unveiled our first little piece two weeks agoi in a bar/music venue stage. Untitled, the piece ran for less than 20 minutes, following a series of mundane characters leading repetitive and colorless lives. Gradually, their world is overrun by living sleeping bags. The whole thing had no dialogue, and we had original (and very specifically timed) music underscoring everything, in the Four Tet-early Radiohead-Aphex Twin vein. It was wonderfully awesome.

Our audience loved us, and we even surprised ourselves to discover that we'd actually succeeded in crafting a decent piece. Plans are in train to do more, and more, and yet more.

I'm advocating a paradigm for theatre, where we move away from six-week runs, and tech weeks, and even one-night-only's. What if a complete Work takes place over the course of an evolving year, built from a constellation of diverse pieces--puppetry, movement, text--lasting only as long as each piece needs to last, minutes or hours. Each piece is one evening, in a found space, perhaps different each time, and it's defined by being both complete in itself and also yet one more star in a slowly unfolding constellation.

The audience gets to drop in at any point--it's non-linear storytelling--and maybe we get to repeat ourselves, revisit and revise pieces as we continue to craft the larger Work over a longer period of time...




Evening Incident Report

I was biking home late the other night on N Williams, here in Portland, when I saw a man passed out on the sidewalk. It was maybe 2:30 am, and from the thin, tell-tale trail of wet leading downslope from him, I could guess he'd pee'd himself.

Even at this late hour, there were three or four passersby in hailing distance; one casually smoking a cigarette twenty feet away from him, probably a nurse on break from the nursing home next door; a couple walking their bikes home, stepping off the sidewalk to go around him; and a fuzzier gentleman living on the streets, with a rucksack and stained jeans, walking in the opposite direction. All four were studiously ignoring the prone figure in their midst.

I stopped at the corner, walked my bike back and watched for a second. He was curled on his side in the fetal position, blocking the breadth of the sidewalk, and his back rose and fell regularly, a good sign. He looked to be in his early 30s, black male, glasses, wearing a plush dark tracksuit, plain sneakers, and there was a baseball cap on the ground next to him. His sweater was zipped up covering his face. Likely he had simply had too much to drink, but my medical brain saw the urine trail and worried that, in adults, unconscious urination can be evidence of trauma, seizures or lord knows what-all. Further, at this late hour with a hidden moon, visibility was poor, and the urine trail could be a blood trail. Even a minimal blood loss could be fatal on a cold night like this. Also, if he hadn't lost his wallet and other valuables already, he would likely lose them before the sun came up again.

I called 911 before approaching him, because my neighborhood is sadly, slowly reverting to the early 90's violence, and I'm paranoid about situational traps. (This is what happens after watching a decade's worth of Law and Order franchises.) With the operator on the line I tried to wake him up, which took some doing. At this point, the smoker guiltily pretended to just notice us and started calling 911, too.

He was slurring his speech, pretty confused, answering everything in monosyllabic, vaguely affirmative grunts. I asked him if he wanted an ambulance, and he said he did, repeatedly.

In the five minutes we waited together for the ambulance, the man stayed in the fetal position, looping in and out of consciousness.

"Are you on your way home somewhere?" I asked him.

"MLK," he replied.

"Did you have too much to drink tonight?"

"Uuuh, yeah..."

"You want the ambulance, right?"

"Yeah. Ambulance. Yeah."

"Try to stay with me, man. Don't pass out again, okay?"

At this point, he started sobbing, violently.

"What's wrong? You okay? What's going on?" Panicking, I was worried that I hadn't checked him over, that maybe he actually did have a traumatic injury and I hadn't told the 911 operator, so the ambulance wasn't rushing and he might be bleeding out or something. But I didn't want to check him over in case there was a weapon and I might provoke something, and without gloves or a wound kit (and three or four drinks in my own system), I was pretty well useless anyway.

"No, no, ahhh..." he said, as the fire truck and the ambulance pulled around the corner.

I stepped back to let the paramedics do their thing. I passed along what I knew and why I called to one of the firefighters, who thanked me and shook my hand. I slowly biked away.

Post-event, I've this habit of rigorously questioning everything I do or say in situations like these. Why didn't I ask one of those passersby to stick around, maybe make the call instead of me? That way, I could've conceivably looked him over to rule out the scarier things. Was I in any way limited in action or intention by any kind of racism? My reluctance look him over, my hesitation as he sobbed, my Law and Order-style paranoia... The most I can ever hope for in these purely ad-hoc, drive-by situations, is to do no harm. That, and to hope that he'll be okay. I chewed on this as I arrived at my apartment, greeted the neighborhood cats, and tucked in for the night.




Unsent Letters New Year Edition

Dear J--

...I've grown to loathe myself lightheartedly. As an artist and a teacher, I find my learned voice to be ponderous, alienating and obtuse, too often obsessed with things no one else has the time of day for, and too poorly equipped to convince them otherwise. But then, neither am I so inclined to condemn myself over those issues as I otherwise would have only a few days ago. I'm well-suited to be the outlier, speaking from beyond the familiar and pliable confines of the mainstream. true, in this reading of myself, I'm aspiring to an unhealthy, hubristically ambitious oracular status; but that's what I find so amusing, what leads to the lightheartedness.

I like that there's this impulsive, brazen voice inside me that likes to pick fights with conventional wisdoms, pronounce with complete confidence on matters over which I have the flimsiest grasp--and all of this usually in support of those I love; or, if not that, then ranged implacably against the thousand-and-one enemies wrongfully hounding them and theirs. I like that this voice asserts itself most prominently when the rest of me is most uncertain and fearful. I like that this voice can be trusted for such things, by far the most reliable thing about me. I can accept its price; I can accept the consequence that I am less likely to be regularly employed, and that I'm prone to frequent and discouraging changes of fortune.

I mention all of this because I'm convinced a kindred voice operates within you. Given this world and these circumstances of our current incarnations, and the similar modes of pride prevailing within us both, a tempered awareness of the multitudes within is invaluable, and the brazen voice in particular needs to be well-tended to.

I worry that your 'brazen voice,' made brittle by difficult and grindingly consuming work..., lashes out against yourself--raising havoc against your health and your conscience. In this context, while our histories are far from identical, nevertheless I speak from analogous experience... As your friend who loves you deeply, my intention is to do all I can in support of your health and your conscience (the two being inextricably interconnected)...

If you allow your brazen self room and time to speak fully and openly, I believe (paradoxically, it may seem) that it can be your surest compass navigating the storms and the calms of these worlds. Because your brazen voice is none other than your own heart, as it is with me, headstrong and unyielding. Given leave to speak, it will only speak truthfully. Constrained against itself, nothing is safe.

All of this may be entirely self-evident; indeed, perhaps already moot. Believe that these are the meanderings of a loving and trusting, if no less brazen heart of my own.

You asked after the job hunt: quite difficult, though I am strangely euphoric about it. The economy in Portland, like with the rest of the country, continues to stumble around in a gibbering, self-defecating stupor. My reserves are officially exhausted. I've strung together some teaching gigs that are entirely inadequate, and I'm more dependent than ever on the Filipino-Russian mafia, which would be deeply disconcerting for me except that this long operational pause--in which I wander through endless and frequent interviews, applications forms and so forth--has forced me to think even more deeply about my path, really hash out the core assumptions in ways I couldn't well do before. Down-and-dirty processing, as you would put it.

At first, as you might expect, this was a painfully tortuous experience, my health and conscience sizzling like bacon fat in a cast-iron skillet. Clearly, the means and methods by which I've sustained myself for the last several years, culminating in what was supposedly the most propitious of conditions in the last few months, then to drift and decay in the last six weeks, cannot be carried on. It's time for a change.

Once that key premise is established, everything opens up. My chief occupation now is the wholesale re-conception of everything I am. It's daunting; everything's in question, starting with whether performance will continue to be a priority for me. I know you've experienced similarly radical re-evaluations of your own course and ideals: the terror of these days when all things must change, and the dangerous excitement at confronting so many possibilities on such a scale.

It's like I'm shopping for fruit, squeezing and poking the juicy bits of my life. Some things just aren't ripe yet; others are long past their sell-by date...