Letter to J, 27 December 2010

Dear J--

I have a half-written response to your last kicking around somewhere, and I'll be sending that quite soon. Suffice to say that I love you dearly, and I can't guarantee I won't punch this new Orpheus in the face if I ever meet him, but ultimately, you must do what you must, and I must support that. And my own heart knows how critical it is to love and be loved, and I know what I myself have done to those around me, to those close to me, in the name of such passion, and thus, even as I myself have desired you, and tested y own heart against my own truths, I know your heart is true, that you do what you do for the right reasons and meaningfully.

That aside, I write tonight in crisis. I'm getting as drunk as I can at my neighborhood bar. These days I work at an independent living program for adolescent male sex offenders, which is, as you may surmise, arguably the toughest job I've ever held, which means something, coming from the likes of me.

Tonight, the devil came to pay me a visit. Tonight was one of the toughest shifts I've ever worked--I'll even say right now THE toughest. And keep in mind I've worked with deaths on the scene, several times, and brawled with drunks twice my size, and I've had a twelve-year-old pee on me during a performance.

The shift had 3 distinct phases:

1. I had to ask two guys for U/A drug tests. Now, I've done roughly a million of these in my professional life. Asking grown men to pee in a cup for me is, disturbingly, practically second nature. What was different this time is that I was required to U/A two adolescent male sex offenders, who themselves inevitably have histories of trauma as well as perpetrating abuse. This made a situation already awkward, triply so. It was pulling teeth just to get these guys to comply in the first place (because normally, we do saliva swabs but tonight we're out of saliva swabs so we had to do pee-in-a-cup tests, which require staff to witness the test in order to verify that the client isn't substituting someone else's urine or such.) My guys were none too happy about this.

2. My friend S is looking for an extra hand in her wig dept at OSF, and she thought of me. The contract is ten months.

Now, to be clear, OSF is, for me, the Theatre equivalent of Josef Stalin. I've seen I don't know how many embarrassingly crappy plays there, even as I've seen some good, sterling work, too. (I'd guesstimate the ratio at 1 in 4.) What gets me is that S' offer is $12/hour with unbelievably good benefits, albeit at the Josef Stalin of Regional Theatre in the US as I regard these things. Wheras my current work at Janus Youth's Buckman House pays all of $10.05 an hour, with bullshit benefits, and I'm doing essential work for my community, and it allows me to pick and choose the theatre that I believe in.

I'm convinced there's no right answer to this situation. So much crap springs from OSF, and is perpetuated by their aesthetic, that I don'[t know if I could endure that proximity intact. On the other hand, Buckman House is arguably the most difficult position I've ever held, and I took a pay cut to do it. I've lived beneath the federal poverty line and without health insurance ever since I left the County Library 7 years ago.

3. Tonight, one of my buys disclosed to me the full extent of his offenses. This guy is very warm, very positive, very outgoing, has a good heart, and has some physical and mental limitations. He's bonded with me as a trusted staff member that he feels he can confide in. And tonight, what he disclosed to me... consider the worst, most terrifying scenarios available to your imagination, and then explode them. T's demons are so insidious, so horrifying that I can hardly bear writing about them even as obliquely as this. The SBD therapists at Buckman, who between them have over 30 years experience in the field, have both told me that T's is the worst, most difficult case they've ever seen. For myself, knowing what I now know in his own words, and having dared to verify even the barest facts in his case files, I basically want to stab my eyes out.

Usually, I'm really awesome at being resilient and steady. I see my own work, in a continuous line from Hooper Detox and DePaul straight through now, as a means of fighting living monsters. I'm not even doing the real fighting--obviously, my guys are--and the monsters are basically immortal, confined in each of us, and so each day is a long, grinding, simmering confrontations between these hotly confined forces of good and evil, long hours of patient listening, and the most pig-headed, jackass-stupid and stubborn arguments I've ever had in my life, and then these terrible nights that you just can't predict, that you do your best to be ready for, and now here I'm holding on with all the poetry and philosophy, all the art I know, and all the training I've had, and all the people I love, I'm holding it all in my heart as closely as I can, just to get past this night.

I'm in no state to make any kind of decision on the OSF gig. I've a healthy legion of projects running right now, plenty in train. January and February will hustle past me with alarming quickness, just as these last several months have. I'm at a stand, though. For all my effort and care, I've no community to speak of, no peers who share my values. Even R and CH, they're too invested in a complacent performance world for me to be able to get behind. I can't say I know what to do instead, I wish I did. I've only my own arrogant conscience, my slowly percolating projects, and these monsters to watch day after day, out of which I barely eke out my living...

Know that I adore you, and I'm sending you as much New Year Luck as I can spare--