Root and Branch

This one diffused and startled moment

When the light drifts on the current,

And you are far away, but emphatically connected,

Because these gardens of memory grow within me,

Tendrils scrolling through the low crumbling stones,

Great swaying trees, evergreen monuments to the endless words,

Branching from one another, spoken and not, the understandings,

The mis-taken, the branches that are bare fruitless lines

Of what we failed to say,

Whole hillsides of rolling wildgrass faces, voices, strays,

Deep roots unseen and unsuspected, coiling within and into

One another, moments into each other, hours that tap wellspringing

Years and nights and seconds,

In the rich pungent soil of me,

The wet

Pooling in the cupped loam,

The wet of your kisses, of your tears, the wet between your legs,

The mingled wet of sweat and the salt trace of pure body, de-composed,

The elemental grains of decay and life, dust impregnated with nourishment,

The unending thirst for you, the gravity and the reaching, root and branch.

You are far away, but emphatically connected, you are the root and the branch,

My garden is overgrown with you.

In these moments, as the light ebbs, and my wakefulness

Is the low berm of heavy stones crumbling at my feet,

The taste of your soil lingers, the grains and the wet,

The cup of the belly swells in the starving dark,

The soil slowly mingles memory with longing

And nourishes improbably,

The autumnal garden made to bloom again.


OR 7

Every smell

And every stone and

The turning lip of brine

In the bend of the running stream

Are all precious facts,

Spraying like the mist of your breath in the cold,

And I am faithfully tracking

All of it,

Because I'm still looking for you.

I know these roads.

That's the rock face

I lost my light to.

There's the beach where we kissed,

Beyond the tunnel,

Mingling, starfishes

And handprints.

I still have no light

And the road is longer

And colder than

I remember it should be,

But I am still looking for you.

I can still hear

My mother's howls.

It's possible, just,

To be joyfully sad,

To long for what I willfully left behind.

Because I am still looking for you.



There are these great trees out my window,

They live exuberantly. They live

Balanced on the surface of the seasons

Throwing their long-grown colors at me.

Their hands are stiff in the naked air,

Their shadows ignore the light altogether,

They whisper in the language of tides,

They do not know the words for regret,

That we know, have always known, so well.

I wish I knew

How to feel

The way they must feel

The passage of time.

It must be

That their days are our years,

That our hours are their moments.

The running lights of night and day

Are exhalations

That we unknowingly

Release from within,






They live exuberantly,

Because they live careless

Of those hours, those running lights,

The many colors thrown at my feet.

And my hands are stiff in the cold air,

I do not always see the light,

And my moments last hours,

Falling like leaves

From the sky of my opened heart.




Letter to K, 10 April 2011

(Aside: I'm still working on this Iliad thing. I'm just moving in a strange timesense, is all.)

Dear K--

I'm working on a strange, heathenish, practically self-immolating piece about the Iliad and social work. Enclosed you'll find a rough copy of my notes.

I performed a version of what you'll be reading a week [sic] ago, at the Someday Lounge, a bar and music venue in Portland's Old Town. I wore a ragged set of mechanic coveralls, I used a microphone, and I had onstage a milkcrate concealing 2 bota bags of cheap Shiraz. I merely read off what you're seeing, plus some additional lines about what a Sacrifice is, and whether the Gods prefer flesh or wine, and then I demonstrated how to proplery sacrifice to the Gods, concluding by emptying half-a-bota-bag of wine over myself.

This piece is already growing of it's own volition. It wants to be more physical than these notes convey. it's a mingling of the radioactive obsession I have with Ajax and Diomedes from the Iliad, plus my equally radioactive vocation for Incident Reports--

--also enclosed please find an Utne article discussing why I love Incident Reports. Now, my IR tone is not quite so dispassionate as a police academy would require, but the purposefulness, and the incisive, persistent agendas are definitely there, hidden yet inexorable in the identity of the writer, of their authorship.

The Latin 'auctoritas' is at the root our words--and, I argue, our understandings--for 'author,' 'authority,' 'act,' and 'actor.' Auctoritas signifies a creator's responsibility for their work; the ability to call things as you see it; the 'doing' of things, more so than the 'planning' of things.

When I write Incident Reports, I see it both as a (supposedly) dispassionate act of recording, of witnessing what's happened; but more so I see the writing of it as an act of auctoritas, an exercise of the subliminal agenda...

...for more often than note, the Incident Reports I write tend to be a cry in the dark, the only response our purportedly rational world will sanction, in the face of such terrifying things as whatever I happen to be writing about.

And that's pretty much exactly how I feel about the Iliad, and about really good and penetrating performance work. At their best, so many of the works I really care about in this world are cries in the dark, hopeless but desperately brave confrontations against obscene odds, ultimately useless but also, mystically, enough. Profoundly enough.

There's a vein there that I need to mine, about loyalty in the more current context, or surrender; and piety or trust in the meta-context...

As it is, there's solid stuff for maybe 7 minutes. But the veins are rich beyond telling. As I write this my mind's eye ravenously wanders throughout, as distracted in the detail as I am in the telling of all this. I'm confident of building something really special, but there's quite a lot of work to do, clearly.

And I'm just beginning to realize, in the wake of performing what I have on 1 April, that in fact the real work is happening through and during actually performing, with an audience on top of me... Jad Abumrad talks about how he designs Radiolab's sound for the 4th or 5th listen. What if that deliberate meticulousness was radically mixed with the ultimately ephemeral ethic of performance? Stringent, manic, visceral qualities evolving each time I perform, with new and freshly discovered substance/text, borne aloft by a durably built structure, a set of fixtures, pole stars around which all these constellations revolve.

Thus, in, say, a 6 show run, every night is different, a progression through the themes, but each night is held together by the same hinge-pins. And each of those hinges grow, and emerge more and more clearly with the telling...




The Clackamas Project

I just finished teaching in a kickass project in Clackamas County. The link is to an Oregonian article, talking in broad terms about it. Below are the answers I sent to some questions the Oregonian reporter asked me via email, recorded here for old times' sake.


I’m a professional theatre artist and educator in our fair city. I am being paid for my time. I also work for PlayWrite, Inc., working with at-risk youth to write and develop plays, and then stage them with professional actors. And I work for Janus Youth Programs’ Buckman House, a residential transitional facility for juvenile sex offenders.

I believe very strongly in the totality of community. That is, in order to be a fully-functioning human being in community with others, I believe that we must accept and acknowledge the dysfunctional, the underprivileged—the adjudicated—just as much as the functional, the privileged, the innocent. Roman playwright Terence, himself an emancipated slave, wrote, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.” And I believe he meant that we all have the capacity, and, in some ways, the responsibility, to look to the horrifying as much as the beautiful, the tragic and terrible and sublime all together. We are derelict in our responsibilities as citizens if we simply ignore what we do not understand. I believe much suffering we experience as a community arises from the collective amnesia and myopathy that we impose on ourselves.

I’ve led performance workshops for advanced drama students, for at-risk/homeless students, for students with behavioral issues, for students with substance abuse issues. I believe that performance is more than flashiness, or sexiness, or even talent. Live performance is a means for an individual to speak clearly and specifically for their own perspective, to an audience assembled for that purpose. Shelley believed that poets are “the unsung legislators of mankind,” by which I think he meant that real art is not merely an exercise in vanity, but an honest and meaningful attempt to make sense of the world, to govern ourselves in the best way, to harness creativity and passion for the greater inspiration of us all.

I’m working with these students to discover and refine that which is redemptive and honest in their own experiences, and give the beginnings of form to that. The stakes are real; audiences are wonderfully equipped to see through bullsh*t. My goal with these students is simply to open the door of possibilities that giving voice and audience to their creativity can mean for each of them, individually.

I do this work because, at my core, I identify with the prejudices and obstacles they live with. I was an angry, dysfunctional young student with a troubled home life, I’ve never been comfortable with authority structures, I deal with assumptions about my behavior or attitude that bear no basis in reality to this day.

As an artist, I’m exhausted by work that merely perpetuates a privileged, myopic, superficial perspective of the world. I’m sick and tired of endless productions of the same misogynistic, milk-toasty plays or movies or music. Now, ironically, Shakespeare—who epitomizes “safe” establishment work—saved my live when I was 14. Theatre performance was the cathartic channel that allowed me to develop healing perspective over my own emotional traumas.

As an educator I’m specifically drawn to the underprivileged, because as an artist I know that the real work to come, is not going to come from people emulating Shakespeare or even any other mainstream figures now current; the work that will save lives, the way Shakespeare saved mine, will come from those who break rules and struggle at every level, and mightily, the way Shakespeare himself once did.


How to Fight Gods

These are rough notes for a one-man piece I'm developing. I performed a version of this text at the Someday Lounge on 1 April, with a microphone, myself in dingy mechanic's coveralls, and a milkcrate hiding two bota bags of cheap Shiraz. Note that this wants to be more than these notes indicate now. I don't know what it will be, but it's already growing. The version I performed included a section on How to Make A Proper Sacrifice, addressing the question of whether the Gods prefer flesh or wine or both. At the end of which, I emptied a bota-bag over my head.


1. Try not to fight a God. This is hard. You usually don't actually know if you're fighting a God until after S/He's finished unwinding your guts for you. But there are signs. Say, your knife breaks. Or a bird sh*ts on you. Or an earthquake and a tidal wave and radioactive disease wipes out a bunch of your people. That's when you know you're fighting a God. You should back off.

2. It's hard enough, fighting mortals. Have you ever, actually, really fought someone? The human hand has 273 individual bones. That's 273 moving parts that can break, that can send little shoots of pain to crawl up your rippling arms, to sear your massive shoulders, grab you by the neck and take you down to your knees, sobbing like a child over the mangled, bloody ruin of your once splendid hand. (I don't actually know if there are 273 bones in your hand. I made that up.)
But I don't give a f*ck how brave you are. I don't give a f*ck about your brains, or your strength. How pretty you are. How much money you have. Your Mama or your Daddy. What counts for more than any of that, is How You Handle Pain.

3. There are more kinds of Pain than there are people in this world. And you don't have to get hit to feel pain. You can't take the cream out of the coffee, you know. Bullets only travel in one direction. Talk all you want, talk all day and all through the night. But you will never un-say that thing you said.

[Briseis Section]
It's never actually about the thing right in front of you. Achilles quit the war because of Briseis and you think, what the f*ck?, right? A girl? He steps away because of a girl. What's the sense in that? Bullsh*t sense is what that is. Let me talk about Briseis for a second.

She's the 20-year old with her tits popping out all the damn time, she's the one with the pale eyes and the parted lips, the thighs you can't stop thinking about, the neighbor's daughter that you can't get out of your head. Or maybe she's your own daughter, you sick f*ck. Because this is the thing about Briseis: it's wrong.

It's f*cking wrong. All of it. This whole godd*mn war is a f*cking sex crime gone nuclear, our lives are getting f*cked in front of our very eyes. Helen, sh*t.

Briseis was just some pretty young thing who Apollo loves. Or doesn't, depending on your point of view. And because she's sacred, okay, because she's off-limits, like you don't touch her with a finger much less your diseased little prick unless you want the Divine Archer to mulch your nuts with a corkscrew--

Because of all that, why, of course you can't take your eyes off her. She's forbidden. Sacrosanct. She's hidden in plain sight, she's the One Who Got Away, she's the coy pair of eyes that belie the little "no" her full, gentle, sweetly parched lips whisper in your ear.

I'm speaking now to the men in this room. Sons. Do you not feel the rage welling in you? You're a working man. Your work is personal, you work with purpose. We were brought here to do something real. And hard. A task for grown men and heroes. You're not asking for anything less than your due.

You glimpse the small of her back, the arc of her throat, the easy mellow wine of her voice, and these are your riches, this is your worldly wealth. Her freckles are stars on the sky of her body, and you can count each one of them. She hums softly in the kitchen, in the car, in the bath where she thinks you can't hear. Her arms fold around your shoulders just so, and her legs wrap around you the way a net wraps a gasping fish.

I don't think he's heard the bad news, that his best friend is dead. But I can't see any Greek who could do that job. They're all lost in dark mist, their horses too. Father Zeus, deliver the Greeks from the dark. Make the sky clear. Allow us to see with our eyes. Destroy us in the light, since destroy us you will.

[Close Holds]
4. In a Close-Hold Engagement, the objective is not just to neutralize the subject. The objective is to remove all uncontrolled elements from the situational context. What does this mean? Regarding the hostile subject, this means definitively, and if necessary forcefully denying that subject the means to violently dispute your authority. Close-Hold Tactics are designed to immobilize, to incapacitate. Your body is a lever. Your tactics, your choices that you make: what to say, how to say it. A lunge, a thrown fist. The kind of knot only you tie. The way you pivot against a wrist, the slow squeeze, your knees against his chest, the firm, steady grip on his throat and your open palm smothering his face, holding him down under the water... Close-Hold Tactics magnify your physical strength, your body, your will. You're built for maximum force in minimal amounts of time. It's not just instinct, it's systemic reaction, cascading operations designed and directed to maximize force in a specific, highly confined moment.

You have a god inside you. This is where you remember who you are.

best, paulmonster-ajax


Letter to L.

Dear L--

I don't know where to start. All kinds of drama, and good things, too. I miss you, of course; daily I encounter at least half-a-dozen stirring or strange things blooming throughout our conceited little city, things I note down in my addled brain to talk to you about, but then I always remember you're in another hemisphere, and then I get all curt and snappish, if at the House, or mopey and distracted, if at Workshop.

We're at WS right now. My writer is having twins. She nearly gave birth on the last day of Week 1, and they had to rush her to OHSU before we even saw her that day, because her babies aren't actually due until the end of May. And we've just started Week 2.

I've evolved into the resident Willy for every demonstration of Death of a Salesman; previously, I'd been the reigning Hamlet. I'm personally happier--Willy has more ground to cover, with less cultural baggage, fewer cognitive obstacles than Hamlet. But there's also some pressure. Wily is not an easy piece to play. I usually get wiped out on Day 1 as a result.

Due to the vagaries of the Workshop hierarchy, I now possess sufficient rank to regularly lead day 3 or 4 of Week 1 and compete with M for leading workshops L or K aren't available for. Which is strange, considering I don't believe myself to be that more skilled than P or A, who are next in standing. But with C gone, T unwilling to lead whole workshops and likewise A, and with this glaring you-shaped hole in the room, we make do with what we got.

And I'm not even going to go into all the sad disasters at the House. Suffice to say that Mr. P is gone; I now assist V in the Level 2 groups; someone f'ed-up next door and now we can't afford paper towels or relief staff; the guys have come out to every single Workshop performance except RM, and I'm already looking at other jobs. And that's just the big-picture stuff.

There's a rhythm now, that I know you're familiar with, between the Workshop world and the House world. I'd built similar rhythms of my own in my other working-life setups. It's dangerous because, as I get better at it, I get safer. My ideas and my tactical choices--how to handle writers/clients in crisis, how to apporach the long days when they all stack up on top of one another, how to write a proper progress note--which is a whole new thing, by the way, we now have to note everything with real attention to detail, and we can't give a guy units unless their MSP reflects the activity as an established objective... you can imagine how thrilled N is by this. The guys, too, such as they are... so now the last hour or two of every shift is spent noting what's been done, and while I personally kind of enjoy and appreciate this--it makes us more communicative, more deliberate and ultimately useful--I also know it takes time away from actually working with the guys. And on a busy day, this is crippling...

But my point is, as time goes on and I gradually get better at stuff, this work gets tamer, it loses my interest, as the urgency to solve things cools, and the not-sexy drudgery of simply doing the long, not-mysterious work it takes to actually do things, emerges.

But by nature I'm built on triage principles, and my ability to deal effectively with crisis stems from a kind of amnesia I suffer, an emotional amnesia, where the grand and staggering insights or the truthful and epic experiences are, not so much forgotten, but sealed away in various chambers, cleared from the decks in order to be ready for the next thing.

This 'clearing of the decks,' is what makes things get successively easier over time. It's troubling to me, that I've drawn myself together with essentially self-confining and self-sabotaging features, a built-in and gradual self-destruct mechanism, without which I would probably be busy destroying the world right now.

Instead of which, I'm now finally moving, inch by excruciating inch, on developing my own work--about which I'm too close and too vulnerable to go into detail here just yet. But I am performing on 1 April, which is apt, as I'm pretty much a fool for doing this, and in so little time.

B is making more noises about developing post-Workshop stuff for successful writers, and of course in my insomniac moments I toss and turn and wrestle with half-formed, fiery ideas about what to do and how to make it work. I'm in touch with Clackamas County Youth Corrections to put together a performance program there, too.

But these are like a small pageant of paper lanterns floating along on a vast, long, dark river, of which I can only see so much. These and more beatiful and terrible little things, proud of themselves, but only so much, while the endless current carries them along, and I do not know where this current leads, I only know it's strong.

Travel safely, you. I can't wait to compare notes with you, and share a drink, and maybe plot our next podcast again--




Letter to S, 3 Feb 2011

Hey S--

It flatters me, of course, that you think of me as a hidden guardian of Portland. it's true that a great deal of my masculine psyche has been built on crimefighting- and masked-hero- foundations. Thus, our mossy city broods under the weight of its many hidden crimes, and I am its avenging conscience, flitting about with only my bike and my pack for company...

...actually, I spend less and less time actually biking, and more and more driving the PlayWrite carpool. We're at Rosemont right now, which always makes me wish I had daughters of my own, strange to say. These writers have so much imagination and feeling, as you know, and yet I live such a starved and secluded life, quite literally a sentence for most of them to endure. Most are clearly in desperate need of a hug, which is of course so strictly forbidden.

Prior to this we did New Aves, which L ably led, and prior to that the Showcase and Portland Night High School. We have Mt. Scott immediately after Rosemont concludes in two weeks, then White Shield actually overlapping a little bit. As far as I can tell, there's no real reason why our operational tempo has stepped up so dramatically, excepti8ng the usual varying requirements of individual sites. Concurrently, it seems like PlayWrite's current coach roster is the thinnest it's been in a long time, with the old guard all but gone, and the newbies not quite sticking, for various reasons. When I think about it, the weird synergy of B, the fatalistic exuberance of A, the strange grandiosity of T, the cold fervor of C--it's a wonder that any of us can sustain the centrifugal forces at work throughout.

I remain as vulnerable financially as I've ever been, perhaps more so, and it gets harder and harder to justify the sacrifices necessary to maintain my PlayWrite availability. This, I know, is the core of my difficulties right now, a tough little knot to solve. It's deeply important to me that, of all the work I'm doing, I can honestly say I fully and deepl.y believe in their core missions. All my works are built on roots of service and selflessness, the conviction that meaning and purpose are indispensable, in all things; and to do anything without meaning is ultimately wasteful. The problem with these values, is that selflessness necessarily leads to a neglect of self, a fundamental dynamic that I believe is responsible for why, in our fair city, a typical individual in social services makes so very little, compared to the vast majority of our peers; and that same dynamic prevails in performance, where work of substance and quality is somehow held to be far less valuable than the insubstantial, the superficial.

I take it on faith that my information remains incomplete. Ultimately, I refuse to conclude that these values, as thus described, are as unsustainable as my current experience indicates. But this is a close-run thing. It's a high-stakes game here at PJS HQ, and we play for keeps up in this here piece.

"Elsewhere" V. II is a pretty big success right now, I'm happy to say. We sold out all but one of our originally scheduled 5 performances during the scattershot Fertile Ground Festival, and we've thus decided to extend two more performances, just for the joy of it, really. Ellen wrote 4 new pieces, and even though, once again, we generally felt rushed and strained through the rehearsal process, Tech and Dress felt like an ample and healthy process, for once, and quite suddenly--without actually putting that much thought to things, really--I find myself surprisingly proud of our work, in a way I rarely am, in my experience.

Now, Shaking the Tree Studios, where we're performing, seats only 55 in our current setup, so a Sold Out house is not, in fact, all that hard to engineer. But it is authentic and truthful, to know that we as a company have grown in the interval since August, and the pieces we've carried over since then have grown quite a lot, too...

Let me know how things go in Lombardy, as you can. I've been remiss in following your blog, I'm afraid, but I will check in there soon, too. Know that your friendship and your talent are very dearly missed out here--




Excerpt, Letter to C, Draft

...I closely identify wit the need to love and be loved. I regularly brim over with grief and bewilderment at my own loneliness. But ultimately, I'm rooted here in this kind of impoverished exile, because I believe in the work I do, and I see no distinction between what I do and why I do it, and I own the fact that these are crippling standards to maintain. There is no room, realistically, in my cracked and worn-out heart, to fully love another in the way I would need to in order to be so beloved in return. And that's a terribly difficult thing for me to accept.

I just finished a short piece for an evangelical NGO's benefit fundraiser, here in Portland. Compassion First builds and staffs shelters and social agencies for rescued victims of sex trafficking in Indonesia. For all my talk about high moral standards, and how why I do something ought not to be distinct from what exactly is being done, this was an instance where I could happily silence any of my own misgivings about evangelical Christians in SE Asia, particularly as their moral integrity dwarfs mine, the way cedar trees dwarf a patch of scrub grass.

There was very little text, just a handful of statistics supplied by the NGO. There was a small stage, maybe 20 X 20, set in the center of a sea of dinner tables, in the Jantzen Beach Marriott Hotel, which is the kind of sleepy, slightly seedy, down-at-heel corporate establishment that looks like it lost its real luster just after Reagan left office. Seven of us performed a ten-minute piece, that progressed in an arc from playfulness, to violence, to the kind of oppressive sexuality that I necessarily abhor, and, in my professional as well as artistic capacities, I find I spend altogether too much time with (which is another reason why I rely so heavily on Splendid Isolation). All this was thinly veiled in abstracted physical gestural languages, abstracted enough to fit the parameters of our commission, but clear enough to seriously affect our audience, and our own selves.

The Executive Director of Compassion First told us that the main goal in commissioning us, was to give some sense of real faces to the numbing lists of names and numbers. To his credit, the man spoke of how he'd been to an insane number of fundraising banquet functions, and the only ones that had meant anything to him were the ones that had used some form of original, authentic performance to distinguish the reality of their work from the necessary, hollow pageantry of the events themselves. Thus, even as my crypto-Catholic sensibilities were repulsed by the overly earnest, short-sighted and self-centered theological rhetoric typical of the Catholic experience of evangelicals, my instinctively contrarian, anti-establishment artistic self daily grew righteously militant in this cause and these aims.

This is the kind of work I was built for, only I wish there were more of it. And yet it's a matter of no small concern, that I've just effectively wished for more opportunities to perform some seriously fucked-up shit.

Next week is the big PlayWrite Showcase, a big fancy-dress to-do that's a long day of work for me. I won't be performing this time, which is alright, because I will be wrangling writers, hanging lights and getting up onstage to ask for money.

This is, I think, the toughest part of all my non-profit obligations. I exist and I do my work on the sufferance of the idle privileged, those with enough dispensable income to afford not to engage directly with the injustices that assail their consciences. Now, of course I'm grateful for their generosity, but at it's worst I'm made to feel like a servile draught animal, chartered to haul their heavy loads for them. The money is everything, and it's ultimately so little, a pitifully meager resource among a great many others that are far more urgently needed; above all, the need for presence, of mind and heart, real engagement with the real work that needs doing, the kind of unflinching strength and resilience that's beyond price, beyond measure...