Monday, September 27, 2010

Applying My Theatre Superpowers While Not On Stage?

Every night last week I drove a half an hour or more to spend 2 or three hours a night in a small room working on a project with people, some of whom had not prepared at all for the event, some of whom tried to take over the entire project, and some of whom would become so nasty at the slightest indication that they would need to compromise that they threw things and yelled at the people in charge. (This behavior coming from someone in their 70's.) Then I'd drive for 30-40 minutes back home every night, sometimes as late as 11:00PM.

Last week came at the end of a five week process during which their were many absences by team members, scheduling conflicts, habitual tardiness, ego driven task driving, and in some cases a total lack of respect for other people.

As of this moment, the end result of the project in many ways has been mediocre, with some semblance of excellence here and there.

The final bit of information regarding all of this? I didn't get paid for any of it.

What I have described is an amateur theatre production of  A Thurber Carnival. More details can be learned by reading my other blog related to acting.

There can be a lot to hate about community theatre. Some of which I have described. Most of which I have no patience to deal with for very long, despite it being rather common in some places and with some actors. I'll admit that the pain to pleasure ratio has slipped slowly towards pain over the last few years in most of my theatrical endeavors. It can become a draining process, with sometimes little reward. And yet I end up doing it anyway.

Why? To begin with, I do it for what it can be. I have been in amazing shows. Rewarding experiences which have forever altered my view of myself, and of performing. Shows that I can promise you have equaled or even surpassed the quality of a professional show you could see any given day. Shows with inspiring, dedicated people, true artists that I would otherwise have not had the chance to meet and befriend. The frequency of such experiences has decreased in my theatre career over the last few years, but I cannot stop looking for the next chance for that to happen.

The fact is, (and I know I will get some flack for saying this), one can be an artist longer, and in more ways in community theatre than one can as a professional. Or in the very least, one has more freedom than an Equity actor would have. Non-Union professional actors have considerably more artistic freedom than unionized actors do, but that is another post for another time. Suffice to say that despite my love for performing, and the very positive feedback I always get on the quality of my performances, I have no motivation to go the, "make it as a professional actor" route at this time. I deal with politics enough as it is...

Yet there is something about acting in the theatre that is connected to what I am. I know this, because like I said, I keep going back to it. Despite the sometimes ultra-high levels of straight up bullshit in theatre, my pain threshold is much higher when I am working on a show. I get pissed at people and their nonsense, don't get me wrong. But when I am in a play, especially one that is going well, I can summon up more energy, find more time, deflect more crap, bear more pain, create more efficiently, and recover from setbacks more rapidly than in any other single endeavor in my life.

In these things acting surpasses even writing for me in terms of input/output ratios, adaptability, productivity, and return on investment. When it goes well, anyway. And even when it does not go well, I still can handle more. If any other endeavor caused as much trouble as theatre can, (especially lately) I would have washed my hands of it long ago. Yet it endures.

It seems clear to me that theatre acting is something for which I am built. (If you need any more proof, consider the fact that I spell it "theatre".) Which to some would indicate that it should be the thing I pursue as a career. Do what you love, and all of that. But as I said, I have no stomach for that. Because then you get into politics. Management. Marketing. Things for which I have almost no stomach in most cases. Yes, I deal with some small aspect of them now, but I would have to marry myself to them to make it as a professional in the conventional way, and I guess despite my passion for the stage, I am Too XYZ to fall in love with such things.

Yet I have been asking myself what I can learn from my nearly ten years as an actor. I know the nuances of it. I continue to build my skills arsenal. I write about it. Most of my friends and network I met through it. I seek greater challenges within it. I have been doing it consistently since the year 2000. 30 shows. Dozens of venues.You know, all of the things the gurus say make you a highly sought after employee??? I mean if I were this deeply entrenched in the world of marketing, or accounting, or journalism, I'd have a full time, high paying job by now. But of course, nothing like that has ever happened. This obvious part of my DNA has never been translated into anything else.

Yet it is more than just a hobby. It's a hobby for some people, or even most people I work with on the stage. But a hobby doesn't give you that kind of strength. Insight. Resilience. Fantasy Football is one of my hobbies. Stage acting is one of my purposes.

But I wonder if there are aspects of it that could also be found elsewhere. Is there something intrinsic in the components of theatre which can also be found in some other field? And if so, would my sometimes superhuman abilities in same translate into the new field? Is there not some sort of career path or paid position that would tap into the same obvious talents I posses? Something that could make me money when I am not on stage, and allow me to enjoy the stage when I am not making money.

This is one reason I have in the last year or so looked around and tried to become involved in arts organizations. One doesn't perform while working for an arts organization, but one does put forth a lot of time and energy into supporting those who do, and educating others about same. I theorized that if I am built for the arts as a performer, some sort of position with organizations that are dedicated to arts and artists would be also benefit from my powers. But I haven't been very successful as of yet, despite Twitter and other such tools. Possibly because one needs a different set of traits to work for an organization than one does to be an artist. Maybe you have to love things like accounting and meetings and such to work well in any type of organization. I don't know.

Either way, I still wonder if these theatrical traits of mine lend themselves to other careers, even outside of the arts. Freelance writing will hopefully take off, and still give me the freedom to pursue whatever I want afterward, but writing can be tiring. It's return is slower. My recovery time from writing a lot is longer. It is a good second place, but to tap the powers I have when in a theatre would change everything. That, at the moment, is one of the goals I have. And one of the main things that makes me what I am, I dare say.

I have mentioned in the past the idea of starting my own non-profit theatre company, based on these same reasons. A company that ran on my own acting principles, and not someone elses. But that isn't a career.

A job doesn't have to make you happy. But one is more likely to be productive, and hence, content with one's job if one is using one's natural talents and engaging in one's desires, right? That way at least work will not prevent one from being happy.

Any ideas on where I might use these superpowers to benefit my non-freelance career?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In Defense of Yelling

Psychopaths often yell and scream in anger. They can also be gruesomely silent, and even polite. (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?)

Very decent, mature, all around good natured people can be soft spoken and calm. They can also be...

Detect a bit of a hitch there? If not, points for you. But for many people, and society in general, I think that those who yell are seen as being de facto unstable. Angry. Bitter people who cannot control their emotions. Anger is seen as an unacceptable emotion, and yelling while angry, a mortal sin.

This attitude on yelling in and of itself make me want to yell.

I have been through the fire in many ways. And have come out of it. I am a more secure person than I was ten or even five years ago. I am introspective, and am getting to know myself more and more as time goes on. I am spiritual and polite. I try to be helpful to those who need it, and I work very hard on forgive those who have wronged me to a certain extent. I am, by most standards that matter to me, a good man.

And when I am angry, I yell. At people. At things. At myself. At nobody. I yell.

Now, I don't yell uncontrollably all the time everywhere when something doesn't work out. I have to be pushed to a limit. (Longer with people, shorter with inanimate objects.) That limit is much further than it was ten years ago, ergo I yell less now. But certain things will push me to the point of yelling faster than other things. Usually when it involves something or someone that is very important to me.

Each of those catalysts could be it's own post, but in general I'll yell when I feel it is the only way to get someone's attention about a very important subject that I feel that are sidestepping. (Life, safety, and innate dignity matters, usually.) I'll yell when I get excited or passionate about something non-personal (A football game. A news story.) And, perhaps most significantly, I will often yell when I am yelled at first. Call me what you will, but to me, to sit back and calmly shake you head and whisper every time somebody yells at you is ceding some of your dignity. Even if it doesn't put you in an all out rage, (and I am almost never in one of those even when yelling) you should meet bluster with bluster, at least the first time out, if that is how the other party is going to play the game. Evens the playing field.

I don't make threats of violence. In most situations, even while yelling I avoid swear words. I do not charge closer to someone when I am yelling at them in a confrontation. (I'll even walk away while yelling sometimes, to put a natural, unthreatening limit on it.) But the fact remains; I do yell. And I often get looked at funny for doing so.

I have never understood why people look at me that way when I do it. Probably because most of the time, I am not yelling. Some I suppose get used to a person who yells all the time, and they get away with it. But the person who doesn't do it as often is judged more harshly, maybe. Or at least causes more confusion.

Plus, when I yell, as with everything I put that much energy into, I do it with passion. If I am going to do it, I am damn sure I am heard.

Bottom line: I think yelling can be cathartic. It can be a relief. It can be an effective tool in extinguishing the far more destructive "slow burn" of silent anger. While some argue that by default if you have reached the point of yelling, you have lost control of yourself, I maintain that yelling, like any other emotional expression can, and should be a controlled situation 98% of the time. There are times and places where it will never do, and those are the times you just leave. But sometime it makes a statement. It gets attention, and at least in my case, I am angry for a lot less time if I allow myself to do it, than if I bottle everything up.

So I wish more people would grow up about yelling. This idea that if I can yell in anger at a quarterback on television, I must by default be capable of beating my girlfriend, (I have gotten that complaint before!) is as unfair as it is silly. Yelling can be used in a healthy as well as an unhealthy manner, just as crying, laughing, sex, or alcohol can be used for healthy or unhealthy purposes. It is not some kind of failure, or indication of smallness of spirit. It is simply a faster and louder way of doing what everybody should do in some way or another, and that is deal with reaching one's limit.

I don't hide from my yelling, and I like being around other who don't hide from it either. Speaking softly and carrying a big stick works for much of life. But once in a while, I toss the stick and just yell from a distance.

Why are so many people against any kind of yelling, regardless of the circumstances?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Life's Not Fair? Prove It.

"Life isn't fair."

Point out an ingrained disparity in a system? Somebody tells you "Life's not fair." Lament the fact that not everyone gets an even break? "Life's not fair." Stand up for yourself when you have not been treated in a way you deserve? "Life's not fair."

Well, I am taking it upon myself to make a declaration so audacious that medication will no doubt be suggested by some. But I am Too XYZ to cater to that fear. So here it is. You read it here first.

As a concept, "Life isn't fair" is hereby officially bullshit.

That's right. I refuse to buy into any more. I've had it. I will not longer accept it as an argument, or counterargument to anything anywhere. It is a tired, wittless response to the problems we face in life, utilized by the lazy, the unintelligent and the weak. A cop-out for status-quo fetishists.

The whole notion of "life isn't fair" has contributed to more abandoned dreams, unnecessary oppressions, institutionalized discrimination and all out poor mental health than just about any other phrase and concept. And I am calling it out here and now.

Life is a broad, nebulous thing.Unfathomable numbers of variables play into how "life" unfolds. Neither fairness nor unfairness enters into it. Life is life. The events in our lives can sometimes be random, and it can take us a while to process them. If we ever do. And certain random events can be painful, of course, just as certain random events can be fortuitous. But that is not a matter of fairness. We can rise above these things, but to declare that life itself is unfair really is no more logical than to declare that it is.

A law that is wrong. A hiring practice that is unfair. An individual being denied a chance that others have been given despite being of equal value. These are all concepts that have the potential to be truly unfair. Situations that need to be addressed by those involved in them. Things that can be rectified. Yet they are allowed to go unchecked with a staggering frequency because a wise-ass here and there repeatedly and loudly pontificates,  "Life's not fair." Or its cousin, "That's life."

What such people are really saying is, "this wrong is so entrenched into this system that it would require work to correct it. I am not going to put forth any effort, time, knowledge, or energy to begin correcting it, because after all, it hasn't affected me. And even if it does affect me , I'll try unsuccessfully to convince myself what a big person I am by sucking it up."

Think about it. Such people actually shoe horn the supposed meaning and universal qualities of life itself to make an argument against action! When you ponder this for a while it's quite stupefying. To justify one's lack of commitment to change by pinning one's opinion to the (perceived) mechanics of the entire known universe?

Really? I mean, really??

There are problems one individual has no hope of solving. A Middle East Peace. A cure for AIDS. Legions of people have been unable to solve such things over decades of trying. But they have been trying. And legions are nothing but an accumulation of individuals who decided not to wave the white flag of "life's not fair."

Okay, so you are not a member of one of those legions. You can join legions of people working to correct something else. Maybe something as big as AIDS, or maybe something as "small" as starting a neighborhood watch group to enforce city noise ordinances so that everybody in town can get a better night's sleep. (My town could use this...)

Or forget legions. You can act as an individual agent for fairness. Is there something at your job that you know is unfair? A policy that works against a whole group? A schedule that favors some over others? A hiring practice that fails to give dignity to applicants? Whatever it is, speak out against it. Write about it. Expose it. In extreme cases, whistle blow. If you honestly believe a certain policy is fair, than so be it. But if you do not believe it's fair, do something! Even if in the end the policy/law/opinion continues unabated, you will at least have made an effort to address an unfairness. And it is by exposing and addressing an unfairness in your everyday life that change will happen. Not by yielding to every wrong you personally encounter because as a concept "life isn't fair" and everything has to be accepted as is.

Keep hiding behind "life isn't fair", and you are likely going to wake up one day all alone, because you can't be trusted, don't have compassion, and won't go out of your way to help anybody that crosses your path because of some lame-brained notion that nothing makes any difference in the long run. You'll have your own money, or success, or whatever it is you stepped on people to get while waving the "life's not fair" mantra, but you won't mean a damn thing to anyone anywhere. And if you want that, okay. But if you have any notion of wanting to belong to anything anywhere, you'll have to drop the "life's not fair" approach. Otherwise, you will have contributed more heat than light to anything, and those around you will judge you accordingly.

Which would only be fair, if you ask me.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I sometimes get the impression that at least half of the population doesn't know what being poor is. Or at least doesn't understand what being poor can be. I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or punch someone when I hear what people think does and does not constitute being poor.

I, Ty Unglebower, am poor. And I am not poor due to the fact that I can't eat out 4 times weekly. (The national average regardless of income.) I am not poor because I drive a used car. Renting instead of owning is not what makes me poor, nor is the fact that I buy clothes once a year as opposed to once a month.

My idea of vacation is two nights in a cabin camping, and even then only after enough money has been saved. Actual vacations of more than a few days happen in my life every 6 or 7 years.

If a website does not have a useful free membership, I do not join it no matter how worthy, because I do not have the money for a premium account. I only ever upgrade to the phones that are available for free with the renewal of my calling plan.

Yet none of these things are what make me poor. They are the things which, when you ask most people, are borderline immoral to be made to "suffer" through. As though in order to be a civilized, respectable human being, you must posses all of the things in that list which I currently lack. The very concept of being poor to such people revolves to a very large extent on what is convenient, trendy, or comfortable. The absence of those things simply means I am not middle class.

What makes me poor is the fact that as a freelance writer trying to break into more things, the paychecks are sporadic and smaller than needs be for the moment. (I'm working on that.) Being poor means that I get help from my family to pay the rent that is required on this tiny apartment. That I share groceries with my mother who is 5 miles away, and with whom I may have to live again in the future. That I eat meals with her a few times a week. Being poor means that I have nothing saved at all because everything, everything I do get goes directly to some immediate expense, because I so rarely can contribute to some of my own basic needs.

I am poor in that there is no money in my checking account. And I mean no money. As in balance equals $0.00. Literally. Not that I "only" have a few hundred dollars socked away, and things are getting tight. Nothing.

In fact, I have no bank account with any local bank because they all require a minimum balance and require the applicant to have no debt, if you can believe that. I have plenty of student loan debt. So I am ineligible for even a no interest checking account around here. I have to endorse my paychecks for writing to my mother, who then will cash them for me at her bank.

So, I cannot invest in things like Blackberries. 16 gigs of computer memory. Hiring a tax professional, a resume writer, a job/life coach. A personal trainer. (All things that the rather conventional wisdom says each of us should spend money on, as part of "building our brand".) A resume writer alone could be 500 dollars, and people toss that figure around as though it would be completely unheard of for someone to not have at least that much set aside for their own personal development.

"Yes, it may hurt you for a month," such people say, " but this is an investment in your career. If you are not going to take yourself seriously enough to drop a few hundred dollars when it hurts, why will a hiring manager decide you are worth the company's money? You wouldn't perform your own open heart surgery. You call in the professional. Why won't you give your career and personal brand the same professional treatment?" Like, the real thing, "no shit! I have no money" type of poor.

Those who follow me on Twitter, or Brazen, or just here on the blog know by now about my ideas. About my writing abilities. About my experience and perceptions. About my accomplishments and my talents. I am not into "personal branding" at all, but if a brand emerges naturally out of the work and contributions an individual makes online, many of you are familiar with my so called brand. And I wonder how many of you might be shocked by just how poor I am.

Because you see, in addition to the "why not invest in a life coach" stuff, I also hear many other things which indicate that legions of people do not understand poor. 

"You're intelligent. Healthy. Young. Unattached. You have a college degree! You write very well. There is absolutely no way you could be truly poor. You are not homeless. You don't panhandle. You can basically write your own ticket. Why haven't you done so?"

So intelligent people have no reason to be poor? The truly poor can only be those who are somehow damaged in the brain? Slow people? Retarded? Mentally ill> Begging for change on the Metro and sleeping under a bridge or over a grate" That's poor, right?

No. That is homeless. That is one type of poor. The type that arises when nobody cares. Fortunately for me, I have a handful of people, (usually my mother) who do care, and won't allow me to starve and wander the streets. But that could be the only reason I don't do so. Because if I had to rely on my own income and saving right now to survive, I would be hitching my way to the nearest Metro station to set up shop. (And for those who say that I would just need to get any paying job for a while, I would advise you that before freelancing, I tried for 5 solid years to get a full time job and couldn't do it. Reasons: Unknown.)

But a person as cultured, refined, and eloquent as me cannot possibly have to end up sleeping in a Metro station. I read, perform theatre. Am a top user at Brazen. I am working on a novel and have inspired people in ways I don't even know. Surely I have no reason to be that poor. I can't be only a mother's love away from having nothing to eat or no place to stay.

I am certain you would all like to believe that. I am sure many people who don't truly grasp poor are comforted by that notion. That to have all of the gifts I have is a ticket away from being poor.  I'd like to believe that as well. But I have lived my life too long to buy into that one.

I don't believe I will be poor forever. I have to hold onto some hope that my life will make a turnaround now that I have rededicated it to my passions, as opposed to winning the rat race. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, I tell myself that at some point it will all pay off. That I will break even. That I will prosper. Not simply survive, and that only with the help of family. But until that day, despite it's obvious crippling problems for a free thinking artist like me, I must not be ashamed to be poor. I must own it. I must shine light upon it, and what it really is, not what the movies tell you it is. It is only in so doing that I can hope to change it. You cannot wrestle something from which you are always running away.

The poor exist. Those who have not broken even for most of their lives are out there. Around you. With you. Some of them are easy to spot. Easy to avoid. To cross a street to stay away from. And some of them are lazy. Homeless. Dirty. Addicted to booze and drugs.

But just as many, possibly even more of them, are hard working, cultured, polite and charming people with whom you converse every day. Who you share a ride on the Metro with instead of avoiding at the station. People with whom you exchange emails. Ideas. Hopes. People whom you would even hire, if you had a job to offer them, so much potential value do they represent.

The more horrifying thought is that they can be all of the above and still be homeless and begging. I do thank the Divinities that I am not one of them for right now.

But, despite having just enough food, a place to stay, and (older) clothes to cover my back, I still know the score.

I am Ty Unglebower and at the moment, I am poor. What do you think of me now?



Friday, September 10, 2010

The Greatest Hits? Or Misses? Or Both? Neither??

If you look through my music collection, you will find that a majority of my albums are "Greatest Hits" albums. Depending on who you ask, this can be either a "good" or "bad" thing.

On the one hand, I could be accused of not enjoying "challenging" music. That Greatest Hits albums are merely a collection of a band's most commercial (and hence, least original) work. The songs that catered to some corporate idea of what was selling at any given point. By definition, "hits" cannot be good music. The audio version of shiny objects to keep the masses entertained.

Others would say, however, that there is a reason that such songs are hits. That they tap into something universal. Something with which we all, (or at least many of us) can identify. Lyrics and sounds that move many individuals, as opposed to moving a nameless mob. Therefore, Justin Beiber by definition produces great music, because he sells millions of records to millions of fans.

Me? I don't take either view 100%. The fact is, I don't know what to make of either hits, or my personal tastes. There are about a million different ways of looking at both what makes something popular, and what it means to be popular. And that goes for songs, books, movies, television shows. You name it.

I consider myself a discriminating, high cultured, well read person. And to that end, I do enjoy Shakespeare. Movies like "The Lion in Winter" and "Beckett". TV shows like "The West Wing". Music by Ralph McTell. Yet on the other hand, I consider a Steve Berry thriller to be among my favorite novels. I listen to REO Speedwagon.  I've been a fan of "Strange Brew" since I was a child, and I will still watch Three's Company if it's on.

And you know what? All of those things are/were hits in their respective genres. So which score do I get? The high or the low? Kudos to my intellect for roaring at the antics of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, or reprimands to my platonic appetites for laughing at Jack Tripper?

Turns out, I have no clue as to which score I get. If I have to get one at all. Because I have determined that things that are brilliant can end up being either obscure, or popular. The same goes for some real trash. I know there has to be some sort of metric by which we can distinguish a quality product from junk. I just don't think its status as a hit is that metric.

Certainly there must be something that The Kite Runner and The Di-Vinci Code have in common, as much as literature professors would loath to admit it. Something that makes me stop switching stations when I hear Hey Jude as much as when I hear Fat Bottomed Girls. But what? What?? Certainly nothing that makes me look like a rube. Nor a genius. Because I doubt I am either.

I have struggled with this question for a long time. In the final analysis, the best I can come up with is that the "hits" appeal to a large collection of individuals with their own tastes. At least at first. But then follow the leader sets in, and suddenly everybody has to have it, whether they truly enjoy it or not. This, half of all hits are just people copy catting. Something strikes a chord at first with people, but then becomes mass consumed by the mob after a certain threshold. The same thing with work that gets ignored.

There is, I have concluded, no way of knowing why this happens with some products and not others. So all I can do is continue to read many books. Listen to a lot of music, and keep my Netflix cue updated. And when something speaks to me, I declare it a keeper. No matter how elitist or common, difficult or easy, well known or forgotten it is. If it hits me, then it's a hit. And if that means a greatest hits compilation is in my future, so be it.

Whats does make a hit? Can we know? Is there a science to it on any level, or do people just love what they love; no code involved?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fantasy Football: Eye Opener?

I haven't mentioned this much in my writing/Brazen/networking circles, but my friends have certainly heard about it regularly this month; I am playing fantasy football for the very first time this year, and I am rather excited about it.

I enjoy watching professional football. I think it is the most exciting game to view on television. (I have never been to an NFL game.) I have fun supporting my local professional teams, and I trash talk rivals. I get a kick out of the visceral football experience that is the NFL. I have done for years. (But not my whole life.)

Yet, I am not a "superfan" as they say. I know what any given team should be trying to do on any given drive or play. I am aware of which teams are good, and which are lousy. I know a blunder when I see one. Yet I am not a storehouse for statistics or history of the game. I don't totally grasp some of the nuances. Formations, especially defensive, at this time mean nothing to me. I can't translate them into practical knowledge. I need a cheat sheet to even name all of the positions on defense.

You get the idea. A superfan knows all of these things and more. I know enough to enjoy watching any given game, and to have a position on most of the broader debates within the league, or specific controversies within a single game. Nowhere near enough to make a career in writing about the NFL. So playing fantasy, (a game in which the stats of your select group of individual players determines your points) wouldn't seem like an ideal choice for me.

But I decided it would be fun to try, for any number of reasons. And from the time I agreed to be in my friend's small, free league, until last night when I took part in my first ever draft, my way of thinking about football has expanded and shifted somewhat. And it's kind of a reminder of some of the advantageous and reasons to try something new. Which got me thinking about how my approach to fantasy football would, and indeed has served me well in other new adventures in life when I first approach them. First, the "whys".

Deeper Knowledge of the Game

I won't ever reach that superfan status. But in the weeks leading up to the draft. (The lottery wherein you choose your players), I had to research more in depth into the nature of what certain positions did on the field. I had a vague idea, but if I was going to follow certain tight ends for an entire year, I decided I had better beef up on the nature of what they do. It motivated me to learn a bit more than I know now, even if not everything. This will add a dimension to my viewing of games in the future.

A Broader Range of Games In Which to be Interested

I have generally only followed the local teams over the years. I'll watch the Super Bowl regardless, but for most of the year, I am only watching the teams I like, unless I am bored and there is nothing else on. With fantasy football, I will now have a vested interest in games I otherwise would never have watched, unless I was bored. Even though the result of the game as a whole is not important for fantasy football, I will now have more of an incentive to catch an Atlanta Falcons game on any given week, since I "own" two of them on my team. I'll be interested in more of what is going on around the league now, and not just two teams.

More "Water Cooler Cred".

Okay, I work from home for now, and I don't have a water cooler. But the point is, fantasy football will give me more of something to talk about at any given time with people who either follow football, or play fantasy. Again, I can't ever compete with the superfans out there, but sport is a common topic of casual conversation, and the more specific football related knowledge I have, the greater my arsenal of small talk. (Which I hate anyway.) And, heaven forbid this, if I have to meet strangers in the near future, I'll have one more feeler I can use to engage. (Or be engaged.) If not, my friends and I will at least have more stuff to yell at each about.

Making Football a Less Solitary.

Because I am not a superfan, I sometimes don't have as much fun sitting in my apartment by myself watching a Ravens game, as I would watching it with friends. The whole tribal thing really adds to watching a ball game. Watching by myself sometimes gets old, and I will turn a game off early. But knowing any given week that I am battling for points with one of my friends will make football seem a bit more communal than usual. Yes, I will still be alone in most cases, but knowing I am crushing someone gives an extra edge, (and motivation) to watching.

I get to watch actual stars do something.

Because the league is small, each of us got some stars on our teams. And while my local teams do have some stars here and there, it will be nice to have a reason to root for many beasts t in the league, instead of just the few local ones.


So those are some of the "whys" to doing this.But what about the "hows" of it all? That was the biggest challenge for me; how to approach this new activity to maximize enjoyment and success?

Don't Expect Everything the First Time Out.

This being my first year, I wanted a good team. Even a great one. But I had to remind myself that the point of me starting this was not to try to win the whole thing. Not many people do that their first time out. I had to remember to enjoy the newness, and take in all of the pleasure of it being a positive learning experience. To do well, yes, but also remember that it was all for fun, and bragging rights. There isn't even any money involved in this league. So I "paced my stakes" if you will. In other words, I gave it significance, but not importance, to get a good team, placing the top emphasis instead on fun, and experience.

Paralysis By Analysis Must Be Addressed.

We all know about this problem, and I am notorious for it. I had a severe temptation to try to become that superfan in the 4 weeks between being invited, and last night's draft. I had to fight the urge to study up on everything, from every source about every aspect of football, so that I could rock the draft, and become an expert. I successfully  battled that urge back, (especially once I saw how much there is to consider) but it still crept in from time to time. But I made a decision; I was only going to use one sporting authority as the source for advice. The conventional wisdom is to aggregate advice from many sources and make your decisions, but I knew doing so would run the risk of me going into information overload. So I chose one reputable source, and stuck with what they had to say as I made my personal wish list. And I gave myself a cut off date. Once written, no changes to my rankings after a certain time. I kept my word on this, I am proud to say.


I didn't pick my team willy-nilly. I had stats and research to back up my picks. However, my top lists for each position did not match many of the popular top lists. Because I listened to gut instincts I had about players, teams, scenarios. In a broad sense, most of the players I considered were the ones most others considered, but not in the same order. Sometimes I would just listen to a feeling. I may not have the instincts of a superfan, but if I am going to have fun with this, I need to go out on at least a few of my own limbs. And I did. I can't wait to see how they pan out. But even if they don't I found value in partly following my own system, and not the ones recommended by the experts 100% of the time.


Thank the heavens for mock drafts. (Something I didn't even know about until a few days ago.) Before I was shown the wonder of a fake draft website, I was running pretty nervous about my first draft. Who do I want? When to get them? How do I know what to do? But having the chance to do a few fake drafts not only let me try out different approaches without cost, but also opened my eyes to some of the patterns that tended to emerge. I took that with me into the real draft last night. I also took the patience and calmness I had acquired from the sometimes long waits in the mock drafts. Being able to run through something before it counts is immeasurable. The actor in me already knows this.

Fight for the bronze.
When I was a kid, we all used to fight in school about what order we would line up in. Many a scrap was started over who called, "I'm first", first. Usually resulting in someone facing the ultimate humiliation; being sent to the very end of the line.

I learned early on that this wasn't worth it. And so, as soon as the teacher would say, "everybody line up", I would call out to the class, "I'm third!"

This threw people a bit, because half the class was already fighting over who would be first. You only called dibs on third once first and second had already been won. Who calls for it outright? I did, and I almost always got it. Why? People, even as kids, have a fetish for number one, ignoring the fact that often, it is only minor, subjective, or statistical differences that separate it from 2-5. So I decided not to always fight for the top spot. Because I would rather get third right off, than fight for one, lose, and end up 17th. I applied this strategy a little bit to the player draft last night as well. My wish lists were mostly top 5 people, but with one exception,  I don't think anyone at the top of my lists was also at the top of THE lists.


Each of these bullet points, both the "whys" and the "hows" have helped make my first ever experience in fantasy football more enjoyable. Next year they may change, but I am glad I followed each of these for my rookie season. And indeed, I am happy to follow all of these points in other ventures as well. For in the end, I think I realized that I approach many new experiences in similar ways. I get information, start small, stay modest, avoid information overload by using a few trusted advisers, give credence to my gut, visualize and practice my strategy when applicable, and try not to be a pedestal hog.

And when I do such things in other areas of my life, I have found, eventually, that it leads to more satisfying adventures in most cases, because I am breaking my norm without going crazy, testing myself, gaining more knowledge than I had before, adding more flavor to my life story, interacting better with new people, and admiring the success stories of others.

I won't be cliche and say "fantasy football is like life". But I have at least applied some of my life strategies to my first fantasy football experience. And hopefully I can apply the most important one of them all; having fun.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Shakespeare Authorship and Our Expectations of Greatness

This is not a scholarly post. Let me make that clear. However, it is a response to a certain scholarship. The Shakespeare Authorship "question". Mainly, in how it relates to the way we perceive greatness, accomplishment, and creativity.

I am not guilty of the so called "Bardolatry". The author of the plays contributed by Shakespeare was a human being. He was not perfect, and neither was his work. (Neither the entire canon nor individual pieces.) That being said, I love much of the work of "William Shakespeare", and have no problem concluding that he is one of, if not the most influential poet/playwrights in the entire history of the English language, and certainly in the top ten for any recorded language on this planet.

And for any number of reasons, that really fries the asses of a lot of people.

To get a better idea of the authorship controversy, (one that I don't actually spend a lot of time on in my life) I encourage you to read books and articles about same. Lord knows there are plenty of them. That body of research has to date presented about 56 alternate candidates for authorship of the "Shakespeare" works. Some have gained modest but consistent traction, while others are mostly fringe theories by rogue scholars. Either way, some of the candidates mentioned by more than one source are:

-Sir Francis Bacon.
-Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
-Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke
-William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
-Queen Elizabeth I
-King James I
-Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke

Are you sensing the patten yet?

To be fair, there are several candidates that are not noble or royal who have gathered followers over the years. Christopher Marlowe comes to mind. But the fact is, a great deal of the doubt seems to stem from the notion that a mere gentleman and son of an glove maker from Stratford-Upon-Avon simply didn't have the education, literacy, exposure, and depth to have penned all of the works attributed to him. No, the author must have been a noble. Must have had royal blood. Must have been "important". Must have traveled all over the world, and what glove maker's son could or would even aspire to do that?

Again, I am not presenting a theory here in support of the "Stratfordian" as author of the works. That would be scholarly, and I told you I was not writing a scholarly piece. Suffice to say that not only have both scholarly arguments (the sloppiness of the man's writing, his lack of a funeral, few surviving papers that prove he existed, his lack of attempt to make money off of his work...etc.) and not so scholarly arguments, (secret codes and embedded messages) have been made against this man. Suffice it also to say that proponents of  "The Stratfordian" have reasonable counter-arguments to each of these.

 Yet the argument that still slaps me across the face is the "he couldn't have been bright enough" declaration.

 One 19th century academic, Henry Caldecott, sums up this condescending view quite well.

"The plays of Shakespeare are so stupendous a monument of learning and genius that...people have come to ask themselves not only, 'Is it humanly possible for William Shakespeare, the country lad from Stratford-Upon-Avon, to have written them?', but whether it was possible for any one man, whoever he may have been, to have done so."

Ty Unglebower, a 21st century actor and writer and non-academic has responded to Caldecott's question with;

"Yes. It's very possible."

Setting aside dates, and scribblings, papers, and secret codes and historical likelihoods, why do people find it so damned difficult, or even impossible to believe that a man of humble beginnings, could have gone on to become the most important of all English writers? The most influential playwright the world has ever known? Creator of works that have, like it or not, touched tens of millions of people for centuries even while contemporaries like John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont have vanished into near obscurity outside of the universities?

Part of it may be that some have elevated William Shakespeare far higher than even he deserves to be. Attributing every word, every error, every comma to a perfectly predetermined plan on the part of a supernatural genius who woke up every morning and just scribbled out timeless perfection while sipping tea. That Shakespeare is absurd even to me, and no serious fan of his works, or of writing in general can long accept such a romanticized version of him. The desire to bring The Bard back down to earth no doubt is at least part of the reason so many have worked double-time to attribute his works to someone else.

Yet I have to wonder if any of the ruckus would have been kicked up about the "true author" if all along the plays had been attributed to someone like Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. I theorize that if it had been someone with a name and title like that to whom the "Best writer in the history of English" mantel had been given, fewer people would have questioned it. Some would of course, because people are always out there that want to rip something up, but by and large it seems that there is a subconscious acceptance of the "higher ups" deserving lavish praise outright, while somehow those "down there" must have some how cheated when they accomplish something of merit.

We know almost nothing of Shakespeare's life. So we can't say he didn't go to university simply because we can't find the paper work. But even if he didn't, so what? Where is it written that a man cannot have a potential for stunning intellect and mind bending imagination bestowed upon him by virtue of his natural abilities? Such a person would still have to learn facts, of course, as they do not just appear, but why would William Shakespeare have to have been a member of court to understand the nature of court life? Who says university is the only way he could have learned? He couldn't have envisioned from his own emotions and projections that there is "a Divinity that shapes our ends?"

We need to stop looking for genius in certain places and under certain conditions. Even when we look back at bygone eras. For while I concede that there are many unusual facts and omissions in the life of William Shakespeare, I don't conclude that those oddities make his authorship impossible. After all, someone who writes the stuff that changes the world is bound to stand out in some ways besides the words themselves. The extra something which made him stand out as a playwright in all likelihood did not stop at his pen. His uniqueness was almost certainly in evidence in every day life as well. How could it not be? Those who have the greatest impact usually are a bit weird.

Few examples of his handwriting? Maybe he had a tremor and dictated most of his stuff. No letters to or from him? Maybe he wrote none, or had them burned as a matter of privacy.  No funeral of note? Maybe he didn't want one. Few records? They might have burned. 400 years is a long time.

And again, we know so little about the real man, whoever he was. Maybe anonymity and ambiguity in his later years is what he wanted. Maybe he tried to erase his own tracks. Maybe a man gets to a point after his 11 year old son dies when he says, "That's it. I'm done. I don't want to be William Shakespeare anymore. I'm tired of being the Miracle from Stratford. I just want to go home." Maybe the Stratfordian was Too XYZ for all the notoriety, in the end, and tried to rid himself of it. Maybe he wanted his works to be what was remembered, and not his life.

Do I know he said this? Can I cite sources and cross reference? For the millionth time, no. I'm not about conducting research on this topic. I am about cutting the man, and people like him a break. People who show no logical reason why they be able to do what they do, but there they are. Those who contribute vast amounts to our collective social wealth, but who say and do the strangest things. Those who quite literally come from nowhere, and change us all, before returning back to nowhere.

I'd like to see people doubt such things less. Because if even if the Stratfordian didn't write Hamlet, there will always be another example of someone coming from the obscure to do something great, and there will always be an army of people there to explain why it couldn't possibly be true. Perhaps they are jealous more than anything.

But they shouldn't be. We each can contribute. And we can each do something great if we are willing to accept that our greatness is not always, or even usually defined by where we are, but who we are, and what we want. Your individual greatness may not be as obvious as Shakespeare's or Einstein's. But that doesn't mean it isn't there.

If you accept that your contributions are yours, and what is inside of you is inside of you regardless, it shouldn't be too hard to believe that a glove maker's son who sued people sat down and without knowing it, began to alter everything that humanity would ever be.

"I have touch'd the highest point of all my greatness;
And, from that full meridian of my glory,
I haste now to my setting: I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more." --
Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII Act 3 Scene 2

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Looking Back on the AuGuest Extravaganza

I sit here on the morning of September 1, periodically singing Neil Diamond's "September Morn" as I am wont to do on this morning every year. In addition to that silliness, I am also looking back over a highly successful experiment here at Too XYZ: The AuGuest Extravaganza.

Over the last 30 days, six of my fellow bloggers/friends have taken the time out of their own busy schedules to contribute thoughts and writings to this blog of mine. They were asked to do so because over the year or so that I have been following most of them, they have shared ideas, goals, and visions of the world that made them stand out from the status quo. Depending on your own viewpoints, what they say and do may or may not be Earth shattering, but it is certainly not beholden to the conventional expectations that many would place on them. On all of us.

Whether they used the terminology or not, these six have indeed lived up to the idea of being Too XYZ to conform to the arbitrary norms of their environments. Not just because they think it would be fun to tell the world to "shove it", but because who and what they are simply doesn't allow them to vanish quietly into a flock. Different jobs, goals, religions, and geographical areas separate them, but they resemble each other, and myself, in their level of self acceptance. (And also their writing talents!)

When I first started Too XYZ, I did so in order to more openly express my outlier status in regards to so many common traits found in the multitudes. And unlike most of my AuGuests, I sometimes do have the partial goal of telling the status quo "up yours". But having these six guests write for this blog last month reinforced the notion that though any given issue may be viewed differently amongst the non-conformists of the world, I am not alone in my resistence to conforming. At least the idea of refusing to conform on everything. I knew it before, but having these guest posts makes that knowledge more personally satisfying.

I didn't edit any of the posts in any way, (except to change some of Mehnaz's Canadian spellings to keep my spellchecker at bay.) That is because I was dedicated not to creating a specific style to fit my blog, but to freely share my space in a totally unrestricted way. So that these guests could be exactly what they wanted to be when they posted here. That is what I and this blog are all about, and I am proud to have been able to provide an extra venue for these bloggers. They have encouraged me to seek out even more people that are also Too XYZ for bullshit. And they showed that having guest posts is a mostly painless experience. It will happen again.

Bringing my ideas, and sometimes even my feelings into the realm of other people's consciousness, and making them think, if only for a moment, in a different way. I hope I have done that, with both my posts, and with allowing the AuGuest posts last month. I can assure you, each of them has managed to make me think a bit differently myself.

And so here's to the AuGuests of 2010, my first six guest posters ever:

-Brianne Villano, of Living Out Loud
-Jen Gresham of Everyday Bright
-Mehnaz Thawer of Speak Softly and Carry and Red Pen
-Jamie Nacht Farrell of BizRelationships
-J. Maureen Henderson of GenerationMeh
-Laryssa Wirstiuk of Comma 'n Sentence

All of these people emphasize the importance of doing it your own way. Or at least doing something in this world your own way, even if that be just thinking and expressing. If you too value these characteristics, read not only their posts here on my blog from last month, but also each of their own blogs. I promise you, if I am NOT Too XYZ to get something out of them, (and I'm not), neither are you.