Thursday, September 30, 2010

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On?

For Corey...

In The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, Sandra G. Shannon writes that, "Wilson praises this song for being among the few popular rhythm and blues recordings that responded to social issues."

Our next assignment for one of my classes, given by Richard Schlotter at Boston University, is to start a ten-minute play about what's going on.  It's not easy, trying to wrap your head entirely around what's going on in this country. Where do you start? How far back? Bush? Clinton? Reagan? Adam and Eve? Do you just pair it down to one thing, or make a kaleidoscope?--and then keep turning the wheel?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Mad Man behind Mad Men

Frankly, I don't get it. Mad Men that is.

I watched a few clips...yawn.

Then this past summer in a Literature of the Counter Culture class we watched an episode for the stereotypical roles of men and women in that time period. After ten minutes I was so bored. It was the episode where Don Draper gets a new secretary. It was also the episode where Don Draper yells at a woman client who also happened to be Jewish and was taking over her father's business. The account was worth something like $2.5 million--that's in U.S. dollars in the early sixties. Trust me, not even Don Draper would have thrown away that much billing just on his principles. Ridiculous. But I'm generally bored with television and pop culture.

Anyway, so when I watched this animation, I still didn't get it. Chalk this up to a long list of things I just don't get. The interest in Miley Cyrus's crotch. Lindsay Lohan. Martinis and cocktails in general. (I hate the word cocktail--it's such a wuss word.) Karaoke. Zombies. Vampires. Lady Gaga. The list goes on...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Breathe Owl Breathe at Club Passim

Definitely a band you have to see to truly appreciate, Breathe Owl Breathe opened two nights ago for Mark Olson at Club Passim. Funny, quirky--yes, I'm sure that word is used a lot to describe them--their music is beautiful, their melodies catchy, and their lyrics (and stage presence) are quirky--there's that word again.

These three interesting and thought-provoking performers--Micah Middaugh (guitar, vocals), Andréa Moreno-Beals (cello, vocals) and Trevor Hobbs (percussion) from Michigan combine acoustic guitar, cello, drums, and a few non-standard instruments and electronics and theatrics to tell their stories, and it's all a bit mesmerizing and entertaining. There's a funny sort of innocence about their act, which is what it is. It's not just music but rehearsed sounds and some movement, and it is a bit like watching grown-up children at play.

The song they opened with started out with Micah setting the scene, on a boat, out on the ocean with the wind blowing. He rocked and swayed, while he blew into the microphone while Trevor knocked and brushed the rigging on his drums and Andrea set the mood on her mournful cello.

Here's Dog Walkers of the New Age

And here's Lake Light

Breathe Owl Breathe - Lake Light from Miscellany on Vimeo.

Mark Olson: Little Bird of Freedom

Caught Mark Olson at Club Passim two nights ago and wanted to get the word out that if you can see him perform go do it. He left Cambridge Sunday night for Portland, Maine, then he said he was going straight to Germany where he was going to meet up with Ingunn Ringvold who he made his latest album with.

I am fairly familiar with the Jayhawks, but really didn't know a lot about Mark as a solo performer. The great thing about Club Passim is how intimate the setting is. Now most of the time when you call a venue "intimate" it means the tables are all crowded on top of one another. And, yes, that is true about Club Passim, although whoever is sitting next to you is likely to be equally as interested in music as you are, and likely to know even more. After all, it is Cambridge. But intimate, in this case, also means that the artists and the patrons mingle, and while Mark and Mallory, one of Club Passim's crack sound technicians (the club has a wonderful, clear-sounding sound system) set up, I turned in my chair and saw someone who was clearly a musician walk in from backstage (it's really an outdoor patio) clutching a fiddle case, and wearing lime green pants, suspenders, a yellow shirt, and a straw hat that rode over the clearest blue eyes I think I've ever seen. It was Mike "Razz" Russell, longtime cohort of Olson's and a member of The Creekdippers. I still didn't know who he was, but we talked about him going to the movies at the Brattle Street Theater where he fell asleep, and about music and playing and a little bit about how he got together with Mark. He said if Mark hadn't asked him to play he still might be sitting on his front porch. Afterward, Mark stood in the lobby and talked with us far longer than you'd ever expect him to do. He seemed genuinely happy to be talking to us about his music and what he was up to and about the gig he just played.

Mark and Mike are both from Minnesota, and from living in Boston for so long, and always having to deal with both its angry and snooty sides, it was such a breath of fresh air to talk to them and watch them perform. They were joyous and had so much fun together (they had a drummer, whose name I don't know but he was so tight and had such a beautiful voice, like one you'd hear in a choir.) Mark's songs are optimistic and loaded with imagery from the outdoors, again something you'd expect from the Midwest.

Mark played a lot from his newest album, Many Colored Kite. This is the opening track and I love it. It fits in so much with the play I'm writing right now, Highland Center, Indiana.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Problem with Aggregators, or Second-Hand News Sources

I just quit as a blogger there. has high hopes of being a major second-hand news source, and I just wasn't comfortable with what I experienced there, from Gather's emphasis on hits rather than the quality of the content, to what appeared to me as flirting with copyright infringement.

I intended to blog about that here on Action Bob Markle, but am strapped for time at this exact moment. But a Facebook friend posted this article in his page, and I want to take the opportunity to get it out. Of course, what's interesting is this article is a commentary on the initial article that addresses this issue, but that's just the nature of the world, the news, and the Internet.

I'll follow up on this later.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Money Tree

What would happen if money grew on trees? In this intelligent, thoughtful, quirky film, you can see exactly what happens.

As a social experiment, Amy Krouse Rosenthal ( and hung one hundred one dollar bills in a tree on a busy street in Chicago. Now, what would you think would happen? If you really know human beings, this film won't surprise you in the least.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The T on Crutches

I got hold of a pair of crutches and they are a godsend. With them, I still just creep along, just one slow shuffling step at a time. But they take the pressure off my back so now I can actually stand upright with very little pain.

And so, today I negotiated the T today for the first time by myself since my back went out. It was now or never. Sue's been driving me around, taking me to and picking me up at class, but she couldn't keep doing that. Her job is stressful enough without adding more to her day. And I hate depending on anyone, even Sue. She says I'm stubborn but I'm just independent and like doing things on my own.

You're a different person on crutches. First, people are quick to give up their seat. At Wollaston I crept into the car and a young woman right by the door just sprung up and gave me her seat. What's funny is when I hobbled into the car at Park Street at rush hour, one guy just stood right up, while you could see a flurry of people down the car considering. Funny that it's not natural of us to come to the aid of our fellow humans.

While people give up their seats, conversely I become an invisible person. I just shuffle along in my own world, and you can see people consciously ignoring me. But that's kind of a gift, because today in Park Street, as I slowly made my way through the crowd, I was able to really look around and since everyone was ignoring me, I was able to almost stare. It was like when I was living in Sherborn, and everyone ignored me there, too. I think they figured there if they didn't already know me I wasn't worth knowing. Now it's like my own personal play and I'm able to walk slowly among all my actors.

This is Massachusetts though, and the T is as hard to negotiate as the streets. And this time pain is the payment for any miscalculation. I got off at Park, and though I can get up and down stairs, I thought I'd go for the elevator since I've never ridden an elevator in the subway in thirty years. Bad idea. I followed the signs to the elevator, which was way at the end of the platform, only to find that it would take me to the wrong side of the Green Line. I took it anyway. I wasn't going to walk all the way back. The thing about this injury is that the tiniest movement hurts so much, so walking the length of the platform only to find I was in the wrong place was almost overwhelmingly demoralizing. The pain just wears you down.

The one thing that I wasn't prepared for was how vulnerable I felt. I realized that if someone lifted my wallet from my back pocket, I'd just have to watch them run away. If a couple of hoods decided to jump me or pick on me, well, I joked that I'd poke them with my crutch but that honestly wouldn't get me far.  I was imminently aware that I was a weak member of the herd, and that if the lions decided to dine that day, I would be one of the first to be hunted down. I moved my wallet to the inside pocket of my jacket, and hoped that I looked rough enough that I'd be left alone. 

So far none of this has affected my studies, at least too much. Right now it's about 10:30 at night, and normally that would mean I still would be up writing for another two hours or so. But after I put this post to bed, I'm going to bed, too. Like I said, the pain just wears you down.

Dead Zone off Louisiana; Who's to Blame?

Are the farms in the Midwest any different than the BP oil spill in the Gulf? Why do we care about the BP spill, but not the runoff from farms that causes the same damage? And why haven't the southern states, most notably Louisiana, filed lawsuits the way northeastern states have against coal-burning power plants in the Midwest that sent plumes of acid rain over the Northeast?

Because of the runoff from the Mississippi River watershed. all along the Gulf of Mexico there are places in the water called "dead zones," and they are exactly what you might think the name implies. The runoff that drains from the heartland of the United States and the Midwest, from the Missouri and the mighty Ohio, plus a host of other rivers, is filled with what news reports are calling "nutrient-rich" runoff, but what they mean is fertilizer. Single cell animals on a large scale feed on the nutrients, thus depleting the oxygen for larger animals.

A huge "dead zone" has made the news, and what makes this one particularly noticeable is that there are five or six species that have been killed, instead of the normal one or two species for your "typical" dead zone. (I can't believe I just used the word "normal" to describe something called a dead zone.) Experts are wondering if this one doesn't have something to do with the BP oil spill. Read the news story here on Yahoo.

I guess the first thing that comes to my mind is that there have been these dead zones for how long now?--and now we're wondering if it is associated with the oil spill, when in fact, the farms and their toxic runoff have the same effect as a renegade oil well. Where's the logic in that?

We're just slitting our own throats, and with the economy the way it is, environmental issues will continue to take a back seat to the economy. Still, I wish someone would realize that the greening of America, as it's called, could be the one thing that brings back jobs and the country. It would constitute new industries and a new way life, but more importantly it would mean our survival.

Photos via Billy Nungesser/WWL

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mark Vashro Bikes Against the Wind photographs

If I'm anything it's stubborn and persistent. And the minute you tell me I can't do something, that is the very second I want to do it.

Laid up here when I can barely walk from one end of my apartment to the other, all I can think about are all the places I want to go and all the things I want to do--upright on two legs. I told Sue last night, when I'm all healed I'm going to climb Mt. Rainier. I don't know why I'm fixated on that particular mountain, but I do know I want to keep living for all it's worth.

And the fact that I can barely walk ten feet without pain makes my buddy, Mark Vashro's bike ride seem so amazing. Mark's not the first person to ride across the country. Sometimes it seems when you surf the Web that there are so many people crisscrossing the country on bicycle that they'd be dodging each other out there in the heartland.  I blogged about Mark here on Action Bob and over at

Then yesterday I noticed that Mark posted a link to a photographer's site who had taken some shots of him. When you read Mary Costa's intro to her photographs, you get a good sense of what Mark is like. I met him while acting in a play, and probably had a better time sitting in the dressing room talking to him than I actually had being on stage in that particular production.

Check out the photographs here and here's a link to Mark's site and the projects he's working on. He really an inspiration.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Dangerous Business: really sweet travel blog

I'm a vagabond by nature, and being ensconced on this couch, mending my sacroiliac, I have to resort to travel blogs and sites while even my plans go on hold.

Lucky me that today I stumbled on Anjel Van Slyke and Connal Hughes' blog about their travels around the world, A Dangerous Business. (Tagline: It's a dangerous business going out your door. You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." --J.R.R. Tolkein.)

I love their tagline. I'm assuming it's The Hobbit. It sounds like something Bilbo might say.

I've always wanted to do exactly what these two have done: travel around the world and write about it at the same time: record and share the experience. I'm a writer, no doubt, and when you are a writer you have this craving to write down and share everything. It's almost an obsession. Kind of sick, actually.

This is still doable in my world. Maybe not a year's worth, but three months maybe. Cross your fingers. I know mine are.

On herniated disks, excruciating pain, and patience....

How did I get to the point where the most comfortable place for me is on my knees on the floor of the shower in the fetal position with hot water cascading down my back? Only like that is there a complete absence of pain. The only discomfort is water running up my nose.

A disk slipped, herniated, did something, pinched a nerve or a bundle of nerves, and now I can walk no more than ten feet without excruciating pain, or worse, paralysis. I didn't realize paralysis could be painful. I thought it was the complete absence of any feeling. But you cannot move your leg and still be in--and I keep hating to use this word, but excruciating is the first word that comes to mind--at the same time. The kind of pain that makes you involuntarily throw back your head and suck in your breath with a shhh...ttt...and you lose all control of your legs so you have to grab on to something or someone to stand and you don't even see; just white light. Or something. I have to be more aware of what I see. Yes, slow things down so I can see through the pain, what's there. And yes, it's a searing burn in my thigh, like a hot knife, or what I'd imagine a hot knife would feel like. Sometimes it's like the worst charlie horse you've ever had--non-stop.

The damage is in my back, but curiously the pain is in my leg. So interesting to live this long and not be aware of that little line of nerves that coursed down my spinal column and exited my backbone at the small of my back. So vital, and it's letting me know it's there now, and its function and how important it has been for all my years. The damage is in my back but the pain is over here. There's an analogy there, for life, isn't there. Something more to explore while I wile away my time on the couch, willing my tissue to heal. The damage can be here but that person over there gets hurt. There are bundles of nerves connecting all of us, and the damage over here can cause pain over there. What do you think?--is too heavy-handed for a premise for a play? Is my medication playing with my mind?

This is pain but wouldn't it be fun to be totally aware of the functioning of our bodies this profoundly. The beating of our hearts would seem like the throbbing the engines of the Titanic. Our breathing roaring like a cyclone. The opening and closing of our eyelids flapping like unleashed window shades. 

Thursday night I was creeping along the wall of the Harvard Square T stop, the pain was so bad. Holding on tight so I wouldn't crumble to the ground. Groups of commuters, caught up in their own world, would be startled to look up suddenly and see me. People stared. People gave me wide berths. I did think it was funny. I was confused, by some, for one of the many drug addicts, homeless people, crazies, that populate the city. You should try it sometime, being a pariah. Maybe the next time you'll be a bit more generous with your spare change.

This is a long time coming. A few weeks ago I was standing in the lobby of Playwright's Platform Theater after seeing New Exhibition Room's Candyland, and suddenly my right leg went numb, and I grabbed at the table that holds all the theater postcards. No one noticed. Sue and Dawn kept talking. And then it went away. And I forgot about it.

This is the result of years and years of running. Pounding the road. I started when I was thirteen, and God willing I'll be fifty-five at the end of this month. You do the math. I have medals from road races to prove I was fast. My PR in the 10K was 46: something, maybe 47: something. I don't remember, but right now I'd take a sixty-minute 10K. I'm going to miss running, but I think a new part of my life is starting.

So, now, until tomorrow morning sometime when I have to be at BU for class and for work on Five Down, One Across, I'm sitting on the couch, trying to be as "patient as a milksnake swallowing an egg."*

*From Highland Center, Indiana

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rhapsody in Blue

One of the greatest songs ever written, and this captures precisely its mood in such a nostalgic and romantic video of the city that it's about...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Coyote Diary

It’s come right down to the wire.

Right down to the date.     

Right down to the penny.

Tomorrow I start the real work towards an MFA at BU in creative writing/playwriting. I’ve written a play for our first class. The Coyote Diary. I think it’s good. Or, I thought it was good but the more I read it the more I wonder what’s so great about it. In the end it’s faith and courage that keeps you putting things down on paper. And never, never apologize for your art.

Thirty years ago I moved here, to Boston. Almost to the date. Labor Day weekend. Then I moved to the suburbs and lived a life I really wasn't suited for, and now I find myself back, literally, where I started. Let's try this again, and see if we can't do it right this time.

Thirty years ago, almost to the date, I end a thirty-year career to embark on a journey I should have embarked on thirty years ago to write stories. I started out with nothing, a peon in an ad agency, worked my way up to a point on the corporate ladder that was commendable, then dropped down to the bottom again exactly to where I started thirty years ago to the date. The economy knocked me down, yes it did. There's is no denying that. And there were certain people who seemed to enjoy taking a few potshots at me. So be it. I can take it. I've learned to battle adversity though, and just be myself and have confidence that who I am will get me through anything.

Almost ten years to the date my marriage crashed to an end. Columbus Day weekend. Ten years of questioning and searching and failure and success and love and hatred and coming to terms with who I am. Just a human being. A coyote, smart and wary and living on the fringe, not liked by many but those who do like me are golden.

It’s come right down to the penny. I transferred over my last dollars for child support and rent today into my checking account, and tomorrow I start living on borrowed money. Let's see if I can't skirt this economy and come up on the other side.

I’ve given up so much to get here. A life with my kids. Friends and family. In the process of getting here I’ve hurt so many people who I never in my wildest dreams intended on hurting. You know the value of something by what you’ve given up. What it’s cost you in terms of your heart and your soul. But you never give up searching. I don’t, at least. It’s inked into my shoulder: I’m a searcher. Always was; always will be. Always want to see just what is around the corner. Over that rise. Over the horizon. Day one of The Coyote Diary.
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