Stoke the Fire

They say a picture is worth a thousand words
But her portrait must be twenty
Twenty thousand words
Introspective and ethereal
Robust and sultry

Intricately chaotic words and
None find their way to my mouth
Nor through brushed lips
As brush tips kiss canvas
Life slips within colored lines
Once confined by four corners but
Liberated by the wings of an artistic mind
Crowned by hair that spills down like rubies in a waterfall
Eyes, glittering like city lights at midnight
Dance across the details of her work and
The dips where lips meet cheeks turn up a fraction
There is a ballroom where the sun dances with the moon
Along the edge of her satisfied smile

Elegant but unyielding
Supple but fierce
A silk tigress
When the day sleeps, she is what it dreams of
When the shadows slink out, she is the light they play by
Art given form giving art
An ourobouros of creative majesty
Stardust in her paints and
A universe with every stroke she makes

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Go Out And Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note

Through high school, there were teachers I hated, teachers I respected, teachers I had crushes on and teachers who left absolutely no lasting impression on me whatsoever. There are very few, though, that I genuinely consider friends.

I was a teacher’s aid for Chad Sant’s more traditional academic course (History, I believe, though I was more concerned with grading papers and giving girls back massages), but the class I was an actual student in was his acting class.

I had never really done acting before that class. I took it because I needed electives, it seemed easy, and a couple girls I had crushes on were in it. Participation was mandatory. There were a lot of improv games: park bench, questions, sausage…that last one isn’t what you might think. We also had to memorize monologues and perform them for the class.

I liked being a smart-ass. I liked pushing the limits and being a class clown. All the same, I had yet to acquire my comfort for the spotlight. I was nervous being in front of so many people and reciting something or becoming somebody I wasn’t or reading something I had written. So it was with complete skepticism that I met Chad’s suggestion I should audition for the school play.

Now, this was senior year. I had never acted on stage before where others had been doing it for 6 years or more. I had quit band after 8th grade because I was afraid of anything that might get me picked on. But Chad insisted, my friends encouraged me and I went in and did a cold read that I thought went fucking terribly. I tossed the script in the trash on my way out, headed to the mall and – I don’t recall exactly – probably got drunk that weekend. I was an angry, lonely seventeen year old. I had a routine.

Cut to a week later when I happened by Chad’s classroom and found the cast list posted on his door. To my surprise, I had been cast as Dallas Winston in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I hemmed and hawed over it for almost a week before grudgingly accepting. I had never read the book. I didn’t even finish the script. Chad brought the movie in for us to watch and that was the first time I discovered that I died in the end and fuck yes, this was actually going to be awesome.

Spoiler alert, but that book has been out almost 50 years and the film for over 30. Matt Dillon played my character. Tom Cruise still had a fucked up nose and crooked teeth. It was truly a different time.

Anyway, the show did not go off without its hitches. In the premiere show for the school, in front of the artsy kids, the special needs kids, several teachers and the principal of the school, the gun I was supposed to pull on the policeman got caught in the pocket of my leather jacket. I let out a frustrated, “FUCK”, at which point I was gunned down, the lights dimmed and I could hear one of the girls backstage say, “Whaaat did he just say?”

I didn’t get in trouble. It still makes me laugh, because it really did warrant at least a detention. At least one. But Chad told the principal to chalk it up to nerves and when I apologized, he turned to me and said, “Huh? Oh. Yeah. Don’t….do that again.”

There are plenty of other stories from that show and the two others (Grease, Pirates of Penzance) I performed in under his direction. But this isn’t about me, as much as I like to talk about myself.

I bring up my experiences in theater because it opened up a lot for me. It opened up a love for the craft I never could have imagined. I’ve only done six shows, some high school drama competitions, a couple Renaissance Faires and a couple short indy films, but holy shit has it influenced my life.

I began writing more – short fictions, poems with plot, starts of novels, screenplays – because I fell in love with the art of storytelling. I owe being an author, screenwriter and poet in part to that.

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 because of a want to be an actor/writer. I failed so fucking hard. But that dream led me to one of the loves of my life and some of the best friends I’ve ever known. I felt more at home there than anywhere and I want to move back. The dream of acting led me there.

My theater experience in school led me to a few shows with city theater groups. I met another love of my life through that, in a passionate, ill-advised tryst. Through her, I was introduced to the karaoke bar I fell in love with until it closed. Through experience in musical theater, I was given the opportunity to judge karaoke contests and everything that entailed.

Chad Sant set me on this path as an artist. He took me aside and told me he believed in me. More than that, that he needed me to help complete his casts and bring everything together. Now, that’s bullshit. I was absolutely replaceable. Almost all of us were. But he made me feel like I wasn’t. He drove me to and from rehearsals. He talked to me about life between classes. He treated me like an adult and didn’t hold back when discussing and debating mature topics. He didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

Chad has purchased each book I’ve put out so far. He has brought them into his classrooms and told his students about me. He’s made an effort to keep in touch since I’ve graduated and put in a good word.

And you know what?  I’m not the only one he does this for. He’s gone to Jessica Singleton’s comedy shows. He regularly goes out for dinner with several of his more prestigious former students. He keeps us all apprised on each other and instills in us a sense of accomplishment not just in ourselves but with these former colleagues we suffered through high school with. He helps us maintain a sense of camaraderie through years without communication.

He’s a good man. A kind man. An inspiring man. He’s funny and smart and he sees potential in people. I wrote before that testing doesn’t equal teaching, and Chad is a perfect example of the educator who goes above and beyond to make sure his students are invested in learning, in being something more than themselves. When he sees the capabilities a person possesses, he pushes them to accept that role and pursue that path.

He convinced me to pursue that path and gave me the confidence and encouragement to keep the journey going. Those dreams and experiences have taken me to some of the best, most adventurous, most instructive, most fun, most challenging moments of my life.

Anyway, it was his birthday yesterday. It isn’t much, Mr. Sant, but here you go:

***

The toll of the bell indicated the day was over. Christian watched his students push themselves out of folding seats and pull their backpacks up from the aisles before filing out of the theater. A few kids raised their hands to high five and fist bump him as they passed. He did so pleasantly, a smile on his face, and wished them an awesome weekend.

After the last of his pupils passed through into the lobby, he pulled the faded red doors shut and locked them tight. He turned and strode down the stairs, carpet torn from decades of trampling feet and inattention. At the front of the theater, he lifted one leg and hoisted himself up on the stage. It had been spraypainted the kind of shiny silver-black obsidian was, but each year more and more slivers broke free, revealing the dark brown wood beneath.

Christian didn’t care. This was his dominion. The stage. In front of the crowd and under the spotlight. He glanced out at the seats, empty now by sight but always occupied by the spectres of captive audiences past.

He turned his back to the audience. It was a faux pas during performance, but he stayed behind for himself tonight, unconcerned with the judgement of memories. Instead, he faced the set piece his students had spent the past few weeks diligently constructing and painting. The prized portion was the massive forefront of a castle, twisted through by artificial trees on either side.

The show wasn’t due to start for another month during which he hoped the rehearsals would smooth themselves out a bit more. They often did due to the power of repetition and the growing confidence of his actors in their own abilities. Unimpressed by the standard recycled fare of shows most schools used, he had penned his own fantasy epic with a compelling romantic subplot. His colleague described it as The Princess Bride meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream and implored him to submit it for more professional venues. Christian resisted, insisting he had written it for his students. He wanted to give the kids an opportunity to be a part of something that had never been done before. Something that would be wholly theirs.

Well, mostly theirs.

While Christian had indeed written it himself, he had yet to reveal where the inspiration for the tale had sprung from. Indeed, he didn’t plan on ever confessing. There was too much risk to his reputation, his life, and those who trusted in him.

He lifted his hands and held them before him, palms pressed together and fingertips pointed towards the set piece. He closed his eyes and slowly pulled his hands away from each other. Almost immediately, he felt the fabric separating. A warm gust of air hit him full in the face, fresh with the scent of berries that carried no name. He could hear the gentle songs of four-winged birds as they zipped on by. The fertile soil of a well-worn path stretched out until it replaced the worn wooden floor beneath his feet. He didn’t need to open his eyes to know the passage to the other realm had opened smoothly.

“Mr. Sant?” a voice asked meekly.

The teacher whirled to his right, eyes wide in surprise. He saw Billy Tamlin standing there, a sheaf of papers barely held in his shaking hand. He was a quiet boy that kept to himself unless he was on stage. On stage, he broke out of his shell into a truly wonderful talent.

“I forgot my script…”

Christian swore to himself. He must have forgotten to lock the back door, the one leading out into the side hall, utilized for quick changes and getting any actors who escaped through the crowd back into the theater unseen.

Well. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone where his inspiration had truly come from, but there was an expression about best laid plans.

GUEST POST: Life Is a Coping Mechanism

I am incredibly excited and incredibly blessed to bring to you my very first guest post. Jessica Michelle Singleton is a stand-up comedian who came from humble origins in Alaska and didn’t let it put a hitch in her step to becoming a successful stand-up comedian who does hundreds of shows a year. She lives and performs in Los Angeles primarily, but she tours the other states and even won a contest to participate in the Montreaux Comedy Festival, taking her jokes across the European nation.

Jessica and I are school mates. She’s prettier and funnier…and more successful than I am, but I love her dearly. In fact, that’s why we’re friends. I get her runoff paramours.

In all seriousness, I love her dearly. Artists tend to come from a certain place where things hit us a little more deeply, and Jess has been one of those rare few who understands where I come from in my darkest times and encourages me to pick up the pen and always get back at it. It’s a blessing to have such a support.

She’s home in Anchorage tonight for a one-night show and I can’t wait to see her perform again. I could use the laugh. AND SO COULD YOU! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @JMSComedy. Worth every second.

Anyway, I asked Jessica if she would write something exclusive for my blog. Anything she wanted, I told her, and about any topic. She said she did better with direction, so I thought about it and I realized that – as with writers or actors or painters – there is more to comedians than their material. Fucking obviously. But when I asked her how her personal life affected her career, instead of rolling her eyes at me, she was eager to explain.

For you, this was her response:

Life is a coping mechanism.

I suppose I should preface the rest of this by telling you that this isn’t a humorous piece. That’s not to say you shouldn’t laugh at anything I’ve written here. It’s just that if I’m going to open up, I’m going to need to lower any expectations that everything I say is hilarious.

To be fair, most of what comes out of my mouth is meant to make the people around me laugh. It’s a sickening type of pride you feel when you can make people laugh in the worst of situations. I’m not great at having real emotional connections with people, but I can flip the fuck out of a frown. I don’t know if I would trade the ability to make people laugh for the ability to connect at a deeper leve, simply because I can’t even imagine my life without comedy.

People will always appreciate the person who can make them laugh when they feel like crying. And believe me when I say there isn’t a much more desirable thing to me than to have someone appreciate me. This is a skill I am so glad I can share with the world, but it hasn’t come for free.

If you are the type of person to get offended when someone makes light of a serious and sad situation: Congratulations! You have probably never really suffered. That’s where the ability comes from. When I make jokes about a terrible situation, or my own insecurities, or the fuck ups in my personal life, it’s because that’s all I can do. What are my other options? Wallow in sadness? If I didn’t twist the dark thoughts in my head into jokes to make others or, at the very least, myself laugh…all I would have is a head full of terrible thoughts.

Everyone has their own means of coping. Some people smoke, some people write poetry, some people sweep it under the rug and just pretend everything is okay by ignoring the problems in their life. I tell jokes.   There is a common saying that “Tragedy + Time = Comedy”. Given that theory, if I told you my entire life story, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be anything but a comedian.

I was abandoned, neglected. I’ve lost several friends in unbelievably horrific manners. I’ve been sick and I’ve more or less been on my own my entire life. But I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone through all of those things. There are moments when I think I would trade being a comedian if it would erase some of the hurt or if I could have the ability to let people in. But all of that fades the minute I get on stage and hear the laughter I’ve created. People need laughter. There’s a reason it’s called the “best medicine”. It makes you feel good. It takes you out of your own head full of dark thoughts and allows you to escape to a moment of sheer happiness. And if you ask me, in today’s world there aren’t nearly enough of those moments.

Yes, I’ve hurt. So many of us have. I don’t think character is developed through suffering, but I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character in how they handle that suffering. Laughter is how I handle mine. And if my pain manifests itself into material that will brighten other lives, then maybe life isn’t so bad after all.

I can’t say much more than that except reiterate how amazing Jessica is. She’s incredibly hard-working, so driven, ridiculously talented, one of the best friends you could have and an inspiration to artists of multiple arenas.
Again, check her out on Twitter and Instagram at @JMSComedy . Thanks for stopping by Jess, and break a fucking leg!