Category Archives: extreme weirdness

Photographica: Late Afternoon and into the Past

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

A late winter afternoon–after a stretch of rain, the air still thick. Winter in the Pacific Northwest often limits you to shooting detail, given the long overcast stretches. But, when it clears, it gives you this full, rich light and color more akin to the semi-tropics, plus long shadows. Maybe the moisture content in the air; it somehow bends the light.

Here we have the golden hour plus: the warm light tinged with winter blues. The photo’s seem some post-production work, mostly to render it the way I saw it. Or at least how I remembered it. There’s no telling how far that can stray. Memory’s it’s own kind of filter.

The site–the Modish Building in downtown Portland–holds a special meaning for me. My first play–Controlled Burn–was produced on the fourth floor, in a sort of underground art gallery, with the artists squatting on site…not us, we came in as guests. Very punk, man! Kind of. They did throw some great parties. They also had limited gear available. The sound system was fantastic, and there must have been 50 cues, but our lights consisted of slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels over the lenses (and a silver plastic balloon that served to create a very cool watery effect). We took our set up in a rickety industrial elevator than ran so slow that you could reach out and touch the wall as it passed. We called if the David Lynch Memorial Elevator. We had to bring audiences up to the fourth floor in batches of ten. Luckily, the fire inspector never visited us.

With time, you learn. Back then, I had no idea. I remember Kyle Evans (who helped found Pavement Productions) and I attended PATA auditions when looking for actors. We knew nobody in the theatre community, nobody knew us, but they treated us as equals, and we ended up working with some very cool people like Sherilyn Lawson, Marty Ryan, and Catherine Egan (as a shamanistic dancer).

That’ll be 25 years ago this coming September. First play. Birth of Pavement Productions (I certainly had no idea that would last for 18 years). And my first review–the Oregonian compared me to a young Sam Shepard. They also said the play was kind of a mess–really, it was more performance art–and dubbed it “Uncontrolled Burn.” And thus the pattern: the critic give, and critic taketh away. Still, they couldn’t have made me happier unless they’d compared me to Beckett or Ionesco.

Funny that the piece really was a series of interconnected monologues, and I’m currently playing with a series of interconnected narrative poems–which could be performed as a series of monologues. I don’t know whether that means the circle comes round or I just have a limited number of ideas.

(Shot with a Canon 70D, 18-55mm zoom lens, processed in Adobe Lightroom.)

P.S.: This marks my blog’s 500th post.


Revisiting “The Twilight Zone”

Zen PathReading, of late, about one Rod Serling. Writer. Producer. Creator. A man who seemed to have everything going for him. And then….

Yeah, well…and then shit happens. Apparently, he pretty much worked and smoked himself to death, and he died early. Just like his father. A fate that always haunted him. There’s an object lesson for you: sometimes you can’t see the obvious because you don’t want to see the obvious. Or because it scares you too much. And, because you can’t see it, you doom yourself to it. The kind of thing that happens in…the Twilight Zone.

Man. That’s one hell of a voice the guy had. Every writer follows a different process, but, once I hear a character’s voice, a door opens into the story. I can’t explain it—that’s just how it happens for me. And if you hear Serling or watch his work, that voice sticks to you. Pretty soon it won’t let you go. And then people wonder why you’re talking so weird. So ironically. Snapping off every word. Holding for dramatic effect. Like…this.

Which is a kind of genius. It’s a brand. If you like Rod Serling and the strange world he became associated with through his remarkable television show The Twilight Zone, then you know what you get when you hear that voice. The poignant side? With time, that’s all anyone wants to hear. You’re stuck with it. They won’t let you change it and grow. It can also become cruel when your audience tires of that voice. If it becomes too familiar. Some in the audience just wait for Dylan’s old songs. Some won’t listen to the Stones because they don’t sound as good as they used to. Why? They repeat themselves. And because the listeners themselves aren’t as young as their memories.

It’s a tough choice: give people what they want or risk repeating yourself and burning them out. It seems the artists who transcend that operate with very good compasses: they know who they are, and part of their brand is trying new stuff. You like them because you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s likely to be good. It’s said Picasso could own anything he wanted if he could paint it, but he continually tried new forms, excelling at them and putting his “Picasso” stamp on them. Part of Tom Waits’ genius seems lie in the continual search for new sounds. It doesn’t always work, but, a lot of times, it’s very, very good. And there’s always that little bit of that Tom Waits DNA that keeps you coming back. There’s magic, and there’s tragic magic, and you have to risk one to achieve the other.

The Twilight Zone was wondrous. I don’t even think we knew how good it was at the time. I was too young to remember its debut seasons, but I grew up with it in syndication. I was not, however, too young for Night Gallery, Serling’s kind of reboot of The Twilight Zone. By the time that came out in the Seventies, Serling’s outlook had darkened, and the show reflected that darkness. He wasn’t entirely in charge of the program, as he was with The Twilight Zone, and sometimes it slipped into camp. But I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to Night Gallery evenings. (They always seemed to be rainy.) You didn’t know where you would go, and sometimes you went to very dark places indeed. Very dark. Which, to me were the coolest, most mysterious places to be, and very different than…than being a geeky kid in a small town. In the Pacific Northwest. Where it seemed some winters that the sun never made it all the way across the sky. Where the rain and the fog blurred the edge of everything. Blunted the colors. You didn’t realize how fabulously beautiful everything around you was until the sun came out, but sun didn’t last long. I came to like images with a little blur to them. Where you couldn’t quite be sure of what you were seeing. You had to guess, relying on your imagination to complete the picture.

What did the Night Gallery look like? Like an actual gallery, it varied. They hung a lot of paintings in three years. Sometimes, they didn’t turn out that well, and, looking at them now, you kind of shrug, shake your head. Yeah…well, they tried. And they were on deadline. Sometimes they retain their power and mystery. If that sort of darkness interests you (and it’s okay if it does), take a look.

Somewhere in there, Night Gallery stamped me with its mark, and I came to enjoy diving into that deep place where it really gets strange and frightening. I don’t give a damn about slasher pics or much of the stuff that passes for horror. But the fantastic, the uncomfortable, the…haunted, where the hero doesn’t always walk out in the sunshine at the end: it took ahold of me. In some ways, I’ve been writing about ever since. A writer friend says my work is haunted. (Maybe it’s me that’s haunted.) But that darkness, that blur, seems to distinguish my writing and photographs. Maybe that’s my brand.

To me, it just feels like beneath the surface of ordinary life, things remain hidden. Jung called it the unconscious—he was a scientist; so that’s kind of antiseptic. But there’s nothing clean or classifiable about the genuine intersection of the hidden and the ordinary, between dreams and reality. Some pretty good stories happen there. And maybe they show us that the world is not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can know.

That’s paraphrasing Einstein, whose brand became synonymous with genius. He died four years before The Twilight Zone went on the air. Would he have watched it? I like to think he would have. Marking Twilight Zone nights on his calendar. We’ve come to find that when you take apart the smallest operating particles of reality, they don’t always act as suspected. Sometimes they’re here, but only for the briefest moments, and, in those nanoseconds, they don’t play by the rules. It appears that a twilight zone occurs within every thing. Within all of us. All the time.

There’s something to walk away with…Serling. You did good.

 

 


Bombardment, Episode 18: Five Feet Off the Ground, Heels Clickin’

Splattworks continues its presentation of Bombardment, a two-act drama by Steve Patterson. The author will attempt to post an installment each day, but, if events intercede, installments could arrive a day or so apart. So please be patient.

[EPISODE 18]

PLACID: You call it yours, they want it. They want these chairs and that pipe, that knife and this paper. Your bracelet, your necklace. They’ll rip it from you, never mind the cuts. That dress. Gone. They’ll steal the underwear right off your ass. And they want this space. That’s what they want most of all. The dry air. The heat. Feel it. Nice and warm. Not like outdoors. Warm in winter, cool in summer. What they dream of. Out there. Freezing. Faces breathing on the glass. Lips open. Teeth yellow. All you can see are eyes. Glowing. They see in the dark. Fly through the air. Breathe under water. They’ll do anything to get what you have.
CARMELITA: It’s not true.
PLACID: The hell you say.
CARMELITA: Not the poor. I know the poor. They’re too busy staying alive.
PLACID: That’s what they want you to think. They’re so vibrant! So alive! They make couture out of dishrags! Turn plate scraping’s into high cuisine! Give ’em two spoons and a empty oatmeal box, and you got an orchestra! And they love! How they love! Love, love, love all the time. In a way we’ll never know. In a way we can’t imagine! I’ve heard it all!

PLACID backs CARMELITA onto an armchair.

PLACID: I’ve heard it, and it’s a lie. Like all shows of respect are a lie. Yes, sir. No, sir. You know best, sir. I know because I’ve done it. Said it. Felt the cut. You say it because you have to. Because you don’t want your raise jerked. Your job jerked. Your life jerked. There’s a cord ‘round your neck, and all it takes is a tug, whoop, you’re five feet off the ground, heels clickin’. You want to know why? You really want to know why? Because at the heart of it, it’s gimme’. Gimme’ your house, gimme’ your job, gimme’ your position. Your leverage. Gimme’ one little thing, and I’ll take the rest. Because, babe, I’ll never be satisfied. The second I’m satisfied, the rest of them catch up. You’re lucky. You just wander past the outstretched hands, and wonder why everyone acts the way they do. I’ll tell you. We’re animals. All of us. Whether we’re rich or poor, whether we hide it or not. That’s all there is. And I like it. I’m good at it. It’s why I breathe, why I eat, why I get up in the morning. Gimme’, gimme’, gimme’!

PLACID kisses her savagely.

CARMELITA: Placid, that’s not it at all. We should open the doors.

PLACID: You’re crazy!
CARMELITA: Let those people in. It’s cold out there.
PLACID: They’d strip us out in five seconds!
CARMELITA: We can break it. Can’t you see? It’s a cycle. It goes on and on until someone puts a stop to it.
PLACID: Let someone else put a stop to it! I’m gonna’ live!
CARMELITA: How long can you live like that?
PLACID: I’m livin’ to be old and rich.

CARMELITA: Are you? You said it yourself: they’re all struggling to get in. You think you can keep them out forever?
PLACID: I’ll fight ‘em.
CARMELITA: Every single one, Placid? You’ll fight them all at once?
PLACID: If I have to.
CARMELITA: All the time? When you’re sick? When you’re sleeping? You want to be rich. You want to grow old. How will you fight them then? When your bones snap if you fall, and the fat hangs over your belt, and you can’t catch your breath? You’re fight every man Jack of them? Young guys? Guys as strong as you are now?

Like an old man, PLACID sags down in an armchair.

[To be continued]


Holidays on Acid

The weirdest freakin’ thing you will see this holiday season. Outside of your own house. Thank you, Uncle Bob Dylan. I think.

How come I never get invited to these Christmas parties?


a modest proposal


Today’s blog is predicated on the assumption that the polls are largely accurate, a major American city won’t be hit by terrorists this week, and Barack Obama will become the next president of the United States. Or as we stand now, the Untied States of America.

In J-school, we aspiring reporters were required to take three terms of economics, fitting with the profession’s general creed that journalists should know a little bit about everything but don’t need a lot to know about anything. Which pretty much works, because it makes you just informed enough to ask the questions to fill in the gaps, with the idea that your readers, who may know a lot about something but not a lot about many other things, can get a general grasp of what’s going on. In practical terms, this means you can, if need be, cover a city council meeting dealing with sewer system annexation without going, “What’s annexation? Or a sewer system?”

At the U of O, the general gig was take an term of microeconomics, another of macroeconomics, and then an elective of your choice. Since these were the 80s and Reagan had just been elected, I took a class on Milton Freedman and supply-side economics, which convinced me, largely, that the whole idea was a highly rationalized ponzi scheme and would make the rich richer and the poor poorer and could be sold to the eternal optimism of an upwardly mobile middle class. Even at 20, you get one right once in while.

Fast forward, the ponzi scheme has collapsed, and it looks like we’re on the brink of a return to the saner policies, which helped us recover from the Great Depression under Roosevelt (though WWII helped as well) and led to the booms of John F. Kennedy (which, sadly, he didn’t really live to see), and, in a more moderate form, the good times that were the 90s. This time will be different because the damage wrought by the Friedman types and the Chicago School is deeper and more systemic, but the funny part is that, just as in ’92, when Bush Sr. saw the writing on the wall and adjusted the tax bracket, Obama will benefit from the actions grudgingly taken by the this Bush administration, just as Clinton benefitted from George Sr’s moment of lucidity.

But economics is a lot like philosophy, of which Steve Martin pointed out, one learns just enough to fuck oneself up for the rest of one’s life. To wit, a take on the current economics crisis, from someone who slept through microecnomics, rather enjoyed macroeconomics because it was taught by…wait for it…a brilliant and funny Iraqi, and laughed through Uncle Milton’s bedtime stories.

Simply, if homeowners are going into default because they stupidly bought ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages) with the idea that the sun would always shine, the stock market would always rise, and interest rates would always stay low, then got smacked by market adjustments and balloon payments, perhaps a solution would be to use a program with regulatory oversight to refinance ARMs into boring old fixed-rate mortgages and prop up undercapitalized banks that will take a hit when they don’t realize the balloons. Because if homeowners have to surrender their homes, the banks won’t receive any more money anyway, much less balloon payments. If homeowners could stay in their homes before the balloons, they might be able to continue to make payments over a 20- or 30-year horizon. Some lenders and real-estate developers are going to take it in the shorts, but, well, fuck ’em. They helped get us into this mess.

Besides. They can retrain for the green and infrastructure jobs that would be the second part of a economic recovery plan. It won’t work right away–it takes time to change direction on a ship this big (especially when it’s listing to the right), but, in time, saner policies will lead to a more secure future.

I dunno. It’s an idea. And I’m not going address derivatives because the only way you can get ahold of those concepts is to drop acid and lock yourself in a room with a stockbroker, and, frankly, I’m not that dedicated.


Welcome to the Farmhouse


So, uh, I wrote this weird play called “Farmhouse” where one of the characters is a soldier who’s had his mind all twisted around with psychedelic drugs and may be fighting with cyborgs and is getting his brain scanned and soldiers are fighting psychic wars and…pretty crazy stuff, eh?

Ah. Then I ran across the following article today.

I think I’m afraid.

Steve

————–

Future wars ‘to be fought with mind drugs’ Future wars could see opponents attacking each other’s minds, according to a report for the US military.

By Jon Swaine
Last Updated: 6:22PM BST 14 Aug 2008

It is thought that some US soldiers are already taking drugs prescribed for narcolepsy in an attempt to combat fatigue Photo: EPA
Landmines releasing brain-altering chemicals, scanners reading soldiers’ minds and devices boosting eyesight and hearing could all one figure in arsenals, suggests the study.

Sophisticated drugs, designed for dementia patients but also allowing troops to stay awake and alert for several days are expected to be developed, according to the report. It is thought that some US soldiers are already taking drugs prescribed for narcolepsy in an attempt to combat fatigue.

As well as those physically and mentally boosting one’s own troops, substances could also be developed to deplete an opponents’ forces, it says.

“How can we disrupt the enemy’s motivation to fight?” It asks. “Is there a way to make the enemy obey our commands?” Research shows that “drugs can be utilized to achieve abnormal, diseased, or disordered psychology” among one’s enemy, it concludes.

Research is particularly encouraging in the area of functional neuroimaging, or understanding the relationships between brain activity and actions, the report says, raising hopes that scanners able to read the intentions or memories of soldiers could soon be developed.

Some military chiefs and law enforcement officials hope that a new generation of polygraphs, or lie detectors, which spot lie-telling by observing changes in brain activity, can be built.

“Pharmacological landmines,” which release drugs to incapacitate soldiers upon their contact with them, could also be developed, according to the report’s authors.

The report, which was commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency, contained the work of scientists asked to examine how better understanding of how the human mind works was likely to affect the development of technology.

It finds that “great progress has been made” in neuroscience over the last decade, and that continuing advances offered the prospect of a dramatic impact on military equipment and the way in which wars are fought.

It also explains that the concept of torture could be transformed in the future. “It is possible that some day there could be a technique developed to extract information from a prisoner that does not have any lasting side effects,” it states. One technique being developed involves the delivery of electrical pulses into a suspect’s brain and delay their ability to lie by interfering with its neurons.

Research into “distributed human-machine systems”, including robots and military hardware controlled by an operator’s mind, is another particular area for optimism among researchers, according to the report. It says significant progress has already been made and that prospects for use of the field are “limited only by the creative imagination.”

Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist and the author of ‘Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense’, said “It’s too early to know which, if any, of these technologies is going to be practical. But it’s important for us to get ahead of the curve. Soldiers are always on the cutting edge of new technologies.”