Archive for June, 2010

Scene Two

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Barnaby usually goes to sleep around 7:45. When I was growing up, our bed time was a rough estimate, and the time we went to sleep was basically unrelated to a bedtime, we spent (sometimes) HOURS staring at the ceiling and talking and telling jokes, much to my father’s endless fury. So, if we were meant to be in bed by 8, we would probably get into bed before 8:20, and might not go to sleep until 10.

This has led to a lifetime of ridiculous insomnia. There’s no point in going to bed if you’re not tired, you’ll just learn to resent the pressure of the bed, snarling at you, daring you to try to rest when you’ve spent countless cycles of thought and daydream memorizing the ceiling or, in my case, the underside of your brother’s top-bunk-mattress, as if you were *training* yourself to resist one of our most natural and joyful daytime rituals. I wasn’t gonna do this to Barnaby.

So, we developed a ritual, and we are simply never off by more than about fifteen minutes if we can help it. Sometimes he falls asleep at 7:30, sometimes it’s closer to 8, but it is almost ALWAYS within fifteen minutes of his aimed-for 7:45.

On the few rare occasions, we’ve had to stray from this formula, and it has almost always sucked. My mom is a wizard with Barnaby, so if we can’t be here to put him down at the right time, she will often sub in for us and he still gets the exact thing he was expecting. The thing is, yesterday was not like a normal day, and it would require some flexibility from all of us. And, it’s possible that, in trying to make sure everyone felt accommodated, we ended up not quite “doing right”.

I left the hospital and came home for a few hours with Barnaby, but I wanted to get BACK to the hospital as quickly as possible. Scene one, from yesterday’s blog, happened while I was home with the boy, and I was so grateful to be able to be here for that. It was a hell of a thing, and I felt like I had done right by him, that I had talked him down, and that maybe, just maybe, I had stopped his natural impulse to be an axe murderer.

But I wanted to get back, so we started our night-time routine early, and my mom took over for me, with him already in bed at 7:15. Why did we do this a half hour early? Because I’m an idiot. Because I thought if I left a half hour early to go back to the hospital, it would somehow work out that I had helped Marlena, Jordana and Barnaby, all at the same time. Even though I would have to leave the hospital around 10. The whole thing was just epically stupid.

My mom sang to him for a bit, and then he said he would go to bed. She went upstairs to her apartment (my mom has the upstairs apartment and we have the bottom two floors and, seriously, God BLESS both my wife and my mom for navigating what has historically been the most awful relationship in most families with extraordinary grace. It could be that in most families, the mother-in-law and the wife feel proprietary over the husband, and in my case, they both see me as an amusing annoyance…) and turned on the monitor. She heard nothing on the monitor for about ten minutes, but then heard a smiling voice saying “Grandma Linda? Grandma LINDA?”

It was Barnaby, standing at my mom’s door upstairs.

So, she collected him and told him that he didn’t need to come up and get her, that she would come down if there was a problem. He seemed to agree with that. She said she could hear him when he was in his room, and that also made sense. She asked him what the problem was, and he said he just wanted to know where she was, so he was checking. That made sense to Grandma Linda, but also broke her heart a bit.

She sang a couple of songs to him, and he said he was gonna sleep. She went back upstairs and switched on the monitor. This time, after fifteen minutes, she just felt like something wasn’t quite right. It was getting really late for Barnaby, at this point, but she thought she should check. So she opened the door to her apartment and looked downstairs.

Barnaby was sitting on the bottom step, naked from the waist down.

She came down and asked him what was wrong. He said, “I had to poop and pee, so I went in the bathroom and used the toilet.” She asked him why he was at the bottom of the stairs and he said, “I was too sleepy to climb all the way upstairs.” She asked him if he wanted to go back to bed and he said, “OH! I forgot to flush!”

She got his pajamas back on and sat in my desk chair in our studio, next to Steinway and all the recording equipment. By the blue light of the back up hard drives, she curled him up on her lap and let him talk.

Now, he’s three, and he doesn’t speak all that clearly, but he began a rhapsody that lasted a half hour. He spoke about the baby. He spoke about cars. He spoke about trombones and drums and school and more about the baby, and Uncle Steve and Hildy Dog, and about boots and hats and shoes, and my mom rocked him in my office chair and nodded and said “mmm-hmm” for the majority of stuff she couldn’t understand.

He talked, because he learned that he needs to talk when he feels something. And a big part of that is because he was taught to do that in school. I mean, look, the blog is called “Seanrants” because that was what my family mockingly called my tirades as a kid, so, of COURSE my kid likes to talk, but at his school, the teachers spend a lot of time talking about how to express yourself, and Barnaby’s good at it.

And my sweet mom, who started her journey as a mother when she got pregnant in NINE TEEN FIFTY SIX, she sat with him and listened and made him understand that he was safe. And that’s all a child ever needs to know – that’s all any of us ever *really* need to know, that we’re safe. How this old Welsh Rose can reach down from some point in the middle of the depression, when she remembered what it was like to be three and need a grandmother to talk to, and she put her arms around him and made him understand that all he needed to do was close his eyes, and first thing in the morning, his mom and dad would be back.

And when she finally said to him, “we can go lie down in your bed and still talk to me…” and he said, “OH! We can? Let’s go lie down!” About two minutes later, lying in bed, Gramma said, “Do you think it’s time to go to bed?” and Barnaby said, “Well… I *am* yawning a lot…”

It’s a hell of a time for him, but I can’t believe how lucky we are to have all the help we do. It’s really, really beyond description, and to say I’m grateful is just a pathetic understatement. I wouldn’t have the life I have if I didn’t have the help, and the shoulders of the giants I am standing on, no matter how elderly or weary, are making my life possible.

Scene One

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Scene One

Barnaby’s Bedroom, Day. Barnaby and Barnaby’s Dad are playing with a giant pile of stuffed animals next to a child’s drumset. Barnaby’s babys sister is not in the scene, but was born the day before, and the two who are in the scene are keenly aware that she is coming home tomorrow with her mother. Who is also Barnaby’s Mother.

Barnaby: I need to get ALL of the toys into the river!

BD.: And the couch is the boat, right?

Barnaby: I need everything out of the boat and in the river! I need to swim in the water with you and everyone else.

BD: You want me to come in the water too?

Barnaby: GET IN THE RIVER, DADDY!

BD: Ah, Barno. I’m… C’mon, kid, I’ve barely slept.

Barnaby: Can I get in the boat with you?

BD: Yeah! Come get in the boat. We can float and snuggle.

Barnaby: Will you eat me?

BD: It’s possible. There’s a distinct possibility.

Barnaby: Don’t eat me.

BD: I’m not gonna eat you, get in the boat.

Barnaby: (whispering) will you come in the water with me?

BD: (laughing) Yeah, but why is it a secret?

Barnaby: Because I need to float in the water so I won’t be nervous.

BD: (not laughing) Okay, honey. Okay.

Barnaby: And you can eat me.

BD: Honey, I’m not gonna eat you.

Barnaby: Then how can I get in your belly and get in the water?

Barnaby’s dad can’t speak for a minute.

Barnaby: Can you wrap me up in my blanket?

BD: Yeah, of course. You wanna roll up like a burrito?

Barnaby: Roll me up like a burrito!

BD: Good Lord, kid. Freud really knew what he was talking about with three year olds.

Barnaby: Can you roll me up?

Barnaby’s Dad rolls up Barnaby in his turtle blanket. Barnaby howls with laughter as he tries to break free. It’s an identical scene from three and a half years earlier, although the blanket was a swaddle, and Barnaby was howling with frustration before passing out.

Barnaby breaks from the blanket and runs over to his drums. He commences a manic five minute drum solo, during which he breaks long enough to bring BD a woodblock and gestures that it should be played. BD leans back on the couch and absent-mindedly keep beat on a woodblock until he feels the sharp scrape of severely beaten drum sticks run along his neck.

BD: Kid! What are you doing?

Barnaby: No, I’m just pretending!

BD: Cut it out, Barnaby, your scraping up my neck with those sticks.

Barnaby: They aren’t sticks, they’re scissors.

BD: Jesus, Barnaby. What are you talking about?

Barnaby: I want to cut you with these scissors!

Barnaby’s Dad gets very serious for a second. He looks at Barnaby for a moment and searches for telltale signs that the parents and neighbors of murderers always claim to have missed. Once he’s assured that, if they are apparent in his kid, he’s missing them too, he picks up Barnaby and puts him on the couch.

BD: Why do you want to cut me with scissors?

Barnaby: I want to cut off part of your face with scissors.

BD: Barno, this is really serious. Why on earth would you want to do that.

Barnaby: I’m trying to tell you.

BD: Okay.

Barnaby: I would cut off a piece of your face and feed it to Gramma Linda. Because she’s your mommy.

BD: Barnaby, that’s just terrible.

Barnaby: That’s terrible?

BD: What do you think would happen to me if you did that? Would I be happy or sad?

Barnaby: You would be sad.

BD: Do you want me to be happy or sad?

Barnaby: I want you to be happy AND sad.

BD: Why?

Barnaby: Because that’s how I feel ALL THE TIME and you’re my daddy.

BD: Is that how you feel now?

Barnaby. No. I’m just a little nervous.

BD: I know honey. I know. But why would you want to cut me with scissors?

Barnaby: I want to cut a hole in you!

BD: Do you know that hole would be there forever? In my face? It would never get better.

Barnaby: But I would fill the hole!

BD: You can’t fill the hole, Barno. It’s in my face, if you cut my face, then part of my face would be missing for the rest of my life.

Barnaby: What would be in the hole?

BD: Blood. Muscle. Tendons. Human-stuff. Just stuff. Like meat.

Barnaby: But I want to see it. I want to be there in the hole!

BD: What?

Barnaby: I want to cut a hole so I can be there in the hole. I want to be inside the hole!

BD: Why, Barnaby?

Barnaby: (suddenly holding his father’s face in his hands, gripping his beard with both fists) BECAUSE YOU’RE MY BEAUTIFUL DADDY! BECAUSE YOU’RE MY BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL DADDY! BECAUSE I’M NERVOUS and You’re my beautiful (whispering) beautiful (silently mouthing) … daddy.

What’s Next.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I’m not an intensely intelligent man, and I’m certainly not even the tiniest bit superstitious, but I am proud of my ability to make wishes. I know you’re supposed to be careful what you wish for, but unless you’ve played the countless hours of Dungeons and Dragons that I have, you haven’t had enough real world *practice* when it comes to wishes. The Dungeon Master is just ACHING to screw with you if you don’t word your wish in the right way, if you try to sneak in a conjunction or a disconnected qualifier. I know, I was more often the DM, and I loved waiting for the stray “AND”, which would signal the end of the wish.

Everyone knows, you can’t wish for one thing AND something else. That’s two wishes.

Ever since Jordana and I began dating, (and honestly, it’s absurd that we dated for years before getting married, I was hook-line-n-sinker from about the sixth month on), I would use the first star of the evening, the abandoned eye-lash and even the occasional birthday candle to make the same wish, year in and year out.

I wish that we were in a position where we could comfortably have kids.

See what I did there? You can’t ask for kids straight up, there are sweet teenage kids who said, “I wish I could have kids someday” and the DM was all, “Okay. HOW ABOUT NOW!!!” and they’re all “Shit, I guess Junior Prom is out…” And you can’t ask for money, straight up, or you’ll totally get Monkey-Paw’ed. End up getting an insurance settlement or something, or suddenly finding yourself on the nice end of a good drug-dealing business. “What?” says the Dungeon Master, “You asked for a hundred thousand dollars, how else was an idiot like you gonna make that kind of money?”

So, I used my wishes to create a catch-all, that we would be in a situation where having kids is something we could handle comfortably. The DM was backed into a corner, and we got our wish. We have a lot of help, we’ve been incredibly lucky with jobs and work and our home, and our wish was granted. Eyelashes and First Stars are pretty powerful, but I think it was the four or five Birthday Candles that put us over the edge.

It wasn’t until Barnaby actually showed up that I realized – I got Monkey-Paw’ed after all. I was terrified. I didn’t have the first idea of what I was doing, and I didn’t feel anything for this baby. Nothing. He didn’t look like me, he had blue eyes, he was long and skinny and didn’t seem to recognize me. And he mal-functioned all the time, screaming and passing out and puking. I had always seen myself as a point in the universe, there was a place where I was, clearly defined, a spot on the map, and that was completely blotted out now. I was right on the edge of panic every second of every day, and the only respite were the few times that I dropped right into panic and curled up in a corner somewhere and cried.

I mourned. I sweated. I stank, I smelled, every day, I smelled like that horrible flop-sweat smell, that ‘going up on your lines’ sweat, where a two second delay feels like a minute, a three second chunk of time feels like an hour, a five second pause feels like a day. I counted my life like I was on the treadmill, saying to myself¬† “I can do this for thirty more seconds, and then I’ll jump off” and after thirty seconds passed, I would say, again, “I can do this for thirty more seconds, and then…”

I hated it. It taught me a new appreciation for what hating something is. I hadn’t really understood what hate was until I had a child. I thought that I hated bullies at school, that I hated bad theater, or that I hated my sister’s ex-boyfriends, but being a father taught me some perspective. All of those things are finite, all of those things can be walked away from, and all of those hatreds are clean, unpolluted with expectations or my own failures. Having a baby taught me a new kind of hate, because I didn’t hate him, I hated myself for KNOWING I could never be the father he needed, that I couldn’t do for him any better than I was done for. It was a hatred I couldn’t escape.

So, it was ME that was the problem. This boy, this broken, puking fleshbot, needed a father and I couldn’t do the job. So, I had to start small and pretend.

My God, it’s incredible to look back on. When you wake up after three hours of sleep, and you see that the day stretched out in front of you has no room for more sleep in it, no room for exercise or TV or writing music or following your own dreams, when you see there’s nothing in it but screams and vomit and a baby who can’t see, can’t crawl, can’t hold his head up… there is sorrow there, there is darkness there, but when the night comes, and there’s no sleep again, and there’s a quick nap, and the next day rolls on to you, and the night comes, and the days disappear, and the baby still can’t speak, can’t lift his head, can’t do anything but scream and puke and pass out… the sorrow turns to darkness.

And I despaired, I did. I’m not proud of it, but I did.

So, I began to work without sleep. And I began to relax when he did, to sleep when he was unconscious, instead of standing over him in horror, wondering when he would wake up. I began to enjoy the moments when one of our parents had him, to walk away. The spot that I had once been began to have a defining space around it again.

And it all started changing. So fast. The days, the minutes, felt epic and harrowing, but the months began to spin by. My worry had gone from SIDS to… baby gates? He’s walking? He’s pulling things down, putting things in his mouth. And my concern started to go from baby gates to… friends? He’s getting along with people? Is he fighting for what he wants, but still respecting his buddies?

And, I look at myself and I realize… I get up every morning. I finish my jobs on time, I show up for my friends. I can be turned to, relied upon. This baby needed a father, and I knew I couldn’t do it because I was a child myself, and now, three years later, I can say with total sincerity… I’m his father. I’m a grown man, and when he needs me, he knows he can count on me. I am here.

I can’t remember now why I wanted children so badly. My understanding of what children were, before I had them, is so utterly foreign to my perspective now that I can’t even conjure it. Maybe I thought I would be rolling around with a three year old, laughing and playing. And I do that now, I do it all the time. But that wasn’t what I wanted then. And the rolling around now means something, because the years spent trying to make sure he didn’t DIE taught me to be a man who understands what that rolling around means. It means I’m his father.

Now, I am that point in space that I once was, but there is an invisible tether that connects me to two other points on the map. One tether goes to my son, the other to his mother. And the further apart we are, the three of us, the tighter that tether pulls, so that the only time we can really relax is when we are, the three of us, all in the same room. That’s when the tether disappears, and we become one larger point on the map.

Quite simply, I didn’t know that would happen. I knew there was the possibility that I would change, but I didn’t know in what way. And I had no idea that being a father would make me into a father. I didn’t understand that we are not static, that we aren’t merely the sum total of what we have done, but that we also can become anything we need to simply by *doing the new thing for long enough*.

A week from today, we should have a new baby. A girl. We’re inducing next Thursday, so, hopefully, we will be able to spend next weekend as a new, larger, spot on the map, with four points instead of three. This time, I won’t hate it. I know that the malfunctioning fleshbot is only here for a few months and, before I know it, she’ll be banging into baby gates, and then worrying about friends, and then I’m gonna be begging her not to go to college in Europe.

But I also know this – I have no idea who she’s gonna turn me into. The one thing I’m sure of is how hopelessly unsure I am of who I will be three years from now. I sincerely hope I’m able to swim deep. The wishes have already been granted, I don’t dare make any more. From this point on, I’m just gonna have to make myself into what I wish to be.

Why I’m Staying

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

My friend Martin Denton is deactivating his facebook profile and leaving that particular corner of the virtual world. Please read his blog post about it, because it feels like a rational and well-thought-out response to the recent revelations about Facebook’s cavalier attitude toward privacy and the degradation of the writer, and I hope that his deactivation will help inspire whatever changes he hopes to make.

As the title of this blog would indicate, I’m not leaving Facebook, but it is something we should all spend a minute or two *considering*. It is really important that we look at the time we have and figure out if we are spending it well, and Facebook has some real problems built in to it that go beyond the problems with privacy. But since that’s the issue of the moment let me just take a moment to explain why their privacy policies don’t bother me in the least.

Facebook wants us to let them know who we are and what we like to do, and they want us to give as much of that information over as possible so they can steer advertisers towards us. Our lives, the information that we share, is the raw materials that Facebook turns into profit. As creepy as that sounds, it’s totally fine with me. I do, in fact, have interests and some money, and if I can depart with a little bit of my money in order to have a more interesting life, then that feels very American to me, and because my interests feel a bit under-monopolized in our culture, I’m more than happy to let Facebook know what they are, and steer stuff my way.

Also, Facebook is free for me because they are selling time and space to people who produce stuff that I might be interested in. So, I get to re-connect with old friends and keep up with new friends, all the while some industrialist is pumping out Items of Interest, and I find out about them because THEY pay Facebook to let me know. I don’t feel like I’m *LOSING* anything in this.

But the dirty little secret about Facebook is that it is becoming a virtual representation of… nothing. We have to be really careful not to let Facebook become a replacement for real-life socializing, and the real-world creation of experience. I will check out the profiles of friends and acquaintances, and they often have thoughts about the links they are posting that are really interesting. Someone will post a Huffington Post article, and express outrage, and their friends will comment, either for or against, but that is all happening in a vacuum.¬† The Facebooker isn’t creating the article, and they’re doing nothing to respond to the information in the article, they are posting it, creating a three sentence response, and then shit-talking with some people they know.

Even worse is our line of work, where people use the facebook invite to hassle people about upcoming performances. They feel like, if they’ve made a Facebook invite, then they’ve done some marketing. Martin actually talks about this really well, because the truth is, if you’ve got five or six hundred friends on Facebook, then there’s a large percentage of them, say 40%, who are your primary friends, and they already know what you’ve got going on, and then there’s a smaller percentage, say 25%, that are old friends and family from other parts of the country and world who aren’t gonna see your play, and then the rest are available to be marketed to. So, that’s about 150 people you’re reaching with your facebook invite, and if you get an OUTRAGEOUS return on that invite, and 30 more people come… then you can see, this really shouldn’t be the beginning and end of your marketing.

Because, the thing is, that invite is reaching the same people that your newsfeed is. So, inviting people, and THEN doing twelve updates a day in your newsfeed isn’t reaching anyone new. It’s the same 30 people that are either gonna come or not.

I’m not saying it’s a waste of time, but I think there’s an argument to be made that you can’t decide that new media marketing is some kind of goldmine. Seanrants pal Jimmy Comtois said something to the effect of “we know that 75% of our marketing isn’t working, but we don’t know which 75%, so we have to do it all…” and I think the wrinkle I would add is that ALL of your marketing doesn’t work 75% of the time, so you have to do it 100% of the time to get any response. We have to Facebook.

But your show still needs to be listed at all the listing sites, you still have to create a REAL WORLD story to go along with your show, and you have to be a physical part of your community. When we were marketing Viral, I posted a lot of stuff on Twitter and Facebook, but most of it was letting people know about stories that were happening outside these insular worlds. We set up interviews with the playwright, we doled out the announcements of awards and nominations and everything else that counted as news.

But more than that, we donated furniture to other shows. We did swaps of postcards. WE PRINTED POSTCARDS. We made sure to show up to the festivals BEFORE our festival, and we made sure to talk to the people who’s shows were awesome. We donated scripts to reading series’, we showed up to reading series and then talked to the playwrights and directors who worked IN the reading series.

And then, yeah, the next day, we wrote on Facebook about what we had done the night before.

Now, I’m staying with Facebook because it’s just such a nice way for me to disseminate information to the 600 or so closest people to me, but I am going to continue to be careful not to let the telling of the story to become the story. When I see pictures of my friends’ kids, I want that to inspire me to go see them IN PERSON. And when someone talks about seeing a show, I want to be able to comment and say I was there as well.

But Martin is absolutely right, and he’s in a very powerful position to inspire us to remember the primary source for our posts. Our posts should reflect our real lives, and our real lives are not being lived online.