Friday, May 28, 2010

Pay the Cat Price

Curiosity may have killed the cat; more likely the cat was just unlucky,
or else curious to see what death was like, having no cause to go on licking paws, or fathering litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Nevertheless, to be curious is dangerous enough. To distrust what is always said,
what seems, to ask questions, interfere in dreams, leave home, smell rats, have hunches do not endear cats to those doggy circles where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches are the order of things, and where prevails much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it. Curiosity will not cause us to die- only lack of it will. Never to want to see the other side of the hill or that improbable country where living is an idyll (although a probable hell) would kill us all.
Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible, are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables with tales of their nine lives.
Well they are lucky. Let them be nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again, each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one is all that can be counted on to tell the truth.
And what cats have to tell on each return from hell is this: that dying is what the living do, that dying is what the loving do and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

-Alastair Reed

Friday, May 7, 2010

Questioning your Unthinking Faith in Capitalism: ENRON, The Play by Lucy Prebbles

So I went to see this play the night before the UK descended into chaos and instability, i.e., last night and I haven't been so happy with a play in a VERY long time. Maybe August: Osage County made me that happy. The Sociable Plover was great last summer.

This play is not perfect. It starts a little slow and ends a little bombastically. Some of the characters don't really go anywhere (I'm looking at you, Claudia Roe) but it sparkles with insight and it breathes the fire of events of a decade ago better than anyone has ever done it theatrically. Yes, you read that correctly, New York Times!

The NYT gave Enron a kind of hostil review and it is closing a week into the run in New York.

This is a travesty. The NYT made a mistake. They make very few but this is one of them. I should start a futile Facebook group entitled Bring Enron Back to New York. I will the day my 16 month old daughter turns 18. Just wait until then.

In the meantime there are just these seventeen minutes between completing a draft contract and jumping on my bicycle to go pick up my kids from school, so I will try to be as efficient as possible.

The play is big, visual, inventive, true, accurate, theatrical and thought-provoking.

I hate agreeing with the Guardian because the institution is terminally smug but they are right. Enron is closing because people from one culture close ranks when they are criticised by an outsider. No American wants to hear Jamie Oliver tell us that our children's eating habits are lousy. We would rather embrace the eating habits than defer to outsider criticism. Same with the play. Every culture does this, but it's kind of stupid and it needs to stop. The merits of the message are the merits of the message, the art is the art, no matter who it comes from.

So what is great about Enron the play, the artistry was the unerring vision of the fall of the U.S. -through 9/11, through Enron, through the awful time of the 2000 election. That is not to say this is about the failure of the United States. We fell, we are getting up again, but we fell. The Brits fell pretty far as well and farther in some respects.

The chronicling of Enron begins shortly after Jeff Skilling is hired and ends after he is in jail. The play has songs and is massively physical. The psychosis of the trading floor, the frenzy around the millenium, done in startlingly physical set pieces. The board of directors are three men in suits with giant white mice heads. The corporate forms for the hiding of losses are velociraptors in suits. The accountant, Arthur Anderson is a disturbing ventriloquist act and the lawyers all had their eyes duct taped shut. The Lehman Brothers are comic conjoined twins (I am NEVER a fan of conjoined twin comedy so this didn't work for me but the others are phenomenal).

But the playwright shows unabashed empathy and admiration for the inventive genius of these guys. There is a lot of affection and admiration for the way humans are. Don't think that the piece is anti-American.


Seeing this play on UK election night when the main issue (to me) is financial regulatory reform was mindblowing. Because Enron really asks whether capitalism is compatible with humanity. I realize that even asking that question makes me a communist in Sarah Palin's America but I don't care. I can be an American and ask myself why we are blinded by faith in unfettered capitalism.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in very much but I really don't believe that the means of creation and distribution of goods should be controlled by the government. No. but actually, between the government and private corporations, I'll just take the one that isn't susceptible to corruption.

And I'll take an even bigger step back than that. What that play brought home to me was the world of business reporting, stock analysts, trading, derivatives, lawyers, accountants: we are all just propping up a stock market: a market that does not make anything, but just bets on the future of others. How did we let such a big proportion of our economy and our best and brightest embroiled in something so counterproductive for humankind? Stocks don't do anything but make some people money and lose some people money. We have bigger fish to fry here in 2010. We need to allocate jobs that do something for the world: poverty, ecology, equality. Because as you can see in the play, the almighty stock price is the most powerful force in America. And that is heartbreaking. So we shoot the messenger by sending the play Enron back to the UK.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Perhaps Better Described as Should Disease

Sometimes the diagnosis of a mental illness within the diagnostic manual is useful. Useful for the treating psychopharmacologist, certainly. But I have been thinking about my bipolar diagnosis for nine years now and the four readers of this blog are familiar with my view that a very small percentage of what is treatable in mental illness is treatable by meds. In fact, I think nothing less than a fearless inventory of your entire life is required to beat the incapacity pain in our minds (which manifests itself throughout the entire body, i.e., nervous system) can cause.

Lately I have been thinking that what I have is better described as "Should Disease". There is what I am like, what my situation is, how I spend my day and there is, a distance away, what I think I should be like, what I think my situation should be and how I think I should have spent my day. I live in the distance between what is and what should be, punishing myself that one is not like the other.

I made a mistake today and I now have enough self-awareness to realize what a horrific, humiliating ass-kicking I give myself every time I make a mistake. The mistake does not incapacitate me but the mortification and shame I feel unnecessarily as a result sure as hell does. With all the internalization of a first child, I even sort of attract further mistakes, so complete is my own condemnation and judgment of myself.

This is a more complete description of my symptoms than the traditional listings for mania and depression.

People with Should Disease inflict misery on themselves and truly suffer as a result. I propose a diagnostic tool for that. It's this thing I noticed watching movies with people. Most people see internal anguish as abnormal and wrong and scenes of internal anguish frequently become unbearable for them as viewers. This does not happen to me. To me, the actors on the screen, no matter how raw and well-acted their pain is, really are experiencing just what I experience not infrequently. It's just not that impressive. This could be used as some sort of acid test of internal suffering.

Women I think may be more likely to have Should Disease because there are so many volumes of Shoulds available to us. Fashion, Skincare, Career, Motherhood, Lifestyle, Ecology. I used to get so mad at male trial lawyers when I was practicing for just this reason. They would shave and slip on a suit and be ready to go. I would have body issues, concealer performance issues, cat guilt, mascara application anxiety, I would have to find a pair of pantyhose with no runs and it always seemed like I had so much more work to do. So many more areas where I could fail. So many big baseball bats marked with shoulds to use on myself.

The good news is now that I have identified it, it is easier to make it go away.