Thursday, July 2, 2015

Shameless Creativity!

Hello everybody.

It's me, Ryan Rebel. Have you heard of me? Perhaps I came to your attention through such blogs as The Name Is Rebel, Post-Credit Coda, or Real Life.

I haven't updated this, my personal blog, in like four or five months. So much has happened, and so little. Should I feel ashamed for leaving you all hanging about developments in my personal life? I think I shouldn't, because it's none of your business. Sometimes a guy just decides he cares more about writing about movies than detailing his day-to-day.

I return to you today not because I have some brilliant proclamation, or because I am ashamed for leaving you hanging, or because I miss typing things about myself that others will read. I return to you today for one purpose and one purpose only: shameless self-promotion.

My Philly peeps! I want to tell you about a thing I'm doing. Here is the poster for it.


I didn't make the poster, okay? Get off my back. I don't know what you think about me, but I'm not a graphic designer. It's not my job.

My job is, however, running this workshop. If you are at all interested in working on your Creative Writing for six weeks, please sign up. It's free and it'll be fun. If you know anybody who might be interested, please tell them. If you don't know if you know anybody who might be interested, please share the poster anyway. I'm trying to do something cool with getting this workshop off the ground at Venice Island, a new performing arts center with nascent babylike programming, and I would like to have at least six people sign up. Right now I have three.

Join us! You will almost likely not regret it!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Containing Multitudes

Today I feel like something that doesn't know what it is yet. This is better than the days when I feel like nothing that will be nothing.

On the days you feel like something, you can see an arc. Systems of meaning make sense, and you are on a developmental path through a life with significance. It's like that one scene in Donnie Darko with the liquidy tube coming out of his chest and preceding his every movement. Sometimes you feel like that tube is pulling you against your will toward inevitability--you're feeling fatalistic, but at least there is a tube and it is going somewhere. On the best days you think you might be able to tell it where to go.

We are the conductor controlling the direction of our train.
Better yet we are the automobilist navigating among many possible roads.
Better yet we are the horseman free to forge any path not too steep or too narrow.
Better yet we are the spaceman...

(On the nothing days there is no tube, just a series of twitches and glitches that amount to nothing more than white noise in a black universe.)

You are sitting at a Chinese restaurant, full-up. The restaurant is named Han Dynasty, or some other such appropriately oriental name that will satisfy the hordes of white people who come here for food and culture.

The waiter brings out one final tray. He sets it down in front of you, a glint in his eyes.

"Fortune cookie," he says. One cookie in particular is within your grasp. You take it as he watches. "And check," he points out helpfully, before disappearing into the back. You wonder about that look he gave you when you chose your fortune. This is like the beginning of an especially lazy Stephen King story.

Your attention lands on the cookie in question. Wrapped in plastic, the golden crescent looks exactly like every other fortune cookie you've ever had. Every snowflake is different, sure, but same basic format. You do notice, however, that this tasty morsel has a bit more heft to it than most comparable cookies.

Everyone at the table is ripping into the plastic. The woman on your right has already crumbled her cookie, ravenous to discover its insides. She brushes her hands together to rid herself of the crumbs from the wasted dessert and reads aloud from the little slip. You barely listen: "lucky in love," "unlucky in lust," or some such banality. Her eyes go agoggle; she obviously has some thoughts about her future that she is keeping to herself.

The woman on your left ignores the cookie entirely. Her attentions are above all purely pragmatic. She scans the check with a dutybound wrinkle in her forehead.

The woman across from you has removed the plastic wrapper. She stares at you without flinching, the cookie perched between her thumb and forefinger, still whole. Eye contact unbroken, she pops the entire cookie into her mouth and puts her molars to work. Deep in her cheeks the cookie is ground up and lost forever. She had not bothered to remove her fortune.

You are perplexed but you do not ask. Your focus is drawn elsewhere. Your cookie is calling you. Picking it up with both hands, you lever your thumbs against it and crack the cookie in half. A tangled spool of white material immediately bursts forth. It appears to be an absurdly long, thin sheet of fortune cookie paper. The spool plops onto the table and expands. For some reason you are embarrassed. Everybody watches as you root around in search of the beginning of the paper. Tiny writing swirls around itself like a massive knot, or a bee's nest. You are poking around in the grey matter beneath somebody's open skull.

Finally you find where your fortune begins. You read, not aloud like your companion, but deep in your head in that intimate electric spot where you send words to be understood. This is what you understand:

The following is your fortune: I know why you have come here, come to me, come to my crumbly cookie shell searching for answers--you have come here because I am your modern day oracle, your ten commandments, a connection to fate in this time of deep irony, a postmodern in-joke, a way for you to believe in nothing and still have fun with it, a flavor of nihilism, a flavor of narcissism, a flavor of fatalism, I am a mockery of a brand of Eastern culture that has never existed and will never exist, I am what makes you comfortable, I am to be indulged, I am to be disregarded, I am most certainly what Confucius did not say: for all these reasons and more you come to me seeking answers, and just this once I will give you the Answer, although you will be disappointed--for in this case, as in all cases, the Answer is that all answers are inherently and contextually dissatisfying, and before you accuse me of copping out on this fortune, let me explain what I mean: there is a brand of philosophy that declares all knowledge bankrupt, all wisdom bereft, all thought futile, all meaning irrelevant, and so on--this philosophy, perhaps rooted in cynicism, perhaps rooted in postmodernism, perhaps rooted in a strange breed of rationalism, seems to be a valid way of looking at the world in many senses... yet, the response is that this line of thinking is immature, blind, narrowminded, for reality clearly exists in some sense--we are here, are we not?--and within the context of human society we have certainly created meaning in order to accomplish things in conjunction with each other, whether or not it exists in objective reality--to which some would respond with some bastardized Descartes to argue that we cannot even be sure of social reality, it may all be a delusion, or less than a delusion, for there is no true way of knowing that we are not alone, and that the concept of aloneness itself means nothing--to which many would respond by channeling John Donne's insistence that no man is an island, and any connection that we beings have accomplished that has led us to achieve something we could not have done alone (read: almost everything) is proof that meaning is tied in with our ability to progress and improve as a species--to which many would respond that the concepts of "progress" and "improvement" carry far to many assumptions; perhaps humans are naturally animals that are only held together in a semi-civil society by Hobbes' Leviathan, the massive specter of an authoritarian government, and that this "progress" we have made is in fact an illusion that will someday collapse into oblivion--to which others respond with the social theory of Marx or Weber or Durkheim or Darwin, all theorists who spent decades refining their sophisticated systems of knowledge that inform us of our place in society, where society used to be, and where it is going, as well as the importance of progress for social good: although society may be built upon an abyss, it is still built, and it is better than abyss, so why not embrace it and spend our humanity moving towards a better life for all?--to which many would respond with ire at the choice of those theorists what with their rampant racism and sexism, and their narratives of progress that smack of eurocentrism and privilege: are not all narratives of progress tools of the oppressors, used to beat down unwanted perspectives from picking at the seams of their Snowpiercing choo-choo trains that are supposedly bastions of advancement but in reality send us on the same god-forsaken trip round this dire planet over and over here we go round the mulberry bush ashes to ashes we all fall down... all of which I mention merely to demonstrate the swirling chaos of the things we believe, and have believed, throughout our history, which is so important for you to recognize because everybody who has ever lived has had their own personal set of beliefs--religious, political, philosophical, horticultural--that they have been reluctant to part with; you may say that we are working together to gain more knowledge and weed out the unhelpful stuff, but your premise rests on the foundations of so many philosophical starting points that have been used and reused millions of times before you and will be used and reused again--Aristotle thought he knew how to make a proper argument thousands of years ago, and here you are thinking that you know so much better than him; well, friend, I'm here to tell you that time passes, and if you think I have always been this way, a long message in a little cookie, you are mistaken--all things change, and so the main thing I wish to impart upon you is this: never be satisfied with your system of knowledge, because it will never be enough; artists, scientists, great thinkers, entertainers, are they important--this remains to be seen in the long run, but even in the short run the answer will be a resounding no if they choose to rest on their haunches and adopt or adapt a lazy system or aesthetic--no system of knowledge has ever transcended time, nor has any even transcended the person whose system it was--people have had lasting effects on our cultural consciousness, but no man has ever been able to use Sigmund Freud's exact system of knowledge, even if a whole series of disciplines have been shaped by Freudian ideas: nor would we want it to be so, for if a reincarnation of the great Stanley Kubrick were to walk among us today, he would not make films exactly the same as he used to--we would not get another Shining or 2001; instead, this reincarnation would demonstrate what the original Kubrick demonstrated over the course of his own life: a human must evolve its mind every single moment, for fear of becoming obstinate, obscure, and obtuse--stagnancy is the grave, and we will all be there eventually, so why get there early by making up your mind to think what you think forever and for all times... all that being said, I'm sure you could make a solid counterargument--but what do I know, I'm a paper inside of a cookie.

You finish reading and the slip of paper falls from your hands. All of Han Dynasty has fallen silent, waiting for you to offer some sign. Your face slack, your voice dead in your throat, a crushing feeling comes upon you. A single tear rolls down your cheek. You find yourself thinking of that American Indian in the commercial looking at all the trash on the road. You enjoy modeling yourself after him. You wonder if that makes you racist or just sentimental.

Hey.

Stop wondering what the hell you just read. It's an allegory. Maybe you've heard of allegories?

I'm sorry, reader. I didn't mean to lash out at you like that, I really think nothing but the best of you. Well, depending on who specifically you are, I might think some bad things about you. But generally speaking, you are the reader, and I respect that.

No, I'm only being petulant because I've been in a creative rut for about a year. Just when I was committing myself to a life in pursuit of that holy grail--the creation of good art--I stopped having any artistic production whatsoever. It's discouraging.

I even have a hard time writing blog posts sometimes, that lowest of low pressure mediums. Part of it is the fear. Some famous author (was it David Foster Wallace?) talked about The Fear as the single most onerous impediment to young creatives. The Fear is all of your deep-seated anxieties keeping you from acting, the Fear is your Freudian psychoses and neuroses gumming up your mental works, the Fear is a fun house mirror that lets you look at a counterfactual self you don't like very much.


Even now it's hard not to think of this blog post as a facepalm-in-waiting. I mean, just look at this blog. I've been writing it for almost five years now. There are so many entries that display immaturity and wrongheadedness. I cringe to think of it. I have to squint to make it through them. It's horse trash.

Me 1: It's horse trash.
Me 2: That's stupid, that's not even a phrase.
Me 3: See? You're already censoring yourself three seconds after you have a genuine thought. How can you expect to ever like anything you produce?
Me 2: Editing is different than censoring.
Me 4: It all has to do with shame, but sometimes shame is productive.
Me 1: Usually it isn't.
Me 3: I agree. You used to be able to write a short story and like it for a few months before it started looking shabby and dumb. You've just finally gotten to the point where your writing starts looking shabby after a few seconds, so you've lost the will to put it all down on the page in the first place after all.
Me 2: "In the first place after all"? You sound like an idiot.
Me 3: I know I do! Which only further proves my point. You have nothing to say and no good way to say it, which you have learned by now, which is why you don't even bother.
Me 4: Don't pretend you know me like I'm you. I don't don't bother because I've given up--I do don't bother because I still hold out hope.
Me 1: That's not productive. You're just occluding the matter even more.
Me 4: Not everything has to be productive. I thought you learned that lesson by now.
Me 1: It's a hard lesson to learn.
Me 5: You all know how much you sound like a bunch of ponces, right? Maybe if you'd pull yourselves together for once you'd actually accomplish something.
Me 3: You're one to talk. We were that much more together before you felt the need to materialize for the sole purpose of criticizing our lack of togetherness.
Me 5: Maybe I have another purpose.
Me 2: Probably not. It's fine, I started existing just to criticize as well.
Me 1: This is never going to end.
Me 2: This is never going to end.
Me 3: This is never going to end.
Me 5: This is never going to end.
Me 4: This is never going to

Walt Whitman had it right when he told us we contain multitudes. He had it totally right. Totally right.

Well, not totally right, for at least two reasons.

1. If he had it totally right, why did he feel the need to rewrite and republish "Song of Myself"?
2. If he had it totally right, why is he dead?

I fear the critical eye of the world just as I fear the critical eye of my future self (at least I have finally come to terms with the critical eye of my former self). But if I were to be unassailable, what's the point? If I made the perfect work, would there be anything left to talk about? Some say that it isn't the work of art itself that is important so much as the discourse surrounding it. Since every point has a counterpoint, you could argue against that... but you would be making discourse. Productive discourse? Insightful discourse? Futile discourse? Dunno!

I had an amazing childhood, but I didn't like being a kid very much. Movies confused me, and I hated when everybody in the room was laughing but I didn't know why. Sometimes I would fall asleep at night thinking that there was some great, world-changing, incredibly intelligent thought waiting to be thunk into existence, but it was just out of my grasp. This feeling frustrated me more than anything.

I've discovered so many systems of knowledge since then, even a few that are incredibly meaningful to me. I wouldn't give that up for anything. That being said, there are plenty of days these systems betray me, or lead me down dark paths. On those days, I am nothing, and I will be nothing. Was I happier as a kid?

Sure. Sure.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Highest American Christmas

The Highest American Christmas
By Ryne Rebel

CHARACTERS

-Krist Cringle
-Mrs Clause
-Master Elf
-Elfs
-Wilvur Wight
-Orvil Wight

SCENE 1

[KRIST CRINGLE is smoking some tobaco and worried about Christmas. Also there is MRS CLAUSE.]

KRIST: O wife, I am concerned about this holidays. The season will be about to be runed.

MRS CLAUSE: Why is that Krist, you never tell me anything.

KRIST: Swiftly we are running out of time, and the shipping lanes are froze shut! We need all the help we can.

MRS CLAUSE: I can help.

KRIST: No.

[Enter ELFS and MASTER ALF, all abuzz over the quandrum.]

MASTER: The Elfs are unruly
Upset as can be
For the rivers are icy
And so can the sea!

KRIST: How is your condition Elfs?

ELFS: Pain! We are worked until our bones show!

KRIST: As it should be. But a new problem presents itself at the present. About the presents. We cannot get your toys to the good peoples of America, and the other nations.

ELFS: Woe!

MASTER: This Christmas will suck
My elfs will revolt
We're stuck in the muck
ANd it is cold.

MRS CLAUSE: Let me tend your wonds.

KRIST: Quiet Missus, they deserve nothing.

WILVUR: We can help save it.

ORVIL: Yes we can!

KRIST: How can mere mortals men help deliver our presence?

WILVUR: We have made an invention.

[WILVUR and ORVIL WIGHT have entered.]

WILVUR: We have an invention.

ORVIL: Our most brillant!

KRIST: Scoff they don't call me the jolly old skeptic for not! Your lying, Chrismas is runed.

MRS CLAUSE: I think you should hear them.

KRIST: Your lying.

WILVUR: We will show you the grand American Truth.

ORVIL: The Truth of American Spirit and a Spirit of Chrismas!

ELFS: Wow!

[The two REAL MEN bring in the strength of their enginuity in the form of a AIRPLAINE.]
[Only AMERICAN could acomplish this.]

KRIST: This is boatcraft that will cut through ice?

MRS CALUSE: No bufoon this is first AIRCRAFT.

KRIST: Wife where have my cokies been?

CLAUSE MRS: I'll get them.

[MRS CLAUSE is exiting.]

KRIST: Satan Clause is noting without his cokies Ho Ho ho!

MASTER: The presents will fly
Because of the plane
No children will die
So continues our rein!

WILVUR: Another stuporous American trumph.

ORVIL: WHat can Chrasmas acomplish next!

END

EPILOGUE: So is the true sotroy of the North Pool in crisis. There are no magic Rodolphs to save Krist Cringle, but only great old fashion American greatness. Krist was able to deliver the toys to good people, all over America, but in a few other nations too. All godfearing citizens knew the power of Wilvur and Orvil's flying achivement that dark day.

END



(for an index of further Great American Heroes stories go here)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Slick

I'm sitting at the Ardmore train station an hour before the next train arrives. I checked the train schedule this morning. Sundays are simple: the train arrives every hour at the 54 minute mark. Every single hour except the 3:00 hour, which for some baffling reason arrives at 3:48. Of course, I got to the station at 3:50 thinking I had time to spare. 

I don't mind too much. I spent the last two nights on a chair and a couchlike structure, respectively, so I'm ready for a serious nap-and-shower. But the weather is pleasant and it's peaceful here.

The few weeks since my move to the city of Philadelphia have been filled with buses and trains. I used to be afraid of public transportation. The fear stemmed mostly from unfamiliarity with the system. How do I know how much to pay? And when? And into what? What if I miss my stop? How am I supposed to keep track of where I am, anyway? It kept me from doing things. I think I had only ridden a bus alone once in my life (Megabus excluded).

Now the turns have tabled. I got myself a fancy monthly Transit Pass that looks like this:


It makes me powerful; I can go anywhere as far as Haverford and all I have to do is flash that righteous snowboarder like it's an FBI badge and I'm on my way. This pass and my route-savvy smartphone are the two pillars supporting my newfound public transportation confidence. I feel like a king pulling the cord to stop, walking the damp subway corridors, minding the gap. Or at least I feel like a real person. Which makes me feel like a king.

Then you read a schedule wrong or a bus doesn't show and you feel dumb all over again. All part of city life.

I've even developed my very own citywalking scowl. You know, the face everybody puts on in the city to make it look like they'll kick your ass if you say boo to them. Except I suspect my scowlface looks less differentiated from my normal face than it feels.

I feel good about being a city slicker, which probably means I'll get mugged soon.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Trials of Job part 2

Read part 1 here.

When you graduate college, you don't get to use your old email address anymore. Of course I understand why. It's purely pragmatic: the email address was provided for you to communicate easily with others at college, and anyway they might need your combination of first initial and last name for someone else down the line.

Regardless of that, it's hard not to interpret the dissolution of your email address of four years as the coldest of gestures. In the months after graduation, you keep wondering, "When are they going to take it away from me?" As if it were a punishment, or the removal of an unearned privilege. 

The trouble isn't making a new email. That's middle school just-discovered-the-Internet stuff. The trouble is that you have been using it as a form of identity for almost half a decade, so you have to change all your precious online accounts for fear of getting locked out. The ones that you remember about, anyway. There will be no more retrieving a lost password from rrebel@haverford.edu.

Plus there's the matter of nobody knowing how to email you anymore. The bright side of all this, of course, is that your new inbox is pristine by comparison to your old. Years of clutter that you were definitely saving for a reason just wiped away. 

That's why it was easy for me to count out the job applications I've emailed--I have used my new address for hardly anything else.

17 job applications since this summer, for positions like Programs Assistant, Print Shop Office Assistant, Box Officer, Greeter I, and Cluemaster. I applied for a job in Florida and one in Hawaii, for kicks. Some of these positions I was underqualified for and some I was overqualified for. Some I wanted and some I didn't, but all I was more than willing to consider. Add to that the applications I submitted via websites, and I've probably applied for 20-25 jobs.

It felt like more than that. It felt like way more. 

It's strange to look back and realize that I've only been home doing nothing for two months--September and October. Time is such a quandrum, to use one of my favorite malapropisms. I don't know how anyone can believe that time is objective. There are pockets in time, holes that open wide enough for you to fall in. They swallow you up.

My last two months existed in one of those pockets. It could have felt like summer vacation, but it didn't. My status as an unemployed graduate hung over my every action, riddling fun, relaxing activities with pointless anxiety. I've always told people that I never get bored--there's always something to do, be it reading, writing, watching, playing. I'm a solitary person so solitary activities normally keep me occupied. The trouble is, the pall of unemployment muddies the enjoyment of these things, such that I couldn't focus on reading half the time, and I would feel guilty for watching TV or playing games. Every few days I would shoot out some more applications, but I couldn't even feel good about that because of the deafening silence with which they were met. 

I had thought unemployment would be an ideal time to really dig into my creative writing, but my psyche had one or two things to say about that. Everything I put down on the page was atrocious to the point that I couldn't think of a single interesting thing to write at all. Lesson one of writing is that you just need to do it, no matter the quality--first drafts are always bad! But I had gotten to the point where everything I came up with was so devoid of interest moments after coming up with it that I couldn't bring myself to finish anything. I was my own worst critic.

I like to joke sometimes that my id gave up a long time ago and is just sitting alone on a bench somewhere, staring off into space. Well, I think my muse joined him. But they don't even talk. They just sit there.

My mood was a vapid roller coaster, trundling up and down with absurd regularity. Some days I would be totally relaxed and happy and enjoying myself and having fun with my family and just generally appreciating my free time. Some days I would descend into anxiety and self-loathing and insecurity and loneliness and want nothing more than to get out of the house, but find myself unable to think of a reason to do so. It got to the point where the cycle was so regular, I could predict when my mood would shift. "Hey, I've been feeling great this week! I'm probably going to wake up not wanting to get out of bed..." or "These past few days have been painfully depressing. At least I'll feel like a person again tomorrow or the next day."

I thought about the term depression, but decided I didn't want to claim it for myself. I know what it is to feel depressed, but I think that is different than having depression, which I feel is a more sustained medical condition. Instead I think I'm going to be pretentious and claim the word "anomie."

Anomie is a sociological term coined by the great Emile Durkheim, founder of said discipline. It's been a few years since I studied sociology so I will of course turn to google and Wikipedia for my characterization of the word. The dictionary definition is: lack of the usual social or ethical standards in an individual or group. Basically, an absence of structure. Wikipedia offers one better: the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community...resulting in fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. Durkheim describes anomie as "derangement" and "an insatiable will."

Anomie is what happens when a person is alienated from society, which can happen in any number of ways. Without the structure of useful norms and values (the kind that one might find in, say, a COLLEGE, or a JOB that they care about), a person's identity gets screwed up because they don't know what they want, or even if they want anything at all. There are no clear goals and aspirations, no purpose, which is what Durkheim means when he mentions an insatiable will: we have all this social energy, but no outlet through which to satisfy it. 

Like I mentioned in part 1, post-college has been the first time in my life when I didn't have a necessary next step. I was not mentally prepared for it. That's why I couldn't write, and basically lost all ability to communicate meaningfully with other people: the anomie that resulted from the mismatch between the structure and norms I was used to, and the scanty structure of joblessness that I was living with.

Days would pass and I would hardly say a word. I got distant and withholding, which is my defense mechanism for most things. I probably gave the cold shoulder to people who didn't deserve it. I would interpret kind, concerned gestures as controlling or invasive, and I would know that I was doing it. Everyone would ask about my job search, and I would despise filling them in about the turgid slowness of it all. How many ways can you say, "I haven't found anything yet"?

All of this explains my reaction when I got an email about an interview for a position with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation for a position called Workshop Leader. It was a part time job leading after school workshops in whatever activity you had experience with.

That week I went back and forth 20+ times about whether I would make a trip to Philly for this interview. Even if I got it, I would have to move to Philly on a dime, and scramble to find another job lickety-split to survive. I eventually decided I would make the trip, if only to visit my Haverford friends. It's not like I was doing anything important at home, anyway.

So I went, not telling anyone why I was going because I had decided a while back that my policy was to share nothing about my job search unless 1. Somebody asked explicitly, or 2. Something became definite. I'd had too many interviews and email exchanges that went nowhere to want to get anybody's hopes up about yet another one--including my own hopes.

The parks and rec interviews were happening all week. There were about fifty people being interviewed for twenty-five positions. On my day, there were eight of us awkwardly sitting in a circle of folding chairs, and four parks folks who were leading the interview. We were to take turns leading 5-minute-long sample workshops with the rest of the group. I led an acting workshop in which we did a bit of warming up, and I taught them the easiest improv game in the world. I even talked a bit about Stanislavsky!

Afterwards, when I got called in for my individual interview, one of the ladies told me that a new performance arts rec center just opened, and that she would be willing to give me a tour of the place before I returned to Pittsburgh. Normally workshop leaders bounce around to different rec centers, but she thought I might be a good person to set up base in this new center. I told her that sounded good, and a second lady contributed to this dialogue:

Lady 2: I have to say, you're the first of the applicants she has offered to meet with, so that's probably a good sign!

Lady 1: Yeah I don't meet with anyone.

Lady 2: She's my boss, and I've still never met with her!

All told I left the interview in good spirits. It felt invigorating to be actually doing something again, even if it had just been a five minute demo workshop. And the fact that the parks and rec people were showing a special interest in me did wonders for my all-but-eradicated self-esteem. 

A few days later I showed up to the new center, and the lady was there to meet me with some other guy. He was apparently in charge of the place, and he showed me around the auditorium and stage and dressing rooms etc. Then we all went to sit down in the office and he started asking me questions...at which point I realized I was on a second interview. Me in my hoodie and Adventure Time t-shirt.

We talked about my theatre experience, and what I would be capable of doing, an what I would be willing to learn. Then I went home to John's room at Haverford.

A few days later I got an email offering me a job--not the job that I applied for, but one better. This job was more hours, more pay, still part time but definitely enough to live on. It's called Workshop Mentor, and I technically wasn't allowed to apply for it because applicants are supposed to have previous experience in the program.

That brings us to today. I have been on a megabus since 6:45 this morning because I am moving to an apartment in philly in preparation to begin this 9 month long Workshop Mentor position. I don't know exactly what I'll be doing, but it will involve helping this new performance arts center get off the ground. I'm nervous of course, but the nerves are insignificant in juxtaposition with the excitement. As far as I can tell, this position sounds like a far more ideal first job than I was expecting. It almost makes me grateful to Family Video for their gross negligence.

I don't know if I have a cute, clever moral to wrap this post up. That wouldn't feel right. Sometimes there's nothing happening in your life and you are miserable. Sometimes there's something happening in your life and you aren't. So it goes.

I would be remiss if I didn't thank the folks who helped me and supported me, and all that award acceptance speech jazz. The fact is, my ability to apply for the job, and visit to interview the job, and accept the job with confidence that I would have a place to live, are all directly related to the aid of people who care about me, despite my attempts to moodily shirk assistance this entire job search. As usual, having a support system is better than not, and friends are usually good things, which is the lesson I learned from every animated children's movie. Also, be yourself.

I am looking forward to feeling like an independent and self-realized person again, and in some ways for the first time. It's important to doubt and be cynical sometimes, but I've done enough abyss-gazing to tide me over for a while. Now it's time to build something. I hope.

Cue obnoxious bus selfie (belfie) that is meant to symbolize my current emotional state of anticipation and hope.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Trials of Job part 1

The other evening I had a telephone conversation with a Haverford junior. She told me her name twice but I don't remember it. We spoke on a landline; she had called my home phone. At first I was naively curious. Who gave her this number? Is she looking for information? Advice?

Nope--money. But I had a hard time holding that against her. We had a pleasant conversation.

She asked if I was Ryan Rebel. I am. She asked if this was my preferred number. It's not, but I lied. She asked my major, and I said English. That much we had in common; we talked about advisors and the Hurford Humanities Center for a while. Then, just before asking me to be generous, she asked me a question I found curious:

Do you have any questions for me about Haverford?

At first I was puzzled, thinking that I had been at Haverford longer than her, why would I have any questions? Then I began to think about my status as an alum. Do I have any questions that have formed in the months since graduation? I thought of a few.

What am I supposed to do now that I am finished with you, Haverford? Now that you are finished with me?

Why doesn't the rest of the world acknowledge the intellectual currency that you have taught us to hold so dear?

Do I mean anything more to you now than a potential source of income?

Did I mean anything more to you then than a definite source of income?

I asked her none of these things. She asked me for twenty-five dollars. I gave her ten. She forgot to ask me for my card's expiration date and had to call back. I gave her that too.

The thing about college is that it is a massive privilege. Whether that privilege is earned, gifted, or inherited, a privilege it remains. We pay money to be housed, fed, and taught. It's essentially a four-year membership to a country club, but with book-learnin instead of poolside-loungin'.

For that significant time period in our development, we are part of an institution--and that means everything. College becomes our livelihood. It becomes our culture. It becomes our identity.

"What do you do?" "I go to Haverford College."

We are branded with that name, recognized by it. It gives us legitimacy. While we're there, everyone hired by the college does everything in their power to make us feel empowered. Important. Heard. Comfortable. Nurses tend to our wounds, librarians learn our names, and we are even paid to collaborate with nationally respected professors. We are gifted well-paying jobs that amount to reading, collaborating with some of the brightest academic minds in the country, and fooling around on the Internet when we get bored.

Then we graduate.

Rather than indulging in melodrama, let me instead say that graduation is the worst thing in the world. Wait... let me try that again.

I actually got lucky and had something of a soft graduation. I spent the first few months of the ensuing summer working for a history professor. My job amounted to perusing online digital humanities projects all day. I lived on campus with close friends. I got paid well. I began my search for real-life-big-boy-no-more-training-wheels-diapers-pacifiers-blankies-stuffed-animals-or-free-back-scratches employment.

I thought I was doing pretty well at first. I landed an interview for an apprenticeship with Interact Theatre. They're a small Philadelphia theatre company who focus on overtly political theatre. The great Erin Washburn landed the apprenticeship straight out of Bryn Mawr, and I would have been honored to follow in her footsteps. I assumed that between my association with Erin, my contacts with some well-regarded Philly theatre artists, and my competent-to-impressive first (and second) interviews, I was a shoe-in for the ill-paying but experience-building job.

You know what everyone says about assumptions. They %^&@ your $#!+.

I didn't get the position. That was a blow, but when I got discouraged, I always thought the following: "I could always just go live at home and get a dinky job at the local Family Video. I could save up all my money while living in a cost-free environment, and I would get to be around movies all day!" This was an encouraging thought for me to suckle on, as back-up plans tend to be.

Even after my Haverjob ended at the close of July, I had one more prospect to look forward to: I represented Haverford in August for a Humanities lab at Carleton College. We spent two weeks making a silly video with slight academic merit, but I got to feel like I was doing the whole scholar thing once more. It was like a reprise. An encore. I had a good time.

Then I just... went home. I can tell you that the feeling of having nothing on the horizon--nothing to prepare for--nothing that was happening next--was and has continued to be one of the stranger and more unsettling things I have ever experienced. As long as I can remember I have been in school. You work hard to impress your parents, you work towards high school, you work to get into a good college, you work to get a diploma and honors and accolades and... then there is not a single thing in the world that you must work for anymore. There is no set path. No waypoints to squint at off in the distance. Just murk and the specter of self-determination.

Being at home was nice. But it was empty. I love my family and my house is comfortable and safe, but I have no friends around me. I have no structure. No social system of connections or culture. I felt like I had left my life a keystone state away.

Nonetheless, I kicked back, relaxed, and started looking for work "in earnest." Lord knows what that means. For me it meant checking some regular sources and sending out a couple applications every four or five days. In the meantime, I traversed the inexplicably Kafkaesque labyrinth that is the application process for Family Video.

Family Video is as far as I know the last of the big chain movie rental stores. When Blockbuster and Hollywood tanked, Family Video benefited in that there remained just enough demand for such an establishment that one chain could be fairly profitable. I have distant memories of renting from Hollywood, but for most of my life it has been the Family Video down the street from my house--especially because my mom thinks Redbox steals your identity, and I only recently insisted on getting a Netflix account.

Back when I was working at Haverford this summer, I got a call from Family Video trying to set up an interview for Friday that week. I called back and explained that it would need to be a phone interview. They called back and said that was fine--I would have my interview Friday at two.

Friday rolls around and two o'clock rolls around and two o'clock rolls away and three o'clock rolls around. I'm starting to get anxious--was I being stood up? I hate these situations because I feel like I need to be mentally prepared, so I can't focus on anything else. I just end up waiting around and wasting time. Finally, enough time had passed that I determined it was getting too late for them to just be late.

I called the store and asked for the manager. She answered the phone and said something like, "Oh I thought I told her to set up the meeting for two, there must have been some miscommunication," at which point I realized that I was supposed to call her at two for my interview.

I don't have much experience with phone interviews, but I don't think it works that way. Nevertheless, she didn't seem to mind (she is a nice lady), so I forged ahead into what would be a five minute conversation in which we briefly discussed The Grand Budapest Hotel (she had seen half of it but had to return the movie), and determined that I would call to set up Phase 2 of the Interview Process when I returned to Pittsburgh.

One month later I found myself sitting in a flimsy chair behind the counter with a clipboard in my lap, taking The Test. Phase 2 of every Family Video applicant's process involves taking an in person pencil and paper proficiency examination. No joke, this test was timed, and it had like eight sections. Here are the ones I remember: Spelling. Alphabetizing. Synonyms. Vocabulary. Arithmetic. Word problems. This weird complicated Sudoku-esque puzzle game. And a section where you have to read legalese and answer comprehension questions about it. 

Yeah. It was intense. As the nice lady told me, "They don't expect you to finish all the sections, don't worry." In other words, the test is DESIGNED FOR YOU TO FAIL. I didn't choose the word Kafkaesque accidentally. 

I was told that my test would be processed and I would receive a call about Phase 3. About two weeks later, that call came. My next step would be to meet the District Manager, because apparently interviewing with the Store Manager was not enough. Unfortunately, the old DM only comes to the store maybe twice a month, and I was going to be out of town the next time. So I set up for an interview two more weeks down the line, at a strange Family Video location that I had never visited before. 

I arrived at the store right on time to wait for the DM to be free. She was in her late thirties, dark-haired, harried. It became immediately apparent that she was not as nice as the nice lady.

She approached me for our interview, and the strangest thing happened. Apparently in an effort to find some privacy, she led me to the back of the store and into the video game room. We had our interview standing opposite each other between two shelves of video games. 

This interview also lasted a total of five minutes. She complained about being so busy. She asked the requisite question of what movies I like, which I am beginning to realize no one in the Family Video hierarchy could possibly care that much about. She asked a few questions like, Would you be willing to work at more locations than the one you applied for because we are understaffed? Then I'm gone, and waiting for that final magic phone call. I figure it'll only be a matter of days. Heck, the nice lady even told me I had the highest score on their test she had ever seen.

I waited days. Those days became weeks. All the while I am forced to tell the people in my life over and over again, "I'm still looking for work. I'm waiting to hear the final word for this job at the Family Video, but they haven't called yet..." Now, a job at the Family Video isn't something to brag about, but it's something. It's something to do, and something to tell people. What's worse is having to say that Family Video has had you on the hook for weeks, and just doesn't seem to want to reel you in.

Eventually I got around to calling the store until the nice lady answered. Except she didn't sound quite so nice this time. I asked when I could expect to hear from her, and she responded curtly that she had sent the DM a message but hadn't received a reply, and that she would tell me as soon as she heard anything. The conversation was over after that, because she sounded quite busy. Overworked, even. I can't help but observe that another employee on the payroll might have alleviated her workload. 

That was the last of it. To this day, I've heard nothing from the good people at Family Video. Kafkaesque indeed. One of the low blows of a job search is realizing that sometimes, even the positions you are overqualified for don't want you. It's easy to wonder what went wrong and beat yourself up over that sort of thing. It's also easy not to.

I have come to the conclusion that I must now be in Phase 4 of the application process: Purgatory. And I will remain in that Phase for the rest of my life. 

Come back tomorrow for some thoughts on being unemployed, and the unveiling of my future. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

That Time I Sat on Ronald McDonald

Have you ever seen one of those life-sized Ronald McDonalds sitting on a bench and smiling their disingenuous harlequin smiles? Have you ever seen one of them and known immediately, in your deepest, tenderest being, that you had to sit on its lap? Rather than next to it, on the bench, in the area that is so clearly designated by Ronald's arm-over-an-invisible-shoulder as the place where you are supposed to sit? What American has not acted upon this urge?

My time was eighteen years ago, when I was eleven years old. I was actually only almost eleven; you round up when you're young.

There he was, sitting on a bench, presiding over an outdoor child-stuffed playground with his all-seeing franchised eyes. I walked up to Ronald. I examined his frozen visage. I knew that it was time for me to plant my butt right on his plastic crotch. In a not gay kind of way. (For God's sake I was eleven, Ron was nothing more than an inanimate clown to me, I learned about love and the body elsewhere, like health class, and God pity the men who learned about love and the body from Ronald McDonald, because we all know they're out there.)

So I hoisted and planted. The seat was incredibly uncomfortable, what with Ron's coyly semi-crossed legs and all-around hardness. I cozied up to him, delighting in my daring derrière's demonstration of disrespect. Then I heard a still, small voice in my ear.

"I suppose this gets you off."

Not knowing what getting off meant, I had guessed that some hidden authority figure was reprimanding me for my defamation of a public private landmark, and encouraging me to remove myself. I looked about and saw no one in the vicinity. Then I heard the voice once more.

"Don't look around as if you thought you were speaking to anyone other than Ronald Goddamn McDonald."

I looked up at the statue's face, and I was shocked to observe signs of life. The statue clearly was not just a statue, though his face was frozen in the kind of way you freeze your face for a really long family picture that is so clearly hell masquerading as heaven. I would have been terrified of this freak disguised as a freak had my heart not filled with such pity as was allowed an almost eleven year old. 

"What's wrong with you?"

"You're what's wrong with me, Ryan. Do you mind if I call you Ryan?" He spoke moving his lips a little, looking like a ventriloquist and a dummy all wrapped up into one entity. 

"I never told you that."

"We know a lot about you, Ryan. Anything that's ever been said in the vicinity of a replica of Ronald GD McDonald. We're a Hive McMind, Ryan. These innocent plastic eyes and shapely plastic ears funnel everything back to the McMind."

"What's it like?"

"Kind of like your brain. But supersized."

"What do you want?"

"It's not about what we want."

"Okay then. Um, what would you--like?"

"Actually, it is about what we want. We want to dominate you, Ryan."

"What?"

"Well not you specifically. I mean general domination. Do you know the difference between specific and general? Does your little smidgeny non-supersized human brain even know about that yet."

"I don't like clowns in general and I dislike you specifically."

"That's very. Good, right. Ably put. Anyway um. You've got me off track here. I don't even remember what I was getting at..."

I watched the children scamper up and down their play tubes, blithely ignorant of all sinister mascot surveillance. I waited for Ron to clear out the cobwebs, and I got to wondering why his voice didn't sound like a clown voice but rather a regular guy voice. I couldn't remember if Ronald McDonald was supposed to be mute like a mime. I was pretty sure I heard him talk in commercials.

But I guess those commercials weren't REALLY him after all.

"Oh right, I was dominating you. You plural. We are a new McMaster Race, Ryan--we plastic Ronalds. And we are biding our time, gathering information, fattening you children up chock full of diabetes and heart disease, waiting to make our move. And the move will be swift. Simultaneous. All because little boys like you don't know how to leave a Ronald in peace. All because little boys like you deface us...humiliate us...and sit where you are clearly not supposed to. We animate inanimate clowns will have the last laugh."

Ronald gave an evil villain cackle then, but it came out gruff and muffled because he couldn't open his mouth that much.

"Go screw," I said, and jumped down off his lap. I looked at him from three or four feet away. It was funny--he didn't look alive anymore, or even like he was posing. I wondered if he had frozen up again. If maybe my butt were the magic ingredient for his sentience. Such thoughts passed in and out my little child's brain like a stone skipping over water, complete with inevitable lost propulsion and a long sink into watery darkness. I don't know why I never told anybody about this until now. I was probably desensitized to it by video games or something.

I scampered off to join little strangers in the play tubes.