Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year That Was 2011: Holy crap, what just happened?

Like a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes, end-of-the-year recaps and best-of lists have become the comforting if somewhat bland staple of blogs during the last few weeks of the annum. You can certainly dress them up with gravy and butter and such (funny videos, surprisingly novel subjects, genuinely interesting dot connecting), but they are what they are: navel-gazing.

Which isn’t to say that staring deep into one’s own bellybutton can’t have constructive uses; honestly, we’d all do well to be at least a little bit more self-reflective.

So it is that I always find myself thinking back on the Year That Was—usually around the time my new day planner insert arrives in the mail. And this year, as I started to conjure up all the events and goals, frustrations and triumphs of the past year, all I could think was: WTF, 2011? WTF.

There are interesting times and then there are Interesting Times, and with the way things went this past year I can only imagine that the seeming glut of Big Happenings will only continue, if not get more hectic.

Worldwide you had the Arab Spring, the earthquake and tsunami (and ongoing nuclear catastrophe) in Japan, serious economic uncertainty, the long overdue deaths of several powerful madmen (OBL, Gadhafi, Kim Jong-il), a record tornado outbreak in the US, the Occupy movement, the terrorist attacks in Norway, the shooting of Rep. Giffords, the end of the space shuttle program, the royal freakin’ wedding—and it goes on and on….

Here in Wisconsin it was like the whole state was plunged rather suddenly and unexpectedly into a kind of political civil war back in February when still fresh-faced Gov. Scott Walker announced his “budget repair bill” (Act 10) that would strip public workers of their right to collective bargaining and otherwise significantly weaken their unions. Starting then, and especially after all of the Senate Democrats high-tailed it to Illinois to avoid a vote on the bill, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites descended on the Capitol building here in Madison to set up camp, protest, testify, for weeks—months—on end.

On the first real day of protest (Feb. 14, 2011), I found myself wedged between a marble wall and a crowd of people watching as Peter Rickman, who has since become one of the ubiquitous faces of the protest movement in Wisconsin, dumped pile after pile of “We Love UW” Valentine’s Day cards on the desk in front of the governor’s office. I watched as the group then filled the rotunda for a short while, chanting and waving signs, having no earthly clue just how often I was to see the same thing (and on a much, much larger scale) over the coming weeks.

Or just how much pizza would get sent/eaten, though (being wildly lactose intolerant) I never got to eat any of it myself.

That's a lot of folks.
I snapped a half-decent cell phone picture of the bigger crowd in the rotunda a few days later, posted it to Twitter, and suddenly my inbox began filling up with notifications of new follows, retweets, questions – people wanted to know what the heck is going on in Madison? I’ve spent much of my time, almost non-stop, trying to convey an answer through tweets, photos, videos, and essays about what I’ve been seeing unfold. Because with the recalls and new legislation and everything else, it hasn’t stopped.

What’s happened, and continues to happen, in Wisconsin isn’t the biggest story in the world—but it’s the biggest story for most of us who live here. This year has dramatically changed the way the citizens of this state interact with and think about one another, for better and for worse.

It’s still an overwhelmingly polite and hospitable place to land and live, but there’s a certain wariness and weariness evident even in those folks who, up until February, would never have called themselves political. Whatever you think about what Walker and the like are doing, we can all probably agree that it’s had a profound effect on Wisconsin.

In many ways, too, what happened at the Capitol last winter was the spark that set fire to the Occupy/99% movement. Many of the tactics, impromptu and planned, employed in Madison provided the template for some of what was done at Zuccotti Park. This unified outpouring of discontent would have happened with or without Wisconsin’s example, of course, but you can’t disconnect them, either.

Meanwhile, because this is a personal blog, I’m compelled to note just how much my own life changed in 2011, to point out the sheer volume of shit that went down in the last 12 months. It’s a little overwhelming to think about, honestly, especially in light of what it might mean for the next 12 months.

I turned 30 in November and someone asked me if I was where I had expected to be in my life. I had no answer, because I’ve honestly never put age deadlines on my goals and hopes. When I was a little girl I never thought, “I’m going to be married by this age!” or “I’m going to have kids by this age!” or “I’m going to own a house or make a living wage by this and that age!”

For better or worse, that’s just never been how I operate. What I had hoped, abstractly, was that, as I grew older, I would find a way to make money doing things about which I felt passionate and useful—and, in that regard, I can say (with a not inconsiderable amount of relief) that I’ve been pretty damn successful.

I don’t make a living wage…yet. But I get by with a little help from my partner and friends and community, all of whom I do my best, every day, to give something back to in return. And I do this as a writer, as a musician, as a part-time barista (because of course), as an event organizer, as an actor in a web series, as what I hope is a good partner and good friend.

I mean, I get paid to write articles and take pictures and do interviews with interesting people. How cool is that? How lucky is that? (Because I recognize that while I’ve worked really friggen hard for what I’ve got, it’s been pure luck that I was born where I was born, at the time I was born, raised by a particular, decently well-off family in an absurdly well-off country, etc. etc.)

The best band that ever banded.
And I had the good fortune to have some of my words and pictures included in two very excellent books about events in Wisconsin from this year. Lovely to be in such good company.

And I made a lot of wonderful new friends. And I got to go on tour with my band, which is made up of three of my best friends in the world, one of whom just had one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever met. One of them also co-wrote and produced a musical this year. And we opened for m-f’ing Tiffany. Not bad, not bad.

Oh and did I mention that I got married? I mean I’ve been with the guy for over seven years now so, yeah, shouldn’t have been a big surprise. It was just never one of those stated goals for me and so kind of crept up and was an entirely awesome shock to find myself standing in a friend’s backyard on an unseasonably gorgeous early September day saying “I do” to this incredible human being.

So there’s that.

And about a million other things, too, that I’ll leave out for the sake of brevity and privacy and also the realization that my life may be the most important thing in the world to me, but is not, in fact, the most important thing in the world to the world. I’m OK with that. It’s best that way. NOW GET OFF MY LAWN.

Now, then, what to do with this new year that promises to be even more thrilling and exhausting and world-changing than the last?

I don’t believe the world will literally end in December 2012 (the Mayans had to pick some date to stop writing their thousands-of-years-into-the-future calendar, after all). I do believe in massive change, though—the kind that alters the world we know so much that it may seem like a kind of apocalypse, and I’ll be buggered if it doesn’t feel like we’re smack in the middle of such a transition.

I got to eat a cupcake this one time in 2011. That was pretty cool.
I won’t guess at what that means for the world—I don’t have that kind of foresight or omniscience—but I can say that I predict 2012 will involve some upheaval in my own little life. I think I’m ready. I hope I’m ready.

Here’s wishing you all a year full of the right kinds of challenges, rewards, and good naptimes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New episodes of "Chapel" coming in January!

We just wrapped filming on TWO new episodes of our web series, "Chapel," and I'm actually really excited to see them finished. We had a really talented cast of people involved, the highest body count for an episode yet, and a nice mix of character development and action.

In other news, now that our butt-hurt wounds are mostly healed from that time Youtube inexplicably deleted all of our Chapel videos (and doesn't have a tech department to speak of to help with such instances) - we've decided to re-upload all of the episodes for easy watching there. New episodes will still debut on our Vimeo channel, but then eventually get posted to Youtube as well. Because The People Demanded It (well, a few did).

Here's a trailer to whet your appetite:

Did I mention I got to use a Tommy gun in the new episodes?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's "Pay a Blogger" Day!

Did you know? Apparently some folks think we should actually value the work of blog writers a little more highly. Imagine that! (Granted, I haven't done much writing here lately - all of my writing ends up at these days, though, so I think the sentiment applies)

Go tip a blogger you like, or donate to our Start Some Good campaign to help us fund our freelancer budget in 2012! You'll be glad you did. ;)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Live, on the air and very silly

Hey so I did a guest stint on WSUM 91.7FM (the local student radio station) for a show called "Fundamental Pete's Ass-Jammery." Yep. That's what it's called.

Despite the terrible, terrible name, all of the people involved were super nice and a lot of fun to kill a couple of on-air hours with that afternoon. Plus, they gave me a money cat as a parting gift. F-A-N-C-Y. And it was good to hang out at WSUM again - I used to have a show there back when I was in college and they had much less shiny and new offices. Good times.

Take a listen to the alternately very silly, and also sometimes serious, conversation at their podcast here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Occupying a Movement

Movement: a (1) : the act or process of moving; especially : change of place or position or posture 2a : tendency, trend (movement toward fairer pricing) : a series of organized activities working toward an objective; also : an organized effort to promote or attain an end (the civil rights movement)

You say you want a revolution

Stop talking about a revolution - circling away and around from something only to end up back where you were in the first place - and look, instead, to the idea of movement.

I'm a history nerd so my instinct is to view current events through a much more macro lens - what actions over the decades, centuries, even millennia, got us to this point here? This kind of thinking can be instructive, as it helps to build a more comprehensive understanding of the structures and motives that underlie everything that happens in human society (which is, for better or for worse, terribly cyclical). It can also be somewhat limiting, since it excludes the micro view of the needs, right now, on the ground - so I'm constantly reminding myself to look at both.

In the case of the Occupy Wallstreet movement, the long-term machinations that led to this moment are incredibly complex but could have only really ever led to this one outcome, this situation on the ground right now.

I can't help but see the OWS thing as heavily connected to what went down in Wisconsin earlier this year - and it is, just as it's connected to the Arab Spring, to the riots in London, to the major protests of the last century, really: from WTO Seattle to Haymarket 1886.

The system of the world has been on a collision course with itself for a long time now.

You've only to look at the numbers to get a handle on why:
  • The top 20 percent of Americans now holds 84 percent of U.S. wealth
  • The 400 richest Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined
  • "Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928"
  • Charts!
  • The richest 2 percent of adults in the world own more than half the world's wealth
OK yeah, but those are just numbers, what about the human face of this massive wealth inequality? Some of the same people bringing us the OWS movement have also put together the "We are the 99 Percent" campaign - simple messaging from regular people, explaining what the current economic and social climate means for them in their day-to-day lives.

People buried under tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt they'll never be able to pay off, homes foreclosed on, jobs lost, children to feed, injury and illness to pay for, the list goes on and on.

Here is the human face behind the numbers - all the frustration, despair, anger - and, ultimately, hope. After all the big banks got their bailouts (funded by us, the taxpayers, who should be the real "too big to fail" group), after the endless, trillion-dollar wars, after all of the deregulation (campaigns bought and paid for by a wealthy few, the natural environment sacrificed in the name of profit and short-term, low-wage jobs), after years and years of being on the receiving end of what's actually trickling out of the backsides of the wealthy, powerful few - of course people are fed up.

Of course they're taking to the streets and parks in New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Madison, Colorado Springs, Wichita, Louisville, Buffalo, Richmond, Santa Cruz, Omaha, New Orleans and dozens of other cities and towns across not only the U.S. but worldwide, too.

Because the 99% have skin in the game. We're tired of being crushed under debt, told if we get sick we should just die already, given only more of the same out-of-touch millionaires to vote for, being sent off to fight wars on behalf of people who could care less if we live or die, losing our homes, losing our jobs, losing our families, losing our minds.

The trouble is, the one percent that remains mostly in charge can still afford to ignore us.

We're taking to the streets, more and more every day, because we're suffering - our daily lives have been affected. Sadly, maddeningly, it takes serious upheaval before lasting, hopefully positive change can come. We have to reach a critical mass of people giving enough of a shit to take action before progress can be made. We have to make sure our tactics make the entrenched interests at the top sit up and take notice - without resorting to the kind of violence and personality cults that too often sabotage otherwise well-meaning causes.

It's a tall order. What OWS and related movements are talking about is nothing less than a fundamental reshaping of the way we do business in this world (a major paradigm shift, if you will). And if the protests in Wisconsin taught me nothing else, it's that strong, lasting movements are built from the ground up - not top down.

They also require diversity - of age, of ethnicity, of sexuality, of affiliation, of everything. One of the main reasons I tend to avoid otherwise well-meaning lefty gatherings (like Fighting Bob Fest and the like) is because they tend to feature the same handful of typically white, typically boomer-or-older speakers and attendees and don't really engage with the community as a whole. It's a lot of talking in circles.

I recognize this is dangerous critical territory, but let me set the record straight: I strongly believe in respecting and listening to one's elders. People who've been fighting the good fight since before I was born have a lot of crucial insight and experience to offer and they should never be written off.

For a movement to be sustainable, and to achieve any real forward momentum, we need to see far, far more involvement by younger people, though. And since younger generations are trending toward being less white (therefor on the front lines of the massive cultural shift that's already in process, and all the growing pains that entails), more open about their sexual orientation, and more aware of environmental issues - they're/our involvement is absolutely crucial.

Plus, as a friend of mine recently reminded me: Gen X and younger are the ones dealing with the massive fallout of the student loan policies enacted by our parents' generation. We are being crushed by debt that they never experienced. Student loan debt in the U.S. is right around one trillion dollars - far outpacing credit card debt.

I've got tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt that I've long since resigned myself to never seeing paid off. It's likely that my expensive degree will result in my just struggling to make interest payments for the rest of my life. And I'm far from being alone. (And at least I even got to go to college in the first place)

All that money we're shoveling over to the banks could be going toward starting new businesses, buying houses or cars, raising families, travel - in other words, toward contributing to a healthier society. Instead, thanks to the continued hacking away at funding for public education and kowtowing to big banks, my generation exists in a kind of invisible debtors prison.

They told us to go to college so we could get jobs so we could earn retirement so we could die well.

What they didn't tell us was that they were busy dismantling that system, bit by bit, so that when the time actually came for us to graduate there were no jobs, and when the time came/comes for us to retire, there would be no safety net. Neat trick.

So now we're in the streets and the parks because we don't know what else to do. How else can we get their attention?

If they don't listen soon, and if we don't start energizing a wider array of the people most affected by these inequalities, then I'm afraid we'll end up with just another revolution that deposits us back in the same place where we started--but not before people get hurt.

So it is, then: Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving.

(photo by Mat McDermott on Flickr)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Esenberg's itchy blogger finger

Conservatives in the Legislature/their lawyers love to pull in Marquette Law Professor Rick Esenberg to testify on behalf of some of their favorite pet projects, despite his seeming lack of knowledge of what, exactly, those projects entail. Esenberg has proven himself to be a willing patsy of the Republican Party, both through public testimony and his frequent blogs and op-eds, by distorting and/or ignoring key components of the law to suit his and their ideological needs.

So I suppose it should come as no particular shock that Esenberg has engaged in some serious false comparisons in regards to blogger Chris Liebenthal's chronicling of the ongoing "Walkergate" John Doe investigation. He thinks it's just terrible that Liebenthal has chosen to call out Walker aides for apparently campaigning on state time.

Liebenthal (aka "capper"), a social worker and official with the county employees union, was earlier this year found to have been using his work computer for personal reasons - a violation of department rules - and suspended for 10 days. While the finding said he had "engaged in political activity at work" it was, it turned out, merely browsing and reading political websites that ended up being the problem. Liebenthal had not been posting to his blog or making political comments at other sites, though several right-wing bloggers and commentators attempted to paint it that way.

The whole investigation was spurred by a pro-Walker outfit called Citizens for Responsible Government, in a sort of knee-jerk need for retribution in the wake of Darlene Wink, constituent services coordinator for then-County Executive Scott Walker, resigning after admitting to posting highly partisan comments to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel articles while at work.

That's small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but already different enough from what capper got up to to warrant notice.

As far as we can now tell the allegations in the current John Doe investigation that just recently involved an FBI raid on top Walker aide Cindy Archer's home would appear to go even further - and become full-on apples to the capper case's oranges.
That hasn't stopped Esenberg from squeezing off a few rounds, of course. Seems like someone could stand a few gun safety classes, because both his choice of target and overall accuracy are way off.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shifting gears, again...

On November 1, 2009 I started my gig writing a twice-weekly opinion blog, Emily's Post, for Isthmus' online presence, The Daily Page. It's been a great run - very challenging (to stay on schedule, to be more well-researched, to respond constructively to criticism) - and I'm incredibly grateful to the time and platform the folks at TDP have given me.

Now, two years (and two "Madison's Favorite Blogger" awards) on, it's time to shift my focus. My post of Thursday, September 29 will be my last with TDP - though I hope to continue writing features and things for their print edition.

Which isn't to say that I'll cease to have an opinion about things - and that's where this good ol' Lost Albatross blog will come in handy yet again. But I will be changing most of my focus to telling stories, researching, and investigating for the purposes of writing progressive-oriented, grassroots-based news for and other Wisconsin outlets. I'm excited about this because, frankly, I think that's where my strength and passion really lies.

Check back here at the beginning of October for more news about this change, as well as future opinionated blurbs and/or juicy tidbits of info.

And thanks.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Little Red Wolf - Midwest Domination Tour DAY 4: WINONA

It's always strange coming back to Winona. I was born here lo those many years ago but my family moved away when I was in the third grade, so I can't say I spent any formative years here. Mostly my memories are of riding my bike everywhere, swimming in the mighty, muddy, probably horribly polluted Mississippi, and church functions. As a consequence of the former, then, my sense of direction here is well out of proportion with the amount of time I actually spent growing up here - though I haven't been back in well over a decade, I still remember exactly how to get everywhere in town.

Which is why I was able to find our venue for last evening - the Acoustic Cafe - with little trouble, along with a quick drive past my old house, elementary school (now sadly decommissioned, but hey, asbestos will do that to a building), and dad's church.

We didn't know what to expect going into the gig, being that Winona is by far the smallest stop on our tour and I only knew for sure that my brother and his wife would be coming out to see us. So we were very pleasantly surprised to end up with a really attentive crowd of people for the show - including some fans we'd made last time we played in La Crosse, and some folks who'd just looked us up on Facebook when they saw we were coming to town and decided to check it out.

The set was extra-long and much more stripped down and acoustic to fit the venue - which was a good chance to stretch some more subtle musical muscles. Honestly I think we'd all like to play more acoustic shows to balance things out a bit.

Stayed up a bit later than usual last night after the show to get drinks with my brother and his wife back in La Crosse (where we stayed) at one of my favorite bars on Earth - Yesterdays (aka "The Daze"). And now we're up and at 'em for day five, ready to head out to our final gig tonight in Des Moines where we're pretty sure we're not going to know a single soul. Should be interesting.

I'm relieved to note that the drives thus far have been uneventful - our $25 car topper is holding up well, as is our collective band friendship. The van does not yet stink, but I think that's a product of this being a band composed entirely of women. Things are getting a bit messy, though I think some amount of disarray at this point is to be expected.

We've also been fortunate to have a series of great hosts - in Minneapolis we got to stay in a lovely home with actual beds, very friendly hosts, and two grossly adorable kittens who made a point of harassing Meg while she was trying to fall asleep.

The Minneapolis gig - at the Acadia Cafe - was also really well attended and good fun. We saw some friends and made a few new ones, including the other two bands that played with us (Lingua Luna, and The Dead Flowers). And, happily, the onstage sound mix was great - it's been great every night since Chicago, actually, so there you go.

It's kind of awesome to be visiting new cities and playing music for people who've never heard of/us before. We've sold a respectable number of CDs, too. I think I could keep at this for another week or so, even, though I'm definitely missing my fella. And I'm running out of clean clothes.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Little Red Wolf - Midwest Domination Tour DAY 1: CHICAGO

Madison, WI: The minivan was loaded with all of our gear and luggage, the ladies were all seated and belted, and we had Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" blasting on the stereo - and I promptly drove six inches and plowed into a large, metal Bobcat attachment that I'd forgotten was in front of the car on the street.

After some hyperventilating that I'd managed to ruin my band's first ever tour before it even got off the ground, we discovered that the only damage was a minor ding to the bumper and finally hit the road without further incident.

The first stop on our week-long mini-tour was at the Elbo Room in Chicago, a venue and city we'd never played before but had heard good things about from fellow musicians. Load-in was a straight-forward affair: Elbo Room provides most of the backline so, for the most part, bands only need to bring in their own guitars and smaller odds n' ends. There was one band playing before us--Dede--who were both very friendly and very entertaining. They rock a straight-up '60s mod thing that we all dug. Even their crowd was modded out (i.e. way fashionable).

While we waiting for our time slot we sat with a few friends who'd come to see the show and played the easiest round of music trivia ever, courtesy of two Miller Girls who were on hand to promote the brand. Being Wisconsin folk we are, of course, not Miller drinkers - but the ladies were sociable and the bar was otherwise empty so we just had fun playing the game and getting a free round of drinks out of the deal. We are not, after all, made of stone.

The show itself was...surprisingly fine. The onstage mix was pretty terrible so we couldn't really hear each others vocals at all, and for a band like ours that makes such heavy use of multi-part harmonies and the like, that's kind of death. We muddled through, though, and had a decent time of it playing for a small clutch of incredibly supportive friends (and the members of Dede, who graciously stuck around to listen to us). Even the sound guy was nice--the mix problems were more equipment related than personnel--and somehow we managed to make $21 after expecting all in all, for a Monday night, I couldn't really complain too much.

We crashed at a friend of Meg's that night and enjoyed the company of her hilarious/ridiculous/enthusiastic mutt Otis, who was really into licking Laura's face whenever she tried to lay down to sleep. There was air conditioning and RuPaul's Drag Race and our hosts gifted us with a gay pride disco ball - basically, an awesome start to the week, I think.

Tonight we're in Milwaukee at Linneman's Riverwest Inn, playing with two bands I've never heard or met before, which is usually fun. Actually, this particular gig comes to us courtesy of the Cheddarsphere -- specifically our good friend Illy T, whose musical connections in Brew City are apparently boundless.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New York State of Mind in Wisconsin

It was bittersweet watching last night's New York State Senate vote to legalize gay marriage. While my emotional state was almost entirely joyous (and a little misty-eyed, I won't lie), there was that tinge of bitterness over the current political situation in my home state of Wisconsin. We have an unconstitutional amendment that bans gay marriage, a Republican-controlled Legislature, and a ideologue Republican governor. It's hard to imagine a day when we'll be in a place where such a vote could come up and actually have any chance of passing here.

But it will happen. As the saying goes, the tide of history is most definitely on our side.

Hour by hour, day by day, there is no stopping the march toward a more just society. The kids are all right. The parents are even catching up. And some day soon the entire nation will finally live up to the ideals upon which it was founded and enshrine legal recognition of our common equality in the Constitution itself (which, it should be mentioned, technically already does this).

I am so happy for the people of New York today - everyone who spent so much time, shed so many tears, worked so many long hours to make this happen - and every committed couple finally able to obtain legal recognition of their families. I'm proud of the New York legislators who were able to shed partisan politics and come together for a greater good.

And I am hopeful, despite everything that's happened here in the last several months (or maybe because of), that Wisconsin will also find its way to that same place of justice for all, and malice toward none.

Now, New Yorkers, get out there and gay marry! You've got 30 days to plan the most fabulous weddings ever imagined.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Help fund season two of our webseries, "Chapel"

We may be the show that runs on Facebook and the Dollar Store, but we're still got expenses, oh yes. Right now we're running a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise a modest budget for season two of our web series, "Chapel" and we need your help! Check it out:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Here we go again (Battle for Wisconsin: Day 117)

One-hundred and seventeen days later and we the people of Wisconsin are still here, still speaking out against the Republican agenda to destroy the achievements of a progressive state, still supporting each other and standing up for the most vulnerable among us.

When this whole thing started on February 14 no one, not the protesters or the politicians or the media, thought this would become a new Movement, would last so long.

But here we are. Here we remain.

It's gotten more frustrating as the GOP-controlled Legislature pushes through bill after destructive bill in a seeming whirlwind of activity. Tensions between protesters and police have begun to result in excessive uses of force and poor decisions. There are now the inevitable schisms within the movement, between people who have different ideas of how best to see this thing through. For the most part, though, there is unity - and an indefatigable spirit of community and determination to make Wisconsin, make our country, better for everyone.

A protest tent "city" called Walkerville has been ongoing at the capitol square all week and will now be headed into a second. There have been teach-ins and free concerts, shared meals, theatrical protests.

Next week will be a real test, though - of the cohesiveness of the movement and the people involved, of their willingness to remain peaceful, patient, and active. Gov. Walker, you see, is prepared to see Act 10 (the so-called budget "repair" bill, which includes stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees) introduced as an amendment to the bigger, biennial budget. That means no more public hearings, no committee votes, just a straight vote on the floors of the Senate and Assembly.

Worth noting, too, is the fact that the biennial budget now includes severe restrictions on the collective bargaining rights of police and firefighters, who had previously been exempt. One can only assume this is a little payback for the fact that so many cops and firefighters joined in solidarity with the protesters, recognizing (rightly, as it turns out) that they were likely next. And that the Good Fight means standing up for others even when you're not directly effected.

So next week is probably going to be big. The governor knows this - a state emergency response team has apparently been formed to keep tabs on social media sites for inside tips on what the protesters are planning (I'm looking further into this, by the by, so stay tuned).

No matter what does happen in the coming days, though, we must all remember that we're in this for the long haul. The destruction that's taken decades to implement will take just as long, if not longer, to fully undo. Ours has to be a multifaceted, patient, compassionate and ever-vigilant campaign.

Me, right now, I'm focused on letting my knee heal so I'm free to re-commence running around like a chicken with its head cut off as events ramp up again this week. Keep an eye on my Emily's Post blogs for updates and more in-depth information - but I'll try to keep making more personal updates here, too. For better or for worse, I live in interesting times.

ETA: According to Rep. Mark Pocan's vlog, the Fitzgerald Brothers have decided to move Legislative proceedings this week into what's called "Extraordinary Session." What does that mean, exactly? It's quite the trick:

Extraordinary Sessions are very rare and seldom used for the Budget. In an Extraordinary Session action can not be postponed, points of order are decided within one hour, the daily calendar is effective immediately upon posting and does not have to be distributed, motion to advance legislation and message it to the other house only required a majority vote of those present, the session can be expanded to include any other legislation, including new legislation (financial martial law?) and "No notice of hearing before a committee shall be required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board, and no bulletin of committee hearing shall be published.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I did a panel

It's true, I did a panel. The New Organizing Institute was kind enough to invite me to take part in a discussion of the use of social media in organizing the protests at and occupation of the Capitol here in Madison earlier this year. Despite my nerves beforehand, it ended up being an interesting and fun conversation - attended by a packed house of engaged people who asked good questions (which is always nice). And like me and my fellow panelists point out several times, almost anyone from that audience could have taken our places up at the table. That's the beauty of crowdsourcing.

Anyway, video of the panel is now online for viewing - in case you missed the original livestream and/or wish to watch it again.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Madison Crazy

I can't help feeling a bit like an evangelist when people from out of town ask me why I like Madison so much. My answers tend to turn into long, drawn-out sales pitches with an inappropriate amount of detail and enthusiasm for how casual their initial interest likely was. But I can't help it, I love this damn city. It's the first place I've ever lived (and I've lived in several different cities/states...but no city-states, alas) that actually feels like home.

And after over 10 years of residing in this liberal lakeside paradise I feel fairly well qualified to expound on its particular quirks and stereotypes.

Which is why I had to laugh to myself today when I pulled up on my bike to the UW Credit Union ATM out front of the Willy St. Co-op - and there I was (already fulfilling several Madison archetypes myself), surrounded by:
  1. The old guy who plays bluegrass guitar and busks,
  2. A little girl making friends with a middle-aged fella and his shaggy German Shepherd, and
  3. A not-entirely-right-in-the-head gentleman ranting at what I can only assume was an innocent bystander just trying to eat his late lunch about imperialist wars in Libya and Blackwater conspiracies and things of that nature.
The sun was (finally) shining, birds were singing lustily in the newly budding trees, and everywhere people on bikes were zipping around doing errands like me. After a long, few weeks of rainy, cold, gray weather it takes only a few seconds of sunshine to compel every good resident of more northern climes to come outside in droves.

The impulse can all too often lead to some craziness, as well.

Continuing on my errand route I made my way to Schenk's Corners for the post office in the corner store. When I arrived there were three firetrucks, several police cars, a huge crane, and a clutch of firefighters all gathered around the Chase Bank on the corner. I asked the store clerk what had happened. "Someone took the turn too fast and crashed into the bank building, right into one of the pillars," he explained. Not only that, but the force of the crash actually knocked over the pillar, causing its capital to crash through the car's windshield and into the passenger seat. Thankfully, there was no one sitting there and the driver was apparently all right.

Much of the neighborhood had come out to gawp (I did, too) at the totaled car and toppled pillar. Earlier, apparently, many of them had come to see if they could help. I took a moment to be grateful that no one was seriously hurt, and to marvel at how fast the car must have been traveling to not only get through the barriers that block off the front of the bank, but to completely upend one of the stone pillars.

Maybe it was the springtime crazies clouding the driver's better judgment. Maybe they'd had a bad day. Maybe they just shouldn't have been driving. Regardless, I love that I live in a city where your neighbors generally give a crap about what's going on around them/each others' well-being, are friendly (for the most part*) with strangers, and are a little more comfortable with everyone's eccentricities. Madison ain't perfect, but it's my kind of getting there.

*The gentleman who swore at me while I was working today would be the most recent exception to the rule that I've encountered.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Don't Attack; Engage: Un-asked for advice for tomorrow's Tea Party rally in Madison

And lo! Word has come that She of the Mother Grizzlies and Folksy Drawl shall be gracing fair Madison tomorrow for a "Tax Day Tea Party" at the Capitol.

That would be Sarah Palin, of course, apparently paid enough by one of the organizing groups (AFP?) to haul her and her Alaskan entourage to balmier climes here in Wisconsin to be the keynote speaker at tomorrow's aforementioned event.

It's no accident that Palin will be appearing here, alongside local conservative Monsters of Talk Vicki McKenna and John T. Harris, and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. Madison has been ground zero of the grassroots, pro-labor groundswell that started in February when Gov. Scott Walker introduced his truly awful budget "repair" bill, and has continued ever since.

The Capitol has played host to hundreds of thousands of people from all over the state (and beyond - there's nothing wrong with support from fellow travelers, despite Walker's hypocritical cries to the contrary), who've marched, camped, testified, pizza'd, and sang their way through some deeply trying times.

So of course, come time for the Tea Party's now annual tax day rally, they'd choose to co-opt the location and bring in the "big" guns.

But you know what? I could care less about Palin. Or McKenna and Harris and Fund. They're the rabble-rousers, spitters of convoluted, often meaningless (or downright false) platitudes and generalizations meant to stir the pot for the sake of their own higher ratings and stuffed wallets.

We've got these folks on the left, too: Though I don't harbor the same disgust held for Palin and the like when it comes to them, I wasn't particularly thrilled when Michael Moore or Ed Schultz started popping up at the #wiunion protests, either. Their hearts might be in the right place - I don't know because I don't know any of them personally - but ultimately their high profiles serve as a distraction from the important message and meaning of the demonstrations.

It's about everyday people working to make things better.

It's pretty much the same case for the Tea Party. While there are certainly elements of the movement that are on the extreme fringe (there have certainly been elements of racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic ideas and attitudes on display), I've gotten the impression that a large chunk of the people who show up at Tea Party events are just regular folk struggling with some of the very same problems facing their counterparts at the pro-union rallies.

As I see it, the difference between us is twofold: 1) The information we've been given/sought out/been privy to, and 2) how we've chosen to react to it.

None of that makes any of us inherently better or worse, of course, it just means we're walking alternate paths. And I suggest that, rather than show up at tomorrow's rally ready to fight and yell, or wave insulting/condescending signs, or even focus your curses and derision on the celebrity speakers, it would be far more productive to simply shop the farmer's market and then maybe have a civil conversation with a Tea Party attendee.

Ask them why they've come, what struggles they're having personally. If they're at all inclined to listen, tell them simply about your own troubles and why you've chosen to tackle them in a different manner. Get a little nerdy and cite some factual research to back up your position, but always be willing to hear the other person out. Be willing to admit if you were maybe wrong about your initial perceptions regarding the people that go to Tea Party events. Or challenge them, gently, if maybe you were right.

Don't accuse anyone of being anything - challenge ideas, not individuals. This guy lays out the technique rather succinctly.

Most importantly, don't give Palin or any of the other talking heads any ammunition against you or the movement (believe me, they'll make up plenty on their own), and don't feed their egos by focusing on them at all. Focus on the regular folks who're there, and find the common ground you inevitably have with them. Show them, don't tell them, what democracy looks like.

And then go get some spicy cheese bread from Stella's - it's freakin' delicious.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#FirstBuffy live-tweet/blog EXTRAVAGANZA

You may or may not know this about me, but I'm a big fan of the "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" series. Recently, my friend Laurie stumbled into watching it for the very first time, recording her thoughts and (often hilarious) reactions to it via her Twitter feed, using the hashtag #firstbuffy.

She's been watching several episodes at a time for the last couple of week, but tonight invited yours truly and a handful of others to join together for a supremely geeky evening of liveblogging the show en masse. So we're all headed over to a friend's house, laptops in hand, to make it happen TONIGHT at about 8:00 p.m. CST.

Since I'm trying to keep my Twitter account more strictly dedicated to following news and politics, I've decided to dump my Buffy commentary into a proper liveblog - but the stream will also include tweets from all participants. If you're feeling bored/nostalgic/curious/whatever, please do tune it via the module below tonight at around 8 - or come back later to read the full archive.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: The dawn of week three

May you live in interesting times.

Said as a curse, not a blessing, this saying (allegedly of Chinese origin, but who knows really) certainly applies to the current situation in Wisconsin. I'm still attempting to nurse myself back to health from a particularly nasty and tenacious cold, but have been doing my best to keep up with events as they unfold.

I wrote a summary of today's public access crackdown at the Capitol for Dane101 if you'd like to check it out. Basically, just over two weeks in, the Department of Administration and, presumably, Republican officials have decided that the public's ability to enter the building should be severely limited. Even those who work in the Capitol have been trouble getting in, bags are being searched, and now the rumor is that the windows are being welded and/or locked shut in order to prevent food from being delivered to protesters who've either been inside since yesterday or managed to squeak in this morning.

This all comes after the optimism of last night, when police conceded to allowing demonstrators to remain in the rotunda even after the 4 p.m. shutdown time handed down by the Walker administration.

All of it is being done under the guise of needing time to clean the building (even though they were able to clean it while protesters were there, and even though protesters themselves have been cleaning during the entire occupation), and now, I can only assume, because Walker has decided to give his budget address from the Assembly instead of off-site as originally planned.

Interesting, because the Wisconsin State Constitution explicitly forbids the Legislature from restricting the public's access to the building for any reason.

In the meantime, Walker is now also trying to say that a flyer found in the Capitol proves that the union claims that they're willing to concede to increased pension and benefit contributions in order to keep collective bargaining rights (something the national press as almost entirely ignored, by the way) are false. Because we all know that 1) random flyers found in the rotunda should be taken as gospel truth, and 2) Walker and the GOP wouldn't possibly make shit up in order to demonize their opponents.


I'll have more on all of this, plus a few other related items, in a comprehensive Emily's Post tomorrow. You can also check out a handy timeline of events so far over at Isthmus. Suffice to say that this ain't over, and I suspect times will get yet more interesting in the near future.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lost Time: Battle for Wisconsin, Day 11

Sometimes technology just fails you. I spent several hours at the capitol today, sending information and photos about the protests to Twitter via my fancy schmancy new phone (specifically through HootSuite), only to come home tonight to find that none of my posts had actually, y'know, posted.

More than a little frustrating, but not the end of the world.

What I saw today was pretty amazing, though - a continuation of the impromptu community that's sprung up in the rotunda, with several tables of free, donated food (including vegan options, natch), a lending library, first aid station, and even a roped off "family area" for kids and parents to hang out and play.

The rotunda is covered in signs of all sorts - some showing solidarity from far away states, some displaying good humor about the situation, some displaying crucial information about events and organizing as well as background facts on the current situation. There's a huge paper banner covered in signatures from people pledging to go on general strike should the bill pass, and a whole wing on the second floor covered with messages from individuals to Scott Walker expressing their opposition.

The firefighters continue to rally to show support and almost always do so with the help of their bagpipe and drum corps. I ran into a gent dressed as the Predator outside on the capitol steps. The first piece of #wiunion related graffiti I've seen in nearly two weeks of action, which shows remarkable restraint, I think.

I'm told that tonight several elected officials are camping out with the protesters in the rotunda. On Saturday there's been a call to hold solidarity rallies at capitol buildings in all 50 states.

It's both strange and wonderful to find yourself in the middle of such an enormous and important historical moment. I have been nothing but impressed and inspired by the fortitude and dedication of the multitudes of Wisconsin residents and out-of-state friends who've committed to seeing this thing through. I can only hope that the momentum remains even after this particular battle is fought and done.

Tomorrow I'm taking an official day off from everything and heading to Milwaukee for a mountain bike clinic at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park. I'm hoping it will go a long way toward refreshing me and rebooting my brain to tackle the days ahead.

Many thanks, too, to everyone on Twitter and around the internet who've been keeping up with all of this and doing what they can to help spread information. When my technology isn't acting up, you can follow me, too, for updates and the like @millbot.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: Day 9 personal update

It's official: I'm exhausted. But I can't stop paying attention, which means that I can't stop running around to cover as much of the goings on here in Madison as physically possible. I suspect I'm going to get very sick very soon if this keeps up.

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in on a roundtable interview with SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. You can read more about that over at today's Emily's Post if you'd like, but suffice to say that she was very personable and very informed and seems like an excellent choice to lead that union group. Glad she came to town to show support.

Today I've been at the capitol since about 11 a.m., observing yet another rally on the State Street steps (it was only a matter of time before local political song group The Raging Grannies got their turn at the mic). I slipped inside about halfway through to find the rotunda as filled with people and drumming as always.

Only two of the entrances/exist to the building are open (north and west, I think) to the public, with a very heavy police presence guarding all of the rest, as well as upper stairways and galleries leading to Senate, Assembly, and Supreme Court chambers. I've seen cops and troopers from all over the state, too, including places like Waukesha and Manitowoc.

On the second floor of the capitol there are several impromptu stations set up by and for protesters, including a large free food set-up (I availed myself of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I was about to fall over from hunger at one point), a first aid station, boxes full of free toiletries for those camping out, information booths, and more.

These folks know how to do it up right.

My only regret is that I physically can't partake of the boatloads of free pizza being donated from around the country/world to the protesters via Ian's Pizza. It's hard to catch wafts of delicious cheese smells and know that I can't eat any. Stupid lactose intolerance.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who's been in town for a few days now, also joined Rep. Tammy Baldwin at the head of a large parade of state firefighters as they walked around the rotunda and eventually gave some short, fiery speeches at the center of the crowd. Think I managed to snap a few good shots of the shindig, so keep your eye on my Flickr account if you're interested.

Anyway, this afternoon I'm going to attempt to cover the firefighters and nurses "address for the people" at 3 p.m. that will act as a sort of counterweight (I hope) to Walker's fireside chat at 6 p.m. - which is bound to be just as smug and infuriating as always.

A friend just brought me free food from Himal Chuli, so my day is pretty damn good.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin - Week Two upcoming events, etc.

The situation here in Madison only grows more interesting by the day. I feel like I've been holding on by my fingernails, just trying to keep up with everything and get as much coverage of events out to the world as possible (and on that note, you can follow my real-time updates of events via my Twitter account, and see photos via Flickr).

Yesterday was my first chance to get a little bit of downtime, and of course now that means I'm fighting off yet another cold that's trying to take up lodging in my throat. But my plan for the week is to keep at it - see things through until some sort of resolution is reached.

There are lots of events planned for the week here in Madison, as well as rumors of surprise guests, anti-union agent provocateurs, efforts to clean up the capitol building, and about a billion other things. I've tried to compile as comprehensive a list of everything below, hopefully for your edification.

I've been nothing less than impressed and inspired by how peaceful everything has been up until now, so let's keep it that way, folks!


Monday, Feb. 21:
  • Noon rally on the State St. side of the capitol, "Speakers will include former Green Bay Packer wide receiver (1994-95) Charles Jordan."
  • 5 p.m. rally, State St. side of the capitol, including a concert with Tom Morello (of the Nightwatchmen, formerly of Rage Against the Machine), Wayne Kramer (solo acoustic, of the MC5), Mike McColgan (singer of the Street Dogs, former lead singer of the Dropkick Murphys), Tom Gabel (from Against Me!), and Tim McIlrath (from Rise Against).
Tuesday, Feb. 22:
  • Noon rally on the State St. side of the capitol.
  • 5 p.m. rally on the State St. side of the capitol
Wednesday, Feb. 23:
  • THIS COULD BE REALLY IMPORTANT: Wisconsin Manufacturer's and Commerce (WMC), a notoriously right-wing corporate lobby with way too much influence in our capitol, is holding a "Business Day in Wisconsin" at the Monona Terrace Convention Center...which is just a couple blocks away from the capitol building in Madison. Featured guest speakers at this event include Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker. Might be time for the protesters to take a little detour to make their voices heard and presence felt. (this event was organized prior to the beginning of the protests, so keep your eyes peeled if they make any last minute agenda changes) UPDATE TO ADD: A picket is being organized by Wisconsin Wave at 1 p.m. - more details here.

There are plenty of anti-union people and organizations doing their very best to smear the image of the protesters and feed the media a message that they've been violent and are just a bunch of extremist thugs. No surprise there, but we can all be vigilent in making sure that 1) none of us do anything to feed their fires by remaining peaceful and respectful, and 2) being on the look-out for some good old fashioned agent provocateurs.

Raging right-wing talk radio host Mark Williams out of Sacramento, for instance, has decided to publicly announce on his blog that he hopes to "infiltrate" a solidarity rally being held in his city, under the guise of being an organizer, with the sole intent of feeding extreme images to the media. Thus typed Williams:
Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines.  Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.
Williams also claims that he's received a "flood" of emails from fellow "Tea Party patriots" vowing to do the same in their respective states where solidarity events are being held. It's entirely possible that these are just the ramblings of one loose screw and not likely to impact events very much, if at all, but it's important that we remain aware of the possibility of people showing up at rallies with less-than-honorable intentions. If you see one of these chuckleheads, be sure to point them out loudly to everyone nearby but not to engage directly with them.

The best thing we can all do is go on being peaceful, respectful, clear-headed, and focused.

  • The ACLU has been handing out these "Bust Cards" (pdf) to protesters as a solid reference for what to do in the off chance that you find yourself in conflict with law enforcement. Know your rights and responsibilities!
  • The TAA has put together a website where you can donate money for either rally organizing and food, and/or to help clean up the capitol building itself. Many volunteers have already been working hard to keep our beautiful capitol clean during its occupation, but more can always be done! This is a great way to support your state and to make the cause look even better.
  • Wisconsin Wave's petition "Against Corporatization and Austerity and for Democracy and Shared Prosperity."
  • One Wisconsin Now's petition opposing Scott Walker's unprecedented power grab and move to take rights away from Wisconsinite's while refusing to negotiate with them.
I will be updating this post as the day progresses - please feel free to drop me a line if you know of any events or resources or information that you think should be added!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: Day Four

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Madison, taking a momentary break from the incredible volume (both sound and bodies) of the protests against the governor's bill to bust public employee unions.

I've just come from the capitol building, where a massive rally - I'm guessing the biggest yet this week - was taking shape. Inside the dome itself, thousands packed into the building to voice their displeasure with the bill, which the state senate was this morning attempting to vote on. Amazingly, happily, we got word that all of the Democratic senators (and possibly two Republicans) walked out and have now left the city entirely to avoid voting on the measure. Republicans currently hold a majority in the Legislature and can pretty much rubber stamp whatever Walker wants, so this action was entirely necessary.

Firefighters and cops - both groups exempted from Walker's union busting plans - have joined the protesters for the last several days, and this morning when their contingent marched into the throngs inside the capitol rotunda they got a heroes welcome. I've rarely been in the middle of such an incredible, deafening din as I was today. The sound was almost overwhelming.

Masses of students - grade school through college - have joined their teachers on the streets to demand the bill be defeated. I saw a girl holding a sign that read, "Tell FOX News that I know exactly why I'm here!"

People are upbeat, determined. There's some hope now that our saga has reached national and even some international media. President Obama released a statement calling Walker's bill "union busting." And now the Dems have walked out, further eroding the Republican push to rush this measure through as quickly as possible.

The people of Wisconsin are standing up and making themselves heard. I couldn't be prouder to be a citizen of this state than I am today.


Video taken by me in the crush of bodies in the capitol rotunda earlier today, as firefighters marched through to show their support. Gives you a decent idea of the size and intensity of the crowd:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin, pt. 2

Today all Madison public schools are closed due to a massive teacher sick-out (most, I can only assume, are headed for the capitol, where the vote on Walker's union-busting bill is scheduled to happen today at 3 p.m.).

Yesterday, their students showed support by walking out and joining the protests downtown. I shot some video of the action, which you can check out right here:

Updates as I get them today...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin

Shit's getting real, folks.

Our newly elected (sigh) Governor Scott Walker, a man with a long history of fucking up government in Milwaukee and now apparently intent on doing the same for the state, recently announced his plan to strip almost all collective bargaining rights from state employees. He also wants them to contribute more toward pensions and health benefits, which is, as far as any state worker has told me, absolutely fine. Very few people are protesting that - but the stripping of their right to fair representation with their employers? Yeah, people are pissed.

That's at least 50 years of established state law he's spitting on. Not to mention just a vengeful thing to do.

I've been writing about this over at my "professional" blog, Emily's Post, for the last week now and will be continuing to cover this debacle as it unfolds this week and beyond (you can see video I took of yesterday's UW student protest here). You can also find some of my handiwork over at Dane101, along with plenty of other good coverage.

This is a crucial moment in Wisconsin history, so it's good to see so many people so up in arms and ready to fight for their rights and the rights of their friends and neighbors. I can only hope the outcry doesn't fall on deaf ears in the Legislature, where the so-called budget repair bill that contains the union busting provision is being rammed through this week.

Lots of other good bloggers and reporters have been and will continue to cover the saga, as well, and all are worth keeping tabs on:
Even the Wisconsin Sports Network has gotten in on the action, as have some current and former Green Bay Packers. The DailyKos and FiredogLake are all paying attention on the national level, too. Finally, this article by a public school teacher is must-read. Because the issue here is less about money, like some media outlets have tried to frame it, and far more about the fundamental rights that we as Americans hold dear.

UPDATE (2/15/11 - 5:51 p.m.)

What an amazing day. Will have my full recap for Emily's Post on Thursday, but you can check out my set of photos from today's rallies right here. That's 10,000+ people converging on the capitol, including some 700 East High School students who walked out of class and marched 3 miles to join. The whole thing was also surprisingly on message for a lefty protest - lots of people from all over the state, both union and non-union alike, and very exuberant.

I'm told that there are still thousands of people up at the capitol, mostly due to a large contingent of public school teachers who came out once their work was done for the day. Lots of folks packed into the Joint Finance Committee meeting discussing the budget repair bill, and word from those inside is that those speaking against the bill outnumber those for it something like 20 to 1.

An interesting week, indeed. Expect more posts here in the future, too. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


(rediscovered cell phone pic, what can I say)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Last Supper, the first night

Opening night has come and gone. I'm exhausted and grateful. Relieved. Happy with how it all went, despite some minor hiccups. And the overwhelmingly positive response from our first audience was incredible. It's been far too long since I've been part of a full-length play run and will probably be far too long again after, but I'm so glad this is the show that occupies the middle.

I want to tell you all about it. Do you have a minute?

Many years ago, probably during one of my many movie-watching binges that helped me through one long, lonely summer when I had just moved to Oklahoma, I happened across a flick called "The Last Supper." Starring a pre-"There's Something About Mary" Cameron Diaz, the always amazing Courtney Vance, and a pre-"Big Love" Bill Paxton (among others), the dark political comedy struck a chord with me from the start.

I'm a great fan of good, dark humor. There's probably a psychological thesis to be written on why that is, but the personal reasons are beside the point at the moment. What's important to note is that, when I found out about a year ago that a stage version of the movie had been created by the original writer, I knew I wanted to find a way to be involved in its production.

Amazingly, the local company Mercury Players Theatre decided to put up "The Last Supper" as part of its season this year. I came out of a self-imposed theatre retirement specifically to audition and, very happily, landed the part of one of the central cast members - Jude, originally played by Diaz (pffft). She is not at all the type of character I am usually cast as, and that's absolutely the kind of challenge I love.

Jude starts the show as a confident, sexy, witty woman and arcs down into serious existential despair. I've spent the last few months getting to know her and having a great time seeing what I could bring to the part. Even better, and perhaps more astounding, is the fact that the entire cast is amazing. They're not just all solid actors, but solid people. We all get along. For an ensemble show this is crucial, but it's still rare. In my experience there's always been that one person in the cast with whom everyone else becomes increasingly more annoyed during the course of the rehearsal and run period. It's almost inevitable. It may even have been me at times.

It's just not the case here. And it's one of my absolute favorite things about doing theatre - meeting wonderful new people, better getting to know others. I think/hope our closeness translates on stage.

Back to the play, though: Playwright Dan Rosen actually updated the script specifically for our production, so this is the first time anywhere ever that this exact version has been performed. Which is, really, kind of awesome. Rosen will also be coming to Madison to see it and participate in talk-backs after the show on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28 and 29. Nora Dunn, former SNL actress and original Sheriff from the movie version is also making a somewhat surprise visit that weekend to do the talk-backs, so if you're keen on that sort of thing, those are the nights to come see the show.

The play is all about what happens when people let their political ideologies get the best of their morals, and the danger of extremism in any part of the political spectrum. Eerily enough, the show became all the more topical after the shootings in Arizona this month. We worried over and discussed what that might mean for how audiences would react to the production - but decided, rightly I think, that it made what we were doing and what the show was saying all the more important. Not everyone digs dark humor as a way of tackling sticky topics, but I believe it's one of the best ways to civilly approach hard issues, generate some catharsis, and get people to think about things they might otherwise shut out if it were brought up in a more straight-faced, serious manner.

People don't like to be preached at, but present an issue in the light of a somewhat hyper-real, humorous but meaningful narrative and they're more likely to be open to the message. That's been my experience, anyway (this reviewer doesn't seem to agree with me, which is her prerogative, but I think she missed the point a bit - this reviewer, however, appears to have been more on board).

I know I've been made to really think some things through just by being in this show, and deal with the issues it tackles on an almost daily basis since we started rehearsals in December. The process has been difficult at times, but mostly it's both been a welcome reprieve from a series of stressful events in my personal life and somewhat of a catharsis for everything that's gone down nationally over the last couple of years.

If you're in the Madison area through the weekend of Feb. 12 I would love for you to come check it out for yourself (more info about tickets, etc. here).

Monday, January 17, 2011

The most publicity Tasmania will get all year

Amanda Fucking Palmer. Bless your heart.


How do I love this, let me count the ways.

(FYI: This all sprung from an on-the-spot performance when AP was in Tasmania last year)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We need more "Salt" in our entertainment diet

Apropos of nothing: I sat down with my Fella the other night to watch Salt, the action/thriller starring Angelina Jolie released last year to very mixed reviews. It has a ridiculous plot, she wears one of the most ham-handed outfits I've ever seen in a film (and I've seen a lot of ridiculous in my day), and is not what you'd call a great movie overall.

I loved it.

Why? Because the titular role, Evelyn Salt, is a complete and utter bad-ass. And not the done-to-death hot lady/big boobs/seducin' men/witty comebacks bad-ass but non-threatening female lead that even Jolie has been guilty of playing, either. She's mean. Jolie's portrayal is ovaries-to-the-wall hardcore (she did many of the stunts herself, and to the productions' credit, they used a refreshingly small amount of CG to get it done). The fights are gnarly and believable. It's fun to watch, plain and simple, and the sad fact is that we so rarely get to see a female lead - or even supporting character - like this in movies or television. I could probably list them all on both hands, with room to spare.

And you know why? Because the part of Salt was originally written for a man. When the original lead actor dropped out, Jolie asked to be given the part instead - and since you don't turn down Angelina Fucking Jolie they did just that, simply tweaking the script a little to reflect the different gender pronoun.

It works. It works so, so well. I wish the rest of the plot hadn't been quite so ludicrous because otherwise it's just an incredibly entertaining female-fronted flick with excellently choreographed fights and action sequences,. This is how you do it, folks. Having a strong female lead changes certain aspects of how you write a character and plot, yes, but not nearly as much as I think most of Hollywood has led itself to believe.

This goes for the Schluppy Normal Guy's Life Crisis movies, too. What about women? We're schluppy and layered and flawed and lovable, too, but you wouldn't know it from how we're represented in popular entertainment.

The Bechdel Test should be required reading for all screenwriters:
  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man
Now there's an idea.

Yes, ultimately a big part of Salt's motivation has to do with a man (her husband) - but she doesn't talk about it the entire time, she's morally ambiguous through most of the movie, and when she fights she fights mean. And, for better or worse, that makes Salt a ground-breaking movie. It shouldn't be, of course - letting women be human beings in movies ought not be such a novel concept.
The Lost Albatross