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In Which I Work Through My Thoughts and Feelings Regarding The Recent Contention At The Utah Children’s Theatre

I’m writing this to work out my thoughts and feelings regarding an uncomfortable situation. I’m not looking for comments here, although if anyone would like to text me or speak in person, I’m happy to do that. One of the difficult things about this situation, which I’ll explain the details of in a moment, is that much of the discussion is happening in online forums. That, in my opinion, is the worst place for the kind of discussion required to work through uncomfortable situations. The ideal solution for this situation would be a series of ongoing, sensitive, face to face discussions. But if these have been happening, I have not been privy to them. So I’m working things through on my own here.

I have been acting in plays at the Utah Children’s Theatre for some years now. Recently, the theatre management decided to cast an actor who has been previously convicted of sexual offenses with minors and had his name on a sex offender registry. I do not know the specifics of the current legal situation. From what I understand, the offenses occurred at least twenty years ago, there have been no further convictions, and possibly (this is where my knowledge is really at its limit) the man has since been able to have his name removed from the sex offender registry and have his legal record cleared/sealed/expunged/etc. These reasons, as far as I’m aware, allowed the theatre management to feel comfortable in their decision to cast this actor. I’m working through a multitude of thoughts and emotions right now, but one thing I can say with some measure of certainty is that they made the wrong decision.

I want to add a caveat here. I don’t know who will read this, but I believe it’s safe to assume at least a few people who have worked or attended shows at the Utah Children’s Theatre will. I want to make it clear at this point that I’m not throwing any blanket judgements on any person. The judgement here is about the decision of a business to hire a specific employee, not on the morality of any persons involved in that decision. I also reserve the right to change my mind at any point. The point of my writing this is to work through my thoughts and feelings wherever they take me. I’d also like to say here that I’m not in any way excusing poor decision making or bad behavior. I fully support those who feel hurt and betrayed by this and other decisions. My hope, not with this post but with the entire mess, is that this will be a conversation and learning opportunity from which we all emerge better people, not a war in which two sides are attacked and bloodied until one emerges a victor. Then again, I feel I’m less the chessmaster here and more the dog from Monopoly who found myself on the board. That is to say, I don’t feel entirely inconsequential, but I won’t be controlling at all how this plays out.

So, the theatre hired this man. Later, this decision along with the man’s past behavior came to light on social media. I feel guilty for judging this, and honestly I don’t really know what better avenue would have been available, but I can’t help but feel this was the wrong venue. What followed the post outing the theatre’s decision was truly awful. The comments that came were full of hurt, anger, attack, defense, vitriol, blame, and more. These comments came from people I like. From people I hold in high regard. I want to believe this happened because social media, for all its efforts to bring people together, tends to hide the humanity of the people on the other side of the comments. I want to believe the people who wrote awful things aren’t actually terrible people. I want to believe they felt attacked and responded in kind out of a sense of defense and self-preservation without realizing the post was made by a human. I know that doesn’t sound like much comfort, but what I mean to say is that I want to believe if this conversation had happened face to face there would have been more emphasis on compassion and understanding rather than defense and justification. I hope that conversation can still take place. These are my hopes for the future, but they don’t help much with where I find myself at this moment.

I’m doing my best to avoid specifics while writing this. It seems cowardly, but I’ll justify it by saying that I really don’t know the specifics. I’ve watched this unfold from the sidelines of the discussion, and for me to state anything as fact which I don’t know would only exacerbate the problem. Also, these things that I’m saying, the sequence of events I’m laying out, are in no way comprehensive. I’m really just trying to hit the big events and not mischaracterize them too much. So, after a series of Facebook posts and comments, a meeting was held with theatre management, the cast of the play in which the actor was cast (Which isn’t the play I’m in, I should mention. I wasn’t present at this meeting.), and parties who felt hurt and aggrieved by the decisions of the theatre. At that meeting, the following or a similar list of demands was presented to the theatre management.

  • My first and only concern is for the safety of children at Utah Children’s Theater.
  • UCT should have zero tolerance to child endangerment.
  • Safety precautions need to be in place.
  • I wish to keep our comments routed back to our common goal of children’s safety.
  • The question is not about [the actor]. It’s about any felon convicted of a sexual crime not being employed or cast by UCT. It is not whether he is a recovered man, or a nice man. He once did a horrendous thing to two girls and was convicted. [The actor] is a convicted felon of a sex crime and we, parents, do not want a sex offender working with children.
  • Immediately remove and replace [the actor] in the current production of “Busytown” and confirm he will not be contracted or hired in any position at UCT going forward.
  • If a sex offender relapses we cannot let it happen to the children of UCT.
  • There needs to be a zero sexual harassment/sexual crime standard at UCT.
  • James has been notified of several allegations of sexual misconduct and has not acted. Since posting about [the actor] other women have privately shared their experiences with sexual harassment at UCT. This is a known ongoing issue at UCT.
  • Commit to not hiring, contracting, or casting any known sex offenders in any position at UCT going forward.
  • Parents expect full transparency regarding the safety of their children.
  • In this instance, parents were not given the information necessary for them to make an informed decision about the safety of their children.
  • Issue an apology informing: all employees, casts using the theater during his contract, and all parents of students and cast members, of [the actor’s] access to the theater and his prior conviction.
  • Conduct background checks on all current and future employees and cast.
  • Provide a dedicated child advocate for all future productions, including rehearsals.
  • Training from Safe Harbor Crisis Center or similar for all levels of staff on appropriate work relationships especially involving children.

For the record, I agree with all of these points. The one area where I might push back is on the statement that the theatre should notify parents and castmates of the prior actions of the actor. The reason I might push back on this is because I don’t know the specifics of the legal situation regarding this man’s criminal record. If his name has been removed from a sex offender registry and his criminal record has been expunged, then an argument could be made that it isn’t legally or ethically correct to reveal this man’s past crimes. That said, I want to restate my earlier position that the decision to hire this man was wrong. I don’t want to go into my reasoning for taking that position here, but I will also reiterate that if anyone would like to discuss this in a more personal setting, I am happy to do it. Instead of dissecting what makes this decision a bad one, I want to move on to what to me is a more serious issue.

Many of my dear friends are hurt right now. They feel betrayed, confused, devalued. They question whether this was one bad decision or a symptom of a larger issue at the theatre. A few have decided that they won’t continue to work with the Utah Children’s Theatre. Some have decided they will continue to participate. I’m sure all have thoughts and opinions on what everyone else should do as well. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of not knowing the right thing to do. To some, the issue is simple. You’re either on the side of the victims or the perpetrators.

One more caveat, please don’t assume anything I’m saying applies to you specifically. These are my feelings. They are not meant to represent hard, cold facts or specific things people have said to me. These are my feelings about a big, messy, complicated situation which all people involved have to work through and make their own decisions about. This is me working through it and trying to come to some kind of decision.

So, victims or perpetrators? But who is who? It’s almost a truism that all people believe themselves to be right. I think we can safely assume that the theatre management did not believe they were endangering their cast or employees when they made their casting decision. Likewise, the people calling for change at the theatre don’t see themselves as busybodies imposing their will on others through coercion or manipulation. The problem with breaking a situation like this into black and white is that the offense isn’t so cut and dry in the minds of everyone involved. This isn’t to suggest there aren’t rights or wrongs involved. But also remember, we’re not discussing the morality of the sexual offense from two decades ago. We all know and agree that that was wrong. The man went to jail. There is no question as to the immorality of his offense.

The questions now are about the theatre. And the major question is not even about whether they were right to hire the actor. At least, for me it’s not. Like I said before, I’m not interested in dissecting that decision here. The big question for me is if the Utah Children’s Theatre is an institution worth supporting and one that I can comfortably attach my name to. To answer that, I have to ask myself, was the choice to hire this man just one poor decision or is it indicative of larger problems within the organization? I’m feeling right now, based on conversations with people close to me and my own experiences, that it’s the latter. And if that’s the case, then it leads to another question entirely. Are the problems within the theatre insurmountable? And do the people at the theatre want to solve them?

Beyond those questions, I wonder how I do the most good. If I’m just a metal dog in the middle of a chessboard, how do I affect the game at all? At this point, the safest thing for me to assume is that nothing is going to change within the Utah Children’s Theatre organization. I don’t mean to suggest that as a foregone conclusion or even the most likely thing. For my own decision making though, it seems best to me to assume that everything will stay the same and ask myself what I should do if that’s the case. One argument is that by walking away it makes a statement that I won’t support bad behavior. The other side of that coin is the assumption that if I do stay, I’m proclaiming my support for said behavior. Then there’s the argument that while walking away makes a nice statement, it’s also leaving people I know and care about in a bad situation whereas if I stay, perhaps I can offer some buffer or protection from any bad behavior I happen to witness. Remember, what we all want here is a safe place for children. Is it justifiable for me to abandon any person I care about to face a potentially harmful situation alone? Of course, this is all assuming that I’m not part of the problem myself. And again this is all based on the larger assumption that problems at the theatre are systemic and/or deliberate.

Since my thoughts are here now, I will take this moment to say, I don’t believe the problems are deliberate. That is to say, I don’t think the management at the theatre is trying to create an atmosphere where girls and women feel undervalued and unsafe. I think it far more likely that those are issues systemic to our entire society and as such have wormed their way into most if not all of our institutions. The tragedy here, what I think is causing so much pain, is that we all hoped the Utah Children’s Theatre was better. We want it to be better. It should be better. But it’s still an institution run by people in our messed up society that values a man’s opinion as worth more than a woman’s and is generally more concerned with a man’s reputation than a woman’s safety and/or emotional wellbeing. Again, if you want to dispute that point of view, I am open to conversations, but I am not taking comments here.

I suppose at the current state of my muddling through all these thoughts and emotions, I find myself able to make one definitive statement, and I’ll end on that:

I want the Utah Children’s Theatre to be the place we all hoped it would and see that it can be. I want it to be better. Not because it’s a bad place. Because it can be an amazing place. It can be a place we’re all proud to belong. If the people in power want that too, then I’m here to stay. If not, then I’ll have a whole other set of questions to ask myself.

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Making America Great…Apparently

It’s been two days since Donald Trump became the President Elect of the United States of America. Today, a friend of mine was assaulted and harassed because of the color of his skin. But of course, these two events probably aren’t linked. I mean, racist assholes have been a part of this country from the beginning. How do we know this dickbag has anything to do with Trump? Well dear reader, I know because the piece of human refuse who assaulted my friend did so while waving a Trump sign and shouting his support for Trump.

Donald Trump’s bigoted, vile garbage that has spewed from his mouth has been thoroughly documented, but for the sake of argument here is a direct quote from the very first speech he made on his campaign last year:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

This is not a post about politics. Trump won, and we all need to accept that and move on. I do want to address those Trump voters I personally know though. I don’t want to tell you why you were wrong to vote for Trump. You had your reasons, I’ve no doubt, and you are good, intelligent people. I can safely assume then that your reasons were good, intelligent reasons. I want to talk to you right now about your responsibilities moving forward. Regardless of your reasons for voting for Trump though, by voting for him you supported this kind of speech. And this kind of speech has now, two days after the election, been translated as permission to abuse our fellow human beings and American citizens. You didn’t vote for this. I’m certain of that. You did, however, give credence to it in the minds of the scum who supported Trump precisely because he called Mexicans rapists.

I don’t blame you. I want to make that clear. The person responsible for being a racist dickbag, is the person who is a racist dickbag. No, I don’t even mean Trump here. The person responsible for assaulting my friend is the person who committed the assault. HOWEVER, if you voted for Trump, you empowered this person. That was not your intention, I’m sure, but it happened nevertheless. The racist fuckwad who assaulted my friend feels like your vote was an endorsement of his fuckwaditude. So here is where we are, and this is what I really want to say to you.

 

IF YOU VOTED FOR TRUMP, IT IS YOUR JOB TO DENOUNCE THE RACIST, SEXIST, HOMOPHOBIC, BIGOTED, EVIL BULLSHIT THAT YOUR VOTE EMPOWERED

 

You did not assault my friend. I do not blame you for what happened. But you are in a small way responsible. And you know what, I am too. I didn’t speak up and stand up and rally and donate money and do my part when David Duke, a prominent leader in the Ku Klux Klan, endorsed Donald Trump for president. I didn’t tell you before Novemeber 8th why I did not support Donald Trump. I kept my peace, as best I could, because I’ve done the political posts before, and I know it stirs up anger and contention. I didn’t want that this year. Not with the good, intelligent people I love. I’m sorry. I allowed the degenerate, vicious, scum-sucking, lowlife, asshat, fuckwit who assaulted my friend to feel like that was okay. Because I didn’t say anything. If you voted for Trump, or if you didn’t speak out explicitly against this kind of white nationalism before, you are responsible with me. And now, it’s our job to speak out and to let assholes know this is not okay. America is great and can be greater, and it is because of people like my friend who get shit on and discriminated against and abused every day and still work to make America great. We at least owe him our outrage.

Letting Things Slide

I started this blog a little over two years ago now. My intentions in its regard have shifted more than once since then. It’s been a place for me to share work in progress, thoughts on writing, and thoughts on life/politics/depression/etc. It’s been a good thing, I think. The last few months I’ve let it slide. It’s been an interesting time of life for me. I’ve posted before about that. It has prompted a good deal of introspection in me. I haven’t varied in what I want in life. I still have the same grand desire to write as I did two years ago when I started this. Circumstances have changed though, and that has prompted new directions and methods for me to accomplish those goals. It has also introduced new goals in other areas of my life. I’ve explored different career avenues, always with the thought that my new path would be something to make my life better while I continue to work on writing.

I’ve grown up a bit. I went to the dentist for the first time in 3 years. I can now do office talk and know about company family days (though I must admit I still don’t really understand either). Most people I know are concerned now with things like health insurance, sick days, buying property, and bed times. I understand these things now, at least I understand why people care about them. When I was younger these things were silly nonsense that distracted from important things like following your dreams and living in the moment. They’re not silly. I’m grown up enough now to say that and mean it. There’s a certain charm to a lifestyle of stability and 401ks and summer bbqs. Like I say, I’ve grown up.

There’s a problem though. Two years ago, right around the time I started this blog, my wife and I were talking about the future. I told her then that my greatest fear was complacency. I worried that I’d someday get a 9-5 job and we’d buy a car and I’d finally have health insurance and life wouldn’t be hard anymore. I worried that the lack of hardship would pacify me, and though I would still have the desire to write, it wouldn’t be my top priority. I’d be complacent to live a normal, average life, and I would never accomplish anything great. I still have that fear, but like I said, I’ve grown up.

It’s funny how often ‘grown up’ is synonymous with ‘given up.’ It’s not really. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding perpetuated by people who have given up and blame it on something as silly as aging. I’ve grown up a bit. I don’t resent my job even though it’s not exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I understand it now. I understand the social contract. And over the last few months of depression and introspection and laziness and hardship I’ve learned something about myself; I’m not ready to give up.

The only thing stopping me from writing is me choosing to use my time otherwise. A job is a necessary evil because it is necessary to live in a shelter and eat somewhat decent food and to see Ira Glass tell stories accompanied by two dancers. And you know, it’s not really that evil. It’s just work. It sometimes gets in the way of what we really want to do, but it’s not evil. In the end, it’s really just another excuse.

We all make excuses to not do the things we know will get us the things we want. We make them for good reasons. We need to work 40 hours a week to survive. We need downtime. Some movies and tv shows drop off Netflix after a certain time. We will get around to it when we’ve got enough money to afford us a little break. These are all excuses I’ve used in the past months, and they are all valid excuses in a given moment. They grow, though, from excuses to crutches, and before you know it you’re letting your blog die and not doing any work on the book you say you’re writing and getting too much of your sense of accomplishment from video game achievements. But I’ve grown up. It’s taken me 28 years, but I’ve come to a decision.

I want to be a writer, and it’s what I’m going to do. From now on, it’s going to be my priority. It’s going to be what I do. I’m going to start posting more regularly on here. I’m going to share my experiences with writing. I’m going to share updates on my writing progress. Sometimes I will still share things that have nothing to do with writing because those things are important too.

To start, I need to make some apologies and amends. I have two friends who released books in the last few months, and I should have helped promote them. Not because it’s my job or I owe them or anything. I should have done reviews and encouraged other people to buy their books because they are friends. And because they are writers and I know what it is to put your work out there and not get a response. So, it doesn’t make up for my lack of activity, but I am going to start my new/old blog with a couple reviews. If you want to get a jump on them without waiting for a review, I’ll add links below where you can get them.

Finally, while I hope everyone sees this blog and shares it and people the world over love it and publishers try to stalk me and shower me with lavish gifts to just please let them give me money to write a book, I realize that’s not very practical. The purpose of writing something like this is to share it, but in a way it’s more to share it with myself. I lost sight of that for a bit. I forgot how important it was to me to write these posts, even if no one reads them. So if it’s not your thing, that’s fine. It’s my thing, and it’s time I reminded myself.

Coming Up:

Book Review: Acea and the Seven Ancient Wonders by Kyle Shoop

Depression, Suicide, and Robin Williams: Hopping on the Bandwagon

So earlier this week Robin Williams killed himself. That was a shock to most people. It was a shock to me. It made a lot of people think and talk about depression. It made me think. It made me want to say something, but I didn’t know what. I read this article in Slate today, and it opened me up. There was one idea that kept popping up in my head in a very inarticulated fashion. The article addresses it perfectly:

“There were a lot of comments on Twitter about how much Robin Williams was loved and what a shame that he didn’t know it. I didn’t know Robin Williams, but I bet he did know that he was loved. I know that I am loved. Maybe not on a Robin Williams scale, but I have friends and family who would do anything for me, and I absolutely know this. But there comes a point where love does not matter. When things are bad, I don’t care that people love me. All I can see is that I’m a burden, that everything I have ever done is wrong, and that these good people who love me are wrong as well. At my lowest, love cannot save me. Hope, prayers, daily affirmations—none of these can save me. Therapy and medicine are what matter, and those don’t always work either.”

My situation isn’t nearly as dramatic as that of many people with depression. I don’t feel, like the author of the Slate article, that I am a burden to those around me. I have felt similar to the author of this web comic that I never wanted to commit suicide, but sometimes in my life I’ve felt that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I just got hit by a bus. I don’t want to scare or panic anyone close to me here. I promise I will never kill myself. If anything, I might just disappear one day the way my uncle did. Although I will be kind enough to leave a note. Even then though, I recognize that these things aren’t good solutions to any problem. They’re just not reasonable. Besides, I’d rather keep my family and friends happy.

The thing is though, when you’re depressed or otherwise mentally ill, these things aren’t good enough arguments. I know people love me, even when my brain is fucked up and doesn’t really understand it. I love them too, and I’d never want to hurt them. But sometimes life is just so damn frustrating, and you just want it to be over. Even remembering the joy and love and happiness doesn’t help because you know the problems will be back and life will be shitty again. In the end, suicide isn’t actually about the emotions. It’s a perfectly rational, logical conclusion to a disappointing life. Pain will never end, so why not just end it?

Now, I’ve only become aware of my own dealings with depression within the last year. I don’t know if it’s a thing I’ll have to deal with forever or just temporary for me. I do know a lot of people for whom this is a constant, daily issue. And what I really want to say, to them, to everyone else, and mostly to myself is this: I understand the despair. I understand the desire to be done. I understand the rationality of the decision. And most of all I understand that it’s all bullshit.

A trend in the past few days is the phrase, “Depression lies.” I don’t know about that. I don’t know that life isn’t pointless and frustrating and sometimes awful. I do know that life is important. I know that a life doesn’t belong to just one person. Every action you take has consequences. Suicide is not about you, or it shouldn’t be. You might think you’re a burden on others. You might think they’ll be better of without you. You might be tired of putting up with the drudge that is life. But it doesn’t matter. Because you’re life doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the people around you, the people who care about you, and ending it WILL put a burden on them. So this is what I have to say: if you are considering suicide call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here 1-800-273-8255 (US only I’m afraid, but it has counterparts all over the world.) Then, call the people who own your life and ask them first if you’re allowed to end it. I guarantee they won’t be cool with it.

Hometown Is Now Available!

Although I haven’t read the full novel yet, I can tell you Matthew Keville is one of the best underappreciated writers I’ve encountered. Get this book, and you won’t be disappointed.

Dreams of the Shining Horizon

Hometown-title

I am proud to announce that, after months of work and anticipation, Hometown has now gone live!

Hometown is available at Amazon (in both print and Kindle versions), Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

My thanks go out to everyone who has supported me on this long road.  Special thanks go out to Ruben de Vela, who did the fantastic cover art, and to Meaghan Horner, who turned it into a proper cover.

Now comes the part that’s hardest for any self-publisher: promotion.  That’s a big part of what publishers are for, after all.  With that in mind, I’d like to ask you all for your help: please help me to get the word out.  Tweet.  Share on Facebook.  Reblog.  Pass it on.  Word of mouth is pretty much all I’ve got.

Thanks to you all.

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Proactive Anti-Sexism

Sexism is nothing new in the world. We’ve been trying to fight it in our culture for a few decades now, but still it persists. In fact, it seems like it thrives in places, and unfortunately a lot of those places are where I like to spend my time. I’m talking about the world of gaming, literature, speculative fiction, and just nerdery in general. These of course aren’t all the places we still find sexism, nor even the worst of them, but it’s still a problem that needs addressing. I like to think of myself as a feminist/humanist/egalitarian whatever you want to call it, and I think in my life I’m fairly good at not being a total dick towards women. And you know, that’s great. Good job me for not being terrible.

While that’s a great starting point for feminism, it’s not really a great landing point. I was reading this article yesterday from Polygon, which is basically just a showcase of the horrible treatment women in gaming receive. That article links to this one from Leigh Alexander, which is not necessarily better but was more useful for me personally. I don’t contribute actively to the sexism in industries I love. I find it appalling, disgraceful, horrific, and completely disgusting. But I don’t really do anything to actively combat it either. I do try to share articles like these two. I try to be a good example of not being an asshole. I do my best to educate people about bigotry when given the opportunity. But I don’t really do anything. Part of that is just that there’s not much to be done, or rather there’s not a lot that I can do personally. However, reading these articles, I decided I can be more proactively anti-sexist.

One of the ways I am still allowing our inherent cultural sexism to influence my life is in my choice of authors. Most of my favorite authors ever since I was a child have been male. That’s not surprising seeing as industry (not just publishing, but most if not all western industries) has favored male products over female. Most of the books on the shelf were written by men. But not all. And that’s the point. I didn’t have to have mostly males as favorite authors. I just bought in to our society’s sexism. I don’t have to do that anymore though. So, from now on, for every book I read by a male author, I’m going to buy one by a female author too. If I buy a male authored book, I’m also going to buy a female authored book. If I check a book written by a man out from the library, I’m also getting one written by a woman. This in no way will fix all the sexism in the world. It won’t even fix all the sexism in my life. This is a small step on the way to making myself less sexist. It’s the beginning of what I hope will grow into a lifestyle not just absent from active sexism, but proactively anti-sexist.

Blogging

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted things on this blog. There are lots of reasons for that, but mostly what it comes down to is time and effort. I’ve got precious little free time right now, and I’m usually tired when I do. Still, it’s important to me to do this. It makes me feel good to produce content and to share my opinions, even if nobody were to read them. On that note, I’m posting this as a sort of contract with any readers that may be out there. I’m going to start updating this blog weekly. First post of this new wave coming Friday morning. I’ll tell you about the chance I got to read a book before it’s been published, and do a short, sort-of review. See you Friday!