ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

The Chaos of Others

What rough beast … Slouches toward Bethlehem ? — W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming

Pittsburgh opened its arms, er paws, last week to the Anthrocon convention. The Furries came to town in rags, tags and velvet gowns. The event was a testament to the region’s diversity and tolerance. It also brought in a ton of money.

Ten years ago, the same week as the Furries’ arrival in Pittsburgh, terrorists’ bombs went off in London. Fifty-six people on subways, trains and buses died. Hundreds were injured. All to defend religious belief and identity. 

Open a newspaper or a website and chaos arrives at your virtual doorstep: news from nowhere and everywhere. The world is a scary, confusing place filled with sound and fury (as well as furry). One week it’s a misguided young man in Memphis shooting folks at a church; the next refugees fleeing Somalia. 

We work hard to convince ourself the world is orderly nonetheless. We tell ourselves stories in order to live — myths to impose structure and meaning. We cannot help seeking the sermon in the suicide, wrote Joan Didion (who also wrote an essay inspired by Yeat’s poem.)

We seek solace in technologies that allow us to control nature1 while subverting our better natures. People stare at their smartphones on the bus or subway or while driving as if gazing into a Delphic oracle. In a high-tech society where we purport to make rational, scientific decisions based on statistics and datamining, online fantasy games and graphic novels about magical worlds are increasingly popular.

Given the above, the fact that people pursue drugs like marijuana and heroin as a pathway to an alternate reality is no surprise, though no less pernicious.

Or, one can live in a part-time fantasy world, dressing up in costumes, uttering spells and engaging in strange rituals with others of similar beliefs. Religious dogma offers consolation with the condition that we buy into whatever story is told by those in authority that reassures us we are among the elect.

Soccer, baseball and other sports fans know this as well. Pittsburgh Steelers football fans dress in black and gold and go tailgating.

What if some people deal with the chaos around them and in their own lives by impersonating cats, dragons and other creatures and wearing a tail?

Personally, I’m a fan of humor. In the film Duck Soup a country (not Greece, but just sayin’) goes to war to pay its debts. The Marx Brothers turn the considerable chaos and danger of their 1930s world of Hitler and Mussolini and fascism on its head. Look, they say, this silly stuff can’t hurt you. Look how absurd. Shakespeare does that in plays from Midsummer Night’s Dream to Twelfth Night.

Illustration by Erin Fletcher. For more information please go to http://erinsartportfolio.blogspot.com/2014/02/pandoras-box-illustration.html

Comics like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Robin Williams open the Pandora’s box of our identity (with the emphasis on Id) and allow us to peek briefly at the darker angels of our natures2 — little Grendels aching to get out and smash the world or blow it up. Dancing on the knife edge of sense and nonsense led each of them to the edge of sanity and beyond. Do we forget their loss so cheaply?

What is mental illness but a mind overwhelmed with chaos? Maybe depression, schizophrenia and other maladies are alternate stories a desperate mind tells itself to make sense of the world.3 Our treatments address the damaged neurochemistry or faulty wiring while still ignoring the suffering spirit. The rest of us may be deluded, or stupid, or heavily medicated, but we manage to keep our suffering – and that of others — at arms length. Compassion requires entering, or at least acknowledging, the chaos in others. This is uncomfortable and scary, because it echoes the potential or actual chaos within each of us as individuals and societies. But if we fail to do so, chaos grows, takes on a life of its own and perpetuates evil. Like terrorists blowing up subways, trains and buses, or shooting strangers.

If the alternative is dressing like anthropomorphic creatures and strutting around town, I’ll serve the FriskiesTM. — CDL

1See John McPhee’s The Control of Nature

2 Not to say Weeping Angels

3 Read Susan Sontag’s llness as Metaphor

Chekhov’s Diagnosis, 1892

Life is a vexatious trap; when a thinking man reaches maturity and attains to full consciousness he cannot help feeling that he is in a trap from which there is no escape. Indeed, he is summoned without his choice by fortuitous circumstances from non-existence into life . . . what for? He tries to find out the meaning and object of his existence; he is told nothing, or he is told absurdities…  — Anton Chekhov, Ward Number Six (Cited in the British Medical Journal, January 2008)

Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling

On Labor Day weekend 2015, the Omni William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh presents a celebration of Woody Guthrie’s songs and stories to honor Southwestern Pennsylvania workers past and present. ‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’, combines live music and readings centered around the lives of Woody Guthrie and his wife Marjorie Mazia.Woody Guthrie was an iconic musician of the 1930s and 40s. Marjorie Mazia danced with the Martha Graham Company in the 1940s. Guthrie and Mazia had a passionate relationship marked by creativity and true devotion, despite his restless wanderings and the losses and struggles they faced together. The show pays tribute to the uniqueness and continued relevance of his work in helping us find the individual and collective stories that connect more than divide us.
Woody Marjorie  HT Image Contrast
‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’ is presented in partnership with Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies as part of a special Omni Labor Day package that includes Saturday dinner or Sunday brunch in the hotel’s Terrace Room. Recommended for ages 16 and up. For more information about the show please call 412-353-3756. For event information and reservations, please contact the Omni William Penn at 412-553-5235.

Voltaire et Charlie

“I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it…” – Attributed to Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet )

Voltaire might certainly have said, ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo’.

Doing the Right Thing

Welcome to the New Year, a time of resolution and retrospective. We are all trying to create better versions of ourselves. As we see from the news, there’s lots of room for us as individuals and as a species to improve. But sometimes the impulse toward self-improvement is overrated — especially when urged by others who know us little and appreciate us less.

A colleague and I went out for drinks. We talked about work. Looking back on his career at the same organization, he told me, “I’ve been called ‘subversive’, ‘too philosophical’ and most recently told that I’m a ‘talker'”.  He took this advice to heart, and it’s obvious it troubles him. (I suggested he tweet everything or send smoke signals.) He has good working relationships, completed many tasks and projects successfully in challenging circumstances and receives commendations from people he’s worked with over twenty years. It seems appropriate to ask:

  • When does ‘subversive’ = thinking critically?
  • When does ‘philosophical’ = thoughtful?
  • When does ‘talker’=communication skills?

Aren’t these the sorts of aptitudes companies say they need? Perhaps he’s been doing something right all along.– DA

 

‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ 2014 LR Performance Photos

Please see a slideshow from our 11/22/2014 and 11/23/2014 live radio performances of The Thin Man Comes to  Pittsburgh at the Omni William Penn. Photo credits: Jessica, with cast photo by Randall Quesnelle
 

‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ Live Radio 2014 Playbill

Please see the digitized playbill for our upcoming November 22nd and 23rd The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh weekend performance at the Omni. Show tickets are still available both days. Read more of this post

11/22/2014 ‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ Package Sold Out ; Show Tickets Available

The Omni William Penn sold out dinner packages for our upcoming 2014 performance of The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh for Saturday 11/22 and Sunday 11/23. Show tickets are still available. Please call 412-553-5000 or e-mail jkaiser@omnnihotels.com. Also, the show was featured on 10/24 in the Post Gazette’s Radio Notes.

'The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh' 2014 Poster

‘The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ 2014 Poster

Interview in the PDCDC Newsletter

August interview with Taia Pandolfi in the PDCDC (Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation) Downtowner on collaborating with creatives and following my bliss in the ‘Burgh.  And see a related essay on live vs. virtual performance by Stefany Anne Golberg in the Smart Set. — CDL

‘Virtually Yours’ 8-16 Premiere

We had about twenty-five people for our Virtually Yours live read Saturday 8-16 at the Cabaret at Theater Square. Not bad for a post-10pm premiere of a new play in ‘Burgh. Thanks to everyone who attended, including those who stuck around for the performance following Ring of Fire or joined us after hearing Yanni at the Benedum.

Randy Kirk, Bob Bollman and Kevin Buck at the Cabaret made us feel at home. Randy, the Cabaret manager, made time around a tight schedule for us to rehearse in the space. Bob set up three hanging mics for us the night of the show while Kevin covered the house and cued us to go on.

Caitlin, Mark, Chris and Jeannine did a wonderful job turning the script that I was revising until Thursday night into entertainment for our audience to enjoy. Thanks also to Taia P. and Georgia at the PDCDC for promoting the show in their newsletter. — Chuck

 'Virtually Yours' at the Cabaret : Chris Leon, Caitlin Northup, Mark Tierno, Ms. Swanheart

‘Virtually Yours’ at the Cabaret: Chris Leone, Caitlin Northup, Mark Tierno, Jeannine Lanigan

 

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