Friday, July 15, 2016

Our Human Systems & Beliefs as Choices: Responses to Tyler Glenn & Elder Nelson

I never post on here anymore. It's literally been 4 years. But this morning as I awoke and scrolled through FB ( WHY do I start my day like THAT???!) I cam across this article on Mormons Building Bridges   and I just had to respond. Felt like I should. So...

If this is really about saving LGBTQI youth, then this is not about Tyler Glenn and Elder Nelson.
For that matter, this is not really about LGBTQI youth or Mormonism either.
an exercise: take away every human cultural institution and development of that last 180,000-1 million years ( the best science can tell us about when we as a species emerged) and consider a group of 100 homo sapiens.
the best science can tell us, anywhere between 1-10 of them would either have a considerable inclination to primarily express their sexual desire toward a member of the same sex or to not feel that their physicality reflects their internal identity… simply stated, there would be a great deal of variance in how these 100 homo sapiens desired to engage in sex.
None of them will have the desire to believe Jesus Christ.
You may BELIEVE that they do because God created Adam and taught him the…. whatever, but they don’t. They just don’t ( more about this later…)
BUT, how do we know that 1-10 of them will have sexual inclinations outside of the norm?
Leave any modern research into the biological underpinnings of human sexual behavior out of it for a moment.
We know these variations in sexual desire would exist because we can go back as far as there is any anthropological or archeological evidence of human thought and see that VARIANCE IN HUMAN SEXUAL DESIRE is a CONSTANT. It is literally written all over the walls.
Jesus Christ, however, shows up about 2000 years ago. ( surely he was evolving as far back as that 180,000-million year point—even further perhaps, but that only goes to the larger point below. Wait for it. :)
Societies began negotiating their relationship to non-normative sexual activity most likely as long as human societies have been around.
...and the plethora, myriad of ways they did so is astounding!
about 3000 years ago a group of wandering shepherds negotiated their relationship with non-normative sexual activity and they codified it and wrote it down. In stone.
Stone—yes, literally kill-those who participate in non-normative sexual behavior.
Tyler Glenn, Elder Nelson, you and me are in this situation because of that negotiation.
Because the Abrahamic religions have grown to represent the dominant mode of sexuality in the West for the past 3000 years.
Examine other cultures outside this Abrahamic umbrella.
Both Elder Nelson and Tyler Glenn would be completely out of place with their competing notions of this negotiation in these cultures.
Both Tyler’s and Nelson’s notions are just that, NOTIONS. IDEAS. CONSTRUCTIONS. SYSTEMS.
“Gay” “Lesbian” “Transgender” “Bisexual” as “identities” are all CONSTRUCTIONS
“A child of God the Father redeemed through the atonement and unconditional love of his Son Jesus Christ” = also a CONSTRUCTION.
ALL OF THEM have their inherent beauty and utility. ALL OF THEM have their requisite horrors and limits.
Because they are CONSTRUCTIONS. Human systems.
Our success as human beings in this truly global world depends on our ability to see our SYSTEMS for what they are: HUMAN CONSTRUCTIONS which we can CHOOSE to believe in. This volitive act of CHOOSING to believe creates meaning. And that is wonderful.
When we begin to see our systems as CHOICES and TRULY own them as choices, constructions, and ways of negotiating our shared space, then we will truly make Zion as Brother Hess wishes.
Unfortunately that just can’t happen when there is such rigidity of thought - such denial of reality in favor or CONSTRUCTED systems.
We will continue to experience the pain of NOT ONLY young people feeling so divided, torn and out of place that they feel it would be better to not be, BUT we will continue to feel the pain of days like Nice, Orlando, 9/11, Hiroshima, Mountain Meadows, and on and on UNTIL we can see our human systems simply as CHOICES and negotiations and not RIGID, UNBENDING ETERNAL TRUTH.
Another constant of human behavior and existence:
We NEED one another. We are a definitively interdependent species. This is no ideological construction. It’s an evolutionary REALITY.
We negotiate this interdependence via our systems. When our interdependence fails, our systems have failed.
When this happens, our systems have become like fly-paper to which every REAL human problem becomes stuck — They are like peanut butter into which one drops a tablespoon of reality in the form of sugar…
Let’s let go of our systems long enough to SEE ONE ANOTHER.
TO truly CHOOSE our systems and recognize the moments when our SYSTEMS are coming flat, smack right-up against one another and thereby creating real TERROR.
When we recognize our SYSTEMS as choices and not immobile boundaries and walls, we can make the CHOICE to renegotiate them for the sake of our shared reality.
We may give lip service to ideas like universal love, tolerance and acceptance, but until we are willing to negotiate this last boundary it is all just pride. Cold, lonely pride.
But REALITY is there in every moment, in every breath, and it needs nothing from us but acceptance.
My favorite passage from a book codifying a particular HUMAN SYSTEM is as follows:
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
I CHOOSE to BELIEVE in this idea. I BELIEVE it comes closest to the reality of what it means to be a human being.
We can do it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Being Reviewed

It's been a long time since I've posted. A very long time...

Let's set all the effusive pleasantries of our long awaited reunion aside and just get down to business.

My play PENINSULA, produced by In Absentia Productions as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, is just about to finish it's 5 Show Completely Sold Out Run at the Robert Moss Theatre.
The cast of PENINSULA. Josue Gutierrez Guerra (center) and around him (left to right) Marc Sinoway, Kellan Peavy, John Zdrojeski, Vanessa Bartlett and Angela Atwood. Photo by Matt Dunivan.

We've actually been offered an extension as part of the Fringe Encore Series that will have us running in rep at the Players Theatre through mid-October, but the details are all still forthcoming.

We've been fortunate to have had--and we still do-an incredible Production Team supporting the show. Andrea Wahlquist at In Absentia, Dean Carpenter from DAC, Inc is our General Manager, Joey Tillman has been our Company Rep and Bill Coyle of CoyleEntertainment is our Press Agent. Largely because of this team, we've had a lot of PRESS at our shows. In short, there have been reviews. At this point, over ten of them.

It's been a surreal experience to be reviewed by so many so openly.  I'll be 38 next week and I've been writing plays since I was--my Mom can corroborate--6.  My first one was a riff on the daffodils number from Disney's Alice in Wonderland I staged with paper- bag puppets behind our couch back in Crosby, MN. PENINSULA itself is actually an old play. I wrote it in 2006. Still, never in all this time has even one of my plays been publicly reviewed--at all. The only feedback I have ever gotten has been either academic, high school through graduate school, from friends, colleagues or family, or from friends of friends delivered to me via close friends....

So, I hope you won't mind if I use this forum to work through some of my feelings and thoughts about the experience and some of the reviews.

The sexy boys of PENINSULA. From left to right, Marc Sinoway, Josue Gutierrez Guerra and Kellan Peavy. Publicity photo by Devlin Shand.

To start out, a round up of the Press generally. 

It's been overwhelmingly positive. Almost every reviewer has said encouraging things like "Peninsula is a captivating play with a wonderful momentum," and "a suspenseful, well-crafted play". They've used words like "compelling", "exciting","fast-paced", "taut", "soulful", "touching" and "vivid" to describe it. One, Lilian Meredith from said that it was"like being on a roller-coaster (in the best way)".

One very kind and enthusiastic reviewer, Richard Seff from a Washington DC online publication said:

"This is an important work. A magnificent first effort by young Nathan Wright, a writer who has an ear for dialogue in the tradition of David Mamet, for size and scope à la Tony Kushner, for the poetry of Tennessee Williams. Yet he has his own voice and I’m certain we’ll hear more from him, hopefully soon. It’s a dazzling arrangement, and Mr. Wright pulls it off brilliantly."

...that was almost embarrassing to read.

Even the most unenthusiastic review-- a freelancer named Diep Tran who was hired by TimeOut NewYork to review some of the Fringe shows--admitted that the material was "compelling" and "poetic" and that I " have a way with language" --though she did say in the same sentence that it was "soap-opera-ish" and then at the end of her review used words like "obtuse" and "murky" to describe the play's effect over all.  That said, she is--truly--the only reviewer who didn't ultimately find the play worth watching, exciting and worthy of a life beyond the Fringe.  To be fair to her, she was only given a very short space to review the show. Under 200 words it seems. More importantly,  several other reviewers have pointed out that some (or all) of the play's narrative sections did become "tedious" and "distracting" or that they found them "a tad trite" --something akin to the narration of Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell.  They've said such negative things amidst--in the same reviews--all the wonderful things listed above.

So what to make of it?

My over all experience, naturally, has been similar to what I imagine raccoons, deer and other forest beasts must feel as they cross a night shrouded road and suddenly are engulfed in blinding light--paralyzed by the glory of it--fearful, yes, but probably, sorta--momentarily enthralled. It's nice to read so much talk about something you wrote--even the bad stuff... It's an ego trip. It piques all of those "me" "me"  and"I" "I" sensations--even if in the end it crushes the very thing that was so stimulated by the light.

Marc Sinoway and Josue Gutierrez Guerra. Photo by Matt Dunivan.

Well, clearly, I've not been crushed and as much as I've tried to step out of my ego-centred-identity and just observe how my emotions and thoughts rise and fall and dip and lift with all this criticism--happy and hefty--as it comes, I must admit I've had some less than meditative moments.

The morning my first other than glowing review came out, from Lilian Meredith at, I immediately wanted to track her down and give her a thorough review of her review. But I opted to go for a run--actually a sprint--on the Bridle Path in the park and spoke to her--usually in my inside voice--as I ran around the Reservoir in the humid shade. When that was done, I went back to her review and focused on how many positive, encouraging things she had to say and recognized that her negative points were pointing to something constructive.

The worst was when I looked up the reviewer from Time Out, Diep Tran. Her critique was the most dismissive. Like 150 words of dismissive. She said it was "bogged down" and "murky as the algae filled lake". Of course, it hurt that all of our labor had been reduced to under 200 words. It felt more so because it was from TimeOut New York, the most widely read and respected publication to review the play. Further, I felt particularly disheartened because Diep Tran is, in fact, not a "freelancer" in the truest sense, she actually has a graduate degree in Journalism and is the Assistant Editor at American Theatre Magazine. And yes, according to her Twitter feed, it was her first professional theatre review in two years, but it was hard not to feel that her "opinion" mattered most.

So....I found her blog and saw that her latest post was actually on the state of current theatre criticism in the digital age and how critics need to be ready to accept that their opinions will be subject to what she called " instantaneous push-back" and that she welcomed it. So, in the comment space I penned about a paragraph long response to her review--I knew it was a stupid move as I wrote it--ugh--and even more as I clicked publish. It could even have sounded spiteful...though, I didn't really mean for it to be. At the end I told her how much I felt comforted  by her blog post and that I had read through a lot of her other posts-- one on the Trayvon Martin case I found particularly powerful, you should read it here. It's quite good--and that I thought her opinions were very worth reading. Then, I wished her luck as a journalist.

How stupid of me and just...stupid, right?

Anyway, Diep Tran--I keep wanting to call her by her first name or say Ms. Diep or Tran, but I know she is Vietnamese American and I think the surname comes first in the Vietnamese naming tradition and so I just use her full name-- never responded, but one of her followers did respond and said, "A work that stands on its own shouldn't require this much explanation." Put in my place and shamed like the childish digital stalker I had become, I deleted my comments all together.
From left to right Kellan Peavy, Vanessa Bartlett, Josue Gutierrez Guerra and Marc Sinoway. Photo by Devlin Shand.

That was a low point. Like seriously low. Right?

So, now I am trying to step back--observing my thoughts, emotions and actions in relation to this episode with Ms. Diep. (I just went with Diep)

What I'm learning about myself is surprisingly relevant to what I see as the most important theme of PENINSULA--a theme that is embedded in the play's structure, and less so in the ostensibly obvious situational themes that the play's plot reveals. Those obvious themes being immigration, the class and income divide in America, race and sexual identity and how dangerous power dynamics fueled by sex and lust can be. Those themes are important sure, but they are not what is truly fundamental to me about PENINSULA. And the really great thing is that all the reviewer's criticisms and my own less than elevated behavior in response to them point to and underline this most fundamental theme of PENINSULA.

Kellan Peavey and Josue Gutierrez Guerra. Photo by Matt Dunivan.

SPOILER ALERT: I'm gonna tell you what I think PENINSULA is really about, I'm gonna do exactly what Diep Tran's follower says no playwright should do... I'm gonna do it because a) I need to do it and b) it helps me organize and make sense of not only these reviewers' well meaning criticism but my own behavior.

PENINSULA is really about how limiting and, ultimately, damning this thing we call identity is. To me, identity is synonymous with things like world view, belief system, paradigm, personal perspective, and opinion. Identity is synonymous with how we see the world. We see the world the way we do because of all the things that make us us. Whether it's nothing more than the unique genetic code written in every strand of our DNA, or a conglomeration of things like birth order, our linguistic or cultural heritage or where we were educated, our particular way of seeing the world is, to my thinking, our identity. The two things are inseparable. Or are they? Many religions and philosophies teach that the only way to true peace is to learn to separate from identification and join something more universal. Maybe its possible. Maybe not. But meditating on the idea has proved incredibly helpful to me.

To me, PENINSULA must have the structure it does. It must begin with Tiago stepping out of his "identity" at the very moment of it's temporal dissolution. He must do this and then step back into it in an attempt to narrate how he sees the events leading up to his demise. And his telling of these events must at every moment be uniquely his AND then be both challenged and corroborated by the other unreliable narrators of the play. The whole structure is meant to destabilize identity. I actually want some of those narrative moments to distract from the play's otherwise unceasing momentum. I want a viewer to be challenged with the structure and to--hopefully--take a breath to consider why they are being asked to view the story they are seeing in the way it is being presented.  (If not during the play, after it, in quiet reflection). This is why there are three competing narratives in PENINSULA, and why those narratives don't always line up and why they from time to time do, in fact, interrupt the play's action.

To me a play is a poem, it's form should tell us something about the content. And what I am realizing is that I need to make this clearer. Even my most supportive critics are not seeing this larger theme. So, I'm humbled and schooled and grateful. I'm rewriting.

So how does my behavior relate to this theme?

I was trapped by my own identity. By my own prejudices and beliefs. I am ashamed to admit that when I read Richard Seff's glowing review I saw--more than anything--a mature (I assume) gay man who was taken with both my lead actor and the play's sweeping sensuality. When I read the review by Lilian Meredith I contextualized her ideas within my silly, baseless, summation of who she was--Vassar educated and still young. And when I read Diep Tran's review I gave it great weight because of her position as Assistant Editor at American Theatre and as a reviewer for TimeOut New York. ( No, her being Vietnamese American had nothing to do with my prejudices....I am happy to admit).

John Zdrojeski and Josue Gutierrez Guerra. Photo by Devlin Shand.

The truth is, I should look at all of their thoughts as legitimate and worthy and at the same time just that: their thoughts. I should be exceptionally grateful that I am in the position that I am. That my work and that of my wonderful director Nadia Foskolou, the hardworking cast and crew, and the supportive production team has been given the privilege of being seen by so many and is being discussed. How small of me and hypocritical that I allow such prejudices to blind and blot out the light of such a rarefied moment.

On opening night, our Press Agent Bill Coyle, related a story about an actress he once worked with. She told Bill that she never read any of her notices. Not one review. Ever. Period. She explained that she didn't read them because " if I believe all the good, I have to believe all the bad."

To me that sounds like very good practical advice. If I am lucky enough to continue to be reviewed and critiqued publicly, I will most likely continue to read the notices, but Bill's actress friend's words will help give me perspective on the good ones and the bad ones.

On a deeper meditative level--which perhaps is ultimately the most practical level--I'll try to be grateful and open to this amazing experience of being part of a larger conversation. A conversation that is richly colored--colored by so many variations of identity and opinion--colored uniquely and for the better by each voice who chooses to join it.

The cast of PENINSULA's feet in rehearsal. Photo by Devlin Shand.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

General Conference, the HRC and Suicides....

After Elder Packer' hem...words about homosexuality, gay marriage and whatever at Conference on Sunday, coupled with the recent run of suicides of young gay men, and of course all the Prop 8 hoopla, you can bet that Joe Solomese and HRC had something to say about it.

I got a mailer in my inbox from Joe yesterday which led me to read/listen to Boyd' hem...words, which led me to post this on Facebook yesterday:

"Trying to decide who's better at inciting anger, spreading pain and just making me plain sad- Joe Solomese of the HRC or Boyd K. Packer of the 12. I think its a tie..."

I got several responses and "thumbs-up-likes", but one friend from the Holy Western Valleys with whom I've had little contact sent this:

"If you know they incite those kind of feelings, why listen to them in the first place?"

It was quickly deleted by the friend, however. I only saw it because Facebook sends immediate updates to my Blackberry every time anything happens on Facebook. Thank. God.

Anyway, I decided to respond anyway and sent this:

" I got your message on facebook, it was sent to my email account, but I see you must have deleted it from my page. I'm assuming you thought better of it, but I wanted to respond quickly anyway. Your comment was so short and brief that it would be impossible for me to genuinely discern its true intent--whether it was meant as a rebuke, as a snide and terse remark, or as a sincere question. Because of its hasty removal, I feel compelled to think it was one of the former and your better judgment dictated you delete it. Despite this, I want to respond to it as a sincere question--I listen for 3 simple reasons: 1) because in this information laden age and culture it is next to impossible not to hear unpleasant, angering or saddening things about topics you care about; 2) because words spoken- thoughts and ideas shared- have consequences, they reverberate and send ripples through lives and I believe strongly that those consequences should and must be made known and 3) I listen in the, lets face it, rather dim hope that someone with whom I disagree may say something which will help me understand the troubled and beautiful world in which we all live a little better!"

You can read the HRC letter here (its actually the press release, and a little less emotive and carefully worded than the mailer Joe sent)

And of course, you can read, watch or listen to Elder Packer' hem...words at

Am I wrong to listen? Wrong to comment? Wrong to care?

Friday, February 26, 2010