Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #26 - "Finale: Friends and Rivals"

This is my entry for the final week of this mini-season of therealljidol.


Friend and Rival

Embracing the season theme as my topic this week

Why You Should Absolutely Vote For gratefuladdict

Let's start this off, as I often do, with a song:

The other day in the LJI Green Room, furzicle proposed the concept of cumulative voting. Her concept - and I paraphrase here - was that consistency in writing quality over multiple entries should be recognized somehow in voting.

If you look at gratefuladdict's body of work, one thing you'll surely recognize is that the quality is consistently excellent. I'm not just referring to her work this season but also her work in prior years. There are many fine writers whose work I've admired while participating in LJI, but week-in/week-out, GA's work is always top quality.

Some of the hallmarks of her work include a brilliant economy of language, a keen understanding of story structure and the ability to forge strong emotional connections with her readers. Her pieces never overstay their welcome and always evoke feeling. I'm also endlessly impressed with her range - whether sharing autobiographical work, opinion pieces, realistic fiction, science fiction or any other form she sets her mind to, gratefuladdict writes with equal aplomb.

Speaking of her consistent high quality work, let me take this time to remind you that she made the final two in season 8 as well. In fact, during season 8, she got pregnant, went through her entire pregnancy and gave birth in the final weeks of the season. I can't think of anything more hardcore.

Oh wait, I can. This season, she has written fabulous pieces while experiencing the general sleeplessness and exhaustion associated with raising a baby from five months to twelve months - not to mention caring for her only-slightly older little boy. I can't function if I have one bad night of sleep in a week. She has created great writing while in the throes of sleep deprivation, working her full time job and being a fantastic parent. How is that even possible?

In addition to this, gratefuladdict has been among the most active participants in LJI community. She cares passionately about the contest and community. This season, she's been the only contestent that I've regularly communicated with but I know that she's connected with, supported and cheered on something like a dozen other participants. I think that's the spirit of therealljidol.

But the main thing is her writing. She's just the best. We are all lucky to have had the chance to read so much of her work.

I have been telling gratefuladdict for weeks (in fact, for seasons) that she's the person I'd most like to see win LJI. While I'm very grateful for all the support I've received, I would be more thrilled to see her win than I would to win this myself. Don't let me down, LJI community.

Three Reasons You Should Vote for Me

Queen Tobi the cat sulking next to a computer mouse

1. Tobi the cat has had to wait for scratches for hours everytime I write an entry.

Moose the cat on my lap trying to get my attention

2. Moose has worked hard to get my attention during the writing process, often to no avail.

Close up of BB the cat

3. BB was made to pose for this entry. She hopes you're all happy.

I think your choice is clear.

Thank you all for reading, commenting and participating all season. I've really enjoyed reading everyone's work and am so grateful to have made it to the finals. Thank you, thank you!

This is the first time I've ever updated LiveJournal from my phone since I'm traveling this week. How does anyone do this regularly? Egads!
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #25 - "The Man Who Knew Too Little"

This is my entry for week #25 of therealljidol.


Good Boy

I've heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return. ~ From "Wicked" by Stephen Schwartz

My acting teacher said this to the class many years ago:

"Most women feel their emotions. Most men think their emotions."

This sounded fishy to me - I mean, he didn't cite a source or anything. I've not really bothered to search for anything to prove or dispute his assertion so I can't say if there's any truth to it or not. On the other hand, this precisely described how I generally experienced emotions.

I was a very emotional teenager, but sometime during college or right after, I stopped feeling most emotions. What would happen instead, for example, is somebody would do something that made me angry and I would find myself thinking "I am angry" instead of actually experiencing anger. What I'd actually feel would be a vague, dull thing that could best be described as "discontent." I had three general emotional states - "feel good now," "feel bad now" and "not bad."

"Not bad," it should be noted, is not the same as "good." It's more like the absence of emotion than an emotion unto itself.

There are so many problems with this way of experiencing emotions. The most troubling problem was that I lost the ability to gauge when I was truly depressed or angry or sad and, thus, couldn't take even the most rudimentary action to cope with these feelings. See, the emotions existed but they just sort of got poured into a giant tank in my heart. When the tank got too full, I would inevitably do something self-destructive - like punch a wall or smack myself in the face over and over again. Sometimes, things would trigger my freak outs (like something unfair happening at work or like me screwing something up) but just as often, I would find myself hitting my head against my desk (literally) with no obvious cause. Maybe I was tired, maybe it was the (at that time undiagnosed) depression, honestly maybe I'd just had too much caffeine. I don't know.

I should also note that the positive emotions didn't seem to get stored anywhere. They tended to wash off of me like rain on a newly waxed car. I deliberately chose "car" as the metaphor there because waxing a car is a stereotypical "manly" thing. I've never waxed my car.

Oddly enough, the times that I did feel specific things were when I empathized with somebody else. To this day, when I see somebody get physically injured, I feel a pang for them in my gut. When I know somebody else is sad or happy, I often feel that with them. Sometimes, if somebody I care about reacts to something that also effects me, I'm able to feel my own emotions. For example, when a close friend of mine died during college, I wasn't able to cry about it until I told my mother - she started crying and that, in turn, made me cry. So its not that I couldn't experience emotions, I just couldn't really feel my own.

In fact, I only truly felt sad about one of my grandparents passing. I thought "Oh, I'm sad" about the other three and then felt vicariously sad through everyone else's responses. Many cousins, aunts and uncles commented on how strong I was at the funerals but I don't think it was strength. More like "disconnectedness." When my last surviving grandparent - my dear grandfather - died, I was all right until I wrote the eulogy which was intended to express grief on behalf of the whole family. I cried the whole time I was writing that but as soon as I finished the piece and hit "send," the feeling passed.

A dramatic literature professor from Kilkenny once told me that the Irish (I'm at least partially Irish) conceive of emotions like clouds. In Irish literature, emotions exist outside the body and pass through it at certain times. "She had a sorrow come upon her," "A rage came upon him." I certainly felt like my emotions were just little dark (and less often, white) clouds that lingered in parts of my brain.

I've no idea if this "Irish conception of emotion" is a real thing or not - I took her word for it because the concept resonated with me and have never researched it further Which makes me like everyone who shares false news stories on my Facebook wall.

Two major things have happened in the last four years that have finally forced me to start experiencing emotions. One is weird. One is sad.

The weird one has to do with how my body responds to long distance running. When I run ten or more miles and reach the finish line, my body experiences two typical endurance athlete responses. A few minutes after finishing, I suddenly become extremely cold which is because my body has been regulating my temperature for hours of exertion. Also, my body starts flushing out endorphins (the cause of "runner's high") which unblocks all of my emotions.

Seriously, after a long distance run, I cry about everything. Talking to friends. Songs that make me think of minor events in the past. Flowers and mountains. Once, I was driving back from a run and I had an idea for a play I was directing that struck me as so beautiful that I couldn't see the road for all my tears. Once I'd had some time to recover, I couldn't figure out why the idea had seemed so poignant to me.

The point is, I had become aware that there was some pretty potent stuff lurking in the deep waters of my mind.

The sad thing that happened was that Kitty Michaels - my beloved, elderly cat for those of you who aren't in the know - passed away.

Setting aside his possibly nefarious motivations, Kitty loved me without reservations. Here is photographic proof of his master snuggling technique:

Kitty Michaels, master snuggler, snuggling.

I not only loved him back, for the last 13 months of his life, I doted on him as we lived under the shadow of his impending doom. He had a kind of stomach cancer that was going to kill him eventually. For months, I'd done everything I could to make sure he had his pill regimen, to give him a kind of compounded medicine in his ear and to fret over his every twitch and yowl. I knew the end was coming, but when it finally did come, I was still totally unprepared for it.

Kitty Michaels fans will be pleased to know that his last act on this planet was to release his full bladder onto me as I held him one last time. Good boy.

Grief, I've since learned, is unpredictable. Everyone grieves differently and there's not necessarily a wrong way to do it. My way was to cry for hours a day every day for smonths. I was able to hold it together at work, but for the first time in my life, my emotions were always churning just below my smiling face. Still, I was able to get through my days until something else happened.

My hometown is Newtown, Connecticut. Yes, that Newtown. I visited my family over Thanksgiving that year and took some solace from my grieving in my sleepy little New England town. The massacre happened about a week after I returned home. All those poor families. I couldn't sleep because I kept imagining how just the day before, those families had all been preparing for the holidays. There were presents wrapped and bought and hidden that would never be opened. Those images (entirely of my own making) and the sorrow in my parents' voices left me barely functional. I couldn't sleep, work and stopped eating. All my time was spent sobbing and then hating myself for being so useless when people who had actually lost children or family members were still somehow functioning.

As it happens, this was around the same time I discovered I was depressed and had just started seeing a therapist (for years, I told my parents I was seeing a "grief counselor" because my father was so anti-psychiatry). Grief and depression were, in my case, two very different things. I had functioned with depression for so long that it didn't interfere with my ability to live my life. Grief had now left me unable to function.

It took a couple of hard sessions with my therapist for me to come to grips with the fact that my responses were not abnormal. I mean, they weren't normal, but there's no such thing as normal grief. Whatever dams I'd constructed as a young adult to hold back my emotions were destroyed by this grief. I felt everything now, even stuff that was long past. How had I lived for so many years with no conception of what was going on inside of my own head and heart? With the help of my therapist, I accepted that this is how I am now and was able to get on with my life.

I still barely understand what is happening inside of me. I can't quite summon up emotions like a real actor can - I don't have any control over my feelings at all. But I can feel things now that I wasn't able to before. Once I adjusted to this new situation, I found that I enjoyed sad songs, stories and scenes like never before - be they scenes from Pixar films or songs from "Wicked."

When Kitty died, the vet tech told me how lucky he was to have had me. Through moist eyes, all I could say is I was lucky to have him. Four years later, and his biggest gift to me turns out to be that, thanks to having him in my life, I've started feeling my emotions. Part of me feels like its ludicrous that a cat helped teach me this about myself, certainly more than any human teacher ever did. A bigger part of me is just grateful that he did. Good kitty. Good boy.

Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good. ~ From "Wicked" by Stephen Schwartz
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #24 - "Babel"

This is my entry for week #24 of therealljidol. Some strong language and epic cluelessness ahead.


There are 178 parent languages on our planet with over 1000 dialects
It's amazing we communicate at all
~ "AEIOU Sometimes Y" by EBN/OZN

If I were to describe my cluelessness as a body of water, it would be the Dead Sea of cluelessness. Its waters are still, deep and nothing intelligent can survive there.

Back in the early 90's when I was still in grad school, I lived in a house with two amazing roommates. They were amazing, in part, because they were never home. One night, as I was lounging on the couch watching The X-Files, my friend Laura came by the house and invited herself in. This was not unusual - at the time, our apartment was sort of the local hang-out for everyone in the theatre program.

Laura was an old friend and had recently broken up with another mutual friend.

She asked if one of my roommates was home. I said he was not. She climbed onto the couch where I was lying down and stretched her entire body out against mine. She took my hand and placed it on her stomach underneath her shirt.

"Would you like to fuck?" she asked.

No, that's really what she said.

I laughed because I thought she was joking. She laughed too. We stayed on the couch for a few more hours and then she split. I forgot the whole event ever happened.

Years later, I ran into her and she told me "I was so into you but you laughed when I offered to sleep with you."

I told her "I had no idea you were interested in me. You must have been being subtle. I'm pretty clueless sometimes."

That's when she reminded me of the story I just shared. It was only then that I realized the dreadful and wonderful depth of my cluelessness.

Genuine communication can be challenging. At the time, I was in my early 20's and was very attracted to Laura. In another world, this event would have been the only thing that ever happened in my life that could have been turned into an adult film. However, her directness and my lack of understanding of her intention (coupled with the baggage of our life histories) made me assume she was joking. It made her assume that my laughter was rejection instead of my misinterpretation. We were both speaking English but we weren't speaking the same language.

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on how intention gets lost from speaker to listener or from writer to reader. In fact, helping people navigate this is a small part of what I do for a living.

I'm still like a lighthouse with an especially dim bulb on a stormy night. While I'm able to see when miscommunication is occurring, I still misunderstand dozens of things everyday. Since I know I don't always get things the first time, I spend lots of time asking for clarification. I'd rather seem stupid early on in a conversation than not understand what I've been told.

One of the more rewarding parts of this aspect of my job happens at this time of year. I help prepare several graduating seniors prepare to deliver speeches at our school's baccalaureate and graduation ceremonies. Its very rewarding watching students discover that they can confidently speak in front of a thousand people.

The students work on the content of their speech with a language arts teacher. My job is to coach them on their speaking. While I spend a great deal of time coaching mechanics of public speaking (and whoa do some of them need it), my main focus is getting them to speak expressively. The thing I say to them again and again is "speak from your heart."

For some of the kids, that is a much, much huger challenge than learning how to project and articulate. I spend a lot of time asking them to tell me what made them want to write their speech, how they feel about what they've written and what they want their listeners to take away after the speech. I remind them that the words they put on the page are just their way of communicating an idea in their head or a feeling in their heart to other people. This often comes as a revelation to them - the thought that their writing is communicating something deeper than the words is frequently a brand new concept for them.

That intent behind the writing is what I'm really keenly interested in whenever I read or write anything. Am I understanding what the author intended? Am I communicating what I intended?

French dramatist Antonin Artaud once wrote (in his collection of essays The Theatre and Its Double) that actors should be like "like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames." I've always interpreted this - correctly or not - to mean that true communication is almost impossible but something we must strive for anyways. When we are inspired to try and communicate something, there is no way of knowing for sure that the words we're selecting are going to successfully convey the thing to another person. Somewhere between your brain and your reader's brain (or listener's brain, or viewer's brain) there are symbolic flames - a conflagration of dissimilar understandings of word meanings, absence of context and life baggage that can incinerate your meaning and intent or, worse, replace it with an entirely different meaning in the brain of the reader.

Or, to use a different metaphor, language is indeed a virus.

The fiery chasm between writer and reader is so daunting that its truly a small act of courage for an author to even sit down and try to wrestle words into phrases and sentences in the hopes that somebody else will understand them. I'm sure everyone reading this can think of a time that they wrote a piece with a clear intent in mind that was completely misunderstood by their readers. There's a great (perhaps apocryphal) story about the play Arsenic and Old Lace that speaks to this. According to my college theatre professor, writer Joseph Kesserling originally intended for the show to be a serious thriller. They were getting ready to advertise it as such, but the preview audiences found it so funny that the producers decided to market it as a comedy instead. It was a huge success, even if not for the reason Kesserling intended. I wonder if Kesserling was just happy to have the hit play or if it bothered him that the play didn't hit the notes he'd intended.

To go completely meta, when I sat down to create this entry this week, I knew I wanted to address the general concept of "communication is hard." I decided that the best way to describe this would be to discuss coaching students. That made me think of the Artaud quote and how that applies to life and writing. Then I thought "hey, this piece kind of celebrates the act of creating art." I finished that piece last night and when I woke up today thought "you know, I need to personalize this - when did I totally misunderstand somebody's intent. Oh yeah, Laura." My hope is that the first section of this piece draws you in so that you'll still be engaged when I discuss coaching speech and the challenges of communicating messages and feelings. I'm writing this paragraph so that my intent is clear. Of course, I'm also concerned with brevity, so I'm leaving stuff out that might be vital to making my point. Damn, communication is hard.

I love puzzles and figuring out how to get a listener or reader to experience a story or article the way I'd like them to experience it. I know there's never going to be a 100% success rate, but (like most of you) I've figured out what tends to work for me and what doesn't. Still, whenever I release a piece into the wild, I have no idea if its going to get burned up between when I hit "save entry" and when you read it - or whether it will arrive fully drowned from spending too much time in my mental Dead Sea.

What I have learned since my unfortunate miscommunication with Laura is that I should never assume I understand intent just because the words seem clear to me (you also learn this when you direct Shakespeare, which I love). Its just as well Laura and I never became a thing (it would have hurt her ex who was both our dear friend and furthermore I'm a nightmare person to date) but I can't help but wonder what specific word choices she would have needed to use to pull me out of my sea of ignorance.

Honestly, I work a lot better with "meow" than words. I always know what my cats want. Or maybe humans just need to swat me about the face with their claws while they're speaking. I seem to understand that.

Moose the cat communicating effectively with me using his claws


Have you had an epic miscommunication event in your life?
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #23c - "The Golden Ticket"

This is my third (of three) entries for Week #23 of therealljidol.


The Suspense Is Terrible - I Hope It Lasts

The original Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971. It started a kind family tradition that I don't know that I've ever fully from. Specifically, it started a tradition of my mother showing me films and shows that freaked me out.

I was about four when she took me to the movie and I had an absolute meltdown during the infamous psychedelic boat scene. I was already on edge from watching Augustus Gloop meeting his fate in the chocolate tubes. When the boat started really started picking up steam, I screamed and wailed in inconsolable horror and ran out of the theatre. It was probably the first time I'd ever fled anywhere without my mother.

According to family legend, she followed me out to console me, but I don't recall this. I know I returned to the theatre because I had several more huge freak outs as Gene Wilder reveled in one child death after another. You may recall that in the book and in the Burton version of the story, we see that the other children lived. In the classic film, we're never really shown if the other kids survive. I figured they were all goners and had nightmares about the film for the rest of my single-digit years.

My fear of Willie Wonka, however, paled in comparison to the abject horror of The Wizard of Oz. My mom tried to get me to watch that shortly after the Wonka affair. If I recall correctly, one of the major networks showed Wizard annually around a holiday - perhaps Thanksgiving or maybe Easter. This was, of course, before VHS, much less DVDs or DVR or just linking stuff at YouTube.

Get out of my yard.

This picture shows I watched scary TV shows as a child:

If I wore a hard hat and had a blanket under it that I could close like a shade, I didn"t have to get up and hide.

Yes, I wore a hard hat. Yes, I put a blanket under the hard hat so I could close it like a curtain when scary things happened. Yes, this was what I needed to wear before Wizard of Oz even started and it still wasn't enough to keep me calm.

Now, 1985's Return to Oz got a lot of flack for being too scary for kids. Ha! I think the only reason parents ignore the horror of Wizard of Oz (or Willie Wonka) is because the film is a musical. You can do some pretty grim things in musicals and adults will be cool with their kids experiencing it.

This is also true of classical theatre. If you stage a filthy scene straight from Chaucer, its amusingly ribald literature. Try to stage the exact same scene in modern language and its smut. Bake people into pies in Titus Andronicus or Sweeny Todd and everyone squeals with delight. Put that same action in a modern piece with no music and its too dark and thus unsuitable for kids. There are whole sections of the Bible that are considered suitable for church but would be considered unsuitable (and disturbing) if they came from a modern source. Ask me in the comments if you're interested and I'll give you my theories on why this is.

I was nine before I watched Wizard of Oz the whole way through. The scene that always sent me from the living room crying is the one where the Flying Monkeys attacked Dorothy and her friends in the Forest. Huge ugly tears. Big terrified screams. Hours hugging my favorite stuffed animal while hidden under the covers.

During one holiday, a ping-pong table collapsed on my foot and I ended up being immobile for a few nights. The movie came on and my mom figured I'd enjoy watching it - or perhaps figured this was the only way she'd be able to get me to watch the whole thing. I whimpered with fear for my friends on the screen and was much relieved when they were OK in the end. Indeed, I was very proud that I'd watched the whole thing and looked forward to an annual viewing of the film from that point on.

I've always been drawn emotionally into stories, especially when I like the characters. I think this is why I got so upset during these movies - it wasn't just that terrible things were happening, it was that I empathized with the characters and didn't want them getting hurt. Horror movies based on shock and gore merely illicit a “I wonder how they did that amazing special effect” response from me. On the other hand, if you put some characters I like in danger in any movie - including broad comedies - I get really worked up.

For example, my mom was always making me watch the old Little Rascals shorts on TV. As soon as the kids starting doing something that was going to result in their getting in trouble, I'd cover my face with my blanket and try not to listen. I suspect she assumed I was enjoying the show because of my strong reaction, but the truth is I felt awful for the kids.

As an adult, I still have a hard time watching certain shows the whole way through. I have a particularly difficult time getting through episodes of Arrested Development. It may be the funniest TV show I've ever seen, but it takes me hours to watch a single episode because I need to take long breaks whenever a character is about to do something that will lead to social humiliation.

My mom's penchant for trying to scare the living daylights out of me reached its apotheosis in 1982. Stephen Spielberg put out a pair of movies that year - one as director and one as producer. The one he put out as a director was E.T. (which I still haven't seen). My mom decided to take my brother and I to the other movie he'd put out that year.


Now, the window to my bedroom was on the second floor (in a loft) and featured a view of an enormous old tree. You may recall, if you've seen Poltergeist, that one of the most terrifying scenes is when the brother is attacked by a giant tree just outside his bedroom. So, yeah, I pretty much gave up sleeping for most of my 14th year. Constant vigilance was the only way to be safe from angry trees. Fortunately, the following summer a lightning bolt struck the trees and it had to be chopped down.

God is real and he will protect you from essentially harmless trees if you beg Him every day for a year.

I genuinely don't think my mom was trying to freak me out. I suspect that she knew she had a weird kid and was just trying to pick suitably weird things for me to experience. I think I mentioned that when I had my wisdom teeth removed and was high on all sorts of painkillers that she rented the film of Pink Floyd's The Wall. I think she wanted me to be able to watch it high like it was intended to be experienced and she knew I wasn't the kind of kids who did drugs.

That was also major nightmare fuel - I've never even tried to watch it since. Even listening to the album makes me break out in a sweat.

In theory, the four naughty little children in Willie Wonka learn valuable lessons about their bad habits ("don't chew gum!") from the (completely out of proportion) punishments they receive in the titular chocolatier's nightmare factory. I don't know that I'd say I learned a lesson, but its become one of my absolute favorite books and movies. Indeed, the first film my wife and I saw together when we started dating was the Depp version (which we both loved unreservedly, perhaps for its musical numbers, perhaps just because we saw it together).

In fact, all of the shows and films I've mentioned here are among my favorites. Maybe my mom knew I was going to grow up to be the sort of kid who likes having nightmares. Or maybe she raised me to be that kind of kid. She denies everything.


What movies, shows or books make you want to hide under your blanket?
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #23a - "Ignis Fatuus"

This is my first (of three) entries for Week #23 of therealljidol.



There's this story that I've been meaning to write for years. The story is about this woman - Louise - who, as a teenager, is sitting on a couch with her new boyfriend - Ryan - when suddenly he starts freaking out. He's hyperventilating and doesn't seem to know where he is or who she is anymore. He finally looks at her and says her name like a question - "Louise?" She thinks he's having a stroke.

Ryan is not having a stroke - he's a time traveler. In this story, you can only travel along your own body's timeline. He's actually a 50ish man who is now back in the body of his 16 year old self. We'll call this new personality Ryan(2). I've not quite figured out the mechanism for persuading Louise that Ryan(1) hasn't just gone insane but she is quickly convinced he's telling the truth.

Unfortunately, by sliding back into his younger self, he's more or less eradicated his earlier personality. Louise's present time is an old memory for him. Ryan(2) can barely recall anything about this time period.

There's one important thing Ryan(2) can recall, however, and its why he was able to leap to this moment in time. This method of time travel only works with any precision if you can really focus on a particular moment in your life. Ryan(2) remembered that a few weeks after he started dating Louise, he cheated on her with one of her friends and then broke up with Louise. He has regretted this ever since and this one night was his happiest one with her. He blurts all of this out.

This, of course, puts Louise in an awkward place. In her time, he hasn't cheated on her yet, but of course in his timeline he has and he's already broken up with her. Its pointless to argue if eradicated Ryan(1) has cheated or not yet because Ryan(2) did. More importantly, Louise recognizes that even though Ryan(2) is in Ryan(1)'s body, his personality is still that of a 50ish man. She's completely repulsed by him. She also starts mourning the younger Ryan that is now completely gone. She also realizes that the fact that she's encountering a time traveler is an infinitely bigger deal than any of the previous information. While Ryan(2) is blurting out his regret, Louise responds with all of these concerns.

Ryan(2) quickly explains that he didn't slide back in time to make things right with Louise. He slid back because he's trying to stop another time traveler from altering the timeline. Ryan(2) has deliberately arrived years before this other "clumsy" traveler so Ryan(2) can have time to track them down and prevent them from altering the timeline in a cataclysmic way

Despite all this backstory, Ryan(2) is ultimately not the main focus of this story. This part of the story provides context for Louise's story.

Shortly after he returns, Ryan(2) realizes he can't remember enough about the past to keep himself from significantly altering it with every choice he makes. He, too is a clumsy time traveler. He kills himself based on the assumption that he'd do less damage to history simply by taking himself out of the picture. He also figures if he dies now, he will no longer have the chance to travel back in time and, thus, might prevent at least his part in the whole sorry affair. Maybe things will revert back to the original timeline if he's gone.

Unfortunately, he just dies in front of Louise. Louise realizes several things at that moment.

First, she realizes that Ryan(2) actually must have slid into younger Ryan(1) from an alternate timeline - thus, there are alternate timelines.

Second, since this form of time travel involves entering alternate timelines, she theorizes that the person Ryan(2) was trying to stop wouldn't necessarily have slid back into the same alternate timeline Ryan(2) entered. There's no point in worrying about the clumsy time traveler that Ryan(2) was trying to stop.

Third, she realizes there's probably no way to protect her timeline - or any timeline - from a clumsy time traveler. To whit, as Ryan(2) proved, you can't protect a timeline without clumsily altering it yourself.

Finally, Louise decides that Ryan(2) gave her enough information about time travel for her to figure out how to do it herself. She goes to college and graduate school focusing on quantum physics and how it relates to the brain.

What she discovers (decades later) is that time travel isn't so much a technology as a technique that involves a mix of consciousness training and chemicals. After getting the chemical mixture correct and injecting them, she is able to momentarily see her whole life as a kind of solid object - like a snake that winds through everywhere she's been and everywhere she's going to go. She sees her whole life snapping back and forth on either side of her present moment like electricity as it snaps from one alternate timeline to another.

The only moments in her timeline that are even close to being fixed are the ones closest to present. She sees the present moment as ball of energy and she finds she can move this ball of energy back and forth along her timelines like sliding around a shower curtain ring. This is how time travel works. Louise mentally gives her present moment a little shove and discovers she's slid back to the moment before she injected the chemicals.

Louise decides to see if she can slide forward in time. She takes the chemicals again, gives her present moment a shove again and finds herself ten days in the future. She is in her own body but she has no recollection of what occurred during those ten days. She has eradicated her future self the same way that Ryan(2) eradicated his past self.

Louise keeps a journal, so she is able to read a little bit about what she did during that time, but the Louise that lived for those ten days has been replaced by Louise from ten days earlier. She's profoundly disturbed by this, since it means she's essentially killed the mind of a Louise from a different timeline. She decides to stay in this timeline and not travel anymore.

Louise wonders what happens to a time traveler's body after their "present consciousness" slides to an alternate timeline. She wonders if her body and a copy of her mind live on without her in the original timeline, perhaps convinced that her time traveling experiment failed. There's no real way for her to test this without observing somebody else taking the time travel injection.

She has enormous ethical reservations about this. First, there's everything she's grappled with regarding eradicating future and past personalities. Second, traveling to another timeline with knowledge of the future gives somebody a certain amount of potential power. She doesn't really trust anyone to leap into the past without trying to take advantage of the situation.

But then a shocking thing occurs. She meets this timeline's Ryan who is very much alive - we'll call him Ryan(3). She's slid into a timeline where he never traveled in time. He's very apologetic about their ancient break-up (which she, of course, didn't actually experience - which makes her realizes those ten missing days were the least of the things she eradicated when she slid into this timeline's Louise). Louise theorizes that Ryan(2)'s suicide in her timeline (and perhaps multiple timelines) meant that he hadn't lived to slide into this timeline's Ryan(3).

She makes complicated charts to keep track of all of this.

Ryan(3) hasn't gone into any field related to discovering time travel. Indeed, he just works in accounting at an insurance company. She starts trying to figure out how he might have learned how to time travel in the other timeline. In the process, they become friends again.

Eventually (and perhaps obviously), Ryan(3) finds out about time travel through Louise and he seems a little unhinged about it. He tells her that if only he hadn't cheated on her, they'd be a couple today and he needs to fix his mistake. Louise realizes the first future Ryan(2) she encountered was lying about his motives for traveling. He must have realized he'd made a dreadful mistake almost as soon as he arrived in the past and made up a story to explain his choice. Lacking the time travel chemical or the knowledge of how to make it, he was trapped.

Louise is too late to stop Ryan(3) from injecting himself with the time travel chemicals. Ryan(3) collapses into a coma-like state. The doctors can find no evidence of brain activity.

Louise has finally gotten to observe somebody initiating time travel from her current timeline. Ryan(3)'s brain dead state suggests that this is what happens to a body whenever the mind time travels. She ponders that there are two brain dead versions of her, including one in her original timeline. She thinks of the burden and horror this inflicted on her friends and family in that timeline. This strengthens her resolve not to use the time travel chemical ever again.

Gradually, though, she becomes terrified that at some point another version of her from another timeline is going to slide into her present body and erase her from existence. If she remains in her present timeline, she won't be erasing another timeline's Louise. However, if she stays in her current timeline, she has to trust that all other Louises in all other timelines will also decide not to time travel anymore.

Of course, she realizes there's an infinite number of alternate timelines which means there's an infinite number of Louises all pondering this same choice (and, perhaps, an infinite number of Louises who never even encountered time travel).

The story ends with Louise standing in her laboratory holding a needle with the time traveling chemicals. The reader is left to ponder whether she uses it or not.

Anyhow, this story has been darting around my brain for over thirty years, ever since I broke up with Louise.


Inspired by this song:

Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #23b - "Chasing Rainbows"

This is my second (of three) entries for week #23 of therealljidol.


Rocks and Ladders

My parents still live in the house where I grew up. For now at least. They're thinking of moving into a smaller place and they should, even though the thought makes me profoundly sad. My brother and I have both expressed our sorrow to our parents but also stressed that we support the move.

We moved into that house when I was in fifth grade (my brother was in third). My parents designed it themselves - their dream house. Its a big contemporary house with an enormous rock in the front yard. My brother and I spent hours playing on that rock, pictured below.

A big moss covered rock that"s in my parent"s front yard.  About seven feet tall and ten feet wide.

My parents designed a pretty amazing bedroom for my brother and I (eventually it became just mine and my brother moved into his own room). It featured a loft accessible by ladder. It afforded me a remarkable level of privacy. That was where I slept, played, created and dreamed until I left for college.

I took a picture of the loft last time I was home. Its mostly used for storage now and the room has been redesigned from "haven of an 80's teen" to "conservative guest room." Here's that photo:

The area up the ladder is the loft I"m talking about

That little window at the top of the ladder is the one that afforded me a fine view of an ancient tree as described in my third entry this week.

A bunch of my old things are still stored up there. Vinyl albums, cassette tapes, old photos, comic books and art work. One specific thing up there is a time capsule I put together when I was 15 or so hidden in the space between the bottom drawer of a desk and the floor. Its a bunch of personal stuff that I stuck into my old cassette player's cardboard box. A couple of years ago, I opened that time capsule and discovered a variety of items both delightful and pointless.

The pointless items included a U.F.O Candy container, a little rubber monster finger puppet and a bunch of my Dungeons and Dragons inspired drawings. There's also some items that I remember putting in the capsule at the time but destroyed in my early 20's - specifically, nude and barely dressed drawings of fantasy women with swords. We do weird things when we're young.

The thing I found most interesting was a little spiral notebook with a bunch of single page entries. I wrote down a bunch of my thoughts and hopes in that book. I wouldn't call it a journal - nothing is longer than about 75 words and I recall writing it all in a single day . It was more like notes to my future self - I knew that I was going to become an adult and there were certain profoundly important things that I wanted older me to know.

I read that list with great interest and was disappointed to discover it was basically list of grievances with specific adults. I guess I'd hoped it was going to include some deep revelations that are only accessible to the young. No, I remembered everything I'd written down - it just wasn't especially profound (or even interesting). Apparently I was aware that I was going to get older but I lacked awareness that the things that bothered me in 1983 were no longer going to bother me in 1984, much less in 2016.

There was also a list of things that I wanted to accomplish - win a Grammy, win an Oscar, win an Olympic medal. I didn't even really play a sport - what was I thinking? There was nothing about what steps I'd take in order to win any of these awards, just a general desire for glory and fame. I marveled at how out of touch my younger self was with objective reality. There's nothing wrong with having dreams, kid, but instead of dreaming of winning a Grammy, how about dreaming recording an album or even a song or just learning to sing? Instead of fantasizing about winning an Olympic medal, how about just getting off your ass and just going for a walk first?

I sometimes think of my younger self as a completely different person than my current self. This isn't a case of creating an alternate identity or developing a chameleon personality to fit in. I mean whenever I encounter stuff that I wrote or created when I was younger, I don't recognize myself in it. Was my youthful personality just a pose I adopted (even when I was writing stuff that only I would see)? Or have I really changed so much that my younger self wouldn't know me should he somehow meet me?

Sometimes, I get anxious when I think about how disappointed my teenage self would be with how my life turned out. He wanted something completely different from what I have. I've quoted Neil Gaiman on this point before, but "the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted." I don't want the things I wanted when I was younger. Indeed, I recognize that my wants will change again in the future. That doesn't mean I don't have goals, I just recognize that all my goals are fungible. That's ok.

The past can weigh us down like (INCOMING FORCED METAPHOR ALERT ABORT ABORT TOO LATE) that enormous rock in my parents' front yard. The dreams we had when we were younger could, perhaps, just be general yearnings that help us make some decisions concerning metaphorical ladders we'd like to climb.

For example, I never won any of those awards, but I'm having a (frequently) very fulfilling career in the arts. That's the direction young me was aming for and, hey, my band is a finalist in the comedy album category in our local professional music awards this year. My younger self loved making funny songs and wanted to win an award, so I think he'd be pretty amped about that.

The ceremony is this Saturday and I need to get on figuring out what sort of outfit I can wear that says both "formal" and "rock star." I'm thinking something like this silver sequined monstrosity, assuming that they have it in size "tubby."

Anyhow, at one point, that old house was my parents dream. Now their dream is to not have to worry about yards, stairs and chopping fire wood. They shouldn't be held back (ALERT ALERT) as if by a giant rock either - the giant rock in this case being my brother and I being nostalgic for our youth. Nostalgia is longing for something you can never have again. That is even more absurd than 15 year old couch potato me thinking he could win an Olympic medal without ever having to stand up.

The important thing isn't the house that I grew up in. I think the important thing is just that I grew up.


Here's a photo of me from about ten years ago doing VERY IMPORTANT GROWN UP STUFF. Clearly, I still think its important to dream, even on the job.

Dreaming on the Job
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #22b - "Art Is An Infection"

This is my second of two entries for week #22 of therealljidol.


And If You Said, "This Life Ain't Good Enough."

I am so sorry. I just need to say that right off the bat. I'm really genuinely sorry. Today, I am writing about earworms - you know, songs that get stuck in your head. Oh God, I'm so sorry.

Let's me get this out of the way, too. No song has caused me more internal suffering than the one I'm about to share. Its not that its a bad song, its just once I even think about it, its in my head forever. Especially the part about the moon and the ocean. I will be thinking about it as I complete this entry, as I read your entries this weekend, and probably for the rest of the month. Its in my head now. There's no way to get it out. Here it is.

I just almost gave up on finishing this entry. I am this close to taking a "Bye" right now because the only words I can think of are words in this song. No, no, must soldier on. Even if I don't finish this entry the song is already in my head, just like the ocean under the moon. No, stop brain stop. That's the same as the emotion that I get from you. Please, no more.

Pop music is at least partially constructed out of hooks, described here in song form by Blues Traveler. In essence, a hook is a series of notes in a song that draws you in so you'll remember it. An obvious example of this (that isn't especially painful) is the refrain in "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals. You hear the phrase repeated and your brain starts anticipating it in the verses. By the second or third time through, even if you've not heard the song before, you can sing along. When the pattern is temporarily broken for the chorus, your brain has a little "OH WHAT" moment that is also satisfying before the pattern continues in the next verse.

I've discussed the concept of sweet anticipation before in context of sad songs but it applies more broadly to all music. Most human brains feel rewarded when they get what they expect. A pop songwriter recognizes this by building hooks into their songs. This is both an artistic and an economic decision - if the song lodges firmly enough in your brain, you're more likely to purchase it.

So, really, hooks are a good thing. They're part of what we like about music. But what happens... when hooks go wrong? (imagine dramatic music from a news show here - I'm sure some tune immediately came to mind for most of you)

The problem for us as humans is that sometimes our brains like the hooks so much that they decide to keep the song in our head for days or weeks or, you know, forever. There's actual research that attempts to explains why this happens. Apparently, the size and shape of one's brain may impact how susceptible one is to earworms. There's even some fascinating research on how chewing gum can disrupt earworms.

This is especially amusing if you've seen Inside/Out - the way to get that gum jingle out of your head is to chew the very same gum. Insidious! And so smooth, just like the ocean under the moon. Argh! Stop stop stop stop. Is there no gum in this house?

Earworms are a very personal infection. Songs that drive you nuts might have no effect on me and vice versa. Some of the specific songs that have plagued me over the years include "The Thong Song," "One Week" and the opening piano of "Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)." I can't explain why my brain seems to get such a kick of saying "thong th-thong thong thong" to me for hours at a time nor why it likes "Chickity China the Chinese chicken" so much that those words occasional spill out of my mouth at inopportune times.

And I certainly can't understand why I'm just like the ocean under the moon but that's the same as the emotion that I get from you. I surrender, Rob Thomas and Santana. Go ahead and turn my brain to mush.

Indeed, my brain has a bad habit of getting snagged on hooks of songs - particularly those with obscene lyrics - and then tricking my mouth into singing them. For example, this NSFW Nine Inch Nails song has a colorful little two-word description of a non-standard sex act that will occasionally echo through my brain and find its way out of my mouth while I'm standing in a grocery store or sitting in the dentist's office. Don't even get me started talking about all the times lyrics from this equally NSFW Tenacious D song have started forming in my mouth during work meetings. When my brain switches into idle mode, it wants to share every nasty (but catchy) lyric I've ever heard. Thus, my brain switches my mouth from silent to speaker.

Sometimes, I'll hear a little snippet of music in my head and not know what song its from. This makes me crazy and sends me on frantic searches for every song that it might be. Once, I heard a little guitar lick in my head and all that I could remember about the song was that it was a rock song by a band fronted by twins. I asked my incredulous friends to help me figure out what song it might be and we spent a week brainstorming up a list of over 300 candidates. Then my brain kindly recalled that the song was "Emotion" by DFX2. That wasn't on our massive list. I don't know that that song would be on anyone's list of anything.

Right now, there's a song in my head that has been there for 10 years. It was an 80's college radio song (maybe by a band local to New England or even super local to Fairfield County, Connecticut) that featured the lyrics "someone lit a fire under you/now you lit a fire under me." I don't know the band. I can't remember the rest of the song. And I might be getting the lyrics wrong. Lyrics often flow through the seive of my brain like water. Just like water in the ocean under the moon.

Currently, I've been listening to the Hamilton original cast album for like nine straight days. Its a lovely album with many amazing songs and some tremendous dramatic moments. When I think about what songs I really love from it, I can name six off the top of my head that I go out of my way to listen to multiple times. However, when I close my eyes and drift off the sleep, the hook that has been plaguing me is the harmonized "most disputes die and no one shoots" section of "Ten Duel Commandments." Its an especially brilliant hook - uptempo, harmonized, repeated at two key points in the musical and the lyrics are a great little piece of dramatic irony. This doesn't bother me - yet. However, I know its going to be stuck in my head (competing for space with oceans and moons) for probably the rest of my life.

And that's the biggest problem, I think. We all get old and these songs never leave us. My biggest fear is that as I slip into dementia, I'll forget events and names of loved ones and everything I've ever loved and all that will be left in my brain are lyrics and melodies to songs that make me crazy.

I imagine my end will go something like this:

Doctor: How are you feeling today, Mr. Prog_Schlock?
Me: Why, I'm just like the ocean under the moon. (Me dies)
Nurse: I think we've lost him doctor.
Doctor: We lost him a long time ago, but... that's the same as the emotion that I get from you.(Both shake their heads sadly and nod knowingly at the same time, which looks really weird. Lights fade to the tune of a Carlos Santana guitar solo)

Now, grab some chewing gum, because I've got to know: what songs stick in you head forever? Join me in the comments for more horror. And, once again, I'm so sorry.
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #22a - "Behind the Curtain"

This is my first of two entries for Week #22 of therealljidol.

Trigger Warning: some non-graphic discussion of child abuse.


Holding a Mirror Up to Nature

Its not rocket science, what I do. Its not brain surgery.

I've been directing theatre for nearly 30 years now. Mostly Shakespeare, but also original work, musicals, modern plays, improvised plays, what have you. I've directed professionally, for community theatre and in educational settings. I've had huge successes (about a dozen, hurray!), huge flops (only a couple, hurray!) and everything in between. In the last year, I've directed four shows - a pair of hour long touring Shakespeare productions for schools, a full length production of Othello and a mostly-improvised children's Christmas show.

Here is a picture of me directing. I believe I was teaching actors how to enter the stage:

PS demonstrating how not to enter the stage by getting caught in the curtain

Directing is a ton of work. For example, if I'm rehearsing a 2+ hour production for our local Shakespeare Festival, I typically add 20-25 hours to my work week for about 8 weeks. This doesn't include the script editing, production meetings and general obsessing that goes on for up to two years before the production opens.

To prepare, I also watch Christopher Guest's community theatre mockumentary Waiting for Guffman each time I start the directing process to make sure I've not yet turned into takes-himself-too-seriously director Corky St. Clair yet. Eventually, all community theatre directors turn into him. I'm not there yet but I'm on my way. For example, I describe what I do as "directing process."

Sometimes, I'm so busy directing theatre that I forget why I do it. In fact, I didn't have a clue why I did it for my first five or so years - I just knew I enjoyed it.

I discovered my purpose while I was taking a youth theatre course in graduate school. On the first day of that class, the professor presented us all with a xeroxed copy of a newspaper article from the 80's. The article described how a local little girl had been abused and killed by her parents with horrible detail. We were (I think understandably) shocked that this is how she'd chosen to start the class.

Our professor explained "whenever you're doing children's theatre, children like this little girl are in your audience. Your show might be the only happy moment in her day, maybe even in her life. If you're focused on anything other than doing the best show you can for her, you're being selfish."

This was a huge revelation for me. When we create theatre - when we create a vibrant, believable world and welcome an audience into it for a couple of hours - we're doing something profoundly important for people. Humans (both children and adults) often have horrible lives. Even those that have decent lives are burdened by all the myriad troubles that come from being alive. My purpose as a director (my duty?) is to make a piece of theatre that helps them in some way.

"Help" is a fairly broad term, but when we are at our absolute best as artists we offer relief to people who are suffering. Sometimes, we do this by offering them escape. Sometimes, we do this by showing people they're not alone. We try to delight or empathize or educate but at the end of the show, we hope an audience can leave feeling a little better or like they should take action or like they see the world a little differently.

At our worst as artists, we introduce new suffering either through bad work or bad choices. Fortunately for artists, we can't get sued for malpractice. Good artists feel genuinely bad about creating accidentally lousy work, though.

I explain this to my casts and crew whenever I start directing a new show. I want to work with people who are philosophically aligned with that ethos - the belief that we're all working towards a common goal of creating art that impacts an audience. I make a point to try and cast talented people who are not jerks. In fact, I will cast a slightly less talented person over a more talented jerk.

The crazy thing is you never know with 100% certainty which of your works is going to be one that most impacts people. Recently, I directed a production of Hamlet that was quite good but also not quite at the level (in my opinion) of my previous two productions. However, audiences absolutely loved this production - standing ovations, students saying they finally understood Shakespeare for the first time, and a flood of letters of praise.

That is very gratifying, to be sure, but also mystifying. If I could figure out why it worked for audiences as well as it did, could I replicate its success? Probably not - there's too many factors that influence how an audience member perceives a production. You can do everything perfectly and the play still won't work. You can screw everything up and the audience might love it. On the day the production opens, the best that directors can hope for is that we did our job as well we could and that we inspired great work from the rest of the play's artists.

There's a ton of moving pieces in live theatre - actors, designers, technicians, staff, musicians and audience. When everything works in synchronicity together, a play can have a profound impact on an audience. I've seen audience leave my shows weak from laughter, I've seen them leave with tears in their eyes (not from the same show). Every now and then, I get a note from somebody who felt like seeing my show changed their life or made their day.

So it isn't rocket science or brain surgery, but making art is still a pretty important and meaningful thing. Whether you're creating theatre, making music or writing stuff, you're potentially making somebody else's life a little better. That's a pretty noble thing.
Ed Hunter

LJ Idol Week #21b - "Imaginary Friend"

This is my second entry for Week #21 of therealljidol.


Joey and Me

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. ~ Kurt Vonnegut

I'm my own imaginary friend.

Literally. In the classic sense of "literally."

Joey Michaels started out in 2000 as a joke - an extension of a silly online improvised sketch at a now defunct improv comedy website. I would periodically post terrible ideas about how to perform improv as Joey Michaels. He was specifically meant to be a parody of the concept of an "improv guru" (which is the phrase we in the improv community seriously employ to describe the really great teachers) which was aimed an audience of improvisers. He was never meant to be taken seriously.

Oddly, he was taken seriously and some of his terrible ideas were apparently embraced and performed, specifically in Scotland. I'm not making this up.

By 2002, Joey had morphed from a character I pretended to be into being my actual online identity. I wrote at a large number of "E/N" sites (which is what we called blogs in a small section of the Internet in the early 00's - it meant "everything/nothing"), had my own (rarely visited) blog and started the joeymichaels LiveJournal. Indeed, Joey Michaels has a significantly larger online footprint than real-life me has.

And this is where things get weird.

In real life, if I have a personal issue, I keep it to myself an pretend publicly everything is ok. Joey talks about the issue. If I have something I want to say about a political or social issue, my job sort of requires me to keep my mouth shut. Joey rants about politics. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I didn't tell anyone but my wife in real life. Joey told everyone he knew.

If I had to say who was more "real" between me and Joey, I'd choose Joey. Joey doesn't exist offline but in almost every way he's more of who I want to be. He's, perhaps, the person on the inside who is trying to get out. In 16 years of writing as Joey, I've become a better writer and have worked hard at shaping his (my?) personality to be more like how I ideally want to be.

This, of course, raises a whole host of Freshman Philosophy 101 identity issues (many of which Billy Joel addressed in song form). Its particularly strange to me that I think of "Joey" as a different entity from "real life" me while, at the same time, acknowledging that he's just me with fewer masks and filters. On the other hand, the masks and filters obviously make up part of who I am, too. Am I the masks and filters? Am I the person I am without them? Am I both? Isn't Joey just a mask that allows me to drop other masks?

And what about the gremlin voice in my head that wants me to die? Is that me? Is it somebody else?

There's also a number of ethical issues that I've been grappling with that arose in part because Joey Michaels is semi-anonymous. I have some decade old friendships with people who did not know my real name. I knew their names, however, and I felt this created a unbalance of power that made me profoundly uncomfortable. I revealed my real name to about 10 or 15 of my long-term internet friends last year because the line between "lying to people I care about" and "trying to protect my identity" had become uncomfortably blurred.

This has led to some confusion on their part because they know me as Joey and, thus, my real name seem fake. Joey is more real to them, too. I've been told that I don't act like myself on my real life Facebook and, yeah, that's exactly right. I don't.

I wrote about this during LJI Week #19, but I've been wrestling with identity issues almost all of my life. Years in theatre have made it easy for me to slip in and out of character (as I described during LJI Week #20 - don't feel like you need to read those if you haven't - I'm just pulling some threads together here). Perhaps it makes sense that I've grown to see my identity as a kind of fluid thing that takes the shape of whatever container it happens to be in at the time. Maybe "Joey" is that fluid and the various masks I wear are those containers.

All of these masks:

Joey Through The Years

Sometimes, I wonder if identity isn't just an illusion we create for ourselves. A recently published theory on objective reality and quantum physics suggests that the real world only exists the way it does because our brains choose to perceive it that way. If we can't be sure about our brain's interpretation of objective reality, how can we possibly hope to be sure about our brain's perception of itself?

We can't help but be our own imaginary friends because, maybe, imagination is all we actually have. Joey is imaginary but so is "real life" me, too. An imaginary friend of an imaginary friend.

I'll be happy to discuss this more in the comments, though I can't tell you for sure who will be responding to you.