Wednesday, 6 April 2016

I shower at night.

As in, in the evening, before bed. I like to feel clean when I go to bed, and also I don't like the thought of the crap I put in my hair getting on my pillow and therefore onto my face. Not to mention how sweaty and oily-feeling my face can get throughout the day.

So tonight, after a long and busy day, I turned on the water and climbed in, and I noticed a spider in the corner, down near the drain. In America we would call it a daddy longlegs. (Though I know that in Britain that term is designated for a certain spindly-legged insect, though I can't remember which one at this moment.) It was one of those spiders with a tiny body and eight thin, angular legs. I thought, Huh, another spider that's lost its way by coming in the house and will end up down the drain before long.

I watched as it reacted to the first few drops of water. The spray from the shower head didn't directly hit it, and I didn't purposefully throw water on it, but it obviously felt a few droplets from the splattering water as it hit the floor. I watched with casual interest as I put my head under the falling water and more droplets ricocheted in its direction. It tried to climb away but it couldn't quite make it up the slope of the corner, and it started to struggle as more and more water washed its feet closer to the black hole of the drain. Maybe I should just throw some water on it and get rid of it, I thought.

But then something strange happened. It collapsed. Its whole body limped into a mass of thin angles. It gave up. I felt a sense of pity for this small creature, and part of me thought, Great, now I'm going to think of its helplessness as it tumbles into its abyss.

And a flash came to me. Hang on a sec. I have complete control of what happens next. I don't have to let this thing suffer. I could save it, I guess, and spiders eat bugs anyway, right? Why not save it. Yeah, but I'm all wet now, and it's a hassle, and I'm tired and it's just a spider anyway. Well hang on. Yes, it's just a spider. But it's still a cog in this grand machine of life. It is just a small creature controlled by its brain, and it made no real transgression by entering the house. And after all, why not? I have complete control.

So I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. I risked the irritation of my housemates by removing with my wet hand the toilet tissue that had been placed over the window handle. And after fishing through the bin, I found an old cardboard toilet roll thingy and brought it back to the shower. The spider was still motionless. I nudged it gently with the cardboard, but still nothing. I poked it again, and it shot two legs into the air, dangling like antennae. I tried to coax it with a slow, upward motion, and eventually a few more legs shot up and it grabbed the cardboard, grasping for dry air. It clung to the cardboard, so I lifted it up, went to the window, and threw it out.

We don't have to be monsters. Most of us aren't. Kindness costs nothing extra. I could have let that tiny thing plummet down the drain, and the world wouldn't have been any different. But I don't want to be that kind of guy who lets things happen just because deep down I know it won't make a difference. I don't want to be the kind of person who doesn't care about the little things.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

This entry is about what I had for breakfast.

Going on little sleep, I had one of those mornings today where my stomach took control over my rational brain. 

The place where I temp has a convenient cafeteria with a plethora of breakfast substances, all for a small fee. This morning I thought I would treat myself to a bagel, and well, that's exactly what I did. It was probably one of the most unhealthy bagels in all of human history, but boy was it tasty. I tweeted as such, and promptly got a few friends practically begging to know what was on it. 

I tried, I really did try, to fit it all into one tweet, but 140 characters is simply not enough space to give justice to the description. So I'm writing a blog. I'm writing a blog about what I ate for breakfast. Oh dear, what have I come to? Anyway, don't say I didn't warn you.

Like I said, my fatigue-induced brain was being controlled by my stomach, and I had quite the seducing array of topping options. To start I selected the largest, choicest bagel (a sesame seed white one), cut it down the middle, toasted it and buttered both sides. On one half I couldn't decide whether I wanted the raspberry jam or crunchy peanut butter, so naturally I chose both: jam on the left and the pb on the right. Midway through the spreading, I noticed the Nutella. Have you ever mixed peanut butter with Nutella? IT'S AMAZING.

I took two slices of the crispiest bacon I could find and criss-crossed them on the other half. The arrangement provided a nice platform to keep my scrambled eggs in place. I asked if they had any slices of cheese, but unfortunately they said no. To top it off I drizzled a moderate amount of golden syrup, making sure to get a little bit on the bacon as well as the eggs. 

I'm sure a lot of my British friends would certainly grimace at such combinations. I don't know what is wrong with you people, but some of you are so afraid of mixing "sweet" with "savoury" as if it were sacrilege. Seriously, try it! Especially the bacon and syrup – maple syrup if you can get it. It was the most delicious breakfast I've had in a long while, and I will happily endure the odd looks and comments to have it!

In any case, I think perhaps I've had enough calories for one day, don't you think?

Friday, 1 March 2013

How young is too young to talk about gays?

Those who know me well know that I occasionally do freelance admin work for a man who runs his own business (a legal consulting firm) from his house. The setup is nice: I go in whenever my schedule allows it and organise the crap out of his office, calculate his expenses, pack away his old files, etc., and then invoice him at the end of the month. Sometimes, when my weekdays are especially busy with other temp work (an actor has to eat), the weekends are my only opportunity to stop in.

One particular Saturday, when my work kept me late into the evening, George and his wife Jessica informed me that they would be hosting some neighbours for an indoor cookout and also to watch some big important match or something on telly. I said that it was fine, as I’d be tucked away in the office upstairs, and maybe I’d join them for a burger once I was finished. So I got to work, sat at the computer clicking away with my iPhone plugged in and playing music to keep me focused. Jessica, in her perpetual franticness, popped her head in the doorway at one point and said, “Would you like a glass of wine? White or red?” I said I’d have white please.

As the neighbours arrived, so did their kids, and some time later, the small group of them decided to play hide and seek. And of course, when you’re playing hide and seek, the entire house is your playground. When they finally made it up to the office, I pointed out a few good places to hide and there they sat waiting for their seeker. Meanwhile my iPhone played on; by then I had moved on to YouTube to play songs I didn’t have in my library.

“Why do you watch the videos?” said one girl who must have been about six.

“Because I like them,” I replied.

“I saw a music video once. They were kissing,” she said, horrified.

“I know. They do that sometimes.”

When they were eventually found and dragged out, one of the boys, probably 8 or so, instead of running back downstairs, made a beeline for my phone and helped himself to it. “Is this an iPhone?” he said, and then, without waiting for approval, added, “What games do you have?” Thankfully it was plugged in and charging; otherwise I would have grabbed it back from him for fear of him walking off with it. Instead I told him I had loads of games and allowed him to switch off YouTube and flick through my apps; after all, people have inspected my phone in such a fashion before, and knew better than to keep incriminating or embarrassing material on it.

Well, except for that photo I use for the background of my home page: a mostly naked male model, well-built and well-groomed, and in an ever-so-slightly sexual pose. The idea was that I would see it every time I used my phone and remind myself that I’m actively trying to eat healthy and get fit (and then put the chocolate back). I hadn’t exactly forgotten about it, but in that moment it didn’t cross me as something shameful. Most of my friends wouldn’t bat an eyelid (well, maybe they’d raise an eyebrow), but then most of my friends are not 8-year-old boys.

He hadn’t even noticed it until he flicked all the way to the last page, where there were minimal screen obstructions and you could pretty much see everything. “Who’s that?”

Oops. Maybe it was that I didn’t want to take the time to explain my psychological encouragement to get fit, or perhaps it was that large glass of wine on a near-empty stomach, but what I ended up saying was, “Oh, he’s … that’s my boyfriend.”

By then, his sister, who was maybe 10 or 11, had returned to collect her sibling. It was she who piped up then. “You have a boyfriend?” she shouted, more astonished and incredulous than curious.

I responded simply with “Yup,” and then she came over to have a look. They studied the photo for a few seconds when the girl said, “What’s his name?”

I couldn’t think of a fake name fast enough, so I just said, “Richard.” I was on the verge of taking it back and saying, “Okay that’s enough,” when the boy, already bored, started flicking back through the pages, looking for more games.

The girl looked back at me. “Why do you have a boyfriend?”

“I just do. Some boys have boyfriends.”

“Do you love him?”

“Of course I do.”

“But that’s weird.”

“No it’s not. It’s perfectly normal. Why would it be weird?”

“I dunno.”

“It would be fine if you had a girlfriend. You can have a boyfriend or a girlfriend; it doesn’t matter.”

I must have started to go over her heard at that point because she redirected the attention back to her brother. “Isaac has a girlfriend. Her name’s Katie.”

“Well that’s perfectly normal, too,” I said.

Isaac, either not listening or not caring, said, “This is an iPhone 4.”

“No it’s not,” I said. “It’s a 4S.”

“Nuh-uh, if it was a 4S it would have Siri.”

“It does have Siri.”

“No it doesn’t.”

So I took the phone from him and showcased the 4S by holding down the home button and asking, “What time is it?” when Siri popped up.

Isaac took the phone back, activated Siri again and said, “Call … my boyfriend!”

The two of them laughed out loud at that and I thought it was harmless, but after a few minutes, somehow Isaac was able to find Richard in my address book and then attach the label “my boyfriend” to him. (Man, kids and technology nowadays!) It actually started to call him when I finally snatched the phone back and said, “Okay that’s it! Out of the office!”

“I’m gonna tell everyone that you have a boyfriend!” the sister threatened with a big, fat, mischievous grin on her face.

“I don’t care,” I teased back rather childishly. “It’s not a secret.”

Not convinced by my answer, she ran down the stairs and ducked into a bedroom. I took my empty wine glass into the kitchen, where Jessica promptly refilled it. I was chatting with some of the other adults for only a minute or so before the girl ran in and shouted to everyone, “Jonathon has a boyfriend! He has a picture of him on his phone!”

If I’m completely honest I’m sure I reddened a little, but no one seemed to have noticed. The woman who was speaking didn’t even allow the girl to interrupt her speech. A man who must have been her dad turned to her and said, “Yes, yes, Abby, now go play.” He shooed her away and turned right back to the conversation, not giving her outburst a second thought.

And that was it. She ran off and went back to playing with the other children, and I finished my work there for the day (and had a lovely lamb burger and some grilled Halloumi cheese). Afterwards part of me wondered if being honest about my sexuality to an 8-year-old was appropriate, but then I thought, why not? If they are old enough to have girlfriends, then they are old enough to understand that some people are gay.

I’m glad Abby’s father dismissed his child’s apparent revelation of a scandal as mere silliness. But obviously at some point Abby learned that if boys love boys (or if girls love girls), then that’s weird. Or perhaps she had never considered that kind of situation before. But either way, maybe it’s important to be prepared to have a brief discussion with children about that when they’re ready.

Parents shy away from discussions like this because they don’t like to think of their children (or any children) as sexual beings. But why aren’t they? Humans are sexual beings, and children are humans. We don’t think it’s weird when hordes of screaming prepubescent girls chase One Direction down the street (though maybe we should – that’s a bad example), or when a boy and a girl play at a pretend wedding. So why is there a discrepancy with gays? We don’t think twice about straight behaviour. I think it comes from an underlying subconscious prejudice that some of us have that still equates “straight” with “normal”.

So how young is too young to talk about homosexuality? The simple answer is that it’s the same age you feel it’s too young to talk about sexuality in general. Why make it a different topic? Perhaps the six-year-old girl was horrified by the thought of kissing because she innocently didn’t understand it. But the fact that she even saw it means she’s already slowly being introduced to a world with sex in it. Wouldn’t you rather your child grow into an adult with a healthy attitude towards sex? They won’t become that by only paying attention to the media.

I get really annoyed at adults who say things like, “I can’t tell my teenage children about gay people; they just wouldn’t understand.” Why not? Why is it such a difficult thing to explain? When adults make homosexuality a taboo subject, children interpret that to mean it is something shameful. And if they’re being taught those sorts of things while growing up, it will be harder to convince them otherwise once they’re adults.

Kids are learning machines and they are naturally inquisitive and they will ask questions. So when they do, let’s just answer them honestly. It shouldn’t have to be weird at all.

[some details that are irrelevant to the story (e.g. people’s names) have been changed to protect you from the wrath of my invisible pink unicorn]

Friday, 4 May 2012

My inner voter turmoil

Politics. What a good way to spoil a party.

Yesterday British people had the opportunity to elect their local government leaders. In London, undoubtedly the most prominent election that took place was the mayoral one: the battle between “Buffoon” Boris Johnson the incumbent and “Red” Ken Livingstone in an attempt to reclaim his seat at City Hall. The votes are still being counted as of today.

I have friends who shout from both ends of the political spectrum. A quick trawl through my social networking yesterday and I could easily find both “BACK BORIS” and “SACK BORIS” as well as “Anyone but BoJo” and “Not Ken again”. My own political opinions aside, these people are exercising their free speech and voicing their opinions, which is of course fine. But among those very same pages are other comments I’ve seen which remind me that I have a growing problem with another kind of people: those who don’t vote.

A lot of my friends do, don’t get me wrong. Some of the comments are “Just voted, make sure you do too!” or even “I just voted, though I’m getting tired of the whole thing.” But some people simply refuse to vote. I’ve heard many excuses: “My one vote won’t make a difference.”, “I can’t really stand any of the candidates.”, “I don’t have time.”, “Oh it only encourages them”, etc. etc. ad nauseam. And then the BBC came out with a [link] report today saying that only 32% of the population actually voted, which is the lowest figure since 2000.

What? WHAT!? This baffles me. How is that supposed to be an accurate representation of what people want? From this, the people who get into government may simply be the candidate who got the most people into the polling station. 

Now, I completely sympathize with people who call themselves apathetic towards government in general. But that’s no excuse to be lazy. These are the people who make decisions that directly affect your life. If you are not happy with the decisions, not voting seems hardly the best way to do something about it. My point is, if you choose not to vote, you have no right to complain about what the government does. Or about the people in government.

You may be asking, Wow, Jon, why do you feel so strongly about voting? Well let me tell you. In Wisconsin, where I’m originally from, there is a very rare event taking place that stands to alter the state’s political landscape. Arguably the whole of America is watching us to see how it’s all going to turn out. In 2010, the citizens of Wisconsin elected a new governor by the name of Scott Walker. In that election, voter turnout was approximately 50%. Within his first month as governor, Mr Walker passed controversial measures that subsequently angered enough Wisconsinites that massive protests were held in the state capital and he is now under threat of being removed from office via a recall election. You may have heard of this.

The recall election is set for June 5th. In all likelihood I will probably still be in London at that time (What, you think I’m going to miss the Diamond Jubilee?), but thankfully Wisconsin has a helpful measure that allows residents to apply for an absentee ballot no matter where you live (unless they’ve registered to vote in another area). This means I can vote by mail, and I’ve done this before. However, because I have been living in London for over 5 years, my residency status is in question, and it may be possible that due to a technicality I won’t be allowed to submit an absentee ballot and therefore will not be allowed to vote in this once-in-a-lifetime, important election. I’m still trying to sort this out.

Also, as I am an American citizen, and not (yet) a British citizen, I am not allowed to vote in ANY election here in the UK. European citizens who reside here are, but not me, even though I’ve lived here long enough to be eligible for citizenship.

So people who tell me they’re too busy to vote or don’t want to because it’s pointless really get my goat. If you think your one vote doesn’t matter, then you’re not looking at the bigger picture and you need to get out of your bubble. I won’t even start talking about parts of the world where people aren’t allowed to vote.

In my ideal world (i.e. if I were president of the universe) I would make it against the law not to vote. If you don’t, you are not allowed to receive benefits or any sort of advantage from the government (though you must still pay taxes). You may choose to abstain from voting for any particular candidate, but you must go to the polling booth and actively decide that. You cannot simply stay at home.

As easy as it is to be apathetic towards politics, I’ve learned that it is an unavoidable part of life. Yes, I know that there are many things wrong with politics today (as there ever have been), but choosing not to take part in democracy is no way to change that. No, not everyone has to be an activist or a lobbyist or whatever. But everyone should do the least they can do and take a few minutes of their day and tick a few boxes. Come on, Britain, 32% is pitiful. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Tell me a story...

To me, not just as an actor, but an all-around theatre person, the most important thing to do while on stage is tell a good story. All other aspects of theatre are still important, but if the story is missing or flawed, those aspects are irrelevant. For example, you can have a wonderful set design or cutting-edge lighting and sound, but without a story to support, you might as well be in a museum. You can have amazing choreography or someone with an exceptional singing voice, but without a story to tell via the dance moves or through the lyrics, all you have is someone showing off their craft. You can have outstanding actors with the ability to evoke any emotion on demand, but without a story to tell, well, they’re just being pretentious. (There’s actually a word for that kind of theatre, but it’s a bit rude so ask me later and I’ll tell you.)

The same applies to other works of art as well, film and TV particularly. If you’re not telling me a good story, I’m changing the channel or walking out of the cinema. (Actually I would never walk out of a cinema. I did walk out of a theatre once during intermission – and I felt so bad! But it had to be done.) At a stretch you could even say the best music or the best paintings, for example, tell stories in a way.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with going to a museum or watching someone perform their craft on stage … but it’s not theatre. Theatre requires an additional element: the story. This is why I love being an actor. I get to tell a story through performance, through acting it out. It’s also why I love being a writer, though in that case, especially with playwriting, there’s inevitably a point where you have to finish messing with your creation and relinquish your storytelling power to someone else, say, a director or a producer.

I’m mentioning all this because the other day I was looking over my recent (i.e. London) acting history, and I realized that the theatre productions I’m most proud of – the ones where I felt a good story was told – have all been with the same theatre company. Myriad Productions specializes in adapting classic novels, and they have been perfecting this craft for many years. Since they’re focussed on classics, there’s already a good story there. But the adaptations are done so well, in my opinion, that you can tell the adaptor has fully understood and has digested the novel’s meaning and author’s intentions, and is able to produce that on stage and expertly bring out the dramatic parts of plotlines. They’re also fun to perform, and engaging to watch.

I’ve performed with them twice previously, in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and The Count of Monte Cristo, and now my third production with them, Anna Karenina, is opening this coming Tuesday (21 February). I am so excited about this show that I have invited just about everyone I know living in London. I have invited casting directors and producers and reviewers, and I still have an itching to invite more people. If anyone reading this blog knows of any reviewers or industry people who would be interested in seeing some new talent, get in touch with me via my website or my twitter or somesuch.

I’m playing the young, sexy, military man Count Vronsky in this new adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Barons Court Theatre. We run from 21 February until 3 March with performances every night at 7:30pm (except Sunday and Monday). If you are reading this blog, then you should come see me. Full details are on the Myriad Productions website or the Facebook event page. (I’ll update my website this weekend so it includes the number to call to reserve tickets.)

So come see me on stage. Come watch a well-told story, with superb acting skills on display (I hope). No guarantees, but I may or may not look like this:  

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The snow makes the cold acceptable.

Snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow! Snow snow? SNOW!

So it snowed in London last night. It started about 11pm, just in time for the Saturday night party-goers to get drenched with the first wave, which is always inevitably slush, before it sufficiently cools the ground and allows it to stick. Overnight it continued to pile up; the official reports say in places there was up to 4 inches of snow.

That may not seem like a lot to my friends back in wintry Wisconsin (though apparently there's not much snow there at the moment - very unseasonal) but in London, this is a BIG DEAL. Similar to the snow we had a few years ago that ground London to a halt, there are already reports of public transport being unable to cope. Apparently a few trains on the Underground stopped mid-station, and passengers had to disembark and walk to the next station.

Sorry, Londoners, but I laugh at you. Yes, I know that you don't have snow plows (which you strangely spell "ploughs" - which I think should be pronounced "ploffs") that clear roads or put down salt or grit for traction, but snow is amazing and wonderfully fun and can be enjoyed with enough care and common sense. If you drive in London, please be careful on the roads. You're not used to it!

I grew up in a place where winters are known to be cold, and I always used say to people that the cold was unbearable until it started snowing. I love the snow. After completing the finishing touches on my website, my fella and I went outdoors and played in the snow at 1am. It was amazing! The serenity of the late night, and the pristine, untouched snow were all ours. We made snow angels and funny tracks, and even a couple of snowmen on the hood of a neighbor's car (don't ask me whose).

So I'm glad it snowed. People have been complaining all week about the cold weather (Londoners will complain about any weather, though) and I couldn't really argue with them. But now that it's snowed, they can complain about the snow instead and I will not be fazed; I will remain in my private joy.