Playtime Chicago Theater Report for October 11, 2020

Photo by Tyler Callahan on Unsplash

A transcript and audio archive of my most recent theater report for Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall:

I switched things up a bit with this report. Normally I offer a straightforward reflection on productions. When there are no streaming shows running, I update the audience on news and maybe offer a wee bit of commentary.

Since I’m a correspondent, not a critic, I’m not supposed to offer a critique of productions. Impressions, yes, but no genuine criticism (as per the creator of Playtime). While this can be limiting, it also offers opportunities to ponder on the significance of productions beyond their scripts or even the performances themselves.

Strawdog Theatre adapted the one-man play, Run the Beast Down, to streaming video. Dictated by the vicissitudes of nature, this unnatural adaption works remarkably well.

In my report I was able to offer a eulogy for both the craft of live theater as well as the economy. Both will likely resurrect but I am not entirely sure what form each will take. Still, I am grateful for those who press on with offering theater even in a time of economic catastrophe.

Strangely enough, I’m also grateful for the restrictions that my show creator places on my writing. They force me to reckon with the constraints under which we all labor, every day.


Conspirituality with Matthew Remski — Talk Gnosis

The September 23rd, 2020 episode of Talk Gnosis

One of my many hats is that of co-host on Talk Gnosis, an online show about modern Gnosticism, esotericism, occultism, mysticism and most other religious -isms.

I served as co-host of Talk Gnosis back in 2013 and left in mid-2015. I’d been back at least once as a co-host of a special series on Gurdjieff which was extra-fun. I then contributed to the blog for a bit before the show went on one of its occasional hiatuses.

In any case, I’m back on Talk Gnosis and we are pretty busy folks these days. One of our recent guests, Matthew Remski, is part of a movement that addresses abusive behavior within spiritual and religious groups. He is also interested in conspiracy theories and the communities that develop around them.

We had a spirited conversation about these matters on our September 23rd, 2020 show and personally found the conversation to be incredibly engaging. Enjoy.


My Week’s Content for Sept 18th through the 20th, 2020

Note from Lainie: I am what is known as a “content creator.” I write and record online content for a variety of sites and shows. Instead of boring everyone with a different post for each piece of content, I’m going to collect these pieces into one blog post that will likely go up Sunday evenings. Enjoy. Or not. It’s always your choice.

Civically Minded

Civically Minded is a video show that focuses on news that affects everyone: Regulatory state, consumer news, and human interest stories abound.

Civically Minded National for Hard Lens Media. Aired September 17th, 2020

Civically Minded Chicago for Chicago Corner. Aired September 17th, 2020 (yes, the National and Chicago shows are two separate episodes)

Playtime Chicago Theater (and Wine!) Report

Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall is a weekly radio show that covers the arts. I contribute a short segment this week that covers the Chicago theater scene. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the limited amount of performances at this time, I’ve lately added a weekly wine recommendation. Enjoy!


The Unnamed Woman in Judges

Pieter de Grebber / Public domain
[Below is a blog I wrote and published on March 8th, 2009, in honor of International Women’s Day.

When I read In Cold Blood , I found myself stunned by Truman Capote‘s writing style. It wasn’t just that he was a superb writer (which he was) but that he wrote in such a non-manipulative way. Instead of expressing his own shock and outrage at the unprovoked murder of an entire family, he told the story as he understood it, leaving the reader’s humanity to determine his/her response.

I thought it a very adult way to write,  a way of encouraging the reader’s development of character, the development of his/her soul, if you will, in the reading of such horror. My response to the story told  me something about myself, rather than how I “ought” to feel about the distant event that the story described.

I contrast my praise of Capote with the overwhelming indignation I feel every time I read the story of The Unnamed Concubine in  Judges 19:1-30. I can’t read it without my blood running cold. I am left weak and shaking at the end of what scholar Phyllis Trible described as a “tortuous and torturous path“, wondering after reading this “text of terror” why its author fails to offer a disapproving word.

In fact, I have often wondered why God didn’t see fit to offer a disapproving word on the subject of a woman who leaves, and then is persuaded to return to a man whose cowardice is equaled only by his astonishing hubris. A man who hands her over to a rape-gang and then chops her into parts to demonstrate his indignation at that same rape-gang.

And so I stew. Reading the story and getting angrier at God and the writer for not offering redemption by writing my indignation for me. Re-reading the story and looking for a hint of “the God who sees”: The God who  rescued Hagar from the desert.

There is none.

The writer told a story.

The writer didn’t tell me how I, or anyone else, should feel about it.  Instead, we are left to pay attention to our own reactions to the tale. If we dare.

Some commentators, like John Wesley, seemed to believe that the concubine got what she deserved for leaving her “protector” at the beginning of the story.

Other commentators rush to defend the concubine by pointing out that she wasn’t “at fault” for the original quarrel.

Feminist theologians, on the other hand, draw parallels between the plight of this nameless, socially helpless woman and the plight of other nameless, socially helpless women.

When we read this story, each of us is presented with an opportunity to examine our own responses to this tale:  A woman leaves a man and is persuaded to return to him. Her reward for doing so is to be fed to a pack of rapists, cut into twelve pieces and scattered among strangers.

What is our reaction to this story?

Do we seek to explain it? If so, how?

Do we want to place blame? If so, where?

Do we want to justify the actions of the woman’s “protector”? If so, why?

Do we want to make someone other than the woman the focus of this story? If so, who?

Do we want to place God or “God’s will” somewhere in the story? If so, when?

And what do our reactions to this story tell us about how we feel, or how we feel we should feel,  about women?


This Is Not Satire


This is not satire. This is the White House’s official site. When I first saw this post shared on Twitter, I thought it was fake. A send-up using Trump’s language describing gang members as “animals.”

I was wrong.

As I perused the Immigration section of the site, I also noticed the use of terms like “Catch and Release,” to describe a practice of releasing detained immigrants after they have been apprehended. As you likely know. “catch & release” is a term used to describe releasing fish after they’ve been caught.

(In case you need a biology refresher, fish are non-human animals.)

I consider myself to be to the right of most of my friends on topics of immigration and crime. I support secure borders and controls on who gets to enter and work in this country. I have no use for gangs or criminal activity and favor strong penalties for criminal behavior.

This does not mean, however, that I believe that the highest office in the United States doesn’t have to carefully watch the language that it uses in official communications with the public. I believe that government officials, and their offices, have a responsibility to use measured language that does not inflame prejudices.

I also believe that government officials, and their offices, have a responsibility to use measured language to describe even the most despised members of society. Even if those members are rightly despised by other members of society.

Despite my distress at many of the communications offered by various government officials during this administration, I’ve tried to stay reasonably quiet. This is in part because, as a writer, I know when a communication is designed to throw someone off-kilter. I’ve seen people ejaculate rage time and again, as if on cue, in response to statements, events, and incidents.

I’ve tried to avoid participation in this dynamic because I know that my expressed outrage plays into the hands and plans of those who seek to do me, and many others, harm.

But I also know that there is a time to express, ideally in measured tones, profound dismay at a profoundly wicked agenda. For me, this is that time.

The language used on the White House website is not accidental. It does, in fact, satisfy certain impulses and inclinations within many people who will read this piece and agree with it. It even touches certain impulses and inclinations in those who will read it and vehemently disagree with it, likely triggering feelings of rage, fear, and helplessness.

There is nothing accidental or incidental about this White House blog post. Nothing. Use this knowledge as you will.

[The above is a post originally made on Facebook.]


Work Harder, We’ll Still Mock You

Originally posted on Facebook:

I just made the mistake of reading the comments on a story about how rising rents are displacing even middle-class people. The story highlighted the plight of a family in which the wife was the primary breadwinner (husband is ill), making made $78,000 per year, and yet was still struggling financially due to the high cost of living in Southern California.

The primary takeaway for many commenters was that this woman was overpaid (she worked a government job). The commenters mocked her, told her it was her fault for living in California, and appeared to be questioning her character because she held a job that didn’t require a college education, yet paid a middle-class salary.

Clearly, the poor, working poor, working-class, and middle-class people of this country can’t win with the Internet’s peanut gallery. If they have a low-paid job, they are supposed to “better themselves.” If they have a good-paying job, they are overpaid or (in case of those who have, God help us, a government job) leeches on the public trough.

There is nothing new about this tendency of online commenters to demonize people who are in financial straits: I began to notice it over ten years ago as the recession approached.

I’ve also sometimes wondered if at least some of these commenters have a more sinister motive than blowing off steam or simple trolling. I’m not a huge fan of the “We haz a Russian conspir-a-z!” mindset, but I also think that there are at least some people who publish such comments with a clear goal of demoralizing the financially vulnerable: “Shut up, suck it up, and remember, the economy is always your fault, losers.”

I don’t like any of this one bit.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Love: An Essay

[Publisher’s note: On the cusp of 2008, a participant in a forum challenged us all to write a short essay on love. I took up the challenge and this is what I wrote. I’ve lightly edited it at least a few times over the years, but the thrust is largely identical to what I wrote nine years ago. Do I agree with all of this now? Not entirely, but I do believe much of it. Enjoy.]

Understanding love (of any sort, but particularly romantic love) first requires an understanding of intimacy, which I define as a relationship characterized by a profound and mutual knowledge of the other. Real intimacy is something that must be built up over time, during which the parties to a relationship need to interact fairly consistently, particularly throughout the significant changes and milestones that life brings. There is no shortcut to intimacy: “Chemistry,” “rapport,” or even the nebulous concept of the “soul-mate” are no substitutes for a shared history in vulnerability, conflict/resolved conflict, empathy, support, and trust.

Intimacy is by its very nature mutual, symbiotic, reciprocal, and shared. There is no such thing as “unrequited” intimacy, nor is intimacy particularly accidental or uncontrollable. For intimacy to exist, both parties must desire not only to fully know the other but to make themselves known as well. A desire to only know the other, without making oneself known is obsession, while a desire to only make oneself known should be considered narcissism. Intimacy is at odds with both of these states.

Love, on the other hand, is best defined as the desire for intimacy with the other, which means that love is not dependent on reciprocity, trust, or even good sense. Our desires are not entirely voluntary, and as such, we can love (or worse yet,  “fall in love” with) those who are unable or unwilling to know us and be known in return. Furthermore, desires can be fickle and are significantly affected by circumstances that can hinder, or encourage, their development. The end of love is characterized by a lack of desire for intimacy. One no longer seeks to truly know the other, nor does one strive to make oneself known. Eventually, intimacy disappears, along with love, thus bringing stagnation to (and possibly the end of) a relationship.

All this is not to undermine the importance of love. Love is clearly one of the most powerful forces that we know.  Love as a desire, can itself be unstable, but its overwhelming power forges some of the most stable relationships. The love that a parent has for his/her child is that which keeps the exhausted parent from tossing a squalling newborn out the window. Likewise, it encourages new couples to overlook minor (and sometimes) major differences early on in their relationship, so that a allowing the solidification of a relationship. Love encourages friends, who have no legal or familial obligation to each other, to build strong relationships and support networks.

Love is that force, that power, which enables the development of a truly intimate relationship. Love does not define a relationship, nor is it the relationship itself. When we remember that it is a desire, nothing more, nothing less, we are better able to understand, channel, master and use it, rather than being dominated by it to no good end.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Back in 1992, during my last semester of college, a fellow who I dubbed “Angry Guy” showed up on campus. I think he was a student, although I can’t be absolutely sure. He was the right age, and looked and dressed pretty much like any other preppy guy at the school.

Despite his relatively nondescript appearance, he stood out. It didn’t take much to set him off, and I remember once walking through the student union while he was screaming and yelling at random people.

The last time I saw him was in the library, right after Bill Clinton had won the presidential election. Angry Guy was reading the New York Times, becoming more and more agitated. He eventually threw the paper to the ground, ranting about the evils of abortion. After declaring abortion to be “baby-killing,” he urged everyone to vote Republican in 1996, then flounced out the door.

My own assessment, as well as that of my fellow students, was that Angry Guy was severely mentally ill.  I certainly did not associate him with the College Republicans or our campus anti-abortion group, though I had little respect for either organization. I’m pretty sure that all of us who saw and heard him understood that his rage and fixation on certain political issues were the result of psychosis and possibly even brain damage.

This 25-year-old memory has had new meaning for me over the past few days. Like most of the world, I was shocked and horrified to learn that someone had stabbed three men, killing two, after they confronted him over his harassment of two young women on Portland train car.

In the hours and days after this horrific attack,  the media and its consumers began to piece together a portrait of Jeremy Joseph Christian. Since he is white, used anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim language, and made a goose-stepping appearance at a recent right-wing “free speech” demonstration, some were quick to denounce him as part of the alt.right.

Others pointed out that Christian supported Bernie Sanders and did not vote for Trump in the general election. It also appears that he was no fan of Christianity and may well have been a polytheist.

Unfortunately, this muddled portrait of the man has led to some unfortunate and, in my opinion, ill-advised speculation. Yesterday, I had the grave misfortune to read this piece on Medium. The writer, who appears to have a serious grudge against Bernie Sanders, positions Christian as part of the “alt.left,” which, in accordance with horseshoe theory, has more in common with the alt.right than it does with standard leftism or the Democratic Party platform.

The article left me angry, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, and I later found out that several friends of mine had read the article and likewise found it infuriating. Horseshoe theory itself has some serious weaknesses, but what is even more questionable is the author’s insistence on playing connect-the-dots between Christian, Bernie Sanders, misogynist Bernie Bros, and the alt.left.

Why is it questionable? Because as far as I can tell, the author has no special insight or information that allows her to draw this conclusion. In fact, it runs against the readily available information about Christian that points to mental illness and possible brain damage as the probable cause of his violent speech, writing, and behavior.

The facts are these: Jeremy Joseph Christian has a violent criminal history going back to 2002, when he robbed a convenience store, assaulting and chaining its owner in the process. Christian explained to police that he did this because the store did not sell winning lottery tickets.

Christian’s mother states that he might have mental health issues, and a story from local media suggests that this, as well as brain damage caused by a head injury, may well be the case. Christian appears to be homeless and jobless. A right-wing leader describes him as a nuisance, despite Christian’s enthusiastic presence at the recent “free speech” rally. During a recent court appearance, Christian shouted about patriotism and free speech.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Christian has a lot more in common with Angry Guy than either Bernie Sanders or Steve Bannon. Occam’s razor points to mental illness and/or brain damage as being the primary motivator for Christian’s beliefs and behavior. Without evidence to support that Christian’s “politics” were the result of sustained thought and active engagement, assigning him (and his horrific crime) to a particular political wing is disingenuous, particularly if the person doing the assigning has a political axe to grind.

More details will be coming out during the weeks, months, and possibly even years to come. We will likely learn more about this case, including Mr. Christian’s background, activities, mental health, and motivations. We may, at that point, be in a better position to determine whether what motivated him to first verbally assault two young women, and then later slaughter their defenders.

Nonetheless, I believe that there is something we should strive to be mindful of, even as we await additional and necessary facts about this case:

Responsible politicians, journalists, and activists must be aware of their rhetoric and avoid pandering to baser instincts just to curry favor or win votes. Violent, hateful, or even ambiguous language can have unintended consequences. Individuals who already have issues with emotional regulation, who are socially isolated, and who are predisposed toward violence can easily identify with movements and political/activist language in unhealthy ways.

If you have a message, be mindful that not everyone will receive it in the same way. While there is no absolute insurance against someone using your message in a way that is harmful, carefully crafting messages, particularly those going out to a large audience, is necessary. Eliciting an emotional response is a part of good persuasive communication, but knowing when and how to draw the line at incitement is the beginning of wisdom.

[Two fundraisers have been created for the surviving stabbing victim as well as the families of the men who died. You can find them here and here.]

[Photo credit: By Kris from Seattle, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Photo Credit: By Jim.henderson (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons[/caption]

Some musings on why paying attention to “troublemakers” can have its advantages in spiritual schools:

A willingness to listen to organizational critique is important, particularly given the tendency among some Gurdjieffians to become identified with our group or school. If we can see the traps that await us even in “beneficent” institutions, we have a better shot at awakening.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail