For the past few months, I have managed (against all odds) to maintain a reasonably steady release rate of one essay or story per week on this, my digital scribble scroll. This production schedule was instituted by me as a personal challenge, seeing as the primary purpose of this blog is to provide me with a contained space in which to compose and then publish my hopefully harmless, ideally amusing writings to a gently tolerant, if mostly unaffected world.
Personal challenges, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, are my bread and butter, or, in the common parlance of our time, my kale and hummus. I find personal challenges remarkably motivating, and so I engage in the practice of challenging myself regularly.
This practice works well for me, because it harnesses my natural strength as an exceptionally dramatic individual. Think of me as a human pendulum. I exist in a world of extremes, vacillating wildly between side one and the other, rarely ever coming to rest in the noble middle, which is the rightful realm of the nominally sane and stable. I am either totally focused or completely distracted. I am all in or all out. Therefore, and somewhat tangentially, I do not multi-task well, which has made my career in musical theatre, wherein one must act, sing, and dance all at once, a ceaseless exercise in both humility and denial.
In short, dramatically difficult deadlines just do it for me. If I had not assigned one for this blog, I would never have finished more than an entry or two. Knowing that I had to publish an interesting essay or story each week has given the past few months positive focus and intention.
And yet, the time has come to ease up on the self-applied pressure. Summer is here, and with the change of season, memories have returned unbidden of the long, lazy summer breaks of my scholastic yesteryear. I yearn to return to those distant, halcyon days. And, too, there is also the small matter of my rapidly approaching nuptials. Surely you cannot have failed to notice my recent proclivity towards constantly referencing “my fiancée” on this blog, or perhaps you have even been irked by a disgusting display of pictorial bliss on a media feed of mine.
In light of both the summer season and my own imminent matrimony, and after some careful thought, I have decided to initiate "summer mode" for this blog. I will occasionally persist in a post here or there as topics come to my mind and the literary itch returns, but I am temporarily removing the mandate that I publish something weekly.
Fret not, fan of mine (he wrote optimistically, praying that at least one existed), the blog will return to a more regular release schedule when the school year begins anew. Probably, it will return even sooner, but I make no promises.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is doubtless something important I should be doing, or at the very least, procrastination calls.
Here’s wishing you a dangerously pleasant summer.
This Thursday, I presented my final interactive history presentation of the 2016/2017 school year, and yesterday I attended my company’s end of the year meeting, a celebratory day of reflection. In that selfsame spirit of reflection and celebration, I here present a short depiction of this past year’s noteworthy happenings in the little world of Philip. (If you’d like to let me know about your year, leave a comment below. It’s FREE!)
Over the course of this past school year, I presented two hundred and fifty-five interactive history presentations to over seven thousand students. Each of those presentations was two and a half hours long. During them, I talked constantly, all while attempting to hold the attentions of a room full of grade school students. To do so, I used every trick I knew, including funny voices, props, costumes, and the corniest jokes ever conceived by humankind. While doing so, I myself transformed from a person who was reluctant to work with students to a person who draws great meaning from the practice. (For more info about this new teaching job of mine, click HERE.)
To get to these presentations, I drove over seven thousand miles, replacing as I did so three tires on my newly acquired (used) car, its brakes, and (several times) its variously required fluids. I drove more in this past year than I have in all previous years combined, as this was also my first year owning a car. Needless to say, my driving skills have markedly improved, although my fiancée will be the first to say there is still capacious space available in my skill set for further improvements. I am now intimately acquainted with the traffic patterns of Orange County, having also traveled for work to the Central Coast, Central Valley, Imperial Valley, and the Mojave desert. I camped in Joshua Tree and hiked in Yosemite. I even saw the Salton Sea!
This was my first year with a steady, non-acting job. It was my first year having weekends off. It was my first year paying for my own health insurance. It was also my first year paying for my own housing, as I have in the past always worked theatre jobs that provided housing or crashed (briefly) with family and long-suffering friends. This year I signed a lease for a condo with my fiancée, Chelsea, and speaking of Chelsea, this year I proposed to my fiancée Chelsea. Chelsea and I get married in 19 days, and if my last few posts have seemed to focus more and more on Chelsea and I as a couple doing couple things, it is because we are getting married in 19 days, and everything else seems to pale in comparison to that brazenly florid fact.
This upcoming summer is also my first summer in seven years without an acting gig, unless you count getting married as a theatrical event, which I am tempted to do. There are, after all, so many similarities. There will be a rehearsal. There will be an audience in attendance. Chelsea and I will both be in costume. And, we will have lines to say! I may in fact put the wedding down on my theatrical resume, which is currently collecting cobwebs.
Why don’t we leave things there for now. I’ll be back next week with a proper essay.
This will come as no surprise to the older, more experienced members of my readership (you mighty horde of three), but when you are in a relationship, “firsts” - by which I mean the first time you and your beloved do something together - adopt a strange, possibly unearned significance. These moments just feel important. The first time you kiss. The first time you cook together. The first time you go look at pets. These firsts carry weight. They seem in their own small way to foretell how your whole relationship will go in the long run. Whether they actually do or not is, of course, not for me to say. I am neither prophet, wizard, nor weatherman. Telling the future is not my job.
I simply mention this peculiar truth about firsts by way of introduction. This is the story of my fiancėe Chelsea and I’s first shared camping trip. We went to Joshua Tree on Thanksgiving weekend of this past year. Because this was our first camping trip together, it was always going to carry that odd aura of The First Time. So, when I went and actually proposed marriage on Thanksgiving Day, it did very little to calm the thing down in terms of our expectations. This was now our first shared camping trip as a newly engaged couple. Gasoline had met open flame. The whole trip was suddenly catapulted into the STRATOSPHERE OF VERY HIGH EXPECTATIONS, which I believe is the very highest level of our Earth’s atmosphere, the one right before the whole thing just melts away into the vacuum of space. Naturally, when your expectations are up that high, there is no way to go but down.
This is a tale that could easily run long in the telling, so let’s stick to the highlights and primary plot points. There is no need to concern ourselves with specific details of private emotions and personal squabbles. I don’t care to write about that, and you don’t care to read about it. As we discussed last week, my fiancėe and I see the world differently. Chelsea is an optimist, and she loves camping. I am a pessimist, and I am indifferent to camping. Armed with those two character nuggets, I am sure you can paint in all the dialogue yourself.
Let us begin.
I proposed on a Thursday, and we left for Joshua Tree bright and early that Friday, our hopes and our heads held high. We left early so as to claim a camping spot in the park, not knowing at this point that the whole park had been full to the brim for the past two weeks. This was what we found out hours later, after driving around the park for several of those hours, peering at each and every site in the park only to find that each spot was, indeed, well and truly taken.
With our hearts bruised but not yet broken, we left the pristine wilderness of the park and purchased a spot at a campground five miles or so away. Joshua Tree is beautiful. This campground was not. It featured a dusty little man-made lake, a village of camper vans, and a rusty metal sculpture garden. Joshua Tree features fascinating topographical features -- hills, cliffs, and boulders abound. The Joshua trees for which the park is named dot the landscape in memorable fashion. This campground was out in the flat, barren desert. Chelsea, being an optimist, was disheartened. I, having assumed the worst from the first sign of trouble, was disheartened that she was disheartened. Amidst this mood plunge, we proceeded to pitch our tent.
Naturally, this took a whole lot longer than you would want. Pitching a tent always takes longer than you would want. But two things made it particularly frustrating this time. Firstly, the tent we had borrowed from friends was designed to hold 6-8 adults. In turns out that the larger the tent, the more severe the headache it causes. Also, just to warn you, pitching a tent in the desert is inherently worse than pitching it elsewhere. Tent pegs are designed to be driven into dirt that will hold tent pegs.
Sand is not dirt.
I do not recommend pitching a tent in the desert.
But, we did get the stupid thing up in the end.
Fresh from the struggle, we abandoned our campsite for dinner at Pappy & Harriet’s, a delightful joint in Pioneer Town, which is a fabricated Old Western town where they used to shoot Old Hollywood Westerns. It has since been turned into a tourist trap. The wait for a table was lengthy, but we finally got a spot, and the evening passed pleasantly enough. We returned to our camp site with thoughts of building a cheery fire.
Surprise! We couldn’t get the fire started in the dark. I am a pessimist, but this was a blow to my pride specifically. I was a cub scout once, many moons ago, and for some reason this fact made my own inability to get the wood to light somehow personal. Disheartened yet again, we turned in for the night.
Morning brought new frustrations. I’ll spare you details. Let it suffice to say that one of us - I will not specify who - had forgotten to pack a frying pan, and essentially all of the food supplies we had brought with us required that frying pan. I will also clue you in on the fact that you cannot make a frying pan out of aluminum foil. IT DOES NOT WORK. And if you are going to borrow a frying pan from a group of frat boys camped nearby, know that you must wash that pan first.
Rallying from our day’s frustrating start, we headed into the park. To our vast relief, the afternoon went well. Hikes were had, snacks were consumed, and the gorgeous natural beauty of Joshua Tree did much to lift our spirits. We left the park well before sunset, making a quick detour to civilization to buy a frying pan and lighter fluid. I was determined to get a fire started before dark, and Chelsea had plans to fry some pork chops for our dinner.
Surprise! We returned to the campground to find our tent completely collapsed, its fabric whipping about in the brisk wind that was now blowing across the desert. We attempted to put the tent back up, but it rapidly became clear that with the wind picking up the way that it was, our large tent (built for 6-8 people, remember) was essentially a huge sail. The force of the wind in this huge sail just kept pulling the tent pegs out of the sand.
Again, my friends, I must remind you, SAND IS NOT DIRT. Sand and tent pegs do not get along.
Some kind retirees from a camper van nearby attempted to help us, but it soon became crystal clear that this tent was just not going to stay up. With hearts now utterly dashed, we looked around us and realized that the weekend was pretty much a complete bust. There was not enough room in our vehicle to sleep comfortably, and it was decided, after discussion, that we should pack up, fry our pork chops, and at least enjoy dinner before we headed back to civilization.
We had finally gotten the stupid tent folded up (which also takes longer than you’d want), when we turned and saw the storm rolling in over the desert.
There it was, a veritable wall of wind and rain, racing directly our way. It looked like something out of a film.
This understandably hurried our packing. The rain began to pound down around us just as we got the last of our things into the car. The wind was so strong by this point that the tents of other campers, who were still out for the day, were quite literally blowing away across the sand.
In the car on the way home, we reflected that our trip, though on paper a complete failure, and actually been the best case scenario for the set of circumstances we had faced. Our tent was not built for a desert. And, if it was going to collapse, at least it had the decency to do so during the day, when we were not inside it. The whole thing would have been much worse at night. And, if I had been able to get the campfire lit the night before, we never would have come back to camp so soon, in time to break everything down before the rainstorm arrived. Breaking down a campsite in the dark in the middle of a rainstorm would have been so much worse than the frustrations we had had to face.
So, there you have it. Sometimes bad things really do lead to good.
Of course, sometimes they don’t, but then life will insist on being mysterious.
Just promise me you’ll never pitch a tent in sand. We’ll leave it at that.
This past Thursday, my fiancée and I prepared Beef & Broccoli, an Americanized Chinese dish familiar to anyone fond of a so-bad-it’s-good Americanized Chinese takeout place. To be clear, we made a paleo version of Beef & Broccoli, because we are attending a wedding in 35 days (our wedding), and it seems necessary at this point to take drastic dietary steps. We then negated these drastic dietary steps by pouring this paleo Beef & Broccoli over rice, because we like rice. It’s our wedding after all, and we can do what we like.
As we prepared this dish together, Chelsea refused to allow me to look at the recipe. This was because she said I would over think it. She has, by now, caught on to the fact that I am a man who likes to follow directions. I am the type that assumes directions are there for a reason. Deviation from the directions seems, to me, to be a wantonly foolish move. Who knows where such radical measures may lead? My bride-to-be prefers to “wing it.” In her view - a perfectly plausible one, let me hasten to say - the directions are suggested parameters in which to freestyle. She enters into the business of cookery with a free spirit. For her, the world is open to play.
Our approaches to life, therefore, are intrinsically opposed. As you already surmised, Chelsea is an optimist. She assumes that if she ventures out into unexplored terrain her own wit, moxie, and charm will be there to keep her safe from harm. And, thus far in life, she has been proven (mostly) right. She has plenty of wit, lots of moxie, and a whole lot of charm. Usually her freestyling ends with a positive note. And, as you have already gleaned from the above, I am her opposite. I have a carefully calculated view of the world. I assume that my limitations are significant, and that the Law of Entropy applies to life. To my mind, chaos looms about us like a grim-faced specter, and we must venture forth plans firmly in hand in order to successfully combat this significant foe. Chelsea blithely expects the best, while I glumly assume the worst, being, as I truly am, a pessimist. And, thus far in life, I have (mostly) been proven wrong.
This pessimism has characterized me from a young age. My father once confessed to me that he considers himself responsible for this. It seems that in 4th grade there was a writing contest put on by my school. The writer of the best essay (or whatever the 4th grade equivalent of an “essay” is) would receive a $50 prize, a huge sum to someone in the 4th grade. My father says I wrote my essay in a great flurry of excitement and then walked around for days chattering enthusiastically about what I would do with the money. I seemed convinced of my own literary invincibility. My father grew concerned for me, fearing that defeat might crush my young spirit, and so he sat me down and gently introduced me to the notion that I might not actually win the money but that that was alright. My father said that after this revelation I was noticeably bummed. After I failed to win the money, I was shattered still further. My father feared for years that he had broken me in some way.
Naturally, when my father told me this story, I told him to forget about it. I doubt that that writing contest was the primary cause of my negative mental lens. Personally, I believe this slant in my mentality goes back to the year before, when we moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana, the city of my birth, to Brookston, a small town 2 ½ hours west (though still in Indiana). I remember being tremendously excited to move. It sounded exciting. I had never moved before.
It ended up being a difficult transition. I was slow to make friends at my new school. I can still remember walking around the playground in the third grade, praying to God, because I felt that He was my only friend. (This sounds heartbreaking, but just know, I was a dramatic child. I also remember talking to the school counselor for long sessions for no real reason; it just made me feel special. I felt important, speaking with a counselor. I also remember peddling my bike to the edge of that Hoosier hamlet, only to stop and gaze dramatically out over the cornfields, dreaming of adventure in far off places. It seemed like the sort of thing the young hero in a book would do, and so I did it.)
I was just starting to win friends and influence people – or the 5th grade equivalent of that, at least – when we moved again, this time to Southern Russia. Things were even harder with this second move. Personally, I think that it was this double uprooting that created in me the expectation that life tends to take dark turns for the worst.
But enough of this depressing reminiscence! The point is, I am a pessimist still, though, as I mentioned before, I have mostly been proven wrong. I am constantly shocked to discover that the world floats on despite my fears. I forever expect things to be three times worse than they end up being, even on days when things do go wrongly. I have always defended this pessimism with the following argument:
As you have probably already surmised, this argument is logically sound but self-evidently sad. And, for the record, let me announce that the Beef & Broccoli with which we began this ramble ended up tasting great. It was a little off at first, seeing as we did stray from the recipe, but with a few waves of her riff-tastic wand, Chelsea magicked the dish, allowing us to enjoy a delicious dinner. I am exceedingly fortunate to be life-partnering up with such an opposingly compatible soul. Her positivity and fearlessness draw me out of my shell and compel me towards new experiences. Providing balance, my own desire to plan and my awareness of possible complications have helped as well, allowing us to better weather times of turmoil.
Next week, join me for the tale of Chelsea & I’s ill-fated trip to Joshua Tree, the camping adventure we undertook the weekend after I proposed. (SPOILER ALERT! It did not go well.) Things went poorly, lessons were learned, and it could not have been more perfect. Until then, take care.