Drinking from Skulls until the Next Millenium

I read this essay at an event on the effects of war at the Independent Publishing Resource Center hosted by A.M. O’Malley earlier this month.

to the ground troops from the Korean War

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

That is a quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Today I want to start the conversation on the effects of war, the effects of war on us as humans, as a country, and as individuals. I think the first thing we need to do is ask, “what is war?” It seems easy enough to answer, right, but what is it?

A basic definition might be “one group of people fighting another group of people.”

But of course war isn’t that simple. Fighting is such an innocent synonym here. A more accurate definition would be one group of people using all the resources they can to take the lives of another group of people, to kill them. Now, since this is about killing people, don’t we need to ask a few more questions? Killing, for the most part, is against the rules in every civilization on the planet.

Who in our society are we going to ask (or sometimes tell) to do the killing?

Our citizens: our sons, our daughters, our brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers.

How will we ask our loved ones to kill?

We will use all of the resources and technological advances possible.

Who are we trying to kill? How do we justify killing other human beings?

Evil people because they have different ideology, different beliefs.

Who decides to send our loved ones to war?

The leaders, in our case the elected officials.

Now our definition of war has grown: War is when the leaders of one country send the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers of their citizens to kill another group with different ideology or beliefs using all the resources and technology at their disposal, no, I don’t want to say disposal because the resources and technology is anything but disposable. Let’s remember Eisenhower’s Cross of Iron and start again. War is when the leaders of one group send the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers of their citizens to kill the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers of another group with different ideology or beliefs using all the resources and technology they could otherwise use to feed the hungry, clothe and house their needy, or use in other ways to make their lives and world better. Is this a good definition?

Then we can see what the effects of war are on humanity. Detrimental.

Now that we’ve defined war can we agree that it is also detrimental on a country?

Can we agree that war should be the very last action a country should take, the action it takes when all else fails because we know what it will cost us in lives and resources?

 

Our country, the United States, the country that sent me to kill the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers in more than one foreign land, the country that I bled for, that friends of mine died fighting for, has been at war most of its short life. Looking at the history books we have been at war more than 90 percent of our 239-years.

Let’s look at some of the highlights:

1776-1800 The Revolutionary War, The Northwest Indian War, The Half War with France, The First Barbary War.

1801-1900- The Indian Wars, War of 1812, Mexcian/American War, Civil War, Spanish/American War, Second Barbary War.

1900-2000 – Philippines/American War, Banana Wars, WWI, WWII, Korean War, War in Guatamala, Vietnam War, The Cold War, Persian Gulf, Panama, Gulf War, Haiti (I was there), Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan.

2001-Present – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, and most recently the War on Terror. It seems war has evolved to the point where we don’t need a second group to fight. We are now declaring wars on ideas, which is more convenient. Now the people we kill don’t have to decide if they’re in the group we declared war on, we get to do that.

 

If war is the absolute last resort for a country, why do we, the most freedom loving, technologically advanced, economically forward nation on the planet do it so often?

No, really, I’m asking you. I don’t know. Wish I did. My guess is that like it or not there are positive effects of war. Money – we’ve had two wars raging for over a decade and our rich somehow keep getting richer. The divide between rich and poor has never been so great except maybe during Feudalism, and it took a third of the world dying from the Black Plaque to get out of that system.

What are the other positive effects of war? Power. We are the most powerful nation on the planet right now and that didn’t come from being peaceful. Technological advances: Radar, the microwave oven, the Internet were all military projects. Medical advances such as blood transfusions, infection control, prosthetic limbs, again military projects first. Culture can be another effect of war. Think of the oldest stories we have Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, most of Shakespeare’s plays, all the way to the popular books and movies today… Full Metal Jacket, Lone Survivor, American Sniper. There is something to be said about glory… when you ring that bell pride echoes long and loud throughout our culture.

If we have undeniable positive effects of war and undeniable negative effects, how do we balance this? How do we decide when the positive effects outweigh the negative?

Again, I’m asking for real.

Hopefully, in the future, we as a country take into account the effects war has on us as individuals. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs latest statistics we lose 22 veterans to suicide every day, every day. Every month over 1,000 combat veterans attempt to kill themselves – that is more than one every half hour. Just in 2012 more military veterans died of suicide than where killed total in the Afghanistan War since beginning in 2001. 73.4 percent of combat arms personnel are leaving the armed forces with a service connected PTSD rating. These are our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our mothers. This is horrible. We can all agree this is horrible, but what these statistics from the VA don’t cover are the families. What about the parents, the siblings, the children of the ones coming back? Divorce rates in the Army alone doubled after the wars started. The divorce rate with the soldiers I went over with has to be in the high 80 percent range. Unstable living conditions and at least one parent with PTSD, what does that do to the children? And that’s our veterans and our families, no one really talks about the civilians in the combat zones. In Haiti I saw women trade handjobs through a chainlink fence for C batteries. One morning my squad found the body of a dead Haitian man in his early twenties half buried in our dump. He had been killed by another local. They were fighting over what we threw away. The Haitians jumped a ten-foot brick wall with razor wire on top and braved getting arrested by us just to pick through our garbage, garbage they valued enough to kill each other for. In Iraq most the men of fighting age are dead from decades of war leaving elderly men, women, and children to fend for themselves in a land torn apart by war. In Taji, Iraq, there was an entire village made from the blown out rubble of a military industrial complex. They drank from stagnant puddles and burned tires to cook their food over.

We have defined war and found the negative effects outweigh the positive, so why do we still wage it? Is the violence put in our souls or is it innate and simply brought out by circumstance? Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an essay on war in 1862 called “Drinking out of the Skulls until the Millennium.” If you read this essay you will notice it could have been written yesterday, but now after the millennium we still face the same problems. We still know that every war ship launched and rocket fired steals from what we can be, but we still launch them, fire them, bomb them, more now than ever in history.

Hawthorne wrote, “Set men face to face, with weapons in their hands, and they are as ready to slaughter one another now, after playing at peace and good-will for so many years, as in the rudest ages, that never heard of peace-societies, and thought no wine so delicious as what they quaffed from an enemy’s skull. Indeed, if the report of a Congressional committee may be trusted, that old-fashioned kind of goblet has again come into use, at the expense of our Northern head-pieces,–a costly drinking-cup to him that furnishes it! Heaven forgive me for seeming to jest upon such a subject!–only, it is so odd, when we measure our advances from barbarism, and find ourselves just here!”

Mothers’ Day Essay from Last Night’s Reading

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Mothers’ Day

The Greek Goddess Demeter shut the world down when Hades abducted her daughter Persephone. This is the reason for the seasons, the reason for why the plants are only harvested once a year. Hades took Persephone to hell and Demeter who was her mother and the goddess of agriculture killed every plant and as a result people and animals died of starvation. She loved her daughter so much that she was prepared to kill every last living thing on this planet to get her back.

Zeus didn’t want everyone and everything in the world to die so he sent Hermes down to get Persephone, but while she was down there she was tricked. Hades fooled her into marriage by letting her eat the seeds of a pomegranate. I’m not sure how, but this somehow meant, to the Greeks, that she was now married to Hades. So Hermes was able to bring her back, but since she was married to Hades now she had to return every year for half the year, and when she does Demeter kills the plants and makes the world a colder place because she misses her daughter.

That’s why we have the seasons, and that’s a great place to start when we’re speaking of mothers and motherhood.

Okay, now I have another story.

Janie Simpson was sixteen years old of Irish and Spanish decent and in 1972 she had unprotected sex under the bleachers of a high school football game and found out she was pregnant two months later… with me. She had two more sons over a four year period and at twenty years old she found herself a single mom who worked at least two jobs at a time, sometimes three, all throughout her three sons’ childhood.

I don’t really remember most of when I was little because we were always moving around and so many different people watched us. I think we lived with just about every family member we had. I’m sure there were good times. I remember once that we went to a farmers’ market and bought a big box of blackberries then mom went to the store to shop for other things and left my brother Keith and I in the car. That’s how they did stuff back then. I’m sure she cracked the windows. Anyway, she figured that we would just eat our blackberries and look out the window or something until she got back. She was gone about forty-five minutes. So, let me rephrase, she left a six year old boy and his four year old little brother in a car with a big box of blackberries for forty five minutes. When she got back the place looked like a massacre. We had blackberries smushed into every orifice and all over the car and the windows. Okay, that wasn’t the best memory because she got really really mad at us. There was another time where she had a job at a pizza place and my brothers and I would have to wait sometimes while she worked but we got free pizza and rootbeer and sometimes played video games, and for the most part that was a very pleasant memory. But the reality is that my brothers and I never really saw her, and she never really saw us. It makes sense that she is a little emotionally detached. She never finished high school and never went back for a GED and so she has to work three shit jobs just to live. I sometimes wonder if she blames us for that.

Sometimes she finds herself between jobs and without a place to live and during those times I’ve let her stay with me. She gets back on her feet and then before I know it she leaves. She goes and lives back down in the Bay Area. The last time I asked her why she didn’t want to stay and get to know her grandchildren. After much talk she bluntly told me she wasn’t really the grandma type.

That’s sad right? You guys all think that’s sad. It is, but here’s something sadder. Last month my brother found out he had a brain tumor and I decided mom should know so I tried to call her. I realized I had four phone numbers for her since she sometimes can’t pay her cellphone bills and jumps to another carrier. The numbers I had were thus: mom, mother, mom mom, and mom’s new number.

I called all four and only one of them had customized voicemails, the other three had the automated lady’s voice telling me to leave a message for the number I called. So I left three voicemails like this, “Hey, um, if this is Janie Bankston, uh, your son has a brain tumor and is going to be operated on today…. Thought you should know. Thanks, Bye.”

So, I’m not trying to downplay how much pain and effort it takes for a woman to squeeze a living being the sized of a large melon out of their body through their genitals, but I’m convinced that doesn’t make you a mother. I’ll even go on to say it makes you just about as much of a mother as falling overboard on a boat makes you a marine biologist.

Anyway, while my mom wouldn’t destroy the world for me… I don’t know, she might raze garden, you know, the things in everyone’s yard here in North East Portland, SE, too I guess. My point is that motherhood doesn’t come natural to everyone, and since every last one of us has a mother I thought we should ask some questions about motherhood, to figure out just what we’re celebrating.

First question:

Does motherhood have to do with gender? If a person is born a man and identifies as a woman isn’t she still a mother? If a person is born a woman and identifies as a man can’t he be a good father? How does that work? One of my closest friends today, Damon Faust, is a single parent and has to be both mother and father to his two girls. They are his life. Last week, he came here, to the post, when we had part of the Oregon Symphony playing. He was dressed in a tutu with berets in his hair. This is a battled hardened combat veteran of the Iraq War, strolling out in public in a tutu and berets because he’s girls wanted him to. That is motherhood right there.

Next Question:

Do you have to be related to be a mother? Ten years ago my wife Kell became an instant mom to two preteens at 32 years of age. That is an unparalleled feat that took more courage and bravery than going to war. My older kids are now semi-well balanced, as well balanced as they can be with me as a father. But Kell took it on and when she did there was a visible change in her. That’s motherhood. Now we have Jackie. She’s our six-year-old bouncing off the walls in her and Kell is an amazing mother that I have no doubt would destroy the world to keep Jackie safe.

Next Question:

Does a mother stop being a mother when she loses her child? Eleven years ago during the war I lost one of my good friends in a violent ambush. His mother had no other children. I knew this because I was his squad leader and it was my job to know everything about the lives of all the guys in my squad.

After coming back from the war I would call her on the holidays and on Eric’s birthday. It was incredibly hard for me because even though it wasn’t my fault I blamed myself for his death. Sometimes the phone calls would only last a couple words. Eventually we found that she was a mother with no son and I was a son in need of a mother. Today, when we are out and people ask, I tell her she is my mom. She’s here tonight. Karen would you stand up. Ha! You thought being my mom would be easy? I never said that. It involved public embarrassment. Thank you, Karen. I love you.

So now we’ve defined a mother as someone who could be either gender or neither gender who may or may not be related to their children, oh, and someone who would destroy every living thing on the planet for the sake of their child. So what are we celebrating when we celebrate Mother’s Day? I don’t know, we’ll see tonight, right?

Sean’s Theory on Love

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Sean’s Theory on Love

 

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

That was Shakespeare.

1972: two teenagers have sex under the bleachers of a high school football game. The sixteen-year-old girl finds out she was pregnant after a few months and their parents force them to marry. Five years later, the young man leaves the young woman with three toddler sons and no child support.

That was my childhood.

Mom was beautiful and had no problem finding admirers. She met most of the guys she went out with at The Hungry Hunter where she waited tables. It was a shitty little chain restaurant off of Highway 680 where a person could buy a decent steak from the front of the house or some Mexican dirt-weed from the dishwashers in the back. It didn’t matter if a guy was looking for the former or the latter, Mom would make an impression and many would ask her out, but they didn’t usually stick around once they found out she had three boys at home. A few of them did… for a while. Ernie lasted the longest. He was a pot-head Portuguese foreign car mechanic with an afro like a 70s basketball player and a handle-bar mustache. Ernie smiled all the time and we liked him well enough even though he usually smelled of motor oil and only had one enormous eyebrow that splayed across his forehead, and sometimes he would get so stoned that he would offer me the roach out of habit when we played Legos or Uno, but eventually he left too with a different waitress without kids from the Elmer’s across the street.

Back in 1640 A.D. Cyrano de Bergerac’s small French company of cadets were completely surrounded by Spanish soldiers as far as the eye can see in every direction during the Thirty Years War. Despite being under siege by a superior force, he still snuck out of his camp every night through miles of enemy territory, facing imminent death, all to just mail letters to his one true love.

The bravest thing I ever did for true love was looking up Kirsten Tackett’s parent’s phone number and then with my heart pounding in my throat, calling that number and waiting until she finished the question, “who is this” before hanging up. That was the first time I felt I was in love, so I looked to my estranged father for advice. He began this intimate father-son talk about the birds and the bees with his sure fire way to get rid of crabs. He told me if I ever found myself infested with the little fuckers to fill a fifty-gallon barrel with kerosene, take off all my clothes, shave my genitals, and jump in. He said it was a special type of searing pain most people will never feel in their lives but sometimes you have to deal with that shit when love’s involved. It always worked for him.

Dante Alighieri descended, hand over fist, through the horrors of all nine circles of hell, climbing through purgatory, and then up into heaven itself to find his beloved Beatrice after only meeting her in life twice over a nine-year period. He was so taken by this woman that he faced demons, crawled over Satan himself, and even impossibly ascended into eternal paradise just to see her again.

I broke up with my first serious girlfriend because she played the Grateful Dead way too much. Phish too. And while she didn’t mind having body odor she felt it necessary to burn incense all the goddamn time and smudge the house we shared on Belmont, weekly. Smudging is burning sage to purify the place from evil spirits or some shit.

When I was way too young I married the complete wrong girl and four years later I went through a horrible divorce that sent me spiraling into a weird time in my life that included stripping for middle-aged German hausfraus at second-rate ski resorts in the Bavarian Alps. I went through women at a dizzying and even self-destructive pace. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and that’s because I had no idea what “love” was.

How could I? I still believed the poets.

“My love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis for object strange and high;

It was begotten by Despair

Upon Impossibility.”

-Andrew Marvell

Beautiful… for the 17th Century, but today we have a different definition. In fact, we have several definitions. Today love is an open door. Love is all you need. Love is a battlefield. Love makes the world go round. Can’t buy me love. Let your love flow. Keep on loving you. Can’t stop falling in love. I love a rainy night. I love rock and roll, but what’s love got to do with it? You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. The power of love. A crazy little thing called love. Baby, I love your way. You’re gonna have to face it your addicted to love. When a man loves a woman. Whitney Houston will always love you and Meatloaf would do anything for love, but he won’t do that.

Beyonce and Jay Z are crazy in love.

“Looking so crazy in love’s,
Got me looking, got me looking so crazy in love.

Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, oh no no.”

Recently, looking back, I’ve come to believe that the reason I had fucked up all my relationships earlier in my life wasn’t because of me, or any characters flaws I might have had, it was because love used to be a many splendored thing, but by the time I found it, it was, “Honey why don’t we get drunk and screw? I just bought a waterbed. It’s filled up for me and you.”

Love today according to Kanye West, in a song he wrote for his darling wife Kim Kardashian-West, is best expressed in the third stanza where he sings, “I wanna fuck you hard on the sink. After that, give you somethin’ to drink. Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.”

So, Sean’s theory on love: love isn’t something you can have someone else define for you. It isn’t something you can define for yourself until you’ve experienced the best and worst parts of it. Today I’ve been with the right person for almost ten years and I find that love is a beautiful mental illness, a mental illness that you can share with those closest to you. Love is finding a way to not blame anyone for a shitty childhood. Love is a fifty-gallon barrel of kerosene. Love is the best reason to try and fail. Love is ignoring the fact that your biggest pet peeve in the world is someone leaving the top off the toothpaste tube allowing the toothpaste at the top to get all crusty and gross and not freaking out about it even after asking nicely twenty to thirty times that she put the cap back on after using it.

But that’s just my theory. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t come up with one yourself. It’s not your fault. Listen: kiss, hold, caress, talk, smell, sight, sound, touch, sex, fuck… all of these things we use to fall in love or express our love are both nouns and verbs. So is love itself. Everything we do or say to express love in a relationship has at least two meanings. No wonder none of us can figure this shit out. And the word has been used so much over time it’s turned into a joke. So, I’m sorry, but Shakespeare’s full of shit, if love is anything at all, it is most definitely Time’s fool.

American Drug: The GOP’s New Mask

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The GOP chose to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union Address with the face of a female freshman senator from Iowa. While what she said didn’t impress anyone, the fact that she’s not a rich, old, white man should be noticed. Yes, instead of directly answering or even rebutting the president’s message, Senator Ernst carried on the GOP’s misguided ideology, but the fact that she was used as the new face of the Republicans could be a good thing.

Senator Ernst started her response to the president’s speech by telling us that she wasn’t going to respond to his speech. Of course this made little sense, since her responding to the speech was the whole reason the video was produced. Instead of initially responding, she decided to go on a long back story about how she needed to wear bread bags on her feet and sell biscuits at Hardees while saving for college. Yes, we get it. Joni, you grew up with hardships—or at least issues you perceived as hardships—but bread bag shoes does not a poverty-stricken child make.

Senator Ernst’s non-rebuttal of the president’s address rebutted quite a few of his facts, and while those facts can be disputed on both sides, I’d rather talk about her most popular sound bite. Joni told the American people, “We heard the message you sent in November loud and clear, and now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.”

While I’m glad the GOP has finally decided to listen to the American people, I wish they had started a little sooner. For instance, why didn’t they hear the fact that the approval rating for Congress—according to Gallup—has been under 20% since November 2012? And while I’m glad the GOP has finally decided to listen to the American people, I wish they wouldn’t make this into a talking point because this last midterm election had the lowest voter turnout in over 70 years, while at the same time had the most money ever spent on a midterm—the Republicans spent $581,781,171 while the Democrats spent $448,605,806. That’s over a billion dollars. That is the most that’s ever been spent on a midterm election in the history of our country. Only 13% of people under 30 voted, and these Millennials will outnumber the Baby boomers as our largest population in just a few short years. I’d be remised if I didn’t add one more fact: Congress’s reelection rate is over 90%.

So, putting all these facts together let’s reexamine what message was sent loud and clear by the American people. Most money ever spent in a midterm election + lowest voter turnout in 72 years + lowest sustained approval rating + astronomical reelection rate = what, exactly?

And let’s talk about the direction the GOP wants to take our country. We have record day after record day in the stock market. Unemployment is lower than it has been in a decade, and we’re finally getting out of this recession. Ernst said the Republicans are going to change the direction of our country. Why? What direction do they want to take us in?

This aside, the one positive we can take away from the GOP’s response is that they’ve taken the stance of the champion of the middle class. While this is highly suspect it can also be seen as foreshadowing for the next election. The Republicans love their talking points and if they say they want to work on economic inequality enough times, who knows, maybe someone will benefit from it. I may be an eternal optimist, but I hope some good will come of this, even if they are pretending to want to help the middle class. Wasn’t it Orwell who said if you wear the mask long enough it will start to fit your face?

 

2 One-Acts being Produced

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Two of my one-act plays are in production right now. I’ve been writing plays since I was a kid. Of course today my brother and I don’t star in them anymore. The first of these two plays was commissioned by Mount Hood Community College. I started their reading series last year and they were great enough to have me start their reading series again this year. On November 5th at the Studio Theater on the Mt. Hood Community College campus I will be reading from The Wax Bullet War and showcasing my new one-act play called Chaos of Stars.

Directed by Archie Washington (Navy Veteran)

Stage Director – Brianna Ooms

Starring

Jarrett Brown (brother of combat veteran)

Gabe Vaught (combat veteran)

Tom Voytko (5 tour combat veteran)

Elizabeth Davis

I wrote another one-act play called Of Menudo and Murder which is a homage to one of my favorite screen and stage writers Martin McDonough. I was selected from a bunch of other plays to be produced on live television. Here’s the link of the decision. This play will get cast on October 25& 26.

Teaching, Stage Plays, Movies, and More

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The opera is over and the book tour is winding down, but I’m keeping busy. I’m teaching English and Writing at two colleges here in Portland. Mount Hood Community College has asked me back to read and this time to produce a one act play. I’ll read from my book for about fifteen or twenty minutes and then put the play on. The play is about a veteran recovering from some serious troubles after returning from two deployments. It’s all based off the life of a friend I’ve been helping out and it’s meant to inform people on what some combat veterans go through, but to also inspire other veterans. The American Legion magazine will be doing a story on the play and how the Am Leg needs new leadership to survive. I recently became the post commander on Post 134 on Alberta Street.

The play is called Chaos of Stars and it’s cast. Our first table read is today, but, unfortunately, I’m going to miss it because I have a reading at the Beaverton Public Library.

I was also asked to write a script for a feature length sci fi movie by a friend of mine. He does a lot of FX for the SyFy Channel. Of course I said yes, so I’ve been working on it for about a month now. My friend on the editing staff of Flaunt Magazine asked me to write a short piece on Hemingway and his six-toed cats. I’m trying to come up with a good angle to hit that. I did a bit of research already and found that Teddy Roosevelt also had a six-toed cat named Slippers. Coincidence that these two macho men had the same sort of cat? I’ve stayed away from writing for long enough that I think I want to get back to it soon. I’ve also been in the mood to write a fiction story soon. The idea is swirling around in my head.

I haven’t painted in a few months and that’s really getting to me. It’s just that all my free time has gone to the Legion or to teaching, or to the movie. There’s not enough time unless you make time for what you love. I think I’ll have a paint night next week.

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The Canticle of the Making of The Canticle of The Black Madonna

For the past year, maybe longer, I’ve been the veterans’ service coordinator for the opera The Canticle of The Black Madonna. If you don’t know it’s a story that takes place in Louisiana in 2010. An Afghanistan War veteran returns home to his family business on the Gulf being run by his wife. He has a lot of problems due to the conflict he experienced overseas and then the oil spill happens, and then there’s a hurricane, AND the wife gets pregnant. Man, talk about drama. 

The opera is the product of a four-year collaboration between composer Ethan Gans-Morse and librettist Tiziana DellaTovere. Together, they founded Anima Mundi Productions, which has raised the money, produced of the Opera, and offered a number of opportunities for veterans in the area. The two of them have been great to work with over this past year and they have a big hearts. 

We had our setbacks and dramas outside of the performance too. Every production will, especially a production with this many moving parts. The budget of this opera is somewhere in the six figure range; I’m talking around three hundred thousand dollars. The costumes were made, the stage was built, the actors cast, and throw into this as much veteran projects as they’d let me get away with. There are somewhere around 50 cast and crew members. Some of us like to say that an opera about making this opera would be just as good. 

So yes, we’ve had some outside drama, but this opera has done some incredible things. I have no doubt that this show will be amazing. I’ve been to most of the rehearsals since I have a part in it. The actors are the best. The costumes beautiful. The orchestra. The chorus. The world class talent they have with Kristine the director and Ryan the conductor. These are all the things you can go watch and they are obviously just awesome, but what you won’t see in the performance is the generosity of the cast, crew, and producers. 

Before I go into the other great things we did for vets with this project I’d like to speak a little on the supernumeraries. Without giving too much away the supers represent the main characters tormented memories of his past combat. We are haunting him. When I showed up with the other combat veterans for the first rehearsal we really weren’t prepared. This is a story we’ve all experienced, told through song with some powerful voices. The first day my stage instruction included touching Michael Mayes’ shoulder while he’s on his knees lamenting and, holy shit, I could feel his voice in my arm. I watched the scenes play out where the main character had his doubts about his new life outside the military, his guilt in surviving while others died, his problems with alcohol and his wife. I lived all that, and now here it was on stage with me one of the players. I couldn’t come to a rehearsal without tearing up, man. And then when we rehearsed the second act the main character told his wife about the ambush he was in where his Humvee was blown up, his friends killed, and then he came back to Louisiana during a hurricane? I lived all that. I was blown up, my friends were killed, then I went to New Orleans for Katrina. There were times where this opera became too real for me. I’m not going to lie, it was hard just to be there. It was hard for some of the other supers as well, but worth doing. Some of the feedback I received from the other supers were incredibly positive. 

Beyond casting combat veterans as supernumeraries (opera extras), there were some other amazing things happening. We did three weeks of art therapy sessions with veterans from these current wars to Vietnam. One of the veterans on the project needed almost 1,200 dollars or else the storage facility she had all her worldly possessions in would auction her stuff off. Anima Mundi paid that bill for her. The cast and crew raised money that I’ve used to help pay a combat veteran’s rent, and another combat veteran’s phone bill. We made sure that there would be a night all veterans could come and watch the performance for free and we also made sure there would be services and counsellors there just in case it becomes too real for them like it did for me in the beginning. After this is over we are having a panel discussion on what we’ve learned and how art can help combat veterans heal. This discussion will have some of the supers, a retired chaplain, and the executive producers of the opera. 

The show kicks off on Friday night and plays Saturday night as well. If you’re a veteran come out on Thursday night to watch the final dress rehearsal. While ‘the making of’ might just make a good opera I’ll have to say that the opera we’ve put together kicks ass. I hope you get a chance to see it. 

Here are some behind the scene photos: 

 

Sean Davis – Country Star

Eric on the .50 cal

Eric on the .50 cal

The real name of the friend and brother I lost in Iraq was Eric Scott McKinley. I changed his name to Simon in the book and I never really told anyone but I chose Simon because he was the artistic kid in Lord of the Flies, my favorite character. A lot of us sometimes relate the military to The Lord of the Flies. Funny but true.

Recently I had the opportunity to go to Nashville and write a song about him courtesy of Creativets. I had the privilege to work with Richard Casper, Matt Mason and Lance Carpenter and together we put together this song: Accidental Patriot. It’s called that because Eric wasn’t the best soldier until he found out we were actually going to war, then he excelled. I worked some cool stuff into the song. I was able to to get in Volunteers, that’s the name of my battalion (who are in Afghanistan right now). The song also talks about the Alpine Bakery on the river which is the bakery on the Willamette where Eric used to work. I also plugged Dunn Forest, the place we used to train. The end of the song talks about getting a statue of Eric at the skate park in Corvallis named after him. I’m giving the money from the book sales to that effort. Hopefully, we’ll be able get the memorial into the park in late August.

Here is the demo of the song. I was holding out for the version they are going to use on the album, but I was too excited to share.

Here are some photos of my trip to Nashville

My latest in Flaunt Magazine

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ALL THE WORLD’S AN INTERLACED VIDEO ON X-DB BANDWIDTH

Self-Observations Column

Sean Davis

 

Analog has gone the way of the black-faced honeycreeper. Our collective subconscious is now displayed, updated, and transmitted in full HD for all the world to Like and comment on and critique. The American Dream has become electric. True, all the world’s a stage—and all the men and women merely players—but today every social media platform, every computer, every cell phone is a camera ready to broadcast everything we do; we have the ability to pick and choose which roles we play, what moments are promulgated, and the number of our close-ups. Instead of dreaming about being a movie star or a rock god or a celebrity one day in the future, every American can post pictures and videos of themselves in these designated roles, the more positive the feedback the greater the validation, and the closer our dreams come to being realized. Virtual reality has become reality, virtually, in varying degrees. But here’s the thing: Do achievements in this instant-feedback culture cheapen the experience when these celebrities don’t pay the dues worth celebrating?

Recently, twenty-year-old Jen Selter gained world renown. The source of her rise in prominence?  An Instagram selfie in a gym mirror. Since that initial posting she’s scored a Vanity Fair spread, gone on national television to discuss the cultural and socio-analytical implications of the “belfie”—that is, the taking and disseminating of a self-portrait of your butt—with Barbara Walters, and racked up over three million followers. Every picture she posts (mostly of her ass shrink-wrapped in spandex) gets thousands of Likes and comments within minutes (“Dat ass yum yum @jenselter,” mentions one follower; “whys dis hoe in a bikini on a roof,” wonders another). Today she’s a fitness columnist for the New York Post, despite the fact, as Selter admits, she has no formal fitness training, which begs the question: Without experience or credentials is she an expert or a novelty?

In 2008, a middle school kid named Lucas Cruikshank from Columbus, Nebraska started a YouTube channel. On this channel, he created “FRED,” a young character with the voice of a chipmunk. FRED—described by his creator as having ADHD and “severe anger-management problems”—likes to “sing, do the worm, and talk to the neighborhood squirrels.” In 2009, Cruikshank’s channel was the first in YouTube’s history to gain over one million followers. In 2010, his alter ego was turned into a motion picture, which subsequently earned the lowest rating ever—at 0%—on Rotten Tomatoes (“Fred is a withering, unerringly precise satirical pastiche of the me-first American Idol generation,” mentions one critic; “How could you make a movie based on a terrible 5 minute video?” wonders another). It was a box office flop, but also spawned two sequels, a television show, a Christmas album, and a line of T-shirts. The attention Cruikshank receives from followers and friends seems to trump the critics, and his success continues, somewhat, with the odd cameo.

Are the singers on  American Idol or The Voice real rock stars? Aren’t reality celebrities celebrities? The American Dream has evolved from working hard in order to achieve an almost impossible goal, to a daily prescription we’re now able to write ourselves. But is it as potent? And what about the side effects of this drug? According to statistics on the Megan Meier Foundation page, named after a 13-year-old girl who hung herself as a result of cyber-bullying (“M is for Modern, E is for Enthusiastic, G is for Goofy, A is for Alluring, N is for Neglected,” so said her MySpace page), it’s become a regular occurrence for children and adults alike to be shamed into taking their own lives due to social media posts and updates. The statistics also say that for one suicide there’s around 100 attempts. The flipside of this click-farming fame is depression and related mental health issues like addiction, narcissism, obsession—and surely more without a current diagnosis.

In a recent New York Times article, James Franco equates selfie attention with “power.” He writes that if he posts a photograph of his favorite book or poem, there’s little response and that sometimes he even loses followers, but when he posts a selfie the response is instant. “It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want—hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.”

Sure, Franco. But for most of the population sitting behind a webcam or standing before a mirror, it’s not always positive. For every “Belfie Queen” and YouTube sensation there are hundreds of thousands of people posting, tweeting, and making videos that will open them up to ridicule. Is Internet or reality television fame a shortcut that cheats society, or is it the natural evolution of what makes our country the best in the world: the American Dream? All the world’s a stage, but not everyone is ready for their close-up. If attention is power, does that make neglect weakness? It’s the classic tree-falling-in-the-forest conundrum:

Q: In a world where our dreams are digitized and uploaded and accessible, what happens if people stop watching?

A: Nothing.

http://www.flaunt.com/art/worlds-interlaced-video-x-db-bandwidth/

I’m a Manly Man Who Happens to Love Art, Opera, and Acting

The other day I was planning a BBQ with an old army buddy. Joe was my SAW gunner in Iraq and he said he couldn’t make it to the BBQ because he had a Rugby tournament. He picked a date and I said I couldn’t do it because I was doing a watercolor session with my opera friends. Another friend in the conversation thread said something to question my manliness.

I’m okay with that. I’m going for a more “cultured” image. When I was going to school to be a writer ten years ago I remember walking across the Mount Hood Community College campus and a young girl there asked me what I was going to school for. I told her to be a writer and a teacher. She shrugged and said I looked like the mechanic type.

I guess there aren’t a whole bunch of former infantry combat veterans becoming writing teachers, not yet. I know of more coming, and I’m happy for it. We have a lot to teach and some amazing experiences people can learn from. I found teaching college and leading men in combat isn’t as different as some people would believe. I use the same skill set. You lead by example. You find your students strengths and weaknesses and give them assignments to accordingly. You find out what motivates them. Turning in the assignments and completing the readings become your missions. There are some big differences, some are good (no one shooting at you), and some are bad (you can’t make your students do pushups).

So, I’m a big manly man doing some things that some may not consider manly, and I love it. It took me a long time to get to this point. We used to say in the army that there are two types of infantrymen: smart ones and strong ones. It took me a while to start making money off my brain muscle instead of my back muscles.

So here’s what I have going on this summer. First and foremost I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to lead a workshop by LitReactor. One of the biggest reasons I thought I could really do this writing thing came from reading Chuck Palahnuik books. I love Fight Club, Survivor, Lullaby, I think I have all of them. LitReactor was founded by the team behind his website and he’s on there all the time. To have a workshop through them is kind of like I made it as a writer – whatever the definition of that is. It’s just really an amazing thing and I get to share all that I’ve learned so far about writing through trauma. Trauma doesn’t only come from combat. It really is a matter of perspective and once someone lives through something traumatic I believe one of the best ways to get through it is to write about it. That’s what I did and while I don’t think I’ll ever be the person I was before my trauma, I’m making it and I have a great life. It takes a while to get there. So here’s the link. Please, pass it along if you know someone who could benefit from it:   http://litreactor.com/classes/writing-through-trauma-with-veteran-and-memoirist-sean-davis

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Next weekend I’ll be leading some art sessions with combat veterans and their family members at the gallery I hang my art at. We will be using watercolors donated by the opera that I’m working on. The Canticle of The Black Madonna will be holding three art sessions with veterans and after the last one we will hold a reception and hang the veterans’ work for the month of August at Six Days Art Gallery right in the heart of the Albera Arts District here in Portland, Oregon. The opera will also be giving away tickets for opening night to veterans and their family members. My job is to fill all 800 seats of the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland with veterans and family members. It will be an amazing night. The opera will be open to the public on September 5 and 6. Here’s the promotional video me and few other vets are in:

http://canticleoftheblackmadonna.com/

Finally, I will be rehearsing for the next couple of months in order to be on stage for The Telling Project. This is a new thing for me. I’m usually the writer behind the scenes. I’ve tried to stand in for absent actors during rehearsals of plays and I couldn’t remember the lines even though I wrote them. This should be fun. The Portland production will be on September 10-13 at the Portland Center of Performing Arts. Here’s a link:

http://thetellingproject.org/2014/05/15/chicago-portland-or-albuquerque-get-some/

Anyway, so that’s how I’ll be spending the summer being “unmanly”. You know, when I read to people, especially when there are a lot of Vietnam Vets in the audience I tell them that the first thing we should talk about with our warriors coming back from the battlefield are their feelings. It’s the one thing we avoid, but the most important. So far no one’s disagreed.