Thursday, May 31, 2012

Paula Deen is Trying to Kill Me

Juust let thaat cook ova' sum' buttah. 

Izzzn't thaaat juust wuunderful?!?

One of my friends has a theory about Paula Deen that occurred while watching her show. A few years ago my friend -a Southern woman- was sitting there in front of the TV with her sister watching Paula Deen on a lazy weekend. As she watched this silver-haired Southern grandma prepare a hamburger she saw something go terribly wrong. What she saw required confirmation from her nearby sister.

Did Paula Deen just take the grease from fried pork and put it in a skillet to fry some burgers?

Yes, she did.

That's funny cause I thought ground chuck and most beef has more than enough fat in it.

It does. That is true.

Did Paula Deen just take the refried grease from the pig and now beef and use it to fry something else in there?

She did.

Is Paula Deen trying to kill me?

Yes, I believe so. 

As she watched several more episodes, that became their mantra. It was a phrase that made them sit up and pay attention whenever Paula winked while adding another layer of grease to her pork chops, giggled while scooping another teensy vat of sugar to her sauces, or uttered a sassy Southern aphorism over a floating glob of butter sinking into the desserts.

Paula Deen is trying to kill me.

I love Paula Deen's cooking shows. The classics episodes, the home cooking, the special guests or road trip specials. I love it all and her family too. I watch them mostly at the gym. When I'm on the bike or elliptical machine, I can't tolerate the local news, judge shows, or talk shows where people are screaming at each other. Food I can handle. There is no (overt) violence, no politics, blood feuds or scandal to cooking shows. Food is something we can all agree and unite around. We like food. Humans love thinking about new and fascinating ways to prepare it. I'd be willing to bet that food has stopped wars, brought families back together, nourished souls to enlightenment. No matter what country you're in, what religion you practice, when you see someone preparing food on a TV screen you stop and think:

Do I want that in my mouth?

It is a very simple question that only requires a gut-level reaction. Either you want what's being cooked in your mouth or you don't. And just because you don't want it in your face hole doesn't mean, it can't still be appreciated. My grandmother was a Food Network junkie. Mema knew all the chefs, watched the shows, gave a running dialogue with the preparation. The only issue was that toward the end of her life Mema didn't really like to eat. She had to be reminded, prodded and cajoled into eating just one balanced meal and a snack once a day. Her response was usually the same 'I'm just not that hungry.' One afternoon as I noticed that the Food Network had been on during my entire visit. Mema was eyeballing the sizzling pans and smoke with quiet reverence.

How often do you watch the Food Network?

All the time.

Doesn't it make you hungry?

No. Not at all. 

You're telling me that you don't want to eat that stuff. 

No, baby. I just like to look. 

And truly she did. Mema could sit there for hours watching smoked ribs, towering cakes, bubbling sauces and forget to eat even a sandwich. When reminded of her body's need of nourishment, she would reluctantly shove something in her mouth, usually whatever food was around and easiest to prepare. Mema had no concern for taste any more. It just didn't register in her concerns. What did register were the colors and sounds of cooking. That had become her nourishment. Mema's owl eyes did all the eating for the stomach. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing until I found myself eyeballing Paula Deen's show.

As a vegetarian I watch the Food Network shows with keen interests. My emotions are usually a mixture of horror, amazement, and spiritual awe. It's like watching daredevils climb dangerous mountains, handle deadly animals, or run through dancing flames. When Bobby Flay goes around the country to nations diners and BBQ joints and shoves piles of bubbling pork into his mouth, I don't feel the slightest bit of envy. I think 'wow, look at all that hot pork that just went into that guys' mouth!?! What's going to go in there next?' When the Barefoot Contessa informs the audience in her patented low-key voice 'I hope Robert likes this' as she scoops out pan seared chicken I think 'Robert is a lucky man!' Not because of the sizzling chicken, but just because someone is cooking and thinking about him. It is comforting and nice. And the Food Network's queen of comfort and niceness is Paula Deen.

Paula Deen is like comfort food that has come to life. She's warm, sweet, carb-heavy, vitamin-deficient, sugary nonsense, with a hint of spice. She's a walking Southern danish, an animated pork chop. You know she's not good for you but she just smiles, winks, laughs. She's the sly, funny food devil that sits on your shoulder.

My eyes and ears devour her comforting meals as completely impossible to actually eat by but still emotionally assuring. Perhaps it is the bubbly voice and her cartoonish Southern accent when she giggles 'thaaat raaigght, ssssuggaaah' or the shoulder wiggle move as she taste a deadly dessert and sings 'oooohhhweee, hunney!' Paula Deen could probably run for governor (southern state of course) and win just on her laughter and home cooked meals. She's a food minstrel who squeals with girlish delight, hums a tune, clowns on camera, sasses America to take off its shoes and unbuckle their belts, while promising to serve them after the commercial break.

A few days ago I was on the elliptical machine when Paula Deen came on my TV. Great, some comforting sights and sounds to get me through this workout. Deen had a guest: Carol Fay Ellison from the Loveless Cafe in Nashville. Two Southern women cooking soul food. This was going to be great. I hunkered down into my workout, prepared to go well past my scheduled time on the elliptical just to catch the entire episode.

Carol Fay and Paula Deen laughed and cooked up a storm. Ham that glistened with peach glaze, corn relish, and something called a "Southern Buttermilk Biscuit and Blue Cheese Bread Pudding." The latter recipe filled me with a mix of spiritual awe and dietary horror. I had nothing but the deepest respect for anyone undertaking such a harrowing concoction as combining blue cheese and biscuits into a dessert.

Carol Fay and Paula were like twin spirits as they sang, strutted, and cooked for America. At the end of the episode they piled their plates with the notorious biscuits and blue cheese dessert. My eyes grew to the size of saucers as I thought 'this is the moment.' This is finally the period when Paula Deen is going to break character and reveal her secret plot to kill us. As she lifted that fork of bubbling mess to her mouth I expected the famed chef to look at the camera and then burst out laughing in a snarky New York accent 'just kidding America. What, you think I'm fucking nuts enough to eat this?' Fuggetaboutit!'

But they ate the dessert. And then they ate another piece just to prove that my eyes didn't deceive me. I stared on as my legs pumped up and down on the elliptical machine. Wow, they just ate that. A rush of adrenaline flooded my body. I felt more alive just by being so close to death. I giggled maniacally and then self-consciously looking around to make sure no one heard my Dr. Evil chortle.

Yes, I want to see you eat more. Eat the whole thing, right now!!! Do it!! Sadly that was all the time they had. At the end of the show they flashed a picture of Carol Fay Ellison and it said 'In Loving Memory.'

I sobered up very quickly. My smile faded as I processed that. I went home and looked up her name. Carol Fay was only 48. On TV, she was sweating and looked morbidly obese while cooking. Paula just affectionately patted her friend's brow with a napkin and asked what the next step was in their plan.

The Food Network wisely followed that classic Paula Deen show with a new episode where she was cooking vegetable lasagna and lots of light, healthy food. The TV executives weren't stupid. They knew what we had just witnessed and quickly countered with an episode of Paula Deen surrounded by fruits and green vegetables while talking about healthy eating.  Nice try!!!

But still she was as delightful and charming as ever. Around vegetables, Paula is a bit more sober and responsible. There isn't any dancing or singing. But then she mentioned dessert. And the little smirk and glint returned to her eyes.  I imagined myself in Paula's kitchen as she prodded me with blue cheese and biscuit pudding.

'Oh Paula, I can't stay mad at you! Even though you are trying to kill me.'

'That's right sugah! Now how 'bout we add some more butta to thaat steak?'

'Paula, that is a terrible idea. But you are so cute.'

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Showtime and the NYC Subways w/ Matt Vorzimer




What time is it?


What time is it?


My friend Matt Vorzimer is an e-cusionisrt who performs at Harlem Tavern and on the street regularly. He hauls a huge drum kit up and down the subway stairs along with an electronic percussion board, sticks, CDs. He's a part of a vast network of professional musicians who earn good money on the subways.

In the underground city there are thousands of performers. They flow with the subway trains and are parked at various stops with baskets. Performers also snake through the various subways trains, doing quick sets on a swaying stage, setting up in a few seconds, and learning how to break down and run as quickly as possible.

Over the past few months on the subway I have seen numerous break dance teams, several roving mariachi bands, two electric guitarist (one who played an entire set including full version of "Hotel California" while standing against a pole), African drummers, stumbling violinists, acoustic guitar players, a celloist, bucket drummers in tandem with dancers, accordion player with his sidekick sister holding the hat, countless barbershop quartets, doo-wop groups, a few freestyle rappers/poets, and a drunk man who sings Christmas Carols all year around. Each has their own vibe, their own introduction, mini-set, and offering to give.

Parked in the 34th Street subway stop most days is an elaborate jazz bands which captures the attention of tourists from around the world. On the 42nd Street Time Square stop between the 2-3 red trains and the N-R yellow trains features a Mexican wind flute band that pops up when the seasons turn warm. And the bucket drummers of 4th Street in the village are always around to beat out a syncopated rhythm against the squealing incoming trains.

I'm pretty performing on the subway as it moves is illegal. And I see cops all the time making their way through the trains. Usually a performer has a look-out/money collector who is the sidekick that serves as security/look-out/stage clearer/promoter. It's a fascinating dynamic.

Performing in the train stations, however, requires a $100 permit/license from the city for street performing. I believer somewhere some time ago, city officials realized that street performers were going to exist in this city whether anyone liked it or not. And there was no way to tax people who took in 100% cash tips and donations. New York city figured the $100 would serve as a tax and a minimum deterrent against the absolute worst performers. I'm willing maybe half of the performers have this license. The serious ones do, the ones who have professional set-up at nice, tourist-friendly stations. The cops roam these non-stop and it would be impossible to get away with have a stage in front of the ticket booths without a cop eventually asking for permit. But the performers inside the actual subway trains probably all go incognito, dodging cops. Often you'll see survey not only the entire subway car but look through the doors and see into the next car to make sure there's no potential risks.

I tagged along one night to follow Matt to Grand Central where he was meeting up with break dancers. Street dancers are a funny bunch. They had met at a subway stop and agreed to do a show together. The logic being that a drummer and dance crew would get more attention together. There was no set routine, they were going to riff off each other for a few hours, with the dance influencing the drums, and the drums influencing the dance. To them it was no big deal, but to me I marveled at the skill and ease you must have to freestyle with a completely new person for a few hours in front of an audience.

Subway and street dance crews usually have a lot of hemming and hawing, barking and talking before any actual dance takes place. I sat in Washington Square park one day and watched a famous break crew practice. I had seen these guys on Jay Leno and other talk shows. They were probably pulling down hundreds of thousands every year, and mostly tax-free through their street performances. They were preparing for a park performance near the fountains and were bringing in a new member. The rookie couldn't get the backflip toss right. He had to be balanced enough to be lifted tossed backward, and then land on his feet and keep dancing. I watched them go through this one move dozens of times for a half hour. The rookie kept under spinning and landing on his knees or over flipping and coming down on his heels before falling to his back. They crew kept tossing him and tossing him on the soft park grass. They coached him, worked on his balance, and then got his game face right. I went about my West village life, ran a few errands and was walking back through the park several hours later. The same break crew was running through its routine, which involved a lot of talking, hyping their greatness, vaudeville jokes, audience interaction, and then some dancing. They introduced the new guy and ran through a quick dance number. The number ended with the backflip tosss. The new guy nailed it and continued dancing like he was born to do it. Having witnessed his struggles earlier in the day I admired the dance even more. The small details of the toss, his body, his land, and continued easy smile had been calibrated perfectly.

Matt's dance crew showed up fashionably late. Since he's a one-man operation he unpacked his entire drum kit, set up his e-cussion board, put up sign, laid out CDs, and made nice with the nearby vendors who stared at him wondering if they should be annoyed at the upcoming performance or encouraged by the audience it could attract to their store carts. I asked if I could help and he was in the zone preparing so I thought it was best to leave him alone. We were in the shiny peach marble hallways of Grand Station near the fish market.



When the dance crew arrived it was 3 kids who might have all been brothers or cousins. The leader was the oldest. The two younger kids took the leader's orders. They seemed a bit nervous performing in a main area and tentatively went through some of their routine.



Matt began playing and the dancers mostly nodded their heads. They would burst into a short dance step and then go back to nodding. Matt continued to drumming and looking over at the crew. Musicians take no time and have less patience for bullshitters. Dancers tend to be very finicky about their bodies and throwing it around in new places. They have to get into a rhythm. The two groups were reading each other. Matt tossed on a hot loop from his e-cussion soundboard and began drumming over it. The dancers perked up.


I was beginning to get impatient with this crew. They had repeated the alleged showtime of T-minus 2 minutes for the past 15 minutes. Businessmen walked by after work and saw a thrashing drummer in mid-set and a couple of kids standing around shouting...


This showtime was presenting me with an existential crisis. My mind was in full "Waiting for Godot" mode, thinking of pranks and coming up with jokes for this utopian 'showtime' that always seemed to be coming and never arriving. This showtime was a mirage, where the more I chased it the more it evaporated into thin air.

The show finally did start. The dancers were fluid but also in an inconvenient space for moving. The marble floors didn't really invite breakdancing in full-tilt mode. But Matt and the crew put on a symbiotic performance and they had only met once a few days ago.

Showtime had arrived. I nodded to Matt as I made my way out of the station. It was Friday night and they would be there for a while. On the subway car heading into the village there was a beggar and a guitarist. I got out of my 14th street stop and beautiful music greeted me. Violins, screeching trains, and laughter.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Art of Holding Fire

Groggy and sniffling, I began setting up to meditate this morning. I lit a candle and placed it down on a table. As I lazily fumbled with the lighter my thumb came down and rested on top of the flame. I blinked for a moment and raised my hand up to my face.  I stared at my thumb, which had been in the middle of the fire.  No burns, no pain. Just a slight sensation of fading heat. The flame flickered and danced.

Perhaps I didn't feel any pain because I wasn't paying attention or was too drowsy to care. But that wouldn't explain why there was no burn or even mark. The Flesh's reaction isn't dependent upon how much I care. Perhaps I had imagined what just happened. But the hot sensation on my hand seemed to indicate otherwise.

Maybe I could do it again? 

On second approach the heat from the candle's fire made my hand recoil. I began wondering about the shift in perception. Why did the flame not burn my hand when I absentmindedly placed it on to of the fire the first time and then singe it when I placed my hand just near it the second time?

Perhaps this was just a small thumb-sized lesson in mind over matter. I had seen many magicians and wizards hold their hands above flames unaffected. People walk across hot coals all the time without getting burned. The quantum physics behind the trick is the same: what appears to be isn't. One of the most dramatic things to demonstrate on is the body. And what of its biggest threats is fire.  So combining fire 'against' a body always makes audiences sit up and pay attention.

If fire is an illusion then some times it burns and some times it doesn't. Once my mind had made a second attempt at touching the flame, my old mental image of the fire had kicked in and it was too hot. I couldn't even go near it. But before in a sleepy-dream-like state, my view of my hand and fire was very fluid and loose, like the firewalkers who stomps across burning embers or those who swallow flames. The greater the awareness of illusion the more it can be played it like in "The Matrix" or "Inception."

My incident this morning was small and accidental. It's not indicative of any special powers or achievements. It is just something that made me wake up a little bit. I went through my meditation and kept my mind on the flame that does not burn.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dance of Anger

Those who, having been dismissive of suffering,
Destroy the enemies, anger and so on,
They are the heroes who have gained the victory;
The rest (merely) slay corpses.

-Guide to The Bodhisattva Way of Life, by Master Shantideva
Chapter 6, The Art of Patience

The convicted Lockerbie bomber passed away. Libyan national Abdel Basset Al-Megrahi was the only person convicted of detonating bomb that killed hundreds in mid-air over Lockerbie, Scotland. For years he maintained his innocence. A few years ago the doctor said that Abdel only had a few months to live because of an aggressive form of cancer. The Scottish judge then did something almost unheard of in the annals of Western justice: he let him go.

Abdel was allowed to go home and an international outrage exploded. The reasoning of justice was that he only had a few months to live. Abdel was a walking corpse. He was greeted as a hero by Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi and a sign of a moral victory over Western powers. American and British media seethed. Reporters interviewed the family members of the Lockerbie victims, ambassadors, Senators, Congressmen. Everyone expressed the same blanket outrage that Abdel was now being treated as a hero and, despite the doctor's promises, he kept on living.

He lived longer than 3 months. While dictators fell, celebrities overdosed, children starved, Osama Bin Laden was shot in his Pakistan mansion, Abdel kept on living with his family. Gaddafi himself was hunted down in a sewer pipe, paraded around in tattered rags, anally raped with batons, bludgeoned over the head, and finally shot to death, and all on TV for our viewing pleasure. Abdel was nowhere in site. In the midst of the revolution his family said he was passing in and out of comas. His government doctors had fled, his medicine was looted. The conquering hero/walking corpse was silent. There were calls for him being sent back to his Scottish prison. He was surrounded by family. He was allowed the dignity of privacy and intimacy in a world gone mad. He was a monster afforded the luxury of compassion. Abdel was taking too long to die.

Now he is dead. Two years later than expected. The media response has been a mix of satisfaction at his demise and a slow simmer that he had continued to live for so long.

I read the responses. His family's continued claim the he was innocent, and observers curses his cancer-riddled corpse to the hell, while other justified the attack. As volleys of anger, post-life revenge, pleas of innocents go back and forth, Abdel can not speak on the matter.

Tears began to fall from my eyes. I don't know if it was for Abdel or for the ridiculous parade of violence. Suddenly a few words from Bodhisattva vows popped up in my mind:

"The rest just kill corpses.'

I didn't know where the in text it said that, but I was sure it was in there. I google searched that phrase and it was under the chapter on anger. The teachings are hazy in my mind but I interpreted the context to be about the real accomplishment is conquering my own anger. All other military victories, business conquests, and triumphs are like killing things that are already dead.

The world is a burial ground of bodies with different names, labels, nationalities, religions, notoriety, infamy. We pile the bodies up in different categories and the few walking corpses run back and forth between the writhing hills to stab at the lifeless bodies, planting flags, retrieving treasures to take back to its pile, set fire to others, and claim victory. And soon the walking dead fall inanimate with their treasure still in hand. And someone else runs over to their pile, stabs them, steals the treasures, spits on them, and runs back to their pile to fall dead. And this goes on and on since the beginning of perceived time. The jewels are covered in mud and eventually get lost underneath the corpses or destroyed in the transfer from one pile to another.

It's not sexy to talk about life in this way. We disguise the corpses' perfume with distractions. Games, lights, accolades, and future plans. I have won many of these things and for the life of me I can hardly remember anything at all about all the awards I have been given. I don't even look at them or think about them any more.

This weekend was a time of patience. I got angry at a friend, they got angry at me back, and I got angry at their anger. At a certain moment, it just made me sick. We both rushed to apologize, paper over the differences, but I wonder if the problem has been fixed. I vowed to be more patient for the rest of the day and to practice the art of avoiding anger. On the crowded subways and streets, I planted that seed in my head. I went to dance class and the teacher dedicated the period to Donna Summers: legendary singer who is now gone because of cancer.

We danced to Donna's hits. At the end of class, each person ran into the middle of the room and improvised a dance to a Summer's song before bowing in her honor. It was a brief moment on stage to do something. When my turn came I ran out to a slow ballad croon and swayed to the rhythms. By the time I hit my mark the song had switched to uptempo disco. I changed my dance into a groovy disco motion with slides, spins, and something that felt stolen from a figure skating routine. The class erupted into cheers. I bowed to Donna and ran off stage. The entire performance was no longer than 20 seconds.

One of the students asked how I just did that. I shrugged my shoulders. I had no idea. There was no thought to it. My body responded to the unexpected uptempo kick and there was no time to think or plan.  The song changed so I changed. Earlier in the day I had responded to the dance of anger without thought as well. The tempo changed and I changed without thinking. I realized the art of patience was something that had to be ingrained into me more deeply so that I didn't just have a mirror reaction when the world's song became wrathful.

I went about my business, meetings, talking about art, and hopped on a bus to New Jersey to see friends. One was supposed to be driving us to an event. At the last second he emailed to say he was canceling. I realized this was another chance at dancing with anger.

I had about three seconds to act before my impulse took over and responded to the tune change. I had traveled all the way across the river, set aside my day, got cash to help him pay for gas, the reasons for rage were already starting to cooly list all the things I had done. The immediate words of forgiveness came to my mind, but I knew that wasn't going to be enough. Anger was much more sophisticated than being quelled with simple forgiveness. I began running through my head the thoughts of Buddhist refuge and Christ-consciousness. I grabbed at "The Diamond Cutter" and the view of indivisibility, A Course in Miracle's 'pure non-duality,' quantum physics 'holographic universe' theories. I could feel the red tide of rage stirring.

All is forgiveness. 

This is not real. 

The universe is a holograph. Where could my universe come from except from me?

Maybe there was another reason. Maybe something else is going on here. 

My friend sat at his keyboard responding to the sudden cancellation. I asked if he wanted to show me around his new apartment. He sat there staring at the screen. I knew that look. It was ice-cold rage. He was going to be my refuge. My mind switched to checking in with him and trying to get him away from the computer, away from responding in the moment.

I suggested a movie and he mumbled something while he continued typing. Perhaps we could cook a meal. Or see something in the area. Finally I suggested that he not send the email just yet. Perhaps he save it as a draft in his inbox. He told me that normally he would agree with such a policy but this called for an immediate response (retaliation?)

When he finished he got up from his computer and silently sat on the couch. I went online and wrote an email apologizing to the event planner, explaining we would not be able to make it. I added the word 'flaky friend' into the email. It felt strange. The red tide was beginning to rise again in the form of inquiry.

"I wonder what happened to him?"

"Did an emergency come up?"

My friend reminded me that I was supposed to be calming him down. That's right, thank you. I switched to distracting ourselves for a bit. A movie was in order. We watched "Inception." That pretty much took up most of the night. How appropriate to watch something about dreams within dreams.

I walked back to the bus stop with my friend. The inquiry started again on my part. My anger was trying another subtle device of looking for answers in someone else, in something outside of myself. I stopped myself in mid-questioning. We stood there silently waiting for the bus. Dancing with anger was more difficult than I expected in this case. She was a very skilled partner at trying to elicit my trained reaction.

My mind switched to pity, which was another form of anger. I imagined the pain this depressed friend  must be going through to cancel unexpectantly. This pity took the form of vivid imaginings of his anguish. I didn't like where this was headed. I realized that as long as I kept the focus on 'him' that my mind was skillful enough to use every single psychological device, from curiosity, to pity, to fantasy, to demands for explanations. My anger going to twist the world back into its rhythm. By the time the bus arrived back in New York, I had a miracle. My anger hadn't erupted into a violent fantasy of torture, I didn't have curse words on my lips, I wasn't updating my facebook profile seeking 'likes' or comments. I was convinced the purpose of that trip was purification and to see "Inception." That was it. I came back home and checked on some projects online. Then I went to bed.

I woke up this morning and lay in bed for a few minutes. I thought about the message of "Inception" and this moment. Buddhism would agree that this was a dream. This body, this breath, this room. I looked at my arm. Still an arm even in a dream. But what was the purpose of this dance of illusion? Heal the rift that created the universe? Forgive? Learn to dance different?

I thought about the last 24 hours of illusions. I purified in my mind and let it go to atonement.  May I dance to a different tune. After making TV I read the news of Abdel's death and began to cry.  It feels like my anger has taken a step away from me. Now I am observing others react in anger at someone else. I feel neither pity for them or rage. It is my dream and my turn to dance differently with my illusions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Importance of Gifts

My roommate said she had a gift for me. I saw the text on my phone as I went into a meeting. I was intrigued. The guessing game began.

Cleaning products?

A new frying pan?

Over the last few years my expectations for gifts has been significantly lowered. As I've gotten older, cash has replaced any and every elaborate birthday surprise. It's kind of sad how utilitarian my gift buying has become. All my creative in gift buying has been focused on my Buddhist teachers and for classes. And while that is admirable, I also lament the beauty of a gift, the actual effort to purchase something.

When I got home at 11 pm, my roommate brought out this thick stack of parchment sandwiched between navy blue covers that had been aged significantly. It was a Japanese monk's prayer book from the 19th century. What an astonishing gift!

She said it came from a Japanese antique store in Vinegar Hill by DUMBO. Items worth thousands of dollars that have dharma sprinkled throughout as decoration and hidden in desk drawers. The dharma had been retrieved from one of those drawers and sold to her and gifted to me.

I immediately remembered Geshe Michael Roach's writing on Je Tsongkapa, and how great dharma was treated. Je Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelupka lineage in Tibet, would great all arriving dharma with bails of incense, welcoming them into his life as if they were a guest. What if I were to try that for this 100 year old book of wisdom.

What would Je Tsongkapa do to welcome this mysterious ancient package? First, he would probably wash his hands from riding the subway all day. I washed my hands and then thought: what next?

He would probably clear a space for it to be viewed.

I cleaned up the living room table, wiped down the mats, dried them and placed the monk's prayer book  on the clean wood.

What other things would Je Tsongkapa do?

He would set out offerings. It feels silly, unusual, and awkward to set out offerings for a book, but that's probably because I treat books just as product. But what if books were the dharma incarnate: the thing that could drive me, the key to opening my heart. What if books were a parchment representation of a Lama or an Angel?

I brought out my incense holder, incense, a globe filled with liquid and pure gold from Arizona, plastic flower from my Lama, a sprig of fresh Baby's Breath from flowers I purchased yesterday for the house,  some chocolate-fudge macaroons I baked for a Buddhist feast, and a tiny sombrero. My roommate came out and inquire about the row of offerings. I explained that it was going to be like welcoming a guest into a temple.

The incense was pleasing scent, the pure gold was the high gift of royalty that I personally liked because it reminds me of the Latin origins of my name. The plastic flowers symbolized eternal blossoming and the fresh flowers as a new beginning. The fudge macaroons were something to eat and a fine delicacy of coconut and cocoa. The sombrero was a nice hat or parasol.

The dew of sweat began to appear on my forehead as I rushed around. I patted my head with a napkin. The final offering is of prayer and meditation. I said the prayer of Manjushri and asked for wisdom in this matter before sitting down before my guest.

After offering the macaroons to my roommate, I sat before the guest. I opened the pages carefully. The book was composed of several different types of parchment. Rice paper perhaps, some thin and while others hardened and other paper shiny.

The calligraphy of the Japanese characters was beautiful placed in inky sky scrappers up and down the pages, which folded together like an accordion. Interspersed throughout the mantras and prayers were drawings. I'm not an expert but the drawings looked like Ladies of Gifts from the mandala as well as Avalokiteshvara and Majushri. There were also several Buddha looking figures. Of course I'm calling them by their Sanskrit names and this is Japanese Buddhism but I don't know the synonyms.
There were two different books of prayers. I began thinking about the devotion of this monk and his life a hundred years ago. How many million mantras have been whispered into this parchment and intermingled with the black ink? The dedication of a life that has now traveled to the other side of the world and is sitting in my Brooklyn living room before a tiny Mexican sombrero (made in China) chocolate from South America, shredded sweetened coconut from the tropics,  gold flakes from Arizona mines, and Tibetan incense wafting from his holder. The journey of these gifts and my guest that was re-discovered in the drawer of an antique shop in Vinegar Hill.

This is practice for how all dharma could be treated in my life. The ultimate dharma are fellow guests who stop by to enlighten me. My friends and family. What if I treated each visitor as precious dharma that has taken a long journey of hundreds of years to arrive at my door? Could there be nothing sweeter than to sit and listen to this guest and their stories?

I now see this as what I could be doing more of with not only my other books but my friends. And that is probably what Je Tsongkapa was demonstrating all those year ago. Each guest is precious and has taken the journey. Give gifts of gratitude and they will speak the nectar of truth. That is why offerings are so important. They clean my mind and prepares me for seeing the dharma in everything. From the looks of things in my life, I need to give more gifts.

Monday, May 14, 2012

When the World Says 'F*%K YOU!'

I was sitting on the couch at the gym before my workout today. As I crouched over my phone answering various texts and emails, a complete stranger checked in at the front desk. I looked up right as he was walking.


I blankly stared at the space the guy was just in. A trainer was sitting next to me and I looked over at her as if to confirm the occurrence.

Baffled, the trainer asked 'did he just drop the 'F' bomb?'

The guy -now making his way down the stairs- replied 'yeah, you heard what I said!'

It's been a while since I've had a 'fuck you' guy in my life. I think everyone has at least one, if not several. These are the people who just exude that baffling aggression. They are at work, on trains, in public spaces. On the subway they scream 'EXCUSE ME!!!' and startle nearby passengers with hostility.

That was my 'fuck you' guy and just like that he was gone, descending down the stairs.

I had several reactions because it was so 1) funny 2) random and 3) completely indicative of my old mode of thinking. In my old mode of thinking that was my perception of the world: everything was an attack. So a good morning was 'FUCK YOU' or a 'is the report ready yet?' was also a 'FUCK YOU.' It was an attack and most forms of interaction with others would make me -on a very subtle level- anxious. My anxiety was coming from raised blood pressure and preparation for some sort of defense. The entire world all day was saying 'FUCK YOU' in a multitude of ways.

But when I'm in that centered space, an actual guy can walk up to me out of the blue and say 'FUCK YOU' and I literally just stared out processing a few things. First I was trying not to laugh b/c it was a delightfully random NYC moment. Second I was processing whether he was talking to me or the trainer. Third, I realized it didn't matter. The next leap was realizing 'well that was an interesting' karmic seed that just passed by, and finally I realized I wasn't angry at all. I wasn't happy, I wasn't perturbed, I wasn't anything. I was just sitting on a couch witnessing something. The trainer seemed more agitated and -I admit- that did draw me a bit back into my emotions. I was now judging the guy, his motives, all the ridiculous and pointless stuff. And then a woman at the locker said 'oh yeah, that guy. He does that all the time.'

I then realized he was also the 'fuck you' guy for several other people. He played an important role in the lives of many people at the gym.

In some ways I felt the magic and uniqueness had been stolen. Apparently this stranger walked around and blurted out 'fuck you' as sort of a greeting, salutation, introduction, and casual observance. The woman by the locker said that he had cussed out her husband for walking by him and many other people.

I shrugged my shoulders and went back to texting. This might sound crazy but -in some weird way- he made the day entirely unique. When I saw him next by the treadmill he was completely oblivious of our previous interaction. It was a unique outburst that stood alone in time. It had no past or future in his mind. He was like a child, completely engrossed in his stretching.

Later on I saw my 'fuck you' guy outside on the street. He was talking to a woman begging for spare change. They were sharing a moment and seemed to be engaged in a deep conversation. I'm guessing he wasn't this woman's 'fuck you' guy.

A complete stranger appears in my life and then makes 3 separate appearances in 2 hours. In the first he is growling 'fuck you.' In the second he's meticulously stretching his calves and neutral in my mind, in the third frame he's compassionately talking to a begging woman outside. After the third appearance I realized I would probably never see him again. He appeared to demonstrate a triptych on liking, disliking, and ambivalence. Now, POOF, he's gone.

How many interactions are like that for me? A lot. I had a friend last year who I became cordial with for logistical purposes. We were friends, then she just stopped talking to me. I went back to Miami for 6 months and when I came back she was downright hostile to my presence. I had said nothing, I wished her the best, I thought we were on good terms. And then it just shifted. After a few months our friendship abruptly ended when our collaboration was no longer necessary. She disappeared at the end of 2011 and I have no doubt I'll never see her again. In our last interaction she appeared neutral again and then she was gone.

A few weeks ago at the gym there was a guy who was screaming on the elliptical machine. He was cheering himself on, pumping his fist, and screaming out sections of the music he was listening to on the machine. He took his shirt off and continued screaming encouragement and raising his fist in triumph. My first reaction was to get slightly annoyed. Then I looked at him again and found it very odd. I began to create a narrative: was he on drugs? He looks like he's on drugs. What drugs could this person be on? Maybe he's a rich kid trying to draw attention to himself. Fictional plotlines began to unfold.

Several people glared at him, huffed, one member even tried talking to him, rationalizing his need to respect other people working out. He told the guy to shut out as he turned the volume up on his headphones. I started jogging around the track and every time I came around to the machine section there he was: shirtless, screaming, and rapidly pumping his legs on the machine to the point where I thought he was going to break the gears.

It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't really care. As long as he wasn't hurting anyone, it didn't matter.  All of sudden he was no longer annoying but odd. Then he became goofy, charming and - as the screaming of classic rock lyrics continued- he was hysterically funny (in my opinion). I began looking forward to my lap around the track when I would get to him to see what he was screaming this time.

I'm processing this and thinking about it as I prepare for some Buddhist holidays. I'm baking and writing on this past day. Maybe if I'm not so quick to react I can see this dance of illusions more often.  I can take refuge and see the emptiness of things. I don't have to box the clouds or swat at the sun. It's not to say that I shouldn't have any emotions or pretend to enjoy irritating people. I do want all the 'fuck you' people out of my life. But for now when the world screams in my face 'FUCK YOU' I can blankly stare back at it and think 'okay. That happened.'

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gay Marriage: A Buddhist/Christ Perspective

This is not 'the' Buddhist perspective but merely 'a' perspective from someone who has a deep respect for Christianity and Buddhism. Yesterday, history was made when a sitting US president expressed his support for gay marriage. President Obama created another historical moment in his first term by stating the obvious: gay people are the same as everyone else and should be allotted the same rights.

His 'evolution' on this issue wasn't so much as an upward progression as just stepping back and allowing the decaying walls of political prejudice to collapse under their own weight. His leadership on this issue isn't as heroic as some left-wing pundits will make it seem nor is it as obvious to just say he's following the poll numbers. But President Obama looked at the untenable political, cultural and ethical position and refused to hold it any longer.

It is the same shift that President Kennedy was forced to make with the civil rights movement. Kennedy knew the situation of continued discrimination was absurd, obviously unjust, and going against basic concepts of America. But he wasn't in a rush to help out Blacks. If civil rights leaders would have taken another 10 years to set out demands, then I'm sure President Kennedy would have been fine to let the discrimination continue for another decade. But the issue came to a boil under his presidency due to outside circumstances, increasing violence, media attention, and an organized movement demanding change. At that point Kennedy was merely simply stated the obvious: Blacks are equal and the time to pretend otherwise has ended. Some times leadership takes the form of just stating the obvious. And that is when the greatest violence can erupt. 'The obvious' often triggers 'the delusional' fears of those who see themselves as guilty of benefiting from discrimination.

The backlash against school desegregation that started under President Eisenhower spilled out across the country as White parents were forced into seeing the obvious. The courts, the president, and even the legislative branch finally agreed that it was time to muster up and to be willing to look at what was always there: there is no inherent difference in nature and therefore should be no difference in government policy. Segregationist clung even more desperately to their delusions of the glorious past. When that failed to work, racists switched tactics from the halcyon bigoted past to the dystopic equalized future. Race wars, mongrel children, and white kids 'infected' with lower intelligence all became a part of a whisper campaign to get people to fear the future.

Generations later we see the same tactics played out on gay rights. The glorious past of hetero-normative marriages never existed and it certainly didn't exist on the premise of discriminating against same-gender couples. We will see a backlash against seeing each other as equal that will  be phrased in foreboding signs of God's judgment against greater freedom. It will be the same excuses and same logic used in past arguments against liberty for all.

Conservatives will insist that marriage has always been between a man and a woman. This is an outright lie. Marriages in many ancient cultures have been between same genders. These cultures seemed to exist just fine for hundreds -and in some cases- thousands of years.  No smiting, no asteroid-inflicted apocalypse to signal some spiritual deficiency. Those ancient societies collapsed and reformed as societies often do. There seemed to be no reign of fire for Ancient Greeks, Native American tribes, African empires for allowing gay marriage. There extinction was almost always due to warfare, greed, and human factors.  But let's pretend for a moment. Let's pretend that it's true for the purpose of analysis that  'marriage has always and will always be between a man and a woman.' The reasoning splits for this historical and spiritual lie off into several contradicting points, as illogical reasoning often does.

The first and most crude reasoning is that God wants it that way. This is kindergarten logic that's spouted mostly by Christians on this issue but is used by all religions when it suits them. It supposes that one side knows what God wants over another. How they came to this conclusion is anyone's guess. But God -the very definition of infinite love and light according to every religion- wishes to exclude a particular group from His presence. God wishes for some people to remain in darkness and pain. If this were true then that voice of exclusion contradicts the very definition of God. It would be impossible for one to both 'be infinite love' and exclude at the same time.

God doesn't deal in exceptions. Humans, on the other hand, are all about exceptions and divisive rules. By deduction those voices of exclusion can't be of God but are probably of something else. Furthermore to believe that God is only speaking to some people is Old Testament logic that only some are 'chosen people.' Once again, this goes against Christian values that atonement has made everyone the chosen people. The concept of Jesus being the Son of God wasn't exclusionary. The principle of his teachings is just this: I am and the son of God AND so are are you. Once again, this is based on the principle of infinite light and love. Jesus was following this perfectly and therefore there could not be any difference between him and others. If there was even the slightest bit of exceptionalism ('I am Jesus, son of God, and you are unwashed trashed.') then all of his teachings become meaningless. Atonement means that the riff has been healed between brothers and sisters. Love extends itself because God is here and now in each person. This is important because it can be applied to any issue where one side says 'God said 'no' to these people.'

God would never say 'yay' or 'nay' because that is a dualistic mode of thinking that could only exist in a split mind that sees darkness and light. There is no darkness in Christ consciousness and Buddha-mind because where it goes, there is light. So to be present is to be light. No epic battle of good vs. evil is needed. God merely needs to exist and contradictions go away. Oneness is the natural state of all things.  God is. There is no stance to be taken because God is above stances and exceptions.

We have started off with the first, biggest, and most egregious contradictory rational that supports the  lie of 'marriage only being between a man and woman.'  This is a Buddhist debate tactic: start off with biggest error first and all others fall away. The smaller arguments don't hold up against any legal or ethical standard.

The other reasoning dispassionately states that it would be nice to help gay Americans but that has to be left up to the states. Federal government can't interfere with states and their rights. Mitt Romney began floating that trial balloon out there only moments after Obama's announcement. The federal government always interferes with states when it deals with civil rights. If the national government didn't do this then we would be living in a confederacy of loosely attached independent regions. We do not. We live in a federal system where certain protections and fundamental values must be the foundation for 'Americans.' In cases of ethical conflict we are always "Americans first' and "Floridians and New Yorkers' second. We pledge allegiance to a national government and its values. This reasoning is not only unsupported by history but it's the very crux of why we moved into a federal national government: you can't live in a country, trade, and pursue liberty if there is no community standard. Marital choice along with property rights and freedom of religion are the principles to an individual's 'pursuit of happiness.'

Another argument bridging from this last statement is that freedom of religion is being intruded upon by federal government. There is no religion that is based on denying gay marriages. Furthermore, these same-gender marriages aren't forced on to churches. They are legal contracts forged between willing parties to enter into a union. That is what a marriage is in the eyes of the federal government. All the dressings, religious ceremonies, and traditions are left up to the individual. If there isn't a religious order willing to undertake the marital demands of the two parties, then they can have their marriage at a courthouse.

The final main argument is that gay marriage some how threatens heterosexual marriages. Gay relationships no more threaten straight relationships than people eating meat threatens my vegetarian diet.  Even people eating meat in my presence does not threaten me because I know what I want. That's why I can joke with my friends who are carnivores and try to 'tempt' me with flesh. There is no allure because I know what I want. If I didn't know what I desired, then there might be temptation. If, for example, I was a militant vegan and became irate at anyone eating meat in my presence, then I probably have some lingering questions in my mind about what I'm eating. If straight people feel threatened by the presence of gays, then there is probably some internal doubt about their own status. All defenses come from feeling attacked. All feelings of being attacked come from some internal guilt or uncertainty. In that case, the issue to be resolved isn't the external conditions that shift with the situation, but the internal mindset which reacts out of guilt.

There are several more illogical reasons used to support a historical lie, but why go into all of them? It's still a lie and all of the varying contradictory rationale come from the same source: fear.

There's a famous Zen statement: let go or get dragged. At a certain point, fear protects us. At a young age it encourages competition, analysis, debate. But as we grow up, fear becomes a hindrance to progress. The same things basic stimulus I used to study as a child ($5 bonus from parents, cookies from teacher, and fear of falling behind) now seem silly. The reptilian brain only go so far in a progressive, multicultural, fast-changing culture. It's time to let go of fear.

When this country was founded most of the people were not free. Women were in bondage to husbands and fathers, Blacks were enslaved, poor farmers existed as serfs for the wealthy. The writing in the Constitution wasn't a statement of reality but a promise of the future. The founding fathers -slave owners, wife beaters, illegal brewers, and Indian killers- knew what the people were capable of taking on. They were a wild civilization living under the threat of attack by local tribes and European nations. America existed as a young ideal trapped on all sides by the fear of basic survival.

Once basic security was established it wasn't long before the abolitionist calls became too great to go unheeded. Then it was women's rights, civil rights and now gay civil rights. It is an upward spiral toward what we said this country would become. If we are to show our best face to the world, then we must know our fellow man as equal, regardless of race, religion, or orientation. There is no other way to overcome the outside darkness of fanaticism, terror, and fear except to dispel it with liberty. President Obama took one more further step toward extending the light to all people.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

UPcoming Teachings: The Wish to Love

WHAT: Audio messages from 3-year retreatant and Buddhist nun, Venerable Lobsang Chunzom
WHEN: June 7th
WHERE: 3 Jewels

61 4th Ave # 3  New York, NY 10003

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hesitate 2 Meditate

The past week I have been struggling with an unusual habit. I have been getting up, walking around, checking my email, making tea, re-checking my email. My meditation cushion sits there. Eventually I get to meditations and prayers, but my mind is now filled with emails, news, daily tasks. I know that doing this ensures weaker meditation, less focus, and less joy and yet I still fill compelled.

This morning I woke up checked my email, fixed tea, and caught myself doing it again. Rather than waiting until the late morning I managed to drag myself on to the cushion for an hour. The feeling of my heart opening up overwhelmed me. Such peace and equanimity. All is right in the world. There is a feeling of God. And still I'm habituating myself into the opposite feeling by hesitating.

When I check and re-check my emails, read the news, and begin setting up my day, I do not feel joy. The world weighs heavy with details and duties. I begin categorizing, judging, assessing. My energy plummets. I feel heavy and slow. And this is the way I'm choosing to start off my day. It makes no sense.

After finishing my mediation I wrote theatre review for a website, ate breakfast, and left to meet friends in Staten Island. When I was on the ferry I opened up "A Course in Miracles" and read the lessons for today. I resumed reading the chapters and there was a section of "Littleness vs. Magnitude."

Littleness is the offering you give to yourself. You offer this in place of magnitude, and you accept it. Everything in this world is little because it is a world of made of littleness, in the strange belief that littleness can content you.  (Chapter 15-3, p. 306)

(Further down)

Yet what you do not realize, each time you choose, is that your choice is your evaluation of yourself. Choose littleness and you will not have peace, for you have judged yourself unworthy of it. (Ch. 15-3)

The Staten ferry motored past the Statue of Liberty. I walked out to the weather deck and I snapped a picture of it with my camera phone. I sat back down inside and considered those words.

My littleness. Is that why I hesitate and make myself feel bad? What possible reason could there be to delay joy and prolong agony except to validate a belief I'm not worthy of serenity. I see people engaging in some of the darkest gossip. What always strikes me about those moments is the unhappiness. Everyone looks so unhappy in moments of anger and envy. And yet gossip drives most of the media. How can something which creates short-term and long-term misery be so profitable? Perhaps people don't think they are worthy of anything except crumbs and leftovers. Bringing it back to my own responsibility, then I must also feel this way.

I thought about the tiny statue floating by my window. Millions of people have traveled by the Statue of Liberty and its an iconic beacon. It's a symbol of hope and freedom while traveling across the cold rough sea. A gift that has become an international treasure.

Continuing on with reading I reached the 4th section of chapter 15 on practicing the Holy Instant.

Your practice must therefore rest upon your willingness to let all littleness go. 

 My practice needs a refresher. I need to remind myself of what I'm doing and the insanity of my mind. It's all a plot to get me stuck in the littleness of the world. There is nothing there but fear. And if the angels judge me worthy then why can't I see myself in the same light?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Here is a list of grants, contests, and opportunities for writers this month. While most of the listings are for playwrights, there is still many things in here for screenwriters and directors.


Soho Rep Writers’ Lab*** (paperless application)
Deadline: May 14th

From October - April, the Lab meets on alternate weeks. Writers agree in advance to bring in work three times during the six-month cycle. At each meeting, Lab members read the plays aloud, with writers and directors serving as actors, then together discuss the work. There is an expectation that each writer and director pair collaborates outside the meetings, at their own discretion.

At the end of the cycle, the plays born from the Lab are presented in a public reading series at Soho Rep.

We are currently accepting applications for the 2012/13 Writer/Director Lab. The application is available for download on Soho Rep website. Applications must be emailed to us no later than Friday, May 14th at 5pm.

The Lab application process is 100% paperless, so please read the instructions carefully. If for some reason you're unable to submit electronically, please email us at:

2012 application:

Roust Theatre** (paperless process)
Deadline: Rolling

We accept new, previously unproduced plays from both literary agents and directly from playwrights as unsolicited manuscripts, with some limitations. 'Unproduced' means not previously seen on a stage in a professional capacity, it does not include being previously produced as a staged reading.

Please send an email to including a cover note, a brief synopsis and your best 10-page selection from the script (either in a Word document or PDF). If the material interests us, we will contact you with a request for the complete script. Please don't email a complete script in the hope that we might, by some crazy chance, print it and read it. We won't, primarily for two reasons: we just don't have the time and we try and care about the environment by saving paper. If we discover you've sent the complete script your submission will be deleted.
A word to the wise, we only like to receive plays that fit our mission. Keep in mind that Roust focuses on important social matters. This doesn't mean we only accept political plays or dark brow-furrowing dramas, though we happen to produce those as well. Straight plays, musicals, comedies, love-stories, experimental pieces; if it's a social 'hot-potato', we want to read it. We need you!

Deadline: June 1st.

Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest Background
Mission: The SETC New Play Project is dedicated to the discovery, development and publicizing of worthy  new plays and playwrights.  This project will select one "winning script," present a staged reading of that script at the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention in collaboration with the playwright, and  conduct an adjudication of the play by a select panel of judges.

Eligibility: Playwrights who reside in the SETC region (or who are enrolled in a regionally accredited educational institution in the SETC region) or who reside outside the region but are SETC members are eligible for consideration.  SETC Region states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Entries will be accepted between March 1st and June 1st annually. 

  1. One submission per playwright only.  Full length plays or related one acts; no musicals or children's plays.
  2. Plays must be unproduced (no professional productions) and unpublished.  Readings and workshops are acceptable.
  3. Plays must be submitted by email attachement in Microsoft Word or PDF format with the following guidelines:
  • Text should be in 12 pt type and in a plain font such as Times New Roman.
  • Script must include page numbers at the bottom of each page.
  • The author's name should not appear anywhere in the script.
  • Do not include resumes, playwright biographies or a history of the play.
  • 1 copy, Word or PDF format, attached to an email.
  • Completed Application Form included as separate email attachment.  Electronic signatures will not be accepted.
Anchor link: 
    4.  No previous submissions will be accepted without substantial rewrites having taken place.
    Notification and Award: The winning playwright will receive a $1,000 cash award and be designated as the winner of the Charles M. Getchell Award.
    5. The playwright is expected to attend the SETC convention at the expense of SETC, attend the response sesion and receive the cash award at the annual banquet.  The play will be considered for publication in Southern Theatre magazine.
    6.  The decision of the panel of readers will be announced in November of each year.

    Better or Worse
    Deadline: June 4th

    Freshwater Theatre is issuing a call for original scripts and directors for our upcoming fall production,Better or Worse, which will run September 8-22 at Nimbus Theatre in Minneapolis. It will subsequently be non-exclusively published in an anthology.

    Our intention with Better or Worse is to examine the ways in which the institution of marriage has shifted and changed, culturally and interpersonally, to suit the needs of the people in the time in which they lived. From a mere financial merger of family wealth, to the peasant partnership model, through the rise of romantically-motivated unions, through interracial marriages to same-sex marriages and beyond, we will put marriage under the microscope to see how it has evolved over the centuries.

    Any time period is fair game, as long as the subject matter has influenced the marriage debate in Minnesota or is practiced by Minnesotans daily. We would love to see submissions that speak to personal experiences, family cultures, and the experience of being a minority in Minnesota.

    Writers, musicians and performance artists of all types are encouraged to send submissions (PDF preferred) or proposals to by June 4, 2012. We will consider pieces up to 25 minutes in length.
    Interested directors should send their resumes and a brief cover letter to There will be a small stipend for directors.

    Terra Nova Groundbreakers
    Deadline: June 12th

    Online application:

    Groundbreakers Playwrights Group is an annual developmental playwriting lab, in which 6 playwrights receive the unique opportunity to work on a play-in-progress with the goal of creating a completed draft. Each playwright will hear their play read around the table by professional actors 3 times over 18 weeks, receiving feedback from the Groundbreakers Playwrights Group, special guests and the artistic staff of terraNOVA Collective.  

    terraNOVA assembles a diverse group devoted to creating theatrical, original, innovative, socially relevant new work for the stage and welcomes submissions of new plays-in-progress that will benefit from collective feedback and further terraNOVA Collective's artistic mission. We are especially interested in playwrights who, in addition to working on their own play, have an interest in attending weekly workshops to engage in the development of other playwrights' work. 

    • Attend a weekly writers group led by terraNOVA’s Artistic Staff.
    • Create a 10-minute play to be showcased in terraNOVA’s Annual Benefit.
    • Receive complimentary tickets to all terraNOVA events in the current season.
    • Receive hands-on artistic support and professional development guidance from terraNOVA's artistic staff.
    • Receive a workshop and reading performance in terraNOVA's annual Groundworks New Play Series.
    • Must be able to attend weekly sessions. Attendance is mandatory.
    • Must live within the tri-state area.

    REQUIRED APPLICATION INFORMATION:-Contact Information for Applicant-Contact Information for 2 References (Theatre professionals who are familiar with your work and are willing to discuss it frankly).-Known Scheduling Conflicts from July 23, 2012 - April 29, 2013REQUIRED ATTACHMENTS:1) Proposed Play (Must be attached as a PDF or WORD doc ONLY)2) Resume (Must be attached as a PDF or WORD doc ONLY)
    3) One-Page Artistic Statement (12 pt. font; Must be attached as a PDF or WORD doc ONLY) that addresses the following:
    -How long have you written plays? Why do you write plays?-Describe your play. What is the development history of this play? What elements are you working on in this play? What questions do you currently have about it?-What is your experience with writers' groups? How do you feel participating in a writers' group will help you develop this particular play?

    Deadline: June 1st

    Submitted plays and musicals must meet the following criteria:
    • The world of the play/musical must take place in a region outside of New York City.
    • The play/musical must not have had a prior production in NYC.
    • MTWorks strongly encourages writers living in any region of the United States to apply.
     The winning playwrights will be awarded:

    • An initial unrehearsed private cold read of the play with company members and other artistic staff [Finalists also receive this reading]. This part of the process is what we call the Living Room Series. 
    • One full reading of their work in a festival environment.
    • Assigned professional director / musical director and cast to work on their play.
    • “Playwright Spotlight” Newsletter received by over 3,000 members of the NY Theatre Industry. 
    • Networking "Meet the Playwrights" Event.
    • Complimentary tickets to MTWorks shows, invited dress rehearsals and other special events.
    • Artistic and professional support from the MTWorks staff.
    • Second reading if your play/musical wins The Audience Favorite Award.
    • Eligibility for the MTWorks Board of Director's Excellence in Playwriting Award.
    • Consideration for future MTWorks productions.
    We are only interested in full-length plays and full-length musicals at the moment (at least 90min in length).
    Applicants must submit the following:

    • A full copy of your play in word or pdf format.
    • A half (1/2) page synopsis.
    • If you are submitting a musical also include one mp3 that best represents your score.
    • If you applied for NewBorn before, you must submit a different play.
    • You can only submit one play per year.
    • All material must be emailed (all together in one email) to with [title of the play and your name] on the subject line.
    If your contact information changes between your submission date and November, you are required to update your information by sending an email to with [updated contact information for-your name] on the subject line.

    Deadline: Between July 1st and August 31st

    Marin Theatre Company is entering its 6th year of offering to original play prizes: Sky Cooper New American Play Prize and the David Callichio Emerging Playwright Prize

    The Sky Cooper New American Play Prize is awarded to an emerging or established playwright for an outstanding new work, and is given a $10,000 cash prize and option for production on MTC's main stage. The David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize is awarded to a professionally unproduced playwright for a new work that shows outstanding promise and a distinctive new voice, and is given a $2500 cash prize and a workshop as part of MTC's New Works Series. These prizes serve to further MTC’s commitment to the development of new plays as a central component of its artistic programs.
      Submissions are closed for the 2012 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize and the 2012 David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize. We will announce the winners of the 2012 play prizes in May 2012. Please check back for details.

    Submissions for the 2013 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize and the 2013 David Calicchio Emerging American Playwright Prize will be accepted between July 1 and August 31, 2012.

    More information about the prizes, guidelines and FAQ's are below. The online submission form is available for your reference and will be active once submissions are open. Download hard copies of the guidelines and submission forms on the right.

    • Submissions must be unpublished, original full-length plays in any genre.
    • Musicals, translations, individual one-acts, and any play previously submitted for the Sky Cooper or David Calicchio Prizes are not eligible.
    • Plays may not have received a full-scale, professional production prior to submission (plays that have had a workshop, reading, or non-professional production are eligible).
    • Playwrights must be citizens of the United States.
    • Only one submission per playwright is allowed each year; you may submit the same play for both prizes.

    Amsterdam Residency

    The "Residency for Writers" project is a joint initiative by the Dutch Foundation for Literature and theFoundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature. Together, the foundations have made living space available for a foreign writer in the heart of the old city. The writers in residence will find lodgings not only in the historic and literary heart of Amsterdam, but also at its academic centre, with access to the University of Amsterdam library and the Dutch capital's literary activities.

    The guest writers use their time in Amsterdam for their own work and research, but they will also be involved in the city's literary and cultural life. All candidates may be asked to give guest lectures or readings for students and to write articles for newspapers or magazines. The residency period is expected to last around two to three months
    If you are a foreign author interested in the Amsterdam Residency Programme please read the conditions carefully. If you think you meet the programme's requirements, write us an e-mail with a short biography and explain us what project you would like to work on while in Amsterdam. We would also like to know if there is a specific reason why you want to come to the Netherlands. And don't forget to mention the Dutch publishing house that has published your work. If we think you are a suitable candidate we will respond to your e-mail and encourage you to apply formally. This means that participation in the programme is only at the invitation of the boards of the foundations.

    If you represent a (foreign) organization (e.g. publishing house or cultural institute) it is also possible to recommend an author to our programme. Please write us an e-mail explaining why you think the author is a suitable candidate and we will respond in due time.
    E-mail us 

    9Thirty Theatre Company *** (paperless application)
    Deadline: May 31st

    9Thirty Theatre Company (9TTC) accepts submissions from March to May each season. Please note that due to our small staff we are unable to respond to submissions that are not accepted. Please adhere to the guidelines below. Send submissions in either a .doc or .pdf format to In respect of our commitment to the environment please do not mail submissions to our office.

    9TTC produces works that incorporate environmental issues as part of the part, characters, or theme. We are uniquely dedicated to Eco Theatre, connecting humanity and nature, in various forms.
    We accept original one acts, and full length plays and musicals.
    We do not accept one-person shows, children's shows, screenplays, or works without environmental themes. 9Thirty Theatre Company also does not produce works that have already been produced in New York City.

    To have your work considered, please submit the following as one file:
    • cover letter, including your contact information
     brief synopsis of piece (500 words or less)
     character descriptions
     20 page dialogue sample
     brief production history of the work (if applicable)
     bio for yourself and any other collaborators
     if submitting a musical, please include at least 3 recorded demo tracks

    To be considered for 9TTC's all submissions must be received by midnight on May 31st.

    For Visual Artists
    We are accepting pieces for display in our lobby at performances, from visual artists of all mediums whose work is in concert with our mission. This may include art made from found objects, sustainable materials, non-toxic and eco-friendly products, etc.

    Firehouse Theatre Project 10th Annual New Play Festival
    Deadline: June 30th postmarked

    Firehouse Theatre Project is look for new full-length scripts.

    • Plays must not have been previously produced. Readings are acceptable if no admission was charged and actors read from the script.
    • Submissions should be made in standard manuscript form and with no fancy binding. This means no discs, no e-mails. Please just use a binder clip to secure the script pages, no folders, no plastic covers, etc. All author information must be on a title page separate from the body of the manuscript and no reference to the author is permitted in the body of the script.

    • Scripts must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from a theater company or individual familiar with your work. Letters of recommendation do not need to be specific to the play submitted; they may be general recommendations of the playwrights work. All letters must be received with the script, not under separate cover. Scripts received without a letter will not be considered.

    • Entries must be postmarked no later than June 30, 2011.
    • Due to volume of mail, manuscripts cannot be returned.
    • Send submissions to:
    Firehouse Theatre Project Festival of New American Plays
    1609 W. Broad St. Richmond, VA 23220
    • Two winners receive staged readings and prizes of $1,000 and $500. In the case of a tie, each winner will receive $750.
    • Winners will be announced March 1, 2013.

    Mario Fratti-Fred Newman Political Play Contest 2013
    Deadline: October 1st
    The Castillo Theatre sponsors the Mario Fratti-Fred Newman Political Play Contest annually. In its sixth year, the political play contest is intended to encourage the writing of scripts for the stage that engage the political/social/cultural questions affecting the world today and/or historical events and issues that impact on our political/cultural heritage.

    While Castillo recognizes that in the broadest sense all theatre is political, the contest is seeking politically progressive plays that: look at social and/or economic problems and challenges; explore possibilities of social transformation; and reflect the concerns and interests of communities and/or which explore the importance of community. The contest also welcomes scripts that experiment with form and seek new ways of seeing and new ways of experiencing theatrical performance. 

    The plays submitted to the Fratti-Newman Contest may be written in any style, set in any historical time, geographic or imaginary location, contain any number of characters and be of any length. The plays must be in English and cannot be musicals or adaptations. No scripts will be considered that have previously been submitted to this contest, have received a production or won other contests. Only one script per playwright will be accepted. 
    The contest is judged by a team of distinguished theatre artists. The winning script(s) will receive a reading and/or a production at the Castillo Theatre in New York City during the theatre’s 2013 summer season. 
    All scripts should be submitted in hard copy and must be accompanied by:
    • A statement of the political/social/cultural questions the script engages (Scripts without a statement will not be considered.)
    • A brief synopsis
    • A character breakdown, including gender, age and ethnic requirements, if any
    • A 100-word biography of the playwright
    • A current email address
    Please note:
    • Receipt of script will be acknowledged by email.
    • Scripts will not be returned. 
    • Castillo will not give critical feedback to playwrights/contestants. 
    • Contest winners are required to sign a letter of agreement, which will include but not be limited to granting the right for Castillo to produce one or more readings and/or a full production of the winning play. 
    • Contest winners are responsible for travel expenses or any other expenses incurred as a result of participating in the development of the play with Castillo, or as a result of attending the reading and/or full production.
    All scripts must be postmarked by October 1, 2012.
    The winner(s) will be publicly announced at the Otto René Castillo Awards for Political Theatre in New York City in May of 2013.
    Send all submissions to:
    Castillo Theatre
    543 West 42nd Street
    New York, NY 10036
    Attn: Fratti-Newman Political Play Contest

    Warner Bros Writing Program (in LA)
    Deadline: May 1-June 1, 2012.
    Online submission and information:

    For over 30 years, the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop has been the premier writing program for new writers looking to start and further their career in the world of television. The list of graduates who have gone on to do great things is long: Terrance Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl) and Felicia Henderson (Soul Food) to name a few.

    Every year, the Workshop selects up to 10 participants out of almost 2,000 submissions and exposes them to Warner Bros. Television’s top writers and executives, all with the ultimate goal of earning them a staff position on a Warner Bros. produced television show. If you think you have the write stuff, click here for more information about the program.

    The 2012-2013 Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop will run October 2012-March 2013, with meetings on the Warner Bros. lot in Los Angeles, California, every Tuesday evening from
    7 p.m.-10 p.m. Full participation is mandatory.
    Writing Requirements:  The Workshop selects up to 10 participants out of almost 2,000 submissions.  Writers may submit a maximum of two TV spec scripts from shows listed on their website. Original material (pilots, short stories and one-act plays and screenplays) will NOT be accepted.

    Writers receive in-depth development with Warner Bros. 
    Length of program: October 2012-March 2013.  Every Tuesday evening from 7 p.m.-10 p.m. Full participation is mandatory.
    Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship
    Deadline: June 1st. 
    Writers become employees of Disney | ABC Television Group and will be paid a weekly salary of $961.54 ($50,000.00 annualized) plus any applicable benefits for which they are eligible in accordance with the then-current Company benefits plans. The program is designed to expose writers to key executives, producers and literary representatives – all essential in the development of a writing career. 
    Additionally, while in the program, writers have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a current programming or development executive to create spec scripts of series from the current broadcast season. The ultimate goal is to prepare the writers for television staffing.When to ApplyThe submission period for the Writing Program opens in the Spring. Please check our homepage for specific dates. Applications postmarked prior to the application start date or later than the application deadline date will not be considered for the Program.Requirements
    Writing Program applicants will need to submit a completed application, a spec script of a broadcast or cable network series that is in production for broadcast during the current television season. Among the extensive criteria for spec scripts are: accuracy in character voice; story structure; effectiveness in capturing the series' tone; and innovation. No materials will be returned after the judging process. No previous professional writing experience is necessary, but strong spec script writing samples are required. Individuals selected as finalists will be required to provide additional writing samples. Applicants must be able to legally work in the United States and be at least 21 years of age.
    Notification Periods
    Writing Program semi-finalists are contacted in November. Those who are selected to move on to the finalists' round are typically notified in December, and will be required to participate in an in-person interview with a panel of Disney|ABC Television Group executives, and established television producers. The Writing Program commences in January and concludes in January of the following year. Please note that time frames are subject to change. 
    NHMC Latino TV Writers Program
    Deadline: August 13th.
    The National Latino Media Council (NLMC)/National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) Television Writers Program is for those writers who can write at least one half-hour comedy or one-hour dramatic television script in English within a five-week period of time. The program will take place in Burbank, CA from October 12, 2012 to November 16, 2012. Each selected participant is expected to complete at least one script by the end of the five-week session, which will then be read by network executives. Those writers whose scripts show promise will be interviewed and mentored by the network executives with the objective of placing them on a show. A stipend of $250 per week will be given to each participant. Flight, housing, and meals will be provided.
    The NLMC/NHMC Television Writers Program is an intensive scriptwriters workshop to prepare and place Latinos in writing jobs for the major television networks. This project is modeled after the previously successful Hispanic Film Project. The television scriptwriters workshop is designed to familiarize participants with the format, characters and storyline structure of specific shows that are currently on the air. This five-week, total immersion workshop is mentored and guided by former NBC V.P of Script Development, Geoff Harris. The workshop is conducted in Burbank, CA and a total of 10 writers are recruited nationwide from established network of NHMC chapters, other non-profit agencies, schools, universities, guilds and media organizations. The goal is that the writers garner the skills necessary to obtain employment in the industry. The NLMC/NHMC Writers Program was created in accordance to NHMC's mission to improve the image of American Latinos as portrayed by the media and increase the number of American Latinos employed in all facets of the media industry. The program directly responds to the lack of diverse writers in primetime network TV with the idea that if there are more diverse writers present at the writer's table, more diversity will be reflected on TV.
    Application packages must be submitted by August 13, 2012 and selected program participants will be announced September 17, 2012. Writing samples must be in English and television scripts are preferred. We accept any type of writing sample including books, plays, pilots, specs, etc. Please note that writing teams are ineligible. The deadline for submissions is August 13, 2012. Scripts will be evaluated and program participants announced on September 17, 2012.

    For submissions to be considered, the following materials must be submitted:
    Submissions must be post marked by August 13 and sent to:
    Nilda Muhr
    National Latino Media Council
    55 S. Grand Ave.
    Pasadena, CA 91105
      *All materials must be submitted together and at the same time. Any application packet with missing materials will automatically be disqualified.
     *Unfortunately due to a small number of judges and lack of resources, NHMC will not be able to provide feedback on any writing samples that are submitted and not accepted into the program.


    Deadline: May 31st

    There are no fees associated with this festival.

    Thespis Theater Festival
    August, September, October

    An opportunity for never-before seen plays to be presented onstage and have the chance to win a $5,000 prize for Best Play, $1,000 for the play that Helps Make the World a Better Place and $500 for Best Actor.

    Thespis Theater Festival is an event organized by ThespisNY, Inc., a not-for-profit 501c3 meant to help new plays get seen by audiences and give directors, playwrights and actors the opportunity to leave with exciting visuals that can be used to gain future performances.
    Plays must be between 40 and 90 minutes long.

    The festival offers:
    • Three performances in the Cabrini Repertory Theater.
    • The chance to have a professional video of your play taken, plus a professionally edited, 4-minute trailer, which can be included in a production package that you can show to agents, producers and theaters after your run in Thespis.
    • Time in the theater at no charge to create the visual elements of your production package.
    • An affordable website designed (not mandatory) for your play.
    • Winners in the categories of Best Play and Help Make the World a Better Place will have the chance to have their play streamed on, a website created by former CBS & PBS producer Paul Sladkus, and will be reviewed for the chance to be interviewed by Mitchell Rabin on A Better World Radio.
    Staging your play for the first time is an exciting and vulnerable experience.

    Thespis Theater Festival was designed with the intention to support artists during their first run with a stage, audiences and prizes, and professionally shot visuals that can be used to help find further performances once the festival is over.

    Please Note: Thespis Theater Festival is for non-union/non-equity members only.

    Thespis Theater Festival will be held at the Cabrini Repertory Theater, 771 Fort Washington Avenue, Washington Heights, NYC

    Thespis Theater Festival only accepts plays that have never been shown onstage before. They must be first runs.

    When applying to the Thespis Theater Festival, all submission materials must be sent by email. Your work will be read for roundness, completion and the possibility to be staged.

    All submissions will receive an answer via email after May 31, 2012.

    Email all materials to

    Please include:
    • Your full script. A simple Word document will be sufficient and better for us. Please use a font size of 12 for your script.
    • A bio (including contact information) of the person submitting the play, as well as contact information for one additional person in your production should the management need to contact someone quickly.
    • Please include the title of your play IN A FONT SIZE OF 24 on the first page of every document you send to us.
    • Please feel free to send us any additional information you think will help the submission process..
    Please tell us who is in charge of your play and include their mailing address, email address and telephone number. This will be the person in your production that we will always contact first and who will also receive the checks for all Thespis prizes.



    Each play will be given 3 performances. In addition, every play will be assigned one tech/dress rehearsal of 4 hours. If you choose to have a production package made, you’ll be given an additional 4-hour time slot in which to be filmed. You will not pay for the space during your video shoot.

    Deadline: unclear but probably before mid June. 

    web site
    Loaf Theatre Company seeks 60-90 minute scripts for its first annual 'Fresh Out of the Oven' Reading Series to be presented in early/mid July of 2012.

    Each play will receive one staged reading presentation in a Manhattan venue followed by an intensive talk-back session with actors, audience, and Loaf Theatre members. Loaf Theatre will provide the space and will assist in finding actors, directors, and moderate publicity if needed. No pay provided, but selected plays will be considered for future development and production with Loaf Theatre Company.

    Interested playwrights should email writing resume, synopsis, and complete script to:

    For more information about Loaf Theatre, please visit:

    Inoculation Theory in 2020 Election

    The Art of Argument and Persuasion was one of the freakiest classes at Northwestern. Actual relevant info students could take out of the cla...