Being a winner

imageI have a blog. “Big deal,” you’re probably thinking. “Anyone can get a blog,” right?

Well, do you have a blog? No? Ha! Score one for me!

Having a blog is one of the best ways to get the world to think you are important. I know this to be true because I said it. And I am important. Because I have a blog.

Oh, sure you could get yourself a blog, like on blogger or wordpress or whatever else place you can find online and then write thoughts down for people to read so they can make you feel important. Sure, you could do that. But even if you do, and you are important, whose blog are you reading now? Huh? Whose?! Ha! Score two for me!

Don’t get me wrong; I really appreciate you taking time to read this blog, but I just wanted to gloat about the fact that if you don’t have a blog, I have at least one more reader than you do! Wahoo!

Suppose you are a person with a blog. Perhaps you think that makes you important. You are correct. That is true. But again, where are you? Reading my blog! Ha! Three points! Score!

Now it is possible you have a blog that has more readers than mine. Hm, I haven’t thought about that. Good point. Three-one. My lead.

But wait a minute, if you have a blog and it has more readers than mine, then it must be interesting, pertinent or useful. With fewer followers, I need not be confined by such constraints. Game, set, and match! I am invincible!

Playing God

Rich Potter, as the Creator of the Universe, has a last-minute deadline frenzy, in "God: The One Man Show" at Greenbelt Arts Center, Feb 19-28, 2016 www.GodTheOneManShow.comIt’s actually kind of weird to think of myself as a playwright. I never did much theatre in school, aiming rather to do variety performance: juggling, comedy, magic, clown… I always thought of my performances as “shows.”

So now I have written a new show (God: The One-Man Show), and co-written two shows (“Delusions of Grandeur” and “The Heist” with Matthew Pauli and Karen Beriss) over the last 4 years. People keep referring to these shows as “plays.” I guess yes, since they have all have at least some semblance of a story arc, characters and drama mixed in with the comedy, but it’s weird to me to call them plays.

But if they are, then I guess I’m a playwright. I’m up there with William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and that self-absorbed weirdo performing in the local church basement shouting about gender issues and hydrogenated fats. 

It’s still strange to hear the word applied to my work. I just wanted to write funny shows about things that were on my mind. Now I’m a playwright. Go figure. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I didn’t know. I guess I wasn’t as omniscient as I thought.

New year’s resolutions

My wife got me a “Calm,” a meditation app for my iphone or Christmas . In its introductory 3-minute “hey, you too can learn to breathe!” session, I came up with the realization that over the years, I’ve amassed a great deal of knowledge and strategies on how to better focus and manage my life and productivity. Implementation however? Hmmm.

I’ve given advice, which people have taken, and they implement. They get stuff done. I watch and marvel at their ability to get things done. I decided maybe I should write a self-help book, to myself. Maybe if it sounds like it comes from outside myself, it’ll sink in better. Who knows? Too often, advice I receive is things I already know and am not implementing.

So… battling Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I kinda see as a  clinical term for “Winter Blues”) and ADD, I have in the past, successfully capitalized on the hyperfocus of ADD and the motivation of a deadline. So this year, it’s taking the form of producing two theatrical shows in January and February) to keep me moving forward, creating comedy, and having less time to wallow and chase squirrels. It’s a personal form of Art Therapy.

So here’s a suggestion to those like me: Get past your Winter lethargy — decide on a project (build a bat house to cut down on mosquitoes in your yard, learn a song on guitar to sing to someone, learn to draw a cat to make a birthday card for someone) and a realistic deadline: timeframe one or two months. Promise it to someone outside yourself. Be accountable. And produce. I’ll see you on the other side, if not sooner.

Back to work: Workout for the prefrontal lobe

godforblogI actually paused blogging for a while because I thought I had to finish the posts of my 2014 European Adventure. I got immersed in the experience and didn’t have time to document every potato I boiled or every Guinness I drank. I realize now I don’t have to complete that before moving forward. At some point, if there’s enough demand, I’ll tell some stories about Europe, with a year or so of perspective. My plan to finish writing a new show went into mothballs, because another show got written instead. Such is life with ADD.

Since then, I’ve produced a handful of cabaret shows, wrote, rehearsed, designed, produced and promoted, “God: The One-Man Show,” created illustrations for an educational program for NASA, wrote about 15 minutes of solid standup comedy, designed 3 T-shirts for various projects, and am in the process of figuring out how to fund further development of “The Heist,” a film noir physical comedy about three hilariously inept gangsters. It’s always weird to think I’m getting nowhere and look back to see I guess I’ve done a few things.

Still, I’m currently finding a need to boost my productivity. The art stuff is the easy part. Selling it is the unfortunate result of living in a Capitalist society. If it can’t convert to money, its worth is dismissed. My mortgage company will never accept a painting or a comedy show as payment. My goal is to do company events for every institution I’ve ever paid a bill to, and get back all that money. A guy can fantasize.

Procrastination, distractibility and some life-curveballs all present the opportunity to get off course. I’m reaching out to people smarter than me. And people looking to achieve similar goals. The former is like a personal trainer for my business; the latter, like having a gym buddy to keep you honest.

My gymnasium is my laptop, my phone, and my databases. Unfortunately, my gymnasium has weights scattered all about, and is covered by a few layers of dust, cobwebs, and broken dreams. Experimenting with some productivity software. If I like it, I’ll endorse it here. But here’s hoping I can get my business brain in shape. Currently it’s a slothful 400-pound gnome walking with a cane. Ugh. Off the couch, brain! Off the couch!

Part IV Brussels

midlife

First off, travel this time went well. The bus from London arrived in Bruxelles 20 minutes earlier than planned. I got into Gare du Nord and was able to buy a metro ticket with no problem: “Un voyage, s’il vous plait.” Got on the metro. Made the connection to the next line with one minute to spare. Perfect. Two stops later, I run my fingers through my hair. Something seems strange about that act, and not just the fact that I’ve been experimenting with life without shampoo. I run through what I plan to do as a street act in Brussels: Will I be able to find the necessary rope for the ropewalking bit, or will I still have to do the cups and balls, the finale of which is where I produce a coconut under my hat?

hat-on-bus

My hat? My $120 Nils Poll Manipulator, the Mercedes Benz of jugglers’ hats? The one that is made in Denmark, shipped to California, then ultimately to me in Maryland? The one that would be a cat-and-mouse game of having no fixed address to ship it to? Did I cram it into my overstuffed luggage? Ohhh, shit! If I turn around now, will I be able to get back to the bus before it heads onward to Antwerp, and ultimately Amsterdam? I already realized that Eurolines does not have  a customer service phone number, so lost and found would be a similar clusterfuck of trying to catch up with my damned wayward headwear.

Carrying 70 lbs. of bags (thank Goo for rolling luggage – major testimonial for Porter Cases) back along escalator and staircases and moving walkways and construction and on trains and off trains, I got back to my bus — still there — to a sarcastic, mocking Dutch bus driver: “What, you miss me? You want to marry me?”

There was my hat, in the 6th row, under the seat. Whew!

Met up with Christo about 25 minutes later. Beers, rum, wine and hangover ensued. One of the coolest people I know, he regaled me with his exploits, sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have made him a “minor celebrity” in his native Bulgaria. You may purchase his wonderful quirky Joyceian book  of anecdotes (that is not really about sailing) here, (http://sailingserenity.org/press2/) … his precise talent for storytelling made it no surprise that his public speaking engagements are well-attended.

The next day I finally found the type of rope I need for my finalé: 20mm 3-strand natural fiber rope (actually, I found a synthetic substitute as the real thing would have cost twice as much, or nearly 4x the price in the USA. It was at the Belgian equivalent of the rope store in London. Its name? La Corderie.

Wednesday night, I went out into town, a notoriously difficult city for performing. There were a number of musicians out, but no circle-type shows like mine. Perfect! I scoped out my space. The best place would be the Grand Place, which was described by Victor Hugo as the most beautiful place on Earth, but the police are extremely efficient at preventing such activities there. I found the spot on a side street, which I had played with some success 20 years ago, but the façade had changed, making it a strange energy for foot traffic. It now is part of a church which I had not noticed in 1991.

The next best place was on the other side of the path. I started to slowly set up, still working out a game plan. Just as I was contemplating starting, a loud karaoke machine started up through a Fender P250: Two hundred fifty watts of power, pumping out the muzak version of “What a Feeling” as a gypsy trumpeter blasted out his attempts at the worst of Western music. After about 15 minutes, I decided it was middle-of-the-road enough to blend with and I put on my music, starting to gear up for the performance. Then I was approached by the Hungarian bubble guy. He stood up the inclined street from me, with a huge loop and a vat of bubble juice. He allowed people to make giant bubbles for tips, and he was worried that his floating detritus would be in my way. It wasn’t. But the loud “Yay!” and “hoot-hoot” and clappy-clappy every time he got a 20 cent tip was kind of distracting. I went ahead anyway.

The energy of the space was difficult; people were walking quickly, trying to get somewhere, and still I managed to stop about 20 people by changing my clothes (I made a 4×6 foot bag, which I can use as a portable changing room). Once I started playing though, I realized although I have the meat of the show reasonably thought out, I hadn’t worked out just how to hold a crowd long enough to make it a big crowd.

In other words, I gained and lost a crowd. So back to the drawing board; all part of the process. So still, I’m a week in Europe now, took me this long to get to “the beginning.” And I see I have a loooong way to go. I know I have all the parts for a show, but they are scattered in my brain and bulging prop case.

There are those performers that say, “the first 20 minutes is not the show; it’s the build. The actual “show” is when I start the finale.” Of course, once I asked one of these performers, “what if you are hired to do a corporate function to do a show?  Do you just do “your show, the last 20 minutes?” “Uh, no;” he said, “Then I do the first 20 minutes…and the last 20 minutes…”

The next couple of nights were spent hanging out with Christo, swapping stories, reluctant to go out again for a repeat performance, but he also wanted to introduce me to his Italian partner in crime, Fernando, with whom he used to twist horrible balloon animals next to a huge animatronic puppet rig they had created. Laughs
were thrown around the boiled taro root and intestine-blistering piri-piri sauce at their favorite hole-in-the-wall Congolese restaurant, one of the beautiful things to come out of the brutal practices of Belgian imperialism.

Brussels busking total: €0.00. Visiting old friend: Priceless.

Rationing in the failures slowly to keep my ego from melting like so many water-drenched Margaret Hamiltons.

London Part III

midlife
Monday, I spent running around London, in a more “salty” part of town, to locate that stupid freaking *proprietary* Sennheiser microphone cable. Then down to Covent Garden for round two. Since I’m still new to Cups and Balls, I wanted to brush up, so I went back to the flat to run through it a few times. While practicing, Dave came back with two-year-old JJ, who was fascinated by my sorcery. I was good to go!

covent-garden-hatThis time, I got into the rotation, then ran up to the rope store while Dan the magician finished up his show. The delivery had not come in. “Come back at 5:50, ten minutes before we close.” I ran back to the pitch, told the next guy to go on, and returned to the rope store at 5:55. “Nope; sorry. Sometimes the delivery guy doesn’t show, and he doesn’t pick up his mobile phone while driving.” I didn’t even bother asking, “well, if he’s not driving, he’s answering the phone, therefore not making the delivery. If he is driving, he’s not answering the phone, therefore making the delivery.” They closed at 6. *sigh*

Fortunately, now that I think about it, my Brussels host Christo runs a charter boat. I imagine he knows where to buy ropes.

I ran down to try doing a show: cups and balls. I got six teenagers to stop, another 4 people stopped, and as I tried to get a bigger crowd, they got impatient and walked away. A very fickle pitch. Very humbling. The guys on the pitch (sorry; “blokes”) made some recommendations: On a Monday at 6pm, people are more hurried; get to the substance faster… So a couple more people did shows; I tried one more time. Got a crowd of about 20. Did my cups and balls. Various things could have gone better, but I got through it. Passed my hat. For four show attempts, I only tried to collect money once. My take? £7.28. Tube fare plus an ale. Absolute crap money, but woo! If this keeps up, eventually I even might be able to pay for food!

Off to Brussels.

London Part II

(if you want to start at the beginning of the saga, start here)

midlife

After giving my bottle of duty-free booze (a guesting gift for Christo in Brussels) to the stupid fucking Frankfurt

‘TSA agent,” he also wanted to take away my skin cream because it was “more than 100 ml.” I pointed out the 120 ml jar was only half-full, but he would not budge until I said “it is medical.” Problem solved. (I should have told him the booze was medical, too).

I arrived in London on Friday morning. The plan: stay a couple of days and then head off to Brussels, to connect with my original plan. I didn’t really want to spend time in London. Immigrations figured out I’m an entertainer (I stupidly did not lie to the man) and I had to prove I planned to spend money rather than earn it. Two debit cards and a credit card plus a pile of old travelers checks and a couple hundred US dollars paved the way for that. I should have just said the word “medical,” since it seems to be a kind of magic word with brainless automatons.

Getting acclimated in a strange land that speaks my language: a plus, especially when two props broke in transit, and I still have to find a rope for my ropewalking act.

2014-06-13 08.47.15 UK BorderI popped down to Covent Garden, a mecca for buskers in the UK. First thing I see, as I walk up the street on a beautiful Friday afternoon? A crowd circled around a man who is telling jokes. EXCELLENT! I got closer and the guy’s doing Cups and Balls. With all the same jokes that were in the book I learned from. And then the next act goes on. Cups and Balls. With the same jokes that were in the book I learned from  (they are great jokes). I talked about it and pretty much each performer would like to give it up, but it just works so well as a street act. Considering the “stock” material in my juggling act, I felt quite the kinship.

And a subtle, cute routine featuring cute pieces of plastic which I specifically do not brutalize is a tough sell to the common slackjaw.

I asked around and found there was a rope store (no, really!) just up the street. It turned out to be yes, a rope store, servicing boaters and theaters (who historically use pretty much the same equipment). The very helpful rope salesman said they didn’t have the rope I need (“funny, you’ve got a lot of ropes here.”) but could have it by Monday. So I figured I’d grab it on Monday and leave for Brussels on Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’d do the other couple of routines I’d packed: Cups and Balls or the Baby Teeterboard. No worries. But the table one of the babies sits at broke in transit. And I needed to find a coconut for the Cups and Balls. Run around, find hardware store, figure out how to repair this thing without power tools, and knowing whatever tools I buy are likely staying in Europe when I leave. Hell; I need a single sheet of paper for one of my bits and I’m having trouble locating one without buying 500 sheets! I already have no air space in my luggage. My clown nose has been complaining it’s suffocating. Good thing there’s no sound in a vacuum.

In any case, day one busking: I got myself in the rotation with the four other magicians. I got two time slots. Both times I gathered a nice crowd, and then went into the baby doll bits. And I watched my crowd ebb and ebb until they were gone. It was AWESOME! One thing I think that is key for this journey is I have given myself permission to fail, and I got to do it on my FIRST TRY!

Fear of failure has too often kept me back from taking artistic chances. It’s kept me falling back on the familiar, the tested, the true. I have not grown as much as I would like because of that impulse to be perfect every time, leading to the safe, the mediocre. I gathered a crowd with no words. I got laughs with no words. And I lost that crowd with the same number of words. As a show, it was a failure. As an exercise, it was a success! My favorite moment? After everyone left in droves, I looked up and there was one couple still standing there; the final two people watching, and the man is just looking at me, shaking his head. I smiled and gave him two thumbs up. My only regret: I didn’t have the presence of mind to offer my hat for his tip.

Second attempt went about like the first, but I tried doing it with words, even though once I get to non-English Europe, I really hope to ditch all text from the show. Side note: when packing carefully to do a busking tour of Europe? Make sure you’ve packed your microphone cable. Fortunately the very hospitable magic buskers at Covent Garden hooked me up. You blokes are the best!

The following day, I got kidnapped and transported down to the white cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Cathedral, where people go to be closer to God and/or be murdered.

It was fun; I don’t get to see them much since they moved 3 hours away from DC, near Ocean City MD. Of course, little two-year-old JJ was having a cranky day and wouldn’t stop squawking. I stopped short of recommending he go stay at Canterbury Castle, since his parents still seem to want him around.

London, Part III brings me to the final day and departure.

Next stop, Europe!

midlifeFirst of all, what the hell do I think I’m doing?! Starting about 2 weeks before embarking on this adventure, and up to this very moment, that question echoes periodically through my head.

As I sit in a bus in a train in the Chunnel (at the bottom of the sea), I think back to my last week, peppered with travel cluster puppies, props broken in transit, and sticker shock: here are some of the highlights. Photos to follow, once the internet on the bust starts up again.

I’m glad I’m only mildly claustrophobic.

My plan, if you can call it that, is to go to Europe, write a new show, work on a novel, relive some old adventures, and break some patterns. I figure I’ll also lose a bit of weight — I tipped the scales in February at 192 lbs, and although that’s not a problem for my skinny ass, — yet —I  figure it wouldn’t hurt to keep tabs on that. Traveling like I plan to will be a lot of walking, heavy lifting, and occasionally missing meals. Like the guy in my novel. I had packed three acts I wanted to somehow fit into a show, or have them split into 2 or 3 different shows, or whatever. This exercise is about the process; the results will follow.

What kind of street act do I plan to do?

The challenge: leave my entire juggling show in the USA and work on new things.

  1. The cups and balls (a magic classic, dating back 5000 years, to Ancient Egypt, at least) which I’ve always wanted to learn.
  2. A slack rope act, for which I’d run down to Home Depot and purchase the rope to save weight allowances in my luggage
  3. My beloved acrobatic baby dolls, a cabaret act I’ve been wondering if I could get it to work on the street. After all, in a theater, the audience inside are already predisposed to like what they see: they chose to pay money up front. The street is a harsher mistress. One with PMS.

…and some assorted other even more half-baked ideas…

Getting there: US Air

First off, let’s start with the positive: My Wednesday flight from Baltimore to Philadelphia was delayed enough that I would miss my connection to Brussels. So on their dime, they put me in a taxicab and sent me up I-95. I got in no problem. Thanks, US Air! 5 stars!

I arrived with plenty of time to get through TSA (where I left my belt and clown nose in a little bin, oops) and went to the Duty Free shop (Duty Free!) to purchase a nice bottle of booze (Amarula) for my friend Christo, who would be receiving me in Brussels. Or so I thought.

After US Air’s second announcement of an hour delay, I realized I’d left my clown nose and belt at TSA. I went to the information kiosk, right next to the TSA station, which was closed. “Can you tell me how to find someone from TSA? I left something in this station.” “Nnnope.” the guy replied, “Duh, derp, dorp, guhhhh.” Thanks, Information! 1 star!

So I walked on and found a TSA agent walking along. I asked her if she could take me for an eyeball-check at the closed security station (20 yards away). She instead took me back to another, open station, offered me a phone number to call, a form to fill out, etc. etc. Another agent heard what was going on and walked me back and found my stuff strewn on the floor, under a scanner. I thanked him. I figured cops have the “good cop, bad cop” routine. TSA must have the “reasonable human TSA agent, lazy, slack jawed imbecile TSA agent” routine. Thanks TSA! 2 1/2 stars

So in hours 3 and 4 of my delay, I considered going to the bar and tanking up, or running over to get some food, but stupid me figured, “they said we should stay near the gate, in case they figure this one out…”

After hour 5, at 11:30pm, they told us our flight was canceled. Then they told us we were on our own until 4pm the next day, and they would not pay for our hotel. Then they offered us FOOD! In the form of boxes of crackers, nuts, craisins, and other “shut up food” you give to children. I presume whomever created the canceled flight policies for US Air has made an in-depth study of Stockholm syndrome. Thanks, US Air! 1 star, just for the crackers, and it’s a brown dwarf.

I rebooked my flight for London on Thursday, to visit Dave, Kristen and 2-year-old JJ.

Holidays are nuts!

almond


It’s interesting to watch people suddenly realize the world is bigger than they had previously thought.


The holidays are upon us. I was recently at a holiday party (uninvolved with the “War on Christmas,” I call the party what the host did). At such a party, I noticed a couple of kids sitting in the sun room of my friends’ lovely house, deprived of the electronic devices that distract them so effectively from reality. In other words, in keeping with time-honored tradition, they were bored out of their skulls. The only amusement in the room appeared to be a bowl of mixed nuts, still in the shells.


I remember these types of parties when I was that age. The grown ups may have occasionally addressed us, asking us boring questions about school or hobbies (not the cool stuff like TV or superheroes), but mostly, they wanted to go drink and laugh loudly, talking about stupid grown up stuff like jobs and history and sports and stuff. Our job as kids was to stay out of trouble, don’t fight too much, and eventually we would find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table, in front of a bowl of mixed nuts. We’d crack ’em and eat ’em. It was a great activity since the payoff was greater than say, a sunflower seed (way too labor intensive for the amount of food inside) or peanuts (too quick to shell, therefore too quick to fill up on) but the shells created an activity to keep us occupied: cracking the nut, picking the bits out of shell; spitting out the bits of shell accidentally eaten, sifting through the debris for little tidbits, sweeping the pile aside, repeat process. Pre-shelled nuts are too easy to eat mindlessly and move on. This was a keep-kids-out-of-trouble activity.


I recall every year for a few years, at some point, some grownup, Aunt Irene or Aunt Evelyn would pass by the table, see me and my siblings poking through the nut bowl and they would ask, “Do you know your nuts?” “No,” we would say, and they would lay out the five or six different varieties and tell us the names of each one. This is how I learned how to recognize my nuts.


(Pause for peanut gallery remark to run through your head.)


(Pause to realize a peanut has nothing to do with this story, as it is not a nut. It’s a legume.)


(Ready? OK, allow me to resume with my wholesome Christmas memory.)


I hadn’t thought of this in 30 years or so, when I walk through the sun room, a 13-year old holds up a walnut and says, “what kind of nut is this?” “That’s a walnut –” I say, then ask, “Do you know your nuts?”


“No.”


So I sat down gave them the tutorial. It was weird; like suddenly I was seen as a grown-up. It was spooky, passing on arcane knowledge that I just take for granted. We covered walnuts and Brazil nuts and pecans and (she knew the hazelnut) and … I held up an almond. “That’s an almond?!” she exclaimed, “Shut up!” (which, though it sounds rude, is merely Teenagerese for “I find what you just said to be somewhat remarkable, and therefore am uncertain of its veracity.” Quite erudite, these teenagers.)


She grabbed one and a nutcracker, hastily cracked it open and said — music to my ears moment — “ooooOOOOOoooohhhh!”


It may not be much, but the opening of her eyes on this one account … who knows; maybe this will get her interested in Botany. Or baking. Or the physics of nutcrackers. Or nutrition. Or maybe she’ll forget it all as soon as she gets plugged back into her computer. Which is kind of how I reacted, 30-something years ago. Now I am older and I know my nuts. What good is it to have that knowledge in my head? Will it get me a better job? No. Will it allow me to live till I’m 150? No. But, at least for one brief moment, it got a 13-year-old girl to tell me to shut up.

Deadlines are deadlines.

Sticking with my schedule, here I am at the tail end of Wednesday. No real time to write, as I spent the day watching a good friend’s solo clown show at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall, then planning the 2014 season for our theater show, delivered another speech at Toastmasters (about procrastination — I am fast becoming a world authority on the subject), and various housework projects I’ve been putting off.

My new book, “The Procrastinator’s Guidebook” will be written and available for purchase. Eventually.