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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

You may think me a lonely person, but I’m damned if I ever admit to it. Yes, I spend all my days and nights locked inside my room without so much a bed as a mattress in the corner on the floor, a bar stool for a chair at my junk-covered desk and books stacked up on the floor. But need I therefore be lonely?

Then one day, I suddenly noticed the door in the far wall. It isn’t that it wasn’t there before, mind you, I just hadn’t really thought about it, about what it might mean, about where it might lead. I had written it off initially as a way to get from my room to my roommate’s, but acquainted as I now was with the approximate dimensions of the house as a whole, that now seemed unlikely. A closet, perhaps? I decided to investigate.

I opened the door–mind you, it took some effort to do so, and once the door was open… well, I’m not quite so sure you’ll believe me.

Behind the door, there stretched an endless tunnel.

As far as I can tell, this is no exaggeration. Being as I am, and not other, I entered to explore and set out with reckless abandon down this tunnel. On I marched through this endless darkness, having nothing better to do, and looking back occasionally to see how far I’d reached, to make sure I didn’t get lost.

Yet soon, I found no matter how far I adventured, the door I had come through was never all that far behind. I wondered, then, whether I really was getting anywhere, but, paying better attention, I noted the patterns of stone and moss and the occasional spatter of paint on the wall shifting their various dimensions and knew that something, at least, was changing. Was I really walking down at all, or was the tunnel walking down me?

Why was I walking down this tunnel? Was it idle curiosity that had driven me this far? Was it just that I needed to know why this endless tunnel separated my room from my roommate’s? Or was I just too bored to think of anything else to do?

And then, out of nowhere, a light appeared at the other end of the tunnel. I remembered, of course, the old joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being a train, but that didn’t concern me–after all, it wasn’t getting any closer to me like a train would, and besides, the door to my room was never very far away.

I wanted to know what there was at the end of the tunnel–of course I did–who wouldn’t?

But how much time was I willing to spend on this?

Well, what else am I going to do?

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Sagittarius Rising

Leah lies in bed and peers through sleepy eyes at the cell-phone on the other side of the room. She wants it, but she doesn’t want to get up. She wants to stay all cozy and warm under the covers while she Facebooks and Netflixes her Saturday into oblivion.

I know what she wants. I understand her desires and the conflict, so I indulge her. I pull the phone by its center of gravity, lift it up and carry it through the intervening space until it rests in her hand. “Yay!” she croons by way of thanks, and that brief exclamation is all the thanks I need as I wrap myself back around her under the covers.

It took me a while to realize that she doesn’t know that I’m there. She thinks that I’m a part of her, something she can do with her mind, and that’s fine, I have thought that, too. When I first came to her and she discovered she could call on me to move things around invisibly, it took me a while to realize that I had some choice in the matter, so I can’t really blame her. She is good to me, gives me the attention I need, taking me out to play with a kind of clockwork spontaneity, but never abuses my services.

The first time, Leah was twelve years old. She was sitting on the toilet in a stall and realized the door wasn’t really closed, but she couldn’t reach the latch and she heard someone come in. Not in a position at that moment to get up and walk over to the latch, she found herself thinking “If only I could do it from here,” and I heard the thought and I thought “Well… why not?”

That first time, she wasn’t sure. She was grateful, but didn’t know to what, or whom. She couldn’t tell, until she had worked up the courage to try again.

“If you had a superpower,” she asked her best friend Penny, “what would it be?”

This was a mistake, considering how Penny knew about everything.

“Every zodiac sign has its own superpower,” she enlightened, and then she named them:

“Aries is super-strength; Taurus is invulnerability; Gemini is mind-control and illusions; Cancer is this weird, like, emotional control; Leo is control over energy; Virgo is matter-transmutation; Libra is telepathy, I guess?—Libra is weird, though; Scorpio is the death-touch, but it’s more like Entropy-control, and there are some really fun ways to use that, like applying Entropy to probability-against, to make things happen; Sagittarius is telekinesis—“

Sagittarius? Leah thought. But that wasn’t her sign…

“Capricorn is time-manipulation,” Penny continued, “Aquariuses are Psychic—” side-eye to her friend, though, who definitely wasn’t. “And Pisces?” which is what Penny was. “It’s supposed to be Empathy, but that’s lame, so I’m gonna go with oneiromancy: power over dreams!”

It bothered Leah to think that she’d somehow come by the wrong power. But when she did a little more research into it (“Mom, what was the exact minute I was born?”) she realized that her Ascendant was Sagittarius. “Aquarius sun,” she would say from now on, when asked her sign, “Sagittarius Rising.”

She never did it in public. Not yet, anyway. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust anyone close to her. She had ideas about secret government agencies wanting to capture her to experiment on her—or worse: to recruit her to do terrible things. But she knew that her parents or Penny, for example, would keep her secret. And it did make her think that maybe there was some possibility that everyone could do what she did, just kept it a secret, but she’d seen Penny try to keep a secret, for example, and it didn’t seem likely to her. She just didn’t want to tell them. Didn’t want to share her gift.

And that was fine with me. I appreciated having her all to myself, as it were. We had plenty of down-time together, practicing in ways that felt intimate. Every now and then, I would surprise her—I’d catch her thinking about a particular book in the back of her mind while she was in her room and I’d bring it to her and she would be surprised and think My subconscious must be able to use it without my direct control. It took me some time to realize that it frightened her—but the more it scared her, the more time she set aside to practise with me, to get me “under control.”

One time, in a geometry class, she was missing a compass and was expected to draw a perfect circle. I checked around to see who had one and make sure no one was looking, then fetched her one from nearby.

It was the first time I realized just how scared I could make her, and it gave me a glimpse of how much trouble I could get her into, even without meaning to. I never did that again.

I promise it wasn’t because I was bored or wanted attention. I really thought I was helping out.

But then came the boyfriend.

It wasn’t a new-kid-in-school, struck-by-lightning sort of falling in love. She’d actually known him for years—known who he was, at least, knowing his name, recognizing him from afar, knowing things about him he might not want other people to know and falling in love with him anyway. It was sweet, I suppose. I should have thought so, anyway. But for me, it was an inconvenience.

Time she spent with him was time she couldn’t spend alone, practising. With me. And much as she enjoyed sharing other sorts of intimate details with him, she still didn’t want to tell him about “what she could do”. The very thought made her nervous.

But didn’t she have to tell him? Didn’t he deserve to know?

Wasn’t he worthy of her secret?

I spent some time studying the motion of her hand when she held a pen before I realized it was much more useful to study the movement of the pen itself, the shifts in weight and balance. I had tried by then speaking to her mind, but for whatever reason, her mind couldn’t hear me, so I decided to write her a note. One night, after the boyfriend has surreptitiously climbed out the window, I gathered a paper and pen at the desk and I wrote out a simple note. It was in her own handwriting, but only because that was what I’d specifically studied. “Tell him,” said the note. And once she saw it, I picked up the note and added “Tell him what you can do.”

I hadn’t thoguht she could still be so frightened of me. Hadn’t she known I was there? Did she still think of me as some impersonal force, or some long-buried aspect of herself, pre-verbal, that she had to tame and keep quiet?

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice shaking. So I explained. It seemed odd this was the first time we’d ever really talked, after all the time we’d spent together, but it changed our relationship in ways I never thought it could. Before, it was like I’d been a pet she was training, but now that I had a mind of my own, now that we were speaking, exchanging opinions and ideas, there was so much more to us.

“But you still ought to tell the boyfriend,” I reminded her.

“Why?” She smiled. “Do you think he’ll be jealous?”

“It’ll open up a lot more possibilities,” I typed—don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before to use a computer. “And besides, it’s never fun to have secrets, not in the long run. Better to share. Have secrets together. I mean, look at you and me!”

It’s scary how we can so casually write our own doom.

He didn’t take it well. I figured it was jealousy—he wanted to be telekinetic, too—but Leah insisted that human beings don’t like things that they don’t understand or can’t explain—so maybe it was a good thing I’d kept myself secret from her for so long, given her a chance to grow accustomed to me before introducing myself.

But we still had the problem that now he knew.

“He won’t tell anyone,” she assured herself.

But he did. He told everyone.

“What?” Leah said when rumors of herself got back to her, “That’s so ridiculous—is that even a thing? Telekiwhatnow?”

For most people, that was enough to paint him as a bogus ex making up excuses and trying to discredit her. But it was Penny who cut through all that: “I can’t believe you told him!”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m not an idiot, Leah! I know that it’s true! I’ve known for months now—“

“But—(how?)”

“I’m your best friend, doofus! What, you think I wouldn’t notice? I just figured you weren’t ready to tell me—but then you go and tell him!”

I tried to imagine if I had told Penny I was conscious before I’d told Leah, and I think that made Leah understand.

“This can’t stay secret for long, though,” she reminded me. “Now that it’s out there, someone is going to figure out that it’s not bullshit.”

“And then the men in suits will come?” Men in suits was code, of course.

“We’ve got to be ready for them.”

So there was one silver lining, at least: we got to spend a lot more time practising together!


Pest

At first they really freaked me out.

I heard a friend talk about having a mouse living in her apartment she just couldn’t seem to get rid of. I’d be lying in bed trying to fall asleep and think about that every little noise I heard in my freaky old house. I thoguht about what it might do, diseases it might carry, but more than that, I thought about how it might feel if I woke up in the middle of the night to something wriggling under the covers—something not a part of me. Not human.

Then one day, I started hearing something specific.

It took me a while to figure out even where it was coming from, but when I finally heard enough of it to track, it was behind the bookcase. This kind of rustling, creaking noise that my brain kept translating as a squeak.

But I never did see a rodent in that place.

When I finally got enough of the big books off the bottom shelf, it damn near leaped out at me: a cockroach.

No. Not a cockroach, as I later found out—not technically, at least. It was enormous—almost the size of my thumb, I figured—but it wasn’t a cockroach. Cockroaches don’t fly. This was something called a waterbug.

I bludgeoned it to death with my shoe.

There were other things I caught in that little duplex I lived in. A couple of times, I came home to find a lizard flippity-flopping all through the cardboard boxes my frozen pizzas and Mountain Dew came in. I couldn’t bear to kill it—possibly because it was a vertebrate and I didn’t want blood everywhere or the tiny crack of bones—which makes me wonder what I would have done if I’d found a mouse.

One time, it was a snail. If you’ve never been disgusted in your life, try imagining a snail on the floor of your kitchen sucking a broken piece of uncooked spaghetti into its slimier recesses. I loaded that one onto a piece of cardboard Dr. Pepper twelve-pack container and brought it out into the slowly but steadily overgrowing backyard.

But the roaches.

I eventually came to know three kinds of insects. The full-grown waterbugs, the smaller spindly brown things—never did care to look up whether they were just some previous larval stage of the big ones—and then of course the itty-bitties. They each seemed to have their preferred habitats. The spindly ones shared the kitchen with the spiders that I never actually saw but for their webs. The spiders got the wide-open West end of the room while the spindlies conquered the counters. The itty-bitties seemed to prefer the bathroom. When I finally realized after two years that, yes, there was a medicine cabinet behind the mirror, I found droves of them there.

The waterbugs liked the bedrooms.

One night, for reasons I don’t care the remember, I slept on the spare mattress in the front bedroom that I had not yet converted into an office. I think I was reading, lying down, when I turned and saw one close enough to my face it might have been making a pass at me. By then I had roach-killer spray on-hand, but it took me a minute to get it, during which time the waterbug hid back in the corner, obliging me to toss the mattress across the room. I think that was the fourth one I killed.

The second and third had come as a pair. I’d been hearing that odd chirping sound again from the bathroom and thought I knew what it was this time. After washing my hands, I got the biggest book I could find that would still be easily wielded—somethign Mulisch, either The Discovery of Heaven or his nonfiction De compositie van de wereld—and chased it from my room out into the hall. Just dropping the book on it turned out not to be enough, so when the book moved, I stepped on it until I heard the crackign sound that had started to become familiar.

I breathed a sigh of relief then, but almost instantly another one came flying out of nowhere at me, an insect—an abnormally large one, but an insect nonetheless—trying to avenge its brother on the giant that had slain him.

That was the first one I got with my bare hands. I had to wash them again after that.

They were the vanguard. I think that even then, I knew it. Or thought I did. I used the knowledgeof their encroaching strategem as an excuse for leaving their bodies as they lay in the hallway. For many months. As a warning, I told myself.

Not that waterbugs were disturbing by their dead.

I sprayed every crevice with products that promised to make coated surfaces uninhabitable to pests. I stuffed powder into crannied nooks that promised to kill them slowly enough they’d track it back to their hovels and root out the whole nest. Then I heard about bombs. Cans of poison mist that would feel its way into cracks you’d never think of. But I lived in a duplex. “It’ll only chase them over to his side,” they told me, “and then they’d come back. Plus, it would poison the whole house for a weekend. You’d have to coordinate with him and both do it at the same time.” I suck at coordinating. I suck at talking to people.

I knew why they came to me. It wasn’t just my winning personality—well, no, actually, it was my personality. I’m lazy. I leave food out, forget to do the dishes in a timely fashion. I don’t like cleaning the toilet—I don’t even like wasting water by flushing when there’s no solid waste; and I never even bought a vacuum cleaner. They kept coming. More and more of them breeding in the walls, generations living and dying on my scraps and ineffectual traps. There were so many times when I thought to myself “this is it, I’ve had enough!” I never saw one inside the oven, but one time I saw a black speck on my pizza when I pulled it out—was that a spindly? An itty-bitty blistered in the heat? I never knew. I shouldn’t have taken the chance, but it was my last pizza that day, so I cut off the suspicious black spot and ate the rest. That should have been my call to arms.

I have a habit of opening cans of soda and not finishing them. One time, though, I raised a can of Coke Zero to my lips and something solid brushed my lips, something crunchy with appendages that could only be called spindly. I spat it out, poured the rest of that can down the drain. But did I change my habits? No.

I never had friends over. How could I? They were all over the living room and I had pretended for so long not to know how to get rid of them. I’d feel them brushing up my leg and at first, I would twitch and spasm, first flinging them off me and into the wall full-force, then pushing into whatever surface was nearest to kill them, but finally, I stared to change my thinking. I noted that I was still healthy in spite of them. I remembered that none of them had ever actually bitten me or hurt me in any noticeable physical way. So I let one of the waterbugs crawl up my sleeve. I tensed and trembled, fearful as he crested the cuff, but when she put her dainty feet on my wrist, I found myself releasing tension. “I’m sorry,” I whispered to this insect queen as she fluttered her wings. “I am sorry for killing your kind.”

I couldn’t tell if she cared one way or the other, but she seemed to nestle into my arm-hair and I blew a soft breeze over her head. I knew I should be disgusted, repulsed, but my laziness had left me weary of this endless war on nature. It was either do the dishes on time or live with the pests, and I had made my choice.


“Pretty with the Lights Out”

Christina Wang wasn’t good for Raven and she knew it. Some part of her knew it, at least. Christina was intense. “You should wear more eye-makeup,” was the first thing she said to her.

Raven frowned, self-conscious.

“No, no,” said the already-Goth chick. “I don’t mean to be pretty—you’re totally pretty, but that’s kinda the point, you know?”

Raven didn’t know.

“Look, you’re obviously a shy girl, not into the whole attention thing. Right? But you’re also pretty. That’s not a good combo. Guys are gonna look at you. Like, a lot. So you should wear, like, way too much make-up so that they’ll think you’re not pretty.”

She started to say something in response, then stopped.

“What?” Christina urged.

Raven shifted in her seat. “Isn’t make-up supposed to make you pretty?”

Christina sighed. “So much to learn you have.”

It was a couple days before Christina started to make really clear moves. She figured touching Raven’s face probably shouldn’t count as flirting if she was applying make-up, although she’d be lying if she said it didn’t give her a thrill. Something about this girl with her eyes closed—the trust. The loyalty. Loyalty? Was that the right—anyway, it was hot, but it didn’t count.

“You need better bras,” she informed her new protégée and once they were in the fitting room, she took it upon herself to inspect the goods personally. “What?” she said to the shocked look on Raven’s painted face. “We’re all girls here…”

Was she smiling too wide? She was smiling too wild. She was giving away the game. But then Raven was smiling, too.

It was a month before she kissed her. It was Christina’s first kiss (though she pretended it wasn’t) but Raven was so good at it! Lips, tongue, breathing. “Have you ever kissed anyone before?”

Raven shook her head emphatically.

“Are you sure?” Christina smiled and chuckled.

There was that frown again. “Yeah?”

“I want you to be my girlfriend,” Christina told her afterwards. They were both far less naked than they’d seen each other, but she’d still never felt so exposed.

“Oh…” said Raven.

Christina whispered “We wouldn’t have to tell anyone.”

She could tell something inside Raven struck a chord at that.

“I just really like you,” she added. “And you really like me, too, right? Raven nodded most emphatically, but look down and out.

“Hey.” Christina pushed her hands towards her and her eyes flickered over. “It’s okay. You don’t have to say yes.”

“Yes,” Raven whispered. And for a moment, she was looking in her brand-new girlfriend’s eyes, until she smiled again and looked away.


Leaving You

SIMON: What’s this?

LYDIA: Exactly what it looks like.

SIMON: I’m sorry, no, I’m still confused.

LYDIA: Shame, that.

SIMON: Are you going to visit your mom’s?

LYDIA: Not exactly.

SIMON: Then where are you going? You gotta be going somewhere, right, or are you just using the suitcases to reorganize ‘cause of how OCD you are about that stuff?

LYDIA: Are you finished?

SIMON: With what?

LYDIA: Being snarky!

SIMON: I wasn’t… Look, Lydia—

LYDIA: Don’t.

SIMON: Don’t what? Don’t touch you? I think you owe me an explanation here.

LYDIA: I disagree.

SIMON: You are not being fair.

LYDIA: Well, that’s a change, then, isn’t it? Isn’t it, Simon?

SIMON: What the hell is that supposed to mean? Lydia? Lydia!

LYDIA: I don’t want to talk about this—

SIMON: Well, I do! You said we were good.

LYDIA: I didn’t—

SIMON: Yes. You did.

LYDIA: Only because you…

SIMON: What?

LYDIA: Get out of my way. Please.

SIMON: You think you’re the only one in pain? What the fuck, Lydia!

LYDIA: This isn’t even about that!

SIMON: Like shit it isn’t!

LYDIA: And how the fuck are you making this about you?

SIMON: Because I’m the one you’re leaving!

LYDIA: Oh! That’s right! You’re the victim, aren’t you? Poor, downtrodden Simon! How will you live without me for your punching-bag—

SIMON: Excuse me!

LYDIA: Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?

SIMON: I never laid a hand on you!

LYDIA: You didn’t have to. All you had to do was… “Lydia, why are there still dishes in the sink?” “Lydia, why are you late home after a doctor’s appointment?”—

SIMON: Oh, for chrissakes—

LYDIA: “Lydia, where were you?” “Lydia, are you really wearing that? You’re asking to get raped!”—

SIMON: I never said—

LYDIA: “Lydia, who’s that guy? Is he hotter than me? Are you cheating on him with me?”

SIMON: Oh, come on, that was—

LYDIA: “Lydia, why can’t I find my socks that are right the fuck where they are supposed to be—“

SIMON: Jesus Christ!

LYDIA: And then… And then one day you said something that was unforgivable. And you know what that was.

SIMON: I’m sorry—

LYDIA: Don’t. Don’t, Simon. I don’t care how sorry you are. It wasn’t the only blow, it was just the worst, and really… really, I should thank you for it. We were never really meant to be together in the first place—

SIMON: Lydia—

LYDIA: What did I say about touching me? Look, we were only ever even a thing because… but now that’s over. That’s over.

SIMON: Please don’t leave me.

LYDIA: You haven’t given me a reason.

SIMON: I don’t think I can do this without you.

LYDIA: Oh, and you’ve been so supportive of me throughout this whole process.

SIMON: Lydia. Please.

LYDIA: This is called emotional manipulation. And it’s sweet that you think I’ll care and all, after all this… But you have to understand that I know that it’s bullshit.

SIMON: Fine. You know what? Fine. Leave. Leave! Huh?

LYDIA: Hey!

SIMON: That’s right! Get the fuck out of—This is my house, bitch! Get the fuck out of here! You bitch! You ungrateful cunt! Where the fuck would you be now, if it wasn’t for me? Huh?

LYDIA: Well, I suppose I should be grateful that you’re not getting violent.

SIMON: Where are you gonna go?

LYDIA: I’m not going to tell you.

SIMON: I’ll figure it out—

LYDIA: No, you won’t.

SIMON: I’ll find you!

LYDIA: I’m sorry—were you trying to make that sound romantic?

SIMON: Who is he? This guy you’re leaving me for? You think you’ll like him any better?

LYDIA: Goodbye, Simon.


Business Chicken Wants Your Candy Ass to Dance

Fear stands in the corner. Waiting.

The Other guy’s on the couch, talking to himself,
Walking with himself through the park in his head,
Smoking a fountain pen,
Smoking the fountain of youth and indignation.

By the time I get home, Entropy’s set in.
Moss on the walls, practically.
Barnacles on my housemate’s face.
“Dude,” I just have to ask, “what the fuck have you been smoking?”
But all he has sticking out between his bleeding-gum teeth
Is that goddamn fountain pen.

“You want some” asks the roomy roomie.
“Put that thing away!” I holler.
Fountain pens are for junkies.
“What the fuck have you been doing all day?
This place is a disaster zone.
Were you born in a barn or in a pig-sty?
What about getting a job?
What about getting your life together?”

But the roomie blows fountain pen smoke
Out his fountain pen stained pie-hole
And mutters distinctly
“Business Chicken doesn’t like it when I clean.”

Fear starts to stir in the corner,

A collection or a string of familiar detritus
Pouring itself into a human shape.

He’s talked about Business Chicken before.
(I’m confused–is it a chicken or a business?
All up in your business or too chicken to make things real?
A chicken in a suit?
A chicken head on a business body?
Bad decisions come home to roost.)

“I refuse to play your childish mind-games,”
I protest too much.
“Put that thing down and help–”
But his eyes have widened, too wide. He looks past me
And I can see that he likes what he sees
Just a little too much for my comfort.

“What?” I ask him
Even though I don’t really want to know.
“Turn around,” says the fountain-pen Junkie.
I turn to the right because I know what’s on my left in the darkness
And I know I’m not ready to see it
But there’s nothing else there. “What?”
“It’s Business Chicken,” says the voice behind me
Of the disturbed mind that lives in my house.

“He’s asking you to dance.”

I am not going to dance, I affirm. Not today.
Not any more than I’m going to smoke his pen with him.
No more, I say, I am a man of action.
Words do not become me.

And yet imaginary though the Business Chicken might be to him,
I smell poultry in the room
I feel the tiny feathers tickling my face up my nose and into
My Brain where they cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck all my
Troubles away, all my responsibilities
Until nothing is left but the shadowy shape in the corner
With a grill where its mind should be
And now it’s moving around the room.

“Business Chicken likes it when I sit around all day,”
says the white rabbit.
“He knows where it’s at. He thinks people work too much.
He thinks jobs are overrated. They’re what’s killing the
Economy. We should all eat more fish.
Right?”

The computer on the desk high-fives the fork
On the dining room table at this suggestion
And fear takes hold of me.

“What do you WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT”

And fear is in front of me
Short stubby fingers doing things that
Short stubby fingers shouldn’t be able to do
To my face
To my hair
To my spleen
To mitochondria
To memories of days when I’ve sat on the couch
And days when I’ve tried to find work that suits me
And now Business Chicken wants the Robot and the Dinosaur
To fight
But Fear keeps making me dance. And those
Short stubby fingers pull out of my eye-sockets
So that Fear can wrap something around me that I can’t see
Until I look at my reflection in the dusk-darkened window.
It looks kind of familiar–I’m not sure where it’s from.
But when I have it on my face
It feels really out of place.

“Banana Bandana Man,” says the white rabbit. “Business Chicken
Really knows what’s going on.”


Turn It Up to Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees

This weekend, I attended the fourth VR challenge here in Seattle. It was at a private residence known as the Birdhouse and it was not what I want to be talking about here, specifically. I want to talk about what it’s like to film for VR and to experience content in 360º.

My first experience with this emerging medium was about a year ago when a guy I knew through a friend on Facebook sent out an invitation for people to participate in an experiment shooting a video with a 360 camera. I ended up on the team writing the script and I also acted in it.

*takes ironic bow, realizes how awkward that was, apologizes*

When the idea of 360 was first described to me, my very first thought was “Wow, that sounds exactly like doing theatre in the round, only backwards.” So before I launch into my diatribe on 360, I want to talk a bit about my experience with theatre in the round.

I’ve done a fair amount of acting and neither of the two stages that I have done most of my acting on can be described as “conventional”. One of them, the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater in Asheville, NC, where the Montford Park Players stage their Shakespeare performances every year, is an outdoor venue that has two available levels, so that Shakespeare’s stage directions “enters above” and “enters below” actually make sense on that stage (though I’ve never noticed anybody actually following them). The other theatre in question is Carol Belk on the campus of UNCA, which, as indicated earlier, is in the round.

To be clear for those not familiar with theatre parlance, a theatre in the round is a stage that is completely surrounded by audience. On all sides, the actor is visible to someone, but no one is going to be visible to everyone in the audience from the same side. There is a saying in theatre that you never do the same show twice, between the rotating audience and the minutiae of the performances night to night, but in the case of theatre in the round, no two members of the audience on any given night see the same show, certainly not if they’re on opposite sides of the room.

My favorite example of this from my own experience was when I assistant directed Jose Rivera’s Marisol in 2005. There is a scene in the play where the title character comes upon a man with bandages all over his face and once she’s won his trust, he lets her take the bandages off. If you were seeing this scene from Section 4 at Carol Belk, you would see the bandages coming off and the wonderful (i.e. horrifying) makeup of the burn wounds covering his face. But when I saw it from Section 6 (approximately 150º around) I saw a very different story: first, I saw Marisol’s reaction to the horror, far more satisfying when I could see her face, and then I saw the very edges of the make-up as the unbandaged man told the story of how he’d gotten these scars. I liked it better, but it was pointed out to me later by a friend that from that angle, you could barely see the make-up at all. One side got poetry, the other horror–two very different performances.

Some consider this a challenge when working in the round–they ask themselves how they can avoid it. But if the show is going to be different every night anyway (as is the nature of theatre) then why not embrace the fact that it is the nature of theatre in the round that the audience will get a very different picture of every moment, depending on where they sit?

Now I find myself having the same argument when talking about 360. At the pow-wow Friday night, one of the mentors of the group advised us that “even though you’re shooting in 360, you’re going to want to frame all of your action in 180 degrees, just like a regular movie.”

I call bullshit. I keep seeing footage online nowadays of “360” video and images that I click and drag on for more, only to find that I can’t scroll past 180º and it makes me livid. I find it wasteful. But then they try to say “Well, if you’re at home and you’re sitting on the couch wearing your VR goggles, you’re not going to want to turn all the way around.”

First of all, most of the time, when I look at 360, I’m looking at it on a screen where I can drag the field of view, so I wouldn’t have that problem, but more importantly (and I cannot stress this enough) if you are experienced VR while sitting on the couch, you’re doing it wrong and I will not be made to cater to your comfort or laziness.

If you are shooting a 360 film using only 180 of the available degrees, then WHY BOTHER? This is expensive equipment, this is specific equipment and for the sake of the R&D that’s gone into it, it deserves to have its full potential exploited.

The question is, how do you control where your audience is going to be looking?

Don’t. This is my answer. Your audience is going to look where your audience wants to look. Especially at this stage in the development of the medium and the training of the audience, it’s still new to people, so they’re going to be looking around the moment they put on the goggles, just to take in their surroundings and it is your responsibility as the artist in this exceptional medium to make every direction they look in both exceptional and specific. Just as every person in the audience at a play in the round deserves to see a good show, every one of your three hundred and sixty degrees deserves the attention that will be lavished upon it by appreciative fans. To ignore any of it would be like staging the entire action of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on only one level of Montford’s Amphitheater. Why did you even bother?