Friday, October 31, 2008


As I've noted on my blog, I recently bought a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, and I'm learning--slowly--to play. Over the years, I've tried a number of kinds of art: writing (obviously), photography, painting, drawing, playing piano and organ, garden design, making prints, stage directing, and even a half-assed attempt at sculpting. Though I've enjoyed all of these, writing and photography were the only two that I thought I showed any aptitude for. And, though I love photography and think I've grown in the field, selling a print now and then, and even having a couple of shows, I am and always have been a writer. (One day, when I was six, I sat down and wrote a short story. Something about living under the sea. Wish I still had it, but it's vanished over the years. To me, the funny part was that I took it to my mom and demanded she type it up. I think she was a little taken aback, but she did type it for me. Unlike many artists, I had parents who always supported my efforts. I hit a fallow period between six and eight, and then I distinctly remember thinking, writing that was kind of fun: let's try it again. So I wrote another short story, and another, and, pretty much, never stopped.)

When I bought the guitar--which I call "Red" because it is a shockingly pure candyapple red--the store provided a free lesson. The instructor was showing me how each fret represented a half-step, which clicked for me as it corresponded to a piano's keys (and I can read music). I noted the similarity to the instructor, and he said, "Yeah. It's like having six pianos." (Which is really not true, because it takes two hands to make a chord on the guitar and one for a keyboard. You also can't individually bend or vibrate a piano's strings, but I digress.)

What has struck me are the seemingly infinite options for making sound the electric guitar offers, which I'm just starting to grasp as I've learned how chords are formed, how scales apply to solos, the many ways strings can be thumped, rubbed, stretched, and mauled, and the many voicings that emerge from which pickup you've selected (three on the Strat with two settings combining pickups), the pickup tone controls, the amp settings, and, in my outfit, with a nifty little foot-operated box called a Digitech RP50, the mind-blowing array of available voicings--from clear, ringing notes with a touch of reverb to create the feeling of playing in a large hall to absolutely demented, psychedelic overdrive, flangers, phase-shifters, noise gates, delays, and various amplifier modulators. You can make it sing, cry, scream, and simulate jet aircraft. It's absolutely marvelous. I'll be deaf in no time.

One evening, after playing some teeth-rattling distortion, I just kind of reeled, overwhelmed by athe choices the guitar offered, and I suddenly thought of a favorite quote from Miles Davis, which has actually informed my writing as much as my understanding of music: it's not just the notes you play, Miles said, it's also the notes you don't play.

Which seems obvious, but it lies at the heart of making art, for we're offered so many techniques, colors, effects, traditions, schools of thought, theories, pacings, and structures, that, once you get past the puppy love period where you want to do everything right now, you understand how holding back is just as important as holding forth. It's not just a matter of making the right choices: it's a matter of knowing when to stop, when to step back. Of knowing when, essentially, it's right.

And, if you're dedicated enough to be honest with yourself, doing an art--any art--really well is so terribly, terribly difficult that you'd lock up if you thought about it directly. Someone once asked Walter Cronkite if he ever thought about the millions watching his newscasts, and he said no, he thought of it as speaking one-to-one with a single person because, if he really thought about all the people out there, he'd be too terrified to do his job.

I don't know how much aptitude I have with the guitar. I feel like I'm learning, and once in awhile, I make sounds that please me, and that's all I'm really in it for. That and developing sufficient skills to play a song or two with friends. It's refreshing to do an art that's not a profession. But playing the guitar is devilishly hard to get right, and the more I seem to grasp, the more complicated it becomes. The relationship between difficulty and reward reminds me of an evening at a fiction writing workshop nearly 30 years ago when I'd presented a short story, which, frankly, was terrible--an utter cliche from beginning to end (and not even an interesting cliche). Out came the knives, and, when it was over, my self-esteem had been thoroughly diced. The woman running the workshop said, hey, how about we take a break, and everyone trooped off into the kitchen while I sat immobile, staring at the carpet. A minute or so later, the workshop leader came back and handed me a glass of wine.

"Christ," I said. "Does it ever get any easier?"

She gently patted me on the shoulder and said, "You better hope not."

Why? Because They Can

Poll: A Dead Heat In McCain's Home State Of Arizona

Another poll shows that John McCain could be in serious danger of losing his home state of Arizona -- and remember, the Obama campaign just announced that they'll be advertising there for the first time in the general election.

The new numbers from Research 2000: McCain 48%, Obama 47%, with a ±4% margin of error. The key number from the internals is that Obama is winning the early vote by a 54%-42% margin, and this group is expected to make up 17% of the total likely voters.

Another important number, showing McCain's latent vulnerability: In a test run for his 2010 re-election against Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, McCain is trailing 53%-45%.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

O dear readers from across the world....

I'm hoping to get off my ass and do some serious marketing of my plays this fall/winter. Looking for leads--theatres (and their contacts), possible directors or lead actors who might run with a piece, etc.--who might be interested in:

--A couple of tough, gritty full-length dramas about reporters covering war.

--A one-hour surreal mindbender about a guy who literally can't figure out whether he's dreaming, on drugs, or dead. Probably an appropriate late night piece. (Available as a world premiere.)

--A two-act bittersweet comedy-drama about an oddball DJ searching the country for "outsider" musicians. (Available as a world premiere.)

--A trio of ghost stories written for the stage.

--A pitch black comedy inspired by William S. Burroughs.

Any help you can offer would be hugely appreciated. If you don't want your name mentioned in reference to this, consider it confidential; and, if you do, I'll make sure who gets the credit (or blame, as the case may be). And if you're not a theatre person but know of a theatre company in your town who might just be into one of the plays, that'd be equally as welcome.

If you don't want to post here, please e-mail me at:

Many thanks,


For a moment....

I'm pretty damned cynical. It comes partly from being a former reporter and partly from just following American politics for so long, but I thought I'd take a moment to share this picture of Obama on the campaign trail meeting with a woman who had just lost her son in Iraq. Despite all the silly bullshit that surrounds the campaigns, they are, at their core, serious business, and it doesn't hurt to remember that once in awhile.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It begins....

Poll: Obama Now Leading McCain In Red Swing States
By Greg Sargent - October 28, 2008, 11:44AM
Here's a stunning finding buried in the new Pew poll: Barack Obama is now narrowly leading John McCain among voters in the 10 battleground states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

The poll finds that among those voters, Obama is now up 47%-43%, which is within the margin of error, but still noteworthy. In the past few weeks Obama has steadily gained, and now passed, McCain among these voters.

A week ago, according to the poll's internals, McCain led among these red battleground state voters by seven points, 49%-42%. Two weeks ago McCain led among them by 10 points, 51%-41%.

No wonder McCain is transferring ad spending out of the blue states and into red ones and spending much of his final campaign time in the Bush states. He's trying to staunch the red bleeding.

Separately, the poll also finds that Obama is leading McCain by 16 points (52%-36%) among registered voters overall, and by 19 points (53%-34%) among the 15% of respondents who say they've already voted.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

a modest proposal

Today's blog is predicated on the assumption that the polls are largely accurate, a major American city won't be hit by terrorists this week, and Barack Obama will become the next president of the United States. Or as we stand now, the Untied States of America.

In J-school, we aspiring reporters were required to take three terms of economics, fitting with the profession's general creed that journalists should know a little bit about everything but don't need a lot to know about anything. Which pretty much works, because it makes you just informed enough to ask the questions to fill in the gaps, with the idea that your readers, who may know a lot about something but not a lot about many other things, can get a general grasp of what's going on. In practical terms, this means you can, if need be, cover a city council meeting dealing with sewer system annexation without going, "What's annexation? Or a sewer system?"

At the U of O, the general gig was take an term of microeconomics, another of macroeconomics, and then an elective of your choice. Since these were the 80s and Reagan had just been elected, I took a class on Milton Freedman and supply-side economics, which convinced me, largely, that the whole idea was a highly rationalized ponzi scheme and would make the rich richer and the poor poorer and could be sold to the eternal optimism of an upwardly mobile middle class. Even at 20, you get one right once in while.

Fast forward, the ponzi scheme has collapsed, and it looks like we're on the brink of a return to the saner policies, which helped us recover from the Great Depression under Roosevelt (though WWII helped as well) and led to the booms of John F. Kennedy (which, sadly, he didn't really live to see), and, in a more moderate form, the good times that were the 90s. This time will be different because the damage wrought by the Friedman types and the Chicago School is deeper and more systemic, but the funny part is that, just as in '92, when Bush Sr. saw the writing on the wall and adjusted the tax bracket, Obama will benefit from the actions grudgingly taken by the this Bush administration, just as Clinton benefitted from George Sr's moment of lucidity.

But economics is a lot like philosophy, of which Steve Martin pointed out, one learns just enough to fuck oneself up for the rest of one's life. To wit, a take on the current economics crisis, from someone who slept through microecnomics, rather enjoyed macroeconomics because it was taught by...wait for it...a brilliant and funny Iraqi, and laughed through Uncle Milton's bedtime stories.

Simply, if homeowners are going into default because they stupidly bought ARMs (adjustable-rate mortgages) with the idea that the sun would always shine, the stock market would always rise, and interest rates would always stay low, then got smacked by market adjustments and balloon payments, perhaps a solution would be to use a program with regulatory oversight to refinance ARMs into boring old fixed-rate mortgages and prop up undercapitalized banks that will take a hit when they don't realize the balloons. Because if homeowners have to surrender their homes, the banks won't receive any more money anyway, much less balloon payments. If homeowners could stay in their homes before the balloons, they might be able to continue to make payments over a 20- or 30-year horizon. Some lenders and real-estate developers are going to take it in the shorts, but, well, fuck 'em. They helped get us into this mess.

Besides. They can retrain for the green and infrastructure jobs that would be the second part of a economic recovery plan. It won't work right away--it takes time to change direction on a ship this big (especially when it's listing to the right), but, in time, saner policies will lead to a more secure future.

I dunno. It's an idea. And I'm not going address derivatives because the only way you can get ahold of those concepts is to drop acid and lock yourself in a room with a stockbroker, and, frankly, I'm not that dedicated.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Next of Kin" Info

A little while ago, I noted that Portland Theatre Works will be presenting a free reading of my play "Next of Kin," which is my first new full-length since "Lost Wavelengths" in 2006. Info on the production follows below. Just as a note: even though "Next of Kin" is an extremely heavy play, dealing with Iraq, the costs of war, veterans issues, and so on, it has a weird, sneaky thread of gallows humor running through it. The show is Monday, 10/20, at 7:00 PM in Profile Theatre, 3430 SE Belmont, Portland.

Hope to see you there....



FreshWorks@Profile in October
October marks a return visit for Steve Patterson in FreshWorks. In 2006 we read his play Lost Wavelengths which went on to be selected for that year's JAW Festival at PCS and which has now been nominated for an Oregon Book Award (see more on that below). This month we're proud to present Next of Kin:

Mike is a Marine Casualty Assistance Officer who informs parents and spouses their loved one has been killed. Mike's brother Rich is a Marine recruiter trying to fill his quotas. Their sister Angie was left at home to care for their father, a Vietnam Vet and former Marine, who now lies in a coma having attempted to kill himself. Reuniting over their father's deathbed, they are forced to face the complex relationships they have with each other as they pick up the pieces their father left behind.
Portland playwright Steve Patterson, has written over 25 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other cities in the U.S. as well as in Canada and New Zealand. The Centering, a one-man play he co-wrote with Portland actor Chris Harder, has been featured at the Edmonton Fringe Festival and the Boulder Fringe Festival, and, in 2007, Mr. Harder won a Drammy Award for Best Actor for his performance of the play. His full-length works include Waiting on Sean Flynn, Malaria, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Turquoise and Obsidian, Bombardment, and Delusion of Darkness.

The cast will include Garland Lyons, Lindsay Matteson, and Nick Zagone.

Next of Kin by Steve Patterson
7 p.m., Monday, Oct 20th
Profile Theater at Theater!Theatre! (3430 SE Belmont St., Portland, OR)
FREE and open to the public

The FreshWorks program is designed to give playwrights to the opportunity to hear a draft of their play read by some of Portland's finest actors. FreshWorks readings are free and open to the public.

These readings will take place at 7 p.m. on the 3rd Monday of every month in the Theatre Noir at Theater!Theatre! in southeast Portland. We're very pleased to be partnering with Profile Theater in presenting this program.

Congrats to Steve Patterson and Francesca Sanders!
Steve and Francesca have both been named finalists for the Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama for the 2008 Oregon Book Awards. Steve's finalist play Lost Wavelengths was given a FreshWorks reading in May of 2006 and Francesca's play I Become a Guitar was developed through a workshop way back in May of 2004. Portland Theatre Works is a big fan of Steve's and Francesca's work and very proud to have been a part of the development of these 2 outstanding plays.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final Debate Recap

In case you missed the last big debate, here are some highlights.

As you may know, McCain, ever sensitive to racial stereotypes, declared yesterday that he was a-goin' to "whip his you-know-what." Here's McCain during debate prep.

Here they are during the actual debate. Schieffer's just asked them what stuff they're going to have to give up because the economy's totally screwed.

Here McCain finally makes his move, hitting Obama on hanging around with Bill Ayers, who blew some shit up and stuff during the 1960s, when Obama was working on his times tables and we were having another stupid war.

Obama pretty much responds, dude...what? Are you high?

The big move fizzled, and then McCain talked a lot about the American people being scared and angry. (In other words, projection.) And he said Sarah Palin's a bitchin' babe who digs puppies. CBS's snap poll shows Obama winning 53% to 22%. (The remaining percentage was in the restroom or too drunk to respond after playing the "my friends" drinking game.)

Finally, here's a last, fond shot of McCain immediately after the debate.

The end. Now, let go vote and get this sucker over with.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Times

The McCain people have been swaggering about, claiming Obama's already been "measuring the drapes" in the White House (like he doesn't have better things to do), but, in fact, all presidential candidates have a "transition team" in place in case they actually win. McCain does, for instance, and it turns out his head transition dude has plenty of experience working for cranky old guys who know what it's like kill people and stuff:

McCain Transition Chief Aided Saddam In Lobbying Effort

That's not change we can believe in, my friends.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gravity is Not Your Friend

So it's like this: one Sunday, I got up and my back was a little creaky. It's always given me trouble--when I was 16, I managed to fall off a house I was roofing, and it's been a bit weird ever since. So much for working with my hands. Anyway, by midday Monday, I realized something was a little more wrong than expected; I couldn't sit through the day. I went to my doctor on Tuesday, figuring it'd be, oh yeah, it's out of alignment, crunch, here's a couple prescriptions and remember to bend your knees. The usual drill every three to five years.

Well, no. This time he gave me that grave look that I think they have doctors practice in mirrors at medical school (in a big room resembling a dance studio): you have a bulging disk. (I checked the impulse to reply "Or are you just happy to see me" because the interior voice was going "uh-oh.") Not the end of the world, very common, but it's taking longer to get over than usual, and I'm spending a good part of my off-work time horizontal in this narcotized cocoon. Which sounds great at first, but, after awhile, you find yourself repeating Major Tom's mantra in "Ashes to Ashes": want to come down right now! Plus it's kind of thrown a curve into my many nefarious plans--being a photographer, playwright, theatregoer, gardener, and, of late, guitar slinger. (I definitely need to branch out more, no?)

So, to my theatre friends: sorry I've been missing your shows. I'd like to go, but I seem to be having this problem with gravity.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oregon Book Awards

Here's a write-up on this year's Oregon Book Award nominees for drama. Though it's besmeared with info on yours truly, it includes some background on some good writers as well:

Paper Fort

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sheer Genius

Below is a reproduction of an index card that apparently slipped off Palin's podium last night and was found by a janitor sweeping up....
Not really. But would that it could be. The graphic, courtesy of the Wonkette, is nonetheless...perfect.