Monday, December 15, 2014

My Friend Who Is a Dog

I hesitate to endorse other bloggers, lest it redirect traffic* from my blog to other, less valuable parts of the internet.  However, given the near limitless number of views this blog now gets from "like"-rs and the fact that, as we say down home, "they ain't goin' nowhere," I've decided that it's time for me to share the wealth and give my very first shout out to another internet Dickens.

Y'all, check out 10,000 Puppies.  It's written by my friend who is a dog.

Here is a quick sample from his blog to whet your appetite:


I don't know what he's trying to say exactly, except maybe "Let me go and throw me my ball.  I don't want to put my paws on your keyboard."


* I think Kubrick would have put Soderburgh to shame.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I Guess That's Why They Call Back the Blues

The blues sneak up on you.  They're subtle.  They catch you by surprise.  One day you're happy, the next day you're blue - or being considered for it, anyway.

Yesterday, I auditioned for a show I never intended to be part of.  See me?  I'm the one slightly off camera, near the feet of the guy in the Pink Floyd shirt.  Yep!  That's me.  See* what I'm doing?  I'm masking myself.  That's what blue men do.  

See, I know a little about it.  After that video was taken, around 1:30 pm, I was taken into the back room and given an interview in which I learned a little bit^ about what it is to be a blue man.  Then, I was put on hold for another hour.  Then, I was taken out of the theater and over to a church a few blocks away, where I was seen by four men.  They asked me to look at them.  They made me walk and imagine.  They made me drum.  Then, they made me go home.

Then they made me come back.

Isn't this a thrilling narrative?

Today, I saw those men again.  Again they made me walk.  They made me look.  They made me imagine.  Then, they made me go home.  Again.**  This time, I stayed home.  

All of this is to say that I got past the first two cuts on the way to being a blue man.  That's not really very far, but it's far enough to get someone's hopes up, and to (ready for it?) cut when things don't work out.  

So now I am indeed a blue man, because I didn't get something I never wanted.  See what I mean about the blues?  Sneaky. Subtle.  Surprising.  

If you don't know what I mean, look in my eyes.  See it?  No?  Well, look in some other guy's eyes who got further in the process.  You'll probably see it there.  

* No.  Clearly, you don't.
^ By "little bit" I mean "nothing."
** You can never go home again.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

There's a Monster in the Middle of My Book

WHAT DID THAT SAY?  In the blog title, what did it say?  Did that say there is a monster in the middle of a book?

What book is this?

Off Track you say?  (Boy, I am tired of hearing about that book!)

Shhhh.  Listen, I have an idea.  If you do not turn any pages, we will never get to the end of Off Track.  So maybe it is best that you do not even start to read it.  If you start to read it, you may start to enjoy it, and if you start to enjoy it, you may want to keep reading it, and if you keep reading it, you may get to the middle.  And if you get to the middle . . .


I am going to make this hard for you.  I am going to charge you zero dollars.  That way, you are guaranteed to think the book is cheap and uninteresting, and you will never actually start to read it.

NOW WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  You just started reading a copy of Off Track!  Don't you know that it is like a pamphlet or an advertisement or a tract that a religious person might leave on your car?  It is worthless!  WORTHLESS!

Maybe you do not understand.  You see, turning pages will bring you closer to the end of Off Track, and you do not want to go there, because somewhere around the middle, you will find a monster!  Have I not made that clear?

Okay, how can I stop you from doing this page turning thing?  You have made it through the first four chapters of Off Track.  That is moving you closer to the middle, which is where the MONSTER is.  You had better stop enjoying yourself soon, or find some other reason to put the book down.  Because you are getting WAY TOO CLOSE to the monster for my liking.

WILL YOU PLEASE STOP TURNING PAGES?  If you keep turning pages, I will be forced to make a chapter near the middle VERY, VERY BORING.  And then you will HAVE to stop reading.

The next chapter is going to be very, very boring.  I'm warning you.

Okay, now you have really gone off into cuckoo land.  You are writing me to tell me how much you are enjoying the book, which I repeat has a MONSTER inside AND which I made VERY VERY BORING in one place to slow you down.  

Did you know that you are very determined?   

Oh no.  Please stop now.  You are getting frighteningly close to the monster in the middle of the book.  You are even donating a small sum of dollars to help make the book a fancy ebook, and also to benefit local community organizations, which means even more people might read this book and be subjected to the MONSTER.

Oh, please, please, please STOP.

. . .


Oh no.  Oh no, oh no!

. . .

Oh no.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Damned If You Do

Weather's turnin' cold in Chicago.  Yes, sir, it is.  Makes some men want to drop out, disappear, curl up with a good book and sink away into Blankettown.

Not this man, though.  This man's got a bone to pick.  A score to settle.  This man was born more fighter than coward, more devil than angel, more lounge singer than elementary school librarian.

This man went for a walk.

Wound up in a place called "Satan's Cackle Shack."  Don't know what the hell that's all about.  But it was hot.  Hot as Hades.  Empty, too, 'cept for a cacklin' skeleton.  So I wandered in.  Took the mic.  Started tellin' jokes.  Soon, a few other lost souls found their way through the half-door.  Lent me their ears.  Skeleton kept right on cacklin'.  Soon enough, people did, too.  Lifted my spirits, I'll tell you that much.  

Think I'll stay a while.  A man could get used to a place like this.

You stop in, too, all right?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Re-Reader and Re-Writing

A year ago, I both wrote and received (by proxy) a lengthy criticism related to the Chicago Reader.  Amidst a flurry of positive press for The Sovereign Statement, Tony Adler ran contrarian and poo-poo-ed** our Andersonville secession effort.  I was a bit caddy in my response.

Those days are behind me.  Really, they are.  I barely think about how much it hurt* to read that misinformed, poorly constructed evaluation of a show that was so close to me that it even bore my name in the script.  No, really.  I don't care.  I don't.  

So, of course I care even less that now, the past forgotten, the Reader has rewarded my writing where it could not reward my dancing, singing, and secret-agenting.  The rag has  highly recommended Resurrected, which is currently running at Morton Arboretum via Theatre-Hikes.

Know this, Suzanne Scanlon (you glorious goddess of critical aptitude):

You will never win me back^.  Even if you write hundreds of articles about Resurrected.  Even if you convince your colleagues at the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and Hoy (!) to review the show as well.  Even if you put a lot of Ex-Lax in Tony Adler's coffee tomorrow (and every day after).

Okay, actually, maybe if you did all of that, you might win me back.  Maybe.  I'm sorry.  Am I being caddy?

I guess some things never change.


* It didn't really hurt at all.  I'm not that actor.
^ I am, however, that writer.
** By poo-poo-ed, I mean that he wrote something out of his ass.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not It

In the coming weeks, a 30-second fast food commercial will air.  It will feature two men and a celebrity.  The men will compete in a battle of wits, and at the end of the commercial, there will be a status shift involving the celebrity.  There may be some improv involved.

If you see the commercial in question, know this:

- I auditioned for it via my agent.  

- I was among the last ten candidates being considered for the roles of the two men.^

- If I'd gotten cast in it, the buyout would have covered my rent for 6 months.

- I didn't get cast in it.

What would the entertainment world be like if Christopher Walken had played Han Solo?  If Danny DeVito had taken on Vizzini?  If Jack Nicholson had played Michael in The Godfather?  What about Matthew Broderick or John Cusack as Walter White?

What if I had been in that commercial?

You may argue that a regional commercial is not nearly as significant as an iconic movie.  You may also argue that while all of these actors turned down those respective roles, I was turned down for the commercial.  You may argue that in each case listed above, the correct casting choice was made.  All of these arguments are valid, but they ignore one important element of this blog:

It's about me.  And I wanted to be in that commercial.

So when you see that commercial, and you think "Boy, those guys are really funny," or "Boy, those guys really aren't funny," remember me.  And tell all your friends how it could have been.  Please?

^ That's a 20% chance of me playing one of those two men!

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Word of my impending book release is spreading.  Ever since I declared on this blog that I will be publishing OFF TRACK as a pay-what-you-want pdf, people have been talking.*  Word has reached well past Chicago and all the way out into Naperville.  Why else would SPOTLIGHT ON NAPERVILLE, which highlights six local not-for-profits every month, have me on almost immediately following the announcement?

Sure, they introduced me as a "playwright."  Sure, they didn't ask me a single question about the book.  Sure, they instead asked me questions about Theatre-Hikes.^  Sure, I was there to represent Theatre-Hikes.  Sure, as hard as I try, I am not legally a "not-for-profit."  Sure, the opportunity had nothing to do with my impending book release.  Sure, the word "sure" should have an "h" in it.  Sure it should.

All of that is beside the point.  In two weeks, my reputation as a writer has reached beyond Chicago--two hours beyond Chicago in rush hour traffic.  In two more weeks, I'll be to Aurora.  By the time the book comes out, I'll be on Spotlight on Springfield.  By 2015, Spotlight on Sacramento.

Imagine it.  Spotlight on Sacramento.  

My reputation is traveling west across the country like some kind of . . . vegetable-powered 1984 Jetta.


* Not necessarily about my book, my blog, or my career.  But they've been uttering phonemes, all right! 

^ One of which had to do with my role as the playwright for their next show.  One of which was about Peanuts.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This Is Going To Be Ugly

I've spent some time and oxygen recently publicly reflecting on success, exploitation, business, community, and chocolate.  I've spent an equal amount of time emailing, snail mailing, and psychically exploiting publishers who would put my second book, Off Track, into a glossy binding and (in theory) distribute it to big warehouses and former warehouses (now chain stores) who would in turn put it on display somewhere in the public eye so that passerbys could pick it up, flip through a few pages, and then go not buy it on Amazon.  The crosscurrents of these two ventures--figuring out my own philosophy and wooing publishers--are stirring up some mighty tides in my literary half.  A tidal wave is impending.

The philosophy:

As writers, our chosen tool is by definition words.  We somehow share uncomfortable cubicles with them. We hate them; we embrace them; we wish we had a better hammer; we find them joyous and alluring.  Our unlikely hope is to choose some of them from a pre-prescribed lexicon invented collectively by billions of people who didn't know each other, to twist them and align them in our unique way, then to offer them back to our culture as something completely novel, something worth reading and even paying for, something that holds the potential to drive the species forward or at least change an individual life.

It is a dubious medium in which to work,  because all we can ever develop is the skeleton of something.  We create recipes, chemical formulas that only exist on paper.  They are suggestions that require a catalyst--the imagination of the reader.  In the arms of an active caretaker, our words inhale and walk; in more common circumstances, they sleep alone in an empty, dusty, unreasonably sized trophy case called expectation.

It is perhaps for this reason that our words are always on a first date.  We're driven to dress them up for suitors and to tell them to be their best selves and to hope that someone else will teach them to dance.  We perceive ourselves as really excellent mothers.  Unfortunately, we are more likely pimps, because in order to gain the attention of an audience, we are willing to do shameful, hurtful things to our words.  And where there is a promise of money, the ultimate social affirmation of the value of our art, we will be tempted always to prostitute and diminish our craft in deference to a persistent ego.  We will do so in ways so subtle that even we do not notice.

The business:

Business is a strange form of war.  And war is an ugly thing.

I want to see my books lined up like soldiers on the bookshelves of popular bookstores.  I want them to have intricate cover designs and well-formatted pages.  I want them to be flawless, best-selling, and raved about in the newspapers.  I want advances from powerful publishers with requests for more books.  I want financial rewards for the effort I've put into the diction and syntax and for the risk I've taken in developing an unconventional career path.  I want to be acclaimed just for being me and having the ideas that I have.  I want everyone to think I'm great.

You want to buy books that are pretty and popular.  You want them to look good in your home, office, or apartment.  You want them to serve as a testament to the ideas you have and the person you are becoming.  You want them pre-pre-previewed and vouched for by your peers.  Just as with television, movies, and gossip, you are part of an enormous cultural book club that orients itself around image; there is no question of whether, only of degree.

War.  Business.  Ugly.

What is a reader to do?

After three years of trying to traditionally publish my second book, I've opted for philosophy over business. That's how I'm thinking of it, anyway.  It feels more like surrender.  It's possible that it's surrender.

No matter what, OFF TRACK will be available for download as a pdf on September 26 of this year, pay-what-you-want on my website.  It has been professionally edited and sculpted for three years.  It has been formatted so as to be easily legible.  It has not been dressed up.  It is not ready for dinner at El Bulli.  More likely, it will be compatible with someone interested in sweatpants, peanut butter and jelly, and two dollar draughts.*

No, it is not an impressive-looking creature.  But it is there, and it isn't coy or evasive.  Its words--its true self, if you will--lie open to you.  Bring them to life in your imagination. I think you'll enjoy the experience.  Then again, that's just my opinion; those are just my words.  Take them for what they are, nothing more, nothing less.

Or don't.  It's up to you and no one else.  And that feels nice.

* Also liberalism, environmentalism, humor, and vegetable-oil-powered cars

Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Foot in the Grave

Death follows me wherever I go.  You might say I've made a career out of it.  So, when Theatre-Hikes needed someone to write their October show, I quickly applied.   I'd worked with Theatre-Hikes before, and I had a sense of how their shows worked.

The task:  adapt five local macabre tales for the "stage."*

The task, part one:  choose those five macabre tales.

Here is some local lore I considered adapting but decided against:

Bachelor's Grove Cemetery


Probably the most haunted place in the Chicago area, this place has dozens of little stories of hauntings and mysterious phenomena.  One of those stories is about a disappearing house, and one is about a horse that jumps out of a lake.  Perfect!

Why not?

Special FX budget limited.  Too many little stories; no big throughline to hold onto.

US Airways Flight 191


In 1979, there was a plane crash just outside of O'Hare followed by mysterious phenomena in the local area, like knocks on doors.

Why not?

Are you scared of knocks on doors?  Also, plane crash.

The Fort Dearborn Massacre


Important historically.  Gruesome.

Why not?

Important historically.  Gruesome.

The Eastland Disaster


What a crazy story--a ship capsizing before it even set sail, right here in the Chicago river.  One of the biggest ship disasters in history.

Why not?

I could even add music!

Devil in the White City


The best-selling book, Devil in the White City, covers the history of Mr HH Holmes, in whose death castle dozens of people were allegedly murdered and disposed of.  There's even a curse following his death, and the "castle" burned down under mysterious circumstances.

Why not?

Oh, Pooh Bear.  Maybe if I add some honey to your tea, you'll be able to sleep tonight.

John Wayne Gacy

I work with kids, damn it.

The Trolley of Death


Trolley.  Death.

Why not?

I have no idea what happens in this story.  I just like the title.

The Red Lion Pub


Chicago's most haunted pub.

Why not?

The most famous tale has to do with people fainting in front of a stained glass window.

Inez Clarke


This story is famous.

Why not?

This story is made up.



No royalties.

Why not?

No royalties.



Flying.  Superpowers.  Romance.  It's got everything.

Why not?

Do we really need another Superman movie?

Nightmare on Elm Street


It's infamous and was shot locally.  Also, we can probably find a cool Freddy Krueger mask and glove.  I loved those things as a kid.

Why not?

The original was shot in California.  Only the remake was shot around here.

Poltergeist 3



Why not?


Home Alone


This Christmas classic brings everyone  . . . Christmas classic . . . Christmas . . .

Why not?


So what local stories did I pick to adapt?

Resurrected will have its first reading this Monday, July 7 at 6 pm in the Theatre-Hikes rehearsal space.  If you've read this far, consider yourself invited.

Come . . . if you dare.

* By "stage," I mean "forest."

Friday, June 13, 2014


Acting is a lonely profession.

Wait a minute.  No, it's not.  Acting is one of the most social enterprises a person can undertake.  Your job is basically to talk to people.

Unfortunately, by "talk to people" I mean "ask people to help / support / believe / house / feed / represent / tolerate you," and a lot of those people say "no."  Auditions are an obvious example.  Actors, if they're worth their salt, spend a great deal of time standing in front of people they may not even respect, having the way they play pretend^ judged^^ and knowing that after they do so, they will probably be told "no."

Sometimes they don't even get that far.  Sometimes as an actor, people say "no" to even considering you as someone they might say "no" to.  Sometimes people won't even talk to you. When it's really going badly, even Santa's elves tell you to shove off.*

So when you get a "yes," it's truly a splendid turn of events.  Yesterday, I got a "yes" from Ambassador Talent--which means I now have someone who will connect me with hundreds of new people who will mainly say "no" to me.**  I love this job.

Susan and Ed, let's make history together.  Or at least some Empire Carpet commercials.

* Or literally shove you off.
^ Fun!
^^ Not fun!
** Literally, it means that I've signed with a commercial agent.  Two of them, actually.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remy Bump-who?

Remy Bumppo:*

The theatre community is interested in having a conversation with you.


The Chicago theatre community is interested in having an in-depth conversation with you.


Oh, bother.  Sorry for all the false starts.  It's just . . . this is my performer half trying to write^, and he's more given to talking than writing.

The truth is, I'd like to talk to you, but I can't.  All you've given me is a mysterious phone number with instructions never to call it except for two hours out of the year (specifically, from 3 to 5 pm last Saturday).  This, as far as I understand, is the only way to reach you other than showing up at your doorstep.^^

The imagination runs wild.  Does the telephone number in your audition notices ring up a disposable cell phone?  Is somebody in a trench coat--a really temporary worker--standing by a pay phone for .02% of the year, filling audition slots with his back turned to the ignorant masses?  Or is it something even bigger and more magical?  Are you the very pinnacle of an itinerant theatre company, disappearing and reappearing at your fickle will like the FOR MADMEN ONLY space in Steppenwolf?**  (If that's the case, can I please sit in on one of your rehearsals?)

The madmen theory makes the most sense.  What is the defining characteristic of madness if not the inability to functionally adapt to the world at large?  People prone to anxiety, for example, devise irrationally specific rules for the way they'll allow others to interact with them.  Isn't this diagnosis accurate in regard to your audition policy, one which expects any interested party to make not you but the possibility of you the #1 priority for two hours of their weekend (or until they get an answer at your tardis)?  One which asks the actors of Chicago to subjugate our rationally-designed, well-balanced schedules to your narcissistic demands?  One which eliminates any working actors who have Saturday afternoon rehearsals from your audition pool?  (I can see why you'd want to exclude actors talented enough to be in shows currently.)

Maybe I sound a little dramatic.  (This is my actor half writing, after all.)  Let's be simpler about the issue:

Your policy, whether intended as such or not, qualifies as a power play.  It saves you the trouble of sorting through headshots and resumes, of replying to emails and mailings, of doing much other than sitting by the phone and waiting for us to genuflect before you.  In short, it makes an already difficult process harder, but not for you--for us.  Life as an actor (here comes the drama again) is hard enough with the adversity we face outside our industry.  So please drop the golden palace act.  You need the groundlings more than they need you.

I've heard nothing but nice things about you from the people who work with you.  But why is it so hard to work with you?

I'd love an answer to that question between 1 and 3 pm tomorrow.

Oh.  You'll be in the middle of auditions at that time?

Damn.  I guess we just missed each other.

* (if that is your real name)
^ You should see my writer half try to perform!
**Hey!  That would be a cool name for a theatre company.
^^ Also strictly forbidden.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Most Famous Work

Look at this!

Those are the top ten posts, by readership, from this very blog.   As you can see, 1,024 people have viewed #1.*  That's more than three times the number that have viewed #2 and fifteen times #10.  And it's not slowing down.  Post #1 is outperforming its colleagues not only overall, but monthly, weekly, and daily.  It gets about 2 hits every day.  It has at least ten times more readers than my first novel and a hundred times more than my next book.  More people have read that blog entry than have seen any of my plays.  That's one winning post.

Now, look at this!

That's the post in question.  Which leads me to ask:


Excuse me.  What I mean to shout is:


I'm up nights over it.  I mean, I've written from time to time a worthwhile post on this blog.  One was recently reposted to several facebook walls.  Another was shared in the comments section of a review in the Chicago Tribune.  If those posts had gotten over a thousand hits, I'd be delighted.  But this shit about chocolate?  What the fuck is going on?  Is someone fucking with me?  Did someone accidentally set that post as their homepage?

It occurs to me that maybe internet users are googling something that brings up my post among the top search results.  To experiment, I googled the following:

"John Michael Manship"
"John Michael Manship blog"
"John Michael Manship naked"
"I will be famous soon"
"Cambridge Street"
"Second City Conservatory"
"Second City Conservatory Manship"
"Chicago chocolate"
"Chicago chocolate tours"
"sex and prozac"
"Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"
"reasons I hate chocolate"

The only search term that discovered my stupid blog entry anywhere was the last one.  So I have to ask:

Is someone out there googling "reasons I hate chocolate" and then reading my blog?  If that's the case, then know that my next three blog entries will be called "Peanut Butter Coupons," "Parenting Tips, Pre-Schoolers," and "Two Women Having Loud Crazy Sex."

Don't worry, though.  The content of those blog posts will remain impeccably high quality.  As always.

* 924 of them might have been me.  I'm not sure if I turned that kind of thing off, and sometimes I sleep-surf.
^ Still might be me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dear Graduates

Dear Graduates,

I haven’t been asked to give you a speech today, because frankly, who am I?  I’m thirteen years out of a prestigious private university, and everything I have done in my life is in the broadest view completely unimportant.

My BS in psychology is lost.  I literally don’t know where the diploma ended up, nor have I used most of the rote knowledge I gained from earning it.  If you gave me the tests I passed 13 years ago, I would fail them, I think.  If you asked me to write the essays or do the research and projects again, I’d balk at the idea.  If you showed my psychology career on paper to my professors from thirteen years ago, they’d probably balk, too. 

This is not to imply that I’ve done other things with my life.  I haven’t, in fact, done too much in other career fields, either.  Most of my time I’ve spent teaching children, performing, or writing.  I haven’t in this process earned a teaching degree, nor have I ever taught full-time.  I haven’t performed anywhere that more than a half a percent of the population has heard of, and fewer than 200 people have read my writing.

I have backed out of, messed up, and failed at things.  The aforementioned diploma was probably left with my ex-fiancee when I moved out.  I’ve moved five times since then and kissed no fewer than a dozen women, most of whom I hoped would like me.  Like, really like me. 

Professionally, I’ve dropped out of the Second City Conservatory.  I’ve been rejected by theatre companies too small to even register on the Boston scene and not landed roles in student films clearly desperate for actors.  My first and only sketch comedy group stayed together for two years.  That’s more years than we got laughs from an audience.  I have a collection of rejection letters from agents, publishers, and play festivals.  One told me my book was exactly what they were looking for—then they read it.  I have also almost daily chickened out of stand-up comedy. 

So, no one has invited me to speak to you at this important time in your life.  Instead, they’ve probably invited someone wealthy and reputable who may have also attended your university, someone who wants to give back or serve as an example of all that your hard work has set you up to deserve. 

Which of us are you going to trust to advise you on your way forward?

If you’re smart, you’ll choose neither, because neither of us can say with any true certainty what happens for you from this day on.  Neither of us know what your life will be like.  In fact, nobody knows what your life will be like. 

Nobody, for example can predict with any certainty that if you are smart and persistent, you will generally get what you want.  Nobody can promise you that if you get what you want, you will be happier.  It may be the opposite.  Nobody can safely advise you to behave if you want to stay out of trouble.  Good behavior is sometimes rewarded with cruelty if not mild disrespect, and bad behavior may well go unpunished or even rewarded.  People who tell you to be patient are lying to you and maybe to themselves.  There may be absolutely nothing ahead of you, nothing worth waiting for, no light at the end of your tunnel.  You may never see the end of the tunnel.  After all, strictly speaking, nobody can guarantee you that the sun will rise tomorrow.  One day, it won’t.  You may or may not be around for that day.  Nobody knows.     

Probably you will need or want to get a job.  If that’s the case, you will probably have to choose between your financial standing and your personhood.  Most jobs that promise monetary success come from social factions that are in some way exploitative.  Of their employees.  Of their customer or fan base.  Of the poor.  Of the weak.  Of the innocent.  Of the environment.  Of me.  Of you.  I can say with some certainty that you already have and will continue to be asked to support exploitation in your career path.

If you choose instead to go out on your own, to reject the support of any exploitative elements of human culture, then I imagine that most of your projects will fail.  This may not be true.  You may make major financial gains for yourself.  You may achieve recognition, respect, and honor.  These things may bring you great happiness, and swiftly.   

Probably not.  Probably, your ego will be beaten to death by an ever-growing population that doesn’t find you nearly as special as you have been brought up to believe you are.  Consequently, I hope you don’t believe that dreams come true.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.  Often they kind of come true.  Usually they change. 

None of what I just wrote--depressing, uplifting, or otherwise--is certain or reliable.  If there is a logic to the fate of individual humans, it has proven itself for centuries to be well beyond our collective comprehension. 

What, then, can I (the man who has not been invited to speak to you) guarantee you?  If there is no promised connection between your choices and how much freedom, pleasure, and privilege you receive in return, then what is the purpose of making choices at all?    

Hermann Hesse wrote a possible answer into the pages of the iconic novel, Steppenwolf:  

“You have a picture of life within you, a faith, a challenge, and you were ready for deeds and sufferings and sacrifices, and then you became aware by degrees that the world asked no deeds and no sacrifices of you whatever, and that life is no poem of heroism with heroic parts to play and so on, but a comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, cards and wireless.”

In this passage lies a priceless and timeless truth:  that the world needs heroes, and that you, so long as you are in charge of your mental capacities, will have the opportunity to be one.   

It doesn't take much.

You can be heroic in looking at human need when others are looking at their bank accounts.  By responding with patience when met with angst.  By guiding intolerance with the eye of acceptance.    By meeting adversity, whatever form you face, instead of sidestepping it for the sake of convenience.  In the personal truth with which you live your life.  In the forgiveness of self and others. 

Heroism happens in the gaps between moments and is rarely noticed on a wide scale.  But it happens.

There are many people, most of whom will appear or claim to be socially superior to you, who will encourage you to aim your heroic impulses at the immediate and the simple, to build ant hills instead of empires, to undersell yourself because, really, what is heroism going to get you?   You, dear graduates, do not have to listen to those people.  You can throw that idea right back in their face and go on and be heroic anyway.  As a reminder, probably no one will notice your choice or congratulate you.  Your life might suck from a material stand point because you didn’t put yourself on the auction block.  Your ego might ache. 

Sound fun?  There’s a reason people try to turn away from heroism.  And yet, there is also a reason it follows them:  because it is one of the only reliably true things this world has to offer any of us.   

This graduation speech may seem like a pathetic and depressing one.  If it strikes you as such, consider two things.  One, no one asked me to give a graduation speech.  Two, consider a second passage from the same book by the same well-commended author:

“The image of every true act, the strength of every true feeling, belongs to eternity . . . even though no one knows of it or sees it or records it or hands it down to posterity.  In eternity, there is no posterity. . . It is there that we belong. There is our home.  [And] our only guide is our homesickness."

I hope that you, now that you are no longer away at college, will always feel a little homesick. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Luke Father, Luke Son

*heavy breathing through mask*

*copyrighted laser sword swing from the darkness*


*fight leads onto a barely-explicable bridge*

FATHER: Tell them.  Tell them the truth that you know.  Tell them publicly.


*fight resumes*

*SON hits FATHER on shoulder with copyrighted laser sword*


*FATHER cuts off SON's hand*

SON: Ahhhh!

FATHER:  There is no avoiding it.  The truth must be made known.

*Son begins to back away down metal beam*

FATHER:  Why are you fighting with me?

SON:  I'm not.  Not in real life.

FATHER:  Then why here?

SON: Because it's a device.

*FATHER swings copyrighted laser sword*

FATHER: Like this device?

SON:  No.  A literary device.  To engage a reader's attention and present information in an interesting way.

FATHER:  Well, stop it!  Stop fighting me!  Join me.  Together, we can own

SON: I'll never join you.  But I'm only saying that for dramatic effect!

FATHER:  If you'd only publicly announce what you know about me.  If you'd only search your brain and share what you find there with the world!

SON:  I've shared enough.  I've shared that you've read some novels.

FATHER:  NO.  I wrote a novel.

*SON's face gets all scrunchy and weird.*

SON: NO!  That's so unlikely!  It's as unlikely as almost the entire cast of the original Star Wars coming back to do a seventh movie!

FATHER:  That is also going to happen.  It's coming out around Christmas of next year!

SON:  That's not news!  Everyone already knows that!

FATHER:  Then get back to talking about my novel.

SON:  I can't.  I can't utter anything intelligible.  I'm shocked and missing a hand.

FATHER:  Then I will talk.  The ebook of A Journey to Reality is available for only $5 here on

SON:  Amazon?  That's where I bought my worm factory!

FATHER:  Yes.  Yes!

SON:  You can buy a worm factory and an ebook on the same website?  My mind is blown!

FATHER: And you can also get both my book and your book for about 1/10 of the price of a worm factory!


FATHER:  You know it to be true.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Per Procurationem

You've certainly heard the news by now.  The Sovereign Statement, by Bilal Dardai, has been nominated for a 2014 Jeff Award honoring New Work.  In other words, some people* on a committee believe that Bilal's work was one of the five best new plays in Chicago between April 2013 and April 2014.  Those people are correct.

But this blog is not entitled "Bilal Will Be Famous Soon."  Bilal is already kind of famous.  He has 1,218 friends on facebook.^  This blog is about me.  Me me me me me.


So let's talk about what exactly Bilal did to get nominated for this award.**

First of all, he chose to become a writer, or at least answered his calling.  Then, he wrote a bunch of scripts.  A bunch of scripts.  Then he re-wrote a bunch of scripts.  A bunch of scripts.  Then, he wrote this script, The Sovereign Statement.  Then, he re-wrote this script.  Then, he re-wrote this script.  He re-wrote this script until he felt he had the right English words in the right English order as to convey the images, thoughts, and questions he wanted his audience to consider.

In the end, the play we performed had 24,894 meticulously-chosen words.  And guess what?  341 are my name.  And no.  My name is not "is" or "the."  I'm talking about my last name--Manship--which appears 332 times in the soon-to-be-famous script, alongside 1 use of my first name and 8 uses of a nickname that I'm not at liberty to share on this blog.

That means that my name alone is 1.36% of The Sovereign Statement.  Which means that I am 1.36% of a Jeff-nominated script.  Which means that I am 1.36% Jeff-nominated.

In case anyone's counting.

Now, am I enough of a pompous asshole to presume that my name's presence had anything to do with the impending continued wild success of Bilal's script?  Of course not.^^  I'm just mightily thankful that as Bilal was adding and subtracting words from this little beauty, he never*** edited me out of the thing.

Accordingly, I'd like to give a brief 1.36% nomination-acceptance speech.  It goes like this:

"I'd l . .. "

Music already?

Well, shit.

* Mainly in their 70's from what I can tell
^ He does not, however, have any "like"-rs.
** Hint: It has to do with me.
^^ In the first draft I received, with which Bilal was presumably less satisfied than later drafts, my name appeared only 311 times.
*** Never say never.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Someone Else Wrote This

In a bus from Liberia to Playa Flamingo
west costa of Costa Rica
six rows back
not including the side seats
there are no side seats
unsure of route, stop, or destination
Window a free-per-view screen of stars
The heavens pulled back
A pantalla abierta
Cortina quitada
None of these expressions sum it up
It was as if in this privileged place a miracle occurred
And the privileged few in a place without privilege were privileged to witness the entirety of heaven
The entirety of truth
Seven veils shed
Eternity revealed
There are two basic viewpoints of eternity
From the left, you die and forget
From the right, eternal knowledge
Horror stories, both
And every tale a variation
The same, and don’t let anyone tell you differently
Tonight there was no tale
No narration
Because a tale is a cola is a camino
From ignorance at the start
To wisdom at the mecca
Tonight a wormhole
A bending of time and space
No need to devise or narrate
The tv is tuned to channel 3
And there on the pantalla
A free broadcast
Without deception or ego
The perilous emptiness that is
That undeniably is
And like skin in the unprotected sun
It went right through me
A sudden bout of eternity
One with the stars because we are one with the stars
When I was young I saw a piece of wood and felt the world from the tree’s perspective
I was in gym class
I am still young, and I felt the world from eternity’s perspective
From a star’s view
Through the eye of chaos which is the order which governs our chaos
I thought, “One day I will forget you.  One day you will forget me.  It will be as if we never were.  Our memories will die with us.”
Only time stands between us and the stars
And time is a spongey and unreliable buffer
I grew sad
I wanted to fight but there was in all apparentness no fighting to be done
There is a balance beam we walk
A piece of wood
Everything forever on the right
Nothing forever on the left
And we wobble
Tonight I fell
But clung
Crawled back up
The bus driver taking turns like he was racing
Time had commissioned him not to be late
A 10-minute program, this
Sneak preview
Don’t show your hand
The couple in front of me
Younger than me
More time
The man two seats in front to the left
Less time
An aging specimen of health
The two of them maybe sixteen
Looking at each other, not the stars
The bus empties
With time
The couple gets off before the viejo
The anciano
I was distressed
How could I forget you?
How could this not be part of eternity?
Every human action fell off the beam in the face of channel 3
Pure and simple
Cliché perhaps
The sponge of time
The sponge of time
The beam no longer would
How could I not be me anymore
How can my memories die with me
Taking you too in the great flush
You’re stored in blood
Which flows with the heart’s rhythm
You will run out
All of this
I panicked
I’m building my house on a bed of clay
On an earthquake’s fault line
On a volcano
This is the wisdom I hoped to obtain
A parting gift
Turn in your memories at the door
Here is a sponge
Channel 3 announcement
Attention all viewers
You are eternal
You are nothing
Put your investment in everything
Put your investment in nothing
Time is a sock market
Woolen waste
I changed the channel
Unable to aguantar
Which is used for respiration
And turned my attention quite by accident to the two
The jovenes
She too turned her head to him
Pressed her forehead against his nose
Showed him her teeth
An exuberant maladapted animal
Kissed him
Every true action is a part of eternity, I reminded myself
But I didn’t
Not in that moment
In the flow of time
A few steps back on the sponge
Kissed him
My thoughts bled out of me
My memories
My concerns
Kissed him
And here too was truth
Kissed him
And I won’t forget
Kissed him

And I didn’t worry about eternity for one more second.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

So I Ate A Crocodile

For the second time in the last six months, the press has written unfairly about me.  This time it’s more than just the Chicago Reader.  It’s USA Today, the BBC, the Huffington Post, the Brisbane Times*.  None of them asked me for my side of the story, or an interview, nor did they request permission to use my image.  I’m striking back. 

For those of you wondering what I’ve been up to since early January, there is a lot to sum up.  First, I left Chicago for Boston, where I substitute taught-acted for three weeks for the organization Urban Improv.  That was back when I was a working artist.  Boston was fulfilling, but I knew I needed more.  I needed to grow and change.  I needed to dig in to my true self. 

So, in early February, I went to Costa Rica.  That was more enriching.^  Casting myself out into Nature was good for me, and I began to build basic survival skills.  I began to get back in touch with my true self, the part so often buried under elaborate socialization.  I shook hands with my heart of darkness in the shadow mirror of jungle life.^^

It still wasn’t enough.  So, yesterday, I turned myself into a python.  Then, I flew to Australia via Chicago.**  Then, I ate a crocodile. 

What’s the big deal? 

This is exactly what it’s like to be an almost-famous artist.  Everyone has an opinion on everything you do.  Even when I sit down to have a meal, someone wants to tell me how long I had to fight for it, how easy it was to sneak up on, even how long I’m likely to be full.  Can’t I have a meal without somebody turning it into an article, a youtube video, a media frenzy?  Can’t I have a few hours to eat a crocodile? 

Frankly, I’m done with this thing people call “civilization.”  Tomorrow, I’m going to fly somewhere else and turn into some other species.  Right after I digest this thing. 

USA Today, BBC, Huffington Post, Brisbane Times, etc:  You’ll be hearing from my agent.  He’s an armadillo in Panama.  And before you ask:  Yes, he’s nocturnal.


* media behemoth

^ Who needs an artistic career when you can have a kitchen full of roaches, a backyard full of poisonous snakes, and the chance to clear out spiderwebs with your face? 

^^ Still got it!

** Sorry I didn’t call while I was in town.  I’m a python.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Emergency Weather Advisory

Issued 12:00 pm
Sunday, January 5, 2014


The National Weblog Service has issued a conversation warning for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and this blog.  At this time, any online conversation not hinged in some way to how incredibly fucking cold it is will be outright ignored by the mass of the population.  Facebook residents are encouraged during the advisory to take the following banter precautions:

- Limit all online dialogue to the topic of outside temperature

- Repeatedly reference the following statistics:  -15 degrees, -55 degree windchills, coldest temperatures in 30 years

- Use the term "polar vortex"

- Assume that the population does not understand the term "polar vortex"

- Become fascinated with the term "polar vortex"

- Link only to stories about how frozen everything is, how polar bears are going inside, and how people are pissing steam

- All pictures posted of the Midwest must include a reference to the planet Hoth

- In addition, non-weather-related emails should include at least one inquiry into the well-being of the recipient in "this weather."

This warning is in effect until 8 pm CST on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.


Friday, January 3, 2014

It's 2014. Give Up on Your Career.

It's just into the new year, and people are posting things on facebook like this.  Clearly, the season of reflection has arrived, the time of year in which everyone looks at where their life has gone, where it's going, and where it hasn't gotten to yet.  And everyone feels disappointed--or elated.

If you're an artist, you're feeling especially sentimental.  You're looking back on a year of earning $1,000, one in which you barely worked  As an actor, you didn't get cast in anything except those two shitty projects, one of which cost you more money than you made, the other of which never left the ground.  As a musician, you broke your hand, putting you two thousand in the hole and two months out of practice.  As a dancer, you worked a lot, but nothing was really your own, and you're keenly aware of another precious year gone by.  As you look back at 2013, you realize with trepidation that your artistic career really went nowhere in the last 365.

Or, you're looking back at a year in which your artistic career took major steps forward.  You made a whopping $30,000.  You performed in five plays and booked a commercial.  Your band went on a two month tour.  You sold three photos in the same day for $100 each.  (Two of the purchasers were people you didn't even know.)  You ended the year on a definite upswing, and you can't wait to see what 2014 will bring.

Yes, you are elated / disappointed at the state of your career.  Whichever you are feeling, one thing is certain:  whether this year was trying or triumphant, you put in the work for a reason.  You spent another year dedicated to your art, and that is going to pay dividends.  One day, the glass will break.  Onward.  Upward.  Forward.


Whatever time you spend reflecting on the state of your artistic career, you may as well spend reflecting on how Santa Claus gets all those presents out in 24 little hours.  You may as well be reflecting on the Tooth Fairy's tricks of the trade or on what you're going to do when you win that $700 million in Powerball.  Because here is the unadulterated reality:

There is no such thing as an artist's "career path."

Perhaps this assertion rings hopeless or unambitious.  In that case, let's assume the opposite.  If an artist does in fact have a career path, what is it?  Does it move from poverty to wealth?  From complete obscurity to universal recognition?  Or is it a question of quality of work?  Does an artist's career path begin with ineptitude and end with complete proficiency?  All of these paradigms can be quantified, measured, and mapped, and in their own way, each may vaguely trace an artist's growth.  But a career?

I needn't address the first paradigm, that an artist's career is measured in financial success.  Even the most entrepreneurial-driven artists will admit that the arts are an exceptionally poor choice for someone who's after the big bucks.  There are exceptions in the Keith Lockharts and Quentin Tarantinos of the world, but . . . well, but writing the rest of this paragraph would be a waste of time and web space.  Nobody goes into art for the money.

What about recognition, then?  Shouldn't artists dream of careers that carry them from bullied elementary school nobody to beloved quirky-brilliant celebrity?  As with earning great amounts of money, the odds are against us.  Yet surprisingly, many grounded artists who hold no real hope of financial success still squeeze the expectation of one day being recognized, if not universally, then at least on a street corner somewhere.

This expectation is destructive, discouraging, and unfair, because in the 2010's, an everyone-deserves-to-live-their-dreams mindset has collided with an incredible ease of self-promotion and self-production.  The result is a wildly saturated artistic landscape in which the traditional publishing, marketing, and producing powers are overwhelmed with attention-seekers, and the public eye is equally overwhelmed with an internet swampland of self-produced work.  An artist can create high quality work in his chosen medium for decades, market the hell out of it, yet never have a single attentive eye turn toward it.

More insidious than the futility of this "recognition" career paradigm is its underlying assumption, namely that good work will get attention while bad work will disappear.  The trend, unfortunately, leans the other way.  Speaking in broad strokes, artists that are widely liked and produced are more properly referred to as entertainers.  In earning this title, their work will almost certainly have achieved a certain innocuous quality, stripped largely of its sharpest (and most valuable) ideas, dulled on its edge in order to spoonfeed a common appetite.  Again, there are exceptions, celebrities who have become well-recognized and well-compensated by sharing work that is inventive, uncooperative, potentially divisive.  Can you name them?  Probably on one hand.

Quality of work, then.  Can't we measure our careers by our level of skill, by amplified ability?  Unfortunately, this paradigm is also false, because true artistic growth moves non-linearly on a scale that is constantly changing.  It embraces failure alongside success.  It is evasive and amorphous, and when we try to cage it, we may find ourselves looking a different beast in the eye.  How do we distinguish quality of work?  By how widely well-received a work is?  By how financially successful our work is becoming?  Suddenly, we may find ourselves regressing and calling it "growth."

So where are we going as artists in 2014?  In this humble blogger's opinion, the only true measure of an artist is how well his work expresses truth as he sees it.  Everything else is a distraction.

So, yes.  The glass will break.  But only when you smash your career against it.  Then, among the shards of the illusion of ambition, you may find something worth reflecting.