Monthly Archives: August 2009

How To Succeed At Failing

If I was a tree, what kind of tree would I be?

Answer: Lemon. Because that is what my life is full of right now. Lemons. So many speed bumps have begun to line the serene suburban street that is my life’s path that I am THIS close to quietly exiting my car, grabbing a baseball bat from the trunk and bashing in every single window of my vehicle. THIS close! I swear to God!

I know what you’re saying. “Keith, why don’t you just make lemonade? Or a lemon meringue pie? Or lemon cookies in the shape of the sun and spend an afternoon frosting the cookies with yellow icing and black happy faces?” “And these are all good ideas,” is how I would respond. But these aren’t real lemons that life is handing me cause that would be sweet (or sour?). No, these are figurative lemons. And they’re really getting my goat…and puckering up his cute little goat face.

Artistically is where these lemony life punches to the gut are being thrown. And they are fucking killing me. It started with a bad review in the Chicago Reader and then a string of stand-up shows got canceled on me and then I got rejected for a show I auditioned for and then a play I wrote got rejected and then now I found out my sketch group might be no more. It’s all a lot for me to take, and part of me can’t help but to take it personally. Did I anger the muses? Were they watching me when I thought I was alone? Touching myself? To images of vegetables that look like genitals? Male genitals? But they are really vegetables! So there’s really nothing wrong with it is there. Is there? I mean looking at pictures of gourds and squash is as innocent as looking at pictures of puppies and kittens, at least by community standards…right? I’m not on trial!!!

Anyway, I may have indeed angered those prudish muses. Maybe it was when I declared that I was stepping away from the stage indefinitely to really hunker down and pursue writing as an art and a career. Maybe when I said I was retiring from my short but noble stint as a stand-up comedian. Maybe when I dropped out of nearly every improv program in the city because I don’t have the patience to dedicate so much time and money to pretending to open a door or wash a dish or hit on my sister. I thought focusing on writing was a step in the right direction for me. Don’t get me wrong. I greatly respect performers of all kinds: musicians, comedians, drag queens, etc. But the spotlight just isn’t for me. As much as I enjoy the attention and the instant gratification, I’m too neurotic for the stage and too uncomfortable in my own body to really use it as an artistic instrument. No, I’m best lumping symbols into words and words into sentences and so forth. You know, filling up all that white space with black stuff. Cause people say I got a voice that comes through in my writing. And maybe that is so. Can you hear it? Can you? Hello! La la la la. Strange how there’s no echo…

So these artistic speed bumps, these lemons, they’ve got me down. I feel a bit like a failure. But I’m going to do what I always do and say fuck it. I’m going to brush myself off and move forward. I got a monthly reading series I’m producing come November, and I have some plays and sketches I still want to work on, which I can self produce. Yeah, it’s tough going at it alone, not having a comedy partner or a group to fall back on, but that’s the way it is through most of life. You got your shit…it’s your shit…and so you have to deal with it. No one else is going to deal with your shit. I mean, it’s shit!

Let’s hope something I do works out soon cause I don’t think the whole “misunderstood artist” thing is really becoming.

I'm so emo!

I'm so emo!

Texas Memories Part 1

Not many people know I’m from Texas. Sure, I manage to find a way to slip it into every conversation, and it is a cornerstone of my stand-up act. But you have to understand that very few people listen to me when I talk. I’d like to think it is because they are mesmerized by my beauty, but the truth is they’re just patiently waiting for my mouth to stop moving. Sigh.

But it is true. I’m from Texas. The Dallas area to be exact. And I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in the great plains, many of them deeply repressed. But there are a few gems that have somehow crawled their way to the surface of my consciousness, like some kind of undead creature of the night hellbent on devouring innocent families. And it is these precious Texas memories I wish to share with you.

Here’s one. Mums. You don’t know what a mum is? Then you aren’t from Texas, or at the very least, the South. Mums are big flowery looking things made of paper and chintzy trinkets made in Taiwan. Everything is hot glued together by women with too much time on their hands who have husbands that drink too much. These mums are adorned with ribbons representing one’s high school colors, and these ribbons are adorned with words, often the names of the girl wearing the mum (yes, they are worn) and the boy who “made” the mum for the girl (yes, guys are supposed to make these). These mums are then shown off during homecoming. The girl with the biggest mum, presumably, is loved the most by her boyfriend and therefore is better than the other girls. The guy who gives the biggest mum is worshiped by the other guys because it is known he will be having sex in his 1998 Ford Mustang by nightfall. This is all facts.

To see a picture of a mum, scroll down to the bottom of this post. In the meantime, keep reading, y’all.

So girls really do wear these atrocities, like Stars of David during WWII. Except instead of identifying them as kindling for the Nazis, the mums symbolize expendable income. Because these things cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, despite being made of the craft store equivalent of marshmallows and pretzels. And there are entire companies that are in the business of making little symbols to put on your mum, like a little trumpet to represent marching band or a boot to represent drill team or a heart to represent “easy.” There are also women who make good money making mums for schools across the metroplex (that’s what the grotesque Siamese twin Dallas/Ft. Worth is called). They sit at home hot gluing this and curling that, as their barren wombs sit empty in contrast to those beautiful mums.

I don’t remember what any of my old mums looked like. All I remember is that the entire process was inane. Oh, and that my friend Brian accidentally spelled his name “Brain” on the ribbon for his date. But I’ll never forget how stupid that tradition was, and I’ll always have a place in my heart that is empty because of my participation.

Mums' the word!

Mums' the word!

Leadership Is A Many-Lettered Word (That I Can’t Spell)

Today I went on a bike ride with my dear friend Elizabeth. We rode along the lake in the middle of a Tuesday, defiantly giving the figurative finger to all of downtown Chicago as if to say, “Hey worker bees! Look at us breathing in freedom air! And I’m not even wearing a helmet!” And it is true. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Because I believe that I’m best tactless rather than being intact (Do you see what I did there? That’s a fucking Mensa joke.) But seriously, don’t be cool like me. Wear a helmet.

Anyway, we talked about leadership: what it means, how to do it, challenges, and ways to still point fingers when something goes terribly, terribly wrong ala “I Love Lucy.”

Although I’ve never seen myself as a leader, I often involve myself in activities where, suddenly, I look around and I’m at the center of the circle, the front of the line, the boar of the nursery (that’s the man of the raccoon pack to the unenlightened). I don’t know why this is. I’m not especially competent or bright. I think I’m terribly indecisive, but I’m sure my opinion can be swayed if someone convinced me otherwise. And I hate offending people. And I especially hate bossing them around. (I’d make the shittiest sheep dog ever, if I were a sheep dog. Which I’m not!)  So why am I a natural-born leader, as a recent Facebook test identified me as?

Here’s the secret about being a leader: Team up with losers. That’s right! If you aren’t too bright, then you should only surround yourself with majorly incompetent people. I’m talking about bathing with a toaster radio stupid; I’m talking about playing golf on Lightening Island stupid; I’m talking Britney Spears after a bong-a-thon stupid. If you surround yourself with people who can’t tie their own shoes, and then you tie their shoes for them, they will think you are a god. Double-plus good if you’re beautiful and they are all double-baggers (This is when you have sex with someone who is so ugly, their face must be obscured by two bags instead of the usual one. I should note that a double bagger implies the use of paper bags. Plastic bags denotes sexual excitement derived from cold-blooded murder. Small but significant difference.)

Of course surrounding yourself with lessors who worship you is fun. But it won’t really accomplish anything. I mean, you might be leading a ship (i.e. captaining), but if your crew eats paint chips, you’re probably going to sail in circles until you get scurvy or gay pirate sexed (which is way better than scurvy).

This is why the other method to becoming a leader is optimal, which is to be a fair, empathetic person who strives for best but not perfect. This person must be able to identify someone’s top skills and find a way to capitalize on them. For example, let’s say you have an egghead mathematician kind of guy. You don’t want him proofreading documents or hitting on women. You want him doing calculations and quietly masturbating in his VW on his lunch breaks. Or say you have someone who is good at painting. You don’t want them creating an Excel spreadsheet. You want them to stop asking you for change on the street corner. Get my jist? No? Neither do I.

The point is, if you’re going to be a leader, be a good people person and strive to make every team member happy. By utilizing their skills, they will feel fulfilled and purposeful. By empathizing with them, they will see you as compassionate. And although you must be kind, you must be firm. Being indecisive or indirect only fosters a distrust among your team and will call them to question your skills and judgment. And of course, be willing to admit when you have made a mistake because this will help people think you’re not a monster (especially after you club their children and make bread out of their bones).

Oh, and always have a scapegoat on hand in case everything you touch turns to shit (the Sadim touch as I call it (Midas spelled backward)).

I was set up!

I was set up!

Keith Ecker On Feast of Fun

Check it out! (Click the pic)

keithfof

Sage Advice From a Drag Queen

The best way to start any conversation (and there is NO room for argument here…NONE!), is “So I heard some sage advice from a drag queen…” Your audience will immediately perk up. The straights will want to hear what over-the-top, hot-tranny-mess business you got yourself into now, and the gays will want to hear the advice.

Is it strange that a drag queen would be able to offer us all a glimpse into the endless depths of wisdom that are beyond us mere mortals? No. For you see, like their ancestors before them (the banshee, the fairy, the pixie, the drag-on), the drag queen is a magical creature with powers beyond our lay comprehension. It’s common knowledge that they come from a lost land near the arctic circle that is inhabited by both dinosaurs and robots (who sometimes attempt to breed in vain, creating a tragic mess of rotating machine parts and slaughtered triceratops genitalia). Drag queens are the Tarzans of these lands, and they travel in packs, hunting and gathering as their dual natures would suggest. Two spirited is what gay Indians would call them.

But us humans in our endless quest to ruin every party enslaved these queens and brought them to our land to live among our people like so much house cats. Unable to assimilate, the drag queens found themselves homeless, begging for platform shoes and sparkly, shiny dresses on street corners. Finally they found homes in nightclubs across the country, performing like little trained poodles for our hungry eyes. “Entertain us! We are so bored we will watch you lip synch to songs we never liked when they were new 10 years ago!” That is what we say. And they abide. Oh yes, they abide.

There is one drag queen, however, who has shown herself to be, how shall I put it…of extraordinary pedigree. They call her Ru Paul, and she is obsessed with putting bass into your walk (see “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” for reference). In any case, Ru had a reality show where various other members of the drag queen race competed to see who was the best. The winner got hand-me down prizes from various other reality shows, such as a photoshoot in Paper magazine and $20,000. After the show concluded, the producers decided we, the viewing public, craved more. And so we did. And so they fed us some more slop from the t.v. slop bowl, that being a post-show “where are these queens now” kind of thing. And during this segment, after one of the drag queens spoke out of turn and gave Ru some lip, Ru (in man form) talked back. See below, and then continue reading for commentary.

If you didn’t notice, what Ru says is some good shit. Don’t let the haters get to you. The only reason you ever have self doubt is because you are forgetting who you are. People’s negative opinions about you are their problem. Constructive criticism is one thing, but trying to tear someone down just reflects that person’s insecurities. It’s not your problem. You just keep strutting in your heels, knowing that you are indeed fabulous.

This is what has partly inspired me to be more bold in my own life. I’m trying to produce a special monthly series right now. I’ve never produced something like this. I’ve done 5-week runs of improv and sketch shows, but not an ongoing, monthly series. And I know there are some people out there who probably doubt I can do this. And I know there is a voice inside me that believes them. But I will NOT let that voice win out. I know I can produce a damn good show, and a damn good show I will produce. Or my drag name isn’t Nikki Teen.

And what.

And what.

An Apology

I want to apologize for some of the harsh things I wrote about Tony Valenzuela. Anything construed as a personal attack on his character rather than a challenge to his opinions is unwarranted. In addition, my posts were based on the information shared during the forum, not information gleaned from other sources. These forums can have a tendency to not allow the presenters adequate time to flesh out or back up an idea, opinion or concept they share. Therefore this can cause confusion for those that aren’t as versed in said person’s perspective. And I feel I may have misunderstood some of Mr. Valenzuela’s points due to this time constraint. I will be reading more of his work to clarify some questions I have.

Also, I am a comedian and a creative writer. Some of what I write is rooted in hyperbole and is not meant to be taken seriously. However, when writing about serious topics (which I do rarely), I can see how some of my thoughts can be misinterpreted, especially when the reader doesn’t really know me. So in the future, if I am going to be throwing my hat into a heated ring, I’m going to make sure I’m not clowning around. Also, I’m passionate about the health of our community, and sometimes my emotions can trump my manners. So there’s that too.

In any case, I do have differences of opinion, which I will not apologize for. Let us all come to conclusions ourselves. Never take a study or an article or a quote at face value. Never be so eager to swallow something that is spoonfed to you. Education takes work, and it is your job to educate yourself. And always question, question, question. Because that’s how you eventually get answers.

Piggyback (Follow-up to my previous post)

Jim Pickett of LifeLube.org responded to my post. I realize what I wrote necessitates a follow-up to clarify some points I made.

First, there is nothing wrong with condomless sex between two HIV negative, monogamous men. There is also nothing wrong with two HIV positive men, who are monogamous, engaging in condomless sex. This is their choice, and because they are acting as a closed circuit, due to the monogamy of their relationship, they are not putting anyone else at risk.

Now here’s where complications set in. Are these two hypothetical, HIV negative men truly monogamous. How long have they been together? Long enough to ensure that they are truly negative (6 months)? Do they plan on being monogamous in the future? If they do not, do they plan on engaging in anal intercourse, and if so, will they use protection? Will this protection be fool-proof (it wont’ be)? Will they always remember to slip on a condom? Will they be open and honest with each other if there is a slip up?

The point is, even in a situation where condomless sex appears to have no risk, there is still a chance for risk. Does this mean you shouldn’t ever engage in barebacking? Absolutely not. I’m not advocating for condom use at all times. I am advocating for condom use most of the time (hook-ups, non-monogamous partnerships, good dates, bad dates, etc.).

So what are we really trying to accomplish as a community when it comes to sex? I’ll tell you.

We are attempting to reduce our level of risk while maximizing our pleasure. If for most people, maximizing their pleasure means condomless sex, then you will see the risk side of the equation shoot up. Not a great balance. However if we advocate for condom use at all times, then you’ll see the pleasure portion plummet for many. No anal sex, likely the safest form of sex, probably reduces this pleasure bar even more (unless of course you are a gay man who doesn’t enjoy anal sex). So how do we find a happy medium? Do we take calculated risks to strike a balance? What kind of risks do we take? Is maximizing our pleasure really worth the risk? Are we just being uber-American, wanting everything but willing to sacrifice nothing? These are the questions that keep me up at night…until I fall asleep and dream about dinosaurs.

Once again, I want to iterate that I am not against barebacking. I believe it can be a healthy way for two educated men to engage in sex with one another.

*Footnote: Also, regarding Tony: I will read more of his work. All I really have to go off of is his panel conversation from last night. And aside from me disagreeing with his perspective, he contradicted himself a lot, as I pointed out in my previous post. Saying that porn has little influence, but then saying that youth learn by example is a contradiction. Saying that we are doing the best we can but that we can do more (another quote) is a contradiction. Maybe he’s just not a good public speaker. I can give him that. But when he is up on a stage, being advertised as an expert, then he better choose his words more carefully.