And All That Buzz

Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon were special talents.  He is still the only artist to win the Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards all in one year (1973) and she was the first musical theatre actress to win four Tony Awards.

More to the point, it’s not every estranged married couple who kept working with each other years after their estrangement that has an eight part miniseries aired about their lives decades after their deaths.

When you watch Fosse/Verdon on FX, and everyone should, it’s difficult not to marvel at the sheer breadth of their work that will forever live on long after all of our deaths.  Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Damn Yankees, Chicago and All That Jazz, to drop a handful of legendary landmarks, are only a few highlights.

Both director/choreographer Fosse, and Broadway star, muse and behind-the-scenes facilitator Verdon did all kinds of work in a wide variety of genres.  But what unites them, more than anything, is their dedication to a disciplined, single-minded type of artistry that seems to have disappeared from the cultural zeitgeist these days.

Let’s not get it wrong; there are contemporary artists with the type of discipline that both Verdon and Fosse shared with us all through their lives.  But in both their cases they left far more than that, as the miniseries shows us.

OK yes, him (and he’s producing Fosse/Verdon… go figure)

In a sense, Fosse/Verdon, and their lives, gives us a timeless roadmap to the world pre #MeToo.  It was an existence where men consistently had the upper hand, the best opportunities AND usually got sole credit for ALL of the work even when that wasn’t necessarily the case.

When females actually managed to shine in their own spotlight far brighter than their male counterparts, it was in the midst of the age-old expectation that they would eventually dim their bulbs and take time off from doing their own thing in order to help the guy’s light to shine just as bright (and often brighter) on a project of their own without basking in the glory.

Who is holding up whom? (hint: It’s Gwen)

It was either that or turn the other cheek when the man brooded and strayed into the arms of many other women because, well, how could HE not when SHE wasn’t around.   For those women choosing to go solo, well they might make it alone for a bit but much sooner than later they’d mostly age out and be left alone – a fate few would be able to happily survive when left to their own devices in the real world.

We’ve come a long way from those times, though likely not as far as we think we have, one suspects.  As one watches Ms. Verdon endure her husband’s serial infidelities as she bails him out in too many ways to count on Cabaret, it occurs to us, hmmm, and why didn’t I ever know that, how come she never got any credit?   As she continues to serve as his creative sounding board on so many other future projects and successes (Note: And notably doesn’t on several of the failures) we become clear of the extent of their partnership, and just how much we DON’T know about who did what and just how much on any uber successful project of any artist or in any artistic collaboration.

Truly a singular sensation  #yesiknowthatfsromChorusLine

None of this is to take anything away from the miraculous creative vision and accomplishments a talent of the caliber of a Bob Fosse leaves us.  It’s one thing for a chorus boy/dancer to turn expert choreographer and then director of Broadway musicals.  It’s another to then become a sophisticated movie director who not only reinvented the onscreen musical with the movie Cabaret  (Note: Beating out Francis Coppola’s work on The Godfather to win the best director Oscar that year) but then two years later go on make the critically acclaimed, black and white non-musical, biopic of Lenny Bruce, Lenny, and use a non-linear narrative from which to tell it.

Not to mention the release of the autobiographical biopic All That Jazz five years later, a thoroughly original multi-Oscar nominated film success he co-wrote and directed that pretty much presaged the reasons behind his own death (Note: 12 years later) for all the world to see in glorious living color on movie screens all across the world.

JAZZ. HANDS.

Gwen Verdon was at Fosse’s side in various ways all through those artistic leaps and bounds and together they define a certain type of show business special that today too often feels sorely lacking.

Though the special is still there.  In fact, you see it every day, all around.  But the show business special – hmmm, that’s another story.

I, for one, am soooo tired of hearing young talent is not what it used to be, not special, not on the level of a Fosse or a Verdon anymore.

Well, of course ability like theirs was, indeed, rare, as were their complex sensibilities and intellect for telling a sophisticated yet human story.  But there are many people who are special in all kinds of different ways now, some of them even similar to a Fosse or a Verdon, whose work has little chance of gaining recognition.  Even when it does, it almost never gets that same kind of mainstream acceptance.

This EXACTLY

For one, there is not the mass attendance for a single form of media that we once had.  There was a time when Broadway theatre was IT and it tackled primarily new and exciting subjects, or at least fresh and entertaining/thought-provoking ones that often broke into the cultural zeitgeist.

Movies also told primarily real life human stories sans gaping plot holes, and for decades later it was not unusual for the biggest successes to say something about our lives as we knew them (Note: Or didn’t know them) that year.  Sure, there were disaster films, spectacles, horror, sci-fi and mindless comedies, but they were not the overwhelming majority of the work.  Yes, they had special effects but to have a really SPECIAL affect on the world you had to do a lot more than simply launch a starship into an infinite universe or create a colorful costumed villain whose one goal in life was an unmotivated ambition to blow up the universe.

I mean.. is it really even the end?

Right, right, we can hear the hiss and boos about this type of grousing from this computer screen already.  Well, no one is saying these shows and films shouldn’t exist.  Or that it’s a shame that television has expanded to the point where there is so much programming that no one show ever seems to be particularly special to most of us.

But the facts are that in an age when media is so diffuse and so plentiful there is almost no young person that can create the level and sheer amount of narrative work or performance with the same amount of staying power, depth of story and cultural intensity of a Fosse or a Verdon.  There isn’t the mass popular audience for that kind of sophisticated worldview, that type of show biz special.  It’s just not how the industry is set up these days.

We have international stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and, dare I say it, Jordan Peele??   But can they do the kind of deep or stylized work of Fosse or Verdon and break through? Schindler’s List was 25 years agoRaging Bull came out FOUR DECADES ago.

I’m…. I’m… OLD

Star Wars is not Cabaret, or even The Godfather – it can’t be and wasn’t meant to be.  Because the truth is there is no longer a mass-market avenue for the latter two projects.  But even fluffier Broadway shows that catapulted Ms. Verdon to stardom like Sweet Charity and Damn Yankees would doubtless be made into theatrical films in the 2000/10s.  Chicago, her final starring vehicle finally was, but decades after the original closed on Broadway and barely broke even.  It was only when a stripped down, TV/movie star driven revival was launched and kept afloat with a rotating name cast that Hollywood came calling and a film was produced that was safe enough to appeal to mass acceptance.

To look at that film in light of Fosse/Verdon one realizes that despite its Oscar win it’s the anti-Cabaret.  Rather than move forward the medium or the film’s story it merely waters it down with an eye towards the present as it pastiches various Fosse-like moves from the past.  And it was released a full 17 years agoGet Out, for all its cultural significance, (Note: And add on Us) is nowhere near the class of storytelling of any of Fosse’s best work, or that of a Scorsese or a Spielberg.  #PlotHoleCity

For these reasons and many more, one can’t help but mourn a bit for the past during the Fosse/Verdon miniseries.  It gives us so much show biz special in an age when it’s not the thought behind the show, but the delivery system by which it comes to us, that feels the most special to us.

Liza Minnelli – “Maybe This Time” (from Cabaret)

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Hug Life

I caught up with a true indie film the other night called Diane that is available through VOD or at several theatres nationwide.  It is anchored by a fine leading performance by Mary Kay Place and is a movie about regrets and the ways we torture ourselves into believing we must forever pay for some major past transgression for which we can’t be forgiven.

There is no get out of jail free card in real life – well, except if you’re one of the uber rich like, say, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – but there should be term limits for self immolation.  After one apologizes, changes one’s actions and attempts to make amends, or does at least two of the three, what more is there to do than learn from the experience and begin living one’s life in a way where you don’t make the same kind of mistake again?

Ehhhh… is this right?

That’s at least what Diane argues and after watching the film see if you don’t agree that life is short, apologies can be cleansing and that forgiveness is the ultimate form of survival and self-preservation.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was in the news this week for some past mistakes nowhere near the caliber of the ones made by Diane.  One can only imagine how many we make by the time we get to our mid-seventies.  I, for one, have my plate full at this point.

Cue Sinatra’s My Way #Ididitmyyyyyyway

The current mistake VP Biden is being spit-roasted for is, in his case, more of a way of being.  A kind of touchy, feely straight white male patriarchal thing involving hugs, intimacy, compassion and yes, perhaps over-affectionate boundary-breaking.

He is justly a bit on the ropes in the 2019 #MeToo era for invading the personal space of six women so far, NONE of whom believe his actions were of a sexual nature or rise to the level of anything at all we’ve read about in other #MeToo cases in the news.

In fact one of his accusers, Nevada politician Lucy Flores, recently admitted on a cable news program when pressed that she was a Bernie Sanders supporter and one of the prime reasons she was coming forward right now was that she felt the public should know about her experience with VP Biden and make their judgments accordingly.  Presumably, this was because she knew the public would soon be making their decisions about who to vote for in the 2020 election, a contest Biden is said to soon be entering.

I’m gonna need Steve Kornacki to break this down for me

It is not for any of us to judge how women or anyone feel about personal space.  For some, a three-second hug can be too long, a nose rub is akin to a touch in the nether regions and a kiss from anyone with whom one does not initiate it with first is beyond creepy.

Looking inward I realize I am by no means one to criticize.  To this day I find professional massages much too vulnerable and intimate an undertaking and have never fully relaxed with any of a handful of masseuses I’ve been coerced to trying over the years  (Note:  Please don’t write in with suggestions.  I’m good with getting them only from lovers (well, now husband) or friends whom I deeply trust).

This is not to say my norm is even normal.  It’s simply the way it is – for me.

What about this looks comfortable? #srsly #someonehelp

Most of us have a clear understanding of sexual violation and if not, the laws and mores are evolving and beginning to give us a much more stricter contemporary sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.

But there is no way to know what someone else’s normal is intimacy-wise, particularly if you are an especially affectionate person and grew up in that type of family or social environment.  When I first came out as gay I can recall being a bit taken aback by all of the men who wanted to kiss me hello in a greeting of warm friendship.  Now, of course, I do the same, despite me being strictly averse to massages, even from a pro.

I realize I’m starting to sound like Seinfeld here

One can argue this is vintage American behavior of certain eras and environments.  You don’t get much of this in Europe where for the most part hugs and kisses abound and male-male, female-female, male-to-female and female-male casual intimacy is more often than not seen as no big deal.

Clearly, Vice President Biden was raised in a world where hugs were plentiful and, as his real-life unforeseen tragedies unfolded, he ably played the role of consoler-in-chief.   This was so much the case that it became his personal brand of retail politics.

Joe Biden, over the years, became America’s favorite uncle, Dad and now granddad.  He was the family friend of your parents you looked forward to seeing, the guy who seemed to always want to truly hear about what you were doing.  He was someone who could suss out exactly when you needed a pat on the back or an embrace by simply looking at your face without you saying a word.

Remember the term “consoler in chief”?

Or perhaps that’s my fantasy.   Surely it’s the reason I have for decades referred to him as Uncle Joe.

Then perhaps like some of you I’m caught in a bit of a quandary.  Uncle Joe is clearly running for president, could get the nomination and will then have to square off against truly evil Uncle Donald.  The latter is the guy who occasionally takes you on lavish family trips but ALWAYS throws it back in your parents’ faces.  He’s affectionate and amiable, but watch out if you cross him.  In fact, don’t try it, ever.  He will ruin you and maybe your parents.  He will certainly do everything he can to poison the well for you among other family members and will likely succeed with many of them since you’re likely expendable and to not go along with his wishes in this family matter would mean to miss out on all those fancy trips.

But I digress.

Oh thank god this analogy is over #yuck #uncledonald

Joe Biden publicly stated this past week that in the future he promises to be more mindfulThe boundaries of protecting personal space has been reset, he said in a video posted on You Tube.  I get it.  I get it.  I hear what they’re saying and I understand it… That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.

One supposes that is the right political decision but going forward we all need to ask ourselves if it is the correct personal one.  Would you rather have not enough or too much?  Because none of us will ever get it exactly right with every person we meet.   This is especially the case for the person who meets millions.

Personally, I find it sad to err on the side of withholding when these days so many Americans are in need of one big, massive, Biden-like group hug.  And this is coming from the guy who doesn’t like massages.

Journey – “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”

This is US

[ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS AHEAD… PROMISE]

The best part of Jordan Peele’s Us is how the filmmaker continues to subvert audience expectations by simply being himself and showing the world as he sees it.

In this case it is watching a family of color as our principal protagonists, nee heroes, as they fight the inevitable monster and carnage that threatens to engulf them.

Not creepy or anything #runsaway

More importantly, it is the relegation of the white couple to the traditional role of the best friends who you know will appear and reappear at will when some comic relief or convenient plot device is needed.

In this way Us is a totally original mainstream reinvention of the horror genre that is very much in the tradition of Peele’s groundbreaking Get Out.  Our view of the upscale suburban nuclear family to which very bad things will happen is no longer beige but color-corrected.

Yes, Ru!

The fact that this is about all that has changed from the usual is both the film’s strong point and its weakness.  Many contemporary horror films already have a patina of social commentary and Us is no different.

It spoils nothing about Us to say that in initially taking us back to 1986’s Hands Across America campaign, where a multicultural human chain was created in cities across the United States to raise money for charities that helped people in poverty, we are being set up for the inevitable “but has the world really changed” question by the end of the film.

The attempt to make this well-to-do Black family just as human as any white family in any horror film – that is to say a bit too two-dimensional and self-satisfied – succeeds as well as it ever has.  The characters are just as clueless, oblivious and bereft of individuality as any white family in a similar social class or big screen genre entertainment.

but still not as horrifying as this #isit2020yet

It’s sort of the way I initially felt watching gay culture become mainstreamed in the eighties and nineties and beyond with the advent of Will & Grace, Ellen, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and Marriage Equality.

Well, I guess we really have arrived, I recalled thinking.  Now we can be just as average as everyone else.  Hallelujah!

Never mind I was also simultaneously seeing myself like Dustin Hoffman/Katharine Ross at the end of 1967’s The Graduate – two people who get EXACTLY what they wish only to be left wondering, Well, uh, okay.  You mean now this is my…reality?  

Uh oh

Of course there ARE many more benefits to being able to finally get married or serve openly in the military than there are to being front and center in a horror film (Note:  And as soon as I can think of one I’ll let you know….Oh, KIDDING!!!).  But if movies are indeed one of the most enduring and mainstream social chronicles of who we really are, it’s hard not to hope for just a little bit more.

After all, George Romero’s seminal Night of Living Dead gave us a Black hero as far back as 1968 and became the social commentary scale against which all horror films got measured.  I can recall finally seeing it as a teen some years later on television and being blown away at its message (Note: Don’t hate me, it was the seventies) and audacity.  So is it too much to ask for a little more than that of the genre some fifty plus years later?

Enough with the scary Nuns.. really #dobetter2019

In fairness, Romero has stated publicly that the reason that his lead actor in Night was Black mostly had to do with the fact that the actor, Duane Jones, was simply the person who gave the best audition.  Nevertheless, with a budget of $114,000 and an international gross upwards of $30 million it’s hard to imagine the director-writer didn’t know he was on to something.

This is what happens sometimes in moviemaking, happy accidents of instinct where the choices one makes pay off creatively and financially far better than anyone could imagine.  One could argue the same is possible and true today, but not as likely as when your budget is $20 million plus a helluva lot more than that in marketing.  Not to mention all of the release dates you have to meet (which includes both film festival and distributor/exhibitor bookings) AND the sophomore jinx trifecta of a best screenplay Oscar win, critical plaudits and box-office breaking success in an auteur driven film, your first, in the horror genre.

No Pressure for Mr. Peele

Sure there are countless worse problems in the real world than the success of Get Out but few if any of them are effectively addressed in the onscreen story of Us.  Instead what we get is a lot of talk about the Freudian concept of our shadow selves and the consequences of such when these darkest impulses are either indulged or ignored.

It’s an interesting discussion for an abnormal psychology class but not quite the stuff that drives a good or even great horror flick.

What does give Us its engine is a bravura performance by Lupita Nyong’o, one part troubled but relentless Mother Hen and the other part vacuum cleaner-voiced scissor sister with an internal moral compass known only to herself.

We don’t deserve you, Lupita

It kind of reminds you of a 2019 version of Rosemary’s Baby where Mia Farrow is given the chance to portray both herself AND the Devil.  (Note: And, um, NO, Lupita does NOT play the Devil in Us.  There are NO SPOILERS HERE for the umpteenth time!).

Much as I adored Rosemary’s Baby I was sort of hoping for more in Mr. Peele’s second time out.  But perhaps this is being unfair to him.  After all, Rosemary’s Baby was based on a best-selling book of cutting social satire by novelist Ira Levin that was expertly plotted and insanely insightful.  A story that dealt with another upwardly mobile couple/mother Hen in a foreboding time period in America that similarly used the horror genre to address dark privilege, the righteous anger of those who have been discounted by it and the chains that will forever tether the two together.

Hmmm, sounds awfully timely to me.  And perhaps this time the film and novel from which it springs could literally be political?  Though maybe that’s way too obvious.

Luniz – “I Got 5 On It” (from the soundtrack of Us)

Chaos & Clarity: How I Learned to Survive Waiting for the Mueller Report

America 2019 — You can feel the chaos.   Step outside your door and engage people and eventually it’s difficult not to sense a series of conflicting feelings depending on where you are and whom you are hanging with.

Sure, to some extent it has always been this way.  But if I had to pinpoint one byproduct of the Trump presidency that would register across the board it is that we are in a transition period where nothing is exactly as it used to be.

A poem for our times

From the perch where I sit in the bluest of blue states, I think of it as everything being a little off.    Yet red state America supporters that view things as finally back on the right track are more than likely thrown by the level of anger and moral outrage from folks like me.

Those in the middle, as well as others more magnanimous who currently seek to unite the country, are likely torn.  They see merit in various places but struggle to herd all of us cats back into any sort of viable formation. The confusion and abnormalities they are forced to bear witness to daily must be confounding.  It’s any wonder they can even function as the rest of us relentlessly snipe at them (and each other) from both sides.

We’ll just call these folks Switzerland

As we await the full result and impact of the Mueller report one coping strategy is to embrace the chaos knowing full well that there has never been a chaos invented that lasts forever.   I mean, thoroughly lean into it.  Revel in it.  Play around in it from different vantage points before taking any definitive action in any one matter related to it.

The nature of chaos is that it is an ever-swirling series of unpredictable, seemingly random events that eventually turn into, well… many physicists believe at one time a group of such occurrences turned into the creation of the universe.

Even if you don’t believe in science you can’t deny that a bunch of stuff can conspire to happen that can create a new set of circumstances you never expected from a source you can’t fully understand.

Not believing in science?!?!? #holdupChair

It’s called faith and it’s prevalent in the unlikeliest corners and disciplines in both blue and red state America.  (Note:  How’s that for extending an olive branch????)

Of course, I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  It’s part of the seminal work of physician, author and prominent New Age figure Deepak Chopra.  He, in turn, synthesized this way of thinking from Buddhist philosophy, science and the meditation communities, and more than thirty years ago began packaging it into a series of books and seminars, as well as a lavish wellness center located in Carlsbad, CA.

Just checking in

Which doesn’t make any of what he speaks of any less true or more false.

I stumbled upon Mr. Chopra once again while flipping my TV channels in frustration and landing on my local PBS station.  Yes, I was THAT annoyed that evening.

In any event, in discussing his long ago bestseller, The Seven Spiritual Laws to Success (Note: Now available in a cool PBS sponsored DVD package!) one moment hit the writer part of me squarely in the jaw.   Chaos is what ultimately enables creativity.  Horrible as it can be to deal with and live through it’s often when our work or lives are in the biggest mess possible that change happens.

I know, I know… I kept thinking to myself this is so much B.S.  Until I recalled how many professional disappointments led me kicking and screaming into something ultimately much much better for me and how many rotten toads I had to kiss in life (Note:  Too many to count and they know who they are…or do they?) until I found someone different I might never have noticed had I not finally put a lifetime moratorium on ALL amphibians.

This is all just reminding me of how much I love Mayor Pete

When things are as crappy and chaotic as you imagine they ever will be (aka sh-tty) it helps to remember just walking through it or realizing that there was a time when you benefitted from a set of circumstances you had nothing at all to do with (aka dumb luck)  Or that a casual action you took or comment you made off the cuff created an opportunity you never anticipated.

We’ll never know whether it was random or a series of your small, nee authentic actions that created the good times.  It might be a combination of both or neither.  But what we do know is that any action causes a reaction.  (Note: Once again, see science).

We also know the opposite is likely true.  The one way to ensure nothing changes in your absolutely miserable life is to do the same miserable thing each day.  And that even if a series of random events do come together to grant you some good fortune with that strategy you will probably be so enervated you’ll be too ill prepared to take full advantage of it.

Otherwise know as, in popular parlance, a lose-lose.

Not gonna work

I once had a shrink years ago that tried to help get me out of my own pit of despair with a variation on this very strategy.  I was not only sad but angry and isolated and correctly sensed no one, and I mean NO ONE, wanted to be around me anymore.

At one point, in defiance and exasperation at the lack of help and support I believe I deserved, I bellowed: What am I supposed to do, just pretend to be happy?

To which he simply replied:

Yes.

ummm.. am I hearing this right??

Well, at first I was even more pissed off.  So I took a minute to think about it in silence.  During which time he told me that sometimes simply the repetition of a behavior can change things.

Even one you don’t mean?????

Yes.

This is not to say pretending to be happy cures unhappiness.   Obviously we all need to examine and accept what we feel and take action in any way that we can to resolve a situation.  But when there is no magic wand to truly SOLVE the issue, what else can one do simply just to get kick started?

But wait!! Fairy Godmother help!!

Well, another acceptable alternative to that way of thinking is to simply stop and acknowledge things are a mess.  Then look around at the mess and just observe – and DON’T think of solutions.  (Note: If you want to pretend you’re happier than you are when you’re doing this you can go ahead, but it’s certainly not a requirement and I, for one, one couldn’t do both).

Instead treat the moment, desperate as it may be, from the sort of impartial stance of an outsider.   Take it all in fully, from ALL sides, and then, when you’re ready, continue on, remembering all that stuff you were thinking when you had NO skin in the game.

This action won’t necessarily give you an answer but can likely also put you in a different place.   If the problems are deeply vexing, as they are these days, you might want to do it daily, or at least 2- 3 times a week, reminding yourself that the rage or intensity you observed yourself feeling are not felt by everyone (or even anyone) as often.  (Note: Even by you, since you’re now spending at least 10-15 minutes simply observing…or pretending to).  What’s their take and why?  Soak it in, let your mind wander and DON’T have an opinion on it.

So.. not this? Got it.

This exercise is not dissimilar from what many of us writers do when we’re stuck as to what a character would truly do or say.  We stop, look at it from various vantage points, and just sit there – angry and perplexed when no solution comes to mind.  No satisfying one, anyway.

But ask a handful of professionals what then eventually does happen.  Somehow, somewhere a thought, a strategy or even a potentially outlandish answer comes – and usually when you’re driving or in the shower.

Waterproof shower notepads.. actually exist #problemsolved

Refusing to rage about a problem or obsess about it 24/7 doesn’t mean you don’t care or are not seeking a remedy.  It only means you have learned to embrace the process (aka chaos) and know that out of insanity, an idea and an action and a change will come.  It may not be perfect but what could be worse than the mess you – and we – are in now?

Okay, don’t answer that.   Just know that will change, too.  And then change back again.

Damn.

Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait”

Pete for America

Dear Mayor Pete:

First and foremost you need to keep going.

If the country is to again believe America is truly a land of opportunity, well, what better way to illustrate that than becoming the youngest president in U.S. history, the first openly gay POTUS and the only person to be elevated from small town mayor to the highest office in the land?

Your story literally sounds like a pitch for a major studio remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington targeting the millennial generation.

Or is he exactly what we need?

Of course, most of us realize the country that up until recently sold itself as a place where anything is possible for anyone was never really quite that way.  We’ve been too racist, too classist, too homophobic and too corrupt at the top levels of government for way too long.

On the other hand, it would be a mistake to say that everyone and everything is innately evil.  More than anything, that is what your nascent, seemingly impossible presidential campaign shows us each day.  If a Democratic gay guy can twice get elected mayor of a Republican town (Note: The last time with 80% of the vote) in Mike Pence’s home state, um, what else might happen?

The bad punch line from 2015 would be:  Donald Trump will be president???

The good punch line from 2020 could be:  Guess what, we’re playing The Scissor Sisters at the inauguration and you WILL be watching two men (he and his husband) canoodling.

the cuteness is almost too much (they have TWO dogs) #icant

Which is a signal to open this letter up to everyone.

For those who think Pete Buttigieg (pronounced BOOT-edge-edge) probably has as much chance getting the Democratic nomination for president as I do, perhaps you’re right.  Or perhaps not.

You need to have at least 65,000 money donors from 20 states or to register at 1% in three national polls to participate in the upcoming blue fate special.  After a recent CNN Town Hall and only the very beginnings of his cross-country travels, Mayor Pete has surpassed that level on both scores.

So, who is this guy?

A Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar and a former Navy intelligence officer and Afghanistan war veteran.

Returning home to South Bend after a tour of duty in 2014 #therealdeal

A mayor who took over a city losing residents and money with the promise he’d revitalize downtown and raze or refurbish 1000 houses in 1000 days who accomplished that goal 63 days early and began attracting lots of new residents, new money, new jobs and new industry into the community.

A candidate who supports the Green New Deal as a good start to tackling climate change, backs single payer health insurance only if the insurance companies play a role and sees the immigrant population as a cornerstone to our success.

He’s also pretty good on Twitter (Note: A key skill in the battle to be POTUS in 2020).   When would-be Starbucks chief and fellow aspiring independent presidential hopeful Howard Schultz recently declared he’d spent more time overseas with the military than any other candidate running, Mayor Pete quickly shot back:

Schultz promptly apologized.

These alone are not qualifications for the White House but they certainly bode well for someone seeking a place in the national conversation.  The transcript from his recent Town Hall provides further evidence.

Slaying it on CNN #GoMayorPete

So does the open letter he made sure to send out to the Islamic society that represents South Bend’s Islamic community right after the white supremacist terrorist attack that killed 50 people and injured 50 more in New Zealand mosque last week.  Suffice it to say it starts with:

…This city is deeply committed to your safety and well-being, continues to state this entire City wraps its arms around you in love and peace, and goes on from there.

As for his views on numerous other issues, here’s some research courtesy of various sources, including PBS, NPR, CNN and The Washington Post:

On vice-president Mike Pence’s religious freedom stance in opposition to LGBTQ rights:

His understanding of religious text “has a lot more to do with sexuality and, I don’t know, a certain view of rectitude.” But even if you buy into that, how could he allow himself to become the cheerleader of the porn star presidency?  Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?

Callin’ out that hypocrisy LIKE A BOSS #nailedit

On climate change: 

A national security threat and long-term problem for future generations. 

And along with 407 other mayors he signed a pact to adhere to the Paris climate accords that Electoral College POTUS Trump pulled out of.

On foreign policy:

Consistent criticism towards Trump for conducting foreign policy by tweet, support for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and commitment to keep troops in Syria.  He also sees Iran as the single greatest threat to Israel in the Middle East.

On gun control:

A supporter of universal background checks and critic of allowing guns in school and purported Stand Your Ground laws.

👏👏👏

On the Electoral College and the Supreme Court:

An advocate of a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College (including an openness to look at alternatives so smaller states are not left behind) and author of a proposal to expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices from nine.  The latter plan would allow would allow Republicans and Democrats to each appoint five justices, who would unanimously agree on the remaining five appointees.

His website and his numerous more frequent television appearances reveal a lot more.  But perhaps the most revealing and refreshing quote that seems to get inside his decision to run is the mere fact that more than any other candidate he has skin in the game.

My generation is the generation that experienced school shootings beginning when I was in high school, the generation that fought in the post-9/11 wars, the first generation to have to deal with the reality of climate change, and the first generation not to be better off than our parents materially – if nothing changes.

Donating now.. FOR REAL

Is he too much of a long shot?  Hell, yes.  Is it pie-in-the-sky to think the guy has a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected?  Maybe.  But we’ve been a lot more surprised and done a hell of a lot worse.  I haven’t made my final decision now that there are 20 plus candidates in the race but this much I know:

The possibilities are limitless.  ON BOTH SIDES.

Mayor Pete PLAYS THE PIANO with Ben Folds (Like I couldn’t swoon more!)

Let’s Talk About Abuse

Let’s talk about abuse.

Yay!!!!

There’s the kind of horrifying sexual abuse that James Safechuck and Wade Robson testified to receiving from the ages of 7-14 years of age at the hands (and, sadly, other body parts) of then 30 something Michael Jackson.

We heard their stories in plainspoken excruciating detail this past week in the very fine four-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland.

hard to watch, for sure

Though we experience the facts second-hand it’s difficult to not feel victimized ourselves by the separate yet eerily similar violations as they are told to us.

Until it dawns on us that if we’re feeling this way what must it be like for the adult versions of these two children recounting it as a…love affair they willingly entered into with a man who was the most famous star in the world at the time?

A man who claimed to be the ONE person who would ALWAYS look out for their best interests against an outside world of sick liars would never understand THEM.

If that sounds far from your story or my story or most of OUR collective stories as Americans, think again.

thinking…

No?

Well, perhaps if we put the details aside and stick to the power dynamics.

It was less than three years ago that our relatively young country was similarly seduced by an older, quite famous man who claimed, and I quote:

… I have seen first hand how the system was rigged against OUR CITIZENS

 I have joined the political arena so that the powerful cannot beat up on PEOPLE WHO CANNOT DEFEND THEMSELVES.  Nobody knows the system better than me.  Which is why – I ALONE CAN FIX IT.

Oh god, this effing guy. I can’t. I just… ugh

This is not a stretch.  This is seduction of the powerless with promises of rescue and eventually undying devotion from extremely powerful and famous people who, through those seduced, acquire more of what they desperately crave.

In the case of the former it was love and sex.

In the latter case the man got even more than that.  Much to his own surprise he became THE MOST POWERFUL man in the world.  Or, one could argue, the world’s BIGGEST STAR.

Experts say a key strategy to deal with abuse is to recognize it is happening, set limits on the abuser and eventually remove yourself from the situation.

This is easier said than done for underage victims, since their power is severely limited and their cognitive abilities are not yet fully formed.

In the cases of Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson we watch the process of two men, now in their late thirties and early forties, finally able to take those necessary initial steps only decades after those crimes first occurred.

Confronting the past

They realize that the only way to true mental stability and lasting happiness is to finally recognize what happened to them.  By publicly sharing it with the world one could argue they are also taking the crucial next step of setting limits on any residual control the abuser might have on them (Note: Yes, even from the grave).

One hopes by taking these actions they will then be able to move towards the final act of removing themselves from a way of thinking that empowers that situation to remain alive and control their lives and their actions as adults.

It is only in the recognition of just how completely they were seduced and brainwashed into submission while vulnerable that they can break out of a cycle that alters their reality and causes them to act out towards themselves and the world in countless destructive, and self-destructive, ways.

Take for instance, Michael Jackson truthers (yes, they are real)

Misplaced anger is a powerful motivator for all sorts of questionable actions.  But sometimes it is a lot easier than acknowledging the deep pain, and yes, sadness that that anger is masking.

Which brings us back to the summer of 2016 and promises made to those angry enough to take a chance on a very wealthy man who vowed to protect and love them if only they’d give him the keys to their kingdom.  The implicit pact, as it often initially is in these cases, was that they would get access to his extraordinary life.

Then, in turn, particles of the magical fairy dust he possessed would be sprinkled across the country as a salve and solution to many of the problems they and their families had been facing for decades.  With his know-how they could be him, or a version of him.   Or it would, at the very least, be something shiny, new and distracting.

You know.. like a gold toilet.

One can’t help be reminded of the exciting bohemian relative or recently arrived fantabulous best friend who moves into the neighborhood only to turn everything upside down in a seemingly great way and then eventually leave you worse than you were to begin with.   It is only that person who could have ever made you appreciate your hopelessly average, and sometimes woefully inadequate family life.

.. and sometimes it comes with Seventy Six Trombones

But the thing about charlatans and abusers is that they don’t see themselves as villains.  Be it Michael Jackson of the current Electoral College POTUS, they do truly believe that what their nefarious actions do is actually to improve the lives of their victims.  They convince themselves this has to be the case because they so desperately need their victims to satisfy their own insatiable needs.

Rather than consider this as mere political partisanship, it might helpful to read Jane Mayer’s excellent piece this week in The New Yorker entitled, “The Making of the Fox News White House.”

Much like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson she lays out, piece by piece, a narrative of how not a person but an entity, Fox News, evolved into a far right wing propaganda arm for the current White House that undeniably now functions primarily as a 2019 Orwellian version of State TV.  Or, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes more aptly refers to it, Trump TV.

Are we all just living in an ancient Indian burial ground?

To say that this is solely an abusive situation would be an insult to survivors like Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson.  The searing personal pain they have had to endure in their lives due to crimes perpetrated against them as children has no sole contemporary political counterpart.

However, to deny that a version of this abuse is not part of our current national equation, and that too many of the rich and powerful from one side of the aisle are complicit in it continuing, is to also deny the obvious.

No, I am not a psychiatrist.  Just a human being who, in the course of his own life, has been in more than a few abusive situations and come out the other side.

Cake – “I Will Survive”

Magical Thinking

Joe Biden told an audience in Omaha last week that Mike Pence is a decent guy.   Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon chose to differ in an editorial in the Washington Post and so do I.

Mr. Pence’s lifetime leadership role advocating against the LGBTQ community, including support for conversion therapy (most heinously during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s as an alternative way to curtail the spread of HIV), opposition to gay marriage, banning trans people from serving in the military, and attempting to legalize discrimination against gays due to religious beliefs (with proposed legislation and/or laws to back all over the above) does not make him decent.

It shows an empirical pattern of behavior that bears additional scrutiny, particularly for someone currently serving as the Vice President of all of the U.S. in 2019.

This is a real product you can buy on Amazon. You’re welcome.

The same could be said of Electoral College POTUS’s rambling two-hour speech at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) this weekend.  In perhaps his grandest of grandstanding, he threw out his usual invectives that American citizens who oppose him, as well as the media and fellow elected officials who choose to investigate his behavior, are people who don’t love our country.

But perhaps worse yet he continued to defend his self-professed love affair with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un, who he claims had no knowledge of the torture and eventual death of an American teenager under his government’s hands because he told me, despite the universal agreement of our own intelligence agencies that this was not the case.

NOT fake news

It is the same argument he used to defend Russia’s Pres. Vladimir Putin over the last two years when American intelligence across the board provided him clear evidence that Putin directed manipulation of the 2016 election.

It is a similar kind of illogic that in those two very public hours at the podium caused him to scream, where did that come from?, in reference to Congress’ current plan to look into his finances as a way to reasonably prove his business ties to Russia in light of numerous recent accusations from members inside his own campaign that this is indeed the case.

This same blind rage also caused him to proclaim from the podium that these people are sick for wanting to check his deals.

Nice try

And it is, finally, what caused him to come up with yet a new nickname for the chairman of that House committee – my Congressman, Adam Schiff, a former California U.S. Attorney.  Before this large group of conservatives, in that same two-hour speech, broadcast worldwide, our de facto POTUS referred to that duly elected congressman as LITTLE SHIFTY SCHIFF and his work as bullschiff.

And they’re both orange!

Nice, huh?  Especially for a 72 year-old man some people call the most powerful person on Earth, partly because most conceded long ago he forfeited the usual U.S. POTUS moniker of Leader of the Free World.

Magical thinking can sometimes help get us through the day but it can never, ever make untruths into truths, fantasy into reality or sputtering, fantastical bile-soaked lies into objective evidentiary fact.

This weekend I finally caught up with a film my students had been recommending me to see for several years, Swiss Army Man.  It’s a story about a suicidal guy (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island who finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that he is able to ride to some sort of civilization through the body’s flatulence.

Ummmm…

The guy then lives off the water the body expels from his mouth in sudden gaseous spurts only to find about halfway through the story, the body actually starts talking to him.  It turns out said body’s name is Manny and in order to keep him alive the suicidal guy has to re-educate him about the joys of being human.  This being an American film the guy also, in the process, begins to discover his own humanity again.

The film’s dramatic questions are many but primary among them becomes – is the guy imagining that dead Manny can speak or is Manny some sort of divine miracle that sporadically comes to life?  In other words is Manny ultimately indestructible and does he truly possess the unexplainable ability to enable a mere mortal to appreciate life on its own very messy terms.

The Chair’s recommendation

Would that there was a Manny somewhere who could point out the bumps in the road and make it all better for those of us who too often than not these days live in the belief that it will all NOT be okay.  (Note: The film was released in a pre Trump-Pence 2016)

I consider myself one of those people sporadically and part of my current journey is to work hard enough where I don’t succumb to my inner belief that the countless negative forces in the world have conspired lately in some nefarious master plan to bring us all down – both collectively as a society as well as individually.

This meme is me until Trump is out of office

To be clear, this is not my overriding philosophy but certainly, left to my own devices, it could be.  I have a real talent for assembling events of all kinds in a viable order that could much too convincingly confirm to most of you whatever misguided or guided (at least in my mind) point I am trying to prove.

In popular parlance, it’s what’s called writing talent.

In depressing real life, it’s what enables me to be the most persuasive and darkest of pessimists if I so choose.

But in the loveliest, lightest and most seductive moments of reality, it can also easily move me to the other extreme in seconds.  What that means is it can get me to convince not only myself but others, through the use of philosophy and said rosy perceived reality, that somehow it WILL all magically be okay even though there may be more than a few signs that this is pie in the sky fantasy thinking is  not likely to at all to come true by any reasonable objective standard.

Neither, of course, is the way to go.

I see no problem with these rosy shades, Chairy.

We MUST have hope against the odds and take steps to do our jobs and live our lives and overcome the negative to create the reality we want.  More commonly, that’s called the hard work of getting out of your own way.

On the other hand, we can’t PRETEND that a divine Manny WILL somehow magically appear (or has appeared) and guide us to right the wrongs in our world or society just because we wish him or it to be so.  That is equally misguided and it is what’s more popularly referred to as “magical thinking.”  Or worse.

Joan Didion wrote a book and a play on this theme entitled The Year of Magical Thinking after the death of her husband the day after the couple’s recently married daughter fell into a coma due to pneumonia/septic shock, only to eventually die herself less than a year later.

Chairy, what are you doing to me!!

The idea that one can become so traumatized by traumatizing events that one pretends bad things didn’t happen, aren’t happening or at the very least can be resolved – and that if one dreams with just the right amount of acuity one’s loved ones at any moment could conceivably walk through the door and one’s present reality could instantly become a thing of the past – is tempting.  And that there is meaning in the smallest of events that we can then assemble to divine us through our despair on a magic carpet of made up reality is undeniably hopeful, albeit sometimes intuitively necessary.

YES, whatever gets you through, I can hear some of you saying.  Well, perhaps.  I mean, if it guides one through the grief process and doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one has the right to demand you live in the truth of despair, seeing your glass as perpetually half empty as I too often do.

this also helps me sleep at night

The trouble begins when we wish world events or real people in our lives to be something they are clearly and objectively not.  Especially leaders we don’t know personally.  Because it then gets exacerbated when their associates start to adopt the party lie to get whatever agenda they want past us, twisting themselves into pretzels of illogic in order to do so.

Meaning you can’t explain it any way you like for yourself.  At the end of the day 2 + 2 simply cannot equal 5 — much as any of us would like it to.

Whatever Gets You Thru The Night – John Lennon (feat. Elton John)