The Real Millennials

If you want to know what millennials are thinking about become a college professor. And if you really want to know, become a college writing professor.

May is end-of-the-semester time. That means all the original screenplays and TV pilots come in and you spend an intensive two weeks reading them, becoming immersed in worlds of THEIR making – not YOURS.

The majority of these worlds are fantastical, dystopic, and superhero-ish, and suffer from an overuse of social media, technology and the word “I.” Right?

Plus BRUNCH! and AVOCADO TOAST! right??

Wrong.

The majority of these worlds are realistic in origin and deal with themes of sexual abuse, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, and domestic violence. At least mine, did. And I suspect in thousands of home and college offices across the country, so did a significant majority of many of the others.

Oh sure, there is the usual market share of family dysfunction and unrequited, coming-of-age love. That is a generational constant – a sort of baseline, if you will. But if you think you KNOW what is on the minds of today’s young people by simply perusing the pages of Wired or Seventeen, or by scrolling the tweets of Arianna Grande, Kylie Jenner, and Justin Bieber, think again. Because they have quite a bit more to say about the world and the majority of it is not pleasant.

Exhibit A: Teen Vogue #getit

This does not bother me as much as it makes me feel sad and oddly encouraged. On the latter point, I, too, was not particularly upbeat on the page at that age. (Note: And sometimes not even at this one). But looking back it’s easy to realize that being able to vent what I was seeing, experiencing and imagining all around me from what I was living is what got me through it. I shudder at the thought of what might have happened had I not had that outlet.

Still, what I didn’t have to battle was the mis-characterization of my generation as superficial, unfeeling and selfish. Self-indulgent, yes. But every younger person is thought to be that at some point by their elders – a too large group of whom have way too much invested in wanting them to suffer the school of hard knocks in much the same way they did.

Sad, funny, and true

The baby boomers (even those of us on its tail end) were never at our worst considered unfeeling or lacking depth. In fact, we were often condemned precisely for feeling too much and thinking too hard. (nee bleeding heart liberal).

In retrospect, that was a pretty easy cross to bear as a young person. An older generation will always lose when they essentially argue against the classic teachings of Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Melanie Safka (Note: Look her up).

More than just rollerskates!

But this new group of people moving into true adulthood have all that AND the battle against a perceived superficiality and laziness that, for the most part, I’m just not seeing. Or, more importantly, reading. Because the latter is where the truth really lies.

No one chooses to write about sexual abuse, mental illness or domestic violence because it’s fun or they think it’s going to sell. You can take that to the bank, even if you can’t do necessarily the same with scripts based on those themes.

And yet, how do you argue with brutally honest depictions of neglectful parents, miserable spouses waging part-time war against their kids and full time battle against each other, or a young woman so undone by the pain of a past sexual trauma and the darkly repressive reality of 2017 that she has no other choice but to return to the people who never understood her in the past and will in no way ever understand her in the future. (Note: One astute friend of mine wisely categorized this to me over the years as revisiting “the scene of the crime” and I can think of no better phrase either in fact or in fiction).

… and yet this is what awaits them. #sigh

I’m not sure of what you see when you turn on the news and watch an electoral POTUS who smack talks dissenters in the crudest of language (“nut job” “disgusting pig”) or laments to a class of military college graduates he’s supposed to be inspiring after three months in the Oval Office that he “can say with great surety – no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he has.

(Note: Nelson Mandela? Lincoln? Or dare I say it, by His very own birther hand – Barack Obama?) (Note #2: I will leave out #Hillary in the spirit of #TooSoon).

Way, way, way too soon

I was reading a New Yorker profile of the great filmmaker James Ivory this morning (“Howard’s End,” “A Room With A View”) and in it he spoke of Maurice, the gay-themed romance he directed and co-wrote in 1987. It was based on a novel E.M. Forster wrote in the 1910s that was not published until after his death in 1971 primarily because it dealt with the author’s very own homosexual feelings at a time where it was dangerous and illegal to be that or think so/it.

Mr. Ivory noted that at its core the story was really no different than several of his films – “muddled young people living a lie.” Yet what I remember as a still young(ish) single, gay person after seeing it was literally a gigantic rainbow of romantic hope in a perilously sad, repressive time.

.. and yes, starring Hugh Grant.

This is because it was released at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This was an age where even a NY Times piece touting the film at that moment took pains to reassure readers that it was about love, not “bathhouse promiscuity” and rightly imagined that skeptics would likely greet its release with comments like “Is so defiant a salute to homosexual passion really to be welcomed during a spiraling AIDS crisis?”

Well yes, they did say stuff like that – and a lot worse – in not only editorial pages but on the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives. And, through gross omission and frequent moral judgments, in our very own Oval Office. And we know, in retrospect, how that went.

I thought I erased those memories!

You write (substitute any creative endeavor) about what you see and experience around you at the time – consciously or unconsciously. There is no other way to do it. From where I sit, and read, there is quite a lot going on that we should be troubled by. Yet what should reassure us is that many in our younger generations are not hiding their feelings but attempting to deal with them by expressing them with some sort of positive actions – by art, or yes, in real life, look around – much like we did.

It might be nice if we paid a bit more attention and listened to what they’re really doing and saying instead of saying and doing exactly what our generation’s elders and naysayers tried with us.

After all, what would (Jesus/Mother Theresa/Melanie Safka) do?

“Beautiful People” Melanie

Laughing Matters

Think of it as a concentric circle that gets smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left. Like the gyroscopes I used to look at when I was a kid. Or the background logo to this tackily addictive sci-fi adventure series on ABC I watched in the sixties – Time Tunnel.

Exhibit A (or the inner workings of my mind)

That’s the number of individuals who know the real facts of what’s going on in the head of the man who resides in the White House’s Oval Office these days.

Unless, of course, you count the number of Russians listening in through the bugs they likely got to plant several days ago when they, and not the American press, were invited to the inner sanctum for the latest in an endless stream of propagandized photo ops.

Did I take it too far?

But I digress.

An angry, ranting, vengeful POTUS, who by all accounts spends more time on his Twitter rants than reading policy books – or on policy in general – and certainly on any type of books in general, which he proudly claims he doesn’t need or have any desire to read – is simultaneously entertaining and scary.

Much like a seminal episode of Big Brother or The Bachelorette. Or a bag of potato chips chased with a super-sized Snickers bar and a Big Gulp.

Solid advice

But are any of the above good for you? Well, one supposes that’s a matter of opinion. Certainly, we can agree it can be fun to indulge.  So perhaps the more benign question to ask is —

Just how entertained do we want to be?

Don’t answer that.

I’m as guilty as everyone. The mere 10-second snippet of “Spicey” being wheel-ied down 58th St. in New York City on his Segway-fueled podium spewing insults made me giggle with delight on a Friday morning. And that was a day and a half before his actual appearance on SNL this week where I could be seen in my living room squealing with delight among friends and family. But really, is it funny???

Sean Spicer Returns to SNL

Of course it is. And isn’t.

Well for me, it’s certainly a lot more entertaining than watching the real thing. Who said it – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? Let’s correct that. Imitation is infinitely more preferable to the real thing because it’s actually bearable – and anything but flattering.

I am quite aware that the way I laugh at the ridiculousness of the Spicey parody a la Melissa McCarthy and Alec Baldwin’s orange drenched, open mouthed and thick lipped Electoral POTUS, is probably akin to exactly the opposite of what his base supporters scream at with delight. In my mind, that would be at the very least the apoplectic reaction citizens like me have to the many, many regal pronouncements (Note: What else can you call them but royal edicts?) the real 2017 POTUS (Note: No, I DON’T mean Hillary) makes from the actual presidential and/or press podium.

Laughing.. Crying… I JUST DONT KNOW!

EXHIBIT A

Me: Seriously??? So in other words, he lies any time he wants?

Them: HAHAHAHAHAH!!! THAT’S RIGHT. LIKE YOU DID!!! AND HE’S YOUR PRESIDENT, NOW!!!

EXHIBIT B

On Comey’s firing to Lester Holt on NBC:

He (Comey’s) a showboat. He’s a grandstander…In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story…

ME: Showboat??? Is this the 1927 musical or the 1936 film from MGM? What year does this moron live in? Not to mention, he’s firing the guy who’s investigating him!!! How can anyone look at this and think this is okay?

I can’t even #wheretobegin

THEM: HAHAHAHAHAH!!! YOU FIRE THEM ALL, THEY DON’T TOW THE LINE!!!   YOU TELL ‘EM!!!

EXHIBIT C

To Judge (ahem) Jeanine Pirro on Fox:

We don’t have to have press conferences…We just don’t have them, unless I have them every two weeks and I do them myself…I think it’s a good idea…you have a level of hostility that’s incredible and it’s very unfair.

ME: What is he, a f-ckin despot?? What is this, third grade? Not fair???? We don’t have Royalty in this country. He’s not a King!! Unless he’s the Madness of King George. We operate on a free press here. Well, he’ll see!! We’ll go around him. And we’ll f-ckin BRING HIM DOWN!!!! There’s a price to pay for not reading the Constitution. Or not even having one of your buddies from the Gulag explain it to you! You orange, lying road kill sack of crap!!!

THEM: HAHAHAHAHAH!!! HE’S GOT ‘EM! AND HE’S RIGHT! CROOKED MEDIA!! THE HELL WITH ‘EM! WHO’S HE WORKING FOR ANYWAY? NOT THEM!! US!!!!!

This x INFINITY

Just writing this has my heart palpitating. And I don’t know which was worse – spouting my own truths or inventing the reaction from the other side. Certainly, I was equally at ease doing and imagining both. They’ve how long and often they’ve been heard – with no end in sight. He’s been campaigning for almost two years and is still going.  And he’s actually been in office only three and a half months.   Impeachment notwithstanding, how many more do we have do go?

PLEASE…don’t answer that.

There’s not much I know these days but one thing I’ve always been sure of is that humor is as great a release as the truth – which any number of wise people before me have argued …will set you free.

Step right up! #chockfull

Somewhere at the intersection of both is where the answers lie.   I hope that we find them, even one, and when we do, we are able to sober up. No, I don’t claim to know what even one of those answers is.   I am only sure that if or when we find them, even one, it won’t be funny. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding – Elvis Costello & the Attractions   

Fried Egg Insurance

Bette Midler has a classic monologue about the humongous lady she once saw walking down 42nd Street in NYC who, she noticed, when she looked more closely, was sporting a fried egg on the center of her almost bald head.

In this routine, Bette goes on to laugh about the vagaries of life in the city and of this lady in particular, joking that she hopes to God that she herself doesn’t one day wind up with a fried egg on her head on a hot NYC street in the middle of July just because she couldn’t help herself.

And then it all turns deadly serious:

…Because the truth about friend eggs, she continues. …You can call it a fried egg. You can call it anything you like…But everybody gets one. Some people, they wear ‘em, on the outside. And some people, they wear ‘em, on the inside.”

If you want to know why we need to expand and fix the Affordable Care Act, nee ObamaCare, and why we should really be headed towards single payer, universal health care for EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN, this is the reason.

We will all, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, be getting sick. We will break down. We will sputter. And we will one day – as the doctor informed the youngster me in the hospital hallway back in the seventies about my beloved aunt who had just suffered a fatal heart attack – EXPIRE.

So.. do I not have to grade papers? #legitquestion

The question is, how will it begin to happen for our loved ones and us? Can we live in dignity a little bit or a lot longer with the proper care? Or will we find ourselves unchecked, and the modern day equivalent of dying in the streets, because it makes more economic sense for the top power brokers in society for us to do so?

In other words, if health care costs too much the average American will not go to the doctor. Or wait until it’s too late to go. Or be dragged unwillingly to a hospital emergency room they can’t afford or are too scared to enter.

New strategies to avoid that situation

But if you are fortunate enough to be independently wealthy, or have gold star private insurance through your place of business (that, is, if you’re working) or have bought because money is no object, or long ago faced your inevitable expiration (which of us has?) and saved every penny you earned (again, which of us has?) for this inevitable day — NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.

There is another simple question we all have to ask ourselves as this national debate rages on:

What is ultimately more important – money or taking care of each other?

Can I have a few more minutes to think it over?

Now, I am more than aware that many in the country currently believe that taking care of each other means taking care of our loved ones and not people we’ve never met. And that since money is a rare commodity these days, they feel no obligation sharing with people they don’t know – certainly not others they deem inferior, or superior, or whose religious views, or outlook on a particular social issue, they find abhorrent.

Still, when you’re standing in the critical care unit of the hospital as I once did when I was a teenager…

…or in the center of an AIDS ward of a different hospital as I did in the eighties and nineties, bearing witness to various friends dying at way too young of an age…

I will never forget #youcancountonit

…or in the carpeted section of the upscale cancer floor of one of the best hospitals in the country as I did at the turn of this past century as my mother died from breast cancer…

…or in the heart and lung section a few years ago of that same upscale hospital as I saw my second mother go from lung cancer…

NONE of these arguments much matter. You don’t see dollar signs. You don’t see religion. Or race. Or the political affiliations. Of anyone.

Your only thought is that your loved one and the loved ones of every single person on that floor and within your sight line gets better. At any cost.

I am not an expert on health insurance and I certainly don’t play one on television.   But what I also would never play at ever in front of a TV camera is a partier in the White House Rose Garden toasting the repeal of a law that will TAKE AWAY health care from more than 20 million people in favor of a vague intangible plan that I haven’t fully read and whose cost is, thus far, unknown.

If they only had a…

I mean, I’m only gonna buy something from Amazon when I KNOW I can get it cheaper – not because Jeff Bezos promises me that if and when they get it in stock or create their own new version, it’s gonna to be cheaper and better than the something that I have now. Sure, Jeff seems nice and all – and is friends with Oprah – and is in the billionaire boys/sometimes women’s club and must know something, right? But when it comes to my own somethings, certainly I do have to be a little more careful. Right???

I am certainly old enough to remember a world in my twenties when I had to pay full price at the dermatologist and allergist because acne and asthma were deemed pre-existing conditions. But any one of us can remember the insurance market PRE-OBAMACARE. It was a time when insurance companies and states would pick and choose who to cover – locking or pricing people out. Many ran wildly expensive high-risk pools for those who were refused coverage that priced them out of the market or left them unable to afford necessary drugs.   Yes, everyone had ACCESS to health care but what is that when you can’t afford to have it – or to have a decent policy where you can get properly taken care of?

Remember that, assholes?

White, middle-aged guys – and certainly I am all of that and more – have gone from being our nation’s founding fathers of freedom to a bunch of selfish, snake oil selling, unfeeling assholes. There’s no other way to say it. And I’m embarrassed to be a part of that particular demographic in more ways than I can say.

Darlings in Dystopia

The first masterful piece of mass entertainment reflecting the Trump era is here and, strangely enough, it’s based on a novel from 32 years ago. Thanks Hulu, or more correctly, damn you, Hulu – for your new series The Handmaid’s Tale.

Set in a dystopian future where women have no rights and the country has undergone a cultural/religious revolution brought on by terrorism and perhaps limited (!) nuclear war, The Handmaid’s Tale is simultaneously riveting and extremely difficult to watch. Much like an accident. Or Sean Spicer’s daily White House press briefings when not given by Melissa McCarthy.

…and not nearly as delicious/campy/tragic/gorgeous as FX’s Feud #ohmamacita

Of course, to reduce the retelling of Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 novel, which she wrote decades ago in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down, as merely an allegory for Trumpism would be selling it short. Not to mention it would be giving the Electoral College POTUS too much credit. (Note: The mere mention of his name is too much credit for me, but that’s another story, and not a particularly funny or readable one. So I will #resist the temptation).

The brilliance of Atwood’s story is that her dystopian world adapts to easily reflect the post-modern apocalyptic realities from any number of time periods in which we currently reside. Though perhaps this series just makes it look that way. More correctly, it’s probably a little bit of both.

Imagine a world where women are not in control of their reproductive rights or being gay is seen as “gender treachery” and appropriately punished.   Then revisit Trump’s sound bite at a town hall event with Republican voters in Wisconsin last year where he publicly stated that if abortion becomes illegal women should face “some form of punishment.

Or simply read about the well-documented death and torture of gay men now occurring in numerous “detention centers” in pro-Russia Chechnya.

Unless this is where you’d rather live #keepinitreal

In the Hulu/Atwood world of terrorism, contemporary women, who only hours before were annoyed that their Uber driver was late, now find all their digital imprints frozen and assets seized. It’s for their own safety, say the authorities. Terrorists. Nuclear war. Centralize power and control for PROTECTION.

When mass sterility (due to environmental poisoning) sets in only a few years later it’s not hard to see that the few females that are still somehow able to reproduce become a treasured governmental commodity. I mean, what price is the continuation of the WORLD, right?

Well.. don’t get ahead of yourself Ms. Knowles

The fact that this is a world now dominated primarily by wealthy WHITE men, helped along by a few female counterparts not quite as powerful as they are, is not really questioned. And the fact that it’s not really questioned by the masses is one of the few differences it has from the basic world order in 2017.

Right after the inauguration of Donald Trump 3.2 million people took to the streets in a march for women’s rights. Which in turn became a growing resistance to emerging authoritarian rule that promised to roll back the rights of numerous other minorities – of color, of race, of national origin, of sexual persuasion, you name it – by an authoritarian voted in by a PLURALITY of voters. The idea, to save the country going down the tubes by making it GREAT again, was not sitting particularly well with its masses.

Pretty much sums it up

So given what I saw as one of those 3.2 million masses marching back in January it was not too difficult, and more than a little scary, for me to make the leap this Hulu series asks. Especially since the three black hooded corpses of a priest, a doctor and a gay man hanging on ropes high from the walls of what used to be a former library were really only incidental backdrops. That’s how I often feel now as a gay man in Trump country and Trump logic.   An annoying incidental to the main story.

Which in some ways is a better place to be than enduring the indignities many females are facing in Trump America. Certainly, it’s better than what the lead women in the Hulu show were about to endure. Though even here I hate to sell the latter short.

We’re not in Stars Hollow anymore, Rory.

It’s hard to tell where any of this is going or whether fiction will for sure prove worse than fact. As a wise psychiatrist once told me, you can only operate from “what is.” And what we do know in the real world is that an estimated 13,000 women are now planning to run for office across the country and a group called Emerge America recently held training classes for 25 female Democratic candidates for Congress, state senate, city council, etc. in 18 states.

Their numbers are up 87% since the election, which seems reasonable. So do comments from the female candidates on a recent NBC news report where one admitted needing practice in the best ways to do things like “asking for money” and “connecting with voters.” Those skills don’t always come naturally for those not born into power positions. But what do they say – Necessity is the mother of invention? Actually, it was not they but the Greek philosopher Plato and yes, I had to look it up. (Note: And yes, he was a man, as far as we know. Which doesn’t make it any less true).

well, that too. #wink

As far as the series is concerned, I take some solace in the casting of Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss in the key lead role of Offred/June, our birth machine/handmaid heroine. Watching Ms. Moss personify the slow empowerment of the 1960s woman as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson – who goes from mousy, intelligent and intimidated to smart, savvy and, yes, empowered, gave hope to many of us hopeless incidentals. And to any of us who have ever felt, or will feel this way.

How I will always remember you girl #peggyforever

It’s one of the best gifts a truly gifted actor can give us. So in the bleak but all too truly allegorical world of The Handmaid’s Tale we can’t help but feel safe in her hands.

One wishes the same could be said about the leading player, or players, in our 2017 reality.

 

Freedom of (Hate) Speech

When I was in journalism grad school at Chicago’s Northwestern University in 1977, thirty members of the American Nazi Party wanted to march in Skokie – a nearby town of 70,000 in which more than half were Jewish and approximately 5,000 were Holocaust survivors.

There was a big to do and some years later, through court cases and a lot of soul searching among liberals and the ACLU, they did get to hold their march. But most everyone knew what the Nazis were up to. They wanted to hold a group of people they hated as hostages of the first amendment – challenging them to turn their backs on the equality and freedoms they espoused by not allowing their tormenters to taunt and goosestep right before them in their backyards.

This kind of childish bull crap happens every so often when hate-speaking racists get frustrated or empowered enough with their own irrelevance and see a road through which they can satisfy their own rotting inner core by spewing their venom outwards into the crowd that they believe are somehow suppressing their rarefied ways of life.

An important asterisk

In a nutshell, this is what’s going on right now with best-selling right wing author, lawyer, media personality and full-time liberal hater Ann Coulter and her campaign to speak – or perhaps not to speak but to raise hell about it – at the American university in the country best known for championing these freedoms since the turbulent 1960s – UC Berkeley.

Bill Maher recently excoriated the administrators at Berkeley for inviting, then disinviting, and then re-inviting Ms. Coulter to campus amid massive protests from students on both sides of the political spectrum espousing either outcome. So did any number of right wing politicians and wags on Twitter – calling the kids on campus the kind of names you hear from bullies in grade school. I won’t repeat them here but they bring to mind every dumb, desperate insult you’ve ever heard about any group. Instead, I will repeat the phrase ex Law and Order actor and stand up comic Richard Belzer once used to describe Ms. Coulter to Mr. Maher when he also excoriated her on Mr. Maher’s own show years before for airing her rancid rants in the segment just before his – A fascist party doll.

Prepare for the avalanche #brrrrr

You see, I have the freedom to do this without retribution here because this is MY BLOG. Just as the students and administrators of Berkeley have the right to ban Ms. Coulter or anyone else they like since the school is THEIR CAMPUS.

Since it is not public property, like the streets of Skokie, Berkeley is not subject to the same rules of public assembly as a village or town is.   In essence, they can invite and/or disinvite anyone they like. Much like me – a gay, Jew – could be banned from the Eagle Scout meetings Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to attend in Alabama in 1964 when he was 18 and that sort of stuff wouldn’t have even been questioned. You can’t tell an Eagle or Boy Scout what to do. They’re part of a private organization. You can only publicly shame them and force them to accept you.

Cue “All By Myself”

This is, in essence, what is going on now. I can’t claim a portal into Ms. Coulter’s brain – thank her Lord, however you imagine HER/HIM/IT to be – but if past is prologue she has ZERO interest in any sort of give and take intellectual discourse a college campus tries to foster. She is a renowned bomb thrower who delights primarily in provoking the other side by racist generalities and fiery, and very personal, bon mot bombs aimed at any sort of liberal hero, particularly those who have publicly come out against her.

A different kind of “Regan” #couldnthelpmyself

Exactly the same thing can be said of younger and renowned Twitter-banned alt right “pundit” Milo Yiannopoulos – who tried the same thing at Berkeley some months prior, with similar controversial results.

Now if I had my way I’d just let the two of them speak their heads off and picket them. After all, this is so far still the kind of America where we honor dissent – no matter how hateful, nasty and misguided.

On the other hand, if I were just angry enough, I might support the argument that if their intent is to just put on a hate show that just incites violence they are the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre.

A more accurate representation of my feelings

There are a myriad of public speakers one can get to “perform” at an institution of higher learning for educational purposes and if we truly want to view extreme right wing viewpoints maybe going after Rupert Murdoch or one of his two sons co-running the 21st Century Fox (Note: A misnomer for a 21st century liberal like me if I’ve ever heard one) empire might be a better first, second or third choice.

Still, it’s up to right wing student groups to get who they like so I might be convinced – or trade Coulter with, let’s say, hmmmm – is there an ultra Liberal Ann or Milo? I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Maher is not quite categorical enough and even liberal provocateur Michael Moore reaches out to the other side. Heck, his last film – Michael Moore in Trumpland – was entirely about that.

We don’t exactly have a 2017 Hanoi Jane.. do we?

And that is the point.

Do not masquerade immature name-calling and hate speak and insulting generalizations about whole swaths of the population as some post modern performance art that will show the truth about hypocritical liberals, lazy thinking millenials and their one-sided institutions of higher learning.   You can’t claim you’re the pretend Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central when the mood hits you and in the same breath appear on cable news shows as a serious purveyor of facts.

A talk that exists primarily to garner yourself publicity and verbally assault various minority ethnic groups in the name of free speech is not what I wish for my students or their intellectual futures. Though certainly they’re free to indulge in it. Like they occasionally do with the Kardashians, Top Ramen and Pizza Hut.

Ups and Downs

There is a popular new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why that chronicles the life and reasons a teenager committed suicide via the 13 detailed cassette tapes she left behind.

This sounds depressing as hell – if indeed hell is depressing. My feeling is hell is no better or worse than any of the most awful things we decide we are enduring right now or tell ourselves in any of our most down moments.   So given how dramatic and/or ingenious we all can be when we get into one of our “moods” or down cycles, how much more imaginative can hell really be?

It’s all about perspective

Don’t write in with comments like I never thought it could get worse than Dubya and then we got Trump. Or, I thought it was bad when ‘Crash’ won over ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and then the producers of ‘Moonlight’ barely even got to pick up their best picture Oscar, blah, blah, blah…  

Those are not searing personal affronts, even though they appear to be.

And that’s the point. Not everything is personal or as awful as we can make it. In fact, almost nothing is. Things happen, we respond or don’t respond in kind, and then time marches on. No, the Chair is not getting Zen. The Chair has simply grown more comfortable with time, as all chairs do, and is trying to not waste any more precious little of it left feeling too rickety about just how hellish anything can inevitably get on a given day.

Harshing my mellow, Chairy

We’re living in unusually rocky times, says just about every other armchair psychiatrist and would be philosopher in 2017 with half a brain. That includes yours truly. Certainly, it no longer take an Oracle or a president or even a comfy piece of furniture like myself to realize that nuclear war can happen at any moment, you or I or any one of us can get hit with a car, lose a job, contract a fatal disease and instantly die, and experience all of the above desperate and alone.

If we so choose.

I used to hate when people said this last line to me in my teens. Or twenties. Or thirties. Or even…sigh…forties.

I even hate that I’m stating it now as I’m writing it.

Still, it doesn’t make it any less true.

Yes, it will and can always get worse. Just like it inevitably can and will always get better. These are not bromides. Just facts. Look at your life’s ups and downs or simply travel in an elevator for a while. Okay, dumb analogy. Or was it? I’m not so sure anymore.

… and why not stop at every floor?

Those of us who suffer from mood swings, depression, or simply dwell in the belief that we can actually make a living in the arts, are perhaps especially susceptible to this. More and more there seem to be no rules for success and failure. Certainly, it is less and less anything even relating to a straight line.

You’re too young and don’t have any or enough experience, rightly complain my students and recent grads who are attempting to get their first or second jobs. You’re too old and have too much experience at the wrong things, note colleagues, friends and relatives who fear they’ve been at it too long. And you’re just lucky you were adopted into a family that made you a Chair, says my inner voice to me almost every other day.

Yes, all of this is invariably true.

Luck and timing has way too much weight determining any of this. Ask Hillary Clinton after she’s had a glass of two of wine or beer. She’ll give you an earful now that she’s out of the woods. For the time being.

You know our girl can throw one back #cheersHills

 

But at the same time where any of us are is not solely an accident of birth or luck or timing or even hard work. It is a combination of all of those factors and more – especially when you add in the X factor.

No, the X factor is not the old adage that the cream rises to the top or talent wins out every time or you always get back what you give. That’s ridiculous. Life can be too cruel to some, too generous to others and too random generally for it to be all that.

A wise psychiatrist told me a long, long, LONG time ago that the only thing you can control in a given situation is your ACTIONS. Yeah, I hated hearing this almost as much as I loathe repeating it.   Because I know at any moment I too can hit a down cycle and it would be the next to last thing I’d want to hear – the last thing being – um, too late, you’re dead. Which of course, I wouldn’t hear anyway so perhaps it’s the last thing.

#Priorities

Meaning – there is only one solution to the inevitable existential awfulness of a current situation. And that is to take some small action, and then another, and then even a side step with the hope that your mind will drift somewhere else and you’ll forget just how awful you feel. Or – you might actually create a moment or two that might prompt something else that will create a new and slightly less depressing or perhaps more exciting opportunity for you. At something. Which in turn will then forge something else.

I’ve found this works in romance, at work and even – heaven forbid, at the gym. Right. We’re all jumpin’ to get on that treadmill after a year away. But I’ll bet most of us would if the heart surgeon told you that if you didn’t you’d drop dead in a month.

or channel your inner Lebowski #whiteRussianplease

Don’t mean to be THAT harsh. Or perhaps I do. Certainly, that’s the only thing that’s ever worked with me. Fear of death. But I’m Jewish, from New York, vain and gay. Oh, and I live in L.A. Where none of us believe we’re going to get old or die. Because we don’t look it.

Which is a start towards something positive if you think about it. But not too hard.

These ARE the Days

Here’s how much I loved Don Rickles. When I was 14 years old instead of hanging out with the other teens at the playground of our apartment building in Tarzana I sat in my Dad’s air conditioned blue Dodge listening to his “Hello Dummy” eight track tape over and over again. Until my Dad lectured me about car batteries. How much ya weigh, Tiny? You’re an Arab and I’m a Jew…And to all my Mexican friends… Well, you get the picture.

American classic

Joan Baez. I did a book report on her autobiography “Daybreak” in the 11th grade when I was 15 (yes, an overachiever) and I was so effusive I remember my teacher wrote in the margins, “is this love?” But I considered that a victory rather than an insult or personal intrusion. Perhaps I convinced him of her worthiness and to pay more attention to someone who worked through song and protest to change the then Nixonian political events of the day. Then again, maybe he was just making a kind observation.

a goddess

And then there’s Broadcast News, a perfectly prescient film of love and news, not necessarily in that order, which spoke to me via the sometimes too large chip that used to sit on my shoulder (Note: Used to?) when confronted with what I perceived to be idiocy and immorality in the workplace or in my personal life.

I’ve quoted it before but, since it’s been a theme of my life, why not again:

There is a wonderful absolutism in art and to looking back. Everything seems funnier, smarter and more lovingly beautiful than it ever could have been. Though it can also mean exactly the opposite. It depends on your mood and point of view at the time. The one thing that seems clear – we can’t be objective.

Still, our outlook and actions are really all we have. Aside from chocolate ice cream, pizza and the occasional well-marinated chicken breast or Portobello mushroom if we’re being careful and/or vegan. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing to look back and appreciate them as long as we don’t fool ourselves into thinking we can ever recapture that precise moment of joy again in our present day or depress ourselves into believing some perhaps even better experiences don’t await us in the not too distant future.

 

May 2014. Me. Italy. #YUM

No, this is not a new age, new version of a Hallmark card. The truth is, one does never know what’s waiting around the bend. One day it’s an orange tinged Hellion and the next it could be…anything, or anyone, else. Consider U.S. presidential politics in November 2008 at the end of the Bush era. Or the great Nixon-Kennedy debates. Time in this country (and probably elsewhere) is an inevitable and necessary period of change and torch passing – sometimes for the better and in other moments regressive – depending on where you’re sitting or whom and what one is remembering.

All that being said, the passing of 90 year-old Don Rickles really did throw me for a loop this week. The Sultan of Insults, The Merchant of Venom, Mr. Warmth – whatever you want to call him, he represented a breath of fresh honesty to me in a period of my youth where it felt like no one in the older generation was ever telling the truth. Rickles was who you especially needed in the sixties and seventies when no one trusted anyone over 30 (and with good reason) because he was A LOT over 30 and looked a lot older and was forcing us to laugh at the hypocrisy of it all with the kind of scorching benevolence only a master insult comic could get away with. But boy was it ever effective for those many moments he held the stage.

“Show business is my life. When I was a kid I sold insurance, but nobody laughed.”

As for Broadcast News, it’s always been a favorite film of mine but never more so than lately, where it feels like there is no longer anything but a news business masterfully dictating to the various niche audiences now comprising the U.S. on what to not only feel but believe. Facts are subjective and up can be down, if you edit it precisely enough. And that was exactly what filmmaker James L. Brooks chronicled and warned us about a full 30 years ago in the vein of what was essentially a romantic comedy centering on a smart, uncompromising female heroine who managed to be just strong enough to choose herself over either of the two eager guys desperately vying for her ultimate attentions.

There was a major effort to nail a new kind of heroine, Mr. Brooks said on a panel at the Turner Classic Movies Festival this past week of the uncompromising Holly Hunter/Jane Craig character prior to a screening of the film.

A rare 80s classic where style doesn’t distract #butsweatdoes

But though he saw the film essentially as a romantic comedy, co-star Albert Brooks noted that part of the power of the film is that it takes place at a time when news stories still gained traction on content.

At the time of Broadcast News there was no Drudge Report. It was not an issue of trying to shock people…And now look at what people are shocked at – nothing.

Nevertheless, it became obvious as the pre-talk continued that what makes both Brookses (no relation) the artists that they continue to be is their ability to extrapolate pessimism into a perhaps more palatable truth of where we are or could soon be.

I actually think Trump’s saving journalism. There’s been a resurgence of our two most important newspapers (the New York Times and Washington Post) doing some of their best work in years. So I’m strangely optimistic, said James L.

How I really feel about that #WHY

The news used to need individuals like Walter Cronkite for the story to matter. Now the individual doesn’t matter as much. Fifty people retweet and repost something now it can change minds. The story matters, said Albert B.

Of course, what the STORY is or is actually portrayed as is up to us. It requires, actually demands activity. Participation. And a certain type of…dare we say it…

Activismthe policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

UGH NO.. NOT THIS

This is where Joan Baez comes in.

It is encouraging to realize that at 76 years old anything is possible – particularly artistic productivity, not giving up and the determination to fight against what one sees as injustice in the hope of a better future.

Return of the Queen

But rather than doing this by lecturing and looking back at the bad, good old days that most either won’t remember or, more likely, will individually recall quite differently, real leaders in their field instead choose to dwell in the present, using the experiences of their past as a kind of secret fuel.

Certainly Joan Baez, a singer who was an early trailblazer in helping end the Vietnam War, the assault on migrant farm workers and countless other causes, knows that one song alone won’t change public perceptions of policies. But what she is also wise enough to realize at this point is that it is a start towards something, anything to build a new momentum. That is what social change IS about at its essence. A dwelling in the present. An attempt by one individual to speak out and do all they can, hoping they then reach others, who will in turn join and take on the mantle.

Which line will you get on?

Then soon it becomes a group effort, and a movement, and then a massive wave towards a change we all can believe in. As ineffective as it can be to merely look back, it is equally self-defeating to dismiss this power in taking one small step towards something as some sort of Pollyanna-like view of our futures that can never happen.

In the spirit of which – we will now end with the latest protest song (Copyright 2017) written by Joan Baez and sung in that timelessly haunting soprano voice. It might not be quite as high as it once was (which of us is) but it pierces right into what is at the center of what ails many. No – it’s not a solution. Just merely a start.

Of something.