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.

Truth to Power

There was a Law and Order episode on this week where a young and ambitious female investment banker accuses her firm’s billionaire client of rape and is eventually offered a $5 million a year job at a competing firm that will require her to keep a low profile. Which ostensibly means dropping her case.

This being the fictionalized world of both Law AND Order, the young woman, who was indeed raped and rightly accusing the slick billionaire of sexual violation, eventually decides NOT to take the money (Note: A guaranteed $20 mill over four years) and instead stands up publicly to him in court. When asked why on the witness stand she proclaims – parroting the words of our beloved Lt. Olivia Benson, nee Mariska Hargitay – it is because “I will not allow him to steal my dignity one more time.”

I light mine every night. #SaintOlivia

The proclamation of dignity vs. submission, and the forfeiting of personal wealth and power for a greater good (i.e. standing up to criminal behavior and thus saving other potential victims) is, to say the least, reassuring. As is, as always, the show’s subsequent final credit, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF.

But life is not an episode of Law and Order where people are convinced to do the right thing because we all want to live in moral clarity. Where we all have a conscience that moves us to the better choice. Where good wins out in the end over evil. Or at least over selfishness, money and immoral actions.

You can’t appeal to people who are sociopaths. Who don’t live in aspirational morality. In trying to “do the right thing” and “be better.” To make the right choice that will benefit not only us but the most people.

Those who live primarily in selfishness and self-aggrandizement, whatever their reasons, are playing a different game. Putin, Trump, or whoever you like. When power and money and ego are at the center of your world you are working for yourself.

Gag me

You might occasionally note to the outside world that you are NOT working for your own inner world and might even convince yourself of that from time to time. But inside you instinctively know better. You have a knee jerk reaction about what makes YOU feel good. About yourself. About what you exude. About what you can provide for LOYAL FRIENDS and FAMILY MEMBERS around you. Even about what you can provide for “your people.” In your country.

But the definition of “your people” has less to do with who you will lead by their birth into your world and your responsibility to them, and everything to do – once again – with loyalty. But to the state – which in your mind – means to YOU.

This skewed view of the world means that anyone who disagrees with you, and those who most certainly look down on your world view, are not your problem. You will go around them or mow them down. They are not your responsibility. In fact, in many ways, they are your enemy. Because they are getting in the way of the agenda you seek to execute and provide. Essentially for your FOLLOWERS.

A 90s cartoon that is all too real now #help

This is essentially how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thinks. His uber nationalistic view. His determination to tear down the international liberal world order he sees as poisonous. He doesn’t want his kids to go to school with “Jews” because, as his ex-wife stated, he doesn’t like their “values” and “whining.” Bannon’s background is militaristic, two terms in the Navy, and someone who was educated at Harvard, weaned by Goldman Sachs out of the military and then went to work in Hollywood, selling syndication rights for multi millions of dollars for Seinfeld (Note the irony), which made him personally rich. And then opening his own consulting firms where he made hundreds of millions in international deals worldwide with clients such as a Saudi Prince who was one of the richest individuals in the world.

A striking image

Bannon actually was educated among Jews, made money for and with them and then somewhere along the line (or perhaps he always felt this way) decided they were a turn-off once they provided the experience and means he benefitted from in order to enable him the platform to hang with the big boys and create his own international power platforms. Which he did quite ably. He boosted alt-right racist and sexist ideology at Breitbart News in order to blatantly challenge an accepted morality that the majority of the world operated on. Who knows how he really felt at the time? Was it a means to the end or did he really believe this stuff? Perhaps both. Perhaps either one. What seems clear at the moment is that it almost doesn’t matter. What is clear is that what he sees is the big picture of power. And like Trump and Putin, it is a world where there are pockets of power that he and a handful of others control.

… and all too easy to get drunk on that power

There is not an overall mass morality. The MORALITY is survival and power, POWER and SURVIVAL – of the FITTEST. The idea of what is “right” – whether it’s okay to “rape” a woman, deceive a small group of people who don’t understand, or an entire state or country who won’t ACCEPT, this order, is immaterial. It’s not particularly in the picture. It doesn’t fit into HIS world view. And really, HE doesn’t appear to have much conscience about it. Certainly, HE doesn’t fit into a Law and Order episode “arc” or morality.

Fin, for the win

The sooner we can all accept this, that we’re not playing the usual game, the more effective and psychologically better off we’ll be. You can’t intellectually argue with this kind of ILLOGIC. You can only accept this is THEIR view of the world and work with those who share a more traditional similar morality or right and wrong to save the world. You cannot expect THEM to play under your RULES. You can’t play poker with people who by themselves decide deuces are wild and one-eyed Jacks are higher than an ace without telling you. Or perhaps inform you after the fact and expect you to play under these rules. Which they assumed you should have known. Or always knew and are now lying about.

Some say it’s a matter of perception

What this means is hardball. It means resistance. We can’t act like a hurt school boy or gal who is in a relationship with the absolute wrong person but thinks if they only reason with the person that they love and they know (deep down) LOVES THEM, they can get them to change. This kind of continued, emotional, prolonged attempts at negotiation are the very definition of insanity.

What we need to do is distance ourselves and breakup with a person who doesn’t hold our values. We need to be very, very strong and not be seduced by whatever seductions or appeasements they may offer. We need to be vigilant, as we would with any person, or people, who we are ENABLING to ruin our lives. Contrary to what we think, in LOVE and in political power struggles of self-determination, the CHOICE is always ours. We DO have the POWER.

You got that right, Chairy.  #MaxineWaters #TruthtoPower

Here are two links immensely helpful in shedding light on this psychology. One is by Molly McKew, a woman I caught on cable news who has spent her adult life consulting with leaders opposing Putin.

The other is a detailed history of Bannon’s worldview formation and strategies that recently ran in the Washington Post.

Real information is THE most powerful weapon of the 21st Century. Don’t be clouded by populist rhetoric or shiny new promises. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. So to speak.

Fail/Safe

There are many ways to spin failure. They didn’t get it. They sabotaged me. They did nothing. They marshaled forces against me. The world wasn’t ready. The dumbasses couldn’t see. The dumbasses were offended.

What is not in the spin zone is – I suck. Or I failed. Certainly not – I tried my best and will do better next time. That’s not very satisfying. Except when it is.

but enough about me this week…

This came to mind watching the public memorial tribute to the lives of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this weekend – certainly two people one doesn’t associate with failure, or even spinning. Though with Debbie you can imagine a heavenly Hollywood dance floor or simply put on one of her musicals and get there in the latter case.

The way they were

As a dear friend texted me, it’s strange to live in a time where we live stream memorials. Nevertheless we and many others were tuned into debbiereynolds.com (Note: Could I make that URL up?) where we watched highlights and tributes from the lives of the world’s Star Wars Princess and forever young ingénue Kathy Selden from Singin’ In the Rain – two iconic film characters from classic movies that will ensure the two women who played them will live on far beyond any of us.

That is, unless Cher or Barbra are reading this. Which I doubt. Though, one never knows who’s reading what these days. Hope springs eternal. For some of us, anyway.

Barbra can you hear me?? #couldntresist

Which brings us back to Carrie and Debbie. One of the highlights of the two plus hours of remembrance was a new James Blunt song that was played over a series of photographic images of Carrie and the bedroom in which she wrote and held court. You remember James Blunt, don’t you? He had that smash album some years back called Back to Bedlam which yielded several chart topping songs and then somehow suffered one of the greatest backlashes in the history of the music business.

You’re beautiful it’s true (stuck in your head yet?)

It became hip and happening to hate listen to Blunt. He somehow went from sensitive singer-songwriter to goopy cornball whiner. Not that he didn’t have some successful follow-ups or a core of loyal fans. He did. But nowhere as huge and not with anything approaching the verve of the memes of dismissal towards him.

Blunt, himself, became so aware of where he stood in the eyes of some of the public that after the death at the end of the year of his good friend Carrie Fisher (Note: He lived in her guest house and wrote some of his most famous songs there), he tweeted:

Full disclosure: I always liked Blunt and even before that tweet still occasionally played that CD, which, yes, I own. And oh, double yes, I do still own and even buy CDs.

I know this is how you see me #grampychair

Hate gossip away on that latter point if you care to. For the point here is to not prove the worthiness of Mr. Blunt. He does that himself with the new song he wrote in honor of his good friend Carrie  which debuted at her memorial service. It’s ironically as good or probably better than his best and will surely be meme’d around as the majority of listeners comment in shock about its value. While the naysers comment how it took the death of a good friend for him to come up with something listenable – if they even go so far as to at all place him in the playable category.

This is the essence of spin.

As for failure, it’s relative and goes with the territory of artistic endeavor. Or, make that human endeavor.

Or just embrace it!

The majority of us might admire or even envy Debbie and Carrie and not associate them at all with the type of “failure” we believe we are experiencing or have experienced or are inevitably going to experience, but nothing could be further from that (un)truth. Debbie had a trio of cheating husbands, lost all her money, endured national scandal and like all Hollywood women of a certain age was tossed away by the business that spawned her only be to brought back in at various points when it suited the suits. Though it was fine at that point because she had more or less figured it out.

As for Carrie, well, we all know, right? The drugs, the gay husband, the declining acting career. The sin of growing older and gaining weight! The mental illness and breakdowns. And then – the temerity to…write about it all? With humor? And do it well? One can only imagine the potential she saw in that from a hospital bed or alone in her room late at night when she couldn’t speak. I didn’t know her but it’s hard to imagine she saw it as anything close to a recipe to undo any perceived personal failures. No doubt more like a self-expression of whom she was and what she needed to do in order to survive the down times.

This, and countless other quotes too numerous to name

Of course, this is not to categorize things like mental illness, weight gains, marital breakups, career lows or O.D-ing as failures. That’s for the Internet and society at large to do for us. And they will do that. Relentlessly. And sometimes in the form of places and people much too dangerously close to you/us. (Note: As will the bathroom mirror).

It is more of a reminder to own your inner James Blunt, whatever that is, and move on. And as Carrie’s fictional Mom said in the move version of her memoir, Postcards from the Edge, “I don’t blame other people for my misfortunes.” And as the fictional version of herself shouted back, “I took the drugs, nobody made me.” Which is all fine when you’re in an analyst’s office or writing about your life – and often one in the same.

It’s getting past the admissions or the proclamations and moving on to something – anything else. Doing laundry is a start. Though I prefer cooking or something artistic. Even any type of exercise will do it.

Except spinning.

You know what I mean even if the current president of the U.S. (at the moment, that is) does not.

You didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you?

Notes from Methuselah

A student wrote about an older couple who were returning to their summer home and carrying luggage where one has a heart attack. We were hashing it out in class and I said, “How old.”

“Oh, they’re really old.”

“Ok, but do you mean like, Gloria Stuart in Titanic old?” (Note: The woman who was in her nineties when she was nominated for best supporting actress).

“No, but old…..I’d say, well, I guess they’re in their fifties.”

“THAT OLD!?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“You’re sure?”

“Uh, huh. People have heart attacks in their fifties.”

Long pause.

Crickets. Crickets. #awkward

“I might as well just kill myself now then,” I reply.

Pause. Then some nervous laughs.

“Oh. Well, it just seems like they’re a lot older than the other characters.”

“That’s fair,” I say. “But this couple. Are you sure they could even lift their luggage enough to move it across the room? I mean, they’re that mobile for that age?”

More nervous laughter. Then the rest of the class catches on and starts to laugh.

“And you imply with their body language that they still have sex. Are you sure that’s safe at their age?   Could they even make it into the bedroom, much less do anything?”

Don’t be fresh!

“You’re not going to let this go,” the student countered, finally amused.

“No, I don’t think so. I’m having too much fun,” I say. “And who knows how much time I have left? I better take advantage of it while I still can.”

And….scene.

Thank you. Thank you very much. #noshame

This is a fairly typical scene these days for me and many of my contemporaries. And for my older friends – not to mention my 88 year-old Dad who assures me it will only get worse. Then again, exactly what IS the alternative?

That’s rhetorical. We all know what the alternative is. So it doesn’t bear repeating.

Too much to ask?

Full confession – there was no reason a student in their early twenties should think that a couple in their fifties is anything BUT an older couple. And after my mini-vaudeville routine I admitted as much.   But what I was trying to convey was behavior and sense of clarity. Just labeling someone an older couple isn’t very specific. Unless, well…it is. But I refuse to go there quite yet. Especially at my age.

The movie Get Out positions baby boomers Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as exactly this type of older couple – as well as the symbols of phony, middle aged liberalism. Though even middle aged is relative. As Meryl Streep, playing a fictional Carrie Fisher, stingingly retorts to Shirley MacLaine, playing a fictional version of her then sixtyish mother Debbie Reynolds, after Mom tries to claim middle age for herself in Postcards from the Edge – Really. How many one hundred and twenty year old women do You know?

I thought it was hilarious in the nineties.   But now it’s deeply funny. Tinged with a touch of self-righteous irony on the ungrateful daughter’s part.

Regular On Golden Pond over here #helpme #getoutforreal

I think this was part of the issue for me not being a cheerleader for Get Out. The kind of middle-aged white liberal I am bore no relation to the phony Kumbaya relics I was seeing lambasted on the big screen. Not that I minded the roasting. What I didn’t get was the generalities about a group of people and the seemingly unmotivated behavior based on a stereotype.

Oh. Right. That was the point. Turnabout is fair play. Still, don’t you have to BELIEVE IT in the context of the world you as a filmmaker have created? And if you aren’t specific enough to make us believe it, aren’t you no better than the long generation of movies in the past that have so consistently done it to other minority groups?

Hmm. I’m not sure whether two wrongs don’t make a right or many wrongs make a right for a few new and improved wrongs to at least even out the playing field a little. I’m going to have to think about that one.

This might take a while #brb

The trouble is you get to the point, or the age, when you don’t want to have to think too hard about that one. When I heard 76-year-old Al Pacino was going on the stage locally to play one of my favorite playwrights, Tennessee Williams, during his last creative days in a workshop production of a new play, And God Looked Away, I quickly went online and bought my husband and I two tickets at $189 a piece on a Saturday night.

My first thought: I have to see Al Pacino live onstage before he dies and I don’t care if he’s the opposite of gay and southern. It’s called acting, right?

oh, hello.

Well, I thought so. Even though he’s older and far shorter, Pacino managed to thoroughly inhabit a fading, drug-addled Williams. It felt like the essence of a real character.   In much the same way very hunky and very hearththrob-by Hugh Jackman miraculously evoked the very gay and very lithe singer-songwriter Peter Allen on Broadway in The Boy From Oz. Mr. Allen, like Mr. Williams, was one of my faves and is almost as far away from the Wolverine as, well…I am. Though not quite.

Yet mostly what our L.A. Times critic couldn’t resist sneering about in Mr. Pacino’s case was that:

“The privilege of seeing Pacino portray the aging American playwright in a Demerol haze while pawing shirtless male hustlers as reviewers crucify him for his latest flop doesn’t come cheap.”

SHADE

Hell, that sounds good to me, gay liberal that I am. In fact, I’d pay even more to see that performance again if they fix the play a bit more. At least they were on to recognizable human behavior rather than an overworked or too witty social commentary that bears little resemblance to my reality. Or, well, a reality.

Which I suppose is relative, depending on who you are and what interests you. The hope is that what we’re actually living is reality, and what’s created in our individual fictional worlds based on that reality, is actually worthy of our attentions at all.

Though one supposes it beats the alternative.

Open Books

Does anybody really want to be private anymore?  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.

The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary.  Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND.   Of course, not always kindly.  File that under be careful what you wish for.

Oh days of yesteryear

Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be.  There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from.  Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.

We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood.  By someone.  Or many.  Why?  Well, it varies.  Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know.  In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves.  about the world, and about humanity.  And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in  ALL of the aforementioned orbits.

It really is hard being the smartest person in the room

When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing.  It’s crushingly personal.  And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to.  This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy.  Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened.  And might act on what was said.  By US.

Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER.  (Note:  Though certainly, not the only one).

Was someone spying on me? #meeveryday

On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys.  It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.

Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful.  But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read.  For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.

At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong.  Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.

Oh how I’ll miss you, Girl #hannah4ever

There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands.  But what they all have in common are two very specific things:

1. The truth

and…

2. What the writer believes the truth to be.

Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question.  Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.

As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented.  Often more.

You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth?  What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor?  Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?

Or a tiny sprite of a girl who loves eggos

I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors.  And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended.  And to their great credit.

I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did):  Being a writer is easy.  Just open a vein.

And add to that in less witty parlance:  There is no other way to get to the truth.

Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.

And…… PEGGY!

In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.

Well, of course this is a work of fiction!

Fact almost seems more surreal than fiction these days

So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.

As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.

It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present.  But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers.  In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present.  Loudly.  For our futures.  Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves.  Before that is no longer a possibility.