The 1st Annual Rockers!

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Year-end lists are usually divided into THE BEST and THE WORST.  But here at notesfromachair we’re trying to think of it a little differently – if for no other reason than to stand out from the million other news sources, columnists, cable TV talking heads and bloggers vying for your attention.   That is why we’ve created the first annual ROCKERS – dedicated to anything that has significantly rocked our world in 2012.

For those whose worlds have ever been rocked – which means everyone – this can be either a fantastic or horrible occurrence.  As a Jewish kid I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus but my entire existence felt not only rocked but severely threatened when I realized there was no way I could admittedly make Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In stay on TV forever.  At the same time, my very meager and small world was also rocked the first time I saw Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on TV and realized there were people in the world that I truly did want to hang out with (Note:  Little did I know that a lifetime of hanging out with these kind of show biz types would rock my world in many and too numerous to specifically choose from good and bad fashions).

But getting back to this century — here is a list of our 2012 Rockers.  Not to be mistaken for a Hall of Fame, because these are only good for a single year – not a lifetime.

BEST (nee ROCKIN’) ACTING PERFORMANCE, EXPECTED (but not disappointing):

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Hate all you want but why should Mr. Day-Lewis   Mr. Lewis  …uh Daniel be penalized because we’ve come to expect him to always be (and are tired of him always being) transcendently brilliant?  He literally seemed to pull off a resurrection of a human being who has been dead for more than 150 years from his very first scene as Abraham Lincoln and kept it up for all 3000 hours of the film. Truth of fact, I’m actually a big fan of the movie and didn’t mind the length, especially since almost every other BIG film in the last two months of the year seems to have lasted at least 3000 hours.   Plus there’s the degree of difficulty — try to tell, or more importantly act, the story of an icon and make it seem intelligent, human, funny, real AND come off as a parable for a certain kind of political animal of our times.  You won’t be able to.  DDL can.  When are he and Meryl Streep going to co-star? (staring my 2013 wishlist NOW)

ROCKIN’ ACTING PERFORMANCE, UNEXPECTED (but in a good way):

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Anything but trashy...

Anything but trashy…

Yeah, I’m partial to Coop (uh, that’s what his friends call him and he calls himself – yes, I happen to know someone who knows him – so there).  But given his acting oeuvre, nothing prepares you for the raw, non-movie star type of performance he gives as a bipolar (among other things) guy who is just struggling to live a decent life. Ironically, it’s Coop’s very lack of movie star-ness that has once and for all changed his career and made him into a real movie star – the kind that is famous, good-looking AND can act really, really well.

MOST OVERRATED (nee ROCKIN’ IN A BAD WAY) MOVIE (in every way):

Amour

Oh I wish I could go back to bed...

Snooooooooze.

Listen, I love French films.  And I love depressing films, especially ones about death and dying.  And I love films that have simple or almost no plots.  But Amour depicts an old couple with some financial means in 2012 and what they decide to go through when one becomes terminally ill in a way that NO couple in an industrialized nation in 2012 needs to endure given what is available in 21st century medicine – even when one decides to die at home.  In its attempt to be relentless, writer-director Michael Haneke creates something that is unrelentingly manipulative to suit his needs as a dramatist.  The idea that so many critics have bought into it is baffling and leads me to think that they either do not have enough experience in this area or have a lot of prickly, self-centered old people in their lives who are intent on doing things the most physically, self-flagellatingly painful way possible.  (Fortunately, I do not).  Oh, did I mention the two old people in this movie – even when they were healthy– are the kind of pretentious snobs you don’t really want to spend two and a half minutes with much less two and a half hours?  Yes, it’s very well acted and technically very well made.  But do yourself a favor and spend time with some real live old folks (preferably two in your own family) instead.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, ENDURING:

Mad Men

... or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

… or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

The water cooler show torch has been passed to Homeland and we can’t argue with that.  But there is not a television program on the air that is as consistently smart, well-written, chance talking and socially/politically relevant as Matthew Weiner’s creation.  It never takes the easy way out, stays grounded in reality and uses the 1960s as the lens through which we can see our lives and our history.  And if you think that’s not difficult to do, try writing something in that time period and see how many clichés you will inevitably come up with in even a single scene.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, FOREIGN:

Downton Abbey

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Mainstream American elite culture likes things mostly elitely American.  So how is it that creator/writer Julian Fellowes manages to make the privileged and serving class of post turn of the 20th century England like “television crack,” according to one of my dearest friends?  If I knew, I’d do it myself.  It is in part Maggie Smith playing a bon mot-throwing old rich lady called the Dowager Countess, who is not unlike what we imagine the real Maggie Smith to be were she born approximately 150 years ago to a family of starchy patricians.  But it’s a lot more than that.  Fellowes is now rumored to be writing the new film version of Gypsy for Barbra Streisand.  Well, both are period pieces, after all.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, REALITY:

The Voice

TV's BEST chairs

TV’s BEST chairs

It’s not because a few former students work on this or due to the fact that I wish to God (or whoever you conceive Her to be) that I could be a professional singer.  It’s because this reality competition for vocalists doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, looks, ethnicity, sexual preference or even past deviant behavior.  It’s all about what you sound like – a sort of faux even playing field that never exists in real life but that you get to experience for a few hours a week as long as the season lasts.  Yes, the grand prizewinner is finally voted on by the viewers, which invariably does create a final commercial-type popularity contest in the last few weeks, but those are the least interesting part of the show.  The real story is what comes before and how the judges – from very diverse parts of the music world – both perform and share their own hard knocks with people who have already had or soon will have more than their own share of the same.

ROCKIN’ CABLE NEWS SHOW, PROBABLY UNSEEN BY YOU:

NOW with Alex Wagner

DVR me NOW!

DVR me NOW!

It’s on MSNBC at 9am west coast time and noon east coast time.  Those interested in this type of stuff inevitably already watch Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, et al.  But who you probably don’t tune in to is this smart, extremely funny woman who categorized the many faces of Mitt Romney as “the paradox of the mittens” and used to be editor-in-chief of a hip music and culture magazine called The Fader.  Over the course of an hour, she presides over a panel of cleverly perceptive political experts, covers breaking news, and throws in more witty pop culture references than a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It doesn’t matter that she’s 34, female and of Burmese-German-Irish descent but it’s just one more thing that makes her and her show different than most everyone else on cable TV.

ROCKIN’ LIMITED TELEVISION SERIES, QUESTIONABLE TASTE:

American Horror Story: Asylum

My Bad Habit

My Bad Habit

I think the reason I’m so in love with this show is just how sick, derivative and yet unique it almost always seems to be.  Its second season in a mental hospital is a pastiche of every cliché you’ve seen in every crazed, looney tune horror film imaginable.  Its cast, led by the ghoulishly still sexy Jessica Lange, is shameless and the writing doesn’t always bother to follow what we consider to be the tenets of logic.  Still – any show that cross-cuts between a mad Nazi doctor, aliens and a crazy killer named Bloody Face who likes to skin people for sport – and does it all under the watchful eye of nutty nun who use to be a cabaret torch singer, is okay in my book.  Plus, the recreation room at the asylum consistently plays that 1960s hit record, “Dominique” performed by Soeur Sourire, better known as The Singing Nun.

ROCKIN’ DIVAS PUT TO THE WORST USE:

Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance.

Cmon Jerry, help these ladies out.

Jewish hall of fame gala?

Okay, I’ve only seen The Guilt Trip and the trailer for Parental Guidance.  But as a gay guy I can tell you – these ladies deserve better!!!  And it’s not primarily their fault.  They want to do films.  But – what are the films being made that they should be doing?  There aren’t any.  And yes, Barbra’s still fun onscreen and Bette, well, I’ll take your word for it that she is too.  But….really??

ROCKIN’ NEW TV CHARACTER, RECURRING:

The Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started A Conversation With At A Party, Saturday Night Live

Cecily "Very" Strong

Cecily “Very” Strong

SNL new cast member Cecily Strong is irresistibly annoying as that gal….you know the one, trust me.  We mentioned her last week so we won’t drive it into the ground.  But consider how long it’s been since you remembered any new SNL character since Stefon?  Why does it work?  Because like all good comedy creations, she is barely exaggerated.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/girl-you-wish-you-hadnt-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party/1422717/

ROCKIN’ WEB MOMENT, VIRAL

No, it wasn’t the cat trick, or the pop singer from another country, or the Olympic athletes doing Call Me Maybe for the millionth time.  It was, quite simply:

The 47 PERCENT TAPE

Mitt Romney’s comments in a closed door fundraiser to major donors in Florida about how 47% of the electorate feel they are entitled to government handouts such as health care, food and housing and are people he can never convince to take personal responsibility and care for their lives got him — in true Shakespearean fashion — only 47% of the electorate to Barack Obama’s 51%.  It also caused him to lose the election by 4 million votes.  However, the award really should go not to the tape itself but to the Florida bartender who secretly recorded it – and, in another irony, to James Carter IV, grandson of perennial Republican punching bag Jimmy Carter.  Carter IV unearthed the tape on the web and brought it to the attention of David Corn at Mother Jones magazine.

Free speech, when it works, rocks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Happy Holidays!

IN 3-D (no doubt)

IN 3-D (no doubt)

And it will be happy because — yes, there will be an Angry Birds: The Movie!.  Okay, you will have to wait three and a half years for those chicks to hatch (yuk, yuk – can you tell I used to write press releases?) but in the summer of 2016 one of the most downloaded games in the history of that stuff will be released at a multiplex near you.

Here’s part of the just circulated announcement of that already anticipated film:

December 11th, 2012 — Santa Monica, California — On the third anniversary of the release of Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment announced that Despicable Me producer John Cohen has signed on as producer of the upcoming Angry Birds movie. David Maisel, former Chairman of Marvel Studios and executive producer of Iron Man, will be executive producer of the feature film, coming to theaters in summer 2016. The film will be produced and financed by Rovio Entertainment. John Cohen most recently produced Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures’ Despicable Me in 2010 and executive produced Illumination/Universal’s Hop in 2011. Prior to Illumination, Cohen was VP of Production at Twentieth Century Fox Animation. He worked closely with Blue Sky Studios on films including Ice Age, Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. Cohen had the idea to reimagine Alvin and the Chipmunks and developed the 2007 film.

Now — here is what I created a year and a half ago for my students.  This wholly fictional creation was in order for them to do an outlandishly fake movie marketing exercise:

March 28, 2011 – Los Angeles, California

As you all know, Pendleton Productions has purchased the rights to Angry Birds and has set up “Angry Birds: The Movie” as our first animated/live action tent pole film with Pixar Studios.   It will, of course, be directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles).  We have cast Angelina Jolie, Paul Rudd, Andrew Garfield, Willow Smith and Kim Kardashian as our birds.  Our pigs will be played by Zack Galifinakis, Hugh Jackman and Jack Black. In the time remaining, we’d like you to develop a detailed marketing plan to launch our film.  Actually, it’s more than a film.  It’s an event.  Or will be if we decide to hire you because that will be your responsibility. The marketing plan should reach across all media and be as creative and out-of-the-box as possible while still staying within the realm of reality.  Whose reality?  That’s up to you.  But it should include publicity and promotion plans for the launch, advertising ideas, tie-ins, merchandising, product placement and any other means of creating public attention (but not backlash).  It should also take into account platforms in film, television, music, new media and all social media.  Because we want to reach, well – EVERYONE!! 

What can I say?  That this is when you know you’ve been in the entertainment industry too long?  Or not long enough because you’re still surprised by it?

Bottom line — There is NOitem, idea or concept that cannot become a movie –  especially if it’s one that has proved uber-successful in another medium.  In fact, it’s preferable that the item, idea or concept has already done well somewhere else.  Because that means there is something called “brand recognition,” which ups the elusive financial “X” factor that will ensure your movie blockbuster status.  I mean, look at the box-office receipts of  Aeon Flux, The Dukes of Hazzard, Tekken, Battlefield Earth, The Mod Squad, The Honeymooners, Super Mario Bros. and Bewitched alone and you can see I’m correct, right?  Okay, perhaps those are bad examples.  Well, they’re at least bad somethings.

Ouija Board: The Movie? Spirit says no.

Ouija Board: The Movie? Spirit says no.

Note:  Please do not write in with either the box-office grosses or reviews of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (especially since two friends of mine wrote that one), Mortal Kombat, The Brady Bunch Movie or The Prince of Persia because I’m not interested in anything that disproves the cynical yet obvious point I’m trying to make.

It was not always thus so.  I mean, can you imagine The Seventh Seal in this kind of climate?  But conversely, there could perhaps be The Seventh Seal video game or phone app if that Bergman film were a post millennium release and one were trying to tweak the bounds of taste just a tad.

Well... I guess there's a board game tie in.

Well… I guess there’s a board game tie in.

What to do?  In keeping with the holiday spirit, we’d like to make a modest proposal of some titles that Hollywood could perhaps consider for future Christmas time seasonal announcements of films in the future.

1. Swiffer:  The Film – It’s the animated adventure of a lonely mop who finds itself jettisoned back in time to a Mad Men-like 1950s reality where being disposable is seen as a negative and lack of proper refills ensure its extinction.  How will Swiffer cope and stay alive?  Can it adjust to going from top dog prince to Eisenhower-era pauper?  Stay tuned.

Does this outfit make me look fat?

Does this outfit make me look fat?

2 The Adventures of Abed and The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started A Conversation With at a Party – Popular post-modern man-child Abed from the soon to be defunct NBC cult hit Community goes on the road with Cecily Strong’s soon-to-be breakout character from the new 2012 season of Saturday Night Live.  Together they travel the terminally unhip worlds of America they inadvertently make hip because of their own unintentionally po-mo hipness factor.

Click for some stimulating party conversation...

Click for some stimulating party conversation…

3. The Church of Stefon – SNL’s Stefon (because SNL always suffers from film spinoff overkill) flies solo and crash lands into red state America where he helps a group of down-on-their luck fundamentalist pastors rebuild a Church that was destroyed by the first super Tsunami-tornado ever recorded on U.S. soil.  While the preachers blame the emergence of the LGBT community for the aberrant weather, Stefon teaches them through determination and humor that God’s creatures all only have one religion — Clubbing.

Wholesome family entertainment

Wholesome family entertainment

4.  Game of De-Thrones – What happens when Mitt Romney, Hilliary Clinton, Michael Dukakis and Sarah Palin look-a-likes team up to topple their more famous counterparts? Do they take their place in the hierarchy of American political leaders who almost were and institute their plan to once again run in national elections, backed by a shadow rogue group of disgraced Wall Street bankers, in order to recreate the once greatest world power of the U.S. in their own unique vision? Stay tuned.

5. The Pet Rock Musical – Desperate for a Broadway hit, a group of both young and has-been producers team up to create an original musical embracing the beauty of played out sociological trends with hopes that it will be just bad enough to capture the public fancy. Featuring tributes to not only the pet rock but to Cabbage Patch Dolls, Game Boys, Beanie Babies, Nehru Suits, Furby (wait, is that back?), Zhu Zhu Pets, Razor Scooters and the 8-Ball.

6.  Super Nerds and Real Housewives – A new romantic comedy featuring three couples from the various cities of Bravo’s Real Housewives fame who find themselves in Silicon Valley married to everything from well-meaning bores to abusively damaging computer nerds.  In the end one couple divorces, one stays together and a third takes in a third partner.  Not yet determined if addition to third couple will be male or female or some combination of both.

Probable movie poster

Probable movie poster

7. Pandora’s Box – A store clerk’s Pandora account will only play songs loved by his ex-girlfriend, prompting the young man to go on a journey to find the woman (whose name is also, coincidentally, Pandora) and stop her from marrying a phony entrepreneur (who is only using her for her name) before it’s too late. Starring Michael Cera (obviously).

8. Twit Her – The super-villainess Twit Her must hack into the accounts of the 10 people with the most Twitter followers, who were discovered to have been abusing the system and illegally creating an unauthorized list of unwilling fans.   Her mission: reduce their followers to zero and have the real taste makers finally assume their rightful place in the  echelon of who and what is important.

9. Instagram and Other Unworldly Events – Pictures from a man’s past, present and future lives begin coming alive in the room at the worst possible moments, threatening to ruin his life.  He must hunt down the reclusive real creator of Instagram to dismantle the service before he himself is eventually reduced to merely a series of endless, three-dimensional photos in time.

America's Sweetheart

America’s Sweetheart

10. A Honey Boo-Boo Christmas – Low-budget, independent film where the rural family travels to California looking for The Beverly Hillbillies and instead run into Lindsay Lohan and take her under their wings to teach her the true meaning of holiday spirit without money.  Lindsay Lohan has, in fact, just been signed to play herself. (I’d watch this).

I’m not sure what the marketing campaigns will be on any one of these films.  However, I do know that 18 months ago my students came up with this kind of fun stuff for the then fictional Angry Birds movie.

a. A real life Angry Birds game with some of the stars of the film (Jack Black was specifically cited in this one).

b. A real life board game (which might actually already exist) in American landmarks like Times Square and St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.

c. ABC partners to do an Angry Birds version of Wipeout.

4. A master guerilla marketing guru who out text messages to a bunches of people in a given room saying things like “Knocking out pigs and pass it on”

5. A cirque du soleil type show at premiere.

Stay tuned to see if any of our predictions or strategies come true.

In the meantime, Have fun, be safe and go see a movie.  In a movie theatre, that is.

A Real Conversation

Newtown-CT-Memorial

Gun control?  Adolescent depression?  Human impulse to violence?  Bad people doing bad things to good people?  All or some of the above?

I’m not sure.

This is what I imagine:  A room at a school, similar to the one I went to decades ago because, let’s face it, east coast classrooms for mostly middle class white kids are not all that different.

But this one is.  Because when you open the door — you know, the one that has a rectangular glass cutout at the top of it where you can see in — there is something unusual.  First you react to the fact that bodies are lying on the floor.  But not just bodies – coarsely severed limbs on top of bodies.  Then you realize there’s blood.  A lot of it.  Everywhere.  And in between is carnage.  The carnage of human remains – part of a brain, an elbow, maybe a knee or a piece of foot.  It’s not like war, though, because these are smaller than the usual body parts of war.  Well, not all wars, I suppose.  Though I have never been on a battlefield, I imagine scattered among the young adult males, and nowadays even females, we might also find on some the remains of youngsters no older than those in that Connecticut schoolhouse on Friday morning.

Sorry to get so graphic but there seems no other way to talk about it other than to report on what is real or what we know to be real through our informed imagination and by the fact that no one wants to say exactly what they’ve seen inside that classroom except to call it words like “gruesome,” unspeakable” and “a massacre.”

From Newtown...

From Newtown…

What we have physically seen with our own eyes are cops, medical workers, politicians and yes, even Presidents, seeming overwhelmed, speechless or, inarticulate actually, as they tried to put the tragedy into words and express how they or we were feeling.  And you know that I’m not exaggerating on that score when seasoned tragedy professionals find it all too much too bear and dare to allow themselves to become inexpressive or, perish the thought, overly emotional, or even merely just plain emotional.  At all.

Not everyone went there.  Some among them had logical explanations for the unexplainable.  Politicians like ex-Arkansas governor/former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee noted publicly that it was unsurprising that school shootings like this continue to take place because as a society we have banished religion from the classroom.  This is what happens to you “by removing God from our schools,” Mr. H., an ordained minister, warned in his best imitation of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or….(fill in your favorite fundamentalist religious icon of choice).  Or – perhaps he was just being himself.

Click here to watch full video

Click here to watch full video.. if you can.

“Comedy equals tragedy plus time.”  Alan Alda once spoke these lines in the poignantly funny and tragic Woody Allen film masterpiece “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  Someone should pass this on to Mr. Huckabee because his full remarks would only make sense as the nonsensical punch line of a televangelist in a not yet written Woody Allen film.  But voiced the very day of the massacre in the last month of 2012 they come off as just plain shallow, stupid and simplistic.  Not to mention dangerously misinformed.  Still, one wonders if the reverse is true – if tragedy is nothing more than comedy plus time.  Meaning, if we have long enough to think about something we once thought was funny, can we conclude that in our older years we’ll find that same laugh riot just plain sad?  Using this logic and Mr. Huckabee’s words maybe this is what drove the now dead 20-year-old Connecticut assassin to do what he did.  Maybe gales of laughter heard while not in the presence of God surrounded him enough that one day the laughter turned into anger, which then turned into this.  Uh, I don’t think so.  That sounds as likely and simplistic and as appropriate a thought as Mr. Huckabee’s explanation.  So sorry for stooping so slow.

But back to carnage and the mass murder of 27 people, mostly children between the ages of 5 and 10.  Murder, that is, by at least one automatic weapon and two pistols held by the hand of someone who was not yet old enough to legally drink in the United States.  Of course we all know that many young men and women under 21 do drink.  Just as we know many people under 21 are taught to shoot firearms.  However, the latter is legal.  Even when they’re not in the military.  (Note: the minimum age for military service is 18.  Just thought I’d bring that salient fact up).

Sorry if I’m getting too snide, graphic or just plain gross.  But when the big macho male Connecticut Medical Examiner gets on television and says of the massacre, “I’ve been doing this work a third of a century and this is the worst that I’ve seen and probably that any of my colleagues have ever seen” you know the time for niceties are gone.

By the way – salient fun facts:

  • A single assault weapon, like the legal one used on Friday morning, fires up to six bullets a second.
  • The average victim in our latest U.S. mass murder had anywhere from 3-7 bullet wounds in their bodies.
  • The 20 or so dead children were all wearing “cute kid stuff,” according to that same Ct. chief Medical Examiner, whose name is Dr. H. Wayne Carver.  And when pressed even further on the subject by one overzealous reporter, he added, “the kind of stuff you’d all send your kids off to school in every day.”  Dr. Carver looked them all straight in the eye when he added that fun fact.
Connecticut Medical Examiner, H. Wayne Carver

Connecticut Medical Examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver

Want more?  Yes, I thought you did.  Well, did you know that —

  • The bodies in the crime scene were so gruesome that rather than have parents come directly into the site they were given photographs taken by “very good staff photographers” to ease their pain, while assured that “up close and personal time” would eventually happen.
  • The mother of the accused shooter was an avid gun collector and marksman herself who owned numerous guns and often took her two sons to shooting ranges and taught them how to pull a variety of triggers correctly.
  • When pressed again by another reporter if he was affected emotionally by what he had seen after examining more than 11 bloody child corpses in that single day alone, Dr. Carver responded that if you weren’t affected you “don’t belong in this business.”  He also noted that in the past he has “sat down in the locker room and cried alone but I haven’t yet on this one.”  But, he added,  “notice I said “yet.”

There is a tipping point for everything – a boiling over moment when a critical mass is reached and something that has been building for a long time can’t help but inevitably explode into existence.  (Okay, it’s not always an explosion but it is worth noting that these things do often start gradually and mount with time). We’re told this is how change occurs and, looking back in history, we can trace the inevitability.  But we can never quite predict what that tipping point will actually be.  And often not without hindsight, long after it happens.

I’ve told a number of people that I was just slightly older than the dead children at Sandy Hook Elementary School when both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot within a few months of each other in 1968.  At the time, it felt like a tipping point on gun violence in America had been reached.  But it hadn’t.

It happened again many more times over many more decades – most recently after the mass shootings at Columbine, then again at Virginia Tech, and then this past year at the movie theatres in Colorado.  But, once again, it hadn’t.

Today is the Day rally, Washington DC, 12/14/12

Today is the Day rally, Washington DC, 12/14/12

Unlike war, there are not countries to be brought together to broker a treaty or an end to this reality.  There is simply the citizenry of the country in the form of the government.  And we all know how well that has been going.

And yet, there seems to be something about the deaths of young children that occasionally does make the difference.  We saw this in the Vietnam War with the My Lai massacre.  We also saw it with AIDS when young hemophiliacs like Ryan White were ostracized or infants in other countries began to be massively ravaged.

It’s sad to think that it took the deaths of these innocents for us to reach the tipping point this time.  But what’s sadder is to think their deaths won’t make the difference.

A friend wrote to me that there are 275 million guns in private hands in our nation of 315 million and that it will be incredibly difficult to put this genie back in the bottle.  This friend is incredibly smart and often quite perceptive.  But in this case, I hope he’s as wrong as Mike Huckabee.

Keep Calm and…

So says the Queen!

So says the Queen!

I get really annoyed with people who tell me to calm down.  What I hear is:  you’re hysterical for no reason – try to behave like a normal person – there’s no reason to get so excited – you’re blowing blankety-blank out of proportion and – the absolute worst –- grow up! On the other hand, I don’t mind when I tell myself to chill out or when a very select and very, very small (miniscule, really) group of loved ones give me a sideways glance now and again suggesting I just might not want to say what I am about to say or act like I am about to act.  On rare occasions I don’t even mind words like “relax,” “stop,” or “you don’t really want to do that, do you?”  In fact, I have even learned lately to do that for myself. Holiday time, which, let’s face it, starts right after Thanksgiving and ends a couple of days into the new year, will undoubtedly bring out a lot of calm downs from both directions — either from you or, if your life is anything like mine, to you.  But either one of those are akin to a well-meaning someone registering you for a yoga class against your will or a well-meaning you deciding to drag someone to your yoga class because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be good for them.

Of course, I would never drag you to yoga since I like bouncing around to loud music when I exercise (if you substitute yoga for watching Homeland on Sunday nights it might apply).

That's more like it...

That’s more like it…

As for those trying enlist the rest of us into balance and deep breathing against our wills – uh, good luck with that.  Plus, if you’re even thinking of telling someone like me to calm down about it or plan to suggest that this attitude is the very reason to do yoga my answer to you is a simple this: shove it up your Menorah, Christmas tree or appropriate something or other. This does not mean that I am not an advocate of peacefulness or a large helping of calm at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Far from it.  But the calm has to be the choice of the individual, not an imposition by perhaps the very person or thing that is making the individual feel anything but….  For my vegan friends – we get the whole idea of promoting good nutrition but you are not going to insult or intimidate people into your way of thinking.  That only works when I personally do it to members of the religious right who call gay people sinners or claim women shouldn’t have control over their own reproductive rights.  Nor will posting pictures of animals going to the slaughter on Facebook or extolling the merits of a plant-based diet on Thanksgiving or Christmas or Chanukah as your family is about to cut into the white meat, ham or brisket they’ve been looking forward to all year.  That will only serve to make everyone nauseous after dinner and cause you to go into a murderous tofu-fueled rage, yoga or not.

Because that looks comfortable...

Because that looks comfortable…

As any one at a 12-step meeting will testify, you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.  The best you can do is offer up an alternative path in the discourse of life or provide a helping hand when someone reaches out to the world or specifically comes knocking at your door.  The real radical act is being there for someone (or everyone) not browbeating them into your way of thinking (as if that were possible).  Or, worse yet, browbeating yourself around holiday time for not being the person you thought you’d become and using the this period in particular to sink even further into self abuse, annihilation or your chosen weapon of destructive choice.

Step away from the cookies...

Step away from the cookies…

Taking a breath and then a step back helps with all of this.  As does prioritizing, making lists and realizing you will never get to every single item on your personal spreadsheet because there will always, always, always be more to do.  In truth, the most you can hope for is to reduce the list by a little (or even a lot) and stay a bit ahead of the curve as you drive through the next 28 day obstacle course of twinkling lights, stolen parking spots and petty innuendos from fellow put upon co-workers, friends and family all played out against a cheerily relentless holiday music drone. I learned this the hard way when we threw a party at our house for two hundred plus students last week and in the pouring rain some crazy neighbor lady two houses up (who I had never met) leaned on her horn for five minutes in front of our house and demanded I find the owner of the car parked in front of her house and get them to move so she could conveniently pull her gas-guzzling SUV into what is and will always be a spot on a very public street.  I learned it this month when several friends and family members grew seriously ill and landed in the hospital or, one case, out of it for the very last time.  And I learned it yet again a few days ago when the kitchen ceiling started to leak, I twisted my neck by sitting the wrong way, and I had to stay up till 5 a.m. to finish work that I had seriously procrastinated on that I suddenly realized was absolutely and terrifyingly due the next day.

Tied up at the moment...

Tied up at the moment…

What I tell myself – then and now – is not to calm down but that these are high-class problems of the privileged not living in a third world nation (or that they are merely unavoidable human ones).  And then, amid numerous breaths, I also try to look at the many pleasures of life this week.  The friend who came to visit for a couple of weeks because we live in an age where micro-budgets movies can happen and 12 year old screenplays can indeed see the light of day to great affect.  Or the other party we were also lucky enough to give at our same house the following week for 45 more than deserving kind and lovely call center volunteers for The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading hotline for at risk youth.  Or the fact that for the next four weeks I will actually have time to do some of my own reading and writing and relaxing while clearing my head, recharging and pumping some disposable income into the nation’s economy (and I’m not even a JOB CREATOR!) for stuff I (and others) momentarily want but certainly don’t need.

Not to get too George Bailey/It’s A Wonderful Life on you, but after countless stress-filled holiday seasons, these days there is a light at the end of the tunnel where I’m finally breathing pretty well.  Maybe I’m just tired and find it takes too much effort to be continually worried and pissed off.  Or maybe it’s the new asthma medication and bi-weekly allergy shots that have cleared things up.  But I don’t think so.

The original Master

The original Master

Like most changes in my life, I chalk it up to the movies.  I recently popped into the DVD/DVR/IUD a screener of Hitchcock, a sort of cinema parlor trick on the part of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as they evoke the great director and his wife and the turbulence in both their personal and professional worlds during the making of the Master’s iconic film “Psycho.” (Note: this is not the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Master but the nickname of one of the most important filmmakers of ours or any time).   While I can’t say the movie is great, it is certainly great fun at many turns, which certainly makes it worth the effort.  In any event, as I was treated to the iconic Hitchcock greeting of “Goood eeeeevening” while his creepily bouncy theme song played in the background, and as I laughed as his disdain-filled wife described his body as “corpulent” and as I was appalled not by Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh but by the fact that she could only feign terror in her famed Psycho shower scene real enough to satisfy her director only when Hitch himself got his corpulent self up out of his chair and came dangerously close to stabbing her up close and personal — I was reminded of one of his great pronouncements and unintended life lessons – one I’ve quoted before but bears repeating: Ingrid Bergman fretted to the director over something or other during the filming of 1946’s Notorious, probably no more or less nervous that any of the rest of us will be during the next 20 days, which means greatly stressed nonetheless.  And to her great horror, the director – who usually got the chosen result he wanted in any given situation – shot back what is now, and will probably always be, the perfect advice for life.  No, it wasn’t Boo!  It was, quite simply, this:

“Ingrid, it’s only a movie.”

I find this, and this alone, to be the primary reason to continually enjoy and breathe.  As long as it’s still possible.

Memories

Don't Forget

One of a writer’s greatest strengths is memory.  Not for silly things like how to make ketchup, where you can get the best sale price for the complete DVD boxed set of the first three “Twilight” films or even what color Lindsay Lohan’s hair was when she was arrested once again this past week.  Though any one of the above might come in handy for a game of Trivial Pursuit, popularity with the friends you shouldn’t have or snaring a date with the hot TMZ reporter you shouldn’t have a crush on.

Blonde so does not go with Prison Orange.

Blonde so does not go with Prison Orange.

No — the kind of memories I mean are on either side of the emotional spectrum.  Correction:  the many sides.  Hate and love/good and bad/happiness and sadness are the easy ones.  How about jealousy, passion, courage, anger, hurt, fear, longing, suspicion and hopefulness for starters?  Any one of those will not only cause you to lose the blank page, if you can corral them, but to also fill it with something you never knew you had in you (or conveniently forgot about until then) by the time you are done.  Depending on the kind of writer you are, the filling might be sweet or sour but tasty nonetheless for the right customer hungry for what you have cooked up.

Memories came rushing through to me this week via World Aids Day; my step mom in the hospital; tons of students who I adore reappearing at our annual school holiday party while others said goodbye; and the celebration in the last month of various birthdays (including my own) as well as the anniversaries of the deaths of several people I knew intimately. The thing about memories and writing is that a date on the calendar is not the only thing that can trigger it, only the most obvious one.  It can be a fleeting image, a song, a passing remark in real life or on television.  Connect in a significant way with any single one of them and a collage of events come crashing into your mind.  And in more cases than you care to, depending on how sharp your recollections are, the memory(ies) can be almost as clear as if you were there and this was the first time you were experiencing said event.  The latter, in particular, depends on who you are and the kind of writer you want to be, are already  or are destined to become.

Animated is always best.

Animated is always best.

I’m using writer in the generic sense because in some ways we are all writers of our own experiences.  That is because we all tell stories to someone – even if it is only ourselves.  Marsha Norman, Pulitzer prize winning writer of ‘night Mother, likens playwriting to the old days prior to television and the movies, where human beings used to sit together around a campfire, actually make eye contact with each other (rather than the touch screen kind) and say ‘let me tell you a story’ – at which time a person no more or less talented than any one of us are now would weave a tale of woe or joy and, depending on the skill of the speaker, watch as those emotions were reflected back to them from the eyes of a rapt live audience.  The only difference today is that a larger group of us choose to, or simply can, put our storytelling on paper or a computer screen, to be either read or performed or both.  It doesn’t make those among us who do not do this any less storytellers or even writers.  It’s simply writing of a different kind.  Side Note: Unfortunately, being a writer these days can often sound so rarefied and almost pretentious unless you accept the idea that everyone does write in their own way – on paper, electronically, verbally, physically or even emotionally.  To my definition it’s all storytelling and that indeed does make us all authors of not only our own stories but of every story we choose to pass on to others in whatever way we choose and through whatever medium we see fit.

For example, Chris Matthews made a remark on his MSNBC show Hardball this week, casually noting (writing?) in the context of something else, that Ronald Reagan was not anti-gay.  This being the week of Worlds AIDS Day, images of dying, emaciated men in their 20s, 30s and 40s, some of whom I knew quite well, immediately came rushing back in my mind, as did the perpetually smiling face of Mr. Reagan – a smile at the time I longed to wipe the floor with as I dragged him kicking and screaming into every quarantined hospital room I knew and forced him to look at the beginnings of a new Holocaust that he refused to ever truly and fully acknowledge.  But hey, that’s my memory – and certainly not one shared by the fringe group of his acolytes who periodically wage a campaign to put their hero’s punim (that’s Yiddish for face) on Mt. Rushmore next to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  I have a few choice words for those idiots, but to them I’ll simply say what Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used to say on SNL’s Weekend Update:  “Really?”

Now, there's a Mt. Rushmore I can get behind!

Now, there’s a Mt. Rushmore I can get behind!

But while we’re on the subject – thanks to Chris and writing about this, a few more Reagan memories have suddenly come back.  That nasty little argument with a woman in my writer’s group who tried to defend our late president in the early AIDS years to me while everyone else looked very nervously away and into a bowl of particularly bad chips and salsa; and another time I once nearly punched out (yes, it’s true) a gay Republican who tried to lecture the late and brilliant author of the seminal chronicle of AIDS/governmental history, And The Band Played On, about the merits of Reagan. (It took two people to hold me back as this shit for brains jabbered on endlessly). Further side note:  The author Randy Shilts was a perfect gentleman during this and when I approached him later on he simply laughed at this then young man’s total ignorance of the facts of all of our lives.

Speaking of lives, more memories have suddenly come back.  My step mom, now a vibrant but still very fun senior citizen, is in the hospital at the moment still fun and pretty vibrant despite the fact that she was making a meal of ice chips last night.   Though her room didn’t exactly have a roaring campfire, I nevertheless couldn’t help but watch her and think of the time when I was 14 years old and first met her in a bowling alley with my father – she being the one with the long auburn hair cascading over the coolest brown suede poncho (with fringe!) that I had ever seen in my then short life.  (Confession:  I still think it’s cool!).  I now remember this memory so vividly, as well as how my pre-determined feelings of dislike for her turned to love in just a few short minutes despite my steely resolve to react otherwise.  It has, in fact, taken me many years to realize the story of those feelings would be a recurrent story in my life that has caused me to be continually surprised (in both good and bad ways) by people I had decided to have pre-determined reactions towards.

I'm looking at you, Mr. Black in Bernie.

I’m looking at you, Mr. Black in  this year’s outrageous Bernie.

I may not have written about my stepmother (though really my second mother because she’s been that special and such an important part of my life for so long) on paper but I have shared some of our stories to others a few times – and they’ve always made me smile.   Not only that, these stories have evolved my opinions and views of a particularly turbulent period in my life each time I’ve retold them.

I have also written a lot about AIDS on paper – as well as told numerous, or perhaps even immeasurable, anecdotal verbal stories – so many more of the latter, in fact, that I’ve risked alienating no small number of innocent bystanders over the years as I’ve gone on and on and on.   The plague year stories never change anything at all – no opinions or views that I know of.  The only thing they seem to change is my mood at the time of their telling. Depending on where I am in my life I can feel better or significantly worse each time I do tell one.

That used to frustrate me in the screenplay area until I realized that even the great masterwork on AIDS – Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, for example – didn’t change anything the way I really wanted to change it.  Which was, specifically – to make a full correction – to make it as if it was indeed a story and didn’t happen.  More precisely – to bring back those that I loved who were lost  and everyone else who didn’t deserve to die at such an unforgiving hand of fate and to throw it all into the dust bin of modern urban legend.

If only it were a dream...

If only it were a dream…

People will write to pay the rent, because of obligation and because they’re good at it.  But the majority of us – we write because we have to for our own very personalreasons.  I suspect part of this is to deal with the past and, in fact, correct it in some way – or at the very least understand it.  And perhaps affirm, deny or, in many cases even change the ending.    Woody Allen cops to this at the end of Annie Hall when he switches his bittersweet breakup with the woman he truly loved, for reconciliation – at least in the play written by his movie alter ego.   He tells us in not so many words that as a writer you want to change the past and have it make sense because in real life it often doesn’t.  In truth, nothing really does if you decide it doesn’t.  We impose the preferred order on things.  Which is, again, where writing, or storytelling, comes in.

All written stories have their beginnings, middles and endings.  And the best part is, we writers – every one of us in every medium, real or imagined – get to choose which goes where.  That, in itself, is worth remembering.