26 Years a Spouse

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Last week , the Significant Other and I celebrated our 26th anniversary together.  This is not particularly significant for anyone but us.  Except when it is.

I always thought in my heart that I was a relationship kind of guy who would never be in a long-term relationship.  I just couldn’t see myself as part of one of those wise old couples dispensing advice from their comfy old home surrounded by photos and artifacts of a life well-lived and loved.  And is it any wonder?  Just writing those lines makes me (and probably you) want to run retching as far away as possible from that nobler-than-thou image of stability.

I did, however, easily see myself as a rich and famous Malibu loner lying back on an off-white linen couch in my fabulous beach house while staring out into the Pacific Ocean.  This, of course, would be done nightly as I drank brandy and pondered the meaning of life both on the page and, intermittently, to the many friends, relatives and fans who would brave the Pacific Coast Highway or go to their local movie theatre or Broadway stage to view one of my great works of art or hear any one of my many grand bon mots in person.  Oh, the isolation of it all!  Oh, the burdens of genius!  Poor, poor – but rich and famous – ME!!

So basically I'm Diane Keaton in any Nancy Meyers movie

So basically I’m Diane Keaton in any Nancy Meyers movie

Yes, I really did think this way.  And if nothing else, it should illustrate how misguided and just plain wrong (Note: and full our ourselves) we can be about our lives and predetermined destiny.

I’m not a religious person so I don’t believe God has a plan.  And if there even is a God, I doubt He/She/or HESHE has granted us anything but free will to steer our own course.  Architects have plans, which are not dissimilar to a screenwriter’s step outline.  And as every good writer/builder of anything knows- nothing is ever executed exactly as conceived in your mind or on paper.   In fact, sometimes the final result bears little physical resemblance to your original vision but somehow captures the spirit, and even betters, what your best intentions indeed were.

Of course, none of this means you enter into a project blindly or unprepared.

Here’s what I’ve noticed after a quarter of a century of being in a relationship.  People who want to be in love, try to be in love, or think they’re in love but find it’s not going well – all believe that if you’re in something that looks happy and long-term  (and one where they actually suspect you still have sex with your beloved – uh yeah, they often ask) that you must know something they don’t.

Hmm, I am not always sure that’s accurate but, as I stated above, I’m not always the best judge of my true abilities.  Clearly, I must have something to impart other than the fact that I don’t know anything all.  (On That Note:  please do not believe ANY of those uber successful artists who look down shyly and say things like: Oh, I don’t knowI just do my work and hope for the best, when asked about their good fortune. They are the best storytellers in the business and know full well, even if you don’t, exactly why and exactly how they were able to get where they are.  They just have no intention of sharing it with you).

For what it’s worth, I do.  Here is what I’ve noticed after a quarter of a century of – okay, don’t retch – being in a 26 year relationship where I am still very much in love with that very same person I started out with – and not with their best friend, my co-worker or the person I met at the gym two years ago who lives down the street.

Like all advice, feel free to take it or leave it – as you see fit.

COMPATIABLE WORLD VIEWS

Go for the laughs.

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If you’re a drama queen, you need someone to lighten the load.  If you’re the Joker – be it Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or even Caesar Romero – someone has to reel you in.   Even if you’re none of these things, your life can, in its bad moments, seem like its worse than the ending of the most tragic 1940s melodrama you’ve ever seen.  It is at these times where you’ll need the other person you’re with to not only be there but amuse you – if only for a moment.  This doesn’t mean you marry Robin Williams (especially since he just got divorced for the third time).  But it does mean you get with someone who you can depend on to occasionally bring a smile to your face.   Or at least steer you towards something or someone who can.   It also helps if you can laugh at the same things – even if that’s only each other.

Lust in Your Heart

As sure as your hair will go gray or go missing, you can count on occasionally getting tired of your mate.  This should not be alarming.  Tired doesn’t mean done or unexcited.  It just means tired – for a lot of reasons.

Consequently, If you think you won’t occasionally be attracted to or fantasize about getting with some random other human at some moment of some given day, and believe this also doesn’t go for your mate, you have become John Lithgow in Footloose – the kind of guy who won’t let your daughter even listen to music because you believe it’s the gateway to some sort of epic downfall or betrayal.

Everyone has fantasies and wanderlust.  Including the person you’re with. That’s different than the real thing. When either of you venture into the real other thing, that’s when you’re asking for trouble. Call me old-fashioned on that score and some have.  In fact, one person I was with years ago got so exasperated that he shouted back that me and my values were hopelessly middle-class.  Uh, yeah, so — I’m supposed to be insulted by that? 

Values

Hollywood's sweethearts

Hollywood’s sweethearts

Many decades ago I worked on a movie that starred Anne Bancroft and when some interviewer asked her what the secret was to her long term Hollywood marriage to Mel Brooks she answered, We just look at life and the world in the same way.  Plus, he makes me laugh.

Well, not everyone is as funny as Mel Brooks and not even Mel Brooks makes everyone laugh.  What you value most in the world – honesty, money, security, world peace, beauty, macaroni and cheese instead of caviar – needs to coincide with the person you share your life with.  This doesn’t mean a liberal can’t marry a conservative.  Only that Bill Maher and Michelle Bachmann couldn’t be happy together.

By the way, several years before I worked on that movie I went to see a double feature in Santa Monica that included Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum.  Between shows I looked to the front/side of the theatre and saw a middle-aged couple giggling in their seats as they playfully poked each other.   That couple was – and I’m not lying  here – Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks.  So I knew first-hand that everything she was saying in that interview was true.

SHARING

Not So (Joined at the) Hip

Not so cute, actually.

Not so cute, actually.

You can only continue to truly appreciate someone special if you consistently go out into the world and experience how many real, unadulterated assholes there are.  This means you need to have your own experiences and some of your own friends, hobbies and interests.   That way you get to have some of your excitements and share  your fatigues.  You will also be the kind of interesting person your partner wants to spend time with because you’ll have something new to offer.

No – you are not endlessly fascinating despite what the mirror, your checkbook or your friends, co-workers or job title tell you.  Like an old borscht Belt comic, your routine will get old.  Try something different and don’t always drag the poor schnook that’s sharing your bed along with you.  You’ll both be a lot better for it.  Plus, you can make the experience seem a lot more desirable than it really was when you share it with them.  That’s not lying, just merely accessorizing.

Sheets and Towels

I’m a firm believer in 400-thread count or more sheets, soft towels and as large of a bed as possible.  You can share all of these (though I do like my own towel).  But just know that the more comfortable they are the more intimate the experiences between them will be.  (Note:  Yes, it’s true, I don’t like camping.  At least outdoors).

Scents that make sense

Don't take notes from Monsieur Le Pew

Don’t take notes from Monsieur Le Pew

Passing by a candle or perfume store in a mall leaves me with a headache the size of the national debt.  Also, when I enter an empty elevator I literally start to bitch slap the invisible people who left it an empty pungent mess in a desperate attempt to pay them back for all the sneezing and nose tickling I am going to have to endure the rest of the day.

There is a reason why they invented perfume-free and dye-free laundry soap as well as various other unscented accouterments.  Don’t assume everyone, especially a date or someone more serious, wants to swim in a sea of Chanel. Or even Calvin Klein.  Your house, your bedroom and you are not in Paris at the turn of the century – unless this is the agreed upon routine for both you and the S.I.  And if so, don’t expect any invitations to my (I mean, OUR) house.

Body Rot…and stuff

Not to get too personal, but have you noticed when you watch HGTV’s House Hunters that every single couple bridles when a realtor shows them a prospective apartment or home that has a master bathroom with no door? Think about it.  Then think about it some more.

And while we’re getting intimate, it is also important to remember that – as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have recently proven – gravity is a fact of life whether you want to admit it or not.  Given the proper conditions, EVERYTHING drops.  So when you or someone you’ve loved for a long time (Note: they can be one in the same) passes an unexpected mirror and you gasp (and perhaps sometimes in horror), don’t be surprised and don’t be ashamed.  Though feel free to turn out the lights.  Or laugh.  But only at yourself and not at them.  At least to their face.

LOVE AND – MARRIAGE?

Wedding vs. Sin

Listen up, Kurt and  Blaine.

Listen up, Kurt and Blaine.

I’m going to get raked over the coals for this but I always thought one of the advantages of being gay was that you didn’t have the choice of whether to get married.  You actually had to work really hard on a relationship because you didn’t have the option of society’s tacit approval.  Yes, adversaries can bring you two together.

Oh, of course I love the idea that gay couples can now get married if that is their desire.  And my partner and I just might be persuaded if for nothing else than for tax benefits and to surprise people.  But before getting the government involved – try living in sin first.  Please.  It’s good practice and much more…well….sinful.  And sinning wouldn’t be called what it is if it didn’t feel good.

Finally, if you don’t have the money (and even if you do) PLEASE DO NOT spend a fortune on your wedding.  BUY REAL ESTATE, GO TO EUROPE, SAVE, OR DONATE TO CHARITY.   Just trust me on this.

Money

See last paragraph above.  It’s the #1 reason couples argue and break up and it is the #2 worst argument you can have. (Note: For #1, see lust in your heart, above).

Yes, money is important but it’s not essential.  So don’t lie about it.  Have the money talks — honestly.  Listen, I’ve known three billionaires. All three have been in relationships but none have lasted.  Among the millionaires I’ve known I’d say it’s 50-50. Among everyone else it’s also 50-50 or better.  Meaning – money is irrelevant long term as long as you think about it the same way and don’t hate each other for having too little or too much.  Yes, you heard me – too much.  Nothing can come between two people more than too much, it can be even more treacherous than too little.

Children aren’t an answer – they’re a question.

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One of my dearest female friends who has been happily married for thirty years has regaled me with countless stories about other people questioning her and husband about why they don’t have kids.  Oh, could you not have any?  Why don’t you adopt?  Oh, well are you planning to have them? (Note:  The latter stopped several years ago, she admitted, when her age made the question a bit unseemly.  It then became – Gee, that’s too bad because you two would have made great parents).

I’m not a parent nor do I have any plans to be.  I have never had this desire and I was very clear with my partner on this upfront.  You should be too.  Yes, you can change your mind.  I mean, I love brussels sprouts these days yet I gagged at the thought of them the first time I went to a Christian friend’s house for dinner and they were served with a plate of lumpy mashed potatoes. (Note:  NY Jewish households in the 60s and 70s opted for canned veggies swimming in mystery syrup).

Bottom Line:  You are allowed to change your mind about having kids before you have them but you cannot be surprised or outraged if your partner feels as they always have.  However, neither one of you can change your mind once they are born and running around the house.

Final bottom Line:  The best parents I know understand and respect childless couples.  They also get the similar love that couples or single friends might have for a pet or other animals in general.  Often, they themselves have tried this first before jumping into the deep end.  So don’t let anyone tell you that parental instincts can’t come in all shapes and sizes. (Note:  No, our dog Rosie did NOT make me write the latter).

A HOME IS NOT A HOUSE

Moving In

Note: Moving is never this happy.

Note: Moving is never this happy.

The next morning after our first date, the Significant Other turned to me – yes, I was THAT kind of guy – and said, So, when are you moving in?

Well, I just about freaked out.  No one – not ONE person I had ever been involved with up to that point, had ever mentioned this subject even though I had long fantasized about it.   So why now and why this soon?  And why did it make me so nervous? Was what I thought I wanted just a big fat scary fantasy, or even lie?  Perhaps.  Time would only tell.  And – it did.

Point being – it’s tricky to know anything for sure but in your heart you’ll realize when it feels right to at least attempt the leap.  Don’t back off of it.  But don’t dive in and close your eyes to all reason just because there’s an offer on the table.

Big Clue:  Your partner is just as nervous and just as excited as you are about cohabitating.  Joy, not only misery, loves company.

Buy or Rent?

You can’t keep up with the Joneses because there are literally millions of Joneses in the U.S. – 1,3362,755 of them to be exact.  It’s the fifth most common name in the country and even if you tried you could never match what the best of them have.

Therefore, in terms of love it doesn’t matter if you rent, buy or do anything in between. The S.I. and I were often put on the spot by acquaintances and perfect strangers about how dumb we were, especially in the 80s and 90s, to not buy real estate.  But we’re still together as happy renters in 2013 while many of our naysayers have either lost their homes, broken up with their spouses, or done both.

What is preferable is for every couple to have some tiny space that is their own.  And we all know implicitly how to give people space – either literally or figuratively.

And Finally:

STRATEGERY

Pick and Choose your Battles

Choose wisely.

Choose wisely.

I hate to quote Will Ferrell quoting George W. Bush on anything but — ya gotta use strategery when arguing .  In non-Dubya language that means that you weigh what’s really important.

Every couple must argue, or worse yet, fight.   If you consistently say nothing, you’re a Stepford spouse and everyone knows what happened to that hideous remake (Oh, Bette). Yet if you scream and yell all the time you’ll be Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, entwined in a codependent hell of your own making without any acclaim or awards to show for it.

Some things that bug the crap out of you may not be worth bringing up.  Other small things might be. But, as the years go by, you figure it out.  You learn how to say it without becoming a George or a Martha.  As Joe Mankiewicz famously wrote in All About Eve – one has to learn that what is attractive onstage need not necessarily be attractive off. 

The good thing about arguing is that you get to make up.

And the good thing about a long-term relationship that works is that you reach a point where you become too wise to sweat the small stuff.   You learn what is important.  If only for you and your S. I. of choice.

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The Anti-Moron Law

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This is one of many famous quips from Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of U.S. Pres. Theodore Roosevelt and lifelong Washington, DC insider.  Widely known for her scathing wit and an innate ability to bring the rich and famous to their knees with the mere flick of an impromptu remark or deed (she once put a tack on the chair of a too dignified pretentious gentleman in DC’s Capitol Gallery only to look away with indifference when he leapt up in pain), one could imagine Mrs. Longworth would either be rendered speechless or simply throw her hands up in horror if she were alive today.  Or perhaps she would simply throw up.

It is not only the political arena she was born into right before the turn of the 20th century and remained prominent in through the post Nixon Watergate era that would cause this.  Though we could easily start there.  It’s that today, a mere 30 plus years since her death at age 96, there seems to be no line of offensiveness, disrespectfulness or, well, truthiness (forget truth – that’s long been buried, along with Mrs. Longworth) that can’t be crossed.

You might be expecting a rant against the recent Tea Party-led government shutdown of 16 days that is estimated to have cost the U.S. a tidy $22 billion in revenue.  Well, we might get to that.  But first, in the spirit of Mrs. Longworth, let’s start with something a little bit more basic, and a lot more fun.

I’m at the gym late on a Friday afternoon – an hour of the day where presumably there isn’t a lot of pressing business being done, especially by folks with enough leisure time to be at a public gym.  In any event, I’ve got the headphones on, the treadmill roaring and I’m trying to keep up to the music as I’m sweating, and huffing and puffing – and doing a pretty good job of it, thank you very much – when I begin to hear the sounds of someone chattering next to me.

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I ask myself – how can this be?  The Broadway soundtrack to Thoroughly Modern Millie is pretty loud and pretty (okay VERY) gay in my ears.  No one could get a word in edgewise under normal circumstances and ruin my concentration.  Certainly no one I’d ever come across.  Hmmm, maybe it’s my imagination, I thought, as I prepared for the big eleven o’clock number in my mind.

Then suddenly – there’s more chatter, which I begin to halfway understand.  And unlike the usual chatter mine seems to have a bit of a — Spanish accent.

Nagarav-na….But he said he’d blgrda-nanita blrg…….And she said she would malagagana bragnavan-nya…..

I look to my right…and there it is.  An I-phone, ear buds and a headpiece attached to something that seems to be human but clearly couldn’t be.  Humans were once awake, aware and considerate – not droids trapped in a superficial and, mind you, not very interesting world of their own invention, engaged in a conversation with no real beginning and certainly no obvious end.

Not being one to immediately pounce, I turn away.  More blabbering.  And now it’s getting extremely elaborate and more multi lingual.  Imagine an endless loop of a monologue delivered by Sofia Vergara from Modern Family but take away her writers and her comic timing.  Now imagine a guy half her size in gym shorts and shorter, with smaller shoulders (and a tenth as good-looking), and you just might begin to get the picture.  Needless to say that unlike my reaction to Ms. Vergara,  I am not smiling.

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I imagine this guy, let’s call him Mr. Not Sofia, will eventually end his call and admit to myself this is very much a first world problem.  So I decide to remain silent and once again pretend (?) I’m a Broadway Diva singing a ballad.  And, true to form, Mr. Not Sofia does end his call.   Only to immediately dial and start a new one that seems to repeat what was just said in the previous one, using a little less Spanish and a little more English – one that now seems to be echoing into more expressive tones I can’t quite make out but can clearly hear. And I’m into my finale.

C’mon Chair – do you really want to waste the fat you’re burning off here on this guy’s fat head?  No.  I’m silent.  I drink water. Five more minutes go by. Chatter.  Another five.  Chatter, chatter.  Now we’re up to fifteen, chatter, chatter, chatter –

Good-bye, si, no, hello, hola, yes! No!  Tell me about this!  I know. She said what?  I want to know!  He said more?  More???  MORE??????  Chatter, chatter chatter,  when —

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I yank off my headphones, turn to Sophia’s distant cousin and spit out the words –

Can you NOT talk on your cell phone! It’s very distracting and very annoying.  I can hear everything you’re saying and I’m listening to music with my headphones ON.

The man now next to me rolls his eyes and laughs and, encouraged, I can’t help but add –

There’s a whole empty gym and he’s choosing to do this here?

Somewhat surprised, in fact rather shocked, Mr. Not Sofia, now quite, in fact VERY surprised, now looks at me, incredulously, and says:

Oh.

Then, realizing for the first time that his very loud ongoing 20-minute conversation to seven different people in a public place is, in fact, still being heard and might not be as fascinating as he imagined that it was when he was speaking, says in a somewhat confused tone:

I’m sorry.

I do begin to wonder if I’m not a relic from another time – or whether I am indeed reverting to what my life partner calls my secret crotchety persona of Old Man Ginsberg (motto: I hate children!).  But then I think – this is just typical of everything we’re up against right now.  People speaking their minds and saying not much of import publicly for no reason at all other than they choose to.

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But hey – ISNT THAT….WHAT….I…THE CHAIR….IS DOING….….RIGHT NOW…RIGHT HERE?

Well, it’s not the same thing.        Or…… is it?

No, it isn’t.  I can write and say what I want here but I am not shouting it in a public space – and a space you do not have to look at it if you don’t want to.  In other words, I do not have a captive audience unless I captivate you with what I’m saying.  Sophia Vergara and even I can sometimes do that.  Mr. Not Sofia and those like him who choose to shout their conversations and opinions on the actual treadmill next to you, or the elevator you are forced to share with him – clearly cannot.

Nevertheless, the feigned look of surprise on Mr. Not Sofia’s face after I called him on his 20 minutes of rudeness – or the fact that he could even be surprised that his incessant yammering could be annoying – still did not translate into any desire on my part to squelch immigration reform; deport him or take it out on others who speak his language; or vote against any more non-English speaking people from entering the country.  Nor does it change the lifelong crush I’ve had on Antonio Banderas, or even blunt my enjoyment of Ricky Martin music (Note: Hate me if you must, but La Vida Loca is a GREAT treadmill song).  See, unlike many of our crazed and insane ultra right wing Tea Party brothers and sisters (and that is said with only love) I can get angry at someone’s behavior without deciding every other member of their ethnic group or nationality should either be thrown out of the country or have their right to vote questioned without 52 forms of identification.  This is called reason.  And though it’s largely absent from the most vocally engaged in the public discourse – it is by no means dead among the majority of the population.

And now for something to haunt your dreams...

And now for something to haunt your dreams…

Which brings us to the dreaded subject of the Tea Party, their de facto leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R- Texas… where else?) and one of their supporters who stood in front of the White House last week at one of their rallies waving a military flag in one hand and the CONFEDERATE FLAG in the other.  Just to clarify – the Confederate flag is the symbol of the SLAVE-OWNING South during the Civil War and it was being waved in front of a House that has been occupied for the last five years (and will be for three more) by our first BLACK PRESIDENT, his wife and two young daughters.   To clarify just a bit further – this is a president who is the leader of a family and leads/lives in a country that abolished slavery more than 150 years ago.

The brandishing of the Confederate flag, which Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, an African-American, last week noted sends shivers down the spine of most Black people when they see it, was not an accident.  Nor is the usage of terms like Allah-loving Muslim, as Larry Klayman, of the Tea Party’s Freedom Watch organization, called the president that same day.  These are purposeful demonstrations of ways to make the most powerful person in the country (and once the world, though their antics might have put that fact, and all the rest of us, into jeopardy on the worldwide stage) – someone who also happens to be a Black Man – into the category of:

 THE OTHER – someone unlike the rest of us. 

Never mind that several days later Mr. Klayman laughed off any possible intention of prejudice against the president on MSNBC and maintained his words were merely meant to be metaphorical.  Well, if that’s the case, then does it mean that if I call this guy a pathetic racist and say he should have at least been honest and wrapped himself in a hooded white sheet and burnt a Cross on the White House Lawn if he truly wanted to get his real point across – that I am NOT calling him a member of the KKK but merely using symbolism to get my point across? 

I guess so…NOT.

I know what I said and he knows what he said.  Or does he?  See that’s why despite a deeply felt desire of free speech for everyone, these days you can’t help but silently advocate for an anti-moron law that would allow a sane person to stuff a sock into the mouths of an ill-informed insane person at least 3 times a year – or any time the sane person deemed fit.  Of course, I and my appointed office staff and friends would decide just what normal was.  That only seems fair.

Basically...

Basically…

This all begs the question of why in the last hours of the government shutdown, before being roundly defeated in their plan to dismantle Obamacare, The Tea Party Republicans walked the halls of Congress singing Amazing Grace.  Say what you will about the song (Note: Personally, I recommend the Joan Baez version on her Live Album), it was written by John Newton, a self-proclaimed sinner who was both a minister and a slavery abolitionist.  Originally a church song, Amazing Grace was used to great dramatic effect in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1851 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and became so identified with and popular within the African American community that its members wrote, sang and passed down several new verses of their own to the tune over numerous generations – as did others in several other disenfranchised communities.

One’s mind boggles at the irony of this bag of mixed messaging on the part of the Tea Party– the META of it all.  Or what Alice Roosevelt Longworth would have generally said or done about that current wing of the Republican Party given that her father was a member of the aforementioned when it stood for principles that some today might consider to be liberal.  I can picture only one reaction to all of this, one that I already imagine her doing – rolling over in her grave.

To the Moon and Back

TO THE MOON

Never ever trust an accomplished famous person who says in an interview:

Every day is an exciting opportunity to be creative. I have a strong work ethic.  I just don’t get depressed. 

This goes double for any formerly regular individual who is profiled because of something awful that they recently endured.

Each second is precious now.  It can all get taken from you in a moment – in my case it almost did.  So I appreciate friends, family, even the ants on my front stoop.  Everything, all of it, is good.

Oh. Please.  Make it stop.

Some days (or weeks) are just tiring or even awful.  Like the seasons, life runs in cycles.  (Note:  I just realized I sounded like one of those two I quoted above.  Yikes!).  There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a bit tired, burnt out or even sad.  Yes – there are works of art waiting to be created that you can start right now but chocolate and potato chips and reruns of your favorite bad reality show feel a lot better right now.  Each of them tastes good.  And even if you’re not devouring them, somehow it just feels reassuring to know that they’re there to take a bite of whenever you want.  Which inevitably will lead to a meal, who are we kidding?  But, as we’ve already concluded, it’s okay to down that, or even be down with the idea of it.  No one’s advocating it as a way of life – tempting as that might be at any given moment when you don’t feel like taking on the world.

This week was one of those weeks for me.  No particular reason.  Though I would like to blame it on the government shutdown brought to you by the childish temper tantrums of ultra right wing America.   Yes, I drink a lot of green tea – which is good for your digestion and is supposed to be restorative – but long ago I recognized this simple fact:

Life is not a Tea Party, nor will it, or should it, ever be.

It's OK when things boil over

It’s OK when things boil over

By the way, there is nothing at all wrong with thinking this way – politically or as a life philosophy.  If it’s all good then you’re forced to believe things like cancer and Sarah Palin moose hunting and peas and carrots in a can have to be put on the positive list.  And we all know that’s just plain dumb.  At least as dumb as one of the other two live things listed above (and I don’t mean the moose).

So what to do?  Well, there’s this world out there that most of the entire greater world is obsessed with.  That world is appropriately called: entertainment.  And, call me crazy (which many have and presumably are still yet to do), this week there was a lot to choose from.

I’m all for creativity, psychotherapy, hanging out with friends and overindulging with food or your _________ of choice to a point.  But if you’re one of the gazillions of people out there who still like a good new-fashioned movie, TV show or, well, other diversions, know this: summer is over and a bunch of new stuff is available for any one over 18 needing to escape a little.  (Note:  Those under 18 – I’m not including you here because everything else in the world of entertainment caters to you.  Still, if you want to sneak a peak at any of this stuff, I can’t stop you.   Just like I can’t stop you from posting a photo of your cat doing pushups on Instagram).

In any event, here is a small but select list of what can get you through.

GRAVITY

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Believe the hype but cut it in half so your expectations won’t be too high.  At a taut 91 minutes, Gravity is one of those movies that you’re sure is going to bore or disappoint you but somehow manages to get under your skin and stay there – in a great way.

There will be no spoilers here but as you can probably tell from the poster, Sandra Bullock plays a woman up in space that…well, that’s all you need to know.  Yes, there are lots of shots of stars, sky and things being weightless.  However, these are all done in service of something quite unusual in this genre of film – a story, and a small one at that.

The innovation here is that small doesn’t have to mean bad in the age of the major studio blockbusters.  Small can be large in terms of excitement, emotion and box-office dollars as this creation from the director Alfonso Cauron and his son, Jonas, who co-wrote the screenplay, proves.

Not interested in space or the space program, you say?  No problem.  Here’s how uninterested I am and have always been in the space program.  When Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1968 and all of America was kvelling about one of our guys becoming #1 before the world, do you know what little 12-year-old me was doing? Sitting alone in the playground of my apartment building looking down at the dirt.  Yes, you heard me.  I did this because I felt quite strongly that the U.S. should not be spending millions of dollars in space when funds were being cut in this country for the underprivileged at the same time we were supporting an unjust war in Vietnam.  If the US government didn’t care enough about the innocents we were killing overseas and our fellow human beings we were turning our backs on in our own country, I would under no circumstances support a macho adventure to unknown parts of the universe that seemed to cater to the testosterone driven needs of us having to be first just so we could have universal bragging rights.  So I sat in the playground and pretended I was nowhere.  And each time anyone brought up or asked me about where I was or what I thought of the moon landing I said my piece. (Surprise!).  Obviously, I still am.

I was Lisa Simpson.

Clearly, I was Lisa Simpson.

Though I probably would do it all over again exactly the same way, Gravity made me feel like I was making up for what everyone says I missed.  Finally, I was not only in space but was more in the actual minds of people who bravely go into those unknown frontiers rather than in the company of the relentless patriot drumbeat of the US patriarchy.  The latter is the kind of group that used to like to make fun of me in school that I would do anything to not be around.  It’s probably why I was indifferent to the last big space astronaut space movie of our time, The Right Stuff, and why for me Gravity soared.  (Note: See the wordplay I did there?)

Plus – prediction: Gravity will win best picture and Sandra Bullock will win best actress.  Sorry Cate Blanchet in Blue Jasmine and apologies 12 Years A Slave, the latter of which I have not yet seen.  You just get a feeling about these things.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN

The witching hour is upon us

In its third season, AHS is like the ex-lover you vow never again to let in your house but the one who you always wind up in bed with when you’re lonely.  Yet with AHS it’s become more than a booty call.  It has graduated to something dependable to which a new name should be attributed.  Use your imagination.  Or better yet, don’t even question it.

After a first season where a mysterious man in a rubber suit seduces any number of people around him, and a second season where Jessica Lange got to sing and dance The Name Game along with all of the rest of the inmates in the Asylum, I was unsure how much further or more imaginative they could get.  Have no fear – Kathy Bates has come to the rescue as a Civil War era torturess conjured up from the past by The Supreme.  No, that’s not Diana Ross or Mary Wilson but the most all-powerful of witches in the secret coven of 2013 witches.  These witches don’t have a pointed hats or wars though they do occasionally wear black.  They are like the cast and audience of a Kardashian family reality show.  And their Supreme is none other than, whom else – Ms. Lange herself.

Is this brilliant TV?  No.  Is this great TV? Yes, YES, YES.

It’s grotesque, politically incorrect, nightmarish and shamelessly campy.  And – I wouldn’t miss a minute of it.  Neither should you.

SHORT TERM 12

The real deal

The real deal

This year’s little movie that could.  I’m not sure what it means for a movie to have rottentomatoes positive scores of 99% from movie critics and 94% from movie audiences but it must be something good.   A good rule of thumb is to not put too much stock in these ratings but in this case – well, after watching the film you’ll see how right and rare it is when audiences and movie critics agree.

ST12 tells the story of a young couple who work at a facility for discarded adolescents from the juvenile system who live in housing on a temporary basis and receive counseling and participate in support groups in order to help them through the sad circumstances of their lives.  So why rush out to something so depressing, particularly if you are feeling down, tired or just randomly depressed?  Because there is something rare and affirming about briefly living stories about young people told in a true, honest and non-movie like way on a small canvas by mostly non-stars.  You might recognize Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. from television or film as the young couple but chances are you will be blown away by how many unknown teenage actors there are who can really act when given the material to do so.  For that the credit goes to its neophyte filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton – whose next movie will be a major studio film starring Jennifer Lawrence.  See – even the film business can occasionally be fair.

It should be encouraging to those aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Cretton to learn that the low-budget ST12 began life as a short film and then was expanded into feature script that no one really cared about until it won one the Motion Picture Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting.  The Lesson: don’t give up – keep getting better.

HBO’s Valentine Road

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Sometimes when I’m out of sorts it helps me to get infuriated at the injustices in the world – the stories of people I can identify with who’ve had it far, far worse than I.  To some extent this was the case in Short Term 12, but to every extent this is what it’s like to watch the HBO documentary Valentine Road.

In 2008, an eighth grader named Lawrence King was shot and murdered in point blank range by his classmate, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney in front of a bunch of students.  Does it matter than young Mr. King identified as gay and liked to wear women’s clothes while the classmate who killed him was leaning towards White Supremacy, guns and had a troubled family life?  Some of the jury tasked with ruling on the murder clearly thought so even as this film by Marta Cunningham leaves us to decide by as much as possible presenting both sides.

As a gay man of a certain age it outraged me to see how callous and ignorant a group of educated adults in Oxnard, CA – a neighborhood just outside my adopted hometown of Los Angeles – can be on lgbt issues and just how sympathetic and self-identifying they can be towards a young person who uses bullets instead of conversation in order to fight back against unwanted attention from an lgbt youth.  At times, I couldn’t help but flashback to the too common gay panic defense used decades ago by defendants accused of murdering homosexuals.  But then I checked my Filofax (yes, I still use one – get over it!) calendar and realized it’s not 1953 but 2013.  Wow, is there still a lot of work to do.

And on the other side of the spectrum  – when you can’t sleep and need a non-pharmaceutical dose of the drowsy, there is:

Up Late with Alec Baldwin

I'm guessing there's coffee in those mugs because.. snoooooze

I’m guessing there’s coffee in those mugs because.. snoooooze

Granted, I still haven’t gotten over his abusively hideous phone message to his young daughter several years ago even though his daughter has.   Which is not shocking since I’m still complaining about the 1968 moon landing. Still, I along with everyone else loved Mr. Baldwin on 30 Rock.  Plus, as a dangerously obsessive fan of too many MSNBC shows (yeah, Rachel, Alex, Chris M. & Chris H. – you complete me) I figured – let’s give Alec a chance.  Like me, he’s a liberal and unlike me he gets paid truckloads of money to be funny while evoking smart and generally entertaining.   What could be bad?

Everything, that’s what.  Oy vey.

Seated at a banquette on a set made to look like the kind of wood-paneled men’s club in NYC in the sixties that most of you readers would never get invited to, Mr. Baldwin is only missing his cigarettes and scotch.  Which frankly, I wish he would have had because either might have loosened him up and given us the AB we’ve grown to love and sometimes even lovingly hate.  In any case, either of those are AB’s we’re never, ever, ever bored by.

It’s only one episode so perhaps it will improve but right now we’re talkin’ snooze fest.  He spent an hour interviewing one of the more interesting NYC mayor candidates in recent memory, Bill  de Blasio and made him seem as exciting as Ben Stein interviewing himself on an off day.

Bueller

If you’re expecting Jack Donaghy, forget it – Mr. Baldwin now wants to be taken seriously.  He’s striving to be Charlie Rose but we want him to be Madame Rose (Note: that’s a Gypsy reference) taking us on a slightly eccentric tour of the world of politics and entertainment.  He instead seems bent on participating in a wonky policy discussion on raising taxes and funding education, all the while presenting his own ideas on what might work and not work alongside a real insider.  This would be akin to watching Mr. de Blasio trade comedic barbs with Tina Fey or 20 years ago starring on Broadway shirtless, as Mr. Baldwin did, opposite a pre-witchy Jessica Lange in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Okay, perhaps not quite that, but certainly a dull, dull, dull attempt at something that does not lend itself to his ample skills.

I might tune in next week when AB interviews Debra Winger but only because, well – how often do you get to see Debra Winger anywhere anymore???

And finally – if all else fails – I, and you, might just tune in to any:

RANDOM NEWS SHOWS 

Given where we are right now, this will never cease to be entertaining.

satan

Timely random items this week included:

  • Ben Carson, an African American man, an ultra right wing speechifier, a retired neurosurgeon, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (you can thank Dubya for that), this week calling Obamacare (nee the Affordable Care Act):  the worst thing to happen in this nation since slavery. 

With tidbits like those, you don’t need Gravity to send you to the moon.  Or space travel of any kind to make it feel like you live in a parallel universe.  Sometimes, what’s right in front of you, is all too punny enough.

Make it work

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If politicians were more like screenwriters there would not be a power outage in Washington, D.C.   They’d make it work.. and the government would be up and running – and running well.

Okay, no one has ever argued that screenwriters have, or even know about, any real power in Hollywood.  In fact, public lore is that the antithesis is true.  There’s a very old misogynist or racist joke where you can fill in the blank with the nasty reference of your choice:

Did you hear about the (ethnicity/race/creed) actress?   She f—d  the screenwriter.

I am not proud of repeating this.  And certainly nowadays you could change the word actress to actor, thereby making it slightly less misogynist with the same result.  But like most writers, there is a method to what is clearly the madness of my premise here.

The power of being a screenwriter, or any kind of writer, has to do with smarts and intellect.  That is not to say every writer is smart.  Certainly not every screenwriter is.  I mean, have you ever seen Pearl Harbor?  Or Transformers 2?

Preach, Jane, preach.

Smartest person in the room? Preach, Jane, preach.

Still, smart is relative.  Those writers got paid a lot of money for that work, more than you or I probably make in a year.  And it should also be noted that neither you or I saw the original writer’s drafts of either – they could have been brilliant.

The point is that after decades of doing different things in the business, including before screenwriting, and even some additional things after, I can safely say that the writer is ALWAYS among the smartest people in the room.  This does not mean the wisest, the richest, the most successful, the most enviable OR, most importantly, the most beautiful.  In fact, seldom do any of those apply.  But smart, most definitely.  If you don’t think so – try putting an array of approximately 300 words on 110-120 pages that make people want to invest millions of dollars and then get back to me.

smart adjective \ˈsmärt\

: very good at learning or thinking about things

: showing intelligence or good judgment

Smart does not necessarily equate with power, which is a shame since if that were the case you’d have a lot more good movies to go to this weekend.  But even the most egocentric studio/corporation (is there any difference?) head will turn to writers when they have to make a speech.  As do most, if not all, politicians.

At a recent WGA panel, Kevin Bleyer, a writer for The Daily Show and The Simpsons, admitted upon questioning that he’s written some of Pres. Obama’s best speeches in the last several years.  Imagine then, what he or a roomful of any working (or used to be working) screenwriters could do about ending the government shutdown in Washington D.C.   I mean, who better than a writer to create something from nothing?

I don’t mean to say that as a writer I alone would have the smarts to figure this all out.  But I would bet money that a very small room of writers could.  Because there are certain lessons we’ve had to learn over the years in order to survive.  These lessons are awful, difficult, gut wrenching and soul crushing.  But, in the end, they, along with our jobs, are what make us the go-to problems solvers when it comes to creating a final product that, on some basic level, FUNCTIONS.

I will now share some of those lessons (eleven to be exact).  Hopefully somebody in Washington DC, – and preferably more than one body – is reading.   And listening.

IF YOU DON’T MEET YOUR DEADLINE – YOU’RE FIRED!

Snowman deadline

It’s pretty simple.  You contract with someone or something to do a project over a specific amount of time.  Then you do the work, you hand it in and you get paid.  (Note: Studios try to drag out their payments to you well beyond those deadlines but that’s why you have attorneys – who can be smart but mostly are cleverly manipulative).

Deadlines can be extended but only to a point if you plan to get the result you want.  As a writer that result is seeing your work become a reality – in other words made or ENACTED.  The sad truth you know is that when you hand your work in it will already take forever – meaning longer than a week or a day – for anyone to read it and much, much longer than that for the group (or groups) to reach a decision on whether to make (nee enact) it.

That’s why you always get it done.  You’re smart enough to know that your work is the engine and how persistent you and your team can be in pushing your work along is what powers it.    So you ALWAYS work to a specific time frame not only to speed up the process but to forever have the reputation as THE person who knows how to get the job done.

IF YOU DON’T DO THE WORK YOU ARE REPLACED

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You can’t decide NOT TO WORK.  Well, you can but then you won’t get anywhere.  And that is not an acceptable outcome to a working writer.

Doing the work is quite different from going on strike when you don’t like the result of the work, the rules or the people you work for and with.  That is separate than the work.  That is about your rights and the future and is equally important.  But you never confuse it with your work and the job you were hired  (meaning are being paid money) for or choose to do.

YOU COMPROMISE

You don’t want to compromise.  Who does?  But you know that if you don’t give even a little in the end you get nothing.  And when you get nothing you don’t get paid.  And you don’t get any attention – at least the positive kind.  Not that that’s the be all or end all but still…

You also don’t get to feel fulfilled.  When you started as a writer you thought you’d feel fulfilled by not changing anything one iota to anyone else’s specifications.  But then you learned the hard way that not everyone is an idiot with stupid ideas.  Only most people.

YOU DON’T ALIENATE YOUR AUDIENCE

I'm looking at you, M. Knight

I’m looking at you, M. Knight

If you look down, talk down, or lie to your audience they will hate you.  Especially when you are exposed – which is inevitable.  You learned long ago that even though you publicly say you couldn’t give a crap about what people think, deep down you really do want to be loved – or at least liked – or at least understood.  It’s part of the reason you entered this crazy business despite what you offer publicly.

You also, very occasionally, want to change the world or you would’ve done something easier like raising elephants or making artisnal mustard in Brooklyn.  You cannot change the world if your actions cause your audience to not like you.  Yes, this assumes you want to change the world for the better.  But if writers wanted to be a dictator over millions they would’ve entered a profession that gave them some power – not one where they spread their smarts worldwide.  (Note: This might be an area where a politician’s motives differ but let’s throw caution to the wind and give them the benefit of the doubt).

YOU COLLABORATE

If you have a vision and are so absolutely stubborn about it to the point of zero compromise you might create exactly what you think you want but it will not be as good as it could be.  It pains you, in particular to admit this because, as we’ve established,  you are the smartest person in the room.  The sad irony, though, is that this also makes you smart enough to realize that — YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING!

Therefore, you deal with and listen to people you can’t stand and might not respect because you know that stupid old adage of even a broken clock is right twice a day wouldn’t have been in the vernacular for centuries if it didn’t hold a grain of truth.  You also secretly know that some of your best ideas came from someone else via suggestion or inspiration – as did their ideas – and the ideas of those before them.  Any writer who has even been given notes or endured reaction to a script realizes this and is very aware that if someone makes a suggestion that sounds good, even in passing, and it inspires enough to be used, it is not stealing – it is homage.  And employing that particular strategy will, in the long run, be to your benefit.

YOU DON’T RENEG ON OR CHANGE A DEAL

In Michelle we trust

In Michelle we trust

The above is the purview of production companies and studios who are rich and powerful and often monolithic.   Meaning they are big and quite forceful and can outspend you by gazillions if you choose to fight on their terms.  They also have a lot more manpower to use against you if you decide to go to war in this way.  You are intelligent enough to know that you don’t possess any of their weaponry and that even if you did it would not get you the outcome you desire because you are only one person.  If anything, playing the game their way will hand the other side the win.

So you strategize and look for weaknesses of theirs that are exploitable on the given playing field.  Chief among them is the fact that they are inflexible and tend to resemble a single block of stone with about as much intellect as the latter.  You are lithe – quicksilver and creative.  You don’t need to cheat.  You can work with the tools available and figure out practical solutions because it’s a requirement of your job.  You are also well aware that deep down you would really rather take the high road because, unlike those bigger entities, you have to look yourself in the mirror at the beginning and end of each day. You also know that the better you are at recognizing humanity the better you’ll be at doing your job. (Note:  The mirror part assumes you brush your teeth and moisturize – both of which you should do).

YOU DON’T COMPLAIN

You know how hard you work but you also know you’re not a coal miner. You get paid to sit in a room and be funny or heartfelt.  It’s not brain surgery.  Besides, these days no one likes to see people who make more than a livable wage bitch and moan about anything.

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It might seem counterintuitive to read about writers who don’t bellyache.  So let’s get real about the complaining part.  You still might fall back into bad behavior and whine but as a working professional you learned long ago that this will not get you anywhere and will, in fact, hurt you.  Especially if you do it publicly or in an obnoxious manner.  Or within earshot of anyone you hope to continue to work with.  Or for.

NO ONE wants to hear about how difficult it is to sit in a room where you have food, water, air-conditioning, a computer and access to the web.  (Note: For politicians, add staff).  In the scheme of what one is forced to deal with in life, this is not looked at as extremely taxing or even particularly challenging.  It’s what every single human being in the world does at least several times a day – and often without air-conditioning. So – SHUT UP!  At least publicly.  And especially on open mikes.  (Note:  Yes Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell – we’re talking to you).

GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORTABLE CRIB

If you hang out with only the same old people who think the same old things you will have nothing interesting to write about.  Worse –  you will be even less interesting.  This goes triple for politicians.

There also comes a point where every writer runs out of things they can prostitute from their own, insular life.  You are required to get out in the world if for no other reason than you need more material.  You also realize that if you spend too much time alone in your thoughts you will become crazy.  The latter is a big minefield of the profession and not one that is easily circumvented since you are being paid, or perhaps just spiritually rewarded (see: young writers), for being a thinker.

It is inevitable that at a writer must travel – physically and/or emotionally – to places he or she does not want to be and with people he or she does not want to be with.  And to observe, learn and occasionally admit their ideas about this place, state of mind or persons was wrong.  This should be a requirement of everyone’s professional life.  Especially politicians.

LIMIT PUBLIC SPEAKING

Keep it down.

Keep it down.

If you’re often right and smart enough to know you are, you resist constantly shoving it in people’s faces.  Everyone wants to feel right sometimes and no one wants to be proven wrong all the time – especially by you.  Therefore, you speak out publicly when you need to but you limit your exposure accordingly.  And – you listen.  As Oprah once wisely stated, the biggest thing she learned doing her television show is that everyone wants to be heard.  That means everyone – not just you.  No one likes a wiseacre.  Or at least someone who keeps reminding us they are.

YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE A PRICE

Unless you are starving, you will not work or be bought for ANY price because you are aware of the consequences since you once did that when you were younger and it took you double the amount of years to get over the slimy lies and horrible feelings of self-loathing over the whole thing.  If neither of the above happens right now you can still be assured that if you give in to temptation one day those golden handcuffs will eventually wrap around you to claim what’s left of your soul.  Only then it will be too late to realize that you can indeed be trapped inside of a box of your very own design, condemned to a loop of Michael Bay movies – or whatever else passes as your own personal hellish equivalent.

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS – GO BACK TO YOUR IDEALS

Only you know the reason you got into this game and if you’re like everyone else on earth – which YOU ARE – it probably has to do with the best and younger you.  For those with no soul, this will not work.  But I am willing to wager that on the whole, even among politicians, there is more of the former than the latter.  Take it from someone who teaches young people and is around young people all the time.  And who writes

So… did you get all that, Washington? If not, I’m sure eventually Aaron Sorkin will explain it.