The Time Being

Watching throngs of handicapped people in wheelchairs and with breathing tubes being forcibly dragged out of Congress’ hallways by police was quite a sight.

America 2017. #forreal

As they waited for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over a new health care bill (aka Trumpcare) that would never materialize, the rest of we Americans were being treated to images straight out of….Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale?….Mad Max Fury Road?…or fill in the latest dystopic film or television series (limited or not) of choice.

No, I’m not exaggerating. And there’s a reason this kind of programming (aka content) is popular right about now.

If our lives at the moment were a dystopic film or television series – and who is to say it isn’t given we have a reality star POTUS – one can only imagine what will follow. Certainly you don’t need to be a writer to consider the various options:

1- Police will begin to drag ALL protesters forcibly away, make protesting illegal, and then punishable by death, and then seize EVERYONE’s assets until a superhero comes to the rescue.

2- A superhero – or mere human movement – will spring up and defeat those drunk with power in a bloody, prolonged third act that will cost the studio too much money but is deemed necessary for commercial appeal.

The cheaper and more effective option #VOTE

3- Law enforcement – aka the status quo – will realize they’ve gone too far and back off in the name of decency and benevolence. (Note: Know that this is the most unpopular choice in any development meeting and always deemed woefully undramatic no matter how you try to sell it to them with clever dialogue and intricate plot twists even they didn’t see coming).

4- Self-preservation and arm-twisting will kick in and some sort of compromise will be reached. No one will be happy but society will continue and no blood will be shed. For now.

If we choose #4 – and certainly American history usually bends in this direction, it’s called the kick the can down the road compromise of choice – you will know we aren’t living a real life version of The Truman Show.

Although this is how I feel watching the news every night

Of course, that will have sidestepped the issue at hand (Note: This week it’s health care – a few months ago it was immigration – another month or two hence it could be…well, anything) – for the time being.

The time being is what intrigues me at the moment. The spaces between the monumental fights and events. It seems to me that is really where most of us live unless we’re thrill seekers like Sebastian Junger, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., or someone who believes a $6000 suit, a bad comb over dye job and all the money and power in the world hide who we really are from the vast majority of the world.

It’s hard to know how to behave for the time being. Just what do you do other than go about your daily life?

– Some of us (ahem) have taken to alternately rant and worry

Just being real

– Some of us donate money, take to the streets and yell (or worse) at anyone who disagrees with us or even gets in our way

– Some of us drink too much and party too much as if we’re the uber bourgeoisie and it’s about to be the uber French Revolution (Note: Which indeed it may be)

– Some of us pay this no mind at all and wonder why the rest of us bother

I have done all of the above except the latter. Correction, I’ve even done the latter for at least a few seconds here and there over the last six months. But no more.

… and well other times

Which means I’m left with A LOT of time being to fill even though it feels like my time – and all of our times – are running out fast.

I read a script this weekend that’s a comedy about a man dying of cancer. Apparently, it’s going to be made with a big star and by a major studio. I say apparently, because, as we know, nothing in the world is definite and this applies to the nth degree when it comes to a greenlit movie.

Anyway, in this screenplay the person with the fatal disease takes on all kinds of behavior usually deemed outrageous in an effort to get the people around him to live a little. He’s not really mean to anyone – well, except to some hypocrite he works with who, strangely enough, happens to be in a wheelchair (Note: Think real advanced affirmative action via non-stereotypical character development, an actor’s field day) – and somehow this becomes the key to….

Danny boy… you sure you want to retire??

Well, I don’t want to spoil it in case it gets made. Let’s just say it doesn’t so much solve his issues but makes everyone else around him think a little bit about their own time beings – though as far as we know it is only for the time being. The rest could or would but probably won’t be answered in a sequel.

In light of what happened this week with the many affirmed demonstrators who took to the halls of Congress in fear that they literally will die given the proposed Medicaid cuts Republicans are asking for – I initially had trouble with the new trope of handicapped hypocrite.

On the other hand, lots of other marginalized people in the story were valued and nothing too terrible happened to him that he didn’t deserve and we didn’t want to happen.

The worst of me wants the worst to happen to those manipulators who are full of themselves and only out for themselves.

Arch enemies #couldnthelpmyself

The best of me wants to protect people who are not as able-bodied or advantaged as myself even when I don’t necessarily agree with all of their actions.

But what happens if both those options are embodied in exactly the same person?

Do you go high? Or do you go low? Though really, it’s more about what I’ll do or you’ll do – that really being the collective we. Meaning it’s really ALL about the collective WE.

… or perhaps just the ROYAL WE #thecrown #alltheemmys

More likely you, I and thus “We” will reach some sort of compromise and kick the can down the road in the name of survival. For the time being at least.

As all of us, you and I rant, rave, drink, tune out and/or make jokes about it all.

I can think of no better way to usher in a new unenlightened age.

For the time… Well, you get the point. Though it’s anyone’s guess if WE do. Or ever will.

For the Time Being – Edie Brickell & the Gaddabouts

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Personal Reboot

Every so often you have to make a fresh start. And not many of us like doing it.

I don’t know about you but starting over and giving up on what you had or thought you had – or even moving on to something else or some new phase because what you’ve done is completed to the best of your ability – makes me alternately anxious, nauseous, angry and frozen – and often all at the same time.

Spock gets it

Think relationships, family, friends, jobs, creative projects or even one particularly troublesome person that involves all of the above. Though never think of yourself. You’re stuck with yourself for all of eternity so you may as well make the best of him or her or you will only make things worse. How do I know? Trust me, I know.

Writers do this all the time. A project eventually comes to an end and you have to put away all the reams of files, pages and accompanying books, papers and other research items in order to clear your mind and officially – move on.

Resist the temptation #BEDONE

This week I took down hundreds of index cards from the wall in my office and put away three standing boards and two dry erase easels with notations that have been there for almost a year and a half. The project I worked on was lengthy and complicated and, given the vagaries of the creative life, who knows what will happen with it. But since it was completed months ago and I was happy with it (Note: Well, relatively. No writers are ever truly happy with anything we do. That’s why we make up the story to begin with, to make sense of it) — I had to not so suddenly and finally ask myself –

Why are these f-cking cards still all over this f-cking wall?

My version of a cleanse

Good question. And what a perfect visual metaphor for everything you don’t want to let go of or give up on.

Imagine a wall full of exes? Or toxic family members? Or sickening workplaces? Or old apartments you loved but were forced out of? Or the shirt, sweater or dress you grew out of? Or the ___________ that never really _____________ while you stubbornly believed _____________ despite everybody else telling you ______________. Well, really, the list is endless.

I don’t know that I enjoy carrying around the recent or distant past with hopes I can change it. It’s more like I want to have it handy in case I can. Or use it to remind myself of just what I was feeling when that moment for revenge or victory or perfection draws near.

My brain is Mary Poppins’ bag. #manylamps

Yeah, right. Like I’ll forget. Or that it will once again happen to begin with. Or that perfection even….   See, already we’re in trouble.

I went to a Writers Guild of America screening of a clever new film called Dean – written, directed, starring and illustrated by Demetri Martin. It’s about a young cartoonist from Brooklyn who finds himself frozen in his tracks after his Mom – his biggest fan – has died.

The tagline says it all

It’s a small gem of a debut with much of the honesty, simplicity and imperfections that accompany first time filmmaking efforts. Which is to say that it is worth seeing for what it manages to simply say about life and death and – (ugh) – moving on.

Mr. Martin is a comedian/humorist best known for his Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin and appearances on The Daily Show. He also plays music, draws, writes poetry, engages in endless wordplay and has an oddball but not unapproachable take on the world.

Not to mention he’s 44 but looks 24 – or 30 at best. This is partly due to his trademark mop of shiny thick dark hair that falls pretty much across his entire forehead down to his eyebrows.

Don’t even get me started on these four mop tops

Yeah, I hate him too. But not really.

What he manages to achieve in Dean is an 87-minute treatise about starting over. It’s not so much about letting the worst or best go but incorporating the best and worst into whom you are by forcing yourself to put away all the old index cards and start on something – anything new.

Of course, this involves failing – and failing miserably. Then having a few small successes that turn into ultimate failures but give you momentary happiness that’s taken away. And then finally feeling the pain of that and a lot more until you get to the place where the original hurt still does hurt but not as badly because you have allowed yourself to have some new experiences and realize there is some potential to not be miserable – and even joyously happy again – even if, inevitably, it won’t last forever. Well, who or what does?

Ponder that for a moment

Oh, and did I mention he does a lot of cool drawings about it throughout the film, which don’t stop the action but further it. No wonder I (don’t) hate him.

I’m not sure when one of my parents died or a project I loved ended that I’d have put it into movie form where a character based on me travels to L.A., meets some friends, has an affair and continues on. Somehow, it might not have felt like – enough.

Except I recall that the last time I felt this way was when I started writing the script that would become my first produced movie.

Point being – it’s never enough.

Until it is.

Ugh.

John & Yoko “Starting Over”

Truth! Justice! and the American Way?

As a very little boy I remember watching black and white Superman reruns on syndicated TV where each week a booming male voice announced over the credits that a muscly hunk in tights would fight for truth, justice and the American way.

Like many little boys I became obsessed with Superman, tied a towel around my neck and ran around the house imagining I could fly out the window and…

Just imagine a Judy Miller sketch #gilda4ever

Well, I’m not quite sure what I wanted to do. Certainly, it wasn’t to fight – for justice or anything else. It was more about the journey, the outfit and the power of a muscly hunk via the deep male voice.

Feel free to fill in the rest of the blanks about me from there if you haven’t already – or if indeed there are any. But don’t for a moment imagine for one millisecond the vast array of the rest of us are much different than the slightly fey mini-me.

Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me!

In the last year America has clearly chosen fantasy, muscular masculinity over truth. Time will tell whether in the end we will indeed choose justice or instead continue running around our homes in imagined worlds where we truly believe items like towels and TV dialogue will guide us to a better world.

And don’t forget those nosy, listening microwaves!

A pop culture shift in the last week signals a scintilla of hope. Wonder Woman has emerged as THE #1 movie blockbuster of 2017- marking not only the first breakout FEMALE MOVIE superhero but the first time a female director (Patty Jenkins) is at the helm of a major studio tentpole film achieving blockbuster status.

At more than $200 million domestically and $350 million worldwide (in less than two weeks), Ms. Jenkins and her movie have broken a long-standing glass ceiling.

SLAY GIRL SLAY!

Six months ago Hillary Clinton’s campaign rented New York’s Javits Center hoping to literally demolish its glass ceiling in victory but instead found itself unimaginably conceding the following day to an inexperienced male who sold the trappings of masculinity in order to prove he could make America great again.

The electoral college public went for the salesmanship and words rather than deep-seated personal beliefs about us all being part of one fabric of world humanity that is united by doing all the good you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.

That message, and Stronger Together, were the key mantras of the Clinton campaign and are offshoots of the Methodist faith she was raised in. For the record, the real quote is:

“Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’”

One could easily read the Methodist faith and the Clinton mantra into the psyche of Diana/Wonder Woman through not only the way she was raised by the other Amazonian women but by her guiding principles in every decision she makes and each action she takes.

When she finds herself enmeshed behind WWI’s western front and sees the years long death and suffering of the innocent villagers all around her she is appalled and can only simply and boldly ask Why isn’t anyone doing anything? 

Damn right!

Her cohorts argue quite forcefully that they need to ignore the carnage and keep going for the greater good of the big victory and to leave these people as simple casualties of war.   But that doesn’t fit her core principles so instead she climbs out of her foxhole, weaponizes her superpowers and smashes through enemy lines where, eventually, even her doubters aid her in vanquishing the enemy and saving this small, but in her eyes, more than worthy swath of townspeople.

In an even more climactic third act moment later on, when the notion is raised that mass humanity might not deserve to be saved, she has an even simpler retort:

It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe! And I believe in love. 

Cue my best Oprah empowerment ugly cry

Now see, taken out of context this might seem….well, conclude what you will, once again. No one ever accused comic books or movie superheroes of speaking Edward Albee-esque dialogue. Yet within the context of what we’re watching, it has all the best resonance of the Hillary campaign’s aspirational message and of Methodism.

  • We have an obligation to help each other – even strangers.
  • One always first errs on the side of love and compassion rather than indifference, hate and fear.
  • There is no greater good. There is only doing good. That will result in the greater good.

If this doesn’t sound Trumpian – well, it isn’t. It’s exactly the opposite

America’s unique place in the world has always been as an experimental, imperfect democracy. There is a reason why for centuries we’ve been lauded as a nation of immigrants where everything seems possible even if – in reality – it’s not.

In the actual world, one can’t achieve everything. But what is also true is that one will achieve nothing unless they believe what they’re trying to achieve is possible.

JUST KIDDING! REACH FOR THE STARS!

To have no overriding principle other than the betterment of one’s self or one’s immediate family to the detriment of all others is a recipe for perhaps temporary success but ultimate abject failure.

This is exactly the opposite message of Wonder Woman’s more compassionate one and that is why it is currently cleaning up at the global box-office and leaving all the naysaying, mummified macho men in the dust.

IF ONLY!

It is the 360-degree counter to Make America Great Again – which is fast being recognized as nothing more than a bloated, synthetic phantom cudgel through which to reject multiculturalism, the global community and social change.

Or, to put it in more movie specific terms we might all understand —

No superpower EVER emerges victorious unless they’re fighting for the greater good.

Think about it.

Florence + The Machine – “Kiss with a Fist”

Heads of State

Let’s look at the images side by side.

No – let’s really look.

I mean, there’s free porn all over the Internet featuring people (and god knows what else) doing sexual things you never dreamed of. And your kids – or nieces and nephews – have accessed this stuff more than once or ten times.

NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. #denial

Trust me, I know – I teach college juniors and seniors who reached puberty in the Digital Revolution.

But this week we’re not talking about sex, are we? It’s about political violence via comedy – or imagery – or something in that area.

So, how far is TOO FAR? Does it depend on the person being depicted in the image? Maybe it’s about the amount of blood or how vivid the photo is? Can a drawing be as offensive and tasteless as a photograph? What about taking iconic commercial photography and transforming it with a few clicks and inserts into something vile and offensive?

Oh.. so more offensive than this?

Well, I remember Judge Potter Stewart once famously said in a Supreme Court case that he couldn’t tell you what obscenity was but he knows it when he sees it. So I guess that would include not only sexual images but also violent ones, since in a broader definition the latter could also be considered pornographic, right?

I’m getting to the images.

Yes. imageS.

Having grown up in the sixties and seventies, I still subscribe to the Fairness Doctrine, which ostensibly ensured that when reporting on current events one needs to present both sides of a story.

This also works.

So it’s not enough to look at the comedian Kathy Griffin holding up the bloody severed head of our current Electoral Potus in a bizarre photo shoot.   If you’re going to critique an offensive image from one side, you need to show one perhaps equally offensive (Note: Or not, it’s your call) from the other.

Now, let’s really study them and see what we think because, really – if they’ve been on the Internet once, they WILL be there a million times more. I know it. You know it. And THEY all know it. Whoever the collective condemning THEY are in any particular moment.

Okay – ready. Here goes. Make your kids leave the room and make sure your heart medicine is nearby – that is if you need it or have any room left in your said, perhaps damaged, heart, for those on the side you particularly despise.   And yes – we’re all taking sides on this one.

Now. Once again. Ready, get set and…….go!!!!!!!

BEHOLD

There.

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Or was it??? Is your heart still even beating???

Take a breath.

Gimme a minute, Chairy!

Now you might be more offended by one or the other. Or perhaps you’re not offended at all. Maybe you think it’s all good under freedom of expression.

Or – maybe it’s nothing like that at all.

Maybe the severed head of a sitting president particularly offends you when its held by a popular left wing comic with whom you vehemently disagree with and never found funny.

Still, maybe taking the iconic campaign image of the previous president – the first BLACK president – and depicting him with a lynching rope around his neck as if he were a runaway slave who was caught and hung in the pre Civil War south – might bridle you more. Especially since it was also circulated when he was in office. 

I’m not one to judge for you. Only you can judge for you.   I mean —

As Rod Serling once wrote, it’s all in the “eye of the beholder.” Right?

Twilight Zone or how I imagine all Twitter Trolls?

Here’s what you need to understand. The image of Barack Obama lynched was widely passed all around right wing Republican circles and beyond with nary an apology or much massive regret at the time. And oh yes, what’s that I see, there’s even some red blood dripping down from the rope around his neck. Right above his tie. Which is right above the word ROPE – which substitutes for 44’s much quoted catch-phrase – HOPE.

Here’s what you also need to understand. The California Republican Party has just this weekend started using the Kathy Griffin/Trump beheading image in a FUNDRAISING EMAIL/LETTER.

Pretty much sums it up.

That’s right, they are so offended that are actually referencing and passing around the image over and over again in order to — make a buck.

Now — if that doesn’t make America great again, I don’t know what will.

#Resist

And save the outrage for real life. That goes for both sides. God knows, there’s enough to go around.

Seven more innocent souls were killed in London on Saturday and the blood they bled was real.

Stay strong london

Think about it the next time you decide to pile onto the tar and feathering of a comedienne in our virtual town square by supporting all those on your side of the aisle who feel the need to separate themselves from the motley pack of the rest of us by grasping for what is now our non-existent high ground.

Higher Ground – Playing for Change