Giving (Extra) Thanks

Due to technical difficulties, enjoy this second serving of this week’s Notes post! 

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

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Giving Thanks

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

Anger Management

Are you angry yet?

Of course you are. We all are. No matter what side we’re on. It’s those kinds of times.

It’s in moments – or eras – like these that it’s nice to remember what one very wise psychiatrist once told me: If you allow yourself to feel your anger, really feel it, it will eventually turn into something else.

Angry cleaning, anyone?

Murderous rage? Well perhaps, maybe. Though the overwhelming majority of us never act on those impulses. More likely, we act out, most often towards our friends, relatives, therapists or – ourselves.   

That SOB stopped in the middle of the road is — on their f-n cell phone? F them! (Honk) Oh, of course, it’s a BMW.

Jesus H Christ, can’t YOU ever take the g-d dmned garbage out? Just once?!!! 

I hope Trump and every privileged straight white man over 50, 60 or 70 just dies.

I am a gold medalist

Fun as that game is (and God knows it can be endlessly satisfying for hours or months on end) there is still something to be said for actually getting angry about the very thing or person we’re actually ANGRY about and seeing what happens.

This weekend I watched the local PBS telecast (Note: While there still IS a PBS) of the Tony-Award winning Broadway musical Falsettos.

Get cultured, y’all. #PBS

It’s a filmed version of the 2016 revival of a small musical originally based on the life of a gay man married to a WOMAN first conceived by composer/lyricist William Finn in the late seventies in a little known piece called In Trousers – which eventually spawned several more musicals (March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland) containing those same and other characters in many other new off-Broadway and touring shows.

That is until all of these characters and stories (both gay, straight and now even pre-pubescent) met the tragedy of AIDS in the eighties and eventually morphed into Falsettos – an amalgamation of all of the above that emerged as an unlikely treatise about the times by depicting one of the first even–handed, real life portrayals of gay and straight people living as a sort of new and extended American family.

Bonus points for a FANTASTIC cast #imeanyouandrewrannels #youtoochristianborle

It sounds almost quaint and most certainly inadequate to recall Mr. Finn’s masterwork in such a fashion because of the amount of anger, rage and artistic boldness it took at the time in order to create these cheery, theatrical, operetta-like ditties that initially hung together as nothing more than cleverly sung, anecdotal accounts of contemporary urban life.

From where I was sitting in several big cities in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s at the time, there was little cheery or accepting in mainstream musicals, film or television where gay and straight people in families were concerned and certainly no reason to think there’d ever be. But that didn’t stop Mr. Finn and the many unknown thousands of others we don’t even know about at the time from taking their frustration and yes, often painful rage over the situation back then and turning it into something meaningful, smart and, most surprisingly, joyous by merely using their talents to tell the truth.

Probably more productive than what I normally do

Little did they know the times would grow darker and the chasm between the gay and straight communities would greatly worsen before it got better at the hands of a pandemic that finally forced mainstream America to begin to confront the truths that it had long locked away in the closet.

If the times were handing them angry, tragic endings, at least they could give us a human context from which to feel, understand and hopefully learn and evolve from it – if even a little bit. For who better to depict it for us than the very storytellers who had led (and lived) with these truths to begin with?

All this is to say – the angrier we all get about our current realities – of TRUMP; of SEXUAL ABUSE; of RACISM; of ECONOMIC INJUSTICE – pick a card, any card – the more we have an obligation to tell OUR truths about it.

AMEN!

For some of us that means marching in the streets literally and for others of us it means marching to our computers; or Congress people; or neighbors; or colleagues; or friends and family; or even strangers and screaming and/or sharing about what we believe is right – and fair and just – and what is not.

Or simply creating with our talents or speaking out with words and actions our VERSIONS of a just world.

Presenting our side of the story. Fighting for it.

Initially it will feel like a big who cares and it may indeed get worse before it gets better.

But like that very smart shrink said to me – anger is not stagnant once the cat is let out of the bag. It WON’T stay the same. It WILL morph into something else – not necessarily artistic or even beautifully redemptive – though that can happen. (Note: See Falsettos. Literally).

Embrace your inner Beyonce #lemonade4ever

Instead it can merely be a CATALYST for change – though perhaps only in ONE person’s mind or earshot. But that in turn can move into SOMETHING ELSE. And then AGAIN. Until you have, if not a movement – at least some momentum AWAY from mere – ANGER.

I don’t know about you but for me that’s the beginning of an antidote towards something. And better than where I was yesterday. Which was only angry.

Trust me. I once saw it all happen from a front row seat. And history, if nothing else, consistently repeats itself.

Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know”

Sheets of Privilege

I’ve watched Tina Fey downing a sheet cake while she excoriated Trump and the white supremacists at Charlottesville EIGHT times so far – and counting. It’s the only thing that’s made me laugh in quite a while.

You’ve probably seen her now viral appearance on Thursday night’s summer edition of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update – the one where she called the neo-Nazi man boys “chinless turds,” referred to Ann Coulter as “yard sale Barbie,” and countered Trump and his supporters with “who do you think drove that car into the crowd – Hillary’s emails???”– as whipped cream and all kinds of other carbs came pouring inside and outside of her mouth.

If you haven’t – here. And you’re welcome.

Sheetcaking, as she called it, is one answer to the post-racial right wing racism (and all kinds of other isms) that is now sweeping our country thanks to the campaign, election and reign of our first bull-in-the-china shop Electoral College POTUS – Donald J. Trump – or Donny John – as Ms. Fey more aptly derides him and his cheaply made real estate.

Still, however appealing it feels to gorge oneself on sweets and carbs in response to the upside down view of the world that Donny John and his white supremacist followers espouse – it is by no means the ONLY response.   It is the comedic response of 2017 so far and, as in any great satire, should not be taken as an absolute. It is wish fulfillment and is borne out of anger, frustration and a penchant for mouthy snideness that many of us “ethnic types” prefer.

It is the contemporary version of the fictional Isaac Davis’ cocktail party retort in 1979’s Manhattan after he incredulously mentions that he’s heard Nazis may actually be marching in New Jersey.

We should go down there and get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Even when one guy counters that there is a devastating satirical op-ed piece in the (NY) Times on the subject, Isaac counters:

Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Let’s be honest. There is no ONE way to battle the lunacy that is now overtaking our nation. On Saturday morning, I woke up to find that two dozen Nazi white guys marched in downtown Boston but 40,000 people showed up in solidarity to counter the hate-filled rants of a crowd that had mostly dispersed by the time they had arrived.

#BostonStrong

That doesn’t account for the tens and thousands more who were home sheetcaking, talking to their neighbors, exchanging kind words with people of other religions, skin colors or sexual persuasions, or perhaps frequenting ethnic businesses and organizations that didn’t share the world view of the Charlottesville chinless turds.

The Electoral College POTUS response to Boston was classic. The first tweet:

A follow-up one several hours later, presumably after a talking to and some human contact:

Still, it begs the question of which protestors he was applauding – the two dozen or the 40,000. Certainly, it couldn’t be ALL of them.

I couldn’t pretend to know what is in Electoral College POTUS’ heart, mostly because I am sure he doesn’t even have o….well, skip it. Let’s not get sidetracked here.

Just have a good scream…. OK I’m good now #dailyrituals

The point is, you can’t believe anything he says in any given moment. Because at any given moment later – meaning five or ten seconds, minutes or hours – he might say exactly the opposite. Sometimes it’s even in the same run-on sentence.

This requires all of us to be especially aware, thoughtful and conscious about our actions as we navigate what the solutions are to our many problems. As a college professor I’ve learned over the years to avoid the word problem and refer to them as challenges. Yet in these tough times and in this particular instance I’d say problems is the more apt term.

21st century compassion

That being said, let’s not pretend that with all of our PROBLEMS we, who were fortunate enough to be born into this country, are not a heck of a lot better off than those born into third-world poverty elsewhere in the world. Even luckier are those of us born here into a higher economic class, or loving families, or, or, or, or…..

You see where I’m going with this.

There is so much chatter right now about PRIVILEGE – who is and who isn’t and how none of us are going to take it anymore. About safe spaces. About real American values and the lack thereof and who has them and who definitely doesn’t.

Yet it always seemed that the one thing we could agree on is that Nazis were bad.

Pretty much sums it up

And yet – Charlottesville showed not even all of us could agree on that. I hear reports from people I know that outside of the coastal cities and big urban areas that people are hoisting Confederate flags, brandishing their weapons to anyone ethnic — or Jewish or gay like me –- just in case they’re thinking that we’re friends or share any kind of values at all. Of course, that could just be what they normally do on a Saturday.   How would I even really know???

Well, certainly choosing to pretend this isn’t happening is not the solution to all this. Nor is Tina urging us to stay home and away from the white supremacist rallies and choose sheetcaking instead. But neither is Isaac Davis’ idea that we all get together to attend the Nazi rallies armed with bricks and baseball bats.   Two of these are extreme answers to extreme behavior that none of us truly knows the solution to. The other one is just plain dumb. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Take your time Elmo

As a teacher whose role it often is to reach compromise I would propose that we need to incorporate not only the extremes but EVERYTHING in between. Unlike the multiple choice SAT there is no one correct answer here – except to rule out the dumb choice immediately.

Therefore, if you want to protest at a right wing, Nazi rally – do it. Yes, this is how they thrive and recruit people – by showing all the people like me and you who are against THEM – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be continually confronted for their hate (and vigorously).

But if as Tina suggests, you want to stay home and instead frequent an ethnic business – e.g. a bakery – then that is also valuable. So is donating money, being kind to a right-leaning friend or neighbor, manning a phone bank for a cause or holding your nose and trying to talk about all of this with a relative who you’ve always loathed – or a colleague who seems to have values opposite of yours.   We have to do them all and we need to do it quickly. And don’t think the thought of this thrills me either. Though I vow to do it if you will.

We can figure out better strategies

This week I heard a former Neo-Nazi named Arno Michaelis, who runs something called the Forgiveness Project and wrote a book about his days of white supremacy in his teens and twenties, say that one of the few things that managed to change him was the kindness he was shown by a lesbian supervisor at work and a black co-worker.

Now I’m not saying kindness and money is THE WAY to fight Nazis. But please can we refrain from the now empty post liberal phrase this is privilege speaking when one dares to suggest anything else except the method you’re arguing for? We need it ALL – especially the comedy of Tina Fey.

The only act of privilege is sitting it out entirely.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Peace, Love and Understanding

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”

The Real Millennials

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

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

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

Plus BRUNCH! and AVOCADO TOAST! right??

Wrong.

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

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

Exhibit A: Teen Vogue #getit

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

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

Sad, funny, and true

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

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

More than just rollerskates!

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

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

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

… and yet this is what awaits them. #sigh

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

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

Way, way, way too soon

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

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

.. and yes, starring Hugh Grant.

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

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

I thought I erased those memories!

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

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

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

“Beautiful People” Melanie

Ups and Downs

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

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

It’s all about perspective

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

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

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

Harshing my mellow, Chairy

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

If we so choose.

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

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

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

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

… and why not stop at every floor?

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

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

Yes, all of this is invariably true.

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

You know our girl can throw one back #cheersHills

 

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

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

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

#Priorities

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

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

or channel your inner Lebowski #whiteRussianplease

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

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