We’re all uncomfortable

If you refuse to watch art from people you in some way disapprove of, only Tom Hanks and Julie Andrews are left.   

-– The Chair

Make me watch Forrest Gump or The Ladykillers again and I’d probably punch you in the face.

Not to mention, Hawaii and the 1980 remake of Little Miss Marker would be a very tough slog.  (Note: Sorry, Jules).

And truly, if you’re going to watch some classic films why not simply go to the acknowledged mainstream top of the list choices.  Perhaps Chinatown or even… ROSEMARY’S BABY?????????

What’d’ya say Mrs. Mulwray?

Uh, oh.  Both films were directed by Roman Polanski and Mr. Polanski is best known these days by a new generation of filmgoers as the man who had sex with an underage girl and fled the U.S. before he could be properly punished for it.

Rightly or wrongly – and it’s not either one – this issue came up recently in a writing class when we were analyzing story elements of a classic sequence in Rosemary’s Baby where the lead character is raped by….

Well, who did it is not important for the subject of this discussion.  The pertinent part was the past deeds of this director and how much his personal actions influence what a viewer now sees or can’t see in the piece of art being offered to us.

This film still kind of says it all #ugh #uncomfortable

My knee jerk reaction is that we must separate the art from the artist and realize that times change, truth reveals itself in increments and people who live in glass houses, which means ALL of us, shouldn’t throw stones.

On the other hand, to NOT acknowledge that the personal is not only political but pertinent and influential, is to ignore the extreme cultural moments we are living through these days. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m not so sure I want to support ANYTHING director Bryan Singer does/did again.

As a gay guy, I’ve heard about his penchant for younger men for years and the fabled parties where they gathered with him (Note: Or were gathered up for him).  On the other hand, I was never there and certainly never saw him doing anything inappropriate with a 15 or 17 year old boy elsewhere so who was I to judge?  What is my responsibility?  And does it mean he shouldn’t direct Millennium Films’ upcoming big budget remake of Red Sonja?

I’m with Randy #10yearoldmemes #stillapplies

The Sundance Film Festival this week previewed the upcoming 4-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, which chronicles in painstaking detail Michael Jackson’s sexual relationships with pre and early adolescent young boys when he was in his thirties.

British filmmaker Dan Reed is a respected documentarian and by all accounts the personal testimony of Jackson’s victims, their families, and the similarity and specificity of details make it as devastating to watch as the current Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, which centers on that singer/songwriter/producer’s longtime sexual abuse of numerous underage women.

I have not felt comfortable with Mr. Jackson’s music for DECADES given that we were close in age as I watched him parade to endless premieres and show biz photo ops in the eighties and nineties in the company of  9, 11, 13 and 15 year olds boys, sometimes two or three at a time and occasionally strangely holding hands with the odd one as he spoke of playful sleepovers at his dreamy playground of a ranch.

This picture REALLY makes me uncomfortable

I remember thinking to myself, what would someone my age conceivably EVER be doing with those boys overnight and, if it wasn’t overtly sexual, could it EVER conceivably be appropriate, even with their parents’ approval?  What I concluded then and now was that it could not and, hence, I never was able to listen to or watch Mr. Jackson in the same way ever again.

I have no proof and I’m not faulting anyone who jams out to Billie Jean or who will forever see him as the King of Pop.  But there was and is something so questionable in my mind about Mr. Jackson’s personal life that sucks the goodness and fun and joy out of anything I could possibly see or hear him do.  Even the famed Motown anniversary moonwalk – the younger, gentler version of what he left behind – leaves me at best sad for all concerned when viewed in the context of the entirety of his life.

This brings me no joy #notaseasyas123

One teaching colleague of mine recently shared the difficulty of talking to college students about Miramax/Harvey Weinstein when recounting the history of the Hollywood independent film movement.  It’s not that you don’t do it, but how do get them to appreciate what that studio accomplished without the stench?   And how do you write a book about the history of television in the last century and not give The Cosby Show its due?  That’s a topic someone else very close to me (Note: VERY) is dealing with at the moment.

Can we just talk about Denise Huxtable and noone else?

To say nothing of Louis CK  and his recent jokes about the students of Parkland or Woody Allen movies in general.   How do I look at Annie Hall these days?

As a baby boomer I can only speak to Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time, and confess that it will forever make me laugh because I am able to block out all reality and focus in on the joy it brought me throughout my life.  Yes, I am that strong or that weak where these feelings overwhelm everything else past and present and take me back to a time when it at least FELT like we were all a lot more innocent and unsullied by the realities of a hopelessly stained contemporary world.

Of course, that is/was a fantasy in itself but at the very least it got me through my twenties and thirties.  Though when you shove Manhattan in my face now  and I’m forced to watch Woody with Mariel Hemingway’s 17 year-old character, (Note: As happened several months ago on cable TV) it’s cringe worthy.  Meaning denial only works in certain cases and, in this case,  I suddenly froze up and couldn’t help but turn away.

Can I hold on to this?

So yeah, in this light I totally get some of my students’ aversion to Rosemary’s Baby and Mr. Polanski.   How many of us Jews interested in movies have ever had a tough time with academic articles fetishizing the filmmaking talent of Adolph Hitler’s favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl?  (Note: Whose Triumph of the Will is coincidentally used as a bittersweet punch line in said Annie Hall)

Perhaps the answer is a film festival featuring Triumph of the Will, Rosemary’s Baby Annie Hall and maybe…oh…Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night?   We can also add in Kevin Spacey ‘s Oscar winning performance in American Beauty and two of Singer’s X-Men movies for good measure.

The audience at this film festival

But how many of us would go?   Not as many as would watch any one of the six in the privacy of our own homes and keep it a secret.

Michael Jackson – “Bad” 

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Plot Holes

I don’t take things at face value.  Never have.  One could say that makes me a cynic.   But I’d say a realist.    So let’s split the difference and settle on a little bit of both.

Hell of a time to be living in for us cynical realists.

There is nothing wrong with watching what’s going on in Washington, D.C. these days and feeling like a skeptic who is positive some dry ice machine hidden just beyond our collective eye-lines is creating that incessant shroud of dense black fog we all continually find ourselves trapped in.

MUELLER WHERE ARE YOU

The FBI is investigating the president, OUR U.S PRESIDENT for being a Russian spy, a willing Russian stooge, or a blackmailed stooge being made to spy on HIS OWN COUNTRY by…..RUSSIA???

Why, it’s like some bad John LeCarre novel that you always felt you should read but decided not to when you saw how thick it was and considered that much time might be better spent at least attempting to read Proust.  Or your latest bank statement.

Just one of the many seemingly absurd Hollywood movies that seem more relevant now #KevinCostnerwasHOT #wow

Of course, there is nothing wrong with escape.  Us cynical realists do it all the time.  I, for one, am a sucker for cheap thrills in mindless entertainment.  But cheap doesn’t mean vague and unexplained and even mindless needs to feel reasonable.  Or, well, follow-able within the unreality that is being created.

Beware — minor spoilers lay ahead.

So will someone tell me: WHAT THE HELL WAS EVERYONE LOOKING AWAY FROM IN Bird Box????  And why??  Why??  Why?????  Why did it make so many of them suicidal and yet others of them spiritually reborn or evil or just clever?  Why Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich??? Why do you need a new kitchen or house or small plane that badly?????

And while we’re on this subject, or genre:  If John Krasinski’s character cared so much about his family you’d think he’d have removed that foot long nail sticking out of the floor in A Quiet Place the first 500 times he saw it.  Or at least after it almost pulverized his beloved wife the first time.  Why???  Why????  Why doesn’t this bother anybody else?????

uh yeah Jim, that’s what we want to know!

But that all begs the question of how an earnest film like Boy Erased, a movie all about a gay teenager’s coming of age, can show us an early scene of him being raped and then NEVER address it again in a story that deals primarily with sexual identity and psychological well-being?  Why???  Why???  Why is it okay to just IGNORE the ELEPHANT YOU PLACED IN THE GOSH DARNED NARRATIVE ROOM?????? WHY??????????????

No wonder I often spend my days feeling like Rosemary Woodhouse AFTER she’s pieced together the truth on her living room floor with Scrabble tiles while everyone else tells her that the truth really doesn’t matter at all and to simply stay in her room, turn up the air conditioning and be quiet.

How many points for COLLUSION?

Yes, there are a few spoilers here but does it seriously even matter anymore if we’ve forgiven everything else?  Or at least you have?

As a writer, I don’t believe you can write (nee create) an important character and not understand their childhood, their family or their love life.  And, if they’re really important, I even need to know their favorite food, color and sexual proclivities.

Call me crazy, but you can’t really get a person unless you understand whether or not they were raised by wolves (Note: Literally and/or figuratively), what they like to eat and who they choose to… well, you know… or if they simply choose NOT to with anyone.

Let’s get personal

No judgments here.  Ask my writing students.  In fact, I get a perverse pleasure out of watching morally questionable behavior unfold as long as it’s earned.   But that’s just a start.  If you’ve made this stuff up by the numbers, or use it lazily to create ridiculous choices and/or inactions, it’s no better.  Either a lack of data and/or vigor means at the end of the day we (Note: Okay, I) won’t be able to feel it.  All you will be giving me is incomplete or hackneyed information neatly arranged into a bunch of consecutive index cards or visual PowerPoint presentations.

This, more than anything else, is my problem with most Robert Zemeckis films.  Not that anyone asked. #ForrestGump goes #BacktotheFuture3X.  And #WelcometoMarwen.

Janelle, you are way too cool for Welcome to Marwen #JUSTICEforJANELLE

This could all account for why I’ve been grossly riveted to cable news and the horrific events of our current Electoral College POTUS these last few days.

Childhood: Raised in my hometown of Queens. Beat the crap out of other kids his age and younger in his youth.  Expelled from high school and sent to military school.  Used Dad’s $$$ to get him out of the REAL military and into IVY league higher education, during which time he was known to have never picked up a book.

What? I’m tired!

Family:  Raised in my hometown of Queens (Note: Still) by extremely rich parents  who marketed in racism, corruption and various other dirty deeds in order to build and keep their massive empire afloat.

Love Life:  Married three times, during which there were countless affairs, various incidents of rage, violence and at least one case of alleged rape with his first wife.  More incidences of sexual harassment and inappropriate manhandling of women in airplanes, parties, movie premieres and television sets than anyone can count.  Or would want to.

Is it working?

Favorite Food: Well-done steak, french fries, ice cream, anything McDonalds and an estimated one DOZEN cans of Diet Cokes per day.

Favorite Color:  Gold. (Duh).

Sexual Proclivities:  I can’t even….   Stormy Daniels knows all.  Though let’s give equal credence to the mysterious #PeeTape once it surfaces.  Which it inevitably will.

If you say Pee Pee Tape three times, Stephen Colbert appears.

The consistent, salient details of DJT has, if nothing else, made me BELIEVE his most unlikely of stories.   That is because if you simply pay attention nothing is shrouded in fog.  The data continues to unfold in a consistent pattern and with the rigor of the best Shakespearean tragedies.  That is where, in the final act, the main character meets his inevitable demise because of every action he took in each scene of his play.

It doesn’t take much to see it’s all very Aristotle’s Poetics.

Both storytellers and audiences should take note for future reference.

The All-American Rejects – “Dirty Little Secret”

Serling, Lear & Goldman

 

No, this is not a law firm.  As far as I know.

These are the names of three show business icons better known as Rod Serling, Norman Lear and William Goldman.

It’s not a good idea to trot out words like icon or legend too often.   You sound like a syndicated talk show host whose sole purpose in life is to overpraise someone more famous in the hopes that it’ll do you some good.

Think Mike Pence whenever he’s in the presence of the Electoral College POTUS.  (Note: And how could you not?)

Let’s hope that’s all he is #Mueller?

Still, there are some cases where the word icon feels exactly right, especially if we are to believe the dictionary definition:

Icon: A representative symbol of something.  Synonym,  idol, paragon, hero. 

Certainly Mr. Serling, Mr. Lear and Mr. Goldman are all of the above and more to most everyone in the writing trade, the entertainment industry and by extension, through the reach of their life’s work, the world.

Hyperbole?  I think not.

Thank you Stefon

In the last several days I was reminded of the gargantuan achievements of these three writers, all born within 10 years of each other, for completely different reasons.

William Goldman, who died this week at the age of 87, was for years the most respected and highest paid screenwriter in the business.  Consider the movies from over 40 years, beginning with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then on to All The President’s Men, Marathon Man and The Stepford Wives and then back around to The Princess Bride, Chaplin and Misery and you might begin to get some idea.  If not, you can throw in tons of uncredited rewrites on things like A Few Good Men and Good Will Hunting and perhaps it will get clearer.

The Real Deal

It was William Goldman who introduced the infamous phrase follow the money into the lexicon of political writing via his Oscar-winning screenplay for All the President’s Men.  Peruse his other scripts and you will no doubt find many others.

Just ask Wallace Shawn  #asyouwish

Though none of them will even come close to his three-word perfect summation of the movie business:  Nobody knows anything.

For those not directly involved in the industry, here’s a full sentence of his  elaborating on that thought:  Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.

That and a lot more were written by Mr. Goldman in his 1983 seminal book on navigating Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade.  But more than anything else, those three perfect words – NOBODY. KNOWS. ANYTHING. gave hope, courage and permission to a generation of people starting out in the business, myself included, to soldier on and persevere.

Cheers to you Mr. Goldman

His screenwriting work was brilliant, and he wrote a bunch of fine novels (on some holiday vacation read his first, Boys and Girls Together).  But his ability to so bluntly tell the truth about what he experienced and observed extended far beyond fiction or the movies.  He gave so many of us who had our noses pressed up against the glass the belief that the people we thought we had to impress didn’t have all the answers – we did.  All we had to do was to tell the truth through our work and we had as good of a shot at making it as he did.

Rod Serling and Norman Lear might not seem a natural combination at first mention but when you give it some thought it’s exactly right.  They were born within two years of each other in the 1920s and though Mr. Lear, now 96 and still active, has lived twice as long (Note: Mr. Serling died prematurely at the age of 50,) each writer changed the face of television by being fearless in their own very specific ways.

.. and both have a signature look

By his early thirties, Rod Serling was already an accomplished playwright and Emmy award-winning writer devoted to telling meaningful stories that touched on social issues.  Still, he was known in the biz as a bit of an upstart who had grown weary of battling corporate sponsors and executives too timid to support the kind of tales he wanted to tell.

That was when he got the idea to write in the more commercially appealing science fiction genre, grounding his characters in a way so relatable it would enable him the ability to tackle such timely themes as war, racism, class, politics and censorship.

Like you’d ever forget these faces

One can hardly imagine when The Twilight Zone first aired in 1959 that even he could foresee the enduring legacy of that groundbreaking anthology series.  Not only does it still run all over the world more than half a century later, it has been reinvented as a feature film, in numerous television spin-offs and remakes, as well as homaged in the music world.

Most recently, Jordon Peele was announced as the host of a new CBS reboot of The Twilight Zone set to air in 2019.

But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that those three wordsTHE. TWILIGHT. ZONE. – are now embedded as a permanent part of language and pop culture as we know it (Note/Nee: Being an American these days is like living  in The Twilight Zone) that will forever be associated with its writer and onscreen narrator.

It was in that spirit this past week that Ithaca College presented Norman Lear with its annual Rod Serling Award for advancing social justice through popular media.   (Note: Serling taught at the college in the 1970s and his archives are housed there).  As a professor and Chair (Note: Ahem) at the school’s L.A. program, I got to be part of that evening and had a front row seat to Mr. Lear’s sharp as ever comic timing and humility as he got up to the podium at L.A.’s Paley Center to accept.

The man himself, pictured here with Ithaca College’s Park School Dean Diane Gayeski, and One Day at Time colleague Mike Royce

Anyone who has watched television comedy in the last fifty years has likely seen one of Mr. Lear’s shows and the majority of we baby boomers came of age on them.

To watch a first-run episode of All in the Family in the actual era it came of age was to see for the first time in half-hour prime time TV an unvarnished version of ourselves and our extended families in all of our inglorious prejudices, ignorances and, ultimately, humanity.  No one had ever used THOSE WORDS before on the Big Three networks despite the fact that they used them and we heard them every day of our lives.  Heck, no one had ever even heard a toilet flush on TV before the series did it in 1971!

Archie is not that impressed

Mr. Lear also gave us the first upwardly mobile Black family (The Jeffersons), the first TV comedy episode to ever deal with abortion (Maude) and the first divorced prime time mom of the era (One Day At A Time).  (Note: The latter also recently rebooted on Netflix). The fact is if we don’t see an immediate connection between the subjects tackled by the fictional law partners, Serling and Lear, it is merely due to our own shortcomings, not theirs

Among the unplanned comic gems during Mr. Lear’s acceptance speech at the Paley was the moment when his iPhone began to audibly ring.  He stopped mid-speech, instantly reached into his pocket and saw it was a family member, began a conversation with her, and, without missing a beat, put it on speakerphone so the rest of us NOT at the podium could hear.  Most actors, not to mention us non-96 year old pros and non-pros, couldn’t rehearse this and get it right (especially the speaker part) never much less be funny in our ad-libs to a faceless voice.

More skillful, however, was what came next. After he said of his TV work: I didn’t do it alone  he went on to reassure his many admirers that he really is only a person who gets up in the morning, eats, goes to the bathroom and then goes to sleep at night – just like they do.

Don’t mind me.. getting emotional over here

Then suddenly he, and then the room, fell dead silent as he contemplated this for a few VERY long moments.   As we all got concerned something was wrong, he finally looked down, then right back out at us, and said:

You know, everything in life led me to this moment.  Isn’t that something?

At which point he let some more time go by, evoking more silence once again, until he reiterated:  And to this one.

Then once more again, echoing:

And that one.  Everything you have done before has brought YOU right here…..Think about it.

One couldn’t help but wonder if what he was really telling us was that taking in the moment, really feeling it, and then sharing those feelings with others, was not only the key to his art but the secret to life.

Of course whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. Since, let’s face it, nobody knows anything.

“Those Were The Days” –  Theme from All in the Family

 

 

 

 

Not a Happy Camper

I never thought I’d be inspired by a quote from a military guy.  I’m the least military that you can be.  Order me to do something and I’ll do the opposite.

This goes as far back as I can remember.   When my parents ordered me to go to the sleepaway camp they were about to register me for when I was 11 years old, I looked at them steely-eyed for a good long 10 seconds.  Then I told them I’d run away and come home every single day I was there no matter how many times they brought me back.  If they didn’t let me in, I’d find friends or relatives to stay with.  If they wouldn’t have me, I’d sleep on the streets.  And I would have had they not relented.

Does it look like I’m screwing around mom??

This was not merely because I was defiant.  In actuality, I was a bit of a wuss considering I came of age in the sixties and seventies.  I was scared to take drugs, never cut school or lied to my Mom AND didn’t figure out sex until I was out of my teenage years (Note: And, ahem, even beyond).

What I did have were good instincts.  This has helped me through my entire life when facing big decisions.  And when you’re 11 years old there is no bigger decision than sleepaway camp.

It’s all very dramatic

I knew that as an uncoordinated, sports-hating, mouthy, stubborn, sassy pants who was secretly attracted to boys but didn’t yet have a word for it, I would never survive what I even then considered the camps.  They might be right for some kids but for me – no way.  It wasn’t even on the table.  I knew the difference between right and wrong deep down in my soul and this was definitely WRONG.

Here’s what Gen. Marty Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tweeted out several days ago:

The art of decision-making. When making big decisions, block out the background noise, take stock in what you know, check your instincts, and then decide. It’s important to remember that just because something is loud and repetitious doesn’t mean it’s right… …more than any other feedback, in a world of intense scrutiny and super-charged emotion, how we make important choices tells us who we are and what we hold most important.

This deserves the Meryl seal of approval

This might seem a strange way to get everyone to VOTE but I don’t think so.  You are at the precipice faced by many 11 year olds.  Sleepaway camp or NO sleep away camp.

Of course I realize that not every kid is fortunate or unfortunate enough to have the option.  I also get that local charities raise money just so these kids can get away for a month or two in the summer and enjoy themselves.

Or be tortured.

I imagine my letters from camp would have been exactly like this (from the brilliant Lin Manuel Miranda)

The point is that in a perfect world, the one where EVERY KID has AN OPTION, there will be a significant number, likely more than you think, that would vote to reject the camps and instead choose the steamy city streets.

The world is composed of camp kids and CAMP(Y) kids, if you get the drift, and each one is entitled to some say in creating a life that reflects their reality.

When we’re 11 years old, we don’t always get this choice.  But once we turn 18, we ALWAYS get a VOTE.

ALWAYS.

That is, unless we CHOOSE not to.

Sure, we live in a messy, turbulent world, particularly at the moment, where the choices available are not always the best.

This is real. #tuneout #tunein

You can have what’s in the box or what’s behind the curtain and they both feel like booby prizes, especially since once you accept one you also have to pay taxes on it. #NoDeal.

But, well, you don’t really think I wanted to stay home with my mother when I was 11 years old in the heat of NYC, do you?  Still, it was way, way, wayyyyy better than being stuck up in the woods having to play baseball everyday.  Or sleep in a barracks without being able to listen to my beloved movie soundtrack of Mary Poppins.

Oh Chairy, you flatter me so

Not to mention, that summer I learned how to roller skate (Note: With a metal key), and made friends with a brother and sister who had just that summer moved into my neighborhood.

I even learned that contrary to the custom in my family, you don’t always call your adult friends’ mothers by their first names.  In fact, I will never forget the expression on the face of that brother and sister’s Mom when I casually addressed her as Pat and she turned to ME steely-eyed and said, Call me, MRS. Marshall.

I’ll just show myself out #SorryMrsMarshall

To this day I am very careful when addressing those older than myself to always err on the side of formality.   At least, at first.    And you’d be surprised how much it’s helped.  Whenever I dated anyone, their parents ALWAYS loved me.

No one is saying that there are not moments to abstain from action or refrain from even voicing your opinion.  But this is not one of them.

Some moments in your life it is best simply sit back and follow the lead of those older and more experienced than yourself.

self awareness is also key

Then there are other times, the ones where you are REQUIRED to speak up for own self-preservation.

Or risk being sent to a CAMP that is wrong for you.  One that goes against EVERYTHING you innately are.

Colonel Bogey March

The Truth is in the Lies

Sometimes truth is, well, too truthful.

Stuff happens in real life that you wouldn’t dare make up. On the other hand, there are a number of stories that ring hopelessly false.

It is the job of a writer to be able to navigate events, turn them into stories and convince you that the false is indeed true, the truth is actually quite false and that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter because every yarn we spin (not to mention everything we ever tell you in real life, but that’s another story) will contain elements of both.

click clack lie lie

And really, what difference does it make as long as you were entertained, i.e., laughed, escaped, brought to tears, learned something or just distracted from the inevitability of those looming Swords of Damocles hanging over your head that you do your best to never have to think about.

We Americans have showered the world with our ability to produce mass entertainment to worldwide audiences for decades.   We’ve had a knack for creating unreal reality in a way so specific, personal and sometimes quite silly or tragic that most of the planet couldn’t resist and even aspire to create the kind of yarns that we were selling.

One could argue that we’re still doing it now with the much too true as to be false, bizarre shit show of what is passing for our government. But let’s #Resist sidetracking down that rabbit hole of crazy just this once.

America 2018

Except to say this –

When people stop trying to decipher fact from fiction they have become patsies to adept storytellers. Like a well-trained hypnotist, we can seduce you into believing ANYTHING, and if we’re good enough and experienced enough, you could easily wake up fleeced of your valuables.

Quicker than a game of 3 card Monte on the streets of Manhattan. #LetTheTouristBeware.

If you don’t believe this is true – that a plurality of the U.S. are perhaps getting fleeced of their money, their values and more than likely their democracy by a flim-flam demagogue – then you are discounting the power of stories and even the moderately talented storytellers.

This passes for logic

Meaning – this is not about kids in cages, the right to choice or life, more cash or factory jobs per family. It is also not about the gaying, browning or Sodom and Gommorah-izing of our culture felt by a plurality of left-behinds or gimme mores.

In fact, it is about the plurality of those people, and perhaps more, falling for the outrageous and often non-specific solutions to those issues by a charlatan/storyteller. (Note: We storytellers are ALL charlatans of a sort).   Ask any decent writer or weaver of tall tales when they’ve had an extra glass of wine, or at 3am post coitus, and they will freely admit that all they do is take some combination of truths – that is to say people they’ve met or incidents they’ve witnessed or heard about – add a few of their own secret spices – and voila – you are in the palm of their hands. Or worse.

Live in your truth.. and lies

It is not their muse, their magic or their superhuman ability to problem solve for a generation of audiences.

It is, instead, a SKILL that is practiced. A TALENT that is honed through experience and failure. All in the package of a person/storyteller that is so dogged and determined to be THE PERSON to manipulate you into their world – to CONVINCE you of something you NEVER thought of – and often for their own benefit – that you will actually PAY them for the pleasure of being lied to.

Yes, lied to. Meaning manipulated into a world with a specific point of view of THEIR world as it applies to you.

can’t really argue with that math

There is, of course, nothing wrong with indulging in this kind of sorcery either by yourself or, if the stories are commercially mainstream enough, with your entire extended family.

But it is absolutely LETHAL to voluntarily line up in real life and swallow the entire magic show. No lady gets sawed in half and really lives.

No glitter-costumed young woman doesn’t bleed to death when she’s pinned against a dartboard and someone hurls knives at her head.

And if you think you can eat fire or be shot out of a cannon using just any blade or your enemy’s artillery fire of choice, know you will not live long enough to ever see Paul Rudd age OR know the results of the Mueller investigation. (Note: Whichever comes first – your pick – but I know which one my money is on).

These pictures span over 20 years.. so I mean, I think you know the answer #paulruddisimmortal

If you still doubt any of the above, take this dare. This week go to Netflix and watch:

Nanette – A 70 minute show by monologist/storyteller Hannah Gadsby that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and yet, oddly familiar.

Or to Amazon and view:

A Very English Scandal A 3-hour miniseries starring Hugh Grant and directed by Stephen Frears, about sex, attempted murder and backroom politics.

must stream TV

Both of them are superior works of art done by master storytellers who will recount for you a series of absolutely true events, some of which might seem strange but all of which will likely feel both real AND familiar.

Then it will be up to you – when they’re over and your mind is clear – to put your hand on a bible or swear to a judge on the record in a court of law what exactly IS true, IS false or exists in some seductive faux nether region in between.

Nervous yet? Don’t be. It’s just a voluntary mind game offered by your friendly (Note: Sometimes) neighborhood blogger.

What should instead be more scary is when this kind of challenge is posed to us by news stations and/or elected government officials who masterfully and daily lure and tempt us with manipulated truisms masquerading as stone cold facts.

Oh there’s a lot of interest

The type of stories they offer are not mere entertainment but an especially complicated mix of false, true and in-between hybrids specifically designed to persuade us all to make REAL LIFE choices that will change not only our lives but tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of others all around the world. And not necessarily for the better.

And they are nowhere near as amusing or thoughtful as either Nanette or A Very English Scandal.  Not even close.

Of course none of that matters if enough of us buy what they’re selling. An especially troubling thought when one considers the most popular form of American entertainment has always been escapist.

Annie Lennox – “I Put a Spell on You”

Pink Polka Dots and a Zesty Meal

Kate Spade designed fun stuff – all pink and polka dots. Anthony Bourdain ate finger licking, down and dirty zesty meals – sampling and cooking or both.

And yet here we are and there they went.

Gone but not forgotten. 😦

There is discordance in the zeitgeist over the suicides of two famous people at the height of their games who had made it in the old-fashioned American tradition of building something from nothing.

They made it. They were wealthy from creative work they loved. They were at the top of their fields – respected, world-renowned and, likely, their names were even answers to a random category question on Jeopardy!   Or a particular up or down series of spaces in a N.Y. Times crossword puzzle.

Not a joke: This aired the night BEFORE her death. #unreal

In fact, it might even have been the N.Y. Times Sunday puzzle or a special Tournament of Champions Jeopardy!

Of course, this means nothing – none of it is the answer to anything when it comes to depression or even circumstantial deep sadness. You can’t dig yourself out of a hole on a ladder of thousand dollar bills or bottle admiration or viewership into a magical elixir that will cure the brain of a person who has become so isolated and overcome with their disease that the only answer they can see to end their pain is their literal end.

So very sad, and so very true

Both were parents who loved their kids, so that didn’t do it. Both had been loved and/or were loved by special someones in their lives and that couldn’t fix it. Were all their personal relationships perfect? Certainly not. But whose are? And if that were the reason, why now?

Why toss it all away on that Tuesday and that Friday of this past week when on so many others they were able to soldier on and persevere to much more than most any of their peers – certainly a lot more than so many of us.

Though…was what they had A LOT more?

Think on it

We are living in very strange times. For the first time in our history we have as our acting POTUS a billionaire (Note: Debatable though the numbers may be) with a penchant for gold gild and a measuring stick of great deals solely by tangible profit.

Succeeding means big numbers for the economy, the BEST deals – WINNING at the cost of anything.

Trump’s latest budget drastically cuts public health funds for 70 million low income and disabled people by slashing Medicaid. Its Department of Education budget grant program will be reduced to $42.5 million from $67.5 million – a whopping 36% decrease. So much for safer schools and more mentally stable students – or poor adults.

Promises kept, eh?

There is a method to their madness and that is – personal responsibility. Privatize everything because if people can afford it (nee work hard) they will get better medical care and will be less sick. Certainly, they will be less mentally ill. If you throw enough money at most problems, you can make them go away.

Um, not really. Not even close to really. Working hard and making more money is not a bad thing. But it’s not the answer.

Mike Drucker is a comedian and writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and after the suicides of Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain this week he tweeted:

He then went on to say:

In a world of budget cutting and moneymaking quick fixes, that’s a bummer, isn’t it? You have to put in years and years of emotional time and amorphous work – the same kind of sweat you use to build a skyscraper or a bridge or a bank account without any of their physical representations.

Worse yet, there are no guarantees all of that time will have produced ANYTHING worthwhile. This is the kind of strategy that actually asks us to make believe that lending a consistent helping hand to those less fortunate, choosing to forsake profit in order to preserve what nature has given us or welcoming other worlds (world views) into ours might also, just perhaps, produce numerous, beneficial dividends. A bottom line we can’t necessarily SEE but one we most certainly will FEEL

I’m not giving up. Just laying down.. right?

It’s a lot like talk therapy. No one is saying you have to do it solely without meds but to forego it altogether and only operate on what we can see on the surface will most certainly produce only surface results.

Nothing wrong with pleasant, tasty, shiny surfaces but they do have their limits, as the loved ones of Mr. Bourdain and Ms. Spade – both private and public – can tell you.

This is not to say either one could have been saved merely by a bit more talk. Nor could they be saved only by money or by their talent. There are no quick solutions and no one person who ALONE can fix it.

Which is also not to say pink polka dots and a zesty great meal don’t create momentary jolts of happiness and treasured memories. They and much more are components to the entire WHOLE.

Lady Gaga – “You’ve Got A Friend”

The Gospel According to Chairy

If you do a good enough job inventing yourself you will find your way into a world you want to live in. – The Chair

It occurred to me when swamped in a myriad of student scripts that it is the perception of many more than one person under the age of 25 that we are living in post apocalyptic times. Don’t keep telling them, this is not normal. They get it. Believe me.

They know

I’m not sure what to do with this since I don’t necessarily disagree. So I went to see a new documentary film called The Gospel According to Andre, which traces the life of former Vogue creative director and well-known fashion icon Andre Leon Talley.

Mr. Talley is a huge 6’6” gay African American man of a certain age who grew up in a time of segregation in Durham, North Carolina, has a masters degree from Brown University in French literature and for a number of years in the 1970s was the Paris bureau chief of Women’s Wear Daily. Not to mention he is friends with every major designer on the planet. He has also for decades had a reputation for being a character.

OK.. maybe an understatement

This is often the kind word used for flamboyant, larger-than-life gay men of any age. The unkind words – well, we all know what they are, so there is no reason to repeat them.

What does bear repeating is this: Gay men like Mr. Talley are not merely characters. They are studied human beings who, when faced with marginalization and oppression consciously choose and hone a character to be and use it in order to be the person they want to become.

They, or shall I say we – after all, I refer to myself here in the third person and as an inanimate object – may initially be seen as a bit of a joke to some but what’s presented is dead serious.

Like one’s choice of clothing (Note: Mr. Talley’s being luxuriously bold printed flowing caftans that I could never pull off as anything other than draperies, and even that’s doubtful), it becomes, in Mr. Talley’s words, one’s armor. It is what makes you feel empowered enough to navigate – the more unkind words are claw or climb – to the places you long to but fear you never will.

Hello have you met Iris #werk

Yes, we all make these choices daily. Whether we choose to acknowledge, admit or even know it or not is an entirely different story.

I have spent decades observing, meeting and writing about successful people in pop culture as a writer, journalist, social climber, friend and wanna be acquaintance, and one of the few traits every one of them had in common was a fierce understanding of their talent(s) and an evolving plan in how they were going to present themselves (and it) to the world.

They often don’t do it alone. Many times they begin, or even continue to thrive, by imitating other people they admire. Still, what they eventually evolve to becomes uniquely them – even if it’s more often than not an amalgam of quite of bit of what came before them, and then some.

We see you Little Edie

In Mr. Talley’s case it was a little bit iconic Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (his first mentor in fashion), his grandmother and other churchwomen he grew up with in the Jim Crow South, and a bunch of fellow fashion-obsessed contemporaries he met at Brown and RISD, among many others. This was then mixed with major dollops of himself to become the person you see in the film with the grand lifestyle and laundry list of achievements.

For the rest of us – well, what we’ve done has gotten us the experiences and lives we’ve all had up to this point. They might not all be the subject of a feature film (Note: Though each probably could be) but are a result of every choice we have made – both consciously and unconsciously.

And as any decent writer can tell you it’s always better to at least actively contribute to your own narrative, even if you can’t totally control it.

Yes, this makes all the difference. Rather than acted upon, you are acting out – or being out, proudly – using your smarts to get you to where you want to go in a world that to you might often seem post apocalyptic. It offers that many opportunities.

A dose of confidence helps too

But this is the way that it was – and probably always was – for many of us, and so many others who won’t or up until recently still refused to acknowledge it. Not to mention, it is the way it seems to be for too many now.

It is most certainly what many of my current students are feeling and writing about judging from the pile of scripts I’ve just gotten through. Of eight screenplays in one class, six were set in post apocalyptic worlds. That’s 75%. The seventh was about an inanimate object in a pushed fictional reality – so draw your own conclusions there – and the eighth was set in a foreign country its young protagonist had never been to nor successfully navigates until we get the feeling that, at the very end, perhaps she just…may?

I’m intrigued…

Though the veneer changes it would seem the circumstances of the world are likely just as crazy as they’ve ever been.   So as a default human warrior you want to choose an arsenal to make you strong, to make you feel comfortable enough in your own skin to do your best AND to keep you safe in the inevitable tough times.

Choosing a persona is one way to do this and, no, it’s not about being phony even though technically the word is derived from the Latin term for a theatrical mask.   That is according to my husband, who is always annoyingly right about things I am so sure of.

So…since he is so…grrr…correct about so many things and the secret to a happy marriage is admitting when you are wrong even when you still want to insist you are smarter despite all evidence to the contrary – why don’t we just compromise (yuck) and use the more modern word everybody and their mother has adopted for this instead– branding.

I like the sound of that!

Yes (ugh) choosing a version of who you are to get you through – with all of the accouterments that entails – both visually and intellectually – is nothing more than an old strategy for what it turns out is the not so new technique of…blech….modern day branding.  

And be assured you couldn’t possible hate that word any more than I already do.  In case you didn’t know.

But like broccoli and brussell sprouts with nothing more than lots of olive oil, salt and pepper and perhaps a hint of good balsamic, we can ALL grow to love it. (Note: Maybe). Because it WILL make it easier for the world to see YOU – or at least a side of you – that will best showcase an already impressive and/or outstanding aspect of yourself and get you where you want to go. (Note: Trust me, I learned this the hard way).

That is, if like Mr. Talley, you’re bold enough to show a true part of who you really are deep down inside.

Janelle Monae – Q.U.E.E.N