The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)

Selective Memory

By most accounts, George H.W. Bush seems to have been a very nice man who cared about his family.  He was able to leave differences with political enemies behind (Note:  The personal letter he left at the Oval Office for Bill Clinton, whose election famously denied him a second term, is a classic).  He even sporadically brought along his most famous imitator – Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey – with him to sporadic speaking engagements.

Can you imagine Alec Baldwin being brought along by ….

Only if it were in lock-up…

Okay, let’s not go there.  Yet.

Still, it is important to remember that no one is perfect and no president EVER is even close to being so.

In the case of George Herbert Walker Bush, a president I lived through as an adult, I felt nothing but relief when his reign finally came to a screeching, humiliating end.

Oh yes, I’m going there.

From a 1991 ACT UP protest in Washington DC #neverforget

We keep hearing this weekend about the wisdom of the first Iraq War, his adept handling of a crumbling Russia and the personal inclusiveness of the extended Bush family to so many friends and foes in the political world.

Let’s not debate the first two issues because it will become an endless quagmire of left vs. center (Note: Though I do hope one or two conservatives do read this).  Instead, let’s speak to the issue of inclusiveness.

Nothing about the Bush Sr.’s felt inclusive to so many millions of us during their reign.  In fact, it was one of the reasons he lost his re-election.  There was that famous moment where he looked at his watch during a presidential debate because he seemingly had somewhere more important to be.

And then another during the campaign where he seemed flummoxed at the sight of a supermarket scanner.

I need a price check for my EYEROLL

There was also his using racism and racial politics with a TV ad that wrongly linked his 1988 Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, to a darkly Black convicted murderer, Willie Horton, raping a woman during one brief prison furlough.   If you need any more historical references to contemporary white racist dog whistles, here’s one not to miss.

Still, that was merely a postscript for me.  From the moment Bush, Sr. was elected to office during the height of the AIDS crisis, it became crystal clear to me that he would NEVER address the hundreds of LGBT friends and acquaintances I saw dying around me at the time, some in the streets.

Complicit

With negligible funding increases in relation to the lethal, and at that time, quickly spreading pandemic, he began to be forever linked in my mind with his predecessor Ronald Reagan as the passively indifferent executioner of thousands who deserved better from a government they in part paid for with their tax dollars – a government they so very much needed in their moment of unimaginable emergency.

First Lady Barbara Bush eventually took a tentative step and hugged a baby with AIDS.  But where was the massive hug for my community?  It was never to come.

1989 #thetruth

Each year this is put into context on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.  Now that there are drugs to ensure AIDS can more than likely be a chronic rather than immediately lethal condition in the developed world of the US (Note: That is if one can afford the drugs), it is easy to forget our recent past and knowingly cruel inaction of US executive leadership, particularly from the Republican side of the aisle.

An AIDS Prevention ad from 1987. Read the fine print.

Combine insatiable ambition and timidity at losing power with inbred prejudice against a niche group of people you don’t know and will provide you no upside in electoral matters, and you have a perfect storm of faulty decision-making in the eighties.  Add to that some real fear and lack of education (and interest) on medical matters and, well, you can read up and fill in the rest with statistics and facts.

This might all somehow remain in the horrible, regrettable past if for the last two years on World AIDS Day (Dec. 1) the US government did not advance its chief homophobe, Vice President Mike Pence, to speechify on the subject.

Several days ago Pence purposely failed to mention the LGBTQ community in his very public remarks even though this community is the primary group affected in the US (Note: 70% of cases).  This says nothing of the many tens of thousands who perished over the decades, remain infected and continue to contract the disease.

Needless to say, there was no mention the prior year either.

What Pence did do this year in his remarks was say the word faith 27 TIMES and significantly credit faith-based organizations with leading the fight against AIDS.  One needn’t be a historian to understand that through the eighties and nineties there were countless Christian institutions and religious families who not only didn’t lead but turned their backs on dying gay men, often allowing them to perish alone or, if they were extremely lucky, be comforted by the mercy of strangers. Here’s one story of an incredible woman from Arkansas you might take time to read. There are countless more stories, though most do not involve the type of ultra-Conservative Christian churches to which the vice-president belongs and/or refers to.

American hero, Ruth Coker Burks #thankyou

In fact, here’s another inconvenient FACT of history.  In a 2000 campaign speech while running for Congress, Pence once again made no mention of AIDS and the LGBT community.  What he did do was advocate a stop of federal funding to ANY organization that would celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.

He even topped himself at the time by adding: Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.

In other words, conversion therapy.

I know I’ve used this gif before, but it feels right to use it again. #SOEFFINGMAD

If I were a certain kind of journalist/blogger I might relate here that there has long been talk that Pence himself has undergone conversion therapy, was said to have once collected muscle magazines in college that a roommate wrote were quickly gone after Pence returned from a long summer break engaged to his present wife, Karen, and, as a young adolescent was referred to as Bubbles, a nickname given to him by members of his immediate family.  Some say it might have even been his own Dad.

Well, these days I’m not sure what kind of journalist/blogger I am or how I feel about bitchy, idol gossip.  I only know when it comes to AIDS I have a memory like a selective elephant and am unafraid to fling dung in honor of the people I greatly loved and lost, none of whom even lived half as long as 94 years.

RIP #41.  And say hi to my friends.

Bruce Springsteen – “Streets of Philadelphia”

Truth Bombs

It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in this country, said the hate-filled man who spreads it daily.

We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t have to specify whom.

Suffice it to say you want him as far away as possible in the aftermath of the largest attack on a Jewish synagogue in U.S. history.  If only in respect for the 11 dead worshippers and their families, as well as for the six members of the police force shot trying to save them.

Sadly, this is impossible when he occupies the most powerful bully pulpit in the land.

Chairy, it’s really been a rough week

Oh, and for the record, blackface was not okay when Megyn Kelly was a kid. In much the same way race baiting tweets are no-no’s today.  At least for some people.

She might have thought so because she was a kid in the eighties, a time when lots of people adopted tone-deaf insensitivity as their overpowering scent.   The greed is good mantra/catchphrase of Oliver Stone’s fictional antihero/villain, Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, was their guiding North Star and it extended to far more than money.

I can’t even look at him without wanting to barf

And luckily, we’ve gotten soooo beyond that.

People nowadays remember the eighties quite nostalgically. They quickly, very quickly, get all Goonies on you.  Soon after they might start singing the Ghostbusters theme or even begin quizzing you on who your favorite Back to the Future character is. 

Well, we know it certainly isn’t BIF #canteven

I didn’t have a favorite character from that particular film, nor did I think a bunch of guys pretending to kill ghosts or a group of kids fighting special effects thingies were particularly amusing at the time.

That is because back in the eighties, when I wasn’t tripping over homeless people in the street or watching many of my contemporaries being wiped out by the AIDS epidemic, I was marveling at how a second-rate actor clearly in over his head pretended to be president for eight years.  And to such acclaim by so vociferous of a base.

This isn’t meant to be political.  Seriously, I didn’t get it.  Because if you look at Ronald Reagan’s old movies they were truly not very good.  It was the same watching his TV performances as president.  Bad Hollywood dialogue he didn’t write delivered with the faux sincerity of a television pitchman, which was what he was before he slid into California’s governor’s mansion and later the White House.

Frances McD knows what I’m talking about

To this day it’s a wonder to me and to my friends how it happened.  So put that in your pot pipe and inhale before you dismiss the crazies in 2018.

One might say my friends and I hold a very niche minority opinion on Mr. Reagan and that the 1980s are not the twenty-teens.  But anyone who says that clearly didn’t bear witness to that president committing passive genocide daily in the eight years he was in office against thousands in the gay community, dozens of whom were my friends and several of whom were former lovers.  Our then president’s refusal to take the lead as the leader of the free world in a clearly growing pandemic because it primarily affected a minority group outside his base, (Note: Not to mention, one they didn’t care for), or to vaguely step up or, to even do anything meaningful at all on the issue ever, is a matter of public record.  And as such, it is irrefutable.

PREACH

I know this because I’ve silenced many a room over the decades that were singing his praises by staring coldly at anything human in my eye line and proclaiming in my most non-hysterical, deepest and resolute voice:

DO NOT TALK TO A GAY MAN OF A CERTAIN AGE ABOUT THE VIRTUES OF RONALD REAGAN.  DO NOT.   I WAS THERE.

The same will be said about Donald J. Trump one day, but not only by gay men.  It will be said by African-Americans, by Mexicans, and by any person of color vaguely paying attention.  It will also be voiced by the disabled, by the sick, by the uninsured and by all those who like to drink clean water or breathe fresh air.

You know, everyone but these guys

It will particularly be voiced by women, who, by then, will likely outnumber the men in leadership roles.  Assuming, that is, we are still united enough to lead and there are enough of us left.

One supposes this depends on how far off that said future is and how fatalistic one chooses to be.

A president doesn’t need to personally fire a gun or inject someone with a virus in order to be held responsible for presiding over the mass carnage left in the wake of domestic terrorism or disease.

A glimpse into the white house

When you are the person at the top, the place where the buck stops, it is enough to fan the flames of hate against particular minority groups or political foes from the opposite end of the spectrum and then watch in faux horror as the chips fall where they may.  In that sense nothing has changed since the 1980s, though ads featuring Black Welfare Queens seem almost quaint in comparison to today’s not so passive presidential endorsement of white nationalism and the KKK rallies from which they draw (Note: Drew?) their power.

It is infuriating, as a gay Jewish man of a certain age, to have to once again bear witness to a U.S. president who offers nothing but insincere hollow platitudes and a crystal clear lack of intent to do ANYTHING AT ALL to stem the tides of hate.  One hopes it is equally infuriating to those of any heritage or sexual persuasion at any age.

reality

Still, what makes it worse this time is that the platitudes offered don’t even attempt to be soothing.  Instead, they are tinged with threats of law and order violence and a recommendation for more guns, along with a promise of capital punishment retribution.

And that’s on the day that it happened, before we’ve buried even one of the 11 latest bodies we’ve yet to mourn.

It’s unclear where we go from here when almost half the country doesn’t understand what the big deal is in supporting a TV host who thinks Blackface isn’t any big deal.  But certainly let’s not go back to the 1980s, or the 1950s, for that matter.

Huey Lewis – “The Power of Love”

Robby and Me

So 31 years ago this month I spoke to a guy I didn’t know on an actual landline.  No, it wasn’t like that.  He was a friend of a friend who was new to town and he had the soft, sexy voice of a young Robby Benson.

For those who don’t know – Robby Benson was a big film and TV star in the seventies with great hair, impressive acting chops and endless boyish charm.  Extremely smart and fun loving with a talent for playing often troubled though never irredeemable characters.

NOT ROB LOWE. #better

Anyway, I agreed to take Robby’s voice to a party because It/He didn’t know many people in town and when he came to my door I was taken aback.  He not only looked a little like Robby, by way of Italian heritage, but was smart, fun-loving and far LESS TROUBLED than any of the people he played.

This was Robby as you wanted him to be.   Or so I thought.  And it turns out I was right.  That night turned into that morning and more than three decades later here we are, his voice still intact and my crush now my husband.

and they lived happily ever after #AWWWWWW

It is important to remember Robby my husband and I met in 1987 in the height of the AIDS crisis.  The idea of finding a person with whom you could survive with 31 years later seemed…well, no one was thinking that far ahead.  About a week or two was all you could manage, and even that was pushing it.

We were ending the horrible Reagan years where gay people were branded nationally as diseased sinners whom the public at large needed to be protected from.   It wouldn’t get too much better in the four years of George H.W. Bush, though one of my favorite political moments of that time was when a former boyfriend gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention nominating Bill Clinton that chastised Bush, Sr. for willfully ignoring so many of the sick (nee gay) members of his (Note: Bush, Sr.’s that is) American family.

That boyfriend is long dead but his words linger in my mind.  I think of him and so many others often, though not in tragic terms.  I wonder – what would they make of Ellen coming out nationally?  Will and Grace and the return of Will and Grace 15 years later?  Could they have imagined RuPaul would not only have a high-rated show but win an Emmy and spawn a nationwide trend towards EVERYONE workin’ it 24/7 by simply being your true self?

Preach Ru

This is to say nothing about gay marriage in the age of Grindr, gay parenting, #ItsGetsBetter, gays in the military and, well, pretty much gay everything, anything and in any way possible if you so choose.

Exhibit A  #heyantoni

That does not mean there are now zero consequences from family members, neighbors and the world at large for one’s choices.  But pretty much every choice we make has consequences.

The fact that there is even this much of a level playing field felt like a quaint pipe dream in 1987.   Kind of like your parents saying you were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye five years before you were born.  (Note:  Okay, maybe my family were the only ones who spoke this way but nevertheless the star metaphor feels apt).

It is in this context that I tuned in NBC’s The Voice this past week and saw a gay male couple in their 30s – one African American, the other lily White but both super hot – talk about meeting, singing together, falling in love and forming their own singing group.

They then discussed their parents and siblings, families who were finally face to face for the first time at this about-to-be televised audition.  Amidst all this we were also told they had an upbringing steeped in the church, information that would have been the whole point of their appearance even a decade or two before.  Assuming, that is, they would have even been let on TV as their true selves, which they wouldn’t have been.

Never mind that I thought their musical act was kind of corny, albeit sweet – sort of Up With People trying to mix with vintage Temptations music.   What was being broadcast here was in PRIME-TIME NETWORK TELEVISION.  More than their music, their story had reduced their four heterosexual vocal coaches/International music stars to sighs of admiration and tears.

YES IT IS LISA #exceptyourlips #help

It was also pre-determined by a corporately held network, owned by a conglomerate, that this would similarly tug at the heart strings of America’s heartland. Why else make them the lead off act in the 8:00pm family friendly time block?

Heck, I wondered, what does my sometimes still stuck in the eighties self make of that?  What would any of my friends, particularly the musical ones and specifically those who were long gone, make of it?

Answer – most of us around these days don’t think of it much at all.  Those not around couldn’t think of it as real.  At least that’s what I and my husband concluded.

None of this is a reason to pat ourselves on our collective backs and break out in cheers as a nativist movement sweeps the country and the world, imperiling minorities everywhere and even thumbing its nose at some MAJORITIES, nee WOMEN.

OK OK Stay with me!

It is only to say, sometimes one has to look at where they came from as well as from where they started in order to gain perspective and energy about where they are now and in what way they are to proceed.

This year there are dozens and dozens and dozens of LGBTQ-themed films already or about to be released.  Click here for a list

Sure, we are still a niche audience but so is pretty much EVERY audience these days.  In 2018, it’s all about niche music, niche TV, niche radio, niche….don’t get me started.  So much to catch up on, so, so little time.

I’m sorry Sarah.. there is literally no time #AHSApocalypse #netflixIguess

But ultimately it’s more about subject matter and the lens within that niche.  In the seventies and eighties it was acceptable for straight male characters to make “fag” jokes without retribution.  The notable major LGBTQ crossover releases in 1987 were Maurice and Prick up Your Ears – two period pieces about a time when gay meant sick and in the shadows, and lesbian love or BTQ existence were barely an onscreen flicker.

It would be five years before Neil Jordan pulled off an international gender hat trick in The Crying Game.  This was 23 years before TLC aired its first episode of a reality show focusing on a transgender teenager, I Am Jazz.

We’ve learned that the point is the lens from which something is viewed.  We are offered the travails of a white suburban gay kid coming out in films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon (Note: L-O-V-E) and the oppressiveness but ultimately unapologetic victories young gay protagonists can have when their parents try to convert them to straight in movies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the upcoming Boy Erased, all of them 2018 releases.

YAS. YAS. YAS

This doesn’t erase the tragic last days of Oscar Wilde in Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, now out at theatres.  As its star, writer and director, Mr. Everett effectively reminds us that this literary giant served TWO YEARS hard labor for engaging in gay sex (aka sodomy) with the man he loved at the turn of the century and was damaged beyond repair, not to mention shunned by society, in the few years he had left after he got out.

Yet in 2018, it’s an openly gay artist telling the story about an iconic gay artist from the past to a world that in the great majority, at least in the U.S., are on HIS side.   If that weren’t the case, you can bet Sony Pictures would have NEVER picked up the film for distribution.   

We’re not exactly to Avengers level, but good on them.

Nor would a gay Black man co-write the screenplay to his own autobiographical story, Moonlight, and then watch his story become 2016’s surprise best picture Oscar winner.

So as we all deal with the Trump America of it all, the international Nativism that could be our ultimate destructions, not to mention the latest U.N. report on climate change and the tragedy of global warming that threatens the extinction of the human species, it’s nice to remember history, progress, regression, revolution, resistance and more progress is our legacy.

It’s a roller coaster of emotions, dear.

History can turn on a dime, either way, and many of us have lived through periods where all fights seemed in vain and the best we hoped for was simply getting through.

What we didn’t know was that the future could be brighter than we imagined, BLINDING so DAZZLINGLY as to be rendered un-seeable, with only inevitable dollops of dark.

And that dream Robby Benson can appear at your doorstep just when you thought there was never a chance.

If this last thought seems too LGBTQ Hallmark, check out what one member of our new generation just unabashedly posted on his YouTube Channel.  Colin O’Leary you are 2018 Robby – reincarnated.

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

When We Rise… and Rise and Rise

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There was a moment in this past week’s When We Rise – ABC’s 8-hour miniseries retelling the gay liberation movement through the personal and professional travails of four real life activists – where one realizes that it is only when the political becomes personal that a true activist is born. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – meaning it takes something awfully personal to happen to us before we muster up the energy to try and save the world.

8 hours well spent #chairreview

8 hours well spent #chairreview

Of course, no one can truly save a world, despite what politicians, billionaires or real estate moguls will tell you, and sometimes in the body of the same person. And moreover, that moment when it all clicks in and causes action is different for all of us.

A noteworthy screenwriter friend of mine named Anna Hamilton-Phelan once wrote a script on the women’s movement called The Big Click and it is only now – 25 plus years later – that I truly get what she was talking about. Oh sure, I’ve been politically active over the decades and understood the basic meaning of what she was saying. Who could argue with the idea that there are episodes in all of our lives when something goes from simply bothering us to pissing us off so royally that we are moved into action. Or from understanding in hindsight that unknowingly there were reasons ingrained in us from childhood that causes us to be passionate about an issue rather than merely just sympathetic towards it.

There are some parents in need of a medal for this gem #girlpower

There are some parents in need of a medal for this gem #girlpower

The gay heroes in When We Rise had many motivating factors but the commonality that clicked in for me was that at least one parent rejected them from an early age because of their sexual orientation and that these brave men and women had the strength to know that the problem was not with themselves and the temerity to devote their lives to enabling the world to see the truth. What this translates into was being a part of a movement to change the world even though, at its basic core, all they were really doing was standing up for freedom, equality and honesty.

This seems easy but it is anything but when the world at large, not to mention your close circle of friends and relatives, informs you in every way through words, deeds and general point of views, that you are wrong. As a gay person it is always chilling for me to revisit the outward hostility and rejection of gay people as any sort of normal through my lifetime by mainstream society.

When I was a boy in the sixties and a young teenager in the first part of the seventies, the notion of showing a same sex couple making love on a major network was as likely as, well….NOTHING. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone at the time who would have considered it a viable notion.

Well.. at least we had Charles

About as gay as it got on TV #thankyoucharles

Certainly no one in the early eighties could have imagined the full pandemic of AIDS or the experience of literally watching your friends and lovers drop dead all around you as the mainstream forces of government and religious institutions turned its back on you or leaned in with hateful condemnation and we told you so indifference.

Yet, like the leaders of civil rights and women’s liberation and so many other movements for social change these people remained undeterred, motivated in some part by the very injustices that they were consistently met with, and often from a very early age.

Horrific as the AIDS era was for our community (and others), I have always believed that without it the country never would realize so quickly that almost everyone in America knew and loved (or very much liked) a gay person. Compared to DEATH, or at least WATCHING DEATH, the onus of coming out began to feel almost laughable at some point.

Amen to that

#Reality

But then quite strangely and surreally this begat the slow opening of the door to what the majority of mainstream society now accepts as normal – gay marriage. How odd that our forbearers had to die in order to achieve it. And yet, when you look at the history of our progress towards racial equality – how obvious that this would be what it would take to achieve.

Of course, none of us should be fooled into thinking that as we progress we have achieved anything near equality in either of these areas – or many others. In the case of the LGBT community, there is currently an international brouhaha that the upcoming Disney release of the new Beauty and the Beast even features a gay character.

THE HORROR!

THE HORROR!

A movie theatre owner in Alabama pulled it from its schedule, publicly noting in a statement that: if I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it.

This is followed by threats to Disney that Beauty might entirely be banned from Russia for essentially the same reason. A prominent lawmaker there has publicly called for its culture minister to screen it in advance and then bar it if he finds elements of propaganda of homosexuality. 

Never mind that the gay character in question is (and has always been) named LeFou, is merely a sidekick that has a crush on the male lead, Gaston, and that the gayest thing he reportedly does is dance a little too enthusiastically with a friend. When it comes to Disney the gay thing is still sacrosanct, in several if not many more corners.

I mean.... do we not remember Scar? #letsbereal

I mean…. do we not remember Scar? #letsbereal

Certainly a gay Disney character is not the most burning issue in LGBT freedoms but with our new administration rescinding an executive order to disallow transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice, and new religious freedom laws brewing nationally and in many statewide government offices to override other existing gay civil rights rulings in other related areas, any blanket normalcy of the community seems as far as it’s ever been.

Aside from being gay I’m also Jewish and the rise of anti-Semitic crimes of defacement and violence in the US is still in line with the ongoing history of persecution we Jews have endured through the centuries. Sure, it’s been a long time since 6 million or more of us died in Nazi concentration camps (or has it?) but as everyone in any minority group knows just when you think you and yours might be primarily safe is the very moment when you need to pay attention. And this does not necessarily mean solely watching out for members of one’s immediate minority group but to those in others, be they Black, Muslim, female (even though they, like those who voted for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, ARE in the majority), Mexican and…(fill in accordingly).

Pretty much sums it up right now

Pretty much sums it up right now

I’d like to say members of my particular minority groups are already doing this (and perhaps they are) but the most recent evidence I can provide is this news story about two Muslim-American activists who raised more than $20,000 in over two hours in order to repair the massive damage done last month to more than 100 headstones in an historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

“…Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” read the crowd-funding webpage started by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi

The recognition that hateful actions towards ONE of us are hateful crimes towards ALL of us feels like 21st century activism. Ever personal, ever angry but rooted in problem-solving, progress and the united hope for a better future, along with the knowledge that, like it or not, it’s both an individual AND a group journey.

Same Script, Different Cast

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I can’t say it any better than the NY Times did on Saturday in its first front page editorial in almost 100 years:

It is a moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.

I also can’t add much to my Friday night Facebook post right after I found out that the latest 14 people mowed down by terrorists – this time only an hour away from where I live in California – were longtime co-workers of their executioners.

Blue or red, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist – it’s time to Unite.

Not to mention, as a writer, I certainly wouldn’t dare to concoct the gruesome irony that this most recent pair of radical jihadist killers – who were also the parents of a six-month old – decided to murder the very same 14 co-workers who had thrown them a baby shower earlier this year.

I mean, who would believe that?

Ugh. Jeez.

Ugh. Jeez.

Imagine the desperation and twisted thinking that would lead individuals to such actions? What would it take for you to commit bloody acts that would not only inflict permanent harm on people that you knew but would ensure that you would not be around to see your child ever again – to never watch her take her first step, talk, walk or even laugh one more time?

Well, it’s a whole lot.

The terrorism that is occurring worldwide and with such frequency lately can’t simply be dismissed with they’re crazy. And they hate us seems, if not a given, certainly not a solution. And without a doubt, much too facile. It’s the equivalent of a kindergartener coming home after being beat up in school one day and telling their mother – no one likes me and I have no idea why.

It might be true but it does nothing to solve the problem.

These are actual solutions, people.

These are actual solutions, people.

We can barricade ourselves in, take steps to improve our security, launch attacks on countless assailants, horde our money and shout at the top of our lungs to scare the bad guys (and gals) away – but it won’t change anything permanently. The only way to get at the root of this is to accept what is, try to calmly understand why, and figure out how to modify behaviors.

But to deny the hate, the rage, the anger, the violence as mere fringe, lunatic behavior – or to continue to throw up our hands and be outraged by it until we retaliate in a more acceptable yet similar fashion, does nothing but create a never-ending merry-go-round of insanity.

Who knew the NY Daily News would hit the nail right on the head?

Who knew the NY Daily News would hit the nail right on the head?

Kindergarten brawls are fought this way. So are – or have – more than a few adult wars. And this is where that’s gotten us.

Oh, and let’s also include and reject stamping our feet and screaming about our second amendment rights to possess any gosh darned firearm we choose. This Thanksgiving I cooked a dinner for 16 without my beloved olive oil because one member of our newly-extended family is allergic to it. My e.v.o.o. is like your beloved Smith and Wesson. So believe it when I say — it doesn’t kill you to modify. And we all lived through it. It’s called sacrificing for the greater good.

But back to terrorism and the people/reasons it’s done.

As our great rom-com filmmaker Nancy Meyers once wrote and directed — It’s Complicated.

Remembering Meryl's kitchen does help in moments of rage

Remembering Meryl’s kitchen does help in moments of rage

Still, here’s what I know and will admit about rageful anger: It makes you a bizarre variation of who you are and it changes your thought processes. And it can at times be so powerful that it actually has you believing you are thinking more clearly than ever. In fact, if you’re on fire rageful – like 222% on the rage meter – it all seems to become crystal clear.

I can’t pretend to know what’s going on in the mind of radical Jihadi “Muslim” terrorist determined to blow the rest of us up – along with themselves – in order to change the world. Or simply in frustration at their place in the world and the powerlessness they feel to affect even the smallest of changes for the betterment of their loved ones and brethren.

But what I can do is to chime in with a metaphorical reference of my own personal experience as part of a worldwide marginalized group who at one time felt its very existence was also threatened and who certainly believed, and had proof, that the majority in power truly hated them.

This was what it was like for me and many thousands of others of gay men living in the U.S. in the 1980s and 90s during the height of our AIDS epidemic.

Yes, I’ve written about this many times before but it bears repeating. It was not unusual to watch your friends and neighbors die at the hands of an ugly, faceless assailant with no political policy in place or in sight. What made it worse, in fact put it over the top, was no interest at all on the part of those at the top of the power structure to change it. And, really, at the end of the day, it was perfectly fine not to rock the boat too much for the vast majority of others in power.   For years.   Many years.

When the stakes are literally life and death – and you’re consistently on the receiving end of the latter – you feel lost. You feel angry. You feel like you are inevitably next. And you want to destroy things.

Me during the late 80s

Me during the late 80s

Excuses? No. Just explanation.

If I hadn’t been terrified of guns and death – and had any feeling at all for a religious afterlife – I’m not sure what I would have done during those years. Though I know what I wanted to do. A very strong part of me that wanted to blow up things and people all through the eighties and well into the nineties – especially those in the upper echelons of U.S government. I wasn’t even a scintilla of upset when Pres. Reagan was shot – I was only angry that he seemed to so easily survive. This was a man who wouldn’t utter the words AIDS for seven of the eight years he was in office. A murderer, or at least perpetrator of passive genocide. Good riddance.

Perhaps this was twisted thinking. I’m not sure. It felt perfectly logical at the time. Sometimes it still does. Especially when I look back on those years.

No, I didn’t shoot at him or kill anyone. But if I were raised just slightly differently and hadn’t lucked out in the medical lottery and, to some extent, the family lottery, I’m not so sure that would be the case. It’s embarrassing and very unpleasant to admit but – I do get the rage. The appeal of a pipe bomb at the enemy. The quick fix evening of a score too long gone unpaid.

This might explain the popularity of Quentin Taratino movies #revengeporn

This might explain the popularity of Quentin Taratino movies #revengeporn

The only thing that made me feel a tad better during those times was the occasional moment when someone in the power structure spoke directly to the issue and held out even the slightest olive branch of understanding and potential action. Mere sympathy didn’t do it. It felt hollow. But a genuine pause to ask and to listen…and then listen some more…and more…and then understand…and help do something about it…that’s the one thing that began to allow the rage to dissipate.

If we can all come out from out from behind our physical and virtual walls, and respective corners, this might be worth considering – or not. Certainly there must be some other solutions out there.