Freedom of (Hate) Speech

When I was in journalism grad school at Chicago’s Northwestern University in 1977, thirty members of the American Nazi Party wanted to march in Skokie – a nearby town of 70,000 in which more than half were Jewish and approximately 5,000 were Holocaust survivors.

There was a big to do and some years later, through court cases and a lot of soul searching among liberals and the ACLU, they did get to hold their march. But most everyone knew what the Nazis were up to. They wanted to hold a group of people they hated as hostages of the first amendment – challenging them to turn their backs on the equality and freedoms they espoused by not allowing their tormenters to taunt and goosestep right before them in their backyards.

This kind of childish bull crap happens every so often when hate-speaking racists get frustrated or empowered enough with their own irrelevance and see a road through which they can satisfy their own rotting inner core by spewing their venom outwards into the crowd that they believe are somehow suppressing their rarefied ways of life.

An important asterisk

In a nutshell, this is what’s going on right now with best-selling right wing author, lawyer, media personality and full-time liberal hater Ann Coulter and her campaign to speak – or perhaps not to speak but to raise hell about it – at the American university in the country best known for championing these freedoms since the turbulent 1960s – UC Berkeley.

Bill Maher recently excoriated the administrators at Berkeley for inviting, then disinviting, and then re-inviting Ms. Coulter to campus amid massive protests from students on both sides of the political spectrum espousing either outcome. So did any number of right wing politicians and wags on Twitter – calling the kids on campus the kind of names you hear from bullies in grade school. I won’t repeat them here but they bring to mind every dumb, desperate insult you’ve ever heard about any group. Instead, I will repeat the phrase ex Law and Order actor and stand up comic Richard Belzer once used to describe Ms. Coulter to Mr. Maher when he also excoriated her on Mr. Maher’s own show years before for airing her rancid rants in the segment just before his – A fascist party doll.

Prepare for the avalanche #brrrrr

You see, I have the freedom to do this without retribution here because this is MY BLOG. Just as the students and administrators of Berkeley have the right to ban Ms. Coulter or anyone else they like since the school is THEIR CAMPUS.

Since it is not public property, like the streets of Skokie, Berkeley is not subject to the same rules of public assembly as a village or town is.   In essence, they can invite and/or disinvite anyone they like. Much like me – a gay, Jew – could be banned from the Eagle Scout meetings Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to attend in Alabama in 1964 when he was 18 and that sort of stuff wouldn’t have even been questioned. You can’t tell an Eagle or Boy Scout what to do. They’re part of a private organization. You can only publicly shame them and force them to accept you.

Cue “All By Myself”

This is, in essence, what is going on now. I can’t claim a portal into Ms. Coulter’s brain – thank her Lord, however you imagine HER/HIM/IT to be – but if past is prologue she has ZERO interest in any sort of give and take intellectual discourse a college campus tries to foster. She is a renowned bomb thrower who delights primarily in provoking the other side by racist generalities and fiery, and very personal, bon mot bombs aimed at any sort of liberal hero, particularly those who have publicly come out against her.

A different kind of “Regan” #couldnthelpmyself

Exactly the same thing can be said of younger and renowned Twitter-banned alt right “pundit” Milo Yiannopoulos – who tried the same thing at Berkeley some months prior, with similar controversial results.

Now if I had my way I’d just let the two of them speak their heads off and picket them. After all, this is so far still the kind of America where we honor dissent – no matter how hateful, nasty and misguided.

On the other hand, if I were just angry enough, I might support the argument that if their intent is to just put on a hate show that just incites violence they are the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre.

A more accurate representation of my feelings

There are a myriad of public speakers one can get to “perform” at an institution of higher learning for educational purposes and if we truly want to view extreme right wing viewpoints maybe going after Rupert Murdoch or one of his two sons co-running the 21st Century Fox (Note: A misnomer for a 21st century liberal like me if I’ve ever heard one) empire might be a better first, second or third choice.

Still, it’s up to right wing student groups to get who they like so I might be convinced – or trade Coulter with, let’s say, hmmmm – is there an ultra Liberal Ann or Milo? I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Maher is not quite categorical enough and even liberal provocateur Michael Moore reaches out to the other side. Heck, his last film – Michael Moore in Trumpland – was entirely about that.

We don’t exactly have a 2017 Hanoi Jane.. do we?

And that is the point.

Do not masquerade immature name-calling and hate speak and insulting generalizations about whole swaths of the population as some post modern performance art that will show the truth about hypocritical liberals, lazy thinking millenials and their one-sided institutions of higher learning.   You can’t claim you’re the pretend Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central when the mood hits you and in the same breath appear on cable news shows as a serious purveyor of facts.

A talk that exists primarily to garner yourself publicity and verbally assault various minority ethnic groups in the name of free speech is not what I wish for my students or their intellectual futures. Though certainly they’re free to indulge in it. Like they occasionally do with the Kardashians, Top Ramen and Pizza Hut.

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PC University

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There’s been quite a lot of swill in the air lately about political correctness. Mostly on how our society has devolved to the point where you can’t say anything anymore and how the nation’s college campuses have greatly contributed to this trend with affirmative action-based helicopter parenting under a doctrinaire, left wing manifesto of bland, overly sensitive inoffensiveness.

Bull crap.   Or horseshit if one prefers the non-p.c. version of bull crap.   And this is particularly the case when it has to do with college campuses and, more broadly, the millennial generation.

Interestingly enough, a lot of this criticism has been coming from any number of aging baby boomers that are no doubt pissed off at a slightly more benevolent world (well, in some sectors) that they no longer understand and thus feel excluded from.  Or perhaps now that many have college-age children, or need them in their audience to stay relevant, they simply mourn the days when they (or others) could utter a racial epithet, gay joke or sexist remark without having their reputations twittered to death all over the world. Though they could simply resent the fact that their kids don’t have to endure the hard knocks that they believe made them into the strong, successful adults they are today. It could be just that.

Is this how boomers see millennials?

Is this how boomers see millennials?

I feel like I can say this because I am a baby boomer. I am also a college professor who gets along quite well with my students – even when we vehemently disagree – which we often do in everything from movies to politics to Beyoncé (Note: Don’t hate me, she’s talented but I just don’t get what the big deal is).

Still, I find a great kinship with them because in some small ways – even if only generally – they seem to be living their lives by the sort of mythical moral code that was set forth in the 1960s in Broadway shows like Hair and albums like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. That would be a world where it was not cool to disrespect people of other races, sexual preferences and religions “just because” you want to make a point and are too lazy or annoyed to do otherwise. For these views, some of my students have granted me honorary millennial status. Though I’m sure in the minds of many of my fellow boomers I am simply the cause of their limited thinking – exhibit A for why our educational system is a disaster and, in turn, our American Empire will continue to decline. How can you lead when you’re so willing to go the extra mile for peace of any kind? And how can you wind up being #1 when you make a conscience choice to use equal amounts of intellectualism, heart and reality to make the most important decisions in life?

How? The same way Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S. twice. And why he would probably win a third time. The. World. Has. Changed. Have a seat or deal with the alternative. The latter is the option almost everyone I know 55 or over is desperately trying to keep at bay these days – irrelevancy, death or, perish the thought, The Republican Apprentice. (Note: Yeah, you know who I mean. Don’t make me say it).

He who should not be named

He who should not be named

Here are two articles that surfaced this week in The Atlantic that brought this on, were forwarded all over the web and much discussed on TV and the media platform of your choice.

The Coddling of the American Mind – In the name of emotional well being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.

&

That’s Not Funny – Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke

As refutation to these I would offer up a third piece in Vanity Fair this month entitled,

Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse 

It will reassure anyone who believes recent college grads have a too-politically correct view of the world or that sensitivity TRUMPS boorishness.

The four writers of these pieces – three of whom are boomers, the other of whom is merely 41 years old – were on various news and entertainment outlets promoting their work, including HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

The fifty-something Caitlin Flanagan (That’s Not Funny) essentially covered the National Association for Campus Activities annual convention in Minnesota where 350 colleges came to book numerous acts, including comedians, for appearances at their schools that year. Essentially, she seemed in shock that two white students from a college in Iowa didn’t want to hire one of the convention’s most popular performers – Kevin Yee, a gay comic with a Broadway background who closed with a song about a gay man and his “sassy black friend.” Yes, he got hired by other schools but – Imagine, they thought the kids at their small Midwestern school wouldn’t get what he did??? How PC of them!!!

Look at your life, look at your choices

The writer and Mr. Maher essentially backed up that and numerous other groundbreaking revelations with quotes from comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, both of whom recently noted they won’t play college campuses anymore because the environment is too-PC.

Question: What Jerry Seinfeld joke could possibly step over the line of political correctness?

Answer: Well, it was actually a line where he says people are scrolling through cell phones these days like they’re a gay French king. Right. Okay. Judge for yourself.

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Full confession: I didn’t think it was funny because it was perpetuating a straight guy stereotype and had no context within the rest of the joke. Yet when an edgy comic like Lisa Lampanelli rides the gay guys in her audience by calling them “faggots” and insults the sexual appetites of her GBF (Note: Uh, gay best friend?) I’m on the floor because in that same moment she lets us know where heart really is.

More troubling is the idea in Coddling, which bemoans the fact that certain words and phrases that either are or can be perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic are listed as microagressions and discouraged in college classrooms. That is unless they are put into context. The authors vehemently write this way of thinking contributes to students being in a constant stage of outrage, even towards well-meaning speakers trying to engage in genuine discussion. They further argue shielding students from this is bad for the workplace and…bad for American democracy, which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship.

Huh?

Here’s the thing. No one is saying you can’t use most words or phrases in a campus-based discussion – only that in an open learning environment what you say is positioned in a context. What makes colleges special is that they are a safe space where you can discuss tricky issues in a way that is too often NOT done in the real world. Does this mean college is NOT the real world, and sensitive matters demand guidelines upfront, especially for 18-22 year olds? If we’re at all to cover new ground and empower them as they get older to create new and perhaps even more innovative ways to move society forward in any sort of productive manner — Yes.

Gear up

Gear up

Of course, there’s another reason for this – words change. When I was in elementary school African-Americans weren’t even called Black people, they were Negroes. Actually, THE Negroes. That’s also the term Martin Luther King used in his I Had A Dream Speech. Not to mention queer was an insult to gays – who at best were referred to clinically as The homosexual. Yet queer has been adopted by many under 30 in the LGBT movement as their current word of choice. Not by me, of course, because, well, I AM a BOOMER.
My autobiography

My autobiography

Oh – and lest any of us forget – the time period I’m referring to was also a time where crude sexist men could diminish a woman’s thoughts or questions by saying or even implying she was having her period. What’s that – you still can? Oh.

The final refutation to all of this should, of course, rightfully come from the millennials themselves. This is what you will get when you read about the group of Wall Street, marketing and other types of college grads as they wax poetic about scrolling through pages and pages of nubile, sexy or otherwise available young prospects on the dating app Tinder even as they are sitting in a bar with other real live prospective sexual conquests right there before them. One guy in the story bragged he slept with 5 women in 8 days – Tinderellas, he called them – noting with those numbers you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year! Another guy said he scored 30-40 per year via Hinge, another app, by selling himself as a boyfriend kind of guy even though he wasn’t and had no intention of changing. (Note: In fairness, Mr. 100 did chastise him by saying, ‘dude, not cool.’).

Don't go looking for the Goslings

Don’t go looking for the Goslings

This is not so much the end of the world but a mere continuation of the one they inherited. When I was a younger gay man I couldn’t understand the idea that when you picked up someone at a bar you called them a trick – as if you were a prostitute turning over customers. To me, it devalued the sexual act and myself as an individual. Of course, that was my feeling and hardly anyone else’s. I remember being called a nun, part of the skirt and sweater set and by one boyfriend, hopelessly middle class.

Yes, I’ve written about him before and he called me that a lot. I suppose there are worse things. In fact, I know there are. But you can’t say them to someone on any number of college campuses. Thank God. God, that is, as you know Him. Or Her. Or even if you don’t.

Learning to Shut Up

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There’s nothing like an international tragedy to bring out the wit in people. One doesn’t have to imagine the comic potential in Malaysia Airlines’ second airplane disaster killing hundreds of people because Jason Biggs does it for you.

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Hard up for a Hamas joke for the next cocktail party you attend this week? Hey, Bill Maher can take care of it on your end:

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And if you happen to be on TV hosting a live show when some horrific news story happens (which, let’s face it, is not an impossibility given the explosion of regular people like us on TV these days), you can always count on some random prankster to call in and lighten things the way this guy, posing as an eyewitness military expert, did for MSNBC’s Krystal Ball this week.

KB: Please tell us what you saw on the ground there in the Ukraine?

Prankster: Well, I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying through the sky, and it would appear that the plane was shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass.

KB: So it would appear the plane was shot down – can you tell us any more from your military training of what sort of missile system that may have been coming from?

Prankster: Boy, you’re a dumbass, aren’t you?

Click here to watch the unfortunate interview

Click here to watch the clip… if you can.

We’re all quite witty these days, aren’t we? And nothing’s off limits. Because if you think it is then you don’t understand comedy at all. And you’re too politically correct. Or a hypocrite who will laugh AT things YOU DO like but will become offended if someone pokes fun at something that hits too close to home – like a plane crash.

I mean, hell, even Dick Cheney chuckles in evil, ironic delight at being referred to as Darth Vader – what’s wrong with you?

The new way to be au courant, hip, happening and oh so clever is to publicly comment somewhere on something or, well, anything that is breaking news. And thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Twitter, Instagram and a handful of other people and stuff we all have ample means to do it. Yes, you get Warhol’s 15 promised minutes of fame for doing very little. What he didn’t bargain for is that the words and images you put out there will resonate for days, months or years later – long after your name has faded. Or perhaps even forever, which is a lot longer than that.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this too.   I mean, who could pass up a good rant against the extreme right wing, the US Supreme Court or the uncreative choices that double for mass entertainment from the Hollywood film and television industrial complex these days? Not me, it would seem.

Like many of us, I long to be heard by a world that too often seems either too noisy or indifferent to take the time out to listen to my pearls of wit and wisdom. How great that I get to be alive and in the orbit of Facebook, Twitter and many yet to be discovered systems that will now allow me to get my thoughts out there even faster –- perhaps even by boring a virtual hole through the cerebral cortex-ae of all of my millions of followers? You think I’m exaggerating? Hmmph – that’s what she (he?) said years ago.

It took the sudden death of a dear friend of 30 plus years yesterday to make me remember: Waitit’s actually okay NOT to weigh in on everything – or even anything – if you don’t care to.

This friend, who had an illustrious show biz career in his field and had been sick but died rather suddenly, left very specific instructions for no funeral, no obituary and, really, nothing at all organized to commemorate his death. Having spent a lifetime behind-the scenes presenting the public lives of more famous people than you or I could count in an afternoon, it is not surprising that at some point he learned the hard earned lesson that many of us will eventually realize (and I’m paraphrasing here):

…in the end the spotlight means nothing except the heat of the moment. It’s irrelevant to who you really are or what, if anything, your life was really about. And if you keep chasing it, it will eventually bore a real hole so deep into your soul (Note: your brain will already be gone by this time) that there will literally be nothing left to you at all…

This friend also taught me another valuable lesson, among so many others. And that is that sometimes, more often than one imagines, not commenting might be the best strategy of all. Or at least withholding comments until you’ve had time to think awhile about what’s happened.

First steps are the hardest

First steps are the hardest

My friend lived a lifetime of strategizing in both how to help people sell themselves and also speak to the media and was darned successful at it. It’s not that he wasn’t outspoken and didn’t speak up – it’s just that he knew that to do it all the time meant you were surrendering what little effect one has in the world. But to listen, and then think, and then listen some more before formulating your final thoughts and saying what was on your mind – was not only wiser but ultimately the most potent way of getting your own way.

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died one day prior to my friend and whom I didn’t know personally, might disagree. She spent a lifetime speaking before she fully thought out anything and it seemed to work quite well for her. At least publicly. Or perhaps that was just acting and she kept much of what she really felt deep down inside. The latter just might be more likely, I can hear my friend saying to me and who am I to disagree with him.

She did it her way

She did it her way

No one knew their way around a celebrity better than he did and said celebrities adored him. I mean, can you say you turned down a full-time retainer with show biz’s one-time queen of media manipulation, Madonna, in her eighties heyday – – a moment when a truly skilled person could manage it all and a time, if you can imagine it , long before media was social and when tweeting was the sound of the noisy bird outside your bedroom window you wanted to shoot?

No, I didn’t think so. I thought he was a bit crazy to do so back then but years later I totally get the perils of working for a TRUE QUEEN. Though clearly all he had to do at the time was to take a bit of time to really, really, really think about it.

(Note: I do hope he can forgive me for dropping that one name when referring to him. Though if it’s any consolation, before writing, I did think about it).

In any event, back to the public’s right to know what you and I think about – everything. Do YOU stop and consider why anyone should even care what you think? OK, well I don’t. Not often enough. Forget about cats on Facebook and Instagram – we’re talking about off-the-cuff and immediate thoughts on death, carnage, politics, other people’s family members thrust into the public eye through rape, theft, divorce, robbery, pillaging, as well as attempted murder. On the other hand, it feels good to get it off your chest, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll answer that, too – yes.

Of course, it is the height of personal irony that all of this is being written to you in a blog – a vehicle whose inherent purpose is to express personal views on a variety of subjects for public consumption. It is also quite paradoxical that you are most likely reading what is being said here through some social media tool whose entire existence has just been tried and found guilty by a jury of one (moi) for the deadened senses of the corrupt social culture we are all so (cue appropriate sarcasm) privileged to live in nowadays.

The Chair excluded, of course

The Chair excluded, of course

Well, yes, I am nothing if not a contrarian, and an often ironic one at that. But in tribute to my late friend, who was quite savvy about this kind of thing even though he didn’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – I’m going to from now on take a beat or two, or maybe even ten or twenty-three, before I open up my mouth, pen and fingers to type out my reaction to the grizzly events of the day. Or, well, at least think about doing so. Who knows, with all the pent up, thought out frustration I might become even more contrarily sarcastic than usual in a much more ironically intelligent way – lest you be concerned all of that self-reflection would cause me to lose my edge.

That’s probably the most fitting tribute I can give to a person who always did both – that is aside from shutting up entirely. Which, god knows, is not a real possibility for any of us anymore. Is it?

Prep Time

Focus Pocus

Among the many “straight to the trash” emails I received yesterday morning was one trying to sell me “an innovative way to channel and fine-tune the writing process” that would provide the “essential tools to write a best seller.”  No, it wasn’t personal ownership of JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins.  They are not mere items but cottage industries and those don’t usually go on sale, especially via internet communications (though their work is downloadable for an inflated fee.).   Anyway, as further evidence, my email implied that the purchase of this not inexpensive item would provide me with enough structure, knowledge and answered questions to really “get in the zone” of my project.  To use their words, and I quote:

“Ask any writer – once you get in the zone you can write forever.”

Is that supposed to be a selling point — writing forever?  That’s the very last thing I want to spend the rest of eternity doing.  Forever is quite a long time and if I’m going to spend it doing any one thing it’ll be eating pizza, participating in some sort of carnal pleasure, or at least receiving attention for all that I have already “written” in this lifetime and perhaps a few other incarnations before true eternity hits.

In case you’re wondering, the internet “item” in question being sold via this particular email was a computer program – and not even the original version.  In actuality, it’s the program’s 4.0 permutation, which begs the question of what happened to the poor schnooks who purchased versions 1.0,2.0, 3.0.  (No, the correct answer is NOT that they’re disgruntled iPhone users).  Were they rooked and can only hope to write for one-third of eternity?  Or half?  Certainly, for me, that deal would be even better.  And by this point undoubtedly cheaper given consumer demand for outdated software.

What would be even cheaper – way cheaper – would be to not buy the 4.0 or any other version at all.   Or any other snake oil that promises you the keys to the kingdom – the way to save you so much time that the road to success will become as smooth and easy as it was gliding down the sliding pond at your local playground when you were three years old.  Trust me, if there were a shortcut to these more adult “things creative,” all of us who came before you would have figured it out long ago, not to mention the generations before us and back through all of eternity.  My money is on the gang who built the Pyramids or the perhaps the author (or authors) who claim to be William Shakespeare.

Nope... not that pyramid.

The sad, honest and even dirty truth is that in order to be good at what you do you need to put in the time doing it.  In his new book on creativity, “Imagine,” the young author and former neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer (and he’s only 30!) spends time theorizing and positing on where creativity comes from and quotes people from all walks of life on their process.  Bob Dylan, for example, was ready to hang up his guitar and sometime rhyming ability until one day, when he sort of didn’t care, the song “Like A Rolling Stone” quickly came to him in a flash of anger.  Certainly Dylan is a songwriting genius and there is no program or book in the world that can teach you to write or sing exactly like him (some would say, Praise the Lord on the latter).  But Dylan also didn’t wake up one day with the ability to write “Like a Rolling Stone.”  It came after decades of writing and preparing for that moment where what he was feeling could be put to music so easily.  And even then, there is no promise that he’d be able to do it as well, or as quickly, again.  Yes, indeed, creativity is a harsh mistress, or gigolo, to be an equal opportunity offender.  But then again, just about anything worth having has some kind of downside.

Lately, it’s come to my attention that there are more than a few people unwilling to put in the time to “prepare” for what they aspire to do or achieve and more than a few others who have prepared inadequately, but act shocked, surprised or offended when the crown or throne or lottery check is not immediately handed over to them.  It might not seem like Kim Kardashian or her sisters ever paid their dues on the road to fame and fortune but if you google their images and Wikipedia page you will see the evolution of “the look,” reportage on sex tapes, and an obsession with fashion, fame and commerce that was inbred almost from birth.  Now, if this is your idea of a good time – start young or have your children start young.   Or even better yet use that prep time towards something else that appeals to you, because the position of young iconic reality show punching bag has already been done and will, no doubt, be done again by others much more obsessed with it than a reader of any notesfromachair blog could ever be.

Geeky in every shade

This past week I went to see MSNBC host (and one of my intellectual goddesses) Rachel Maddow being interviewed by Bill Maher in Los Angeles and was taken aback at just how staggering all of this preparation stuff can really be  (note: I have a crush on Rachel because, as she admits – she looks like a tall geeky man).    Rachel is meticulous in her research for her 5 day per week hour long MSNBC program and it certainly shows in her new book “Drift.”  Her look at how U.S. military intervention went from the Founding Fathers’ concept of checks and balances to modern day presidents from Ronald Reagan through and including Barak Obama taking it upon themselves to launch and/or continue wars without Congress approval and maintain them through private military contractors – takes a complicated, dry subject and, through penetrating research and thought, makes it read like a novel (It’s been #1 on the NY Times bestseller list for two weeks).    At the same time, unlike most novels, it will alternately also make you really angry at inarguable current event facts we’re living through in present day.

Coincidence?  Nah.  Rachel is also an Oxford PhD, former radio show host, comic book reader, out lesbian liberal activist, and likes to drink cocktails — proving you can be smart, prepared, rigorous and misbehave, or at least have fun.  This is why her work is both smart and yet approachably human.  Mr. Maher – curmudgeonly, insensitive atheist that he is, is quicker than he’s ever been interviewing her despite being an avowed pothead, misogynist and slightly dirty old/young man who is convinced marriage is the sure death of sex.  Still, he somehow manages to convincingly sell his brand of nihilism pretty convincingly and, he has noted, this is in part because he still spends a significant part of the year doing live standup routines all over the country – something he’s done consistently over the last 30 years.  Whether you like him or not, the sharp-tongued remarks he’s consistently so good at as an interviewer don’t happen without this or some other kind of ongoing practice.  That and being an obsessive reader of daily newspapers, magazines and books also helps, as he readily admits.

Every semester I always have a few students skating by while others work a lot and then don’t work and still others are work horses who break through.  Sometimes there are also those frozen with anxiety.  And sometimes, but not often enough, a small group don’t seem to have any trouble at all and came fully formed through dedication and love of what they do (or perhaps natural talent and desire so it doesn’t feel like work).  None are recipes for success or failure on their own but each can set you on the road to good, bad or indifferent.  But students have an excuse – they are mostly young and they’re learning.   You wonder about the last few years of people seeking high office who haven’t put in the prep time, or tried to cram the prep time in over a very short period of time (I’m not mentioning Sarah Palin by name because she’s doing just fine as a media gadfly).  Yet on the flip side, I’m also not mentioning those with perhaps limited experience for the highest office in the land who still took decades of prep time prior to that election to excel at one of the finest universities in the world, become a scholar of the law, work in trenches with the underprivileged, run for elected office and lose but then win, and win a seat in Congress again.  All the while, with his other spare hand, he wrote (all by himself) two best sellers, got married and had two kids.  The latter gave him the ability to empathize with the plight of families everywhere.  That and the fact he was raised by a single working mother who used to wake him at 5 or 6 in the morning to go over his studies or do homework he had put off and got him in the routine of responsibility for doing his work – and doing it overtime if he had to (or was ordered to do so).  I don’t want to mention names again but, okay fine, but this person’s rhymes with “Shamrock Yo Mama”

Ultimately, of course, this is about more than petty political endorsements or bitchy remarks in a self-published weekly snarkfest like my own.  It’s really about – the pride we take in what we do – the time we put in – and the quality of the final product.  What does it mean to you? Or us?  Or anyone?   What are our expectations from ourself and the world with it and without it?  Master improvisers practice to be so impromptu – ask any stylish person known for his or her “disheveled look” (I used to date someone like this – trust me – there’s a real art to the properly fashionable wrinkled shirt).    Conversely, most hard-working practitioners have an improvisational skill they can count on after years of hard work, or perhaps always had it but chose to work hard to put their innate skills over the top.  In any event, each were smart enough to not take a shortcut that, in the long run, they knew would only sentence them to spend the rest of eternity figuring out why they not only didn’t fit into a particular kind of 1, 2, 3 or 4.0 requirements of a particular program.  Instead, they led the way, writing an entirely new, more exciting one based on practice and, on what they had learned.

Enjoying the Ride

You can be cynical, opinionated and generally contrary to most things and still be a funny person.  Standing up for what you believe in or challenging the status quo doesn’t mean you’re a chronic malcontent or a socialist.  (It doesn’t even mean you resent the rich).  And going to bed generally disturbed at the state of the world sometimes doesn’t mean you’re not ENJOYING the RIDE.

I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the person I love and it occurred to me more than once during that day that I am a lucky person.  I mean, few of us get to have a long-lasting relationship (FYI, I did kiss more than a few toads in my day), much less a decent one (no, they are not necessarily the same thing).  I get to make money at things I love doing (teaching, writing).  I have fantastic friends, a great family and a very cool dog. (and blog!)

However, this does not mean that I walk around 24/7 with a hanger in my mouth stretching my lips into a contorted Joker-like smile or don’t often get exasperated when I turn on the TV, go to the movies or encounter the too many idiots who travel the world with me despite my preference that they just go away.  (no, they don’t have to die, just disappear).  I mean, just yesterday I found myself infuriated as I left the 3:30 pm show of something called “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” (annoying enough, title?).  I was the crazy person you saw in Hollywood at 5:13pm outside the Arclight Theatres audibly muttering to no one in particular “Are they kidding? “ And then to myself in my car – “I can’t believe Sundance still gives awards to such indulgent crap!”

But does this mean I’m not enjoying my life?  9-9-9   Nein, Nein, nein!!!  And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  It means I am human.  As my Facebook motto says, “You can have fun and get angry.  They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Also, I hate to quote movies, but as the psychiatrist earnestly tells the troubled teen in “Ordinary People”:  “Unless you feel pain, you’re not going to feel happy either.” (Yeah, I know you might think the dialogue is dated but so is Melanie’s music to some people and she still happens to be a goddess.

There is an odd mindset in this country that I can trace back to the more than jovial Ronald Reagan – who presided over the seemingly jovial but actually quite tragic and awful decade of the 1980s.  (which was, incidentally, not all bad for me because I did meet and fall in love with my partner of 24 years).  It goes something like this – people who protest, are insurgent or sometimes choose to scowl or occasionally express real anger at their fellow man (and/or the status quo) are:

a) unpatriotic

b) wrong

c) trouble-makers and

d) generally unhappy, disagreeable people bordering on (or crossing the line to) anti-American.

In fact, the total opposite is true.  Just as stuff makes you thrilled to be alive, things can and do mammothly piss you off!  In my mind, part of the task of any artist, or any generation for that matter, is to externalize the anger and frustration in some way that affects people, influences them, moves them, and then ultimately becomes a cog in the wheel of change.  To something better?  Hopefully.  But not always.  But life often evolves on the basis of trial and error.  That being the case, our real progresses can be charted by an up and down graph, not by one that is a straight line to what might likely be a trip to nowheresville.  The messy, back and forth exchange of viewpoints and ideas, some of which might offend, infuriate (Marcy, Missy what’s her name) is precisely the stuff that we need in order to actually be what people in the eighties thought they were aspiring to – a better world.  And take it from someone who has been in a 24-year relationship – it’s not always Zipppity-Doo-Dah, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning because that would get as nauseating as eating my beloved pizza for every breakfast, lunch and dinner or as tiring as having to watch this clip over and over (or perhaps even once?)

As for ENJOYING THE RIDE, you can look at certain people in the news and arts and somehow know that their exterior jovial or scowling demeanor does not necessarily equate to the fact that they are truly ENJOYING THE RIDE.  To whit, some totally biased observations:

  1. Herman Cain – Thoroughly disagree with him politically and find him a bit of an offensive buffoon but yes – ENJOYING THE RIDE
  2. Tom Cruise – The biggest, richest, and perhaps most publicly enthusiastic movie star in the world, but in my humble opinion – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  3. Gloria Steinem – Brilliant writer, feminist extraordinaire, life contrarian to American patriarchy but still ENJOYING THE RIDE
  4. Bill Maher – Love his show, agree with him more than I care to admit, thrilled that he has the nerve to offend, but something tells me – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  5. Barack Obama – president during one of the worst times in American history – and yes, ENJOYING THE RIDE (How is this possible?)
  6. Gabrielle Giffords – Arizona Congresswoman shot through the head and still recovering from brain trauma, before and after clearly ENJOYING THE RIDE
  7. Katherine Heigl – Gigantic film star whose movies worldwide have grossed $1 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”), seems as if she’s the most fortunate actress in her age range at the very least yet ultimately NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.

These observations are unscientific and totally my own yet I’m willing to stand up for them.  Which doesn’t make me right or wrong, or judgmental, just enthusiastically opinionated.  But as you ponder on just how judgmental I really am, consider the observations of current MSNBC female political commentator, business owner and former Congressional candidate with the unfortunate (or fortunate) name of Krystal Ball.  Yes – that IS her real name.  It came from her father, a physicist who did his PhD on crystals (look it up, I’m not lying) and her mother, who is an educator.  Aside from being a businesswoman and CPA, Ms. Ball ran for Congress in 2010 in Virginia and lost but, actually ultimately won.  This might be partially due to how Ms. Ball was able to lead not with her political views but by example of how she lived her life.

You'd think she'd already know the outcome...

In October 2010, one month before the elections, a photo surfaced on a right wing blog of her at a holiday party some years prior dressed as a “naughty Santa” while sucking a red dildo attached to her then-husband’s nose.  (UH, no, we’re not going to reprint it here.  You can google).  Confirming her likeness several weeks before the election and admitting the photos were “embarrassing,” she also saw fit to call the photos sexist and wrote in the Huffington Post “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are gong to leak into the public sphere.”  Yet, she posed the broader and more powerful issue of how society treats females, making “women into whores” and questioning “this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible.”

Ms. Ball, who realizes her very name is both a blessing and a bit of a curse, was subsequently put on Forbes’ List of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women of the Midterm Elections,” is remarried, has a young daughter and is now a regularly outspoken national voice on the issues of the day, owning the many facets of who she is and what has happened to her in the eye of the hurricane.  Her name is Krystal Ball and yet she seems alternately tough, traditionally feminine, angry, smart, argumentative, thoughtful and sweet.  Enjoying the ride?  You bet.  Most definitely. So am I.  On most days, at least.  Are you?