Is this Happening?

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What is our world coming to?

The new de facto leader of the Republican Party brags he wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and limit the rights of other foreigners, such as the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing genocide in their native country, from ever getting inside our borders.

As a Jewish fellow, all I can say is good thing he wasn’t around when my grandparents entered the country. I’d have a whole different life. Or no life at all.

Here’s what it says on The Statue of Liberty, which at last glance still stands in New York Harbor:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Maybe we take the Statue down in light of 9/11? Or just erase the words. After all, it was a gift from France. They probably wouldn’t mind because of what happened in Paris a few months ago, right?

We could replace it with a shiny gold building that looks like a Dunhill cigarette lighter. That’s Gloria Steinem’s analogy about Trump towers, not mine. Because, well, how can you say it better?

Jugs of Justice

Jugs of Justice

Apropos of something, I have another question. When Trump skipped the last debate before the Iowa primary on Thursday, he claimed to have instead spearheaded an event that raised $6 million for our wounded war veterans through his website. But the only donation link on his website was to his Trump Foundation, which the PUBLIC TRUST(s) will go to our vets. But if this is so, can’t he still get some sort of personal TAX DEDUCTION from it? It’s His Foundation, right?

Any accountants out there know how to maneuver cash as a deduction amid all of the full legal slime written on a multi-billionaire’s federal tax return? Cause every little bit counts – that’s how you get and stay rich to begin with – so I’d love to get a full reading on this. That would be my American Dream at the moment. Assuming anyone could out-maneuver him or his money. Hillary? Bill? Bernie? Bueller? Anyone???

Sorkin, can you hear meeeee?

Sorkin, can you hear meeeee?

A friend of mine wrote on Facebook last week that he doesn’t see how discrimination and exclusion can be remedied by discrimination and exclusion. Okay, he was referring to the Oscars and how under the Motion Picture Academy’s new rules to remedy #OscarsSoWhite people like the lesbian female writer of Nine to Five; one of the biggest child star actors of the sixties and seventies; and another woman who was a pioneering animator back in the day, would have their voting rights stripped despite many decades of membership that always guaranteed voting. Where do these new Academy rule makers think they are – Florida? Don’t they remember that almost a decade ago, they gave Al Gore the Oscar?

Um... no no... we're good

Um… no no… we’re good

Of course Donald Trump’s frontrunner status can be compared to Oscar voting. To quote the words Mel Brooks’ character of Hitler sings in his megahit musical The Producers:

The thing you’ve got to know is…

Everything is show biz….

After which point he sings:   Heil myself, Heil to me….

Ring a bell – or lighter – yet?



Try explaining the current state of our affairs to small classrooms full of 21 year olds as I attempted this week. Sure, these were writing classes, not political ones, but to be a good writer one needs to draw from real life. Which means an understanding of human behavior in the world as it exists is essential in order to convincingly portray anything remotely recognizable in your made up world.

Somewhere along the line I got flummoxed and actually found myself reduced to phrases like:

It wasn’t always like this.

Or –

Yes, it was crazy, but never this crazy.

And then finally –

No, I’m not sure this is a joke. So why are we all laughing? Well, um, good question!

In the end I’m not sure I did any good at all. I was only hoping at that point, not to make it all seem any worse than it already is.

Me, every 10 seconds

Me, every 10 seconds

Fortunately, teachers are not held to the same standards as doctors. First Do No Harm dictates the Hippocratic oath. Yeah, right, that wasn’t happening.

I can’t blame any of this on the Trumpless Republican debate because I wasn’t watching, Instead, that night I was actually teaching one of these mini-groups. But unfortunately in an effort for clarity I recorded the damned thing and perused the highlights several days later.

Insert "Elephant in the Room" pun here

Insert “Elephant in the Room” pun here

Here are some, courtesy of the Washington Post and my viewing brain:

Jeb Bush: Look, I am in the establishment because my dad, the greatest man alive was president of the United States and my brother, who I adore as well as fantastic brother, was president.

Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Carson: I’ve had more two a.m. phone calls than everybody here put together, making life and death decisions, put together very complex teams to accomplish things that have never been done before.

Sen. Ted Cruz: I would note that that the last four questions have been, “Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted…” Let me just say this…

Moderator: … It is a debate, sir.



Another Moderator: Can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not do at all?

Gov. Chris Christie: How about one that I’ve done in New Jersey for the last six years. That’s get rid of Planned Parenthood funding from the United States of America.

Moderator: Anything bigger than that?

Christie: Bigger than that? Let me tell you something, when you SEE thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can’t think of anything better than that. 

Sen. Marco Rubio: Well, let me be clear about one thing, there’s only one savior and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ who came down to earth and died for our sins..Because in the end, my goal is not simply to live on this earth for 80 years, but to live an eternity with my creator. And I will always allow my faith to influence everything I do.

Walk the walk, Rubio

Walk the walk, Rubio

Oy vey iz mir, as my grandmother used to say. How can this be happening? I have no idea. And I am more confused than ever. But luckily, I’ve never been intimidated by Dunhill lighters. I’ve always thought they were tacky. And the people who used them dumbasses.   And I’ve never been afraid to say so.

Neither should you.




Terrible Tongues?

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The first time I heard my voice on a tape recorder I thought to myself:

Oh my God, I sound like one of those guys!

Yeah, you know the ones.

I must have been about 11 or 12 and I can’t remember the circumstance. All I can remember is thinking:

You better lower your voice.

Forget about when I was in college and saw myself on videotape (Note: Yeah, videotape) for the first time and realized:

You’ve got to use your hands less!

Well, two decades of psychotherapy and several more decades later, here I am once again – just like I was back then – waving my hands all around, speaking in a nasally, sometimes humorously campy, pseudo intellectual tone for all the word to see. Exactly like I was back then. And they say life comes full circle.

Do I sound gay? Well, certainly.



Self-acceptance can take decades, a lifetime or well, 12 lifetimes – meaning that if you don’t believe in God, reincarnation or _____ it will never happen. Of course, there are people with normal families who grow up very well-adjusted and seem to have always known and liked who they were. I met one once back in 1968. But perhaps that was more about the sixties.

There is a documentary at movie theatres, streaming and on demand called Do I Sound Gay? that examines the issue of boys who discover they are homosexual and almost simultaneously realize, often to their great shock the first time they really hear themselves speak, that their voices reveal them as such. Its filmmaker David Thorpe uses himself as the primary subject and does a fine job opening up his life and insecurities to us as a way to examine this particularly universal sociological issue. I mean, even if you are not gay, who among us loves how they sound or even sounds like who they think they really are?

Sounding gay in theatres now

Sounding gay in theatres now

Still, the question of do I sound gay sounds positively quaint these days. I mean, who really cares anymore? If one truly wants to reflect on who we are in the context of the times we live in, the real inquiry to make is:

Do I sound crazy?

Or rather, it should be –

Do they sound crazy?

Because chances are if you’re thinking you sound insane you are most probably as normal as the rest of us. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Of course, I write this when we’ve just gotten news that yet another person shot up another group of unsuspecting people in a movie theatre. (Note: Currently, it’s three dead with at least 7 more injured).   Who knew people were that angry? I was going to say – older White people – in light of this latest movie theatre massacre but this had to be adjusted in light of the joker-haired younger white guy who was just found guilty of shooting up many more people three years ago at a multiplex in Colorado. Not to mention the other young white guy who killed elementary school kids in Connecticut. Which leaves out the Muslim shooters of late, who prefer military bases – but that sounds racist and unnecessarily profiling a whole race of people. Though truly, if I were Muslim and living in America I’d be angry, too. Though, like the gay kid I was in the seventies, I’d certainly be afraid to show it.

A caveat for Fox News Watchers: No one here is saying Muslims have the right to shoot up military bases. I can’t even…

"Don't even get me startedddd!"

“Don’t even get me startedddd!”

Donald Trump seems to be the public face of white rage these days. Which is ironic because what the hell does he have to be angry about? We have to listen to HIM. Not to mention, he’s got a job. Sort of. And he’s rich. So he says. Happily married. So it appears. And to a woman much more beautiful than himself. So it appears. On the surface. One supposes he must possess some sort of inner beauty we can’t see. Or, at the very least, is a master of disguises.

Well, we all know how to disguise ourselves when the need arises, don’t we? Sometimes it’s by force of habit – like when you sound gay and don’t want to – and on other occasions it’s when you’re running for president and want to be the one who gets the most votes. So you go into your shtick – whatever you decide that will be – and show the world who you are and how great that can be for them – especially if they choose you to lead.

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Chris Christie’s the plain-talking working class guy who doesn’t, ahem, mince words. The kind of person you could imagine eating a hot dog next to you at a football or baseball game (Note: No, I am not going for a wiener joke of any kind here). Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum sell themselves with down home, family values religion, Hillary Clinton as the smartest, most experienced woman in the world (Note: I’d have to combine Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie to come up with those two attributes in one person) and Bernie Sanders as the commie high school history teacher who you remember fondly as the one individual who told you it was okay to stick your finger into the face of the establishment – preferably the middle one.

There are more candidates and more images but you get the picture.

Trainwreck is one of the top comedies at the box-office at the moment and, among other things, it features the birth of our latest and most certainly and hilariously insurgent new movie star of the moment, Amy Schumer. Not only did Ms. Schumer write the perfect vehicle for herself –- as a slightly foul-mouthed girl who will gladly have sex with you and get you to enjoy it, or just enjoy watching her do it or you even if you don’t want to –- she did it while snidely inverting the cliché male/female tropes of romantic comedy. The guys in her world are all too sensitive and obsess about whether Amy likes them. This is just as Amy and her female friends spend their time bedding every possible male in sight they deem even barely sheet worthy providing they can have them out of their apartment (or leave theirs) by the time the sun comes up the next morning.

You heard right, Lebron!

You heard right, Lebron!

It’s nice to hear a new female star speaking to us masses with a new voice – even if that voice is an old one for her. Or even if it is an exaggeration of who Ms. Schumer really is. Certainly, we will never know for sure unless we all get to sit down in a room with her….and even then…

Still, my favorite Trainwreck character had to be the essentially unrecognizable Tilda Swinton in a small supporting role where she plays the sleaziest magazine editor in N.Y. All spray-tanned, with a blonde-streaked wig, too much blue eye makeup and nail polish and so reed thin that she’d go appropriately unnoticed at even the hottest A-list, gossip-dripping party of the moment (Note: I never know where those are exactly) she is really the ONLY character that seems truly representative of where we are in July 2015. She’s dishonest, smart, crazy, gets to fire anyone she wants at will without suffering ill consequences and yet will surprise everyone when she shows up all in black at a funeral to mourn an employee’s dead relative.   Is it all for show? Does it have nothing to do with who she really is? Who cares? She consistently speaks in double talk and gets rewarded for it and criticizes everyone else for sounding weak yet manages to run her own mini-empire without ever breaking a sweat. Not to mention, she doesn’t seem to ever need food. Even when she is munching down a sandwich at her desk right before you eyes in the middle of the day.

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Incidentally, her name is Dianna and she speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent – which means that in some form she’s an immigrant. One wonders if she’s legal, is taking the job of some American and is sane enough to even carry a gun? Our minds would boggle if we got the real answers. The only thing we need to know is that she uses her voice to get everything she wants when she wants it. Whether it’s gay or vaguely authentic – well, that never even enters the picture.

The Chair’s 10 Best of 2014

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Of course 10 best lists are bogus. After all, what exactly is “best?” Even the first dictionary definition itself can’t decide. It states:


of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality.

I don’t know about you but I find there is a hell of a lot of difference between excellent, effective and desirable. In fact, the moments in my life I can remember being at my most desirable in no way made me the most excellent person in the room – especially when that number was two. Truth be told and given what usually prompts human desire, I’d actually argue that the exact opposite was true.

I can recall once or twice being so excellent at something that it is hard to imagine someone wouldn’t have found me equally desirable. But wait, let’s forget that. If you’ve been in the presence of any writer at his or her most excellent you’d know it’s not a pretty sight. Hair askew, loved ones, friends and usually hygiene totally ignored. Not to mention common courtesy. Meaning – don’t even THINK about interrupting, much less BREATHING, because I will KILL YOU. Or worse, BLAME YOU for stopping the flow. Not to mention what the world will do to you if any more of this genius is lost from its most excellent source – Me.

I have no idea what you're talking about Chairy

I have no idea what you’re talking about Chairy

Finally, we’re left with effective and nothing about the word effective comes close to evoking best. Michael Bay is probably one of the most effective filmmakers to ever work in contemporary Hollywood but, uh – best? Well, you see how words deceive. And yes, he can take it. He married us for it. Which only proves that Edward Albee is the all-time best.

Here then in no particular order are my 10 best of the year. I define best as jarring, original, memorable and cool – to me. There is nothing scientific about it. It’s a purely subjective list. As are all those that deal in bests.

FILM: Birdman and Boyhood

Looking up

Looking up

No one except a few film critics, most of whom do not partake fully in life because they don’t have the time, have seen every film in any given year. But at least I see a lot. And I say these two stand above and beyond the pack for different reasons.

In the case of Boyhood, the feat of shooting a film with the same actors aging over a 12 year period, rewriting as you go, and emerging with anything coherent – much less emotionally affecting – is nothing but the best. It takes drive, focus and talent. Richard Linklater has always been an interesting and adept filmmaker but in this case he’s managed to circumvent the Hollywood system with a truly original approach to a universal story. Anyone can pick apart the movie’s faults, but no one in the narrative commercial world has had the nerve to take a path this original lately. In 2014, that’s my equivalent of the B word.

Birdman has stayed with me for months and I’m not quite sure why. I liked the film yet in teaching screenwriting have certainly been one of those jerks to – yes – pick it apart. Still, there is something about watching Michael Keaton, a former megastar of the eighties who my college age students now barely know, play an outlandish version of his public persona so heartbreakingly that it makes me occasionally want to weep. Yes, weep. I’m not a total cynic. This is a project that for all of its faults could have gone horribly wrong. Credit director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, another fearless chance taker, and a cast of actors working at the top of their game, for keeping the high wire act alive more times than not to its pretty thrilling results.


Yes, you are

Yes, you are

You’re a smart teenage girl from Pakistan who got shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for other girls and their education. You then endure a bunch of surgeries and manage to not only survive but to continue to speak your mind as you gain intelligence and, well, even more nerve (Note: As if that’s possible). Then several weeks ago, these same Taliban types shoot up a school and kill 141 people, mostly children, and you still continue to speak out. Not with speechifying anger but with calm wisdom and directness. This is why you win the Nobel Peace Prize before you are old enough to vote. And how the world begins to slowly change.


America's truthteller

America’s truthteller

Let’s have a show of hands – how many of you are still pissed off at the big banks and Wall Street but don’t know what to say or do about it? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) does. This time she might have been unable to stop Congress from passing a bill several weeks ago that will once again deregulate Wall Street and allow major banks to engage in the kind of risky investments that almost brought down the economy more than six years ago, but that doesn’t mean she will the next time. She’s like the best and smartest teacher in school that you always remember because she was able to take a subject you never could understand and present it in a way that not only made it clear but made you became engaged. The reason for that is that for years she actually did teach at Harvard and innately understands how to simplify unnecessarily complicated principles to undergraduates – meaning the rest of us. Like all the best academics I have ever met, now Sen. Warren doesn’t fall for the fancy linguistic tricks or ill-conceived arguments the establishment class in her field consistently tries to pass off as absolute truth. She questions so we, in turn, learn to question. This is why she probably always gets high evals at the end of every year.

POP CULTURE LOSSES: Joan Rivers, Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman 

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

This is not the best but the WORST. Still, it needs to be included because of the ripple effect their deaths seemed to have had across the world. Doing great work in the field of entertainment puts you in public view and when you do it over a long period of time the world feels as if they really knew you and mourns accordingly. And perhaps we all did know them – at least partially. It’s an element of what made them all such outstanding artists.

Still, it is quite odd for three such unexpected celebrity deaths to occur in such a relatively short period of time by less than natural means. Flip the channels on television or the peruse the shelves of a film DVD library and you can’t help but run into these three and marvel at the talent as you simultaneously consider the sudden loss.   JR was in her early eighties, RW was in his early 60s and PSH was in his late forties. Yet in their own very individual ways they each were among the very best at what they did. Which is all any of us can hope for at any given moment in time.

TELEVISION: Lisa Kudrow and HBO’s The Comeback

Oh how we "cherish" you (sorry, couldn't help myself)

Oh how we “cherish” you (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

There is nothing currently on television that evokes the humor, pathos and general uneasy brilliant comic drama that Lisa Kudrow brings to her portrayal of actress/reality star Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback. And when I say nothing I mean her performance is unlike anything I (or you) have ever seen on TV (nee HBO) or pretty much anywhere.

This series has returned ten years after being cancelled after only running a year the first time around. That alone is remarkable. But nothing prepares you for the eight episode arc of the new season as you watch Valerie/Lisa endure the indignities of rising towards the top of a profession that often leaves little room for any real dignity (Note: How may professions do?). Or maybe she just chooses wrong. (Note: Who doesn’t sometimes?). Whatever the reason, she is simultaneously the underdog and her own worst enemy and it’s sad, recognizable, funny and uncomfortably cringe-worthy. Most of all – it’s real.

I will miss Valerie Cherish for everything she is and everything she is not. If you haven’t tuned in, do so. And for god sakes, given Lisa/Valerie the Emmy.

MEDICINE: Ebola Nurse Kaci Hickox

You ride that bike, girl.

You ride that bike, girl.

What can you say about a nurse who goes voluntarily to Africa to fight a deadly disease, returns to the US where she is put into mandatory quarantine by New Jersey governor Chris Christie (even though she showed no symptoms and did not test positive for the virus) and then publicly stands up to said well-known political bully without cursing him out or punching him in the face? That she’s my kind of gal? Needless to say.

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch...

If ever there was a face I wanted to punch…

For those who don’t recall, Gov. Christie insisted on quarantine for Nurse Hickox in a makeshift tent when she returned to the U.S., which caused her to go public and take a stand against the governor by defying his quarantine and returning home to Maine. She did all this with calm determination and the backing of medical facts despite the hysterical witch-hunts and political grandstanding that began swirling around her.

Then once she got to Maine, she and her boyfriend dared to take a bike ride while being hounded by a gaggle of media. And remain polite and calm. I shudder to think what I would have said. #GetChristieNoLove

MUSIC: Annie Lennox, Nostalgia

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

Click Play. Repeat. Click Play. Repeat.

In the 1980s, Annie Lennox was the lead singer of The Eurythmics and known for huge hit records like Would I Lie To You. Once I saw her in concert where she leaned so far into the stage on one foot with her mic that I thought she’d fall over as she hit a note so raw and pitch perfect that you could hear an audible gasp throughout the entire concert hall. Some years later she went on her own and won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal for No More I Love Yous from her second solo album Medusa. She followed that with an Oscar some years after that for best original song, Into the West, from the last of the first three Lord of the Rings movies.

All that being said, it should come as no surprise that for me the best CD/download/album or whatever you want to call it of the year is hers. In Nostalgia she takes classics like I Put A Spell On You, You Belong To Me, Georgia on My Mind and Billie Holliday’s haunting song of the lynching of Black men in the Deep South, Strange Fruit, and presents them all in stripped down versions unlike anyone you have ever heard before. There are so few true real artists these days with worldwide commercial success. She’s one.

APP: Aaron Paul’s YB


For free or by paying 99 cents for a more advanced version, you can download an app where actor Aaron Paul’s resonant baritone speaks phrases like Yo, bitch or Happy Holidays, Bitch or See ya, Bitch any time you want. Yes, I find this exciting.

See, when Breaking Bad ended its series run we also lost Paul’s Jessie Pinkman, the dumb as a fox crystal meth-cooking sidekick whose signature phrase, Yo Bitch, became a national obsession. A multiple Emmy winner and fan favorite, Paul raised almost $2 million for his wife’s charity, Kind Campaign, which helps young women in need, with a series of contests and giveaways that coincided with the final season. But after being stopped on the street, emailed and tweeted by thousands of people imploring him to curse them out with variations of his signature phrase he gave in and decided to generate some cash with it – for charity and, hopefully, for himself. Because even cursing people out loses its thrill after a while – and especially when they ask you to.


Sad realities

Sad realities

The consecutive deaths of too many young Black males in the last year in numerous states by law enforcement has created both spontaneous and planned nationwide protests across the country. In the moment it feels as if this is doing nothing but letting off steam yet through the lens of history one can clearly see this is the American way to social justice and evolution.

I would not have thought this was quite true decades ago. But having been born at a time when the civil rights movement first began taking hold, and then living through the Vietnam War, Kent State, women’s rights, gay rights, AIDS, homelessness, nuclear proliferation and marriage equality, I’ve seen how it works. Societal shifts are only fueled through provocateurs that have a real and righteous point about injustice. Therefore it’s our job to take it to the streets, talk about it, write about it or even just write a check in order to make something happen. It moves at a snail’s pace but things ultimately evolve when we don’t give in or give up. #ICantBreathe.


Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Forget Joe Cool.. meet Sam Cool

Who is Sam Van Buren, you might ask? Well, the coolest, snappiest and best-dressed baby I’ve ever seen – who happens to be the firstborn of my blog cohort and dear friend Holly Van Buren and her husband Michael.

Holly chooses the images and writes the captions for Notes and it might surprise you to know that she literally gave birth two months ago without missing a single week of choosing images, tagging and posting the blog. How is she able to do this along with everything else she is responsible for in her life – I HAVE NO IDEA!!   

It helps when Sam the Man looks like this...

It helps when Sam looks like this…

Sam the Man, as I call him, takes great photos because he is able to both smile and come off as a hipster all at the same time. Again, I have no idea how to do this. But it does give me hope that one day as he gets older he might teach me. That is if I am not too old. Do not say – too late.

GQ baby of the year

GQ baby of the year

For myself, Holly and our marketing director Samantha Rabstein – who has a few surprises in store for 2015 – that’s all he wrote. In 2014, that is.

The Lion and the Lamb

Screen shot 2014-03-30 at 12.51.12 PM Everything is small until it’s big.  No, this is not a metaphor about gaining weight.  Rather, it is an observation about what you DO and SAY as opposed to what you INTEND and MEAN.  Or at least, what you WANT people to think you INTENDED and MEANT once you realize they don’t like your original meaning or intention.

Seldom does anyone mention Gwyneth Paltrow and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the same sentence – except perhaps movie fans in the Trenton statehouse sifting through the credits of Ironman 3 – but strangely enough both have a strong connection at this moment in time.  And that is:

They have each put their feet so far deep down into their mouths this week that even a team of the best surgeons in the world could not remove them without the pair also having to consult a podiatrist instead of an ear, nose and throat doctor whenever they felt a case of laryngitis coming on.  Though in both cases, the latter ailment might be their best prescriptive course of action.


Yes, we all misspeak, but to use a tennis metaphor in honor of Maria Sharapova’s birthday later this month, these are unforced errors.  The kind of missteps that could have been so easily avoided had they just thought through what were saying or doing beforehand.  Or even, to use a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? metaphor (because why wouldn’t we?), phoned a friend.

To wit:

Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her rock star husband Chris Martin (you know, that guy from Coldplay) have decided to separate after 10 years of marriage.  That would be a succinct, adequate announcement for the public from two very famous people.

Instead, Ms. Paltrow has decided to bill the dissolution of their marriage as a Conscious Uncoupling, replete with elaborate supporting explanations from her L.A. based doctor/healer/mentor, Dr. Habib Sadeghi, founder of the Be Hive of Healing Integrative Medical Center in Los Angeles (Note: As if we on the left coast don’t have enough problems).

FInal judgement: bullshit

Final judgement: bullshit

Among other things, Dr. Sadeghi explains that because the average human life expectancy was 33 years of age in 50,000 BC and is now 76 and 81 respectively, for men and women, we need to change our concept of divorce.

(Note: Was there even divorce and marriage in 50,000 BC? Wasn’t it more about dragging someone by the hair with one hand under the strength of an ominously large club in the other until death literally did you part?  In fact, I think it might even still be that way in some territories of our 50 United States, plus Puerto Rico)

Not to be outdone by herself, that same prior week Ms. Paltrow also decided to give an interview with E! News expounding on the plight of working mothers and the special challenges she in particular faces in balancing a film career and parenting in comparison to the average Mom who is employed outside the home.

I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening, Ms. Paltrow reckoned.  When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part is very difficult.  I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”

You mean multi-millions of dollars worth of private planes and multiple months of time off DON’T….SOLVE….ANYTHING?

And you wonder why actors need writers.

Hey Gywennie.. why don't you stick to the things you do know?

Hey Gwyennie.. why don’t you stick to the things you do know?

On the flip side, there was an aggressively indignant and embattled Gov. Chris Christie giving yet another hour-long press conference basically announcing that an internal investigation done by a law firm chock full of close friends and associates he hired and had New Jersey citizens pay for at a cost of $1 million to uncover the true story of his administration’s Bridge Gate scandal has totally exonerated him personally of any wrongdoing. In fact, not only did it find that Gov. Christie did not order the closing of car lanes to the George Washington Bridge on the anniversary weekend of 9-11 – thus creating the largest recorded traffic jam in the history of the world – but it also categorically stated that the governor had no knowledge of it (or did he?) until one of its perpetrators, a close Christie appointee to the Port Authority, casually informed him after-the-fact in a large group of people during the hustle and bustle of the oh so many 9-11 commemorations he attended.


No, in this case and in this report the blame for the lion’s share of this mess was heaped on the much, much smaller shoulders of Bridget Kelley, chief of staff for Christie at the time, who the report positioned as in an emotional state of mind when she wrote the memo ordering the lane closures.   The exhaustive 360 page report then elaborates that what contributed in part to her taking this particular action was Ms. Kelley’s foul mood due to her recent romantic breakup with Christie’s other former chief of staff and campaign manager.

On his own the governor has referred to Ms. Kelly as a liar and has in previous press conferences called her actions stupid despite the fact that he never talked to her about any of the above face-to-face and chose to fire her not in person but by proxy for those aforementioned misdeeds and/or moods.  Yet when questioned by Bloomberg news reporter Terence Dopp several days ago about those findings and why he terminated Ms. Kelly without allowing her the chance to present her side to him live or even across a crowded room, the governor leaned in to him and pointedly barked:

I don’t know if you can’t take notes or you’re not listening.  For you to characterize my last answer as ‘I didn’t want to ask her because I didn’t want to know’ is so awful that it’s beneath the job you hold.

Of course, several days earlier the governor chose a more measured tone in a cozy, at-home interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  Perhaps it’s because Ms. Sawyer asked her questions regarding the actions of Ms. Kelley and his other aides in a much softer tone and with a fire roaring the background, though we will never know for sure.

Sometimes, people do inexplicably stupid things., the governor more gently reflectedto DS… And so that’s what makes it so hard then to, as the guy in charge ….. none of it made any sense to me.   And to some extent it still does not. 

…You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, he continued. You struggle. You struggle. But I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Wait, what was that?  Is this guy a lion or a lamb?  A tiger or a mouse? Huh?  HUH???

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Well, very much like the truth, it depends not only on what you say but how you say it, how people ask it and how others choose to see and/or hear it.  Or in this specific case perhaps on the power of the person doing the asking and your particular mood and/or strategy at the time.

Certainly we have no idea what is in the hearts of Gov. Christie or Ms. Paltrow or anyone else except what they choose to share with us. Or even if they have hearts at all.  All we have is what they say and our interpretation.  That’s all that anyone has really, even with people they know and love or those that fall everywhere in between.  Sure, we might understand and feel stuff based on past experiences and our intuition, but it is important to note that even Samantha Stevens on Bewitched often made the wrong choice and she was a witch.  Not to mention Prof. Charles Xavier in X-Men, who also had a pretty much infallible gift of seeing into other people’s brains but whose life could hardly be described as trouble-free.

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Still, for those who are sick of considering these issues through the all-too American lens of celebrity comments,  it might help to reflect on a few morally questionable actions and statements  I personally encountered this week – smaller than life though they might be:

#1 The Facebook Frenzy:What was Facebook really thinking by arbitrarily switching us all to that annoying change of font and their persistent larger-than-life ads?  Certainly, they don’t mean to alienate millions of users plus everyone on my news feed by cavalierly doing this without asking?  Are there reasons for the actions we’re not seeing other than an insatiable need for expansion and money and a general disregard of every one of the loyal customers who made them?  Or is the outrage I’m feeling really misdirected anger towards Direct TV because I can’t get their movies to stream properly in the upstairs room of my house due to a perpetually weak Internet signal? #1stWorldProblems.



#2 The Slow Roll: Did the five awful people doing that rolling drive thing in the cars in front of me on five different days this week – oh, you know the one, where the vehicle is going 8 mph in a 25-35 mph zone and you pull next to them only to see the other driver TEXTING – really intend to be that selfish and cause my trip to be an additional two and a half minutes longer than it should have been?  Well, perhaps their texts were urgent?  Or maybe it’s what we all think – that each of them deserves to die a slow, bloody and painful death.  Preferably via ice pick.

#3 The Missing Plane: Were the powers-that-be at Malaysia Airlines purposely intending to look like the most incompetent corporation in the history of the planet by merely textingthe probable death confirmations of all the missing passengers on Flight 370 to their friends, relatives and loved ones only mere seconds before the news was announced to the entire world via press conference?  Or did they have some other kinder, gentler plan in place that went awry?  But what could that have been?  Not telling them at all???


The take away from all of this is to watch what you say and do because the smallest of things can become very big indeed.   Yes, one could conceivably believe Ms. Paltrow thinks she’s re-languaging the world and that her declaration of conscious uncoupling is among the noblest efforts of all.  And sure, others may agree that Gov. Christie is convinced that by bluntly insulting the press and anyone else who challenges him with a question or tone he doesn’t like, he is providing a much-needed version of tough love to a sissy society gone soft.   Certainly a case could be made for both

But each also has many, many, many more detractors.  Read the open letter one working Mom posted via the NY Post that has gone viral in answer to Ms. Paltrow’s views on work and motherhood –

Or simply consider my own personal view of Gov. Christie, echoed in some form by pretty much every person I know or have read —  that he is more like an abusive parent who enjoys publicly shaming his “children” as loudly and threateningly as possible in front of the greatest number of people he can muster in order to deflect any sort of blame or personal responsibility off of himself.

So what’s the lesson here? Hmm, as with most things the devil is what is in the details of what you make of them.

Though I prefer the explanation  my once working mother would most certainly give were she still around to speak on it.

On Gwyneth:

Oh please – she just thinks her shit doesn’t stink!

On Christie:

Oh come on, he’s just one mean son of a bitch bastard.

Yes, I am my mother’s son.  Though in some cases,  no matter how you look at it, that’s not such a bad thing to be.


Comic Con

Screen shot 2014-02-09 at 11.39.38 AM

I have a confession to make.  I’ve always hated comic books.  Actually, that’s not true.  What I really never liked were superhero comic books.  I do love a good Peanuts or Archie.  To all the young people I know and have taught:  Please don’t hate me for telling the truth.

This would put me at a horrible disadvantage if the sole way I still supported myself these days was as a screenwriter.  As I tried to explain to a student recently, at one time the majority of projects in the biz that people really wanted to work on ranked this way:

  1. Movie dramas with characters
  2. Subtle and broad movie comedies.
  3. Television
  4. Geek-related ventures on either of the above that involved explosions, computers, cartoon people or anything from Marvel, DC or that ilk.

If you were in the last group you had peers and an audience but not much street cred (Note:  Walt Disney accepted, though somehow it was he rather than any of his employees that got credit for anything Disneyesque.  Plus, he never did superheroes.  He was the superhero).

What do you mean.. was?

What do you mean.. was?

Well, what a difference a handful of decades make.  Comics have taken over the industry – if not the world – and not the kind you see at the Laugh Factory or on a cheap cable special.   Which seems sort of apt since more and more we’re living a comic book existence.  This is apparent every time you turn on your television or surf the web and see the surgically altered faces on almost all of your favorite actors.

Though here in Los Angeles it’s obvious every time you step into a store that isn’t located in a shopping mall in Sunland.

This is not meant to be a putdown of comics or superheroes or even cartoons but merely an observation of where we are.  This week it was announced that the Emmy award-winning Mad Men writing team of Andre and Maria Jacquemetton would next be tackling the DC Comic book series DMZ for the Syfy Channel.

Dynamic Duo (far right)

Dynamic Duo (far right)

It doesn’t get more prestigious for most writers than Mad Men, though it is certainly more financially lucrative to be on any number of television series and movies.  So it certainly says something about us and them that after all of the choices open to this dynamic duo after six years of riding the MM crest that they have decided to devote themselves to a pulp tale centered on a young man in the near future, Matty Roth, who lives in the demilitarized zone of Manhattan after a second American Civil War.  He might not dress like a superhero but certainly, in post apocalyptic red and blue state America, he will at some point have to emerge as one.

If you think I am pushing the metaphor or overreacting in even the slightest we can look at all of this another way.  Here are the top 10 grossing movies worldwide in 2013:

  1. Iron Man: 3
  2. Despicable Me 2
  3. Frozen
  4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  6. Fast & Furious 6
  7. Monsters University
  8. Gravity
  9. Man of Steel
  10. Thor: The Dark World

If we were to look at this list for the U.S. and Canada only the rankings might shift around one or two places but the films themselves would remain exactly the same.  Oh wait, there would be one change – Oz the Great and Powerful would replace Thor, which would drop down two notches to #12. Do you see where I’m going now?

What are you trying to say Chairy??

What are you trying to say Chairy??

Okay, fine, I’ll be a little bit more blunt.

Anyone arguing that Fast and Furious, Hunger Games and even Gravity aren’t super hero movies in a cartoon world, well…uh….I suggest you watch some footage of Russia’s President Putin at this week’s Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sochi and tell me whether you believe the flesh and blood star of a current worldwide spectacle isn’t simply our 2014 version of The Terminator.

No, I’m not going to say I told you so.  But like Matty Roth in post apocalyptic Manhattan, we’d all better get on board with this kind of thinking in order to survive the inevitable global warming-over meltdown of everything we’ve ever known.  To this end, I propose some new lenses and labels for how we look at and categorize all current and future newsmakers in the world and the events that surround them.  (Note:  This will also save a lot of creative time if any of the above rights are purchased or even thought of as the subject of a new Hollywood movie).

The Incredible Sinking Man


In a live, near two-hour television press conference, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) announced that he fired some of his top staff people for causing the largest four-day traffic jam in the history of the world.  This was due to their choice several months ago to close down multiple lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey leading into the George Washington Bridge (Note: the world’s busiest bridge) behind his back.  However, now the governor’s former people are seeking plea deals through high-priced lawyers while he and his present people are countering this disloyalty by calling them idiots and releasing accounts of their misdeeds as 16 year old high school students.  All of this while Gov. Christie, previously the most popularly touted choice among Republicans to run for president in 2016, couldn’t even get Texas Gov. Rick (“oops”) Perry to pose for a photo op with him on a recent trip to the Longhorn state.  How much lower will he go?  If anyone thinks they can predict, well, I have a bridge I can sell you…..

Puff The Magic Drag, Man


When I was 20 years old I was too afraid of getting less than an A minus in college in any one subject.  So I can’t imagine how I’d be if I had the adulation of half of the young people my age around the world, were loathed by the other half and possessed $130 million to both play with and use to ease the pain.  I do know that I would be thrilled that I could make my living as a singer – a talent that not all the marijuana in the world could convince me to believe I had.  Still, you can’t smoke up foot long doobies on a private plane with your soul-patched father or allow friends to egg the mansion next door to your mansion without getting some sort of….blow back (Note:  See what I did there?).

Dude, Where’s Our Woodstock?

A future action comedy about a group of baby boomers who hold the twenty-something owners of a string of pot dispensaries hostage because they are sick of all the legalized marijuana/nee commercial appropriation of their drug of choice for the masses.  Soundtrack by: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The New Riders of the Purple Sage and anyone who’s left alive from the original Grateful Dead.

Captain Douchebag

It's all going according to plan....

It’s all going according to plan….

There is no other name for Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.  Yes, he’s a foot taller than me, has a million times more money and certainly can sue – but I don’t care.  This moment of writing it publicly just made it all worth it.  You can’t have the child of a man who died during 9-11 on your TV show, yell and berate him for his anti-war views and top it all off by saying “your Dad would be ashamed of you if he were alive” and then get off without periodic bitch slapping for the rest of your national (or unnatural?)  lifetime.  At least not by me.  I’m nothing if not Captain IDontForgetAnAHole.

Queen of the Hills

hilary v rand 3

Hillary Clinton’s moniker might have to one day be retitled The Bionic President because we all know that in order to have survived this long she must have some special sort of armor that the rest of us mere humans were born without.   We also know the latter title will probably be the one to last because eventually Mrs. Clinton pretty much gets everything she sets her mind to.  Unless she’s simply content with where she is now – writing the best tweets and texts the world has ever known.  I know the latter would be my choice.  But then again, I’m not that kind of queen.

The Salacious Sex Six

Woody Allen & Mia Farrow & Dylan Farrow & Moses Farrow & Ronan Farrow & Soon-Yi Previn.  It’s horrible.  All of it.  From every side.  Which means that someone will make it into a film at some point.  Or a web series.  Or a comic something or other in the second new millennium.  What is Alan Alda’s line about funny in WA’s Crimes and Misdemeanors  — Comedy is tragedy plus time?  This is why everything in this paragraph will eventually be deemed offensive, inoffensive, moot or in need of a rewrite.  Which one is it now?  That’s not for me, or you, to decide.

The Inhuman Thing

The new name for Oscar if movies keep going down the too narrowing road they are now on.

The Straight Arrow

Will it be a strike?

Will it be a strike?

What everyone fears will be Jimmy Fallon’s upcoming super hero tag once he starts steering the ship of The Tonight Show in the next few weeks.  Though perhaps he will surprise us all and be The Not So Straight Arrow.  No, we don’t mean it THAT way.  Although in a comic book world, unlike television, anything is possible.

The Fifth Ring



This will be Hollywood’s take on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  It all started when that snowflake stayed intact and didn’t light up as the fifth ring. Question:  Doesn’t Putin know that there is ALWAYS a gay on the light board???  #Homohubris.

Some of you might not agree with our take on the inevitable comic book/cartoon world of the movies and in life. This is your prerogative.  So for all of you doubters I have just one last thing to say:  The #1 film this weekend – by a lot – with an estimated $69.1 million at the box-office in just three days – is:


Your future has arrived.  And it is our present.  Though not necessarily the one we all asked for.  Or,  is it?

American Tussle


I’m a terrible liar – both in person and on the page.  On the surface, this would seem unlikely.  It feels like the very essence of being a writer is possessing the ability to concoct fictional characters who play out stories you make up that don’t ever quite happen exactly the way you write them.  Of course, that is the irony of the writing life.  Unless you are telling the truth about the people and the situations you are making up out of whole cloth you are nowhere. Though the exceptions might be the screenwriter of a tent pole, blockbuster Hollywood movie or an unchecked politician.  Then all bets are off and you become very, very rich or very, very powerful, though seldom both. Still, if you so choose you can arrange a semi-fictionalized alternate version of events that, when told in the order of your own choosing, can sometimes create the greatest fake out of the truth that the real world has ever seen – events that can then be passed off as your truth.

This week we were treated to a movie length press conference – a sort of tent pole of press conferences – of pained New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie copping to some sort of massive, corruption scandal within his administration where his top aides – on their own, he emphasized – exacted some revenge against the usually non Christie-like, Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee, NJ by shutting down some of its major access roads for four days and causing the largest state-wide traffic jam in 12 years.

when it rains, it pours.

when it rains, it pours.

The Governor claims that he only found out the truth about this four month-old event several days ago via email after a workout, which presumes he was dripping sweat and dirty at the time since he also announced that just as knowledge of the situation came across his smart device he was about to jump, naked and spent one would assume, into his morning shower.  Never mind that there are a myriad of images here that I will never be able to get out of my mind because of the governor’s ability to be quite vivid and very specific about some of the events that happened four months after the scandal but to literally draw a blank on all of the other the events that happened during the actual scandal.  Well, maybe that’s too much to expect.  After all, he’s not the screenwriter of a tent pole movie – a person who inherently knows which dramatic points in a narrative to emphasize that will work best for the public – but merely a politician who is “disappointed” and “heartbroken,” to use his very own words.


What Christie really wanted to say…

Despite being widely known as someone who runs a very tight ship with an iron hand, Gov. Christie proclaimed endlessly at his marathon gabfest that he knew not a single thing about a bogus traffic study and other occurrences that led to the gigantic marathon gridlock that top members of his administration presumably orchestrated as some sort of payback to the Democratic representatives of the town of Fort Lee and, in turn, its residents. This plan involved the closing of two of three local access lanes in the town – a hub for commuters throughout the state – into the George Washington Bridge- also known as the busiest bridge in world and the state’s prime roadway into New York City.  This traffic jam lasted for nearly 100 hours from September 9- 12 and affected tens of thousands of people, including a 91 year-old woman who paramedics were attempting to rush to the hospital through traffic and who eventually died.  It also continued through the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in N.Y. and is, in fact, the worst traffic snarl up in the tri-state area since Sept. 11, 2001.

For those who are not east coast residents or have never traveled on the GW Bridge it should be noted that gigantic is probably an inadequate word for the kind of multi-hour gridlock drivers from all over the town, the state and elsewhere experienced during that time.  As would be employing the words infuriating, upsetting or frustrating to describe one’s reaction at getting caught in a car or any other non-moving vehicle on any one of those days.  To get an idea of just what a random person’s reaction might truthfully be, at least from this writer’s perspective, imagine a fictional character – say New Jersey’s own Tony Soprano – without his henchmen and at his angriest, sans weapon and unable to use his hands for strangulation or his feet for kicking a car into the Hudson River.  Then double it.  Actually, maybe quadruple – no sextuple it.  And I’m being conservative, though certainly never politically.

yeah that sounds right

still not enough, Chairy

There are lots of simple links to understand the nuances of this scandal.  For your viewing pleasure, they include:

1. The Washington Post’s infographic

2. 10 things you need to know about Bridge-gate

3. Will Bridgegate end it all?

4. EMS delays 

Suffice it to say that the Governor’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly was fired as was his chief spokesperson Michael Drewniak.  David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority, turned over some of his emails to lawmakers as part of a legislative inquiry but pleaded the 5th amendment several days ago to all questions about the incident.  However, his attorney later suggested that if a deal for Mr. Wildstein’s immunity could be brokered, there might be quite a bit of new and very specific information his client could impart that would shed new light on the issues.  Can’t imagine what those would be but given what we have seen in political corruption scandal films involving politicians in New York and New Jersey it could be worthy of at least a David O. Russell production.  Unless the director feels he already covered that territory this year in American Hustle.

At least he already has the fat suit

At least he already has the fat suit

Though in truth, you could even use some of the real life Christie administration dialogue here.  For instance, on the morning right before the lanes were closed and the snarl up started, here’s the real life e-mail exchange between Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein.

Ms. Kelly (Laura Linney?) at 7:35 am:  Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.

Mr. Wildstein (Mark Ruffalo?) at 7:36 am:  Got it.    



A battlefield of automobiles lined up at various angles all honking, screaming and cursing at each other amid closed lanes, Port Authority cones and traffic officials blocking off escape routes via exaggerated hand signals.  It’s 100% massive gridlock at its worst…or best.

Like most good scenes the dialogue is terse and dramatically leads us into a series of memorable images in order to make its main point.

As for Gov. Christie, despite what is being called an initially masterful performance in front of the cameras that degenerated into a too obvious plea to show his “pain” and prove he is a regular guy of the people who is “not a bully” and can still get “hurt” and “humiliated” (again, his words), the verdict is still out.  Clearly if this were a traditionally structured tent pole film made in Hollywood we are now at the end of the second act – the classic low point for a lead movie character.  That is the worst possible moment (unless we’re not quite there and there’s more to come) on his journey that would lead us into Act Three.

Did someone say impeachment?

Did someone say impeachment?

The latter would then entail the moment from which our hero must rise up against all odds, learn a lesson based on everything he has endured up to that point, and go on to defeat the enemy (perhaps even more them one, or perhaps merely no one but himself). Any and all of those points open many possible dramatic doors in Act Three of a story to which there are lots of possible, if not probable, endings.

Act 3?

Act 3?

  1. Christie could be found out to be lying and forced to resign; step away voluntarily for the good of the state in a brokered deal before word gets out; or stubbornly stay put and be impeached.  This is better known “pulling a Nixon” and thus will probably be avoided at any cost
  2. Christie could whether the storm of the scandal somewhat unscathed and serve out the rest of his term “under the radar.” This could then include doing some good work for which he will never really be credited even though he deserves to be, thus making him into an ironic, sort of flawed hero and would be considered an indie-type ending that maybe filmmakers only as iconoclastic as the Coen Brothers could sell to a studio.  That is assuming those guys would even be attracted to this story in first place – which is a distinct possibility since one of the actors they’ve worked with most frequently, John Goodman, would be perfect casting for the embattled governor.
  3. Christie emerges victorious from the scandals though we never know his true guilt or innocence until a book is written decades later.  In the meantime, he solves some significant unemployment or money problems in New Jersey and once again becomes the people’s hero.  He then runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, defeats Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election and…well, you get it and I can’t write anymore.  This is obviously the ending both the governor and the film studios and/or television networks would prefer.  A very human, though clearly less than saintly everyman who emerges victorious against all odds and leads his hometown and his country to national glory because, deep down in his heart, he is a really, really good guy who cares.
Jon  Hamm says: Only time will tell

Jon Hamm says: Only time will tell

Which ending do you believe?  And which one do you think we’ll get?  And which one do you think is true?  Write in and let us know.

In the meantime, one last fact:  The Democratic leaning town of Fort Lee actually voted in clear majority for Republican Gov. Christie in the November election, which occurred two months after the GW Bridge incident and a month before the scandal broke.  This means there was never any need for retribution against the town to begin with because the majority of its people WERE on the side of the Christie administration and the governor himself after all.  But the key word there is WERE. 

Stay tuned.

The Passion of the Chair

Watching the hour-long NBC fundraising concert special for Hurricane Sandy survivors, one saw A LOT of talent on passionate display.  And not so coincidentally, this talent all hailed from the affected areas.

Christina Aguilera: Staten Island Girl

Bruce Springsteen: Jersey Boy

Billy Joel: Long Island Boy

Steve Tyler: Yonkers, NY Boy

Mary J. Blige: Bronx Girl

Sting: Okay, he’s the exception but since Sting is not his real name we’re not going to deal with him right now.

It can be enough to be extremely talented. But if you want to deliver 200% on your potential you also have to figure out what aspects of your talents in your passionate sweet spot you can use to take you to, as Stevie Wonder once sang, your Higher (Highest?) Ground.  As a writer, what are the stories you lived or saw others close to you live that you have to tell?  As a visual artist, what moves you the most and what do you urgently even require to express to us visually?  What kinds of people and situations hit home for you as an actor that you are compelled at all costs, especially embarrassment, to embody?  Most people have one area where they are best or at least most emotionally connected.  And yes, it is possible to be very good and financially successful at stuff you don’t love or care about. But you will never reach the heights in that field the way you will by using a skill in an area that truly unleashes your inner passion.

Meet Jack Passion. Yes, that is his real name. I bet you can all guess what he is passionate about.

Most actors are not equally adept at comedy or drama. But for the few that are there is still a universal depth of character in all of their performances that accounts for their stand out work, rather than timing, lucky breaks or a facility in a particular genre.  For example, Sean Penn is a rare actor who can do both.  In comedy, no one can forget his iconic Malibu stoner Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” but I would argue this is partly because he grew up in Malibu among stoners who attended schools like Ridgemont High and admittedly carried that memory deep inside.  Mr. Penn won his second best actor Oscar for playing political crusader Harvey Milk but it would also be logical he was particularly able to rise to one of his greatest roles in part because Mr. Penn has been a real-life political crusader for 20 plus years (no I’m NOT saying he’s in Harvey Milk’s category, please…) and can innately understand how that feels.

Righteous, Dude.

In particular, real-life politicians also fit this bill.  Bill Clinton is never better than when he is charming crowds of people with the Southern charm he grew up on.  Barack Obama is also inspiring to large crowds but usually emits a coolness that seems to imply he does not suffer fools gladly, or, at least, does not feel their pain in the same Clintonesque fashion.  On the other hand, Pres. Obama seems to have a very strong personal moral compass, instilled in him by his Kansas born and bred mother and grandparents that Mr. Clinton doesn’t always have, that seems to engender likeability and respect (well, mostly on the latter).  He and his staff also know how to marshal forces in a conspicuously effective way partly because of the traits that enabled Mr. Obama to be the outstanding community organizer in Chicago he once was and, as some would argue, continues to be, only now on a national and international stage.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who tried to take apart the President as Mitt Romney’s keynote surrogate at the Republican convention, has a talent to be a plain talking everyman, albeit one who is brash and pushy.  Some people dismiss this as simply an ability to bully people into his beliefs rather than based in talent or personality.  Perhaps it is a talent to use one’s personality to a bigger goal.  Clearly, we all might have these hidden talents that we reserve for actions with family and friends but using it outside our inner circle in work and in public life allows us to transfer these traits into other arenas and enables us to develop them as one of our truest talents. If we don’t choose to work at them and go public, these traits are still ability but not one we might put to maximum talent effect.

Proof that we can work together

Yet if all this is true, why was Gov. Christie’s speech as a scripted attack dog roundly panned at the Republican convention when his impromptu brashness at press conferences – most recently this week’s performance praising Pres. Obama for his quick Hurricane Sandy disaster response in New Jersey – consistently seem to get him praise?  I would argue that’s because Mr. Christie’s brash abilities are put to their best use when he finds a cause that hits home, in this case literally.  When his beloved New Jersey found itself devastated this week by a hurricane, mostly out of love of his birthplace and partly out of self-preservation as governor, he dropped his negative attack dog mode and with the best of his passion and talent reached across the aisle and gave everything but a tacit endorsement of the man (Pres. Obama) he tried to take apart to millions of television watching voters just several months earlier.  Mr. Christie’s talent for impromptu passionate speaking – okay, perhaps bullying plain logic –worked in an entirely different and arguably much better way to greater effect when he found a cause that hit closest (again, literally) to where he lives rather than in the philosophical, issue-oriented faux world of politics.  More simply put, recovering his state from natural disaster could have provided something perhaps equally valuable — a tipping point for national bipartisanship in a hopelessly polarized political landscape across the country.

Watching people rise to the height of their talents and potentials in a certain area can be dizzying, thrilling, emotional, sweet, lovely, fun or just plain nice.  I’ve had any number of careers and have been good at all of them.  But some took much better advantage of my talents than others.  I find that teaching makes the most of many of them.  When all I did was write for a living I got lonely.  When I worked as a reporter I found myself not being creative enough by solely sticking to the facts.  I enjoyed the money I made doing publicity but disliked being a salesperson who had to often push “items” (nee movies) I didn’t personally believe in.  While I could marshal my talents in discourse, writing and general geniality to do well but as a sales person, something always felt off for me even when I was successful at it – as if I was in the wrong place at the right time.

Creative people are faced with this all of the time in the commercial marketplace.  I teach my students to work on what they care about but to also understand the outside world and take steps “to be able to eat” in choosing at least some of the work they do.  The latter can be either inside their discipline or in taking “day jobs” outside of it to pay the rent if the former isn’t comfortable. Clearly, no creative person feels equally passionate about each creative job they’re paid for.  But part of the task in doing your work well is to find a glimmer of passion in that particular task that will enable your talent to shine through and bring your work on that particular task to the best of your professional levels at the time.

Even icons in the entertainment business have to deal with the issue of passion.  Here’s a pop quiz:

Who is the only recording artist to have five #1 singles on the Billboard  charts – one each decade – in the1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and aughts?

No — It’s not Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joe, Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra.



Yes, Cher.  But as much as she’s achieved over the last 50 years, one could argue that Cher’s creative life has probably not been best displayed or utilized in the public arena in the last decade.  She seldom makes films and when she does (“Burlesque”) they’re more campy rather than memorable.  Her records are few and far between; her stage shows are fun but sort of walk-throughs down memory lane.  And yes, at this point of course she’s entitled to have taken some time off from talent, passion or whatever.  However, she hasn’t.  Not really.  What’s publicly moved Cher lately to her greatest effect is being the politically active mother to Chaz Bono  – perhaps one of the most famous members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community.  In the last few years, Cher has taken to Twitter, gaining respect and fame as a plain-talking mother hen spokesperson for the cause.  She has over a million Twitter followers and advocates tirelessly not only for LGBT rights but also on women’s issues – often getting into trouble for tweets like this:

Friends who’ve known me for years might be surprised at my Cher shout-out since they all also know I worked with her in the mid-eighties and, let’s just say, didn’t have particularly favorable anecdotes from the experience.  This was solidified a few years later when I found myself with her and a friend in a post movie screening social situation and the subject of life as a gay person came up in conversation.  While I tried to argue one could be gay and have just as happy and fulfilling a life as anyone else, Ms. Bono Cher argued that I only thought this because I was young and that as gay people got older their lives would be quite lonely because their world was particularly youth-oriented, they couldn’t marry and that the vast gay majority would, inevitably, age and die sad and alone.  And no – I am not embellishing what she said.  Not.  At.  All.

Which is why her transformation to what she most clearly and publicly believes today is all the more impressive and worth noting.  The world has changed in so many ways.  This is part natural evolution and part due to many individuals, especially creative people and their personal passions to fuel whatever they deeply believe in through whatever work they’re doing.  That work is at its best when it comes from a particular and usually awfully private place from way, way back or from a more recent but no less personal place that one finds themselves newly invigorated by.  That’s why it’s important to stay engaged in the world – you never know how a change in thought will move you, or others, to a cause – artistic and/or political – that you once believed, or have yet to believe in.  Or how it can move it into whatever spotlight (either large or small because it doesn’t matter – all spotlights inevitably lead into each other) that you will eventually cast.