A Rainbow of Emotions

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In a moment where the nation reels in our own yin and yang versions of pain and pleasure – from the continued assassination of innocent Black people by White racists or the passage of marriage equality by the Supreme Court that ensures LGBT people can now legally tie the knot in all 50 states – it seems reductive to compare life to a Pixar movie. Yet it feels like no karmic coincidence that Disney has just released Inside Out – one of its most thoughtfully psychological animated films ever – not to mention one that in particular deals with how our upbeat innermost emotions must always co-exist with the ever present darker feelings not so way down deep in our soul.

Of course, none of us have the vivacious voice of Amy Poehler to personify our Joy (Note: Perhaps not even Amy herself) nor do we have the gleeful rantings of Lewis Black to substitute for our own virulent misdirected Anger at the world. Or even the pathetically depressing tones of Phyllis Smith, a former assistant casting director who we know as the frumpy, humdrum, monotone-voiced Phyllis on The Office, to so brilliantly express our own inner Sadness.

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

What we do have is real life – which is never as entertaining as the best or even very good Pixar movie. But it can be if we think about it just a little more than we indulge in our own pity or happiness parties (depending on our moods) without a thought to the karmic realities that comprise what we like to refer to as the rest of the/our worlds.

Full confession – I’m more guilty than most of not following the strategies I’m putting forth here for Living Your Best Life (Note: Trademark Oprah).

Say what now?

Say what now?

Not to be a giant buzz kill but on the day SCOTUS ruled on marriage equality most of what I thought about were gay friends who contributed to the struggle but didn’t live to see this day. This was due, in no small part, to the double whammy of the ruling coinciding with the nationally televised funeral for Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston who was one of the nine assassinated last week by a 21 year-old White supremacist after the latter had spent the previous hour in a Bible study class praying with them in their own aforementioned house of worship.

Pres. Obama eulogized Pastor Pinckney, also a state senator representing Charleston, and led the mourners in his own very compelling acapella version of “Amazing Grace” – certainly a first in POTUS history. Previously he and others have talked about the idea of reaching a state of grace and spreading that out into the world to others. Presumably this includes the forgiveness of those who have done a person wrong and nowhere were those teachings more apparent than from the mouths of the next of kin of the recently slain who only days before faced the accused murderer of their loved ones. Without exception they all forgave him to his face, or at least chose not to dwell in the bile he had elicited by looking backwards at the loss of all their relative or forward to all the blessings that would never be in the future.

This idea of grace, the ongoing struggle, the bright future – no matter what has happened to you and where it lands on the fairness scale – it’s a wonderful and noble thought, one that is an undeniably positive and useful goal. But full confession: It works for me only some of the time, and even then barely. Part of my personal fight is also fueled by anger and the quest for fairness – the idea that one is not roused to action until one – okay, me – is more personally impacted by the issue at hand.

This was a reason to think about all of the dead of the LGBT community, most especially the thousands from the AIDS epidemic, when marriage equality was announced. For, and this is my own personal belief, the movement would not have gained the steam that it had if not, in great part, due to the AIDS epidemic. Certainly, it wasn’t the only motor but just as certainly it clearly sped things up.

What would Vito think of today?

What would Vito think of today?

To be clear: we would all trade marriage equality in a nanosecond if we could wipe away the Plague and bring back those that fell – meaning died – in its wake. Clearly, we can’t. But what we also can’t do is to deny that the fact that this awful pandemic forced gay people to make themselves publicly known, many times against our own will or perhaps choice, and this inadvertently contributed greatly to forcing people to know us – the real us – rather than the sanitized version groups usually choose to present (or not present) to society at large. And that – along with a lot of grass roots work – is primarily what accelerated change and led us to where we are today.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – or Aunt Ruth as I like to call her – said as much in an interview last week – and I immediately surmised, in a moment of total self-indulgence, that these thoughts must ‘run in the family.’ Though I (and perhaps she) have been thinking this for years it’s hardly an original idea. I heard the filmmaker/novelist Clive Barker say pretty much the same thing about gay rights five or 10 years ago on Bill Maher’s Real Time (or perhaps it was Politically Incorrect – who can remember which fabulous liberal spewfest it was) – and clearly he is no relative of mine. The hair, the body, the horror – not a Ginsberg in his gene pool, let’s be honest.

Not a Ginsberg (but he's welcome anytime)

Not a Ginsberg (but he’s welcome anytime)

Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear that brother Clive (who has been out and proud for years), Aunt Ruth, myself and perhaps many of you don’t share something. And that is the recognition that the world is very much about the good and the bad each informing the other – the yin and the yang. That just as it seems one’s world is going to end, and perhaps in some ways it does, it is simultaneously the birth of something else.

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‘nough said

One supposes this is just our mutual human condition – one of many aspects of humanness we have in common, though so often we don’t want that to be the case. Still, it’s important to remember when the next big civil rights issue arises – that civil rights of all kinds for all people are intertwined. Charleston, Stonewall, Israel, Iraq, and ad infinitum back and forth through time. How often one writes about this (or performs it or films it) and how even more frequently the message is ignored, the world goes on and we continue with our days as if it’s all new to us or, even worse, in that particular case it doesn’t really apply. Bitchy, twitchy, witchy, kitschy and all else in between.

It’s important to recall our collective history and our mass behavior when one is feeling down – or perhaps even too hopeful. Not in so much a fatalistic, sad way but an inevitably accepting, understanding and eventually life-affirming way. Dark and light, light and dark, dark and light – neither of them lasts – certainly not forever – nor would you probably want either of them to on their own. If you really think about it. The folks at Pixar obviously thought about it for the six years it took to bring Inside Out to the screen and simplified it so even a CHAIR could make sense of it and use it to understand the current events of the day.

Go figure.

Intolerance

One bad apple spoils the whole barrel

Does one bad apple spoil the lot?

Two college freshman who belong to a Jewish fraternity at a liberal school in upstate New York awoke one morning this past week to find a Nazi swastika and the accompanying words Heil Hitler dripping down their front door in bloody red-colored paint. This jarred me for many reasons (e.g. I’m Jewish, liberal and intensely hate hate-speech, though the latter could be considered hypocritical), the least obvious of which is that it happened on the home campus of the school I, the afore-mentioned Jewish liberal, work for.

As the parent of a recently murdered child in Connecticut just told the world in the halls of Congress, we live in an it can’t happen to me era until it does happen – directly to you.  Now granted, the Hitler/swastika incident is nothing akin to the heroic parents of the massacred first graders in Sandy Hook, CT who valiantly lobbied Capitol Hill to no avail for sensible gun control last month, mere weeks after viewing the bloodied dismembered corpses of their young elementary school-aged offspring at the hands of a gun-toting crazy person.  But like any threat of violence from an evil outside force – actual, virtual or anywhere in between – it does give one pause.

Plus, it provokes thoughts like:

Huh?…OH MY GOD! Seriously? NO!! You’re kidding, right?  In this day and age?  I’d like to get my hands on the mo-fo who… etc, etc.  

.. or every Lewis Black emotion possible

.. or every Lewis Black emotion possible

Not to mention tears, more violence, other expressions of grief, other unprintable arrays of threats and expletives, or any random combination of some, none or all of the above.  In truth, any one of these and more are proper and expected responses, depending on the level of event or – on you.

Still, one wonders, what IS the proper response – or at least the most useful one?  The rejoinder that will create the conversation that will cause this not to happen again?  And if no such answer/response exists (as we know it doesn’t), then what should one do?  Moreover, what will we all do when this kind of thing or some mutation of it, comes a-knocking at our back, front or side doors?

I find talking and full disclosure helps because you can’t fully deal with something while you’re simultaneously attempting to hide it.  I learned this as a young Jewish boy being taught in Hebrew school about the Nazi persecution of the once too silent members of my tribe; as an intimidated (and miserable) New York teenager living in Tarzana, CA whose teachers and school mates ALL made fun of my urban (nee Jewish) NY accent; and as a devastatingly angry gay man in my thirties living in West Hollywood (of all places) whose neighbor across the street once shouted at me while I walked my sheepdog past his house: “Get out of here! I’ll bet you have AIDS and your dog probably does too!”  (Note:  Needless to say, the latter incident did not end well for either of us).

How I should have reacted (probably)

How I should have reacted (probably)

As for my school’s response to the anti Semitic “hate crime” – which we’ve been told technically can’t yet be called a hate crime at all because that definition is complicated – its first instinct was to privately investigate what occurred without letting on what happened to the entire school population.  Safety alerts are the usual procedure after the average case of vandalization, though certainly this case was anything but average.  In any event, that didn’t matter because word quickly leaked out through our campus newspaper. The Ithacan, which often makes me proud I have a master’s degree in journalism.  When it quickly published a front page news story showing the doorway painted in Nazi-speak this, in turn, even more quickly provoked a massive and quite vocal school-wide outcry.

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You can run…

The good news of our story is we’ve been told the perpetrator has been caught, the case is under review, and the two young Jewish men who were targeted now say they both feel safe and supported after this incident.  The bad news is that this is a moment I guarantee neither will ever forget, just as I have never forgotten events like these that have happened to myself and people I know, and just as most anyone else who is a target from any sort of outside force of aggression or hate will never soon forget their own unfortunate taunts and traumas.

The real news is that this latest incident of intolerance – small compared to 9/11 and nationwide mass murders but quite large when pitted against those individuals who are not a member of an oft -persecuted minority group or have never themselves or through friends or family been the victims of a heinous crime – are here to stay.

These events have no simple cause and effects.  They arise from a cumulative climate – a complicated set of issues that fester, bubble over and eventually explodes.  This happens in people and among groups in societies when issues are ignored or not dealt with directly and it can eventually cause the destruction of said individuals and groups as well as everything around them.

These kinds of crimes against each other also often occur when a particular group of people (or a single person) is targeted out of ignorance or fear (or both) and are usually done in the name of a dogma, a movement, a religion or a country.  Whether it’s a nation or a movement, or a particular way of thinking is immaterial.  Absolutist thinking – or as we like to call it nowadays – fundamentalism – is the culprit.  It doesn’t matter if we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Atheist.  When one refuses to hear the other side people wake up to find blood on their walls – or their children murdered.  Or, on a lesser scale, they are yelled at when they’re walking their dogs on the streets of Los Angeles.

MVP

MVP

Jason Collins, who just became the first gay NBA active player to come out of the closet, was spotlighted all over the news last week.  This is natural for any public firsts in our society, but particularly in the case of a person who deviates from what is considered the norm in the macho world or sports.

Yet here is what Ben Shapiro, 33, well-known author of five books, editor of the conservative website breitbart.com, Harvard law school graduate, and Orthodox Jewish man (I guess that means we’re distantly related in the old country), found the need to tweet minutes after Mr. Collins announcement:

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Are his tweets threatening?  No.  Hate speak?  Well, I suppose not.  But willfully ignorant?  Most definitely.  In 2011, the FBI reported that more than 20% of all hate crimes in the US were against gays and lesbians. That’s a 10% increase from the decade prior. Studies also indicate LGBT teens are bullied almost 3 times more than their straight counterparts and that LGBT kids are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. These figures, and the fact that Mr. Collins is thus far THE ONLY openly gay man who is an active player in one of the big 4 professional sports in the US, seems to empirically prove that his willingness to stand up and be honest about this part of his life is, given the circumstances, in some small or perhaps much larger measure, heroic.

Yet Benny (after all, we are relatives of some kind if you go back far enough) adamantly disagrees AND has taken to social media to deliver a few good blows to the Collins kisser while also inciting some free-floating anger.  Not on the level of the Swastika, or with a gun – but with his intellect and his cleverness.  It’s a free country, it’s not a crime, but this kind of petty snideness for no other reason other than provocation and ill will and purposeful misunderstanding as a means to adhere to some sort of intractable dogma (or worse yet, self-promotion), is a good part of where the rest of all this stuff starts.

Listen, different as we might seem on the surface, Benny and I do have a few things in common, as do the members of every family, whether we want to admit it or not.  We’re both Jewish, we both graduated high school at 16, and at 33 we both have/had dark hair and an overly aggressive, opinionated attitude that can cut people to the quick using words.  They’re not as powerful as a gun but when there is no other weapon around that is legal and you know how to use them – trust me, they’ll do.  Quite well, in fact.

Until Ben/Benny and the rest of us grow up, really listen and give each other some breathing room, nothing will change.  It’ll all continue with us acting out a kind of violence against each other.  Some small, some in-between and some large.  This will then perpetrate a cycle of small and large cumulative injuries that, when ignored and multiplied over years, and then decades, will continue to keep us in the vicious cycle of indignations, traumas, and violence we are all a part of today.  That is, until some of us, or many more of us, decide to break it.

At the start, small steps work best.