2022 and Beyond

As we enter into the third year of the COVID pandemic, I’m optimistic.  

Did you know the flu epidemic/pandemic in the early 20th century lasted two years and perhaps beyond into a fourth wave? 

What makes us think we’d be any different?  Besides our vaccines, we have a lot more ways to get close and get infected.

Never leaving the house again

It’s so easy to think the horrible will never end, the future is bleak and that it won’t EVER be as good as it was.

When I catch myself going down this rabbit hole I’m reminded of what the late, great Stephen Sondheim lyricized in the vastly underrated Merrily We Roll Along.

…That’s what everybody does

Blame the way it is on the way it was

On the way it never ever was…

On a lighter metaphor, movies were not supposed to exist once television was born and theatre, well, that would soon be spoken as widely as Latin.

The Tao of Moira

So much for prophecy.

Movies are still here but the way we access them have changed.  The same with theatre.  And television.  And music.

Who remembers DVDs, VCRs, eight tracks, tape decks and…radio?

I mean, radio as a primary art form that’s on the front page or brain of anything?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

But on that latter point, who listens to PODCASTS?  

New Pod from a Chair Episodes coming soon!

You are so no better than your great grandparents.

Social media is not the revolutionary means to the end of the world but the evolution of a world where change knows no end.

Yeats famously prophesized in a 1919 poem, the center cannot hold and we’re still here. 

This despite the fact that phrase was pilfered and rephrased by any number of 1960s social revolutionaries who saw the end coming, and was recently used as the title of the Netflix doc on the life of writer Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold.

RIP Joan

Totalitarian reign and pushback.  They leave Afghanistan, we desert Afghanistan. Our weapons of mass destruction, they lied about weapons of mass destruction, our existence teeters on the brink of mass destruction.

This is not to minimize any one of the above issues or their many cousins that are nipping at the heels of all of our destructions.

It is simply to remember that despite all of these changes certain core issues and ways of humanity are ALWAYS the same. 

It’s simply the players, scenery and mode of import that makes it feel different.  To US.

I imagine this is what both Sondheim AND Betty White knew well before their ends.

We’ll miss you girl

On that note, it’s hard to lose our beloved elders, isn’t it?  But by anyone’s measure, living to 91 and 99 is almost more than we can ask given the realities of human frailty.  Yet, we never get enough of people we love, like and admire from afar and near.

This is a particularly heart ripping truth when it comes to our closest friends, family and loved ones. 

Death can be random and cruel, particularly when it comes to the young, but it’s also rote and predictable.  It’s always been the way of the world.  We can extend life a bit but THAT will also NEVER change.

At least as far as we know. 

That is, unless you have Irishman level de-aging tech available to you

Which brings us back to the exciting but scary part that has so many of us freaking out about 2022; what we DON’T know.

Which is….A LOT.

My late second Mom, an avid reader, once told me when I was feeling hopeless and down that life was like a great book, you never know what will happen when you turn the page. 

Expect the unexpected, weather the storm of horribleness and celebrate every second of luck and good fortune that will inevitably come your way.

This, if you have a field

If this sounds like a Forest Gumpism, a movie I could never stomach, it doesn’t to me.  Her advice wasn’t akin to life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get, even though it might be read this way now.  Rather than being about the randomness of life, I took it as the certainty that a good piece of story will always deliver to you; the ups and downs, the inescapable heartache and the always to be counted on moments of joy.

Though perhaps, for me, it was simply the book/story metaphor.  I could relate a lot more to that than some stupid container of processed sugar able to undo you or reward you beyond your wildest dreams depending on what road you decided to paw.

OK but pizza might work

It could have also been the messenger. 

My second Mom, meaning my stepmom – a parental figure who only becomes such by coincidence of marriage but can truly emerge as a lot more than that depending on who they and you are – was not a habitual advice giver and problem solver.  Though always, she was honest.  Some would say to a fault.

So when she took the time to challenge me with a metaphor of what life truly was (and would be) it compelled me to listen.  And woke me up from my malaise in an instant.

I think this idea is what sustains me through so many problematic moments, both personal and societal.

OK, but also pizza

That the secret is that not one of us, the most talented or smartest or even both that any human can be, will solve any of these issues on our own.  Nor are we likely to even manage to get through them.

We depend on each other.  Not only the people we love and trust but on all of those charlatans who we loathe. 

The best of them show us the way to survive and grow.  The worst of them try and seduce us into drowning in their bile and cynicism.

Except this guy. F*** this guy.

Not that I haven’t been known to be a cynic or offered my own bile out into the world, dressed up and spewed out as wisdom at times.

It takes a long time, often a lifetime, to become wise enough to understand what is being offered (and why) from each source and to move forward in the best way possible.  And I believe the most difficult part of this is recognizing that you – yourself – can be quite an unreliable narrator. 

They (Note: Whoever THEY are) say trust yourself, but that doesn’t always work.  When you suspect you – yourself – are not to be trusted you need to turn to people like your second Mom, one among a small handful of someone elses that we all need to cultivate, that inner circle of truth, and then decide what the best options are.

You can’t sit all alone in your room and figure it all out yourself.  That’s myopic and creepy and just plain dumb.  And it will NEVER get you through 2022 in any sort of meaningful or even pleasing way.

Deep thoughts

Once I realized this small fact and made it into a strategy, I became more optimistic.

A group effort with you at the helm but never as sole narrator and dictator, benevolent though you might think you are.

No ONE of us is to be entirely trusted.   But together, with the benefits of our small group (Note: Which doesn’t mean isolating from the thoughts and logic of the rest of the world at large), we will see a way forward.

Through 2022 and into plots twists and turns we never could have imagined or pulled off by ourselves.

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” – Jennifer Hudson from SING

Now You Know

Funny enough it’s almost exactly 40 years ago to the day of his death this week at the too young age of 91 that Stephen Sondheim taught me a life lesson I continue to live by to this day.

Predictably enough, it was while I was sitting in a prized orchestra seat of a then-new Sondheim musical, Merrily We Roll Along, listening to one of his lyrical words of wisdom.

Unpredictably enough, and to this day in my mind unfairly enough, that show would also turn into one of his biggest Broadway flops. 

Flop? Says who??

Though as one of a very select group of people in attendance at the next to last Broadway performance of the original cast of Merrily in 1981, I can only tell you that in my mind that production and that show was, and will always be, a huge success.

Profound.  Moving.  Funny.  Insightful.  Scathing.  Ironic.  Wise.  Deep.  Joyful. 

And smart. 

Oh, so smart. 

What more can you ask for from any piece of art?

Is it selfish to say more more more!!!!?

Oh, the song.  It’s not one of the famous ones, popular ones or even obscure, uncovered and belatedly lauded ones. 

Though it is the first act curtain. 

And its three-word title has immeasurably endured, helping me to process some of the very worst times in my life right after and long after they happened.  Then.  And now.

What’s it called?

 It’s called….Now You Know.

Me too!

A jazzy little number sung by two best friends of a famous young composer who has cheated on his wife with the lead actress in his new hit musical.

They’re divorced and he’s on the courthouse steps, having just lost a bitter and salacious custody battle for their young son.  And though his lovely, kind-hearted ex admits she still loves him she confesses she just can’t get past his infidelity and forgive him for the man he’s become.

So she’s moving thousands of miles away and taking the kid with her.

He’s blind-sided and suddenly devastated at the realization of life without them. 

What’s worse, it gets played out publicly in front of a slew of venal and vindictive reporters and cameras.

Very much the vibe

It’s that moment when even the heel-iest of heels knows they will never truly be the same, much less recover.  Forget about the rest of us.

That scene was set in 1966 and I was a recently out gay guy in my twenties with no thought of ever having a kid, much less a wife.  But boy, could I relate.

Me in the audience

Because it was about the type of hurt and devastation that in some way we will all be forced to experience, and more than once.  That time when:

a. We’ve f-cked up royally and at great personal cost.  Or,

b. We’ve had an unexpected death or perhaps devastating other loss.  Or,   

c. There’s been a terrible betrayal, to us or by us we can never get beyond.  Or,

d. We finally accept that the bold, implied or sealed promises made to us by others, or to ourselves, will NEVER, EVER happen the way we imagined.

We’re lost.  Bigly.  Big time.  And there’s no chance we can be who we once were.  Ever again.

OK well yeah, but also this:

Here’s what Mr. Sondheim had to say to that:

All right

Now you know:

Life is crummy

Well, now you know

I mean, big surprise:

People love you and tell you lies

Bricks can tumble from clear blue skies

Put your dimple down

Now you know

Okay, there you go —

Learn to live with it

Now you know

It’s called flowers wilt

It’s called apples rot

It’s called thieves get rich

And saints get shot

It’s called God don’t answer prayers a lot

Okay, now you know

Okay, now you know

Now forget it

Don’t fall apart at the seams

It’s called letting go your illusions

And don’t confuse them with dreams

Yes sir, quite a blow?

Don’t regret it

And don’t let’s go to extremes

It’s called, what’s your choice?

It’s called, count to ten

It’s called, burn your bridges, start again

You should burn them every now and then

Or you’ll never grow!

Because now you grow

That’s the killer is

Now you grow

You’re right, nothing’s fair

And it’s all a plot

And tomorrow doesn’t look too hot —

Right, you better look at what you’ve got:

Over here,  hello?

Okay, now you know…

– Sondheim, 1981

All the feels

It’s called letting go your ILLUSIONS, and don’t confuse them with DREAMS?

Are you kidding me????

What about, burn your bridges, start again, you should BURN THEM EVERY NOW AND THEN OR YOU’LL NEVER GROW?!   With the lyrical promise, written by someone older and wiser and infinitely more talented that,  that’s the killer…NOW YOU GROW??

Seriously???

Channeling this Meryl energy entirely

You mean, it’s okay to walk away when you’ve tried everything and it’s not working?  And there IS hope at the end of the tunnel?

But how will that work? 

Well, you better look at what you’ve got

Wait, you mean…oh…..your friends….who despite everything are still there and literally singing to you  —

Over here, hello???

Wait, that’s what it’s really about???

I mean, it still slays me.

GENIUS

How he knew so much, put it so succinctly and rhymed so simply, completely and, yes, tunefully.

It’s called devoting a lifetime to your art and never taking the easy way out.

– It’s called consistently mentoring generations of young writers for decades, despite your schedule, because in your teens you were lucky enough, through a family connection, to be mentored by one of the great lyricists of the American musical theatre, Oscar Hammerstein, and always promised to pay it forward.

– It’s called staying current with new work in the theatre for the next half century instead of spending your time reliving and pining for the good old days.

Always one step ahead

– It’s called daring to be bad, in your work and in your life, in order to become good.

– It’s called not letting it all go to your head and knowing at the end of the day it’s just you, your beloved Blackwing pencils and some paper late at night, trying to make a hat.

The thing about Sondheim is not that he didn’t know how good he was.  It was that he didn’t dwell on it, tried to do better and always knew deep down that he wasn’t perfect.

As he so eloquently stated in one of the short verses of the above song I didn’t mention:

I mean, socks have holes,
I mean, roads have bumps,

They make meatheads champs and nice guys chumps…
I mean, even cream of wheat has lumps.

#RIP.  From a fan.

Merrily We Roll Along – “Now You Know”