A New Horizon

What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

– Oprah Winfrey, 2018

It feels like a statement that Oprah has told us many times before and in many different forms and forums.

But those words had a searing and very specific timeliness on Sunday night when she delivered them amid so many other meaningful words, statements, stories, anecdotes, admissions and proclamations during a history-making acceptance speech at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards.

The speech was literally historical because she became the first Black woman to ever receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press. This is a career honor given for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment and as such is really the HFP’s equivalent of a life achievement award.

Still true

But more spontaneously historical were the honest, eloquent and ultimately optimistic thoughts she shared amid the tumultuous events the country has faced over the last year.

In one speech on one sort of significant but certainly not earth-shattering awards show Oprah managed to:

– Effectively address the legacy of sexual harassment in not just the entertainment industry but in all industries throughout the country.

– Laud the leaders and participants in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (Note: Dedicated to bring individual harassment stories out of the closet and help ensure new programs and laws are put in place) while revealing small personal pieces of her life and those of other far less powerful women who came before her.


– Proclaim that the press is under siege and reiterate its value firmly, definitively – and yet – without any trace of malice towards those who might not share in those feelings.

– Read the riot act about a culture broken to brutally powerful men who made sure women were not heard or believed if they dared speak truth to power that — THEIR TIME IS UP.

– And somehow convincingly proclaim to all of the rest of us that a new day IS on the horizon thanks to a lot of magnificent women in that Hollywood ballroom of entertainment industry notables AND some pretty phenomenal men without even the slightest whiff of cultural elitism or hysterical blue state angst.

No wonder Twitter almost immediately erupted with trending phrases like #OprahForPresident, #Oprah2020 or — even more simply –- just #Oprah.

Though don’t take my word for it. Listen to the whole speech here (and no, at nine minutes it’s not THAT long):

Up until last night there was not a chance in the world – or anyone in the world for that matter – that could get me to believe Oprah could, would, or should become president.

And yet there are few Americans in public life today – meaning the new Trump reality and our serious/quite perilous red/blue state divide – that can even begin to bridge the gap and speak to EVERYONE.

Is she a politician? No. Does she have that kind of experience? Uh, uh. Has there ever been anyone with her type of experience in the job? Certainly not.   Can a billionaire from a deep blue state really even begin to appeal to the majority or even plurality the country?


Well, when was the last time you asked all of those questions?

And how right were you then?

Not to be snarky but…. SNARK

In less than 10 minutes Oprah spoke to the hope and promise of the United States in a way we did not hear from one candidate through the entire presidential campaign nor a single day since.   This is because she spoke words written not for her but by her and about her.

Even if she had some help from a speechwriter (Note: I suspect after four decades on television she didn’t need one) what we listened to when she spoke were a few honest personal truths that became universal, a handful of simple facts that told a clear story rather than meandering down a path of confusion and self-righteousness, and a collective call to action that we could all work towards to create a better tomorrow that felt possible.

Sign me up, O!

Oprah didn’t accidentally stumble into this territory. She has that rare ability to communicate because she understands both the facts and the feelings they create among the people they affect. More importantly, she knows the story she is telling and builds a pyramid of both in order support it. She is then able to drop out what’s unimportant, emphasize what is, and DELIVER IT all in a manner we can both understand AND appreciate

The delivery part is essential. There are many, many smart – and perhaps even smarter – people and politicians out there but few who innately know how to stand before the world as themselves and effectively talk to the public (nee US) about anything important.

Plus she can get women to show up in droves #TIMESUP

Not sell us, but talk to us. Truthfully. And leave it to us if we want to buy into what they’re SAYING.

Yes, there are those who can talk to us. Others who can sell to us. And a handful in public life who can do both effectively. But Truthfully? I can’t think of any.

Except one.

Oprah Winfrey – “Run On”


I’m Just a Broadway Baby

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.46.40 PM

There is a lot being written about television and movies these days. Did you know this is the golden age of TV? It’s true and if I hear myself or anyone else say it one more time I’m gonna puke. This is because there are so many TV series and special programming events that it has all become inconsumable in any reasonable amount of time to keep up without spoilers from social media and well-meaning friends.

But like cmon Chair, don't you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

But like cmon Chair, don’t you want to know who Barb is? #poorbarb #leggomyeggo

As for films – there IS time to see all the great ones every year but not enough of us are willing to leave our homes to do so. Though when we do we’re usually happy we did. Except often it’s equally satisfying to wait and experience them on your own time. Or borrow someone else’s screeners. (Or, eventually, their Netflix password.) Be honest.

I'll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

I’ll get to you Alicia and Michael #alreadyweeping

THEATRE, however, requires movement, thought and the ability to leave your home or tablet and actually be somewhere else to watch something on someone else’s time. It also requires you to pay more and be plopped into an even larger room of people you don’t know. But when you do, and it works, there is nothing like it. The immediacy. The danger of something going horribly wrong – or wonderfully right. In fact, on stage they can sometimes be one in the same. And as an audience member you are guaranteed that exact moment you’ve just witnessed will never happen in that very same way ANYWHERE else again. Ever. And you thought you didn’t have the chance to experience anything unique or special anymore.

I’ve been fortunate to have a very short weekend in NYC this Labor Day holiday where the significant spouse and I managed to squeeze in FOUR Broadway shows in less than 48 hours. Yes, you read that right. That’s what you do on a yearly trip here. Or any trip here for that matter (Note: Don’t write in about museums, restaurants, concerts and friends). And even if you can’t get to NYC to do it, every one of these four shows will be doing multi-city national tours within the next year. So you MUST go see at least one of them, no matter what your mood and finances are. (Note: There are BIG discount tickets available everywhere – check online).

LOL Discounts!

LOL Discounts!

WHY you may ask?

Because experiencing a work of art live with others will make you feel less alone. Because at least one of the four will speak to you in a significant way. And because, for a very short time, you will be part of something larger than yourself. Of course, you (we) always are. But it’s so easy to deny that in everyday life. Am I saying theatre is like religion?   Uh, no, not all. It’s be(tt..)… Right, okay, let’s not go there.

Instead – here are this weekend’s BIG FOUR. No, Tony award-darling, hottest ticket in town Hamilton is not among them because we weren’t going to fork over the $500-$1000 per ticket the scalpers were asking. Yes, 99% of my friends tell me it’s brilliantly done. But guess what – it’s not the only game in town on Broadway. Or in your town. And besides, it will eventually play there too in the next year or so.


Come to the Fun Home!

Come to the Fun Home!

This is a memory musical piece played in-the-round and as told by the fictional version of cartoonist Allison Bechdel. She was the author brave enough to some years ago write an acclaimed graphic novel of the same name that recounted the story of her coming out as a lesbian along with the story of her closeted gay father and his eventual suicide. If that sounds depressing – or an impossible subject for a musical – it is neither. Quite the opposite and then some. This is yet another reason why one has to – sometimes – leave one’s house.

Alison Bechdel... Also creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

Alison Bechdel… creator of the Bechdel test (google it)

The creative team of Fun Home have recreated a seemingly bizarre family coming-of -age tale that they have somehow made universal and..well… mainstream. As I wrote to a friend, who is a friend of the author – because I just couldn’t contain myself – every moment seemed to land exactly right. The loneliness and isolation we all feel from time to time growing up; the inability to understand the drama happening right under your nose; searching years later as an adult (or even worse as an adult writer) for a way to piece together moments of your past that no one else wants to remember or claims they can remember; coming out to the world fully as yourself – whether you are gay or straight; and somehow taking all of these experiences and moving on with your life – or, if you’re a writer, trying to make your life into art.

Of course, this description sells the show terribly short. Let’s just say, I’m Changing My Major to Joan. Which you will understand immediately after you see it.

Rating: Five Rainbow Flags

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.26.59 PM







Yes, the musical was first on Broadway 11 years ago. And it was in 1982 that Alice Walker’s seminal book was first published. Not to mention Steven Spielberg directed a movie version in 1985 that’s been on TV nine zillion times.

You know... the one with Oprah

You know… the one with this lady

Which is the very reason to buy tickets to THIS Broadway production or see it on its inevitable tour. The story has never quite been told this way. The walls of the set are merely walls lined with chairs that are the show’s primary props – along with lighting and fabric. These are among the only few physical objects that retell the abuse, emergence and, sure, triumphant moments of ONE young Black woman born into what seems like the most impossibly awful circumstances in the post, post-Civil War South.

Yet to watch Cynthia Erivo emerge as a full fledged Broadway star playing the aforementioned woman (aka Miss Celie) or enjoy the gospel singing and acting chops of Heather Headley and the rest of the cast is not the point, thrilling as it may be. What is overwhelming is the simplicity of spirit and execution here that infuses the show with an electricity that allows it to become a bit larger than the life it explores. Actually, quite a lot larger – which is what happens when a big Broadway musical is done exactly right.

Rating: Five Chairs

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.32.47 PM






The Curious Incident of the Night-Time UK Tour

 Do you want to see a play about an autistic British teenager who is investigating the murder of a dead dog who you see on stage for the first five minutes of the play – a kid who almost never stops talking and occasionally screams a lot? Oh yeah, you do. You REALLY, REALLY do.

You won't regret it Liz

You won’t regret it Liz

Producers like turning award-winning books into all kinds of films, TV shows and sometimes even plays. But how do you take the internal, seemingly locked, limited world of this boy and make it even vaguely visual, logical or somewhat…interesting (?)…. to the very average minds of all the rest of us?

Brilliant directing, acting and writing helps. But that’s not enough. The conception of the entire piece might not have been possible a few decades ago before technology allowed us to see things on the stage and large/small screens that we had never seen before. Computer-generated effects of all kinds have taken us into worlds we couldn’t have imagined. Still, someone has to imagine those worlds. A machine can’t do that itself – yet – and it only helped do it here. A whole group of other artists created a universe that the writer wrote, the teenager experienced and the tech people facilitate. Now THAT’S progress. You’ll understand when you go out and see it for yourself. And then you will only begin to understand just how strange and unaverage the world we all live in really is to an outsider.

Rating: Five PIs.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.36.07 PM






Have you ever watched an MGM movie musical and longed for it to come to life before your eyes? No really – you get to see the dancing, the singing, the colors, the costumes and the sentiment – or lack of it – as if it’s been pinched from out of a revival house, memorabilia store or perfectly etched museum-grade postcard.

The Broadway and future touring productions of An American In Paris is nothing more or less than that. Yes, adult men and women can indeed do ballet, jazz and Broadway moves while they belt out Gershwin songs in REAL (as opposed to reel) TIME. There are no five, six, seven or eight takes – or cuts between scenes – or close-ups with glam lighting the way they did it in the old days. I kept asking myself, why aren’t these people sweating and panting? How do you hit a note or not miss a cue when you are clearly not Gene Kelly or Leslie Caron and don’t have the luxury of NOT being compared to them??

Who is??

Who is??

No, this is not the cast of the film. Nor do they pretend to be. (Note: Okay, maybe a little). Still, it’s not nostalgia so much as it’s a live action REinterpretation of a time long gone. It is escapist, sure – but sometimes, well…don’t you want to NOT think about yourself or The Orange Clown for at least three hours?

Cause it’ll cost you (and US) a lot more to stay inside and keep thinking those same dismal thoughts in the long run – you can trust me on that.

Rating: Three Baguettes  (yum)

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.41.02 PM





Embarrassment of Riches

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.12.38 PM

I’ve met a few billionaires over the years. Let’s say five or under. And in case you were wondering – no, Oprah was not one of them. Though we were in the same room two of three times. Which I don’t count so much as meeting but being in the presence of her royal greatness. Yeah, I miss her and long for those simpler times when a Black woman from a poor background could try to enable the world to strive for their better selves. Rather than the present when it seems we have exactly the opposite.

Oh how I miss her

Oh how I miss her

Anyway, I only considered one of the billionaires I’ve met to be a truly happy person whose values were similar to mine and who, if push came to shove, I might even consider for U.S. president. This person’s moral compass was such that he judged people not by how much money they were making or had by accident of birth – or what possible connection or DEAL they could bring into HIS WORLD – but rather by their broader views on life. In other words, this person often hung out with and sought the company of poor people – meaning YOU AND I.

Don’t get me wrong.  YOU AND I does not necessarily mean those on the poverty level but individuals who make between $50,000-$250,000 per year. As well as others who make a little more (let’s say up to $1,000,000) and even a few who make much more (up to perhaps even $5,000,000).

By my calculations... that would the 99%

By my calculations… that would the 99%

Heck, there might have been a few here and there on the other end who made even less than the $50,000 cut-off – individuals whom he actually knew fairly well or were friends with those mentioned above and attended the many and varied social functions held at this person’s home. Some of these gatherings were casual, some were to raise money but quite often there were individuals of all shapes, sizes, ages (yeah, even children among the adults, can you imagine?) as well as incomes.

Certainly there was a respectable amount of multimillionaires and above but to watch this man walk around the room and actually listen to others as they shared their views of the world and he, in turn, revealed his with equal enthusiasm – was a genuine sight to see. He didn’t have handlers. There was sincerity in his body language and dialogue. When he engaged he looked into the eyes of the person he was engaged with rather than trying to clandestinely glance to or service what he perceived to be the more advantageous prey at his party.

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

Yes, he was the billionaire unicorn

I know all of the above to be so because some weeks after one of his parties about a decade and a half ago, this person accepted a dinner invitation to my humble abode. Incomes for writers fluctuate greatly and let’s say it was absolutely one of my leaner years. But show up for the very small gathering he did – engaged, joyous and happy to be there. I kept thinking — this person has given away more money than I will make in 10 lifetimes – and that’s being very generous to me. Why is he sitting in this funky bottom floor duplex apartment with worn, thin wood floors in desperate need of sanding when he could be luxuriating in several of his own luxurious homes? Or be chowing down in a five star hotel or restaurant with other power brokers or wheelers and dealers? Or better yet, charter his own private jet and fly him or his party of choice to Rome, Paris, Athens or, say, even… Palm Beach, Florida?

... in a home that probably looks something like this

… in a home that probably looks something like this

The simple answer is that this person wanted to be at my house. And not because he was slumming – or even running for office. The money was nice but it didn’t define him. He had his own foundation, still worked at his chosen profession, and continued to make and give away millions of dollars. But the money, the wealth and the privilege were not his brand. His personhood was who he was. And the corporations he owned was not this person. He was.

This man forever changed my perception of the uber-wealthy and shook up my views of just how one begins to navigate success and failure, poverty and riches.  It’s all in the game of how you perceive yourself and engage in the world. Is one lesser than, better than or, at the end of the day, on equal footing with others despite society’s too numerous to count measures and scales?

I can't really fault that logic

I can’t really fault that logic

To put it more simply — can you be a leader without being superior. Is there a way to win at what you do without inciting the hatred of your supporters for the other side and inciting them to moral and physical violence? If business really is a cutthroat and cruel arena where any actions can be forgiven because it’s not personal, how could it be that this particular person rose to the top of his, and then some, without doing any of it?

Well, perhaps he just got lucky. Or is an anomaly. Or secretly did just that and covered it up? No. He was just a guy with a lot of ideas and an inner belief in the world and in himself. In that order. Rather than vice-versa. He didn’t think so much about of making him or his company #1. He instead created a product and systems that facilitated connection – rather than alienation.

I'm starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts

I’m starting to feel like this person might own a lot of hooded sweatshirts… but no. #keepguessing

In the hours I spent with this person all that time ago he spoke a lot about wanting to continue to take what he had and use it to restore the environment to its natural state so it could be enjoyed by as many people as possible despite their means

This person loved the land and owned a lot of it – and I mean more PRIMO acreage in the most desire spots in both our urban and rural landscapes than you can imagine; and made sure that upon his death the state and federal government will take over such lands and keep and preserve them in perpetuity to their natural green habitats. The final part of the DEAL is that these lands will be open to the public to peruse and enjoy.

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

Channeling my inner Maria Von Trapp

In other words, this land will not be developed into steel and concrete versions of mini-adult Disneylands that many of this man’s many, many friends could afford or would even choose to frequent. His desire is not to bring us back to a past where these lands can be GREAT AGAIN. Nor did he think it necessary to rip these lands apart at the seams in order to preserve them and bring back their greatness.

His thought was – and still is – to enable a place where we can all – everyone one of us despite our backgrounds – gather as many people together to share the land –and the infinite possibilities it evokes – as he could.

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Well great, now I miss Mad Men even more

Funny enough, that’s the way he built the empire that made him rich. Not the other way around.

Final note: This person is listed as one of the top charity givers in the United States in the last 15 years with contributions in the many tens of MILLIONS of dollars. No other billionaire running for president at the moment is even in the ballpark.

Not even CLOSE.

Making America great again.  Indeed.

Now… It’s Over

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.37.09 AM

Some idiot at MSNBC cancelled Now with Alex Wagner and I’m pissed off. Can one be angry at an idiot who doesn’t know any better? Or is it more appropriate to be p.o.’d at an amorphous thing like a network that doesn’t have any feelings? How much of an effect will that have? Of course, I’ve met a lot of idiots who don’t have feelings so perhaps I’d be better off going with the individual just to make it all feel more personal to me. At least there is some satisfaction in that.

Yes, I realize most of you don’t know who Alex Wagner is or have anything invested in Now. Make of the last part of that last statement what you will. And know that I will explain more about both AW and Now in a bit.   For now, just be aware it’s a mid-afternoon news/talk/opinion show – one of a block of three such programs MSNBC has axed in order to mainstream itself with a CNN-type breaking news kind of strategery. Yes, strategery.

STRATEGERY, my friends

STRATEGERY, my friends

Apropos of that — back to the idiots.

I’ve read this monumentally stupid decision was the brainchild of new NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, who is anything but new. Or news. He actually presided over NBC in its news heyday of the nineties when he helped take its anchor Tom Brokaw from #3 to #1 in the nightly race for ratings among the three major broadcast networks’ Nightly News programs. But does anyone you know watch the Nightly News anymore? (Note: Jon Stewart doesn’t count and in another week he’ll be gone too – waaaaa). Certainly no one reading these words. Or writing them.

No love for Davey?

No love for Davey?

Someone should tell the 68-year-old Mr. Lack that his plan to insert recently deposed NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (Note: Yeah, the guy who was put on “leave” for fictionalizing portions of at least a few more than several news stories he reported on) into the slots occupied by the brilliant and effervescent Ms. Wagner (and others) is akin to me ordering my current film students to sit down in a room and watch Barbra Streisand movies from the 60s and 70s on a loop. Or replacing Jon Stewart with Bryant Gumbel. Well, now I fear I’ve really lost the under 25 crowd. My first instinct was to use the Olivia Newton John or Elton John or even Jimmy Stewart comparison but I doubt any of those would have fared any better.

... and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

… and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

I have an unhealthy addiction to what used to be MSNBC and Ms. Wagner in particular because like me they are smart, sarcastic and liberal yet also managed to be surprisingly fair and balanced. Again, make of that last statement what you will but, no, it is not an oxymoron in our current cable news landscape. Also, in Ms. Wagner’s case I suspect she’s a lot nicer than I am. Certainly, she’s more modest. As for MSNBC, up until now they have been one of the few news sources with commentators who are not constantly dumbing down the issues of the day for the “masses,” blanding it down to the point of snoredom or amping it up to the tenor of the Donald Trump parade hosted by Fox News. I was going to say Sarah Palin parade on Fox because I hate to give Trump any more ink at all. But then I realized that evoking Sarah Palin was as relevant as hiring Brian Williams to be the new face of change for a floundering cable outlet. Or giving zzz’s inducing Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd four more hours of daytime programming chores as your second new hosting face.  Kill me now.

Welp... it's about time for my mid morning nap  #snooze

Welp… it’s about time for my mid morning nap #snooze

What did/do I love about Alex Wagner? Well, for one thing she often referred to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee as Willard “Mitt” Romney (Note: His real name) and Donald Trump as the “Teflon Don” (Note: Too nice to be his real name). She could also speak as eloquently about Jay-Z as she could on Zero Based Budgeting, while on that very same show interview everyone from Ron Paul to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (Note: Imagine being fair with him???) to any bleeding heart liberal on the block with a combination of tough-minded accuracy and good-natured aplomb.

News goddess

News goddess

Oh, and did I mention she’s 37, of mixed race origin and is married to former Obama White House chef, close First Family friend, and now NBC’s newest Today show contributor Sam Kass? Not to be mercenary, but why would you want someone like that anchoring an afternoon chat show on your network in 2015? Instead, let’s contract with more straight, deep-voiced or doughy-looking white men because, god knows, they are the wave of the future. What’s an Obama Coalition, anyway?

I'll have what she's having

I’ll have what she’s having

One might surmise this is less about Ms. Wagner and MSNBC and more about the fact that… the Chair does not adapt to change very well. Hmm, that could be at least partially correct. One strategy to overcome one’s anger – aside from just letting it go – is to welcome change as an opportunity for something better. I mean, the chief message of Pres. Obama to the Obama Coalition was something like: We are the change we have been waiting for. Remember?

Well, that’s a nice thought but in this case it would seem to indicate that the answer to all of this would be for me to start my own network, find another program or, as a last resort, try to figure out a way to hang out with Ms. Wagner on my own. I’m not entirely sure which one is the most doable. Though certainly I could guarantee the one of the three that would be the most fun.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

That is, I suspect, the real issue. There is not a heck of a lot of fun in media these days. Or – there is too much of it. It’s entertaining when it’s supposed to be serious/serious when it’s supposed to be entertaining. Is Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly or even Fox News itself meant to be taken seriously? Have you ever tried to watch Fox and Friends? Every so often I tune in to the latter, one of several bizarre series on the top-rated cable network. Last week, when speaking of the surfer who got attacked and nearly eaten by a shark during a competition, one of the geniuses on that show wondered out loud why the surfing area wasn’t automatically cleared of sharks when there was a sporting event going on.



Yet on Ms. Wagner’s final program the Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart got it exactly right when asked about Thursday’s first Republican nominee presidential debate and the emergence of Donald Trump as its inevitable centerpiece. Mr. Capehart offered that the ratings would be high not because of a resurgence in political interest or a worry about the direction of the country. No, he said, it was mainly because it was a great potential entertainment event where you could sit in front of TV with a bowl of popcorn, a group of friends and play the drinking game of your choice as you watched Donald Trump eviscerate a stage full of – well, take your choice on what you want to call them, no partisanship here.



It is this kind of truth-telling that one seems to only get on shows like Ms. Wagner’s that I will miss. And yeah, I know I might be able to get it elsewhere. And it may even be better. Or it might not and I might be inspired to spend less time nodding my head at the television to people that I already know agree with me and being more productive in my life as a writer, teacher, husband and general citizen of the world.

As Gandhi once famously said – and perhaps this is where Pres. Obama got it from – Be the change that you wish to see in the world. In other words, don’t fight it.



Well, that’s a nice thought. But I’m still pissed off at MSNBC, Lack and the whole cabal for their misguided corporate stupidity. As such, in this situation I quite prefer the prose of Dorothy Parker, who many, many decades ago once wrote:

In my youth, it was a way I had,

To do my best to please.

And change, with every passing lad

To suit his theories.

 But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.

Or, in 2015 vernacular: Bite me, MSNBC.

A Rainbow of Emotions

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 12.44.10 PM

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.


‘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.

Oscar Post (Mortem)

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.45.13 AM

Here’s the absolute truth:

I look forward to watching the Oscars every year. This started even before there was an international avenue on which to snark. And it was certainly waaaay before I ever even dreamt I’d see an openly gay actor serve as the host while accompanied down the red carpet prior to the ceremony by his HUSBAND. Those were the days of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson – a time when John Wayne won the Oscar for True Grit over Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy. Meaning: #OscarsSoWhite #OscarsSoStraight.

BRB going to the gym right now

BRB going to the gym right now

So thanks Neil Patrick Harris for providing a new reality to a fantasy I never even had the vision to have. Not to mention Sunday night’s nifty Sound of Music tribute by Lady Gaga that all culminated with the entrance of Julie Andrews in the ultimate torch-passing moment. That alone is the best of what the movies can do – create not only an unimaginable dream for me but have it all take place in gay heaven.

On the other hand —


Despite the fact that I have now lived to hear Ms. Andrews utter the indelible phrase Dear Gaga while moving her into an embrace – well, we still all do have A LOT of work to do.

Brb head exploded

Savoring the moment

I’m not saying the three-hour and forty plus minute show was long but….is it still going on? And why pick on the brilliantly talented Octavia Spencer to hold a suitcase with NPH’s supposed Oscar predictions in inevitable and unfunny cutbacks all through the show? Don’t they remember Uma/Oprah? Isn’t it tough enough for non-white actresses in Hollywood? Why position her as the Oscar telecast version of her character from The Help? She is NOT a maid.

Not to mention: Why did Eddie Murphy present best screenplay? Does he immediately bring to mind great writing or was THAT the joke? No, that was, well…there weren’t too many. I guess saying you could eat up Reese With-Her-Spoon took care of that. Very punny. But not as much fun as Prom Pixie Jesus Jared Leto. I am NOT being sarcastic here. I live for those tuxedos!!

His assistant is holding my corsage.

His assistant is holding my corsage.

On the other hand, we have the great moment of supporting actress Oscar winner Patricia Arquette speaking out for equal pay for working women – an appropriate plea as someone who played what is now THE version of America’s working Mom in Boyhood.

Meryl approved.

Meryl approved.

There was also the great John Legend/Common performance of best song winner Glory from the film Selma and their all inclusive acceptance speech afterwards. And let’s not forget the spontaneous verve of Eddie Redmayne winning best actor for Theory of Everything or the similar exuberance of the very talented Polish director, Pawel Pawlikowski, of Ida. (Note: I loved the film but who knew it was pronounced Eeda? Did I block that out or, as one tweeter mentioned, do I simply choose to remember the name of the film as Rhoda’s mother?).

Red Carpet Ready!

Red Carpet Ready!

Still, despite those peaks something about the whole affair felt flat and odd. NPH is a great song and dance man. Anna Kendrick and Jack Black are funny and spunky and, most importantly, can really sing. So then why did their opening number feel like it was something out of a Disney tribute to the movies? Was this because we were watching on ABC/Disney or because the writers of the medley also penned Disney/Frozen’s Let It Go? Or both?

As NPH joked about Oprah being rich and then tried to explain it, or strode through the audience while the Big O attempted to suppress the look of sheer terror on her face that he’d come over (Note: Adjacent to the expression of don’t even think about it, Sonny on the face of fellow audience member Clint Eastwood), one longed for the Tony Awards, Tina and Amy at the Golden Globes or even a clip from #SNL40’s Celebrity Jeopardy. Hell, that would’ve been a lot more fun. Or get all the stars together to do The Californians sketch and then take the 2015 version of the #EllenSelfie.

At least there was this

At least there was this

Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps I’m being unfair. I’m a really big Sean Penn fan but he was so sinister delivering this year’s best picture winner I started to think we were all being lured back into Mystic River, where he would then make us all morph into Tim Robbins’ Oscar-winning character and everyone one of us would wind up…well, look it up if you don’t recall.

Did you find it odd that Michael Keaton, the star of Birdman – the big winner of the night with best picture, director and screenplay – was not mentioned by anyone other than his director most of the evening while jokes abounded about all kinds of well, strange things? Though I will admit it was particularly gratifying that when we finally did get to hear Mr. Keaton speak briefly during the best picture acceptance speech by what seemed like the entire above-the-line cast and crew he had the grace to step to the mic and simply say, it’s great to be here, who are we kiddin.

Well, perhaps this was not as odd as John Travolta , who tried to make up with Idina Menzel after calling her Adele Dazeem last year but instead wound up touching her face far too many times in the space of a minute. Once again – odd AND strange. But not as odd and strange as John’s…

The dog chain.. the hair.... ??

The dog chain.. the hair…. ??

You know what, I’m not going there.

See, the truth is — it’s easy to snark. But it’s not easy to get nominated for an Oscar  and Travolta has done it twice. So at the end of the day I suppose for many of us – especially those of us who work, have worked, ever aspired to work, or even ever fantasized about one day working in the entertainment industry – there is a kind of fantasy wish fulfillment to it all that never quite gets fulfilled.

We wonder what would it be like to be on that stage or, more to the point, we use the Oscars to pretend we ARE one of those people we see on that stage doing either as well or WAAAAY better than them. Even if we don’t understand in our heart of hearts what that really means or how the reality of being there would actually feel and/or be if we really did get there

Perhaps this IS the reason why the Oscars so often disappoint. How CAN you live up to all the fantasy and hype? It’s like going on a date with the hottest person in school and wondering why they don’t match the over-the-top scenario you created in your head for them.

Except him. He really is the coolest.

Except him. He really is the coolest. #marryme

Of course, that’s how I imagine it would have been like to date the hottest person in school. So I could be wrong. At the end of the day this is all about personal fantasy anyway and it’s up to you to decide.

As for me, I’m going to bask in the afterglow of Gaga and Julie once more and see if I can pretend I’m back in gay heaven. Or perhaps I’ll just put on Mary Poppins (Note: I do like The Sound of Music but Mary Poppins always was my fave) and call it a night as Julie/Mary sings me to sleep. Where I promise you I WILL dream. Splendidly.

… and in case you’re keeping score, the Chair correctly predicted 15 out of 24 winners, giving him score of 62.5% (This is even a lower grade than the Chair received in gym class). The Chair offers no excuses – only promises of doing better next year. #ItsnoteasybeinganOracle

Excellent, Dude

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 2

How do you achieve excellence?  There are certain markers like this week’s Olympics and the Oscars two weeks from now.  Within them are societal and cultural markers like medals, trophies, fame and money.  But without any one of these, does it mean that you are not excellent at the things you do?  Hmm, perhaps we should consult our trusty dictionary.


The quality of being outstanding or extremely good;
an outstanding feature or quality.

Notice that nowhere in this definition does it state THE best.  This is because the dictionary knows better than we that no one and nothing in the world can be judged THE best due to the fact that THE best changes on any given day.  The most you can hope for is excellence.  And that comes with its own set of rewards.

... or maybe you do think you are the best.

… or maybe you do think you are the best.

You can beat yourself up, tell yourself you have to get better and concoct an intricate system of deprivations for yourself when you don’t reach your perception of excellence.  I used to do this with my writing and it seemed to help for a while in allowing me to achieve more.  But it also took a heavy psychological toll that at some point began to cost me my excellence.  Kicking and screaming I backed off and realized – after any number of years of psychotherapy and crippling exhaustion from whipping myself into submission – that I had to accept I was no longer doing my best, or more importantly at my best, when using this particular strategy.  So after much practice at actually getting myself to believe that a new way was possible I got myself back on the excellent track by simply working hard and – odd concept though it may seem –once again ENJOYING the work at hand that I have chosen.

Marriage seems to me another sort of cultural benchmark these days –- one of love — especially for gays and lesbians.  Yet for some of us it can also be seen as more of a necessary legal arrangement rather than an arrangement to aspire to in the sweepstakes of the heart.  In either case, the institution itself has little to do with the excellence of a relationship and more to do with mainstreaming yourself into the world so as to be treated like everyone else who wants to publicly declare and legalize their love relationship. But what if you don’t want to be like everyone else?  What if you do not want to conform?  Does that mean you are any less excellent at love, or even relationships?  All societal markers to the contrary, the answer is: certainly not. (Note:  I confess to having spent more than my fair share of time battling this one and have decided that love is always excellent, no matter how simple or complicated we make it).

The bottom line is — you don’t have to be part of a race you don’t want to win.  Does that make you any less excellent in your chosen category of endeavor?  Certainly not, again.  There are lots of people who choose not to compete in many areas of life and are not interested in competition in general.  Some of this thinking harkens back to the old Eastern spiritual philosophy to not shine the light on yourself but on others.  But this does not mean these people are any less excellent at what they do.   It only means that you simply may not know about them because they are not in the commercial or competitive rings.

You go and get your award, Malibu!

You go and get your award, Malibu!

The broader question – and perhaps the only one to ask is:  how much do you want to push yourself to achieve personal excellence?  Do you aspire to be extremely good at what you do? (e.g. do you have to be THE best snowboarder in the world?) Or Is simply doing your thing your most excellent way to live and what excelling means to you?  Or – and here’s a thought – can’t you be and do both????

Watching the winning trifecta of young male U.S.  Olympic slope style skiers pose in what will surely become their iconic silvery polar jackets from Nike (Note: Printed on the jacket’s inside linings are the words: This is your moment) – their gold, silver and bronze medals around their necks fresh from the winners podium – one couldn’t help but smile.  C’mon, these guys are DUDES– it’s all good rad crispy that they won.  But what made it better was that if you met them on the street and knew nothing of their backgrounds you’d be hard pressed to know that they were anything but happy-go-lucky bros who were only special because of how good a mood they seemed to be in in contrast to everyone else.  Oh, with the exception of silver medalist Gus Kenworthy – a lifelong dog lover who made it his mission in Sochi to save a wandering brood of pups he saw on the street and either take them home to the US or find them proper homes in Russia.  In either case, that makes him exceptionally exceptional and his deeds outside of the Olympics the most, MOST excellent.

Stand-ins for One Direction?

Stand-ins for One Direction?

What I’ve also observed this Olympics is how excellently talented people act when they don’t “win.”  In particular, I was impressed with 19-year-old ice skater Jason Brown (our main image for today), who ultimately came in ninth place in his event but gave interviews with the excitement of someone who came in first.  This was in sharp contrast to many other wonderful athletes who to varying degrees felt shamefully disappointed that they didn’t medal or did not win the gold.  Of course, this was not entirely their fault.  I watched in a sort of strange angry horror at how two time gold medal Olympian snowboarder Shaun White, who finished fourth this year in his event, was branded in the media as the big “loser” all week and cross-examined about how disappointed he must be to be deemed only the fourth best in the world in his sport on that given day.

Maybe it was the hair?

Maybe it was the hair?

For years people in Hollywood have joked that it’s an honor just to be nominated for an Academy Award with the unsaid truism being you’re ultimately a loser if you don’t win.  What this is saying more than anything else is that it doesn’t count at all unless you win.  Wait, so then… being an Oscar nominee means you’re…a loser?  That’s what one actor I once worked with told me it felt like after losing in the big category.  This person recounted leaving the whole thing totally depressed as someone who had disappointed everyone.  In fact, to this day that actor looks back at the experience with extreme sadness.  This would seem either hard to imagine or simply neurotic behavior to me if it weren’t for the fact that more than one Oscar loser I have met over the years has told me exactly the same thing.  That’s how far this way of thinking has all gotten.

Of course, any kind of ongoing excellence comes with some sacrifice.  But that should not be in how you’re looked at or categorized by others (or even yourself) –and more in accepting the idea that you can’t be excellent at everything in every moment.  No one can do it all and be everywhere at once so no one – not even you (or me) can excel at everything IN the world.

Uh... ya think?

Uh… ya think?

For all the hours you spend practicing your snowboarding there will simply be less hours you can devote to  –  dating?  making love?  movies?  visiting museums?  watching TV?  family time?  friends?  writing?  Something has to give.  Oh, you can try to incorporate some of those into your routines and multi-task. (Note:  Just the images this brings to mind makes it all worth trying). But multi-tasking takes away from the singular focus you need to excel, at least that’s what the research says.  You see where I’m going here.  You have to make some choices and narrow it down.  You can’t do it all even if you decide to think you can.

A lot of writers face this problem when they structure a script and try to tell the story of every character.  Here too you must make choices.  This is especially challenging for my neophyte writing students who, in their enthusiasm, won’t sell any of their people short.  I see this as generosity, admire the kindness of their intentions and hate to be the Scrooge McDuck who has to tell them that part of being excellent at their craft means making the hard decisions and sometimes being the “bad guy.”  That guy (or gal) who sacrifices something – or someone –  for the greater good of what they are all doing.

Oh you mean I can't have this many characters?

Oh you mean I can’t have this many characters?

Perhaps a nicer way to put this is – compromise.  Not comprising your values but modifying rigid ways of thinking.  Rigidity should not be confused with discipline, which is always necessary to be excellent.  Rigidity is about not listening, about a harshness of spirit with yourself and what you are trying to achieve that does not allow you to see the forest from the trees.  If you are going to be your best – i.e. some version of excellent – the first step is to admit you do not know it all and to learn from the best.  You can be stubborn here– making the choices you see fit and sticking to your guns when you feel deep down in your core of cores you are correct.  But you also cannot set yourself up as a deity that is all knowing and needs to be worshipped (Note: even if the rest of the world is treating you that way) and be your most excellent self.

What is fascinating about Hillary Clinton, among so many things, is not only her overwhelming work ethic – some her a workaholic – but the fact that she always seems willing to compromise (or even accept defeat),  listen, sit back, be a team player, and then regroup.  This just might win her the U.S. presidency.  A person who lost the election of her life then joins the man who beat her up on the political battlefield and helps him have a better presidency by traveling the world as his Secretary of State? Whatever bitterness there might have been did not last and by most accounts Mrs. Clinton and Pres. Obama became quite friendly, if not friends and treasured professional colleagues.  Imagine if she had just thought she knew better, licked her wounds and went away, dragging her faux fur behind her?   Who knows where either one of them would be?  But this is a pattern of excellent behavior on her part that has allowed her to go from being a potential First Lady in the nineties who once snapped I’m not some Tammy Wynette, standing by my man baking cookies, to being a successful First Lady who nevertheless failed miserably at her task of passing health care in the 90s…. and then still go on to be someone branded as sad and foolish for staying with a husband who kind of had sex with a 22 year old intern in his Oval Office, and then still on to being an inexperienced U.S. senator who eventually became a top colleague who won the respect of senators on both ends of the aisle for her intellect and effectiveness… only to emerge again as a leading yet failed presidential candidate who then became U.S. secretary of state and worldwide opinion maker, and now seems likely, at 66 years old, to run again for the White House and thus make history by becoming the first female president of the United States.

Did ya get all that?

Did ya get all that?

Yes, Hillary Clinton is connected, political and extremely intelligent – but there are a lot of political, connected and extremely intelligent people in the world.  She is excellent because she listens, learns, practices, fails, starts over, makes mistakes, practices some more, withstands the missteps, makes more mistakes and then gets up and does it all over again.  She also tries new things and isn’t intimated by new opportunities.  Well, maybe she is intimidated– probably she is in her private moments – but who among us isn’t?  And how many of us go ahead and continue on to do the hard or even hardest thing anyway?

Don’t mistake this for a Hillary Clinton puff paragraph (or two or three).  In truth, it was the famous playwright Samuel Beckett who once wrote “Try again.  Fail Again.  Fail Better.”  This was in an obscure series of short novels published in his later years under the umbrella title Westward Ho and the words were written in an entirely different, much more obtuse context.

Still, it is the nature of writing that sometimes a mere tossed off phrase that you meant one way becomes a mantra in another.  Or in this case, a recipe for success for everyone from a Silicon Valley billionaire to a graduate school student to a middle-aged blogger like myself.  That doesn’t make Beckett a failure any more than winning the Pulitzer Prize makes him a success.  What was most excellent about him, and so many others, was the combination of both his talent AND his work and the dedication and determination he brought to both.

Decades ago I worked on the crew of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the sequel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  Truth be told, it wasn’t a great movie nor was it one of my penultimate professional experiences over the years. I remember thinking at the time that these movies were so dumb that I could not believe they got made at all AND earned boat loads of money, nor that I was being so well paid to do a job on something so insignificant.  Yet here I am, 30 years later, voluntarily using the phrase most excellent – a phrase that was first brought into the international lexicon by the writers of those films – to make an intellectual, or at least common sense point about excellence.

Go figure, dude.