Things You Can’t Say

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It was one of those weeks. Suffice it to say – don’t ask.   But if I had said everything that I thought, desperately wanted to say or almost said – I, well…

But then I thought – what’s the point of a blog, anyway? To write everything your best self would never say — to your readers.   Perhaps you’ve had one or two of these same thoughts yourself. Or maybe one or two will inspire you to share some of your own with others? Just think how much better – or worse – the world would then be. And relish it.

To the cop waiting in his patrol car on the top of a hill in front of a shuttered park:

You don’t give a crap about safety. I could see it in your eyes as you barreled down towards me. No, you wanted to give me a ticket because you either had a quota to fill or you’re p.o.’d because you’re short – even shorter than me (5’7”) and it gives you a perverse unspoken pleasure. You hate your job AND you hate your life.

Starting off strong, Chairy

Starting off strong, Chairy

And for the record, I NEVER speak in the car actually HOLDING my cell phone. It’s always on speaker or Bluetooth. But my 87-year-old father is ailing and it looked like the number of one of his health care workers so when the remote failed and I couldn’t find the speaker button I just HAD to pick it up. I tried to explain this to give not an excuse but a context and didn’t expect a break from you. But what I got was a condescending nod and a walk-away. You’re a dick. And you’ll always be smaller than I am – in every area – no matter what arena we’re in. #Copette

To the brilliant Anthony Hopkins:

Transformers 6? Really???? I remember those days when you were doing Equus on Broadway. And this was decades before you won the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs. And well before you did Remains of the Day. Not to mention Nixon, Howard’s End and even Mask of Zorro. It’s brilliant you cashed in reprising Hannibal Leccter in Hannibal and Red Dragon. Mission Impossible 2 – we get it. Even the Thor movies sort of make sense following noble duds like Alexander, Titus and Noah. 

On second thought.... #maybenot

On second thought…. #maybenot

No Tony, I couldn’t turn down$5 million, $10 million, $15 million or whatever you’re getting. But can’t you simply be Iron Man’s grandfather? Or at least a Spiderman super villain? Did you have to go to #BayLand? Fine – alimony, child support or you might lose the house in Malibu. But if you’re simply doing this for some new kitchens, swimming pools or generational visibility, I’m done. Do not #MichaelCaine1980sMe.

To Mitt Romney:

I still disagree with practically everything you stand for and find every other word out of your mouth dripping with condescension – especially when it comes to pushy gay Jews like myself. But I will give you major props for being the only high profile Republican politician to publicly and vocally still refuse to endorse Donald Trump. Who would have guessed you’d out maverick McCain or out boy scout Paul Ryan.   Still, there’s an extremely low bar out there from which to excel. #Bully4Mittens.

I think I need to get my eyes check #saywhaaa

I think I need to get my eyes checked #saywhaaa

To Tina Fey:

You’re great but how many more American Express commercials are there? Two? Ten? And why? Why, why, why, why, why??? (Note: See Anthony Hopkins). One can’t help but think it’s the agents. Except, it can’t be. Not really. You’re too young to be Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation. And besides, those spots only aired in Japan. #YoureNotAlecBaldwin.

Paying for her daughters' college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

Paying for her daughters’ college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

To haters of L.A., NYC and San Francisco:

It’s ridiculously expensive to live here because too many people want to live here. This is not our fault. It is everyone’s fault. Yes, the air is cleaner in Cheyenne, WY and Bismarck, N.D. And houses are a lot cheaper in Waco, TX.

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

So? No one is twisting your arm NOT to relocate there (as much as Chip and Joanna Gaines may try). Or to move here. That being the case – please, can the eye rolls stop towards us when you’re talking in public about American values or in private about where you find the real people who make up this country? And we’ll stop dishing about how dumb you are. Or, well, at least I will. #Maybe.

To visitors in my home:

Yes, we have a movie poster with a picture of Judy Garland on it and another vintage one being framed from the movie All About Eve. This doesn’t only mean my husband and I are gay.

Guilty

#Guilty

It also shows that we have good taste in entertainment and like the color combination of red and cream and how it mixes with the blues and yellows in the rest of the house. (Note: Fine, #Gay). Not to mention, the Citizen Kane poster is too expensive, the Ordinary People poster is too depressing and nowadays Woody Allen gets people too upset. Plus, we can’t afford a Jackson Pollock and will likely never be able to. Still, we do cop to a lack of sports memorabilia, Star Wars toys, and gym class experience. In fact, I, for one, served as attendance monitor my entire senior year of high school P.E. class and never had to change into shorts or break a sweat once in 10 months. #CrazylikeaQueen.

To MSNBC:                                     

Rachel Maddow is my oracle and too often there is a false equivalency made between you and Fox News. Still, your non-stop pursuit of all things Trump is making it impossible to defend you to others.

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin' to do, make me sick??

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin’ to do, make me sick??

Know that it’s one thing to report the news in all of its bizarreness and quite another to broadcast an endless loop of the same incoherent blathering over and over and over again for hours with only a few added sound bytes every few minutes from each one of your paid commentators. Take some of the money you saved by unwisely firing Alex Wagner and hire someone with the guts to do something ingenious – like ambush a real politician against their will and ask them a question no one else has. Then film it. And air it. #SaveHowardBeale.

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

To Hillary Clinton:

Good speech. Your Trump hit lines most likely to persuade fence sitters to your side:

Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle.

– Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

– I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.

Now make some of the news reports true and choose Elizabeth Warren as your veep.  In a show biz age, she’ll give you the smartest, most solid and sassiest support to take on the Orange Clown.

To #Drumpf:

You’re a mentally ill racist. Go away and get some therapy. Or at least go away. Now be gone, before someone drops a house on you, too.

 

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The Schock Doctrine

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Here’s a question —

Which of these is worse:

a. An elected member of Congress who recently resigned due to charges he indulged in an over-the-top lavish lifestyle – both personally and professionally – illegally financed by his supporters, the U.S. government and yes, you, the taxpayers.

b. A bachelor congressman that many in both his own hometown and in Washington, DC believe is a closet homosexual who has consistently voted against or voiced opposition to every single piece of key gay rights legislation – e.g. marriage equality, hate crime bills and the abolition of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy – since he was first voted into office.

c. The fact that both a. and b. are the same person and that in the last week he has hired two very high-priced attorneys that he will largely and legally pay for from leftover campaign contributions in excess of $3 million dollars.

or

d. The blogger who decides that ALL of these above issues, but most especially b., are irrevocably tied together and writes a opinion piece addressing this hypocrisy despite the fact said congressman has most especially denied being gay — a statement the blogger most especially, in his heart of hearts, believes is a total and unadulterated lie – and at the root of this whole thing to begin with.

I'm going to have to think about that...

I’m going to have to think about that…

Well, see what you think. For what is the point of a blog, or public service for the matter, if you can’t follow your conscience.

To all of the above points —

One of the youngest people ever elected to the U.S. Congress, four-term, 33-year-old Rep. Aaron Schock (R-ILL) – and the politico in question in all of the above – literally shocked Washington, DC wags last week by resigning the office he has held for the last six years amid accusations of misappropriation of campaign money, ethics violations and a general recklessness of unnecessary luxury spending on the taxpayer dime.

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This all started a mere month ago with the revelation that he shelled out $100,000 on a Downton Abbey-themed Congressional office – complete with deep red painted walls, period mirrors and numerous arrangements of pheasant feathers – paid for by donor contributions. (Note: He has since repaid $40,000 or more and yes, I did mention this last month). Though this in itself is not confirmation of being gay, I don’t even know of one American straight guy who watches Downton Abbey – nor is there a single one of of my myriad of gay friends who do that would be gay enough to duplicate Lady Mary’s sitting room with one of their own at their place of business.

Who you callin' Lady Mary?!

Who you callin’ Lady Mary?!

Be that as it may —

These actions then led to investigations into Rep. Schock’s numerous international trips to places like Saudi Arabia, India and Argentina that were either gratis or passed off as official business, not to mention other extravagant excursions to Las Vegas and New York where he and sometimes his staff and/or guests flew to in private jets, and then stayed in at some of the finest hotels in the world. Again, I can’t confirm or deny Mr. Schock’s sexuality as a result of this but let it be known that in the case of the hotels he stayed at in Vegas and the Big Apple – well, I’ve stayed at both as have many of my fellow homosexual and/or entertainment industry friends. If the Congressman were in the biz he might get a hetero pass from me but since he isn’t – at least not at this writing – like me he’s guiltily gay as charged on the matter and I’m not giving him an inch, so to speak, of wiggle room.

The Chair has spoken!

The Chair has spoken!

Anyway, to continue —

On closer examination of his personal records it was then revealed Rep. Schock had recently sold his lavish Peoria house to one of his largest campaign donors, receiving as much as 30% or more over its fair market price value. Granted he gains some straight points here since not too many single, gay or even metrosexual guys I know from Indiana have chosen to stay there but there is also the fact that we gays have tended as of late to do pretty well in real estate. So let’s call this one a wash.

Oh.... hey guys! Didn't see you there

Oh…. hey guys! Didn’t see you there

Which brings us to the latest revelation —

It was several days ago revealed that the Congressman was reimbursed for the more than 172,000 miles he put on his car over his years in Congress at the government rate of approximately 50 cents per mile. The only problem with that is that recent sale records state his SUV had only a mere 82,000 miles. If true, this means he double-billed and double-charged the taxpayers (via the government) for twice the amount of miles, and money, he travelled and made out with a personal pretty penny. Then, once the latter story leaked out, Rep. Schock quickly resigned without even informing Speaker of the House John Boehner – a fellow Republican who is the titular head of his party. The latter, more than any of the ethics violations, was among the rarest of the many unusual details about how he conducted his daily political life. But as for his sexuality, which let’s face it, is all I and you really care about or makes his story particularly unusual, well it’s another wash. Sexual persuasion has absolutely nothing to do with double dealing – ask any straight man or woman or gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender person you know and I promise you they can regale you with lots and lots and LOTS of those of similarly Schocking stories about people in their own individual tribes.

Tell me more!

Tell me more!

More pertinent, or at least prurient, is the following —

The often shirtless, buff, well-groomed and uber color-coordinated Schock two years ago graced the cover of Men’s Health magazine in a half-naked photo that prominently featured his extremely well-defined six-pack abs. Until recently he was also a relentless poster of selfies via a very public Instagram account that featured him surfing, sky-diving, traveling the world and attending everything from a Katy Perry concert to country club cocktail parties sandwiched in-between countless trips to and images of him working out at the gym. During many of these activities he was not only accompanied by various young staffers but more recently on several international and nationwide trips, photographed alongside a handsome and very hunky young male wedding photographer whose job it was to accompany him and serve as the Congressman’s personal chronicler of all things Aaron.

That would be Mr. Schock and Mr. Photographer on the right

That would be Mr. Schock and Mr. Photographer on the right

Now I’m not saying he is and I’m not saying he is, but, uh…

As they say on RuPaul’s Drag Race

Gurrrrrrl…..

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Okay, yes – it is a cheap shot. Then fine – use your own logic, think about it for a bit, weigh the information, do your own research via Google info and images, and then you DECIDE. And if you choose to lie about the results to us – do not lie to yourself. Please.

The mainstream press has been careful to sidestep the gay issue thus far where Mr. Schock is concerned. Even my current news hero – Rachel Maddow – has most especially avoided the issue because she is, after all, a real journalist and an Oracle, not a blogger.

Ya got that right!

Ya got that right!

I however, a blogger, former journalist and gay person who is a decade and a half her senior and thus old enough to have lived through every horrible moment of the Plague Years of AIDS under the reign of a US government controlled by a Conservative president and any number of closeted gay politicians, don’t have the patience or, well, time, to be that nice when we get on this subject.   The best I can do is periodically insert a few jokes when discussing Mr. Schock’s personal and professional ethics because to write about him straight (so to speak) and by the rules would well, make me about as honest here as he has been during his past six years in Congress. Which is to say — not very.   Because I’ve seen this kind of behavior before – and all too often.

Every weaselly, self-involved action this guy has indulged in reminds me of every stereotype of every overachieving, over-exercised, over-paid gay guy – but especially gay Republican of a certain age I’ve encountered in my entire life. The willingness to preach personal responsibility as one privately and publicly profiteers from the “system,” the rationalization of working for change from the inside while knowing full well all you’re doing is greasing whatever wheels necessary so you can hang worldwide with anyone who you perceive to be the “A” crowd; and the Narcissus-like obsession with your outside, rather than your inside package so you can be publicly admired and even envied by as many human beings as possible in any given point in time or moment of the day – not caring much in the end about any one of them as much as yourself, or at least the admiration that projected image of yourself that is being admired, well, it’s all so very early 1980s. Which is ironic since that’s around the time Mr. Schock was born. Well, go figure on that.

That does look like work

That does look like work

The truth is I’m one of those gays who hopes to the Goddess that soon-to-be ex Congressman Schock is not gay. We have enough problems without having to claim one more materialistic, entitled, morally questionable queen with muscles, colorful clothes and an attitude as one of our own.   (Note: And yes, I confess I’m guilty at times of at least half or more of the above traits – though certainly not all). There are so many civil rights issues to fight for: marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, and the general warding off of the ultra-right wing religious zealots who now want the legal right not to serve us in their restaurants or deny us service in any sort of business that they own, that frankly his brand of corruption is simply both tiring and draining. Not to mention infuriating.

Plus – people of Schock’s ilk – those we are quick to physically admire and who, at a very young age have achieved quite a bit but have exhibited very little modesty about it while managing to seem very, very entitled to it – are a turn off to me and more and more are becoming so to many others – including those in the gay community. In short, he is a fading “type.”

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All the time and energy he devoted in his 33 years to a perfectly chiseled body and coordinated outfits have some core constituency but are fast becoming more like a generic mosquito repellant to the vast majority. While we gays enjoy nice clothes and are often in relatively good shape I and most of my gay friends have dated one or two hyper-handsome and hyperly dishonest guys like AS over the years and they almost always disappoint. Granted this could be as much about us than them because, really – how could any breathing human being live up to the expectation of the ideal of a human Ken doll? It’s like dating a movie star who plays a superhero and expecting them to rescue you form a burning building or sleeping with Bradley Cooper, Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe in their heyday and expecting them to look and/or act like that when they wake up next to you in the morning or not annoy you in the middle of the night when you find they’re snoring.

How many times do I have to tell you I wake up like this!

How many times do I have to tell you I wake up like this!

On the other hand, people like Congressman Schock have some culpability in this also. He has devoted an enormous amount of time to his physicality and after 25 years on and off at the gym – and having dated those one or two guys I mentioned, which don’t include the dozens of other versions I’ve befriended and met in passing conversations – I know for a fact that NO ONE looks like that without putting in a great deal of pre-planned, budgeted and very specific effort. It takes an enormous amount of time and energy which takes away from time spent serving the public good – not to mention your job, your community, your friends and yes – your boyfriends. This is not to say that staying in shape is not valued hard work and important. Only to say that as every working Mom knows there are so many hours in the day and at the end of it something has to suffer. And this goes double if you have as demanding a job as being a U.S Congressman.

That's a cute idea, Mr. Chair

That’s a cute idea, Mr. Chair

Which brings me to the real point of what is going on – what we all choose to do with our time. I’m all for fitness and wish I had started earlier. But I also am all for honesty, being informed and a certain benevolence of equality and morality which Mr. Schock’s actions seem to clearly lack.

Quite frankly, his behavior is an embarrassment to straight, gay, bi-sexual and even asexual men worldwide.   I can’t prove definitively that he’s the type of gay guy I’ve known, and in my younger days, very fleetingly loved, but let me tell you if Quinnipiac were to take a survey of gay men nationwide to this question the ex-Congressman would have poll ratings higher than Hillary Clinton’s in the Democratic Party. How do I know? I’ve taken a survey of about 50 or so of my closet gay friends and this is one of our few absolute areas of expertise. (Note: Not to mention I’ve asked almost as many straight male and females who, in my separate survey, also concur).

I mean, who do you choose to believe about global warming – Bill Nye the Science Guy and the 85-degree weather outside your window in the middle of winter, or Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz?

You betcha

You betcha

And that’s why of all of Aaron Schock’s public indiscretions I believe that b. is the greatest sin of all. Because if you cannot be true to yourself and be who you really are at your core – it will color ever decision and every action you take in your personal and professional life. To live dishonestly means – more often than not – to vote and to act dishonestly.

Of course, that’s only my opinion. But I am a Chair. As for Aaron Schock, at this point he doesn’t even have a seat.

Woodward and Chair-stein

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The following is a piece in defense of thoughtful journalism and the people who practice it. You know who you are even though we may not. This is in spite of the fact that, given today’s technology, we have all rightfully or wrongfully been baptized de facto citizen journalists or amateur reporters.

It makes no difference to me which moniker you choose because each can be either somewhat effective or dangerously ineffective depending on the circumstances. But mostly I am writing this in honor of my unapologetic love for Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom – a show that is about to end its run but still dares to romanticize the high-reaching values of a somewhat liberal cable news station akin to (but not exactly like) MSNBC in much the same way The West Wing was a wonderfully polemic love letter to the executive branch of government.

Sometimes I forget he wasn't the President

Sometimes I forget he wasn’t the President

It is quite popular to lump the talking heads of cable news – or any sort of contemporary journalism for that matter – all together and to dismiss its veracity or even relevance to anything real in the world. But in truth Rachel Maddow and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly are as different as…well…Rachel Maddow and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. Watch and measure how each covered the nationwide protests we’ve seen this week due to the recent refusal of law enforcement and the grand jury system to in any way prosecute the various police officers responsible for shooting and killing three very different Black males – two of whom were under 18 years of age – under similarly controversial circumstances in three very different cities in Missouri, Ohio and New York, and judge for yourself.

Yes, somehow these two exist in the same universe

Yes, somehow these two exist in the same universe

The latter is the job of every citizen choosing to vote or complain about the state of the world to friends, neighbors or enemies – to weigh the information and then make a determination. That is why who gives you the facts, how they give you the facts, and if indeed they are giving you facts at all matters. Correction: really matters.

After watching Jake Gyllenhaal coyote his way through his current breakout role as a brilliantly immoral freelance television news photographer prowling the dark, accident-ridden streets of contemporary Los Angeles in Nightcrawler, I couldn’t help but recall my own quaint, early days as an aspiring journalist. Bear with me and forget this was several decades before Rachel Maddow was even born. I know I have, that is if I ever previously admitted it at all until just now.

How far is too far?

How far is too far?

No, unlike Jake or his character, I certainly didn’t lose 30 pounds, slick back my then full head of hair or scour the Internet for leads and information in order to educate and advance myself in my field. For one thing, there was NO INTERNET and I had already lost 30 pounds in high school because I was too cowardly, vain and hypochondriacal to face a life where I was for one more second what anyone else would consider to be fat, chunky or even slightly overweight. Certainly I am not particularly proud of this fact but fact it is nevertheless.

As for my education, here’s another fact. It actually began in a corny old cocoon called SCHOOL. That started with writing for the high school newspaper, segued into becoming arts editor of my college radio station and then continued on to graduate school — Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to be exact.

Those hallowed grounds

Those hallowed grounds

This was the post-Watergate age of the late seventies when journalism was seen as the noblest of professions and most everyone else aside from Mother Teresa and a few doctors who worked gratis in clinics was viewed as morally, and woefully, lagging behind. Not only that, Medill was then, and still is now, one of the best j schools in the country. Again, no bragging but fact – though one that I am particularly proud of. And full disclosure: I still feel fortunate to have even gotten in.

Self five!

Self five!

I bring this up because my intensive one year at Medill – which had me not only in the classroom but working as a reporter in both suburban and urban Chicago as well as on the streets of Washington, DC and the surrounding areas of Virginia – taught me a lot about truth, morality, honesty and integrity. You might think you know the truth and what you’re dealing with, as John Huston’s villainous Noah Cross tells Jack Nicholson’s hard-boiled yet somewhat naive Jake Gittes in Chinatown, but as a reporter you also have an obligation to consider you might really not have the truth and not know what you’re dealing with, as Noah Cross so ominously, and rightfully warned. Yet unlike Jake in Chinatown, it didn’t have to cost me (Spoiler Alert!) the life of a lover. I was allowed to make those kinds of mistakes as a younger student since under no circumstances would I ever be trusted to cover life or death stories alone.

Plus I could never pull off this look

Plus I could never pull off this look

I realize that in itself sounds almost quaint these days, especially since I was always much more interested in the entertainment industry while it was my j school friends and colleagues who wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein. Still, as it turned out this background came in quite handy and in ways I could have never imagined. My first journalism job was for Variety and Daily Variety and in a matter of just a few years I became one of their lead reporters. Serious hard news reporting on the film, TV and music industries was just on the verge of becoming popular beyond the entertainment pages and I found myself quickly thrown into a world where I had to have clandestine early morning breakfast meetings at the homes of seven-to-eight figure salaried board chairmen, CEOs and presidents of major American entertainment corporations in pursuit of the news. Lying came as easy for them as weight reduction was for me in high school and telling the truth as difficult as I found gym class. Perhaps they were afraid of the same things I was back then – not being accepted, keeping up appearances, not fitting in with the cool kids – but I didn’t know it. And had I not been trained to cross check my facts, no matter how powerful or reliable the source, or not fool myself into ever thinking I was even a smidgen as important as the very wealthy and powerful people I was covering, I would have been eaten alive right there and then by each and every one of them.

.. but what I told myself in my head was a different story.

.. but what I told myself in my head was a different story.

I certainly would never, ever have been able to start the country’s first weekly column on the national film box-office grosses of just released films. You know – the ones you now read online almost everyday and hear each Monday on practically every entertainment “news” show across the country? Well, it wasn’t Watergate but it was still about getting to the honest truth, which on this subject was quite rare. We’d get these press releases with inflated figures on the opening money levels of movies that would be published almost verbatim without anyone knowing what the hell they meant in comparison to anything else. I told my resistant editor at the time:

“I don’t know what the heck (not hell, I wouldn’t dare) these figures mean and neither does anyone else. We have to at least try to report this accurately so studios can stop lying so easily about how good or badly theirs and everyone else’s films are doing.”

Finally, he saw the light and we began something that, admittedly, has gotten out of control. But it’s helped get beyond the hype in a more realistic dollars and cents way that was previously non-existent – not only for the general public but for everyone else other than the most inside movie studio executives to see.

Unless you're reporting on the gross of the Hunger Games

Unless you’re reporting on the gross of the Hunger Games

That is what training in controlled circumstances will do prior to you going into the field. It’s not the only way to be trained – there is something to be said for being thrown straight into the fire – but the latter often comes with the ultimate journalistic cost of printing untruths, half-truths and out and out lies that hurt people and society. Or, to put it another way, in many other professions you’d be guilty of malpractice.

Certainly, training and the right experience don’t guarantee 100% accuracy but they will also likely prevent any number of our current journalistic fatalities (Note: see lies and untruths above – of your choice). If you consider that to be a bunch of bull, then think of it like this. It is certainly possible that a person who is merely an aficionado of teeth could perform a successful emergency extraction of your infected molar – or a medical neophyte might be able amputate your gangrened arm with merely a broken spear in the Amazonian jungle – but would you choose either in the long run if a more trained and/or experienced option were available?

Meaning yes – everyone can write and observe. But not everyone can report.

At the risk of sounding older than Woodward and Bernstein (Note: And those under 25, please, please don’t continue to say Who? OR Who cares?) – times and standards have changed but truth remains pretty much the same.

You know.. those guys played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman

You know.. those guys played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman… with the haircuts you all want.

It’s great that we all can raise up our smart phones and record reality, or type our truths on social media, or on such ridiculous forums as….dare I say it…a blog.   But these are all only recording and commenting on partial truths or shaded truths or the lies or partial lies we might be unwittingly interpreting as truth. The best journalists in the world (who are not necessarily the most popular) understand the difference. The average person – and viewer – does not. It is the job of the journalists to put things in a way that the most people can understand. To unfurl the facts and truisms and falsehoods as objectively as possible – then offer the information in a context or at least order that will allow the public to comprehend the whole story and ultimately judge what, if anything, to do about it.

It is an essential and difficult and, in the end, honorable profession when done right – which that doesn’t happen often enough.

And that IS a fact.

The Art of Seduction

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Pres. Obama took many of the members opposing him in the Republican Congress to dinner, lunch and then lunch again in the last 10 days.  Meaning, he asked them out on a proper date, arranged a place to dine and – in a stroke of grand presidential largesse – picked up the tab.  (Note: Presumably the President paid, not you or I in the form of an expense account write off.  Though like all dates, we will probably pay in other ways).

No biggie, you might say.  Long gone are the days when someone in any kind of position of power, meaning a person with their own expense account, could possibly be swayed by a dinner date with someone they don’t particularly like or agree with and, on the surface, are certainly not attracted to.

Uh, well – if you are indeed the you who is saying that, here’s the answer you sooo don’t want to hear —  YOU ARE WRONG.

Most of the many members of Congress who went on these dates not only reported that they had a good time, but came away now impressed by a president who in the last five years they had grown to discount, dislike or disown.  Some even went so far as to brag at how these meals represented a new beginning with a man they have finally gotten to know and enjoy – a man they only wished had come forward (or come on) to them sooner than the four plus years it took HIM to finally ask them out.

Well, upon hearing all this, all I could think of was – uh, welcome to our world, guys. We ALL want to date the most popular and desirable guy or gal on campus ESPECIALLY when we claim we have no interest or attraction.  And now that you’ve had that first date — take it from someone who has been in your exact same position — you will not be able to rest until you AND HE do it again in an even more spectacular way.  Well, that is if you can get him to approach you again – what do you think will do it a second time now that you’ve had a meal, or what will he have to do to get you to not only do it again but to take it to yet another level?

Flowers, candy, jewelry, a flat screen?  Precisely what can he do for you (or to you) to, as they say, keep sealing the deal for a second, third, fourth (or life?) time?

Unless this is your Big Man on Campus...

Unless this is your Big Man on Campus…

Let’s face it – life is just one big date and at some point we are all reduced to being the guy or gal on the sidelines waiting for our dream prom king or queen to come down off their thrones and agree to go out on the town and then eventually back home with us forever.  Okay – perhaps this isn’t entirely true since not everyone is attracted to power and popularity.  But what is true is everyone is attracted to something.  And with the right kind of seduction, any one of us can be had.  Or to reverse the thought – HAVE.

Discussing seduction is sort of like talking too much about what makes something funny.  Once you begin to analyze it, it ceases to be the very thing that intrigues you.  It’s also akin to a fan of magic twisting the arm of the magician to reveal a trick that, once unmasked, you learn wasn’t very magical, or particularly difficult to begin with.

But seduction is about A LOT more than the lure of illicit sex cloaked in an undercurrent of danger and..well…sex, sexiness or…well…just plain sex.

Writing is a seduction.  You use all the tools at your disposal to entice people into your story.  In live encounters we tend to think of these tools solely in terms of looks, power or wealth (well, mostly looks).  But in truth it’s much more diverse.  We all use many things in our bag of tricks in order to “seduce” our prey.  In real life, it’s humor, looks, strength, violence, intelligence, kindness, even feigned indifference (ever hear of playing “hard to get?”).

Getting your audience to crack up? (Too easy, couldn't resist)

Getting your audience to crack up? (Too easy, couldn’t resist)

You can do all of this and more using the written word too.  You can also provide structure on the page for your story in the same way you can provide it for a potential lover by building a routine or place for them to come to with a solid foundation – employing traits such as reliability and escape all in the form of a trip to a far away place you would never go to or even think to go to by yourself.  Even if you did think of it (the trip), part of the allure could be the irresistible strange force you (or they) will meet that would change your life – something you could use in your work or, perhaps, you could find in either a lover or a good book, film or play written by someone else.

Students get REALLY uncomfortable when I discuss this kind of stuff.  I mean, no younger person wants a middle-aged person to talk to them about anything vaguely having to do with what they see as, um, seduction (really, sex).  Yet once I discuss this in the context of writing or any of the other arts…..I see their eyes begin to light up as they contemplate their particular plan of attack with their desired prey (the audience).  What will they use and in how many parts each?  Jokes, smarts, sex (again?!), action, athleticism, violence (only on the page of course), kindness or even anger and rage?

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and star Kristin Bell this week set a record with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to make a feature film of their now defunct TV series (they raised the money in 2 days instead of the allotted 30 days because they had already seduced audiences (and the network?) with what they did previously on the small screen).  In fact, so enduring was the seduction, the audience still desired them 6 years after being cancelled and now desperately WANTED a film – and this time the seduction wouldn’t be as difficult as raising their Nielsen ratings a point or two – willing to donate up to $10,000 a piece for small rewards in record time, with others left bitterly disappointed that they too couldn’t open their wallets and be a part of things.

Get ready for your closeup, kid.

Get ready for your closeup, kid.

I’ve probably given to 20 kickstarters over the last few years and I’m hardly rich.  But even as a generous donor for any number of creative project fundraisers, I’ve never come close to being a part of something like this.  I mean, we’d all do best to forget trying to stop global warming and imagine something the world really wants – like a return of their favorite long-cancelled TV show.

Fox News will no doubt attack this as socialism or laud it as being free market enterprise – I’m never sure which these days.  But if they’re smart, any movement or government or network worth its weight in quid pro quo lobbyists will try to seduce its audience on issues far more unsavory, just as every production company will figure out a way to seduce you by “any means necessary” in order to see John Carter, Hangover 3 or Die Hard 28.  So doesn’t it makes sense to try it on something that on paper is not as big but can produce quite profitable if not potentially large results in direct relation to its seduction quotient (in the company’s case, cost of seduction = dollar cost)?  And do it from the ground up instead of waiting until you’ve already spent $250 million (125 times that of the VM movie) on your production budget?

But the harsh fact of reality is the studios are going the way of the music industry – not waking up to the needs of their loyal and long term audiences and, for the most part, staying with formulaic programming.  That is, until the formula changes (which it has already, except they don’t know it).

The free market has already recognized this and has prompted creative individuals to find original ways to seduce their new backers using the personal touch of a series of cameos (what they see as a group) in a film, individual screen credits, personal thank yous, set visits and limitless signed souvenirs.  It’s a new, more direct method of post millennium involvement in the process of creation – in the ability to reach millions with the mere post of an offer on our public bulletin board of the web.  Imagine notesfromachair as an international uber blog that somehow turned into the world’s most popular weekly must read and you can see the parallels for a journalistic start up (Note: I’ll leave it up to you to determine if that is the beginning of a seduction).

And when in doubt, just post a shirtless pic of Ryan Gosling.

And when in doubt, just post a shirtless pic of Ryan Gosling.

See, the market has changed and young people don’t view illegally downloading films on bit torrents as stealing.  They’re used to getting everything for free on the web – and they do it.  In droves. Despite my explaining copyrights, gross and net points (ethics?).  Why not a chance to become a virtual movie producer or be a part of the creative process in the same way they (or many of us) participate in their favorite video game?

As the creator of a property it can also be quite financially beneficial to involve (seduce?) your audience from the get go.  Because, well, if you self-finance you don’t have to worry as much about terms like gross and net because you share gross from dollar one.  Or if you don’t, you receive an upfront distribution fee payment (from a supplier desperate for content) or must decide to shell out an upfront payment for the favor of distribution from a studio like Warner Bros – which the VM producers did for their new film – either way you are still coming out ahead.  People will have a guaranteed means of seeing your movie but you don’t have to pay for the 20%  studio overhead.  Or for your financier’s (nee studios’) other movies.  On the latter, when I worked at several film studios in the 80s it was commonplace to charge things to not necessarily the movie you worked on but to other films where it wouldn’t be noticed.  Each film had a number attached to it and though I didn’t have a particularly large expense account many, many others did and they charged many, many things to many, many movies that did not benefit from those expenses.  Not charges in the league of houses and cars but a lot of smaller things that in the end did add up.  And I have no reason to believe it is any different now.

Insert obvious "wink wink" here.

Insert obvious “wink wink” here.

Government leaders have been doing all kinds of seduction for years, including both fear and promises for a better future.  Some would argue, as Rachel Maddow does in her terrific MSNBC documentary Hubris, that the United States was seduced by fear of a possible nuclear attack into the second Iraq war by the Bush-Cheney regime – a war that didn’t have to happen but was carefully planned out for much more financial than national security reasons.  You can also seduce people to support you into a particular course through aspirational “gifts” or programs for the poor while you’re stealing the country blind.  That, of course, was also the subject of Evita, the megahit musical about the wife of Argentinean dictator Juan Peron.  Not that I’m making any comparisons here.

In the pop culture zeitgeist, the nation gets seduced by the idea of being a billionaire like Donald Trump until Trump goes too far with his political views and suggests Pres. Obama was not born in the United States.  The seduction stopped there because Trump’s modus operandi of seduction – i.e. apprenticeship riches guaranteeing a path to becoming even richer – was taken away and he had only his personality, belief system and expertise in political persuasion to rely on.

Seduction strategies were far more effectively used by companies pushing advertisements for cigarettes in the Mad Men era via the Marlboro Man or razor blades using naked models who urged young men shaving to “take it off, take it all off.”  Of course, these days we do have the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue – which in some way will seduce males and perhaps a few gay women into buying a magazine in which the revealing suits are somehow connected to the idea of being an athlete.  Or is it perhaps a reward for being the elite of your class?

If not that, then there’s the shirtless Diet Coke guy who needs to do nothing more than sip the soda half-naked in order to tempt a whole group of ladies into crossing over the line to purchase the bubbly treat which somehow promises them a more primal treat of their own.  Seduction or just plain eye candy or both?  You be the judge.  Unless you’d rather look at Uber Swede Johan – the guy with the blonde Brad Pitt-like hair in the commercial for Gevalia Coffee – who explains to a group of ladies just how much he – meaning his coffee blend – will take care of them and care for them if they just drink it (him?) up.  This is a caring unlike, say, the makers of Starbucks or Sanka – though he never mentions any of his competitors by name.  Of course, he doesn’t have to with a stare like that and the locks to back it up.  Plus, it’s wise for him not to because, lets face it, you don’t want either the spell or his aroma to be broken.

Television hyphenate Lena Dunham seduces audiences with an odd combination of wit and uneasiness; bad and often unattractive choices; and truth and humor in similar ways to that of her comic male counterpart, Louis CK.  Neither one’s public persona is traditionally attractive and, in the view of some (not me, however), neither is attractive at all.  Yet, in fact, they’ve both become sort of geekishly seductive because of what they do offer (decide what that is or isn’t on your own) rather than an absence of what they can’t offer.  Which should be a lesson to all of us.

That come hither stare

That come hither stare

All of this is not say to that the gals and I can’t be had by a Bradley Cooper/Jon Hamm sandwich or that Angie (Jolie) and Jen (Anniston) are still not respectively the ultra naughty and innocently tempting Veronica and Betty of the celebrity zeitgeist for the rest of you.  But these are rare specimens who ironically are also smart enough, despite their looks, to both be developing other aspects of themselves.  Angie, for example, is going to direct a big studio movie and is a mother to a gaggle of kids.  Jen flips houses, is getting married, is the go-to Hollywood rom-com gal and seems to be generally having a better time on the beaches of life with a bigger choice of friends and partners than most of us.  Plus – she smiles A LOT.  Which can be, and often is, a seduction unto itself.

Creative types on that level are expert seducers not only with their looks and talent but because a. they’ve had A LOT of practice and have gotten really good at it AND b. they understand it’s all a big construct in order to achieve their higher goals.  This can be seen or used as a positive or negative in an endless amount of ways but to deny it as fact is to avoid an essential component in what makes the world go round.  Of course, what’s even worse is to believe that each of us, in our own particular way, can’t play the game as well as they do.

A Matter of Fact

By now everyone but three people in the world (and you decide whom) have heard this expression:

“Assholes are like opinions, everybody’s got one.”

But are there differences between opinions and beliefs?   Or a belief system?  And what about facts?  Where do those pesky critters enter into it in today’s world?  Because there are any number of statements that I would have sworn were facts a mere 5-10 years ago that are now considered opinions, beliefs or feelings in opposition to a belief system.  Or something far  more blasphemous worse.   (We’ll get to the latter in a bit).

There was a time many decades ago, when movies were truly worth arguing about and not just lamenting. I would get into heated discussions with friends and colleagues about the merits and failings of the hot or cold film of the moment.  Sometimes these debates would actually escalate into shouting matches, personal insults and, in the case of one first date that I had who didn’t think Woody Allen was particularly funny, the end of what I’m sure would have been just another in a series of dysfunctional relationships I seemed to so enjoy at the time.  (Note: FYI, the Woody and dating life I’m talking about were many decades ago – just in case you were wondering).

You know nothing of my work.

Aspiring Missouri Senator Todd Akin thinks women have something in their biology that shuts down pregnancy and Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who is running for re-election, said just a few days ago that medical technology has evolved to such an extent that it is now physiologically impossible for any woman to die due to childbirth, thereby ostensibly ending any legal right on the part of said woman to end her pregnancy.

Of course, neither Mr. Akin nor Mr. Walsh’s facts are correct.  But one can’t argue.  Because each of these middle-aged white men (I can call them that because I AM a middle-aged white man) will somewhere, someplace, find a pseudo “expert” (and chances are the expert will be another middle-aged white man) to back them up.  This is much the same strategy my friends and I would use to defend our favorite movies – the corralling of mass “expert” opinions (or, perish the thought, box-office grosses) inside the industry in order to disprove anyone who would even consider voicing “facts” to the contrary.  It is also interesting to note that the data could be used to support the argument any way you wanted to.  For instance, the lack of box-office for a particular film could be used as evidence of its genius (I even tried this strategy as late as 1995 to support the merits of Claude LeLouche’s quite original take on “Les Miserables”) just as movies that set record-breaking numbers could be seen as either inferior mass pabulum (sorry “Forrest Gump” and “King’s Speech”) or confirmation of its value and true emotional depth (“E.T’’s success on all levels simply cannot be disputed).

Who… me?

The artistic merit of a film has implications for the creative community.  Those include who will get meetings and future work, as well as how movies, as a whole, are viewed by the public at large.  Also, how it will survive to either inspire or repel future generations of filmmakers who will choose to either build on ideas that came before them or use the perceived inferiority of said film to be bolder and more original than any one filmmaker of the past, particularly the one perceived to be inferior, could have ever imagined.

Certainly there is value to all of this.  But let’s face it – the fact that I wasn’t bowled over by “Argo” last week despite its “A” plus Cinemascore, rave reviews and box office numbers, doesn’t matter in the scheme of things.  Not only because I don’t exert much public influence except over my blog readers (and certainly that’s debatable), but because – as Alfred Hitchcock once reportedly told Ingrid Bergman when she was fretting over something while shooting one of his films:

“Ingrid, it’s only a movie.”

This, however, is not the case with, let’s say for argument’s sake, politicians, who have feelings or opinions that they all too frequently nowadays try to masquerade as facts.

For instance, perhaps scarier than potential Senator Akin or Congressman Walsh’s view of the female anatomy are several congressmen presently on the House of Representatives SCIENCE committee.  Case in point — Georgia Representative Paul Broun, who is also a medical DOCTOR, believes that evolution and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” partly because he can’t fathom that his “lovely” wife was descended from an ape and partly due to the beauty of the world, which he believes could only have been created by a superior being in the space of a week.  I also don’t want to leave out my own state of California, one of whose representatives, Dana Rohrbacher, another sitting science committee member, eschews today’s overwhelming evidence on global warming, suggesting that having this thought is akin to believing that temperature fluctuations millions of years ago were due to dinosaur flatulence.  (Rachel Maddow explains it far better than I can, if you want more, click on her)

click for full video

Never mind that critical ice levels in the Arctic Ocean melted at record rates this summer (which will in turn affect global temperatures) and that another MSNBC’er, Chris Matthews, reports that many Alaskans at a recent science conference he attended say that ships will soon be able to pass easily over the North Pole.   Two very powerful members of the science committee seem to deny climate change and overwhelming evolutionary evidence based on the actual bones of animals from millions of years ago not on facts and physical evidence but on a belief system rooted in theology.  Which is fine for them but perhaps not so fine if you’re an agnostic, an atheist or a religious person who likes to keep God between you and your Goddess of choice.  Or a scientist seeking funds to save an overheating Earth from extinction or medical researcher hoping to fund a new drug protocol instead of the old tried and true method of bloodletting to cure cancer.  On that note, I suppose we can at least take solace in the fact that Congressman Broun is no longer a practicing physician and will not be prescribing the biblical remedy of leeches if you happened to come into his medical office seeking treatment for a 2012 heart condition.

’nuff said

The issue is not whether any of the white middle-aged men mentioned are right or wrong but how much their personal opinions and feelings affect public policy of a committee that is responsible for potentially billions of dollars in research grants and the general direction of medical and scientific exploration for the world’s greatest superpower.

I’m all for anyone believing anything they want as long as they don’t try to make me believe it or use those beliefs to further their own agenda and thwart mine.  For example, when several friends proclaimed the brilliance of Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” to me last year I was happy to accept that as their opinion because I was confident in the fact that their enjoyment couldn’t literally prevent me from waxing poetic over, say, “Bridesmaids.”  However, when they told me I HAD to at least admire “The Tree of Life” as a piece of cinema I felt a line had been crossed.  I mean, if I wanted to admire a purposely obtuse film that didn’t work I could have saved the $12 ticket price and just imagine what would have happened if the sloppily constructed, somewhat indecipherable second screenplay I had ever written had actually gotten filmed.

Speaking of dinosaurs… “Tree of Life” screenshot

Or I could have saved the admiration for my auteur du jour, Paul Thomas Anderson and his much-maligned (in some circles) “The Master.”  PTA’s even the type that might write 2012 bloodletting into a medical office scene, though at the very least I can rest assured that he is not going to require said medical “procedure” as part of the admission price to said film in the future.  (…or…might he?…)

As we approach the presidential election and the release of a slew of movies being touted for Oscar contention this year, it might be worth considering the differences between opinions, feelings, belief systems and facts.  One way to do this is to accept what is the official 2012 definition of one of these words.

Fact – –

  1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences.
  2. a. Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed: (Genetic engineering is now a fact). b. A real occurrence; an event.

Using these rules:

  1. How one feels about a movie is an opinion.   It is not fact.
  2. The precepts of one’s religion are part of a belief system.  They are not facts.
  3. The temperature of the earth at a given location, the workings of the female reproductive system and the evolution of man based on fossils, ruins and solid scientific research, according to our 2012 definitions, are facts – or at least the best facts we have at the time until, like the centuries old medical technique of bloodletting, they are proven wrong.

Anyone who chooses to deny or confuse these facts for the benefit of themselves or their belief system as a way to influence public policy, could quite fairly, by 2012 definitions, be considered an asshole.

And that is one last fact.

Evolution

Evolution:  Any process of formation or growth; development.

I never cared much about getting married.   And this was long before I realized I was gay.  A time that, I might add, was long after many of my friends and relatives realized that I was not heterosexual.  What can I say?  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on to things, to evolve.  But when I finally did for the first time, back in 1979, the very last thing I EVER imagined or even considered, or even dreamed I wanted, was the right for same sex couples to get married.

Maybe it’s because my parents were divorced and never seemed particularly happily married.  Who wanted to be like them, and, incidentally, many of their friends?  Or maybe it’s because it seemed so constricting and square and I so desperately wanted to be hip and cool and superior – or at least get out of Queens.  I’m old enough where I can’t quite recall.

Then as the years progressed and I lived through two heartbreaking decades of AIDS related deaths of some of my best friends, colleagues and peers — young gay men just like me but unlike me because they had not lucked out and won the survival lottery — it felt, and actually still sort of feels trivial.  Marriage?  Uh, how about the Reagan government showing some interest in not burying any more of my brothers, friends and loved ones if they can manage the task in between deregulating the economy for the rich and super rich, if that’s not too much trouble?  If I still sound bitter, well, uh, yeah, maybe I am – just a little.  Though I am working on it.

Of course, the eighties are over (aren’t they?) and I’ve been in a relationship/domestic partnership/common law something or other for the last 25 years.  And now that as a society we’ve moved past the deregulating making money for the super rich and it’s part of our history (oh, we haven’t and it isn’t?) –- gay marriage sorta/kinda feels (and I’m just speaking for me) well, besides the point.  Like getting permission from your 90-year-old mother to have a sleepover you’ve been having for the past two and a half decades that she actually knew about in the first place.

I take a lot of crap from my gay and straight friends for this – particularly the many who are in couples and are either married or banging the doors down to do so. I don’t get it.  I mean, I do get it, sort of.  But after all this time, I resent someone telling me that my relationship is now okay and acceptable and, if I try real hard and devote a lot of time and energy could even be legal one day.  Really??  Well, screw you (while I screw who I want) and the pulpit you rose rode in on.  In short, don’t do me any favors.

But — and I’m not saying I’m heading to the altar any time soon (so don’t ask and I won’t tell!!) –-

I’m evolving.

Well, I mean if Homer is available to officiate…

And the man who is responsible is The Evolver in Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.  A man I never met and has never met my partner and is not even the person I voted for in the Democratic primary when he was first running for president.  Well, as Katie Morosky says in “The Way We Were” about her beloved Franklin Roosevelt, the president she also at first didn’t campaign for– “some people work out better than we think.”  (Note: KM is one of my favorite movie characters).

I suspect Pres. Obama will go down in history as the person who mainstreamed the legal evolution of marriage equality and helped make it as much of an non-issue as whether the sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” will make money.  In all three cases it’s not if it will occur but how much and to how many.

As for gay marriage – he certainly mainstreamed/evolved it for me.  When I heard Wednesday morning that he was announcing his support I thought it was important for those who wanted it even if it seemed a bit politically facile and didn’t feel much in terms of my own life personally.  But upon actually hearing his words live on tape/digital -– I actually — teared up.

A tissue count normally reserved only for Sophie’s Choice

Know that I HATE admitting that.  Almost as much as I hate admitting I laugh out loud at reruns of “The Nanny,” a show I couldn’t bear when it first aired in the early 1990s, or the fact that I’m the one who never really liked “Pulp Fiction,” “Waiting for Guffman” “Vertigo” “Desperate Housewives” or “The Good Wife.” Plus I refused to see “Jaws”  (because I like body surfing in the ocean) and gave the little seen 1981 movie “Four Friends” a rave review while I was a movie critic at Variety and STILL think it’s a fine, touching movie despite all other reaction to the contrary.  But there, now I’ve said them all.  So hate me if you must.

Oy that hair! those clothes!

Of course, re-watching or re-reviewing any of these I could change my mind but it’s not likely.  Unlike many in the public square, I almost never flip flop.  On anything.  I feel really deeply about what I think and seldom change my mind.  Except – when I’m evolving or absolutely forced to (another line from “The WWW” but who’s counting — 2).

How the hell does Obama do this to people???  That’s what I’d like to know, even more than what gifts I’d be getting if I were to consent to marriage and my partner would actually have me after all my diatribes against it.   Aren’t I too old to register?  Shouldn’t the gift money go to charity at this point?  Since I don’t need any household items would it be too unsavory to ask well-meaning friends to contribute to a fund that would finance a belated honeymoon touring Italy for a month before I’m too old to travel from town to town in awe?  Suddenly, there are questions (too many questions), which makes me sorry that the president even went there with this whole thing.

Table for two, please.

Except – I’m not.   And I think I know why.

In no time in our history have gay people truly had the most powerful person in the world on our side without equivocation.  Never.  Metaphorically, it’s like a young teenager knowing the smartest, most powerful and most popular kid in school has your back.  Yes, I know the goal is to stand up and save yourself and yes I know that no one can prevent bad things from happening to good people all the time.  But — it still feels good to be accepted, and yes, loved, unconditionally.   For all of us in the LGBT community, to have a US president do that while declaring that our love for our mates is no different than anyone else’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – trust me, that is true evolution.

Is the president, or even this declaration, perfect  — no.  But neither are “The Hungers Games” (don’t get me started) or “The Avengers.” Yet they are embraced as a part of contemporary American culture – no matter how much one does or doesn’t feel about them.

To deny that is to deny reality.

Which is really what the fight has always been about anyway.  You don’t have to like or even go see either movie.  But you can’t pretend that they’re not there.

As for evolution, Rachel Maddow put it better than me on the first segment of her Wednesday (May 8) show as she traced the evolution of presidents concerning marriage equality and noted that it was important to understand both the personal and political history of our past presidents of the last 30 years in order to understand our present one.

Yes, Rachel is gay, but her reportage is fact-based and as unbiased as it gets.   Certainly a lot less biased than anything you’d find sitting in your local chair.

Click for full video

The second (and not yet final) example of evolution would be a Washington Post article that ran the other day detailing the prep school escapades (some would call it bullying but that’s not for me to say) of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Governor did issue a statement through his staff that he didn’t recall ANY of said escapades in the article and then went on to admit that though he may have participated in a lot of “pranks and hijinks” in school “if anybody was hurt or offended he was sorry.”  Still, he added he was “not going to be too concerned about the item” and that he grew up in a tolerant environment.  Some might call that last statement the beginning of an evolution while others (not naming any chairs here) might see it as a smug, misstatement of fact.   Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Yet the last word on Evolution needs to come from the classic film “Inherit The Wind,” where two lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of literally teaching EVOLUTION (the ape to human kind) in the public schools.  In this particular moment, the conservative lawyer (played by Frederic March) questions why he and more progressive attorney (Spencer Tracy) can no longer agree to disagree and must publicly come to blows in court.

Matthew Harrison Brady (March): Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?

Henry Drummond (Tracy): All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.

Amen, Hallelujah or well-said.  You choose.  All three are equally valid.

Prep Time

Focus Pocus

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

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

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

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

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

Nope... not that pyramid.

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

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

Geeky in every shade

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

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

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

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