Light vs. Dark

When Joe Biden officially accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president this week in a forceful and, frankly, awe inspiring speech, he opened his remarks with a quote from the late African American civil rights activist Ella Baker:

Give people light… and they will find the way.

I’m not much of a light vs. darkness guy because I tend to see the world in infinite shades of over analytical grays.  This accounts for my lifelong disinterest in comic books and all things superhero and sword and sorcer-ish from the time I was a pre-pubescent up through the present day.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever would have made it out of young adolescence with all my limbs intact if I had grown up in the age of Harry Potter.  (Note: I’m the kid in the corner with his arms folded wondering why we can’t instead talk about Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie).

Also me in the corner

Though I imagine I might have figured out a way to find value in Harry’s lessons.  I’ve pretty much had to do this as a writing mentor for any number of students inspired not only by the worlds of Potter, but by the actions in Marvel, DC, Spielberg and Lucas.

I try to temper my enthusiasm

Of course, the lesson in this is to not be so quick to dismiss out of hand something that is not your thing.  If you do it that fast it is likely the universe will actually put you in a place where you will absolutely be forced to keep dealing with Dumbledore or the inevitable Avengers 5, 6, or 7 until you can stop dismissing it from way up on the very high perch from which you sit and choose to judge.

Such was my experience listening to Mr. Biden – oh heck, let’s just call him Joe cause that’s what he likes anyway and that’s what fits these days when you’re speaking with or writing about him.

And Joe it is

As Joe talked of being the harbinger of light in these dark Trumpian times I had a knee jerk, split second intellectual reaction of imperious resistance.

He can’t possibly be putting it this simply in these horribly awful and complicated times, could he?  I mean, this isn’t Star Wars or a Marvel movie or even one of my students’ basic notions for an as-of-yet unwritten studio blockbuster.  This is real life.  And real life these days is….

EXACTLY about darkness and light.

Much to my surprise.

It helps that it’s color coded

This is because in that instant I finally got why many young people of all ages crave superheroes and sorcery.  When things go so bad all around you it helps to have a powerful figure of stature on a stage that big drawing the curtain back, looking you in the eye and assuring you that the power of the light inside you is enough to fight the darkness attacking you IF you deign to believe in it.

In fact, in this case it is especially powerful because, unlike most superheroes, you don’t have to fight the fight alone.  You have a whole force of ordinary people very much like you and if you simply pool your forces together you can together shine bright enough to…

*cough* *cough*

Well, I was gonna say light up the lights of Broadway, which explains so much of why I never gravitated towards superheroes to begin with.  But instead, let’s go with vanquish the darkest of enemies, and call it a day.

Because by now you know what both I (and Joe) mean by the metaphor.

There are some moments in time where simplicity rules no matter how complicated you think it all is and I want to get.

Well, this too

We’re living through incredible darkness at the moment, as Joe’s 25-minute speech pointed out.

  • There are 176,000+ Americans dead from COVID-19
  • There are 5.68 million Americans infected with the virus
  • The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths
  • More than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment this year
  • More than 10 million Americans will lose their health insurance this year

And yet this just in from the President’s counselor and all-around right hand gal Kellyanne Conway when asked about plans for this week’s Republican convention:

You are going to see and hear from many Americans whose lives have been monumentally impacted by this administration’s policies.  We definitely want to improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.

Ah yes, behold all the doom and gloom.

But, um, how will that strategy improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.?  I mean, if we actually have real Americans speak? 

Well, there might be a casting call going on right now since its just been announced that two producers from Trump’s The Apprentice have been signed to help guide the festivities and wrangle talent.But here’s what we do know at the moment.  The Missouri couple that a few months ago toted assault weapons at Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, are scheduled to appear.  As is Nicholas Sandmann, that smirky Kentucky teenager who got up in the face of Native American elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial last year and tried to stare him down with a Cheshire cat smile that only the Church Lady could love.

Talk about darkness vs. the light.  Or shall we say, the Light vs. the Dark.

Ugh, fine, I get it.

Well luckily, I don’t have to because Joe did it for us in his way.  All  we have to do now is follow his lead and make the right – I mean left – choice.

Though admittedly I have a ways go with that.  On Monday, the night before the convention began and three days before Joe spoke, an elderly masked woman and I were riding up the elevator alone to the same floor in a medical building on our way to different doctor appointments (Note:  Don’t worry, I was only getting an allergy shot).

In any event, during the ride she suddenly turned to me and  said:

Excuse me sir, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the town crier, in this upcoming election you must vote for Trump.

To say the least…

To which I proceeded to say things to her I have never heard myself  say out loud to anyone and couldn’t print or put on TV.  This was after excoriating her on her feelings about Black and Brown people and telling her to turn off Fox News and educate herself.

Though before she accused Joe of being senile and having Alzheimer’s.  To which I shouted back at her down the hall (Note: We were no longer in the elevator):

Well, you should know about that!  And good luck with your message in Los Angeles….HONEY!!!

Yep

This is all another way of saying the light has probably come for me and us just in the knick of time.

Sutton Foster – “Gimme Gimme” (from Thoroughly Modern Millie)

The Simple Truth

Less is more.

This is the mantra that my writing mentors taught me and that I try to pass on to those writers I mentor.  It’s tempting to hear these words to mean that working less will mean more.  In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.  It takes a great deal of thought (though not over thinking), digging and artistic courage to explore areas you find scary, embarrassing and frankly, well, private, to come up with what you see as “the truth” (or at least an artistic version of it) in any given dramatic (or comedic) situation. And then to pare it down to less, less and still less in an effort to showcase it in its most relatable and thus, understandable light.  The (not so) simple truth is by then you might be thinking – who needs this torture!  But as one mentor told me some years ago:  “No one forced you to be a writer.”  Indeed.

I was thinking about being “simple” this week when I read that Zachary Quinto — the very talented actor best known to movie audiences as Mr. Spock in the “Star Trek” reboot, to TV audiences as the villainous Sylar in “Heroes,” and to Broadway audiences as Lewis, the neurotic gay intellectual who leaves his HIV infected long-time lover of in the revival of Tony Kushner’s  “Angels in America.” –- acknowledged what many in the entertainment industry have long known but apparently many in the public were still surprised by – that he is G-A-Y.

Having been gay all of my life, what I know for certain is that publicly acknowledging the truth about your sexuality, or about anything else in your personal life, is a personal choice and full of booby traps. Although it could be simple it often isn’t because of endless internal dialogue:

What’s too much… what’s too little; why am I saying anything at all?

But by not saying this am I lying about who I am?

What good will come of this in the age of #Twitter, Facebook (hiding you), tumblr (uh…_), TMZ (bad photo), VERY high unemployment (will I lose my job?).  

The real truthy truth is words can be so easily twisted and damn it, I just want to be understood!

We feel you, ZQ

To this I say – don’t we all?  But it is in that very attempt to do so that we all, including myself stray away from the simple truth in an effort to – what exactly?  Explain what could be covered in a single line, as one screenwriting teacher once told me?  Why not just have your hero take an action, if he has to say something, make it brief because the more he says the more confused you’re making me.

I wonder if to some extent this is what happened to the quite courageous Mr. Quinto, and, I suspect, might have happened to me at 34 years old if I were a major actor and an over thinking artist – both of which I think Mr. Quinto is (and half of which I probably wish I were at some point).  Instead of simply saying: I AM GAY and I want to be honest about it, etc. etc. here is the statement currently posted on his website:

I think he said he was….wait, did he?  Let me read it again.

Good for ZQ (what great initials) for saying something. And who am I to tell him how to say it (obviously this is not stopping me).  But might it have been good, or even more good (I don’t want to say better) for what he was trying to do – which is to make a public statement about his life – to simply, say:

“I am a gay man and I want to help.  And if me living my life openly as a gay man in some tiny way helps a gay kid somewhere who is considering suicide, that’s a small sacrifice on my part.”

Maybe he could add something like, “This is a very personal decision but if all actors, young and old, came out, it would soon become not a big deal and we could get on with our jobs of entertaining people.”

If pressed he could even further elaborate: “Imagine if everyone came out?  Maybe this is not possible for everyone.  But if it slowly were to happen, I can’t help but think, or in fact know, that the bullies would be outnumbered.”

Let me be clear – EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT TO SAY WHAT THEY WANT THE WAY THEY WANT IT.  This is something I tell myself AND my students.  The issue is – what is most effective?  Being Complicated?  Being Simple?  Or something in between?

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with putting all this in the personal and political context of Jamey Rodemeyer’s tragic suicide, the “It’s Get Better Videos,” and civil equality for the LGBT community.  But as they taught us in journalism school and as James L. Brooks taught us by way of Albert Brooks’ character in “Broadcast News,” the one thing you don’t want to do when you’re trying to make a point is: BURY THE LEAD.

Meaning: how great is it when you can say what you want to say simply?  Upfront.  Clearly.  Think the inverted pyramid – who, what, when, where, why, how.  It will ALWAYS work if it’s honest because nothing works more effectively than the simple truth.  It’s the only way to counteract the bullies and the liars and the tellers or stories that deep down we know in our hearts and souls couldn’t possibly be true.

Given our current climate, one could argue simple is not best.  But remember – true simplicity is not just brief but it’s truthful – simple does not necessarily mean TRUTHFUL HONEST.  Which is where the slope gets extremely slippery and where people as smart or even smarter than Mr. Quinto, often get tripped up.  Twenty years ago when an actor I was working with as a writer (one who would soon become hugely famous and powerful) saw my wedding ring and asked if I was married, I brushed him off with a one line joke and didn’t give him the real answer which was that the ring signified the love my GAY partner and I had for each other since we couldn’t marry.  A matter of a year later this actor, who I later found out was hugely liberal and very complimentary of my work, would become nationally known for playing the part of a married man on something he produced and I realized what he was indeed asking me was – if you’re a married guy I think I’d really like to have your perspective in this next project I’m doing.  Which – I will sheepishly admit – became HUGE.

Now, there’s no way to be sure that was the case, but in this instance I think so.  So clarity, honesty, or no matter how you want to define it can cut both ways.  I don’t regret my choice (well, not too much), because it taught me something incredibly valuable.  It might seem like a risk, but more often than not the right answer is the honest and simple one.  Now don’t get me wrong, getting that job certainly would have presented an even greater set of issues and I likely would have quit or got fired because this actor was not necessarily easy.   But neither is simplicity or, at times, honesty.  Though it is always the way to go.  No doubt the latter is something ZQ will be showing us more of in both not so simple and very simple ways in the days to come.

ADDENDUM:  I can report since this writing that ZQ has personally reached out to gay organizations and committees, including one in which I’m a member, offering his help when available.  In this case, his ACTIONS speak louder than his WORDS – and that is truly rare – and something which I greatly admire.  And when it is a choice between words and actions, let’s face it – we’ll take the latter every day of the week. Bravo.