Keep Calm and…

So says the Queen!

So says the Queen!

I get really annoyed with people who tell me to calm down.  What I hear is:  you’re hysterical for no reason – try to behave like a normal person – there’s no reason to get so excited – you’re blowing blankety-blank out of proportion and – the absolute worst –- grow up! On the other hand, I don’t mind when I tell myself to chill out or when a very select and very, very small (miniscule, really) group of loved ones give me a sideways glance now and again suggesting I just might not want to say what I am about to say or act like I am about to act.  On rare occasions I don’t even mind words like “relax,” “stop,” or “you don’t really want to do that, do you?”  In fact, I have even learned lately to do that for myself. Holiday time, which, let’s face it, starts right after Thanksgiving and ends a couple of days into the new year, will undoubtedly bring out a lot of calm downs from both directions — either from you or, if your life is anything like mine, to you.  But either one of those are akin to a well-meaning someone registering you for a yoga class against your will or a well-meaning you deciding to drag someone to your yoga class because you know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be good for them.

Of course, I would never drag you to yoga since I like bouncing around to loud music when I exercise (if you substitute yoga for watching Homeland on Sunday nights it might apply).

That's more like it...

That’s more like it…

As for those trying enlist the rest of us into balance and deep breathing against our wills – uh, good luck with that.  Plus, if you’re even thinking of telling someone like me to calm down about it or plan to suggest that this attitude is the very reason to do yoga my answer to you is a simple this: shove it up your Menorah, Christmas tree or appropriate something or other. This does not mean that I am not an advocate of peacefulness or a large helping of calm at this “most wonderful time of the year.” Far from it.  But the calm has to be the choice of the individual, not an imposition by perhaps the very person or thing that is making the individual feel anything but….  For my vegan friends – we get the whole idea of promoting good nutrition but you are not going to insult or intimidate people into your way of thinking.  That only works when I personally do it to members of the religious right who call gay people sinners or claim women shouldn’t have control over their own reproductive rights.  Nor will posting pictures of animals going to the slaughter on Facebook or extolling the merits of a plant-based diet on Thanksgiving or Christmas or Chanukah as your family is about to cut into the white meat, ham or brisket they’ve been looking forward to all year.  That will only serve to make everyone nauseous after dinner and cause you to go into a murderous tofu-fueled rage, yoga or not.

Because that looks comfortable...

Because that looks comfortable…

As any one at a 12-step meeting will testify, you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved.  The best you can do is offer up an alternative path in the discourse of life or provide a helping hand when someone reaches out to the world or specifically comes knocking at your door.  The real radical act is being there for someone (or everyone) not browbeating them into your way of thinking (as if that were possible).  Or, worse yet, browbeating yourself around holiday time for not being the person you thought you’d become and using the this period in particular to sink even further into self abuse, annihilation or your chosen weapon of destructive choice.

Step away from the cookies...

Step away from the cookies…

Taking a breath and then a step back helps with all of this.  As does prioritizing, making lists and realizing you will never get to every single item on your personal spreadsheet because there will always, always, always be more to do.  In truth, the most you can hope for is to reduce the list by a little (or even a lot) and stay a bit ahead of the curve as you drive through the next 28 day obstacle course of twinkling lights, stolen parking spots and petty innuendos from fellow put upon co-workers, friends and family all played out against a cheerily relentless holiday music drone. I learned this the hard way when we threw a party at our house for two hundred plus students last week and in the pouring rain some crazy neighbor lady two houses up (who I had never met) leaned on her horn for five minutes in front of our house and demanded I find the owner of the car parked in front of her house and get them to move so she could conveniently pull her gas-guzzling SUV into what is and will always be a spot on a very public street.  I learned it this month when several friends and family members grew seriously ill and landed in the hospital or, one case, out of it for the very last time.  And I learned it yet again a few days ago when the kitchen ceiling started to leak, I twisted my neck by sitting the wrong way, and I had to stay up till 5 a.m. to finish work that I had seriously procrastinated on that I suddenly realized was absolutely and terrifyingly due the next day.

Tied up at the moment...

Tied up at the moment…

What I tell myself – then and now – is not to calm down but that these are high-class problems of the privileged not living in a third world nation (or that they are merely unavoidable human ones).  And then, amid numerous breaths, I also try to look at the many pleasures of life this week.  The friend who came to visit for a couple of weeks because we live in an age where micro-budgets movies can happen and 12 year old screenplays can indeed see the light of day to great affect.  Or the other party we were also lucky enough to give at our same house the following week for 45 more than deserving kind and lovely call center volunteers for The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading hotline for at risk youth.  Or the fact that for the next four weeks I will actually have time to do some of my own reading and writing and relaxing while clearing my head, recharging and pumping some disposable income into the nation’s economy (and I’m not even a JOB CREATOR!) for stuff I (and others) momentarily want but certainly don’t need.

Not to get too George Bailey/It’s A Wonderful Life on you, but after countless stress-filled holiday seasons, these days there is a light at the end of the tunnel where I’m finally breathing pretty well.  Maybe I’m just tired and find it takes too much effort to be continually worried and pissed off.  Or maybe it’s the new asthma medication and bi-weekly allergy shots that have cleared things up.  But I don’t think so.

The original Master

The original Master

Like most changes in my life, I chalk it up to the movies.  I recently popped into the DVD/DVR/IUD a screener of Hitchcock, a sort of cinema parlor trick on the part of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren as they evoke the great director and his wife and the turbulence in both their personal and professional worlds during the making of the Master’s iconic film “Psycho.” (Note: this is not the Phillip Seymour Hoffman Master but the nickname of one of the most important filmmakers of ours or any time).   While I can’t say the movie is great, it is certainly great fun at many turns, which certainly makes it worth the effort.  In any event, as I was treated to the iconic Hitchcock greeting of “Goood eeeeevening” while his creepily bouncy theme song played in the background, and as I laughed as his disdain-filled wife described his body as “corpulent” and as I was appalled not by Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh but by the fact that she could only feign terror in her famed Psycho shower scene real enough to satisfy her director only when Hitch himself got his corpulent self up out of his chair and came dangerously close to stabbing her up close and personal — I was reminded of one of his great pronouncements and unintended life lessons – one I’ve quoted before but bears repeating: Ingrid Bergman fretted to the director over something or other during the filming of 1946’s Notorious, probably no more or less nervous that any of the rest of us will be during the next 20 days, which means greatly stressed nonetheless.  And to her great horror, the director – who usually got the chosen result he wanted in any given situation – shot back what is now, and will probably always be, the perfect advice for life.  No, it wasn’t Boo!  It was, quite simply, this:

“Ingrid, it’s only a movie.”

I find this, and this alone, to be the primary reason to continually enjoy and breathe.  As long as it’s still possible.

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Pretty in Pride

Twenty-five years ago screenwriter extraordinaire John Hughes sat opposite me in his office on the Universal lot and looked me straight in the eye.  Then he suddenly (and repeatedly) banged his fist on his desk, insisting quite loudly:

“It’s about pride, it’s about pride, it’s about pride.”

Mr. Hughes was referring to his not-yet-filmed classic movie “Pretty in Pink” – a script I had read, liked and related to even though my life was quite far from the suburban teenage settings in most of his films.  I can’t recall what I was saying or even what aspect of the story we were discussing.  All I remember is I hit on something that spoke to him that caused him to hit on his desk (more than once but in a good way) because our polite business conversation quickly got a lot more real and a lot less, well – full of crap.  Bizarre as it was for a famous writer-producer to bang his fist on his desk and bond with a person he was actually supposed to be interviewing for a job, I sort of liked the guy for, at the very least, behaving like a recognizable human being with feelings.  Suffice it to say, this was not something I was used to seeing much of in Hollywood in eighties.  Or enough of since.

Work it.

Even though word got back to me Mr. Hughes liked me very much too, I wound up not working on the “Pretty in Pink” crew.  This is because when I was subsequently interviewing with someone even higher up than he was on the production, I had my own little attack of pride when this person sneered:  “Why should I hire YOU on this film when YOU’VE ONLY worked on TWO movies?”

I think it was the nasty tone or perhaps the condescension in this person’s voice that caused me to answer: “Well, no, actually, I’ve WORKED on two movies.”  And then I explained that these movies were equal in stature (actually they were more prestigious) than the film I was now being interviewed for and I did a good job, which could be checked out.  Of course, none of that mattered because my involuntary retort had thankfully sealed the deal that I would never have to be in the room with or be working for the jerk and a half who was now looking me up and down in contempt.  I knew that the moment I answered this bully back as sure as I also knew that had Mr. Hughes himself been in on the meeting he would’ve been proud of me for sticking up for myself when someone more powerful was trying to play the superior card and belittle the new kid on the block for no apparent reason other than the fact that they could.  P.S.  Did I mention the sum total of this person’s feature film credits at the time was zero (meaning two less than mine?).  I thought not.

Seriously bro?

Yes, pride cuts both ways.   But as John Hughes showed us not only in “Pretty in Pink” but also in all of his films, the best choice is usually to own who are you and actually take pleasure in the imperfect mess of a human being that is you.   Because even if you don’t get the job, or into the cool clique or wind up with your dream mate, at the end of the day you will at least be able to look in the mirror and have something resembling your real, true self staring you back.  (And from the benefit of time and perspective I can HONESTLY testify that that is no small thing).

Amen!

In keeping with the theme of Mr. Hughes (for no other reason than we can), this week marks the beginning of the 2012 Gay Pride Month (substitute another sexual orientation or ethnicity if you’re not gay and want to make this more personal  because even I am getting “gayed out” these days) and the annual colorful march in Los Angeles down the boulevard of dreams not yet broken.

Any Pride Month or organized march is meant for the individual to proclaim a certain amount of positive love for oneself despite the ample opportunity for oppression in the world even if you’re not looking for it.  As one of those gay people who has marched in and or attended any number of pride parades, it’s become apparent over the years to me that in the contemporary world, Pride is not always seen as the same kind of positive that Mr. Hughes proclaimed it was in our face-to-face meeting back in the eighties.  In fact, in politics it’s often noted as being partisan, pandering, special, chosen or – at the very bottom of the totem pole – too “politically correct.”  I mean, if a group sees itself as so special that it needs a parade or pride day (or month), doesn’t that mean it’s asking society to give it special rights and that that group is holding itself above all the rest of us?  Well, uh, maybe – but let’s consult dictionary.com to get the real verdict:

pride 

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.

2. the state or feeling of being proud.

If you lose the sense of superiority, because let’s face it, everyone feels both superior and inferior depending on the way you look at it, pride has a pretty positive meaning.  To have a high opinion of your dignity, importance or merit in the world is not a bad thing as long as you don’t inflict it on other people in an oppressive fashion. Especially not bad is the state or feeling of being “proud” – of who you are and how you are. Of not so much what you’ve achieved but what you are trying to achieve and how you are trying to do it.  This is particularly true for 100% of the groups who have some type of parade since they are always somewhat oppressed and never among the majority or the privileged in the society that they live in (i.e. there are no RICH, STRAIGHT WHITE GUY PARADES unless you count the annual Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, which last I heard does not feature any sort of march and is slightly integrated).

Glitter always helps

It would be nice to live in the earthly village of Utopia where flying your freak flag is as useless and unnecessary as the 8 Track tape, a Nehru Suit or a Zeppelin (not the Led kind).  But unless human nature cross-pollinates with the lost genes of Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the most selfless religious figure you can name (Jesus? Moses? Buddha? L. Ron Hubbard?) it doesn’t seem likely.  On a personal note, I’d rejoice in the streets if the grand marshals of this year’s Gay Pride Parade – the Trevor Project – were rendered extinct because then there would be no need for an organization dedicated to helping young gay, lesbian and transgender youth considering suicide since that joyous accepted minority would have no reason to contemplate such thoughts in the first place.  The same goes for the National Organization for Women (though ironically women are a majority), the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and labor unions (though the latter might soon be forced out of business by a select few not mentioned on the aforementioned list).

In the meantime – it might be worth noting some other touching, necessary and instructive instances of pride I’ve personally witnessed in the every day life of others that have meant something to me in the last few months:

1-    My student who in one semester did a record 650 plus internship hours (that means working for free) in a four-month period for two different film companies because this young person would never, ever consider not going the extra mile.  I might add that during this time, the student also wrote and rewrote an entire original feature screenplay and worked tirelessly for another producer who then offered this student a job on a currently shooting prestigious feature film in New York.  And who says pride in one’s work doesn’t get you anywhere?

2-    The dear friend who has seen and done it all many times over who last week went to a fundraiser for our current president and told me it was the “highlight” of his life.  This was not necessarily because of politics (though that helped) but because, after a lifetime spent working in political causes, it was simply humbling to finally get to meet the person who led the country that has meant so much to him.  Patriotic pride or simply patriotism?  You be the judge.

3-    The young woman I’ve known for five years who has had many career opportunities but instead had enough faith in herself to choose to take off to Ireland for a year and support herself with a series of odd jobs because it was something she “always wanted to do.”  I caught up with this clearly free and upbeat spirit last week and can report she now has a graduate school degree, a very cool new job and a very cool new mate – all of which happened after (or perhaps as a result of?) her ability to take a detour and simply live her life the way it felt right.  A lucky dreamer or pride and belief in oneself?  Hmm…

The only thing these three people have in common is their ability to take some sort of pride in themselves – in their work, their tribe and their deepest desires.   They are, as we say in the LGBT community – out and proud.