The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma 

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Chaos & Clarity: How I Learned to Survive Waiting for the Mueller Report

America 2019 — You can feel the chaos.   Step outside your door and engage people and eventually it’s difficult not to sense a series of conflicting feelings depending on where you are and whom you are hanging with.

Sure, to some extent it has always been this way.  But if I had to pinpoint one byproduct of the Trump presidency that would register across the board it is that we are in a transition period where nothing is exactly as it used to be.

A poem for our times

From the perch where I sit in the bluest of blue states, I think of it as everything being a little off.    Yet red state America supporters that view things as finally back on the right track are more than likely thrown by the level of anger and moral outrage from folks like me.

Those in the middle, as well as others more magnanimous who currently seek to unite the country, are likely torn.  They see merit in various places but struggle to herd all of us cats back into any sort of viable formation. The confusion and abnormalities they are forced to bear witness to daily must be confounding.  It’s any wonder they can even function as the rest of us relentlessly snipe at them (and each other) from both sides.

We’ll just call these folks Switzerland

As we await the full result and impact of the Mueller report one coping strategy is to embrace the chaos knowing full well that there has never been a chaos invented that lasts forever.   I mean, thoroughly lean into it.  Revel in it.  Play around in it from different vantage points before taking any definitive action in any one matter related to it.

The nature of chaos is that it is an ever-swirling series of unpredictable, seemingly random events that eventually turn into, well… many physicists believe at one time a group of such occurrences turned into the creation of the universe.

Even if you don’t believe in science you can’t deny that a bunch of stuff can conspire to happen that can create a new set of circumstances you never expected from a source you can’t fully understand.

Not believing in science?!?!? #holdupChair

It’s called faith and it’s prevalent in the unlikeliest corners and disciplines in both blue and red state America.  (Note:  How’s that for extending an olive branch????)

Of course, I didn’t come up with this idea myself.  It’s part of the seminal work of physician, author and prominent New Age figure Deepak Chopra.  He, in turn, synthesized this way of thinking from Buddhist philosophy, science and the meditation communities, and more than thirty years ago began packaging it into a series of books and seminars, as well as a lavish wellness center located in Carlsbad, CA.

Just checking in

Which doesn’t make any of what he speaks of any less true or more false.

I stumbled upon Mr. Chopra once again while flipping my TV channels in frustration and landing on my local PBS station.  Yes, I was THAT annoyed that evening.

In any event, in discussing his long ago bestseller, The Seven Spiritual Laws to Success (Note: Now available in a cool PBS sponsored DVD package!) one moment hit the writer part of me squarely in the jaw.   Chaos is what ultimately enables creativity.  Horrible as it can be to deal with and live through it’s often when our work or lives are in the biggest mess possible that change happens.

I know, I know… I kept thinking to myself this is so much B.S.  Until I recalled how many professional disappointments led me kicking and screaming into something ultimately much much better for me and how many rotten toads I had to kiss in life (Note:  Too many to count and they know who they are…or do they?) until I found someone different I might never have noticed had I not finally put a lifetime moratorium on ALL amphibians.

This is all just reminding me of how much I love Mayor Pete

When things are as crappy and chaotic as you imagine they ever will be (aka sh-tty) it helps to remember just walking through it or realizing that there was a time when you benefitted from a set of circumstances you had nothing at all to do with (aka dumb luck)  Or that a casual action you took or comment you made off the cuff created an opportunity you never anticipated.

We’ll never know whether it was random or a series of your small, nee authentic actions that created the good times.  It might be a combination of both or neither.  But what we do know is that any action causes a reaction.  (Note: Once again, see science).

We also know the opposite is likely true.  The one way to ensure nothing changes in your absolutely miserable life is to do the same miserable thing each day.  And that even if a series of random events do come together to grant you some good fortune with that strategy you will probably be so enervated you’ll be too ill prepared to take full advantage of it.

Otherwise know as, in popular parlance, a lose-lose.

Not gonna work

I once had a shrink years ago that tried to help get me out of my own pit of despair with a variation on this very strategy.  I was not only sad but angry and isolated and correctly sensed no one, and I mean NO ONE, wanted to be around me anymore.

At one point, in defiance and exasperation at the lack of help and support I believe I deserved, I bellowed: What am I supposed to do, just pretend to be happy?

To which he simply replied:

Yes.

ummm.. am I hearing this right??

Well, at first I was even more pissed off.  So I took a minute to think about it in silence.  During which time he told me that sometimes simply the repetition of a behavior can change things.

Even one you don’t mean?????

Yes.

This is not to say pretending to be happy cures unhappiness.   Obviously we all need to examine and accept what we feel and take action in any way that we can to resolve a situation.  But when there is no magic wand to truly SOLVE the issue, what else can one do simply just to get kick started?

But wait!! Fairy Godmother help!!

Well, another acceptable alternative to that way of thinking is to simply stop and acknowledge things are a mess.  Then look around at the mess and just observe – and DON’T think of solutions.  (Note: If you want to pretend you’re happier than you are when you’re doing this you can go ahead, but it’s certainly not a requirement and I, for one, one couldn’t do both).

Instead treat the moment, desperate as it may be, from the sort of impartial stance of an outsider.   Take it all in fully, from ALL sides, and then, when you’re ready, continue on, remembering all that stuff you were thinking when you had NO skin in the game.

This action won’t necessarily give you an answer but can likely also put you in a different place.   If the problems are deeply vexing, as they are these days, you might want to do it daily, or at least 2- 3 times a week, reminding yourself that the rage or intensity you observed yourself feeling are not felt by everyone (or even anyone) as often.  (Note: Even by you, since you’re now spending at least 10-15 minutes simply observing…or pretending to).  What’s their take and why?  Soak it in, let your mind wander and DON’T have an opinion on it.

So.. not this? Got it.

This exercise is not dissimilar from what many of us writers do when we’re stuck as to what a character would truly do or say.  We stop, look at it from various vantage points, and just sit there – angry and perplexed when no solution comes to mind.  No satisfying one, anyway.

But ask a handful of professionals what then eventually does happen.  Somehow, somewhere a thought, a strategy or even a potentially outlandish answer comes – and usually when you’re driving or in the shower.

Waterproof shower notepads.. actually exist #problemsolved

Refusing to rage about a problem or obsess about it 24/7 doesn’t mean you don’t care or are not seeking a remedy.  It only means you have learned to embrace the process (aka chaos) and know that out of insanity, an idea and an action and a change will come.  It may not be perfect but what could be worse than the mess you – and we – are in now?

Okay, don’t answer that.   Just know that will change, too.  And then change back again.

Damn.

Mumford & Sons – “I Will Wait”

Living in an ADD World

Do you find your mind shifting from topic to topic these days?  Do you interrupt people far too often? Perhaps you’re jittery, nervous, impulsive, argumentative or – all of the above?

A qualified medical professional or experienced lay person could quickly diagnosis you with A.D.H.D. – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – a condition that affects at least 8 million adults in the U.S. and approximately double that or more in children.

I know that because I am one of those adults and, though undiagnosed at the time, was one of those children.

I told you I was busy!

Relax, it’s not such a terrible condition. Medication can change your life. Simple organizational exercises and psychological coping mechanisms allow you to be highly functional and quite effective at any task at hand.   And even untreated, the condition can come with the ability to hyperfocus – which in my case meant the inordinately handy superpower of waiting until the last minute to complete absolutely everything (Note: And humblebrag, often to great results) for the entire first half of my life.

Still, if you’re just discovering all this in 2018, I’m sorry to say the overwhelming chances are YOU DO NOT HAVE ADHD.  

C’mon chairy!

Much as I’d like to welcome you into the club, I can’t.

Because what I believe, more than anything else, is that:

You simply have…HAD IT.

I can’t with all this, and neither can you. Who can? No one – not and remain fully functional and optimally effective.

YES TIM

And don’t tell me to turn off the news. What if this is 1936 Germany? (Note: If???). Would it be prudent to turn off the news? I just hate people whose diagnosis is to turn off the news. So don’t be one of those people.

Or, as Big Edie lectured to Little Edie in the brilliant musical Grey Gardens:

When are you gonna learn, Edie? You ‘re in this world, you know. You’re not out of this world.

Musical theatre aside, see if anything about this is familiar:

I started one morning this week walking my dog and reading, on my phone, a Business Insider story someone posted on the 90 Best picture Oscar movies ranked by top critics. Yeah, I was hoping to find Forrest Gump at #90 too but it was #84, which wasn’t too disappointing.

But then you have to live with things like All Quiet On The Western Front at #4 and Lost Weekend at #3? Have you ever suffered through either of them? Good, because before you do you’ll also want to know The French Connection is #10 while Midnight Cowboy is #54 and The Sound of Music is #64.

Nope. Don’t ask. NOT GOING THERE.

So f-ck this list.

Or any list because then I’m reading the actual paper (Note: Yeah, I do that sometimes) and see that Trump is saying his approval numbers are up to 50% in one poll and that they are higher than Pres. Obama’s at the time. And they’re particularly up among African Americans, which he attributes to Kanye West’s big fat virtual bear hug this week.

Well, it turns out Trump’s sort of right, but partly because it’s the Rasmussen poll, which always leans far right, but primarily because he has not taken an average of all polls across the board – which have him trailing Obama. Still, it’s in the ballpark and now I’ve spent too much time aggravating myself. But, well, at least I’m informed. Right?

Oh AMEN… on loop… forever #oruntil2020

Which leads me to seek some entertainment and I watch the work of two of my former students on DVR who write for the new Zack Braff sitcom Alex, Inc., which turns out to be a perfectly charming diversion from anything in my life. Except that it’s on ABC and one of the episodes I watch directly follows the dreaded, phony star of the people herself, Roseanne – a show and person I have vociferously boycotted because in 2018 I know there is nothing real or funny about her except her uncanny ability to get attention for herself under the guise of some fictional high ground (Note: Who does that sound like?).

Nevertheless, because I want to be loyal to my students I had set the DVR a few minutes early for Alex, Inc. so as not to miss a second of their show and instead am now stuck with the sickening spectacle of the new/old Roseanne sitting at her kitchen table, pretending she is a member of the white working class. Who, it seems, in real life, actually voted in the majority for Hillary Clinton and NOT for Trump. Yeah, that’s right.  Read this and think #NotFakeNews:

We’re talking nonfiction here people

At which point I later I see on Twitter that Stormy Daniels – my new hero because who doesn’t like a pissed off porn star with a real sense of humor who has an attorney smarter and way better looking than the president – dogging Roseanne. Which, okay, I cop to LOVING but not when I realize it’s only because Roseanne first dogged Stormy by categorizing her this way in a far larger fonted tweet:

To which Stormy responds:

To which I tweet back to both of them, and to Patricia Arquette, who was also somehow in the argument to begin with, don’t ask me to explain how:

And you think I should turn off the news? Or take my meds? #NotAChance.

delicious

Because then I would’ve missed Trump lying to a misguided (by him) crowd in Cleveland about bringing back jobs en masse to the Midwest that will never return, which allowed me to then laugh totally without guilt at Seth Meyers that night when Kathy Griffin referred to his First Sons as Date Rape and Eddie Munster.

Sure, I know it’s not right but I’m not perfect and when you’re desperate enough you will laugh at and/or vote for almost anything – as that rally in Cleveland so aptly demonstrated.

Still, this leaves me totally disarmed when Friday night I catch up with David Letterman’s new Netflix show, My Next Guest, where he interviewed Tina Fey and she actually apologizes for the last line in her brilliant SNL sheetcaking segment from last year that was in response the alt-right/Nazi /White Supremacist protestors of mostly young men marching in Charlottesville, VA where an innocent young woman was murdered (and many others injured) when one of their brood decided to drive a sports car into the crowd.

No regrets Tina

That was the line where Tina urged us NOT to show up to protest the Nazi brood there or in any other city but instead do precisely what these “chinless turds” don’t want us to – act like it’s the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads, don’t show up.

But because of all the blowback she got at the implication of silence as a strategy to resist Nazis she said she wishes she had a time machine to go back and change that line to something more like: fight them in every way except the way that they want.

Which then led me to ponder – do I now tweet Tina and tell her that despite the social media kerfuffle she needn’t rethink one line of her brilliant piece because these days there is no politically correct way to #Resist that will please everyone?

The fact that Tina wrote this line (from Mean Girls) is not lost on me

And thank God, or whoever you believe Her to be, for that because the next great moment of Resistance in my mind is scheduled for this summer in England. Trump is planning a state visit there July 15 and a crowd of 1000 drag queens (and growing) has already signed up to meet him at the airport in a massive demonstration. There is even a Facebook page for the event that states: Due to the appalling way the Trump administration has regarded the rights and welfare of LGBTQI communities of the US, the idea of a Trump visit to the UK is unacceptable.

CALL BACK TO RU 

Still even better is this further explanation by one of the organizers, Cheddar Gorgeous, stating that the strategy is really to be:

In solidarity with many other groups who feel marginalized along lines of race, class and gender.

Which finally leads me to accept this one simple fact –

Any world where someone named Cheddar Gorgeous can lead a massive anti-Trump rally in a country with one of the largest economies in the world (UK is #6, right behind….California…HQ of the #Resistance – ok, not a country but a state…of mind) — is not one where you to turn off the news – or to anything else – any time soon.

Meds or no meds.

Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out”