When Mute is not an Option

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My father seldom scolded me as a child but I do remember there was one instance when he threw up his hands, thoroughly exasperated, when I constantly answered him back on a subject I felt strongly about.

Dad:  You always have to get the last word, don’t you?

Me (in protesting voice):  No, I don’t!

Needless to say, this character flaw has continued into adulthood – as everyone who reads notesfromachair is aware of.

On the other hand, is it really a flaw?

There are many schools of thought on the art of having opinions and knowing when to voice them.  Admittedly, I have learned to zip it through the years if only to conserve the much-needed energy I know I’ll require in order to face the larger fight.  Yes, you find as time goes by that you can’t possibly engage every battle and, even if you could, your overall number of losses would inevitably increase even if the total stats in your win-loss column remains impressive to everyone else.  That alone can drive you crazy, as any fighter of any kind will tell you, myself included.

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

Still, what I have not learned nor have any interest in acquiring knowledge of is the ability to remain silent when that little voice in your head tells you it is imperative that you speak.  This is not the same voice that demands that you curse someone out, punch them in the nose or insult their parents, spouse or child when something or someone annoys you.   It is the wiser, more measured voice that implores you to fight back because you know this is a battle that must be fought or a voice that even in small measure has to be heard in order to counterbalance the misinformed, moronic or simply wrong-headed views of another person, group or even nation.

Such circumstances came across my computer screen any number of times this week (as they often do) and I spoke out – loudly, softly, directly, calmly and angrily, depending on the situation.  See, what I’ve also learned is that you can modulate your tone depending on who your audience is and how effective you plan to be in persuading the opposition to your point of view in the argument.  Contrary to what I used to think, that’s not called compromise or selling out your passion or values – it’s simply referred to as– GOOD STRATEGY.  (Or is it “stategery” – GW Bush).

Let’s look at some my examples in a category I like to call:

Nut Bag Fringe & The Religious Crazies (not a band) or The Extreme Right Wing

A common misconception

A common misconception

As a gay person, each day presents numerous challenges in the art of energy conservation and reigning yourself in.  Of course, this is the case for any member of any minority groups fighting for its rights as well as for the friends who love and support them.  But with the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and the country’s now majority view that members of the same sex have the right to tie the knot, opposing factions have intensified their anger and attacks.  It’s akin to the barely coded and/or totally racist attacks against President Obama and African-Americans at large (Note: Any more comments on inner city laziness, Congressman Paul Ryan?) have had to endure since we elected the first Black man to lead the United States (or in this case – a man who is half-Black) in our more than two and half centuries of existence.  (Note #2: It might be worth recalling that during our first century African Americans couldn’t even vote and were considered “slave property” in many of these United States.  Those in the industry doubting this need merely to pop in their DVD of this year’s best picture Oscar winner, 12 Years A Slave).

Okay, no metaphor is perfect and perhaps I am overstating the comparison here.  I mean, we gays were never enslaved – only discriminated against, arrested, periodically beaten and just every so often killed by our oppressors.   But that in itself is a nice segue into the first of two public statements this past week that needed my answering.

#1: In a nationally-aired radio interview, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) tried to defend the just vetoed Arizona bill (SB1062) that would have allowed any business to refuse service to any individuals said business choose not to serve on the basis of religious grounds. Said Rep. Bachman:

There’s nothing about gays in there (the law).  But the gay community decided to make this their measure. 

The thing that I think is getting a little tiresome is the gay community – they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them – so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.

boo!

boo!

Now, you can think Rep. Bachmann makes a whole lot of sense or is a whole lotta crazy but the fact remains she is a five-term Congresswoman and has a key position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee (Note: Uh no, not joking) overseeing the CIA and the rest of the United States’ intelligence activities.  She also won the Iowa straw poll in 2012 in her bid to run for the US presidency as a nominee of the Republican Party and speaks for a significant group of religious conservative power brokers within it.  Therefore, any member of any outside group ignores her at their own peril.

What needed answering – as I did on web comments and am doing right here – is Rep. Bachmann’s classic fact distortion about the Arizona bill. Yes, the bill is worded in such a way that it does not specifically name gays and thus allows merchants to refuse service to any people they choose on religious grounds. (Note: As if that makes it any better).  But what she leaves out is the reason for the bill to begin with and the primary cases cited by numerous lobbying groups in support of it.  And that would be Elane Photography vs. Willock – a case in which a Christian wedding photographer was sued for refusing to serve a same sex wedding.  Similar cases involving bakers and florists who chose to refuse gays and lesbians as customers have also been cited.

Don't forget we're also dealing with this logic

Don’t forget we’re also dealing with this logic

This is classic political manipulation akin to pending laws trying to limit early voting, decrease voting hours on Election Day and enforce stringent voter ID laws in states where no overwhelming voter fraud exists or time cutbacks are needed (e.g. Florida, Wisconsin, Florida).  But what is certainly well-known in these states is that the African American and other poor or minority community members – people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats –  vote early, have limited time on Election Day and frequently don’t have driver’s licenses to easily identify themselves.

Now, as Aretha Franklin once sang, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

#2:  Here is a story very prominently quoted nationally this week and displayed on a website sponsored by Norman Lear’s watchdog group, People for the American Way:

Oliver North: GOP Must Oppose Marriage Equality Like It Fought Slavery

In an appearance at CPAC today, Oliver North denounced President Obama for treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment” and “apologizing” for America. North insisted that the US “has nothing ever to apologize for, not once” in its entire history.

Later, North said that the GOP must remain firm in working to ban marriage equality and abortion rights just as abolitionists fought to end slavery, warning that “if we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”

For those under 30, Oliver North was a key member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s before resigning in the arms for hostages scandal of Iran-Contra and is now a best-selling NY Times author, popular conservative commentator and host of his own television show on the Fox News Channel, War Stories with Oliver North.

Remember me?

Remember me?

When my longtime companion posted the North piece on Facebook this week with an angry comment, one of his Facebook friends, who incidentally is a gay man, commented that “political discourse would probably be less apoplectic if the left didn’t spend so much time publicizing extremist statements by right-wing loonies and if the right didn’t spend so much time doing the same by left-loonies, neither of whom were in positions in power.”

Oh, I so beg and begged in print to this guy, to differ.

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

When fringe talk gets national attention and begins gaining national power it is the very definition of political discourse to engage with it – much like a military man like Col. North would do and is doing.  It is imperative.  It is a requirement.  Yes, it’s tiring, but if you are so moved in opposition it is your obligation to answer back and not leave such exaggerated, misinformed statements unchecked.

Rather than dissect each of former Col. North’s arguments point by point, let’s limit it to his comparison of religious conservatives fighting against the right of gays to marry as something akin to the abolitionists who were trying to end slavery.  So the logic goes that allowing gays to marry will somehow enslave religious conservatives?  And those fighting in support of the religious conservative, anti-gay marriage views are akin to those people who wanted to abolish slavery and free the slaves?  How will gay marriage enslave religious people in the same way that African Americans were enslaved?  (Note: Doubters from any industry can rent or download 12 Years a Slave from Netflix and find the correct answer.  Which is:  They will not).

I think the jist is... see this movie!

I think the jist is… see this movie!

See, this didn’t take much time at all.  And it only took me mere moments to answer this guy online with it.  Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn’t, or maybe it gave someone else who was on the fence something to think about.

Well, as they say, both Rome and marriage equality weren’t built in a day.  Nor is any cause that gets your goat, or any point the voice inside tells you is worth fighting for or against.  In any arena, playing field, social event or family gathering and on any subject – personal or otherwise – that you know needs your support.  I can’t believe I’m going to end with a sports metaphor but when in doubt think of what hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

…And I don’t even like hockey.

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An Off Day

Has Meryl Streep ever turned in a bad performance?  I don’t believe so.  But has she given us examples of acting not up to her usual caliber?  Certainly.   (Watch 1982’s “Still of the Night” and report back). Tony Kushner’s genius “Angels in America” set the bar about as high as it could go for a playwright – and pretty much for any writer.  Forget that he won the Pulitzer Prize.  That particular piece of work, which he labored on for years of rewrites as he watched AIDS devastate life around him, will also live on for generations as the quintessential dramatic evocation of a plague whose ruthlessness and scope defied description.  That is why sitting through his musical “Caroline or Change” some years later one couldn’t help but feel  that, well…every brilliant writer deserves at the very least a “gimme.” (okay, that “one” was me – a severely disappointed fan in a severely UNconservative way at the time).  The list goes on an on and most recently ends but certainly doesn’t stop with President Barack Obama.

Split screen is not our friend.

The buzz is abuzz with POTUS’ debate performance last week against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  Among the colorful adjectives used: “devastating,” “bumbling,” “crushing,” “mediocre” and  “defeated.”  Even the venerable Dan Rather, who was brought down from his perch atop CBS for daring to suggest Pres. George W. Bush had avoided military service in Vietnam by joining the National Guard (even though Dubya was a member of the National Guard in the Vietnam era and did not serve in the military) proclaimed the next day on MSNBC: “Let’s say it for what it is, he got his clock cleaned…there’s no other way to put it.”

Trivia note:  According to the NY Times, the phrase “clean your clock” was first used on the SPORTS pages (I should’ve known!) of the Trenton Evening Times, July 28, 1908 about a couple of local baseball teams – “It took the Thistles just one inning to clean the clocks of the Times boys.”  This certainly doesn’t make the use of the term any more complimentary, but perhaps knowing its origin does take away some of the sting of this currently overused phrase.

Whenever I hear guys on TV (and it’s almost always guys, let’s face it) use sports metaphors to describe or critique anything but a ball, a puck or pair of human legs reaching their preferred destination, it sets off a warning bell deep in my soul.  But that bell doesn’t zzzing. Instead it tells me in a measured voice we are no longer describing a factual event but indulging in the “oh so witty” (not!) opinion of the person observing such an event.  In which case, you might want to task another person with deciding if your timepiece was indeed really laundered or perhaps even to determine if its bath was as thorough as everyone on the sidelines of its supposed unauthorized spa treatment says it was.

Like many people, especially those in the arts, I’ve been described as overly dramatic, opinionated and argumentative by more than a few over the years (who… me?).  I’m never insulted by these commonly accepted “off” terms because to me this also means that I’m passionate, committed and quite forceful, depending on the day, arena and reviewer.  In fact, there are probably days where my audience (that’s you) see me as passionate where I feel I might be a tad overdramatic; and others where you’re nauseated by my insane opinions while I revel in the fact that I’m so committed to an issue and getting its truth out there that deep down in my soul I truly believe I am the long lost son of either Emma Goldman, Caesar Chavez or Gandhi. (okay, admittedly that feeling has only occurred once or twice).

Some days are better than others in the life of every human just as some performances are superior and some written works are more memorable (or, at least, relatable). Objectively speaking, there is no way to measure how good or bad anything is.  That is why it all comes down to two things – consensus and feeling.  And neither one can be counted on as being absolutely right or wrong.

The general consensus is that the President was having an “off” day (actually it was night) in his debate with Mr. Romney.  And perhaps he was.  Using our aforementioned standard of “consensus” we’d have to concede “off” would be the kind word.  But remember, consensus is not necessarily always correct.  I mean, the Grammy Awards voted Milli Vanilli their coveted Best New Artist award in 1990 and NBC renewed “Whitney” for ANOTHER season AND are giving her a reality show.  So if you’re still so hot on the validity of consensus well…  blame it on the rain.

What about feeling?  Hmmm.  Well, one can only imagine how Pres. Obama felt spending the night of his 20th wedding anniversary on stage in front of almost 70 million viewers debating the jollily avuncular Mr. Romney, who some say charmingly (though I say obnoxiously) joked about the prez being forced to spend his special evening onstage with a slick-haired 65 year-old man and a gaggle of television cameras.  Annoyed?  Preoccupied by a romantic encounter that already was, would happen in the future, or not occur at all because he had chosen to become President at one of the worst times in American history to begin with?  All very possible.  But despite the President dropping a few public hints, we will never quite know for sure.   Though one radio host I listened to the next day speculated that Obama was playing “the long game” (ugh, another sports metaphor), deciding that his strategy was to let Mr. Romney hold the stage unchallenged as long as he liked so in subsequent debates Mr. Obama could then hold the former Massachusetts governor to all the blatant half-truths he had so genially helped himself to.

Further Note:  Al Gore even suggested Obama’s “off” was due to the Colorado altitude and the fact that the president had arrived into town just two hours before show time.  But we all know Mr. Gore and Presidential debates are not a winning combo so I wouldn’t take his analysis to heart

Rocky Mountain “High”

The only thing we can correctly surmise about an “off” day is that every single person in the world has one or more and that no other person in the world can know with full assurance why or if the day is truly off (and by how much) other than the person who is having it.  If everyone batted 1000, there would be no reason for batting averages (jeez, now I’m even using sports?).  If it truly is all good, then does that mean not even one day can ever be bad Oh please! (Clearly, I am not Gandhi’s son).  Finally, if one believes in the consensus (dubious in itself) that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (or 3 hours a day for 10 years) of practice to truly be a master in any one field, isn’t it a good bet that a significant number of those days yield many desirably “off” results in order to allow one to become more proficient in said field, which will subsequently serve as the fuel to vault into the so desired master category a decade later?  

Speaking of which, I caught up with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” last week – a movie that is quite brilliant in parts and seems to indicate that 10 years of off days in a human life can be just as interesting as 10 years of on ones.

But I digress…

We are all so quick to discount our “off” days as something to be shunned, scorned or avoided that we hardly have time to consider just how valuable they can be.  And we need to do this, if for no other reason than to provide a break from the monotony of our perfection.

I’m kidding, of course – but only in part.  There is a dangerous rumor going around the zeitgeist that every performance needs to be played to the back row and that unless one hits a home run (yikes, I’m doing it AGAIN!) or pitches a perfect game, he (and perhaps one day she) is not worth that gazillion of dollars their multi-year contract ensures they will get paid.

As any expert in anything will tell you, there is a lot to be said for singles and doubles, for punts and for walks (oh, screw it – now I can’t stop!).  Of course, no writer wants to have their play or movie or book bomb but, on the other, hand, it certainly does take away everyone’s expectations for your next work and emboldens you to perhaps take a bigger chance in the follow-up since clearly no one will ever like anything you produce ever again.

We have no way of knowing how on or off anyone, including ourselves, will be on a given day other than to know that either verdict is certainly possible.  More likely, however, is that we’ll fall somewhere in between.  On — but in the judgment of others not as on as we could be or have been in the past.  Or definitely off — whether we (they?) love what we’re producing or are feeling lousy or annoyed enough to have not even gotten out of our bedrooms (for good AND bad reasons) at the time the day began.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what the verdict is.  What matters is that we show up.  This is what people like Meryl Streep, Tony Kushner and Barack Obama consistently do – knowing full well that some days will be judged much better than the ones before or after it – by themselves and, mostly assuredly, by others.

Or – (ATTENTION: ONE FINAL SPORTS METAPHOR!) — as the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky once so eloquently put it:

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”