Fail/Safe

There are many ways to spin failure. They didn’t get it. They sabotaged me. They did nothing. They marshaled forces against me. The world wasn’t ready. The dumbasses couldn’t see. The dumbasses were offended.

What is not in the spin zone is – I suck. Or I failed. Certainly not – I tried my best and will do better next time. That’s not very satisfying. Except when it is.

but enough about me this week…

This came to mind watching the public memorial tribute to the lives of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this weekend – certainly two people one doesn’t associate with failure, or even spinning. Though with Debbie you can imagine a heavenly Hollywood dance floor or simply put on one of her musicals and get there in the latter case.

The way they were

As a dear friend texted me, it’s strange to live in a time where we live stream memorials. Nevertheless we and many others were tuned into debbiereynolds.com (Note: Could I make that URL up?) where we watched highlights and tributes from the lives of the world’s Star Wars Princess and forever young ingénue Kathy Selden from Singin’ In the Rain – two iconic film characters from classic movies that will ensure the two women who played them will live on far beyond any of us.

That is, unless Cher or Barbra are reading this. Which I doubt. Though, one never knows who’s reading what these days. Hope springs eternal. For some of us, anyway.

Barbra can you hear me?? #couldntresist

Which brings us back to Carrie and Debbie. One of the highlights of the two plus hours of remembrance was a new James Blunt song that was played over a series of photographic images of Carrie and the bedroom in which she wrote and held court. You remember James Blunt, don’t you? He had that smash album some years back called Back to Bedlam which yielded several chart topping songs and then somehow suffered one of the greatest backlashes in the history of the music business.

You’re beautiful it’s true (stuck in your head yet?)

It became hip and happening to hate listen to Blunt. He somehow went from sensitive singer-songwriter to goopy cornball whiner. Not that he didn’t have some successful follow-ups or a core of loyal fans. He did. But nowhere as huge and not with anything approaching the verve of the memes of dismissal towards him.

Blunt, himself, became so aware of where he stood in the eyes of some of the public that after the death at the end of the year of his good friend Carrie Fisher (Note: He lived in her guest house and wrote some of his most famous songs there), he tweeted:

Full disclosure: I always liked Blunt and even before that tweet still occasionally played that CD, which, yes, I own. And oh, double yes, I do still own and even buy CDs.

I know this is how you see me #grampychair

Hate gossip away on that latter point if you care to. For the point here is to not prove the worthiness of Mr. Blunt. He does that himself with the new song he wrote in honor of his good friend Carrie  which debuted at her memorial service. It’s ironically as good or probably better than his best and will surely be meme’d around as the majority of listeners comment in shock about its value. While the naysers comment how it took the death of a good friend for him to come up with something listenable – if they even go so far as to at all place him in the playable category.

This is the essence of spin.

As for failure, it’s relative and goes with the territory of artistic endeavor. Or, make that human endeavor.

Or just embrace it!

The majority of us might admire or even envy Debbie and Carrie and not associate them at all with the type of “failure” we believe we are experiencing or have experienced or are inevitably going to experience, but nothing could be further from that (un)truth. Debbie had a trio of cheating husbands, lost all her money, endured national scandal and like all Hollywood women of a certain age was tossed away by the business that spawned her only be to brought back in at various points when it suited the suits. Though it was fine at that point because she had more or less figured it out.

As for Carrie, well, we all know, right? The drugs, the gay husband, the declining acting career. The sin of growing older and gaining weight! The mental illness and breakdowns. And then – the temerity to…write about it all? With humor? And do it well? One can only imagine the potential she saw in that from a hospital bed or alone in her room late at night when she couldn’t speak. I didn’t know her but it’s hard to imagine she saw it as anything close to a recipe to undo any perceived personal failures. No doubt more like a self-expression of whom she was and what she needed to do in order to survive the down times.

This, and countless other quotes too numerous to name

Of course, this is not to categorize things like mental illness, weight gains, marital breakups, career lows or O.D-ing as failures. That’s for the Internet and society at large to do for us. And they will do that. Relentlessly. And sometimes in the form of places and people much too dangerously close to you/us. (Note: As will the bathroom mirror).

It is more of a reminder to own your inner James Blunt, whatever that is, and move on. And as Carrie’s fictional Mom said in the move version of her memoir, Postcards from the Edge, “I don’t blame other people for my misfortunes.” And as the fictional version of herself shouted back, “I took the drugs, nobody made me.” Which is all fine when you’re in an analyst’s office or writing about your life – and often one in the same.

It’s getting past the admissions or the proclamations and moving on to something – anything else. Doing laundry is a start. Though I prefer cooking or something artistic. Even any type of exercise will do it.

Except spinning.

You know what I mean even if the current president of the U.S. (at the moment, that is) does not.

You didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you?

The Speechless Mentor

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 8.36.04 AM

Older generations are de facto role models for younger generations whether we like it or not. I certainly never longed to be a role model for anyone, which is probably one reason I very pointedly and rationally made the call decades ago to not have children. It is a decision I don’t regret to this day. Me, be someone’s papa? Are you kidding? I only just recently made peace with all my own insanities and let me tell you, that was a decades long, full-time job. For which I not only was unpaid but also had to pay – quite a lot. Read into that everything it implies. And doesn’t.

No, this Papa can not hear you

No, this Papa can not hear you

Still, what I never considered was that if one lives an even semi-decent life, which I believe I so far have, it is inevitable that one takes on a type of parenting and/or benevolent leader role to someone – and probably more than one someone – who is less experienced and probably younger than you are. This is the way of the world and is even predictable. Be it in your professional field, your social life, or – though hopefully not – in your romantic exploits – we will all eventually find ourselves suddenly thrust into the position of being a mentor, semi-oracle, or an older, wiser and more experienced something to someone when we least expect it.

For me this came full throttle when I became a college professor more than 10 years ago. Now let’s be honest here, there is something appealing about having people occasionally seeking you out for answers, especially if you’re someone who fancies their thoughts and opinions as something more than the stupidity that passes for wisdom these days. This is also doubly desirable to happen later in life when we all of a sudden find ourselves kicked out of the prime opinion-making demographic against our collective wills.

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Nice try, Hipster Grandpa

Still…when you’re up on the pedestal you must deliver the goods. That means you need to have a few answers, reasons or at least pseudo explanations and/or excuses in your area(s) of expertise.   And even non-expertise. Because once you become a true mentor to someone (and I suspect though can’t be totally sure it works this way when you’re a parent) it expands way beyond what you cop to know about and well into the issues of what may come up in the course of any particular day for those who are counting on you.

And that’s why I’m here to say that finally – after almost a lifetime of being a know-it-all – and more than a decade of being a sometime mentor and role model:

I’ve run out of answers.

For mass shootings.

For homophobia.

For racism.

For religious dogma.

For gun control.

For global warming.

For the rights and wrongs and lefts and centers of all of it.

Especially the Donald Trump of it – All.

Seriously. No really…seriously.

The realization finally took hold this week after 49 innocents of all ages were gunned down partying at a gay club in Orlando, FL. It was the type of place we gays in the 70s had always hoped for but, much like gay marriage, never quite imagined would come to be – a nightclub with a queer bent where gays, straights and those in between who were of all ages and races, would actually choose to congregate on a Saturday night to party together or just blow off some steam. A place that wasn’t limited to the rich and famous and didn’t have bouncers denying one entry because a bigger and better name was literally on the other line.

And preferably without these cheeseballs

And preferably without these cheeseballs

When word first came out that this unbalanced shooter fit a familiar profile – a disturbed American male in his 20s – I merely rolled my eyes in sad and disgusted submission. When the death roll rose to 49, setting a new US record, and I realized Pulse nightclub was the type of venue I’d visiting many times in my life, it was in horror.   Once I heard the marksman was a married, Middle-Eastern young man with a Grindr account who at the very least seems to have dabbled in gaydom, it became a cruel inexplicable plot point from a bad TV movie – that is if they were still making TV movies the way that they used. Nevertheless, you get what I mean.

Though perhaps you don’t. Because I’m not even sure I do any longer.

In any event, my Notes editor Holly suggested I blog immediately and she was right. Except, I couldn’t.   My mind was a blank. I said I wanted more info but found after XXX numbers of mass shootings blogs I didn’t have anything quite wise or even semi-not stupid to say.

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Is this too simple? too complicated? sigh

Then more facts began to roll in, more absurd political statements from you-know-who mounted, talking heads blathered and people cried all over television. As usual, Pres. Obama spoke eloquently but reading between the lines he seemed to be to be tongue-tied and frustrated. (Note: Yes, I do believe it’s possible to speak well and yet underneath it all be tongue-tied). What more or new could be said, indeed.

It broke a bit when Sen. Chris Murphy filibustered the Senate several days ago and after 15 hours got a little bit done. The key world is little — as in wee. A promise there would be a vote on an assault weapons ban and a bill outlawing anyone on our terrorist watch lists from casually walking into a Wal-Mart and buying a firearm. Pres. Obama just several weeks ago lamented the latter point in a very public speech and with the same particularly frustrated tone.

Still, that was not what really put me over the edge.

What did it were the Facebook posts from some of my former students and mentees. Searching out social media, public forums, their friends, loved ones and even acquaintances and former teachers – they were looking for answers.

Even Mother Monster doesn't have the adequate words

Even Mother Monster doesn’t have the adequate words

Now contrary to what some may think from a film and TV writing professor, not all of my students are left leaning Bernie Sanders Democratic liberals. Yes, seriously.   And it is to those that I fear I don’t have adequate words because to those in particular I can’t fall back on the usual party lines.

A Republican alum of my classroom who reviles Trump and feels lost politically wanted to know if it was always like this. Another former student of color and Fox News watcher rightly equated the Muslim hate with any racial animus and couldn’t understand why his friends and cohorts couldn’t recognize this simple fact. A third – a straight white guy who is a raging liberal but doesn’t fit the profile of many of the rest of them because he married young and already has three kids – felt the same way towards the anti-LGBT patter, excoriating all the phonies out there on the right and left claiming to be a friend of the LGBTs when their previous actions indicate anything but – and often the exact opposite.

I tried to compose something comforting to each of them as good and competent friends, elders, and mentors try to do. And each time I failed.

Me, all week.

Me, all week.

How do I, a Democratic liberal, tell a young person who was raised to be a thinking person that this is a blip in history and through a generational lens what’s happening now is an anomaly? Do I really know that? And do I really believe it? When as a pre-teen I saw footage of Bobby Kennedy being shot and killed during a presidential campaign and I didn’t believe any of the excuses? These three and the many others out there are far more sophisticated than I was at the time so I know they wouldn’t believe any of this now.

What I do recall is appreciating the lack of sure-fire explanation. The truth is hard to hear but what’s worse to listen to is callow dishonesty. It makes all that’s happened even worse. Like trying to fill a large gaping hole with only your own teardrops.

So this is what I have to offer. The truth is it’s for each of us to make sense of these matters for us – through many sources and (non-violent) ways necessary – and act accordingly. But the key word in that sentence is ACT. In some way. Or some sort. It doesn’t have to be big but it can be. It needn’t be small but that in itself would be more than enough. Talking to people is a start. Phoning a representative. Demonstrating. Providing comfort to someone. Changing your behavior in whatever way seems fit in order to create something…dare I say it…more positive. Perhaps towards someone. Or maybe – to help your cause. Make a teeny, tiny first attempt. And don’t listen to the naysayers who will try to convince you nothing matters. That’s ridiculous. And historically untrue.

Never give up

Never give up

Meanwhile, I leave you with a poem a friend of mine posted on social media that sums up my feelings at the moment. It’s written by Maggie Smith. No, not Lady Grantham Dame Maggie Smith. No one can be THAT talented. This MS is a poet who wrote something off the top of her head about her feelings and awoke several days ago to see that it had suddenly gone viral. See, ya never know.

Good Bones

By Maggie Smith

 

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine

in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least

fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative

estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for every kind

stranger, there is one who would break you,

though I keep this from my children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place beautiful.

Pulse, composed and performed by Chris Ryan – a very talented former student making this place beautiful