Thursday, July 6, 2017

trying, stumbling, experiencing - it's all a virtue & it's extraordinary

I've known Marnie Webb for many years, per our association through TechSoup. Recently, she posted something to her Facebook profile that I really wanted to share on my blog. I asked Marnie if I could, and she said yes, and that it was fine to use her name. What Marnie doesn't know - but will know now - is that I cried when I read this. Because I know exactly how she feels. Exactly. It's why I started a travel section on my web site. Enjoy:

You know, in all seriousness, I spent most of my life terrified of flying. Like. Well. I'll spare you. Terrified. I got through it (I hesitate to say I'm over it because it can hit me terribly in unexpected moments) because I had to. I had to do my job and earn money and that meant, for the job I have, getting on a plane. For the job I want to have.

And then when I learned how to manage that, I replaced it with other fears. Getting lost. Dealing with languages. Stepping over some cultural line.

I would not have guessed, five years ago even two years ago, that I would be a person who has a long layover in a city and leaves the airport to explore. Who takes the public metro. Who changes currency. Who wanders confident they can get back to the airport. But here I am.

I post pictures of places that are spectacular. Rio. And this week Copenhagen and today Lisbon. I go to US cities that stun me, including a small one in northern Mississippi and big ones on the east coast. I eat dinner at restaurants, rather than getting room service, and talk to strangers. Today, in Lisbon I was resolute in practicing my faulty Brazilian Portuguese.

This change hinges on one thing: the idea that it is okay not to be perfect. That trying is a virtue in and of itself.

More than anything, I learned this from running. The slow build up to the day that I ran 13 miles because it was on my calendar to run 13 miles that day. The good days running and the bad. The injuries. All the times The Spawn slow rode her bicycle next to me and cheered me on. And then, bigger and stronger, ran next to me.

Anyway. I'm kind of marveling at it today. Perhaps because I just did something I didn't have to do -- left the airport for a little sightseeing on a long layover -- and I feel like it gave more than it cost. I wandered a city for a few hours and got on a train back to the airport. I made a mistake on buying a ticket on the metro and a stranger helped -- not different than I would do in San Francisco but something I never expected.

I sat on the steps next to the water and watched boats and people. I got a coffee and a little breakfast. I bought things for my family.

These seem small, you know. They seem ordinary. And they are. And today, to me, that seems so extraordinary.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

2017 Tony Awards, Star Wars, & Finally Seeing a Musical I Should Have Long Ago

Finally watching the 2017 Tony Awards. Wonderful show, as usual - always the best awards show on TV. In addition to all the great numbers and Kevin Spacey as host, I was thrilled to see Mark Hamill on the show. Near the start of my Star Wars insanity, I followed every single thing the three main actors in the movies were doing, and that means knowing that Mark Hamill played the lead in The Elephant Man and Mozart in Amadeus on Broadway and won a Drama Desk nomination for his role in Harrigan 'N Hart off-Broadway back in the day. And that Carrie Fisher was in Censored Scenes from King Kong and of Agnes of God on Broadway I couldn't see those shows, living in Western Kentucky, so I would go down to the Henderson County Public Library, and look up photos and reviews of the shows in magazines and a book that came out every year and said who was in what, summarized the plots of the shows, and had photos.

So, when Mark Hamill came out, I cried, both because I knew he was about to somehow make a referral to our favorite Princess, and because via Star Wars, my dreams of Broadway were further cultivated.

One of the people who passed away that was listed in the tribute section was Gordon Davidson. I drove Gordon Davidson in my truck once. I drove him from the San Francisco airport to San Jose, so he could see a production of Holly Near's one woman show at the theater where I worked. We had a delightful conversation - I'd worked with his daughter at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Later, the company manager said I'd put him in such a good mood, it laid the groundwork for him to love the show (and he did) and transfer it to La Jolla.

This year, it's the straight plays I'm dying to see on Broadway - except for the revivals of Hello Dolly and Sunset Boulevard, which I would kill to see, and Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, which looks and sounds fantastic. Indecent, Oslo, A Dolls' House, Part 2, the revivals of The Little Foxes and Present Laughter and The Glass Menagerie.

But that said: I love musicals. And I was reminded of that recently not by the Tony Awards, but by seeing something I've avoided for a long time.

For reasons I’m not sure of, I have avoided seeing Rent. I never saw the play, and when people would put the soundtrack on, I would shut down, leave the room, ask for something else… it just did nothing for me.

More on that in a moment.

The very first musical I ever saw was probably You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Henderson County High School, in 1974 or so. I would have been 8, maybe younger. I think I saw Snow White at the movies after that. If it weren’t for Disney re-releasing that and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins and Song of the South and all their other early musicals, I’m not sure I would have seen any outside of high school productions - there was no cable TV, my little town had no community theatre, and I had no idea at the time that Great Performances on PBS wasn’t just opera.

I admit that I avoided the movie The Sound of Music until my Dad made me watch it. No, really, he pretty much made me watch it. Oh, how I loved it. Probably why I’m such an anti-fascist now… (“You’ll never be one of them…”).

But after that, I was introduced to most musicals via their soundtrack. Living in Western Kentucky, I was far, far from Broadway, and Broadway tours did not come our way. Camelot, Little Shop of Horrors, Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess, Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods - I was introduced to all of them and more via their soundtrack. It meant that, when I finally did see those musicals, on film or on stage, I realized I’d gotten some plot points wrong - just listening to the soundtrack means you can’t always know exactly how the story is supposed to be.

As I said, for some reason, just hearing a bit of songs from Rent did nothing for me, so I never saw it when I lived in the USA in the 90s. The film version was probably shown in Cologne when it was released in 2005 and I lived in Germany, but I made no effort to find out. It's been on TV a few times since I moved back, and produced by community theaters here and there, but I never saw them.

Then, a few days ago, I was bored, and Ovation was showing Rent, and so I watched it, and I bawled and squalled and wanted to dance around the room. A pox on me for waiting so long.

I’m really glad I got to first see it as the film, because I got to judge it only based on that, not based on the Broadway show or the tour. I get really tired of the oh-it’s-not-as-good-as-the-Broadway-version crowd.

It’s the same with the movie version of Hair. I freakin’ LOVE that movie. If you saw it staged first, however, you usually don’t like the movie.

I wonder if I’ll feel differently about Hamilton once I finally see it. I think it will have to be a great production of it for me to get it. I’ve seen bits of it and it’s done nothing for me. I’m intrigued when I read about it - but not when I hear a bit of the music. Which is exactly how Rent has been for me all these years. So, someone please send me airfare and a ticket for Hamilton, please?

Other blogs where I have mentioned the Tony Awards:

Alan Rickman

July ups & downs

Post 2010 Birthday Ramble

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Clark Gable & Greer Garson in Adventure (1945)

I've been watching classic movies since before I was in double digits, and just when I think I've seen every great movie before 1950, I get a surprise. This time, it's Adventure, from 1945, with Clark Gable and Greer Garson.

I have actively avoided watching this movie for decades because it was always described as a horrible flop and painful to watch. I knew that it was Gable's first studio movie after World War II, and the ad campaign was "Gable's Back and Garson's Got Him," making me think this was some kind of screwball comedy, which seemed so inappropriate for Gable's first film after the war, and after losing Carole Lombard.

So I watched it at last, on TCM, of course, and I was stunned. It's a poetic, complex, dark drama always flirting with great tragedy. There's no way a 1945 audience would have been ready for these characters, this story or the dialogue, which is often presented more as verse than scripted lines. Watch Gable when he argues with Garson's character, almost to the point of physical blows - I've never seen him not be Clark Gable until this character, until that moment, and I cannot imagine we aren't seeing his grief at his loss of Lombard and what he witnessed during World War II. It's overdue for this film to get the recognition it deserves. Joan Blondell and Thomas Mitchell (you remember him as Uncle Billy in It's A Wonderful Life and Scarlett's father in Gone With the Wind) are outstanding in their supporting characters.

The biggest problem with this movie is its ridiculous title (the book on which it is based is called The Annointed - a much better title).

Here’s how I imagine the marketing meeting for this movie went:

Director: Hey, I made this complex drama about a seafaring man searching for purpose in life, who clashes with a sophisticated, quiet librarian, and they don’t get together until halfway through the movie because they are having heated philosophical arguments about the meaning of life, and by the time they do get together romantically, you’re stunned and also feel like this relationship is completely doomed, and the whole thing almost ends in utter tragedy, and the script is, at times, more poetry than dialogue.

Louis B Mayer: “Gable’s back and Garson’s got him!”

This would be a terrific film on a double bill with The Razor's Edge.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Thoughts on yet another white terrorist, this time in Portland, Oregon

A lot of folks are shocked that the terrorist in Portland who murdered two people and sent a third to the hospital was both a Nazi sympathizer and a supporter of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

I’m not shocked, probably because I’ve so many tweets from these folks around the 2016 election.

These people that believe in outrageous myths about Jewish people and their religion, but intended to vote for Bernie Sanders, are a strange bunch: they ignore the social issue stands of such candidates - their support for marriage equality, their rhetoric regarding racial justice, etc. - and zero in only, ONLY, on the populist economic message. Working-class white voters love fighters and outsiders, and it’s why you heard from them things like, “Well, I could vote for Trump or Sanders, either way.” Which makes no sense to people who carefully listened to what these two candidates were saying and read their track records, and as a result, saw the clear, obvious differences in these candidates. Trump repeatedly praised Sanders at rallies, because he knew how many of his supporters liked him - Sanders blasted Trump, but that never seemed to be heard by Sanders-or-Trump folks. Sanders-or-Trump folks also globbed on to Bernie’s support for gun ownership and his vote against immigration reform, which he said he did because pro-reform senators are “selling out American workers. In fact, they are selling out our entire country.” Trump-leaning supporters heard in those words “Immigrants are bad!”

The any-outsider-never-a-seasoned-politican crowd draws a diverse crowd, and I'm sorry that it took this incident for people to realize that.

And note that I say all of this as someone who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

The murder by this terrorist, this white supremacist, has also brought back a memory:

10 or 11 or 12 years ago, taking a train from where I lived in Sinzig, Germany, my German wasn’t much better than it is now - and that means it was really, really awful. But I knew, from the tone of the voice I heard to my left, that something was wrong. I looked across the aisle and there was a young Muslim woman, in her hijab, and a German man across from her, in his 40s or so, scruffy, maybe a street person, sitting way too far forward on his seat, getting into her personal space, berating her with questions. She was answering softly, or not at all, eyes averted. No one else was watching.

Then I saw his hand go on her knee and I exploded.

I jumped up and yelled some of the few words in German I know, “DU! RAUS!” and in a softer but firm voice, “Fräulein, bitte, hier” pointing the seat across from me. She sheepishly moved across the aisle and sat down where I pointed, while the man stood frozen, not looking at me, staring straight ahead. He was contemplating arguing with me. So I yelled again, “DU! RAUS! JETZ!”

He never looked at me, but he did turn to the aisle and walked down the car, and got out at the next exit.

I was trying not to visibly shake from anger and fear. I couldn’t think of anything to say to that poor woman, so we sat in silence as I glared down the car at the man, making sure he wasn’t coming back. The train car was silent now. None of the other passengers said a word or tried to help. I got off two stops later. I felt bad that I had never spoken to the woman, but I just didn't know what to say. Or how to say it in German.

And even knowing what I know now, you bet your ass I would do it again. I will not stop.

And may I add that I freakin’ stuck that rolling R in “raus!” better than Seargent Schultz ever did.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Three Things I Wish Judge Judy Knew

I really love watching Judge Judy. I do. I can't help myself. Her show comes on four times in the PDX metro area, five days a week, and I often watch all four episodes. It's my shameful little indulgence.

I’ve asked myself why I like the show so much. Part of it is that I would love to be that unfiltered and outspoken and in-control in my job. Wow. Part of it is that I would love to be able to stop lying or unethical people dead in their tracks. Part of it is that I just cannot believe how ethically challenged so many people are, how they will justify not paying a loan back, not taking responsibility for wrecking someone’s car, not returning a deposit to a renter, and on and on.

I like how frank she is about rights you do NOT have when you live with someone as opposed to marrying them - I don't believe she's telling people to get married but, rather, telling them to not "play house" without really understanding what it means, and I so agree with that. I’m also really impressed with how much she emphasizes that fathers have a right to see their children, and that children that don’t see their fathers are at greater risk of poor grades, skipping school, and on and on. I also love learning about the law. I'm fascinated by it. I should have been a lawyer. Or an urban planner... but that's another blog...

Anyway, there are three things I really wish Judge Judy understood, because her misunderstanding of such is actually quite hurtful:
  1. Renters can’t just move when the apartment they are renting goes bad. For instance, here in the Portland, Oregon area, the U.S. Census Bureau places the rental housing vacancy rate at 3.4%, and the rent burden has increased well beyond a third of a household’s income. I just found out that some students at our little community's university are living in campers in various places around town - they cannot find anywhere else. Many - most - people that are renting in the greater PDX metro area, as well as so many other areas of the USA, do not have the option to just “move”, as she often shouts on her show.

  2. She talks about how in her America, an employer should be able to fire anyone at any time for any reason other than something protected by workplace discrimination laws, with no two-weeks or more notice, no severance, etc. Does she really have no idea how hard it is to find a new job, what a job search does to an individual or family in terms of stress and mental health, and the economic consequences of such? At will employment for everyone would put individuals and families at profound economic risk and create work places where everyone walked on egg shells.

  3. She often tells people to look over at a parent in the courtroom and remember that “She’s always going to be your mother” or “He’s always going to be your father.” Yes, that’s true. But no one should be required to carry on a relationship with a toxic person, even if that person is a parent. I’ve watched too many friends waste so much of their lives and become emotionally drained over and over trying to please a parent who will never be pleased, a parent who tears them down over and over. Very often, the best thing a person can do is walk away from toxic parents - and there is absolutely no shame in that at all. None. 
I know it's not just her; millions of people think this way. But I'm stunned at how out-of-touch she is on these three issues.

I have no reason to share this other than I have nothing else to do today...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nuclear War, A Great Man & Musical Rabbinical Studies

I love the TCM channel. They show movies you would never, ever see otherwise: forgotten classics, foreign films, B movies, and on and on. They also help me save lots of money on therapy.

I recently saw three films I’d never seen before, two of which I’d never even heard of before, all via TCM. And I want to share. Because I'm in the mood:

Panic in Year Zero. It is one of the most depressing post-nuclear movies I’ve ever seen - and I've seen all of them, at least the ones made before 1990. I'm fascinated by such movies because I think they say so much about the atmosphere of the time the film was made, feelings not just about nuclear war but about other fears, about family, about values... I had never heard of this movie - I'm not sure how I missed it until now. Released in 1962, it's a B movie, super low budget. In Panic in Year Zero, people don’t comfort each other, they don't ban together and try to pool their resources for survival after the nuclear bombs drop - rather, it’s every man for himself. Humans are inherently evil and you better shoot before you get shot. It’s a prepper’s wet dream. One man warns another to be careful as he begins a journey elsewhere, because, “Our country is still full of thieving, murdering ‘patriots.’” That same man forces a visitor to roll up his sleeves before he’ll let him in his house, to prove he’s not a junky - and junkies abound in this film. Two of the three female characters are raped. This movie lacks any hope at all for humans being inherently good. I felt like the movie was a warning, not about nuclear war, but about humans. It’s worth seeing just to see how bleak some people view humanity. I admit that I don't have much faith in humanity anymore, not after Brexit and Trump's election and the Turkish referendum turning their country into a voter-sanctioned dictatorship and the global hard turn to the right. But I just can't get with the every-man-for-himself mentality. I already can't watch Walking Dead because of the gore, but I also can't watch it because of the hopelessness, the lack of any cooperation among people. If the majority of humans are that selfish then, geesh, what's the point in going on? And with all that said - oh, yeah, you gotta see this movie. Then go pet some puppies and hold some babies and watch some sunrises. And, for the record, the film that I think nails what life will be like for those not immediately killed in a nuclear war in the USA: Testament from 1983.

The Great Man (1956), the only screenplay credit for José Ferrer, Mr. Rosemary Clooney. He also starred. It should be a classic film! It’s brilliant! It’s dark, it’s cynical, and I think it’s more relevant now than when it came out. It's almost noir. Everyone is wonderful, the story is awesome, the minor female characters all crackle with sass and wit and savviness, but I think Ed Wynn’s performance deserved a best-supporting actor nomination - he took my breath away with his slowly-building one-scene oh-so-serious performance. Maybe you have to be from a small town to really get that moment. I think the film isn’t better known because of its muddy soundtrack, which makes much of the dialogue hard to hear - and it is a dialogue heavy film. Oh, nephew George Clooney, please pay for the soundtrack to be cleaned up and release this on DVD! If you see it, don't miss the part where a character asks Ferrer's character how drunk she is, and he says, "Fair to middlin'". Such a Southern way of saying it - Ferrer was influenced by that Kentucky wife more than I thought.

Those are the two films I had never heard of. The third film, which I most certainly had heard of: Yentl. I purposely avoided it for years. I had seen only one scene, back when I was 18, with Barbara Streisand and Amy Irving, and thought it looked stupid and horrible. Now, seeing the film at 51 - I actually really enjoyed it, in a way that I never could have when I was young. It’s a directing triumph, at the very least, and it’s shameful Streisand wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. SHAMEFUL. I also now “get” the singing in her head, something I couldn’t grasp at 18. Because, I think, I was 18. No, it’s not the greatest film ever made and it's not even in my top 100 of all time. But it is as good as all the other amazing films nominated that year for awards in some way: Terms of Endearment, The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Year of Living Dangerously (which is in my top 100), The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies, Educating Rita, Testament (another that is in my top 100 - and referenced for a second time in this blog), Silkwood, To Be or Not to Be, WarGames, and on and on.  Damn, what a great time for movies that was...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

pathologically ambitious, shrill & scary

I was very hard on Hillary Clinton in the months leading up to the November 2016 election. Very hard. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Oregon primary because I felt his message and track record were so much better than hers - not just more in line with mine, but better.  I was enraged over Clinton's choice for Vice President. I was also furious over her comments lauding Nancy Reagan for her response to HIV and AIDS, and her ridiculous backtracking regarding those statements.

I also got angry that, when I criticized her track record, I was sometimes accused of being sexist, despite the fact that I never criticized her hair or her voice or her ambition, and staunchly defended her when anyone did go after her for those things - including Obama supporters back in 2012 (she wasn't running then, but a lot of his supporters, online, felt the need to refer to her in vile terms). In the end, even in my endorsement of her, I was tough on her. But as I said over and over, online and in conversations with others, I also believed - and still do - that Hillary Clinton was absolutely qualified for the job of President, that she would serve with honor in and respect for the office, that she would try to be President for all Americans, that she would be true to her pro-Choice beliefs, that she is incredibly smart, that her political ambition is a thing to be lauded, not to be derided, that she responds to political pressure from the Democratic Party base, and that I had similar reservations about Barack Obama in terms of lack of political courage and progressive credentials and, yet, he surprised me in quite a few areas - maybe she would too. I did not vote for the lesser of two evils; I voted for a highly qualified person for President, one that would, at the very least, serve with solid competence.

Hillary Clinton received more votes than any white man that has every run for President, including the man that is now President. She won by a margin of 2.10% of the popular vote - that’s more than Jimmy Carter won over Gerald Ford, more than Richard Nixon won over Hubert Humphrey, more than JFK won over Richard Nixon. It’s close to the 2.46% margin George Bush won over John Kerry, and it's far more than the margin Gore had when he won the popular vote over George Bush in 2000. Altogether, it should have been enough to make her President, but because of our archaic election laws, it didn't.

So, here we are, months after the election, and the hateful comments about Hillary Clinton seem to have actually increased. And I take it personally.

Many weeks ago, someone I considered a friend, someone who did not vote for Trump, talked about why he hadn't wanted to vote for Clinton, and not once did he talk about her policy stances or time as Secretary of State or Senator, as I had when I criticized her; he just kept saying things like "I don't like her tone" and "she just doesn't seem Presidential" and "she's a career politician" and "she gets so shrill" and "there's just something about her I don't like." And the more he talked, the more I realized almost everything he was saying could be said about me.

Hillary Clinton was all that stood between us and a reckless, unstable, ignorant, inane, infinitely vulgar, climate-change-denying white-nationalist misogynist with authoritarian ambitions and kleptocratic plans. A lot of people, particularly white men, could not bear her, and that is as good a reason as any for Trump’s victory. Over and over again, I heard men declare that she had failed to make them vote for her. They saw the loss as hers rather than ours, and they blamed her for it, as though election was a gift they withheld from her because she did not deserve it or did not attract them. They did not blame themselves or the electorate or the system for failing to stop Trump.

That's from an essay by Rebecca Solnit, a columnist at Harper’s and the author of many books, including Men Explain Things to Me: And Other Essays. And I burst into tears when I read it - and I read it after I had written most of the text for this blog up to that excerpt.

Below is more from that same essay:

---

Clinton was constantly berated for qualities rarely mentioned in male politicians, including ambition – something, it’s safe to assume, she has in common with everyone who ever ran for elected office. It’s possible, according to Psychology Today’s headline, that she is ‘pathologically ambitious’. She was criticised for having a voice. While Bernie Sanders railed and Trump screamed and snickered, the Fox commentator Brit Hume complained about Clinton’s ‘sharp, lecturing tone’, which, he said, was ‘not so attractive’, while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell gave her public instructions on how to use a microphone, Bob Woodward bitched that she was ‘screaming’ and Bob Cusack, the editor of the political newspaper the Hill, said: ‘When Hillary Clinton raises her voice, she loses.’ One could get the impression that a woman should campaign in a sultry whisper, but of course if she did that she would not project power. But if she did project power she would fail as a woman, since power, in this framework, is a male prerogative, which is to say that the set-up was not intended to include women.

As Sady Doyle noted, ‘she can’t be sad or angry, but she also can’t be happy or amused, and she also can’t refrain from expressing any of those emotions. There is literally no way out of this one. Anything she does is wrong.’
---

I remember back in 2008, the first time Hillary Clinton ran for President. Then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris said "I believe that there could well come a time when there is such a serious threat to the United States that she breaks down like that," adding, "I don't think she ought to be president." New York Daily News' Stanley Crouch said Clinton seemed "hysterical." He claimed that while Clinton was charismatic in person, on television she seemed: "...by turns icy, contrived, hysterical, sentimental, bitter, manipulative and self-righteous. In short, dehumanized by the mysterious dictates of technology, she takes on qualities that most people hate. Perhaps because of the way camera lights hit the planes of her face and the tinny distortions of her voice imposed by television microphones, something apparently evil happens."

I, too, am "pathologically ambitious." I, too, have eschewed work in the private sector, choosing to concentrate on the nonprofit/mission-based sector instead. I, too, have been constantly interrupted by men when it's supposed to be my turn to speak, either in a meeting or even when I am presenting, as an expert, to an audience. I, too, have been criticized for my tone rather than what I'm proposing or defending. I, too, have been criticized for the clothes I've worn to work. I, too, have been called "sentimental, bitter, manipulative and self-righteous" - though usually not all those words are used at the same time. I, too, have been told at work, at incredibly inappropriate moments, that I need to smile more. I, too, have been criticized for either being or acting "too smart" with men. In other words, I'm a lot like Hillary Clinton. And that means that I, too, have been criticized for presentation, appearance and my gender rather than the quality of my work and character.

As I've seen and heard Hillary Clinton criticized for those things, I have slowly realized just how often people must have criticized me, either just in their head or to each other when I'm not in the room. I realize just how much I'm not liked by so many, many people, not because of lack of ability or for transgressions, but for image, and for daring to reach for assume roles usually reserved for men. Not because of my words or what's in my heart or my work or my character, but because of my tone, because of "something" about me.

Where is the place in the world for Hillary Clinton, or for me?