Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 - A Requiem

What can be said about 9/11 that has not already been said?

Most people ask you where you were or what you were doing when you heard about what was happening. I'll start there.

I was ready to head to work, intending to be there at 9:00 a.m. At about 8:40 or so, I turned on the television to see what the weather would be like for that day. Instead of the normal format of my cable news station, I saw the picture of the first tower that was struck, with that gaping hole in it, black smoke pouring out.

I knew it was no accident.

I sat there, stunned, and the minutes went alowly by as the newscasters speculated as to what was going on. Then, behind them, I saw the second plane hit the other tower right as it happened. Clearly, this was an attack. I could only think of the people, how many people, there must be in those huge buildings. I felt sick. I didn't know anyone who worked in the Towers, but I knew people who did know such people. I didn't try to call any of them, since none of them would know any more than I was already seeing.
I watched a while longer, but eventually, I had to leave to go to the office; I had clients to meet. I needn't have bothered; they all cancelled. There, we had a TV with horrible reception playing the news out as events unfolded. I learned about the Pentagon being hit. I have a cousin who works at the Pentagon. I didn't know at the moment that he was on the other side until later. Then there was Flight 93. It took some time for them to report what had gone down with it. To this day, I don't know for sure what its target would have been. And I saw the Towers fall.

Enough of that. My thoughts stray toward the next day and the next week afterward. The country changed. All of a sudden, we were frightened, in the dark, and we did something as a nation that we hadn't done since December 7, 1941, when we were last the victims of a surprise attack: We held hands as a nation. We were united in our feelings, our shock, our sympathy for the victims, and our pride in the heroic efforts of the rescuers, so many of whom lost their lives.

That was then. Today, 11 years later, I find myself living in a country that is very different from those following days. It's hard to believe the changes that have literally turned our nation upside down. Two wars. Thousands of deaths among our troops, thousands more wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead.... a worsening situation in Afghanistan, with a struggle against fundamental extremists called the Taliban. And nowhere to be found was the man responsible. That happened only last year; maybe it makes a difference to the victims and rescuers families and brought some sense of closure. I don't know. I am far more frightened at what we've become.

Power-seeking people have taken advantage of the state of the nation after 9/11, and turned it into a severely polarized society. Old divisions are arising again, particularly racism. An economy spiraling out of control. A drive by some to limit the rights of others, especially women and minority voters. Class warfare began, and the middle and poorer classes started losing ground. Crisis after crisis. It's been hard, very hard on a lot of people. Other countries are in precarious positions as well. The world is certainly not better off.

Amidst all this, a small, extremist right-wing faction of our own arose, promising to return us to the America we had before 9/11, riding the  wave of patriotism, and saying that there was hope. We could fix all our problems, they said, if we returned to our "American roots" and the principles of our Founding Fathers. It sounded good to a lot of people, and one propaganda-based news organization jumped in on the bandwagon. Thus was the Tea Party born. In a few short years, they exploited the hysteria, the worry, and the uncertainty into a movement joined by religious fundamentalists, who had an agenda of their own. Remake the country into our image, they said, and everything will be all right.

More people swallowed the bait, the movement grew, and candidates they sponsored got elected. They gradually took control of a whole political party, which was desperately afraid of losing the votes and money that came from the extreme right. All of this happened without much thinking and analysis on the part of the majority of people involved. They were all too glad, relieved even, to shed the burden of our situations, and simply to believe what they were told by the movement's leaders and the propaganda "news" channel. Meanwhile, the other major political party had no coherent message and was ineffective. In spite of the hope that was stirred up when a very different kind of President was elected, things were locked down in Washington, DC. The American people were lost in the shuffle. No one was serving their interests anymore, and jobs were lost, families began to suffer. By the time this new President was sworn in, the situation was dire, indeed. At the time, I thought that anyone who wanted the job under those circumstances was crazy, and it's no easier today. Everything he's tried to do in the last two years has been blocked by the party of the extremists in the House of Representatives, the extremists cowing the more moderate and reasonable members into voting as a single party bloc against everything that has to do with the other party. The American people continue to suffer.

But not all of them. In the last couple of years, the Dow has gone from 8,000 to 13,000. The corporations are paying less and less in taxes while their profits soar. The wealthiest Americans are getting wealthier, and taxes on the latter two groups are the lowest they've been in 60 years. The "job creators" are rife with cash, so where are the jobs? Sent overseas instead of hiring good, honest Americans, all in the name of greed. Still, it's not enough for them. They want to pay less and accumulate more, they don't care where that money comes from, and they don't care who they step on to get it. They don't care that every one of the tax cuts they've received have increased the nation's debt. Their greed now dominates our country's economy and society. Huge amounts of money are pumped into political campaigns and into politicians' pockets, unrestricted and unsupervised. Do not be fooled; they own those politicians. We may think that we elect them, and there are still a few good and honest people among them, but the truth is that we've turned from a democratic republic into an oligarchy controlled by the corporations. Their public face? The ultra-conservative extremists, who are also (in name, at least) religious zealots determined to have things their way. Their way or the highway. If you think about it and really examine them and look at the rest of the world, it's ironic that they most closely resemble a group that we're supposedly fighting against: the Taliban. Yes, America has its very own Taliban. We should be extremely alarmed, but another one of the casualties has been the truth. Lying has become standard practice, and disturbingly, large numbers of people believe these lies, in spite of easy evidence that proves them false. Take, for instance, their standard-bearer and candidate for president; he's an habitual liar, as is his running mate (even the propaganda channel called him out on his convention speech). Don't believe me? Click here for an article that lists them in detail. Do a search on "Romney lying" or "Romney lies" and you'll get a huge number of hits from reporting organizations all over the country. Despite this, people continue to support him. I am not doing a commercial for the opposition; I'm simply pointing out the effect the American Taliban has on the public today. It frightens me. It's reminiscent of Germany in the early 1930s. Doesn't that worry you?

In fact, it frightens me more than the way I felt on 9/11. The stakes, in the end, are much higher and will affect far more people. There are roughly 330,000,000 million people in this country, and the 99% of the population not making money off the situation we find ourselves in are worse off than they were on 9/10/11. We'd just had the first government budget surplus since 1969; it was immediately squandered and our treasury pilfered. Do you have any of that money? I surely don't.

I'm not going to make a laundry list of every challenge we're facing; that's something that you ought to do. Choose your sources carefully, and choose more than one. You'll have to try to distill the truth yourself.

I have gone on far too long as it is, so I'll leave you with this: Remember how the country felt in the immediate period after 9/11? Fearful, but holding hands and feeling some sense of common cause?

What will it take to get that feeling back? What will it take to get out from under the thumbs of the corporations? What will it take to make the American dream possible again, and have the America by and for Americans that Lincoln once spoke of? Most importantly:

What are you willing to do about it?

Make sure you vote on Election Day. It really matters this time. Vote as an informed person, vote your conscience, vote for what you think is a truly better America. Your lifetime and that of your children and their children depends on how you make your choices. Think about your own life, of course, but think of your neighbor, your family, think of the country. It's not just about you. It never really has been.

Without being trite, I hope that God will bless America. We need it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Pain in the Neck

Very literally.

So, what happened after my last post? I had a whole series started to tell my story about doing a play. I still do. However, I got sidelined. Once again, my body decided that something needed to break down (and this is a hobby that I simply must give up). This time, it was trouble with my neck, shoulder, arm, and right hand. Painful and limiting in what I could effectively do. Including typing effectively.

So I go to the doctor (being one of the Americans that actually has insurance) to find out what the deal is. A gazillion x-rays, an MRI, and four consultations later, it was determined that I had cervical stenosis that was pressuring all the nerves that come out in vertebrae C4 through C7 (the mid to lower part of the neck), aggravated by scoliosis, arthritis, and bone spurs. Oh, lucky me. All of them said that it would take surgery to deal with it. All of them except the insurance company, of course. They were sure that simple physical therapy could fix the problem, and would be far more cost effective. Right.

So, I go to physical therapy, where from the get-go I am informed that it will be a waste of time and that I'll need surgery. Does this impress the insurance company? Naturally not. Therefore, I had the privilege of enduring 4 weeks of therapy without the hope that it would really help. It wasn't so bad, on its own. The people at the facility are very nice, patient, and thorough. That doesn't mean that it didn't hurt. All I really got out of it was improved muscle tone in the weaker side of my neck, which would set me up better for therapy after the surgery. Reports are filed. What's next?

What's next is the process of getting the insurance company (two, actually; I have secondary coverage as well) to authorize what is surely going to be an expensive procedure: Major surgery, at least a night's stay in the hospital, perhaps two, recovery, and yet more physical therapy afterward.  After much exchanging of test results, letters, recommendations, and perhaps a little bribery, they finally agree to it. Thus is it finally scheduled for August 1. In the meantime, I wait with the same symptoms, mainlining ibuprofen, and cursing under my breath.

At last, the day arrives. Into the hospital I go, I get prepped, and off we go. The thing about anesthesia, for those of you who haven't gone through it, is that it knocks you out, and it seems like only seconds later that you're waking up in the recovery room. It's weird. Two hours had passed. The doctor goes and talks with my wife and tells her all about it (which likely grossed her out). Strangely, even though they're headed for the back of the neck to remove the offending soft tissue, do the bone fusions and put in a metal plate, they enter via the front of the neck. I have this nifty five inch scar to prove it.

An already too-long tale made shorter, everything went as planned. Of course, for a month after the surgery, I had to wear one of those neck collar support things to hold my head still while things healed. "Spiffy," said I, "I'll catch up with some reading and writing." Ha. It held my head at just beyond the angle where I could comfortably see a book, and I couldn't see the keyboard. Really aggravating for someone who has so much writing to do and is a bookaholic planning to read 150 books this year. This was the hardest part of all, mollified only by the neat pain pills they gave me.

Yesterday, I went to a post-op doctor visit, and was finally told that I could take the collar off (except in the car, in case of sudden jolts or an accident. Incidentally, now my frigging car won't start). So here I am, right back at the keyboard, trying to get my head around catching up. Where is a manic phase when you really need one?

It still hurts around the area of the fusion, but the pain running down my right side is gone, and my right hand is working again. So, I shall now cease shutting up, and get on with it. However, guess where I get to go tomorrow?

Back to physical therapy. Oh, the joy of it all.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Anticipation

Sometimes, it's hard for an artist to decide where to go next. Sometimes, though, a few simple factors make the decision easy.

Writing-wise, it's a clear decision: Get on with writing the books!  My three-book series is called The Price of Legend, and that's what I should be spending my writing time on, definitely. Why, even my blog posts, I tell myself, have suffered. That's a lame excuse, since some of my best author friends still find time to put an entry up on their blogs on a very regular basis. Perhaps I'm just lazy. Really, though, my problem is that I write entries that are too long (see below for copious examples). "Economy of words", I keep telling myself (as do others).

See? I digress already.

However, this isn't about writing or music; this post is about acting (and singing, as well as playing an instrument). How do actors decide what roles and productions to chase after? Is there method to the madness, as well as the acting? What motivates us, other than the money we crave so desperately yet get paid so little of?

The answer to that depends on who you ask, of course. Different people are motivated by different things, and I have my own set of criteria. Some people will do anything just for the sake of the work. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but I'm more particular about what I choose to audition for, since I have to limit my activities onstage these days in order to make progress in other areas (Note to self: Get on with writing the books!). A lot of my theatre friends get all the information about every theatre's upcoming season across the region and concoct a fiendish plan about what they hope to do, and what roles they'd like to play. This is also fine, and I used to do the same thing. The Master Plan, replete with Plans B and clever alternatives. But I don't do that anymore, and don't necessarily even think a full year ahead like that.

So what am I looking for?

I am most attracted to the hardest thing I can find; the biggest mountain to climb, the thing I've never done before, or something that makes a real statement. Sure, if it's Shakespeare, you can count on me to show up; but at this point in my life, I want something more than I've done before. Particularly, I'm a little tired of comedy. Being funny is great, but I need other genres in which to express myself, too. I want to do different things, and not get into a rut. Since I'll only have time for about four productions in a year (and one of them is a regular gig that's non-negotiable), something has to leap out at me to make me really want to do it. The only real exception to that is an opportunity to work with especial friends on a project. That might attract me into auditioning for something that I might not pick right off the bat (like another comedy). What I most crave is challenge and originality.

On rare occasions, all these things intersect, and I have the wonderful opportunity to work on something special with close friends on whom I can depend to share the quest for excellence that I try to maintain for myself in everything I do (Why else bother?).

Just such a production came up this last March, and I found myself looking forward to auditioning for it and doing it for more than half a year. In my next posts, I'll tell you more about it, from the beginning to the end (which, in its own fashion, has not yet come).


(Thanks, Susan Wingate, for suggesting this series!)

Today, an interview with me was posted on the Indie Author Network blog. You can read it by clicking HERE

My thanks to Paula Shene for the opportunity!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

An Actual Series

Friend Susan Wingate has suggested I do a series of posts on my recent and wonderful experience doing a show.

 Great idea! Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show was everything it could have been. Now all I have to do is get myself to write it. Unfortunately, today isn't a good day to start; too many competing demands for my time. However, I will get started in the next few days with the first installment, in which I'll introduce the show and why I really wanted to do it. Following posts will, hopefully, bring you inside the process and why the end result was so satisfying.

Another challenge to the project: Susan says to keep each post to 500-700 words. Looking down at my previous posts, you'll see that I'm not known for being short-winded. It's the Irish heritage; we are tale-spinners. I'm looking forward to sharing a theatrical experience with you.

 

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bon Voyage, Aunt Sheilagh

It only seems fitting that one should mark the passing of a special person.

Why I have a penchant for doing so on my blog is something that eludes me, but it feels like it's all part of the job.

At this point in the lives of my family, it's starting to change, and not only are the "old guard" leaving this earth; even one of my own generation passed away last year, only three years older than I, and our mortality looms. I don't have a problem with my own lifetime on this planet having a limit; it's other people that I worry about.

This time, although not unexected and certainly with forewarning, it must be particularly hard on my mother. Sheilagh (that's the Irish spelling; pronounced without the "gh") was my mother's younger sister, and the first of her siblings to go. I suppose she's had some observance of my father's side to get some idea of how it is; all three of the children of my father's generation have been gone for some time. Still, when it's your own family, with whom you grew up, it has to be different. Extra difficult in ways that I don't understand.

The day might have come much earlier, but Sheilagh was one tough fighter. She lost her husband, my uncle, two years ago to a very sudden heart attack. Richard wasn't very old (at least, not by Florida standards, where they routinely renew the drivers licenses of people 96 years old by mail), and he was an ex-Marine in such amazingly good health, save hard times with arthritis, that I thought he'd outlive us all. That was quite the shocker. Within a couple of months, it was discovered that Sheilagh had cancer, and that it had begun to spread. She started the battle back immediately, even though surgery wasn't really an option, but she went through a lot of rounds of chemotherapy. She lost a lot of hair and weight during those battles, but never her dignity. It didn't look good from the beginning, but I think she was determined to hold on for two principal reasons: One, she wanted to settle her husband's estate so that the burden wouldn't fall on anyone else (and thus have two estates to settle at once), but also for the sake of her children, my three cousins. Losing both your parents in short order must be a fairly devastating blow. That happened on my father's side, and those cousins went through a very rough period trying to adjust to reality. Reailty, as I have pointed out many times, sucks cheese.

That was a couple of years ago. She managed to hold on all this time; perhaps a bit longer than, in the end, we would have liked. She was in hospice care at home for longer than any of us anticipated, and the desire for a quiet & merciful ending was building amongst us, enough being enough. However, Donoghue women are tough creatures. My grandmother lived to be 91. Though wheelchair-bound for her last years by arthritis, I remember the last time I saw her in 1986; still full of wit and that smart-aleck attitude that seeems to pervade the entire rest of the family (very grateful for that, I am). I hate to see my mother's generation begin to go for many reasons, not the least of which including the fact that my own mother is among the group. I don't really worry much about her; she's 82 and suffers some of the usual slings and arrows of her age, but carries steadily on. I also have the comfort, living 1,100 miles away, that she's in good hands with my brother, who lives with her, and my youngest sister who lives close by. I think we've got a good fistful of years left with her, for which I'm very grateful, as long as her health remains good. I dislike watching people suffer, as I'm sure most people do. Her brothers (one older, one younger) will probably not make the funeral services. The elder is old and tired enough that the journey from Washington DC to Massachusetts is beyond him. The younger has just been exposed to a nasty strain of pneumonia, and he has a sick wife to attend to as well. I wish I could go myself, but there's the expense (always, there's that nasty little piece of reality poking its nose where it isn't welcome) and the fact that I'm rehearsing a music show, and it would difficult for me and everyone else if I were to be missing for a number of days.

So, I guess this is my way to salute her publicly as she moves on to her reward (one well prepared for and well-earned). She was a lady in every respect; gracious, classy, of her own mind, funny, caring, and terribly friendly and easy to get along with. Seeing her and that part of the family was always a lot of fun. They were good people (as the survivors still are) and good family. Many were the cahoots that we got into with those three counsins, not the least of which was my "twin" cousin, who was born on exactly the same day I was. Those times, I will remember well. Even my parents seemed more lively around my aunt and uncle; they were just the kind of people who drew it out of you. And I'll remember that last visit in 1986, the year we took our daughter on the Great Great-Grandmother Tour. All four of them were still living at the time, and we wanted her to meet them while the meeting was good. My grandmother was living with my aunt and uncle. What a wonderful weekend that was. My only regret was not having had a chance to see them again since then, but geography and life have an irritating habit of getting in the way. I'm sure I would have found them not different in character, and lively as always. My uncle, since his retirement, was always getting into some new hobby, and never lacked for things to enthusiatically talk about. And I do miss my cousins, too. At my youngest sister's wedding several years ago, I didn't get much of a chance to see them and talk because I was the one who wasn't well. I hope they know that my heart is with them at this time and always.

To everything, there is a season.... and it's time to move onto the next in the chapters of our family. So, with some heavy sighs, here we go. I just hope that we carry the best parts forward with us, and I'm grateful to Sheligh, Richard, and the others who gave us so many good experiences to take along with us.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Spending Time Writing, Spending Time Alone

by Susan Wingate
(author of award-winning novels DROWNING and BOBBY'S DINER)


In Fantasy: Writing alone = Heaven
In Reality: Writing alone = Heaven

In Fantasy: Being alone = Heaven
In Reality: Being alone = Loneliness

For years I've told people how much I love being alone. And, if you want to know the truth of it, most of the time that's the way I feel if we consider other people--those others "out there," outside my home those friends, family members not included in my immediate world--those people would never invade my life at all, if I truly desired to remain alone.

The fact is this, when I'm completely alone, without my husband, sister or mother around, without the people I love, my life is empty and sad. I tend to feel this way when it comes to close friends too. Those people, your buddies, you can call at eight in the evening and drink a glass of wine with while you chat.

Still, as we age, we learn the true meaning of loneliness. I never had children as a young woman. Never wanted children of my own. My husband, Bob, has three--a son and two daughters. From these children we now have four grandchildren, soon to be five. A sense of warmth and blessing comes from these kids. Even though they aren't mine. Which makes me wonder how deeply the parent-child feeling goes with your own biological children. Deeper than the earth's core, I think.

Most of my days I spend by myself, working out of the house. Not totally alone, of course. I have my critters about who keep me company--my dogs and cats, my birds and the wild animals that traverse our five acres of country-deep property. But something wonderful happens each day that makes me understand what humanity means. Each day, after leaving nearly ten hours before, my husband comes back home. Sometimes he returns happy, content, silly. Sometimes he returns overworked, laden, sad. Yet, however he returns, my life brightens. The blinders fall off my eyes. I can see the day. Work feels somewhere behind me.

As a writer, we must spend time alone to work, to visualize, to create. But, as human beings? We need people to interact with. And, when we feel the thrumming aversion to social interaction, we humans must put on a character (where without that character we might shrivel) and we must step outside our comfort zone.

Because, honestly, if we don't, how will we write? My best moments, I feel, are moments I've spent watching someone else or with have been with someone else. Sometimes, funny things happen when other people enter the scene. When I think back on times when funny things have happened and I was alone, these moments feel frustrating. I want to call someone, tell someone what just happened. That speaks volumes.

See, people need people. It's a simple truth. We have the same bodies. We are made of the same spirit, if you will, and are completely connected by God, for me, by some other higher being for others. But, we're linked by something much larger than ourselves.

Try and think of it this way, if a friend or family member calls you, it means a few things--one, they thought about you; two, they want to hear your voice; and, three, they love you. But, it also means, when you remove yourself from their lives, they miss you.

For more information about Susan Wingate,

Susan's website is: http://www.susanwingate.com/
Susan's workshop schedule is: http://susanwingate.wordpress.com/writing-services/upcoming-writing-workshops/
Susan's blog is: https://susanwingate.wordpress.com/muscle-up-the-gut-of-your-novel-writing-instruction/
Susan's Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/susanwingate.author
Susan's Twitter page is: http://twitter.com/#!/susanwingate





Special thanks to Susan Wingate for being my guest on my blog today!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Queen of Pins

Ode to the Queen of Pins

O hail the ever gracious Queen
Who wields the Holy Pin
That drapes with mickle pointy lance
Supple, shim'ring muslin
She wears the sacred bandoliers
Adorned with safety clasps
How weighty yet how fastenating
These seamstressary hasps!
E'en yet the jave' like arrow staves
Meld in the royal scabbard
To stay the 'stumely motif made
To form a proper tabard
She even can, when need arises
Make use of hat pin modes
And join chapeau and prissy head
In this no evil bodes
When all juice ceases, 'chines do stop
Yet still the 'lines do live
Her clothes pins conquer sunlit glades
And make spring fresh scents give
Stout push pins do their pattern hold
The paper, cloth in twain
In this the Queen with bondage does
Become a Queen of Pain
Though knotty times befall us all
There is not much to say
Save "T" shaped instruments are used
When doing macrame
Still, gentler hours, they do prevail
When her Highness feels maternal
The special pins that she doth use
When changings seem eternal
Hold, you who say the Queen's obsessed
With objects that be pointy
Have never seen her "Robert's" pins
Or hair pins, bent and jointy
Now, 'fore you think Her Nibs domain
Is perfect and all compassed
There am some pins she holds no sway
So do not raise a rumpus
It grieves her so when linch pins are
The center of attention
She has no power these crucial times

So please you, do not mention
Hath she a care for hinge pin lore?
I do not think so, ma'am
They're only fit for techies and
The Queen don't give a damn
Plus, please don't mention bowling pins
They're just no good for sewing
"They'll not through damask go," says she
With wisdom, aye, all knowing
Par'mount, beware her 'pricious moods
If you should Queen displease
She'll exercise her firing pin
And end your lifely lease...
O dance with spins
And raise loud dins
Fish wave their fins
'Midst cotton gins
With kith and kins
Absolved of sins
The yangs and yins
She ever wins
She ne'er gives in
All on Wheat Thins...
All hail, worship, and stand
For the Queen,
The Queen of Pins


Dedicated to Diane, June, and all
Costuming Persons


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Success!

I had a very good time on Dialogue: Between the Lines, and enjoyed it very much. Thanks once again to Susan Wingate and Joshua Graham. Please visit their individual websites by clicking their names.

I did read a couple of excerpts from the book.... I hope everyone likes it, because I have been extremely reticent about letting anyone read a work-in-progress like this one. Perhaps I'll do so more often.

For those who could not hear the program "live", it is available at this link.

It's actually the same link as the live show. Silly me.

Anyway, more to come within the next week, I promise!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shameless Plug

I'll be interviewed tomorrow at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Dialogue Between the Lines with Susan Wingate and Joshua Graham. We're going to talk about books, writing, and other creative-type stuff.

For those of who who cannot listen live, it will be available on the archive page, the link for which I'll post as soon as it's up.

Among other things, we'll probably answer the question about why I haven't posted here in a long while.... The short answer is that I've been "good" and have been working on my more difficult projects.

"Surely," many of my readers and friends have said, "someone who talks as much as you do should be able to spend enough time to put up at least ONE blog a week." This is a good point. So, I'll do my best to do so, and I thank everyone who's nagged me about it.

Anyway, do tune in and listen, and hopefully it will be compelling, interesting, enlightening, somewhat odd, and just plain fun. Or, I'll crash and burn. No pressure. I'm trying not to get nervous about it, but it's bound to wind up with me reading an excerpt from my three-book series, which generally scares me to death.

However, it ain't gonna stop me!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Address Book

Every now and then, there's no avoiding it: I have to straighten out my e-mail address book. Otherwise, chaos ensues, and chaos is never a welcome partner before the 14th cup of coffee.

For instance, even though I have my e-mail controls set on "Die Spam Die!", some junk addresses do sneak through. Sometimes, I accidentally make duplicate entries (usually before that critical 14th cup of coffee). Names need to be straightened out, extra information added, and various private notes that I keep on the proclivities of my family and friends must be noted.

That last part is none of your business, so I don't know why I mentioned it.

Anyway, it's usually a tedious process during which my mind wanders to places like the Cafe 200 in Newport, where the pizza used to be really good. I haven't been there in a while, so I don't know if they've managed to find a way to ruin a perfectly good thing. That such a thing keeps happening is partial proof of the conspiracy that haunts me, people who are trying to drive me insane by making my favorite things disappear. Heaven forbid I should decide that I like a new brand of cookie; the next time I try to buy them, they've disappeared from every swutting store in town. Ah, yes.... a few slices of Cafe 200's best with a bottle of Chianti on the side.... much better to think about than what is essentially work.

Until I got to my friend Carol.

There is was, the entry that contained her e-mail address and other personal information. I stopped and considered it, returning from the cafe in Newport and giving my full attention to the name then highlighted. You see, Carol died very recently, and my thoughts turned to her. A bright, funny and interesting person whom I met at a local theatre, at which she was a volunteer and eventual Board member. Always positive, a great stage manager, capably taking care of things that nobody else wanted to do. She was a retiree who used to teach at a university on Guam. There were stories that we never got out of her about her adventures on Guam, possibly because we never bought her enough drinks to draw the tales out. Then again, I don't particularly remember seeing her with a drink in her hand. I guess she was always more interested in what was going on at the time, not being the type to spend a lot of time looking back. She was a kind person, who always had just a hint of a smirk on her face, suggesting that she knew more than she was telling you, a quality that I generally love as long as I personally am let in on the game. Which she never did.

I looked wistfully again at the name, and wished that I'd known her just a bit better. "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" wrote Joni Mitchell. Actually, we knew she was sick for some time before she passed away, so it's not like we didn't have warning. However, being a real trouper, she simply continued with what she liked to do for as long as she could. I hope I'm brave enough to do the same if I find myself in a similar circumstance. I suppose that she didn't want to be treated like glass by her friends in the remaining days that she had. I can understand that.

And there was her name, reminding me.

I thought about it for a few minutes, sifting through the many memories of good times with her, and briefly considered just leaving it there as a reminder that I might come across now and again to jog my memory. However, in the end, I changed my mind and deleted it. I couldn't write her again, and perhaps the room in the C section (pun intended) for something active like the Cafe 200.

More important than that, though, is the question posed thusly: What kind of trigger do you want to remind you of someone? I decided than an electronic entry on my computer was a trivial way to treat her. Rather, when I sift through my collection of theatre programs and come across plays at that theatre, especially the ones that we were both involved in, I'd be much better reminded of her, and the good times. Other than consciously remembering a person who has gone from our presence (which is the best way), I think that finding ways to remind yourself of the best of times is the way to go. I find that I miss people somewhat less that way. That may seem odd, since remembering the best of times can make you more melancholy, but I prefer to look at it as a comforting pathway to a feeling of having been fortunate to have the person in my life.

Call me old-fashioned, but in this age of electronics, there are simply some things that shouldn't be computerized. Never mind the fact that I'm writing this in an electronic medium.... it's a convenient way to pay a little tribute to a nifty person that you otherwise would never have known about. As for myself, I'll stick with older and more traditional methods of remembering Carol. So, out the file in my address book goes; dust in the wind compared to ties that bind more strongly.

So, goodbye for now, Carol. I hope to see you again some day. Thanks for everything, for all the thoughtfulness. Thanks for the pretty decent pots of coffee that you made. And blast you for never letting me in on what that little smirk was all about. Well, I suppose she has the last laugh there, leaving a bit of mystery behind her. Even now, as I remind myself of that, I laugh.

And that's a pretty good thing to have come to my mind first whenever I think of her.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Made in Hell

I don't know how many times Neil Young has been to Alabama; this is my first time. I do know that he managed to irritate Lynyrd Skynyrd with his songs "Alabama" and "Southern Man". Being a Neil Young fan for an uncomfortably long time, I don't care. Lynyrd Skynyrd can eat my shorts.

However, already I digress.

My adventure began with arising at 12:30 a.m. after a really early bedtime to drive to the Tampa airport (an hour's trip), allow time to be shuttled from the cheapie parking lot, to check in, get through security, and still make my 5:20 a.m. flight (book late in the game on Travelocity, this is the kind of thing you get). I'd like to complain about that whole process. Even if you do mind. Quit fussing and read on. That's too stinking early to have to begin a two-flight journey, and all the fun has long since gone out of flying, what with all the increased security and whatnot. I played the radio loud and sang along to keep myself awake, which is a good thing to do when you're doing things like driving at 65 mph and going over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It's a monster of a thing and probably very well built, but one cannot help but remember that nearly 30 years ago, a freighter hit one of the two old spans and knocked down 1,500 feet of the center of the span, and 35 people died. You can still hear the ghosts, even when you're semi-conscious. Maybe that's a better time. Imagining it? Of course not; I never imagine anything except the stuff I make up. Fortunately, there weren't too many other people on the highway, so me and my somewhat wonky brakes proceeded apace. I followed the signs to the remote parking garage, and marveled that for once, they hadn't misdirected me or detoured me with the never-ending construction around this airport. I think they have no idea what they're actually doing, and are just trying to look busy. So, who am I to complain? A taxpayer, that's who.

Anyway, I managed to find a nice space by the elevators in the cleverly named purple section. In case people couldn't handle simple signs with a purple background, they painted the lower three feet of the walls and pillars purple, so it's really hard to miss the point. Not impossible, of course. Even so, they go so far in assuming that people don't know what they're doing as to provide little slips of paper at the elevators that tell you you're in the purple section. Maybe they're for people that are colorblind, but it still wouldn't help them, since they wouldn't be able to tell that all that paint is purple. Since the hour was so early, I didn't see people wandering around aimlessly, trying to find their cars. No doubt there are some that have been wandering around there for days, losing $9.00 per day when they realize that they don't even know their own license plate number. Geez, people can be thick. However, this situation is easily classified as an SEP (Somebody Else's Problem), always A Good Thing.

Now I have to catch the shuttle bus to the terminal, as it's much too far to walk, and I have no idea where I'm going because the previously mentioned signs have now all disappeared. Every seven to ten minutes, they say they run, 24/7. Suuuure. I see a couple going the other way, dropping some hapless people off to try to find their cars, but none coming my way. Why? Because only an idiot wants to get to the check-in counter and past security to get to their gate at such an unholy hour. Fortunately, one driver shows some enterprise, sees me, and goes and makes a U-turn. I am finally picked up and delivered to the terminal, still within the dreaded recommended advance time that they are currently saying you should allow. It's about 3:40 by now, I'm cranky, and I want a cup of coffee. No dice; all the coffee counters are closed, because only an idiot is flying at this hour. I get to the check-in counter, armed to get through quickly with my online-generated boarding passes and prepaid baggage fee. All I have to do is enter my code, it generates the routing tag and my receipt, a representative confirms and takes it, and off I go. This beats standing in line behind people who've forgotten little things like what freakin' airline they're supposed to be on and can't find their documents or tickets. Somehow, I always wind up directly behind someone with a Special Problem.

This plan would have worked quite smoothly except that nobody is manning the check-in counter. We are told that they open at 4:30, which, according to the airport's announcements, doesn't leave any of us taking the flight (for it is full, rife with a bunch of idiots flying at this obscene hour) to get the shuttle over to airside and get through security screening. No chairs in sight to wait in, so many of us wind up seated on the floor, the carpet smothered deeply in grunge from the feet of previous passengers urinating themselves because they, too, ain't gonna make their flight. Waiting, waiting. Miraculously, the workers begin trickling in at 4:00, and at the recommendation of another kindly passenger, I had my bag waiting on the scale to go, and I zipped up to the front of the line. I'm from New England, and I know how to bust a line. They announce my name, getting it wrong in a brand-new way. Look, how much easier can my last name get? Woodland. Wood. Land. Plain as day. Therefore, they call out "Woodlark", a name I've never heard before. I set them straight and off my bag goes.

Let me state unequivocally that this business of charging everyone for even one bag is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys. I can see charging for a second or third bag, or one that's too heavy, but for every bag? Robbery, that's what it is. Why don't they just make the ticket price a little higher, assuming that everyone is going to bring at least one bag? Sure, the ticket price would be more, but it would seem less heinous than picking my pocket for $23.00 for the privilege of sending one medium-sized bag on its merry way. As a result, I'm cursing under my breath as I head up to the shuttle level. Bad form, as I'm trying to cut down on my cussing, but I'm having a @*#&ing hard time doing it. I'm Irish and from Rhode Island, after all.

In order to serve us better, naturally, they're only running one of the two shuttle trains to airside, so there go a few more precious minutes. This makes me grind my teeth (something else I wish I wouldn't do), since I know I'm going to take longer than anybody to get through the security checkpoint. Why will become evident in just a moment. Finally, the train comes and carries the batch of us idiots flying so early to airside, in the process rendering my cleverly quick check-in moot. Son of a- no, I'm trying to stop that.

So here comes the security check. Now, I realize that there are problems in the world and dangers to worry about, but come on. I join the line of people who are taking off their shoes and disrobing in various ways to send their goodies through the X-ray machine. Here's where I run into a difficulty. I have a CPAP machine (standing for Continuous Positive Air Pressure) that I use for my sleep apnea (as if I need another defect to contend with). It's a nifty, nearly silent air pump with a mask that keeps my airways open while I sleep. It is also, apparently, a highly suspicious item that they're going to spend five minutes examining, while everyone behind me is cussing under their breath (whether or not they're trying to give it up) because of the delay. I have to follow all the other guidelines, including having all my teensy liquid or gel products in a baggie (because lip balm is so very dangerous). However, the CPAP, which is fragile piece of medical equipment, has to be taken out of its wisely padded bag and put in its own bin and sent through. "He has a CPAP!" they cry, having actually recognized what it is. If they're that well-informed, why do I have to endure what comes next? So they stop the line following me (endearing me to the crowd even further), and run it through the X-ray again. Then they take it over to hand-inspect it at a little table in the back before running it through the X-ray yet again.
Here's where I get worried, because the last time I flew, they manhandled my machine, dropped it onto their metal table in the process of their inspection, and managed to break my machine. TSA, you owe me and my insurance company (who were very good about it) $1,700.00. Careless. Not funny. Even I'm not that clumsy, and I can trip over an imaginary line (a required skill for actors). I plead with them to please handle it very carefully. This gains me an arched eyebrow, as if it makes a fancified air pump with a little humidifier inside even more suspicious. Fortunately, the woman was considerate this time and passed it through after the requisite ooohing and ahhhing before concluding "oh, it's a CPAP." Duh. Read the label. Plug it in if you want. However, I suppose I must concede that if it were full of C4, it could do a lot of damage. Still....

After which, I get the rare privilege of putting my shoes and belt back on (the buckle sets off the metal detector) and repacking the machine back into its case and back into my carry-on bag. Wouldn't it be easier just to put it on my checked bag and avoid all this? Zark, no, I'm not letting the bag with that machine and all my drugs (another thing they spend a couple of minutes checking out. Shut up, you guys, I can't help it if I'm not well and have eleven prescriptions) out of my sight.

Finally, we all get to the gate and soon board the plane for the flight to Charlotte, where I pick up my flight to Alabammy.

Thus comes my complaint as referred to in the title. "After all this verbiage?" you think incredulously? You bet, I'm reading your mind.

Who in the zarking fardwarks designed airplane seats?? I mean, it's not bad enough that I just spent four hours in the middle of the night to get this far, but now I have to steel myself for torture. I don't know who airplane seats are actually designed to "fit", but I suspect that it isn't human. Maybe ferrets, who are small and have no apparent spine. Not me, at six feet tall, certainly. Cramped in every respect, especially legroom. My knees are always in the back of the person ahead of me, garnering me the same dirty looks I get at security. Where the spine should be supported, they're concave. They're too narrow for even persons much smaller than I am (Say, Cadeaux of Humor Me Online, who's a lot shorter than I am and has wimpy little hands)(Why bring that up? Because I judge a couple of contests on the site, and you should come play. It's a sort of shameless plug, you see) and you're always brushing elbows with the people next to you. I don't know where those elbows have been, and when I've offered people some of my hand sanitizer for their elbows, they just stare at me. The head support juts too far out, putting an inevitable crick into your neck even on a short flight. The sides of the seat cushions are too high, attempting to bend your pelvis in (which it is not designed to do), but succeeds in putting pressure on your bladder (did I mention that on thus flight, my seat was right next to the lavatory door? Joy). And, inevitably, the whole place smells of recycled air and flatulence. That's right, I said it. We watched the plane arrive, too, and we all know that they haven't cleaned anything since the last people got off, people who were flying at an even more stupid hour than we were about to. Do I care that these people have just suffered sitting in the self-same uncomfortable seats that we're about to be strapped into? No, I do not. I'm more concerned that they've been breaking wind into the seat cushions and there's no time to air the plane out. The air inside the plane is ripe enough to suspect that they were serving bean burritos on the last flight, except for the small detail that they don't serve food on flights anymore, at least not for free. You're lucky to get a stinking drink these days. Well, not exactly true; the drinks, being fresh out of the can, do not in fact stink. Yet.

People are evil, that's all there is to it. They don't bring anything to do along with them on flights (personally, I prefer to listen to my iPod, which is not a shameless plug, since I offered one to Apple for mentioning them in this post and they told me where I could go), and so they just sit there, generating methane in their guts, carefully forcing it into the foam rubber of the seats under them, thereby contributing to global warming, and then have the nerve to be smug about it and smile as if nobody knows that they're doing it.

The end result of this (pun intended) is that as a result of this activity, you don't really have the inclination to sit down all the way in the seat; it would be better to keep an inch or so between you and that befouled cushion that you hope to high heaven that you don't have to use as a floatation device, because that would mean holding it right up to your face. I'll try treading water, thank you very much. However, with the fiendish ways that the seats are designed, and the flight attendants' admonishment to keep your seat belt buckled firmly at all times, you're pinned down with considerable force onto this throne of tribute to the gassier elements of the food pyramid. So glad I wore freshly laundered clothing.

Thus do I spend the next hour and twenty minutes of my life. The only saving grace in the process of going on my next flight is that I don't have to slog through security again. However, I do have a three hour layover. I drop in on a Starbucks, which is, unfortunately, the only coffee joint open. I don't like Starbucks because I don't drink sissy drinks like a triple frap half-mocha part-skim soy milk cappuccino with a cherry on top; I drink it black. And Starbucks (this is not a plug) burns their beans, making the coffee bitter. I have a scone, and linger as long as I can until I start getting the same dirty looks that I got at security, because I'm taking up one of the few seats. That's because I know what's coming next: two hours sitting in one of those horribly uncomfortable airport seats. These are designed by a wholly different group of chiropractic sadists than the plane seats. Don't even get me started on those things.

Look, don't get me wrong. I'm glad I made the trip and I'm happy to be here visiting my friend. The middle part of the sandwich is the best part, anyway. But flying anywhere these days is like stale bread on the outside.

Stale, like the air inside the airplane. But let's not start that all over again.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Cats Are Better Than People

Well, a lot of people, anyway.

-They're furry and warm. While some people are somewhat furry, they aren't so much as cats, and a cat's body temperature is higher unless the person has a fever, which is beside the point.

-They fit neatly into your lap. Even a Maine Coon Cat can manage it. If you're talking leopard, well, that's a whole other kind of cat. We're talking Felis domesticus here.

-Cats don't lie to you. Oh, it isn't like they won't try, especially if something has been broken around the house. However, they're just not any good at it.

-They never make promises and then don't keep them.

-Their noses are usually nicer.

-Seldom do they go grey and prematurely bald.

-They're graceful. Mostly. When they're not, it's terribly funny and they always act like they meant to do it.

-When you're sick, they don't avoid you like many people do. A cat will come to you and spend time with you because it knows you don't feel good.

-Many people are just plain unsanitary. Cats groom themselves all the time. Sure, humans don't hack up hairballs, but they have other nasty habits which are worse. Such as politics.

-You can get a cat stoned out of its mind with a completely legal substance that doesn't require lighting up and avoids the expense of things like bongs.

-They really do catch mice. In the case of mine, they regularly take out lizards & roaches, and one of them knocked off a couple of snakes. Many people, upon seeing a snake, scream like a little girl. This hurts my ears.

-They PURR. Let's see a human come up with anything that tops that. And don't even bring some slobbering dog into the conversation. I don't need to point out that cats are better than dogs. This is the way God made them. Look it up, it's in the Book of Leviticus somewhere....

-Sure, they go into heat. At times. It isn't like people, who are in heat all the time and constantly looking for a score. This, too, can hurt my ears.

-If there's anything cuter in the world than a kitten, I don't know what it is. Babies, BABIES are not as cute as kittens. Most babies look a lot like Winston Churchill. Without the cigar.

-LOLcats are very popular. Are there LOLhumans? No, no, no....

-A cat will never ask you to turn on FOX News. Cats are blessedly apolitical.

-Kitties will sometimes lick you as if to groom you. Show me a person with that much courtesy.

-Cats come preternaturally disposed towards being trained to use a litterbox. It takes you a couple of years to get that through a kid's skull.

-Who hogs the bathroom, people or cats? Huh? Sure, the cat will sleep in the sink sometimes, but it won't use up all the hot water on you or flush while you're taking a shower.

-Cats don't fight over who has the remote control.

These things come to mind, among others, because my older cat, a Siamese named Arwen, died yesterday. She was 14, which is not exceptionally old for a cat, but she'd had major illnesses in the last couple of years and was frail. This time, even with the vet's best help, she couldn't win. She wasn't in pain or suffering, which is a grace, but I was very close to having her put to sleep just to let her rest. I'd made the decision to take her today, but she didn't make it. Maybe she knew I'd made the resolve to say goodbye. Cats know things like that. My wife kept telling me that she was tired and just wanted to rest; cats have no more sense of mortality than that. At least, as far as I know. Are there cats in heaven? Well, if it's a perfect place, then one would suppose there must be. Then again, that point of view means that other people would insist on dogs being there, too, and I can't stand the beasts. Suffice it to say that God's love will be enough.

And therein lies my point. God's love is all around us, even though we mostly forget to look, and He sends us reminders in all sorts of ways. We notice the big ones, like the significant people in our lives, but might miss something as simple as a cat's devotion. I didn't miss it in this case, thankfully. Look behind the eyes of any pet and you'll see a little something that reflects a higher power saying "I sent you this reminder to tell you I love you." I don't think I'm overstating it. A cat, by its basic nature, is a loner and a predator. Yet they've become domesticated, fond of our company and of one another. Coincidence? Nah.

I'll miss a lot of things about Arwen, including the way she'd lie against the keyboard and keep me from typing straight. She won't be getting a replacement any time soon. For one, I don't really have the heart right now, and for another, I have another wonderful cat, a Tonkinese named Bridget. Great breed, great fun, and just beautiful. She has a playmate in the form of my daughter's cat, Moose. So, even though a part of me is drooling over the entertainment value of a new kitten, it'll have to wait.

Still, none will ever quite be able to take Arwen's place because of the particular time she was with me. If you've never had a long-term illness, my advice is "Don't." Unfortunately, I can't seem to follow my own advice (as is so often the case in life), and Arwen was with me as it progressively invaded my life more and more. She visited me every day, never forgot to write or call, and always let me know that she cared. I can't say that for a lot of the people I know. But there she was, ready to hop up in my lap whenever I needed cheering up, or to commit such wonderfully entertaining acts as the infamous Ham Incident. I wrote about Arwen and the Ham Incident on my blog previously, linked here.

I have to laugh at the memory of that and other amazing stunts that she pulled. I'll also have to clean up my computer/music room here, where she spent her sick time, as there's fur everywhere. She was shedding like crazy, and one of my computer speakers is covered with hair from her rubbing against it. I guess she loved that speaker. Who can explain the affections of a cat?

So, remember not to take the small things for granted. If you can't think of any, then get a cat. It works for me and about 80 million other people in the US (outnumbering dogs by millions). They also have the unique ability, with their feline superiority, to remind you not to take yourself too seriously. "Who do you think you are? Now feed me, human" can be a helpful little nudge to renew your perspective: You're not the most important thing in the universe. OK, so the cat isn't, either, but together you make a pretty spiffy team.

Call me unnecessarily sentimental, but I think that's an awfully good thing.



P.S. Thanks to Mariann for some of the reasons that Cats Are Better Than People.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Whose Father Is It, Anyway?

Ten years is a long time.

I'm not that big a fan of Father's Day anymore. There are reasons for this, aye, and good ones in my own mind, but it comes around once a year whether I like it or not. For those of you that still have fathers living, by all means make an effort to appreciate one another today. Your time to do so is limited, and like all lives, they can end suddenly (yours or his). One of the saddest things I can think of is living a lifetime of regrets for things that were never said. In fact, I have a certain amount of impatience for that behavior, and maybe I'm just getting old, but wasting precious time in your life is a bit of a slap in the face of the Creator who gave it to you in the first place. Especially when you waste it wallowing in negativity.

But I digress. Sort of.

How does the ten years fit into this? Well, my father passed away just a little over ten years ago. Today is Father's Day. His birthday was June 16th. So we're at a bit of a trifecta, which practically begs for things like blog entries to be written about it. How can I stand in the way of this imperative?

The problem is, not all reminiscing produces good results. If you have lots of happy memories from your childhood, that is a grand thing. However, I was not a particularly happy child when all is said and done (and after all that was said and done). I'm inclined towards melancholia anyway, but it was a large and pretty dysfunctional household when I was a kid. I'm the third of six children, and I think all of us felt a bit lost in the crowd. We all tried to deal with it in our various ways.... somewhere around the seventh grade, I developed the tendency to never shut up. A cry for attention? Maybe. More likely, it's because I'm an actor; by our nature, we tend to be auditioning or performing for someone all the time, whether they like it or not. And I must admit that it has a special flavor of fun when they like it not. Such was my experience at home, anyway. My chief escapes were school, and especially, books. I've read a swutting lot of books, and I am very thankful that one thing I got out of my childhood was a love of reading (likely, blame my mother the Lit major, and those precious few years when I was the youngest). How did the others cope, and how well did it work for them? Well, you'd have to ask them. We've talked about it; the chief surprise was that each of us thought that others had it "better" than we did, and it wasn't really true.

Roundaboutly, do I approach my point.

I could just try to ignore it at this point, shrug it off and try not to think about what was, and what could have been. The things said that should never have been spoken, and what was left in silence. Actions taken, however ill-advised, and so much left undone. I know a lot of people who try to do precisely that: forget about it. But human beings aren't really designed to do that; just sublimating things underground heals nothing, and I'd even go so far to say that it'll make you physically ill. When something goes wrong in life, something has to be DONE about it, or it never goes away! My family (on both sides) had been a bunch of unhappy, repressed people for the last few generations. All the unwritten "rules" that governed the family were a stinking load of fetid dingo's kidneys rotting in the Mongolian desert.

Why Mongolia? Don't ask me now, I'm on a roll.

There was only one way out: BREAK the rules. This is what my generation (mostly) has done. We all shared a deep dissatisfaction, but didn't know how to deal with it. It's not fully agreed, I think, who started it, but we slowly began actually communicating with one another. This generally occurred when we were college age or older, and many of us were away from home. I tend to credit my oldest sister, who wrote me a gut-wrenching letter that revealed a whole lot of suffering that I'd never known she'd had to deal with. What's important is that we started to undo the past and form a family where there really hadn't been a whole one before. The beauty of it was that it was not because we felt we had to. We did it because we wanted to. Eventually, as a group (mostly....), we symbolically took the old "family code" out in the back yard, tore it up, burned it, and then spit on the ashes. Done, done and done.

The "infection" gradually spread backwards to my parents, who had also grown wiser with the years. Things actually got pretty good, and who cared if some certain members of the family whom I shall not name thought we were crazy? We're doing SO much better as adults, and have mutually resolved to never pass the old "traditions" down to our children. Enough, already. It's enough that we have our own personal foibles to deal with. I resolved to be a better parent to my child. I tried, managed to make some of the same mistakes my parents made, but mostly came up with my own. Fortunately, my daughter is very resilient, and I had a lot of good help. My chief regret is something that's not really my fault, but it hangs over me nonetheless. I have a long-term illness, and my daughter has had the backlash from it affect her whole life. It's stupid, I guess, but I'll never forgive myself for it. I will always feel like she didn't get my best.

It's forgiveness, though, that we have to thank for our latter-day family. Not covering up, not sweeping away, not pretending that the elephants in the room don't exist; we had to all forgive one another, parents and children alike, in order for the darker things to no longer hold power over us. It's forgiving oneself that can be hard. Still, the guilt was also part of the old "rules", so it has to go as well. That's an ongoing effort for everyone. Well, it gives us something to do. Things got significantly better when my father retired at 62, and was finally relieved of the major stress of his working life, and all of a sudden "Woody" (so was he called, for his first & middle names were, under the best circumstances, unfair) was a relaxed guy. It's a shame that he and the rest of us only got to enjoy that for about four years. When he was 66, he had a major stroke and wasn't expected to live. However, one thing we are as a group is cussedly stubborn, and he fought back. He even managed to live at home for a part of his last three years before the cumulative damage caught up with him at just 69. How very unfair, but we're fortunate to have had those three bonus years. We all learned a lot.

I think the proudest thing my generation has done was to break down the old walls. The proudest thing my father ever did was not just manage to raise six (adorable and talented) children and get them through school and all that. No, it was fighting back those extra three years. It wasn't because he wanted to (and I understand his feeling that way). He didn't do it because he wasn't ready to go. He did it because WE weren't ready for him to go, especially my mother. I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been, his right arm paralyzed, walking with difficulty, and simple communication beyond him (oh, I could get the gist of what he was trying to say when he talked, but his speech center never came back). Enduring all the doctor visits, the therapy sessions, dealing with other health issues at the same time, and the inevitable stay in a care facility.... which he did for others. If I inherit one thing from my father, that kind of commitment would be a good choice.

It's been ten years now, and I don't dwell on it except the nagging feeling that he got cheated. However, I have to keep perspective on it; a lot of bad things happen to a lot of good people, and we should be thankful that we didn't have it as rough as so many people in the world do. We were and are lucky, and we learned to get smart enough to make the best of it. Incidentally, we can, in all probability, blame smoking for the stroke. The doctors believe that a blood clot formed in his leg and broke off and hit his brain, the clot having formed in diseased arteries damaged by years of cigarettes. Please, for the love of your family, and in the name of common sense, quit smoking if you're addicted to those evil things. You will pay a price some day, and others may be forced to pay as well. We've known for decades what smoking does; there's no excuse for doing it now.

So, why are the ten years long? Mostly because we have a holdout: One sister, whose inner demons still have a hold on her, has practically not communicated with us since. I am still left wondering as to why exactly this is; I can guess at some things, but since she's not speaking to us, we don't really know. There is hostility, irrational anger and outright hate. It's very sad that she continues to choose not to join us in the "new" family, and live holding grudges in her heart. I've done what I can in the situation, but evidently I'm one of the more "guilty" ones. I am not angry, at least not for myself. I am angry for the part of my mother, who's been cut off from her daughter and her two grandsons for a decade. She has done nothing to deserve that kind of spiteful treatment, and that's what I find hard to live with.

My earthly father now resides with my Heavenly Father; his faith was quiet but sincere. Neither of them can approve of this situation, and my sister has turned her back on the memory of one, and on the love and mercy of the other. This is terribly sad, and I wish I had the power to do something about it. All I can do is pray.

So, on this Father's Day, my sister, if you really ever honored our father, then prove it by coming back into the lives of the rest of the family. We could, given the chance, help heal the hurts, the grieving, and deal with whatever it is that bothers you so much. However, the choice isn't ours. The ball is in your court.... and you'd better do it while our mother is still alive. She is, by the way. Not that you've asked. I'll allow myself one, somewhat bitter, comment: Get off your high horse, it isn't all about you.

It's Father's Day. And ten years is a long time. Too damned long in a life that's uncertain and mercurial. Make each day a Father's Day, and a Mother's Day, and the rest, because second chances don't always come along for a family. We're lucky that we got ours. Now, quit reading this blog and go call your Dad.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blogaholism: Is One Blog Enough?

I am pondering this question, as it gets more difficult by day to bite my lip and abide by the "rules" I adopted when I started The Eye Wit.

To wit, this is meant to be a "general audiences" blog in which I don't attack subjects that are extremely controversial, and avoid such things as rabid profanity, although I'm very good at it. I am from Rhode Island, and if you'd paid any attention in Geography class (which I just know you didn't), you'd know that one of Rhode Island's chief exports is vile verbiage. Yes, we're the ones who invented all the variations of the "F" word. We're experts at taking perfectly innocent words am imbuing them connotations that the original lexicographation never intended. No, we cannot be stopped, because we're that kind of people. Tough. Rough and ready. Salty with our language because it's the Ocean State, and there's a lot of salt in the ocean, in case you didn't know that.

But I digress.

The problem that causes me to ponder this question is the news. The newspaper. Online news. Propaganda outfits like FOX News. After a brief exposure to any of these outlets, I find myself biting my lip in attempt to keep from screaming and shouting out things like the truth or rational thought (which no one appears to want to hear) in whatever way, shape or form that I can. That includes my blog here, which would doubtless have a post every day due to the unrest, troubles, disasters, and sheer stupidity that plague the world. Tempting. I don't post often enough as it is, and my volume would increase greatly, both in content and volume. However, that brings me right back to my ground rules, and thus I hold it in or rant at my cats, who either fail to appreciate my finer points or just don't care about such things as long as they get their daily fish.

Maybe they're a lot smarter than I am.

OK, so other than a pledge to myself to write here more often, what can I do about this? The only practical answer would be to start a wholly separate blog with different ground rules. That is to say, no ground rules, so as to be able to vent my spleen completely. Indeed, though, as simple as that sounds, there are problems. First, do I really need to take the additional time to do this (though such agitated ranting tends to go a lot faster than whimsy)? Second, does the world really need another world issues/political/all things controversial blog? Third, is it really good for my health to let myself get frothingly angry so regularly?

The answer to the first question is that no, I really have other things I ought to be doing. However, I could use that same argument right now. Also, as I said, real ranting tends to burst out more quickly. No definitive answer here. As for the second question, there is one pervasive fact that cries out loudly that there is a reason to add my voice to the cacophony: the fact that I'm right, and there an end on it. I can't argue with that, not even with me. Thirdly, I'm getting angry, frustrated and outraged as it is; would it not be better to vent some of that energy out into the ether of the Internet? That's a fairly valid point, too.

So, two out of three questions urge me on to do it. Hmmm. Then there's the fact that a friend of mine just started a second blog (for completely different reasons, but nonetheless), and I'm just competitive enough to want to keep up. That's ridiculous, but if I'm going to be honest, I cannot deny it.

Perhaps the most important question is: Who's going to care? How many people are going to be interested in what I have to say, even though I'm Right? (Right as in "correct", not which "wing" I lean towards). The challenge there would be to get word around so that people would know that they have a moral imperative to read the new blog. That's a bit of a pain in the neck, for you who do not blog; spreading the word, getting added to directories, trying to scheme so that Google will bring up "hits" for your page, all of these take time. Granted, I could be doing more of that for this blog whilst I was promoting the new one, but 'tis still a task I covet not. And there could be no coat-tailing from here; good heavens, I wouldn't want you to know what an awful person I can be at times, so the new blog would have to stand on its own and go so far as to be published without my name on it. Just the identity I'd create as the front. Is that desirable?

Well, I don't know. It's worth thinking about, though. After all, among the "real" things we have in life, aren't our original and personal thoughts high on the scale? I think so.... which once again gives me impetus to do it. Or at least try it. I can always delete the thing if I so choose. Actually, that's one of the fun things about blogging in the first place: You can't be deleted. Oh, people can ignore you, they can leave vicious comments on your site, they can talk about you behind your electronic back, but they can't make your blog go away.

Not being able to be made to go away, the idea that I can't be shut up no matter what anybody says?

Now, there's the most compelling reason of all!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Get Used to Disappointment

"It's just life!", as everyone will tell you.

Everyone, that is, who's not in on the disappointment. Because it's so easy for them to say.

Herein lies yet another of life's opportunities for laziness: Using words to indicate sympathy, while not putting forth a lot of effort to actually become sympathetic. Am I implying that a lot of sympathy is feigned? No, of course not. I'm saying it straight out. Not that I haven't been guilty of the same thing, and will likely fall into the trap again. That's not my point. My point is that we'd probably get along together much better if we tried to understand more precisely why something disappoints a person in a particular way and to the degree that it does. It tells you a lot about the person. Things that perhaps we're better off not knowing in some cases.... but those are the risks.

Take, for instance, my recent disappointment at not getting a part I auditioned for. To anyone who knows me a little, this must seem like a big deal. I'm an actor, after all, and this is what I do. So, my fate having rested in the hands of the director, I awaited "the call" and did not receive the news that I was looking for; a project that would have dominated my life through the end of May is now purely academic. Big part? Sure. Large musical show, plenty of attention, it was a play fairly unlike any other I've done (a big plus in my book), and even a chance to perhaps work on the same project as my daughter, which doesn't happen often.

Not to be. That is the question. Well, not the question, but the answer, but putting it that way didn't dovetail with a line from Hamlet. To say "Not to be, that is the answer" is to risk infuriating millions of Shakespearean scholars, all of whom read this page, by declaring that I have divined the answer to a debate that has raged for over 400 years, to wit: What was Hamlet really talking about in his famous soliloquy and what did he decide? You could start a riot by going there.

Besides, anyone who knows what they're talking about can tell you that the answer is obviously "to be" (otherwise the play makes a sudden, heaving halt right then and there), and that what he's talking about is taking on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, getting off his dysfunctional royal butt and doing something about it (NOT about committing suicide; that comes later in the speech). Hence, the rest of the play ensues, and the price of the ticket seems more reasonable.

Let the riot begin.

But I digress. Hamlet was not the play in question. For one thing, there's no musical version of Hamlet, except in old reruns of Gilligan's Island. Which, to anyone of a discerning theatrical bent, does not count.

But back to the main point: Not getting the part. Most people's reactions to this are split: About half just don't get it, one way or the other, because they don't understand what artists do. The other half is in on the idea that you just didn't get a job. While there's (hopefully) more to it than that, this is technically correct. I say "hopefully" because not every acting opportunity is a gem. Some of them are; some are great parts in fabulous plays, a challenge of some sort, or something very new to you (such was this most recent case). Others ARE mere jobs. If you want me to do The Sound of Music, for instance, let's get right to the business of how much cash you're talking, because there's no other reason for me to do it.

There's no avoiding it; not getting the part is annoying on several levels, but one learns to cope with it and to live with the fact that this is part of the territory. The reality is, most of the time, if you're out auditioning on a regular basis, you don't get the part, whether it be a play, a commercial, or whatever. It's just like the stream of rejection slips that writers get; nasty and unfriendly, but part of the game. If you're going to play the game, you'd better have your coping mechanisms in place. Here are some of mine: First, it's not brain surgery! No one is going to die (well, probably not) if I don't get this part. Keeping a sense of perspective is a good idea. While I'm not rife with self-esteem, I do realize that "how good I am" doesn't rest on getting every single role I go for. Second, I don't spend a lot of time looking behind myself; this one's over, learn what I can learn from it (in this case, I need to get my singing voice back into condition, I haven't kept up with the discipline it needs for the style of singing required. Therefore most of the "blame" is mine), and move on. Which leads me to the third tactic: Always look ahead to the next things coming up. If possible, convince myself that these will be better projects anyway. Sometimes that's true; sometimes, it's something special that's passed me by. However, how I feel about it is, after all, largely up to me.

Would that I could apply this same rational thought process to more areas of my life. However, for some reason, it doesn't work as well. Maybe it's because I've spent so much focus developing the attitudes towards theatre. Maybe "real life" simply isn't as easy. That seems likely.

So, it may be just life, it may be life or death (see reference to Hamlet), but it's all relative. While I can't quite live like according to the Italian rules of driving ("What's behind me is of no concern"), I do think that it's healthy to keep yourself looking forward. After all, if you spend life facing backwards, the next opportunity that comes up will not be one that you see; it'll smite you in the back instead. Then, while you're trying to turn around to hook onto it, some other actor has already moved in and sniped the part. That won't do at all. Since a lot of actors are guilty of looking back, that creates extra opportunity for me.

And what's good for me is good for me. And that, as Martha Stewart says, is a "Good Thing".

Saturday, February 07, 2009

25 Impudent Things About Being Raised Catholic

Really, I shouldn't touch this subject, but it's hard to resist!

I got the idea from a friend who wrote a list of trivia about herself, and called it "25 Reasons Why I'd Get Excommunicated from My Childhood Church." It turns out that she was not, in fact, raised as a Catholic, , nor was the list made up of that kind of trivia, but it immediately brought up a host (no pun intended) of memories that haunt me to this very day. The question is, can I come up with 25 items without getting utterly bitter and resentful?

I suppose that before I start, I should make clear that I don't think that the Catholic church fails everyone. No, not at all. All I know is that they failed me, but I have lived to tell the tale. Still, if you're easily offended as a Catholic, you probably will be.

Therefore, in no particular order:

1) The communion wafers taste like crap. Let's quit kidding ourselves, we've all eaten school paste (on a dare, at the very least) that tastes better than those things. Just another thing to suffer through, I guess.
2) The wine tastes like expired vinegar. Look, I don't want to get into the whole transubstantiation argument, but I'm pretty sure that the blood of Christ tastes better than that. Ever notice that the outside of the chalice is silver and the inside is all yellowed? Looks like chemical corrosion to me.
3) Nuns are trained in boot camps, and are required to have an SQ (Sadism Quotient) of at least 122. Maybe the nuns of today are a different story, but in my day (yes, I realize that using those words marks me as being old), they still wore those starched habits that would cut you if you, God forbid, came close enough to a nun to get brushed by one. You ask my brother, he'll tell you.... my kindergarten teacher was a Nazi, and my first grade teacher was a nun from Peru, about four feet tall, who bordered on sociopathy. Damn (no pun unintended), that woman was mean.
4) Metal-tipped yardsticks should be banned by the Geneva Convention. Were them nuns into corporal punishment? Every chance they could get! I still have scars on the back of my hands, and do you want know why my penmanship is as bad as it is? Try having your fingers broken and still write cursive. Do they even teach cursive anymore?
5) I always got in trouble for asking "Why"? Apparently, a kid is never supposed to question Sister or Father or Mother Superior, even when the question is perfectly legitimate and the product of a child's curiosity. Why should I believe in Salvation when all you do is tell me why I'm going to hell? They didn't like that one, trust me.
6) They don't teach the Bible. Practically never. They don't encourage people to read it. "No," they say, "let us interpret it for you." Horsefeathers! You could go to Mass every day of your life and never hear all of it. Be defiant and read it for yourself. You'll be astounded by all the things they have wrong and/or misinterpreted. Then go ask them about it. Bring first aid dressings for your hands, you're going to need them. It doesn't matter if you're 70, that yardstick is a-comin' out again.
7) The organists are zombies, undead and unclean. How else could they turn even "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" into a monotonous funeral dirge? Everything is played in a minor key and at half its intended speed. And, only Catholic organs have a "fingernails across the chalkboard" stop. It's a wonder that I still became a musician.
8) No Mass can be said without mentioning the "parish debt". It's just another guilt-mongering tactic. Among the many problems the church has failed to consider in wondering why people don't give more money is that a good Catholic family with eight children can't afford a full tithe. Mixed messages, people, mixed messages.
9) Priests shouldn't engage in marriage counseling. I don't care how many classes they've taken, what do they know about it? There's no good reason that they shouldn't, because:
10) Priestly celibacy is a crock of fetid dingo's kidneys. They made it up in the 11th century (don't take my word for it, go look it up), not wanting to have to pay to provide for the families of priests. Before that, priests (even Popes) could and did marry. Now, a thousand years later, they're knee-deep in a seemingly unending series of sex scandals, mostly involving priests and young boys. This is a serious and severe problem which I do not take lightly, but: If you decide to take the Word of God out of context and twist it into church dogma, then don't be surprised when it turns around to bite you. By the way, those large settlements they've had to pay out? Where's all that money coming from? See #8.

I'm getting dangerously tetchy, am I not? I'd better back down a bit to:

11) Why does anyone want to go back to Latin Mass? I'm just old enough to remember them. I had a missal (your basic little book that you bring with you to church; nowadays, they're paperback pamphlets that live there) with Latin on one side and English on the other. I admit that it has served me admirably in vocabulary and classical studies, but is there a good reason to take an already-unclear ritual and conduct it in a "dead" language?
12) How come the priests have to read the liturgy every week? Can't they memorize it? Look, I'm an actor and I memorize my lines.... these guys are doing almost the exact same thing every week, and they get to read it out of a book. Unfair.
13) "Sunday School" classes are not held on Sundays. No, they have this wretched thing called "CCD" (which, for the majority who do not know, including many Catholics, stands for "Continuing Christian Development") which they schedule at the most inconvenient times, either after school or in the evenings. The parents don't like it any better than the kids do, so why isn't there a revolt? See #5.
14) The Mass missals have no centerfolds. Come on, there must have been some racy saints....
15) I could never collect a whole deck of 52 holy cards. Also, if you attempt to use them in a game of Magic: The Gathering, you will get your butt handed to you. Saints preserve us!
16) Speaking of the saints, many of the stories are patently untrue. The whole business about Saint Patrick? Almost entirely blarney. Don't get me started on it, since I'm Irish and it hacks me off. Saint Genesius, of whom you have never heard? The patron saint of actors. Even the Catholic church acknowledges that the story isn't at all true. Saint Christopher got demoted because it got out that his story wasn't accurate. However, if you're in the mood to challenge them on this, remember #5.
17) Mary did not remain a virgin. Get over it. Oh, I've really done it now, haven't I? Look, she was a good Jewish wife, and certain things were required of good Jewish wives. One of them was producing children. She probably had a bunch. We know the name of at least one of them: "James, the brother of Jesus" is referred to in the Bible, and the root word in the original language means brother in the literal and traditional sense. Half-brother, to be sure, but they had the same mother. Argue with me all you want, I'll just get out the Bible and prove it. Same deal with the Assumption: It's not in the Bible.
18) The Pope is human, and therefore is fallible. See, the whole point of Jesus coming to love the life He did was that it isn't possible for a human to live a perfect life. You have no idea how much trouble I got into for contending this in CCD (See #13). It's simply a matter of logic. Besides, anyone can pick an issue about which they think the Pope is flat wrong, whether they're willing to admit it or not. For instance:
19) This whole argument over contraception is ridiculous. Most people cannot afford to have huge families, and only a few want to. Practically every Catholic couple I know engages in "family planning", as it were, and I think it's responsible to do so. No, abortion is a whole other issue and I'm not talking about that. However, "be fruitful and multiply" doesn't mean to do it with complete abandon. And we've already covered in #9 & #10 that the whole celibacy thing doesn't work. Also, even talented musicians can't make the "rhythm method" work.
20) They fail to admit that Nunsense is so funny because it's so true-to-life. I thought I'd stop breathing the first time I saw it. When they came out with the little metal "cricket" to call on the audience for an answer, I nearly died laughing. "Amusing satire", they call it. Hah! What's a "cricket"? You'd have to have attended a Catholic school to even know. I will say that it curiously resembles a metal roach. As opposed to a roach clip, which I've never seen a nun use. In class.
21) Holy water tastes like stale diet tonic water without a twist of lime but with a hint of toilet cake. Yes, I know you're not supposed to drink it. I was also a little kid, and logically figured that if I drank some, I'd be a better and holier person. Apparently, even if it worked, it's had no lasting effect, or I wouldn't be writing this.
22) There's a patron saint for every ridiculous thing you can think of. Think I'm exaggerating? Hah! For instance, if you're having trouble with your browser while reading this, then just pray to Saint Isidore of Seville Sanctus Isidorus Hispalensis, who's the proposed patron saint of the Internet. There's a whole site full of such trivia at Catholic Online. It's official and everything, so you can't have an opinion about it. Not unless you want to be in danger of #5, which we just don't seem to be able to get past.
23) Confession is too prone to extortion. I'm not saying that most priests would blackmail you.... or even that a lot of them would. It only takes one, and that's the one you're going to get. Also, it doesn't matter how many "Our Fathers" you say, nothing can atone for the Detroit Lions. My chief objection to this process is that it implies that God will not listen to you unless you're talking to a priest. Um, Jesus never said that and I can prove it. There's that pesky Bible again, it just keeps getting in the way. How is it really supposed to work, anyway? Do priests have a little iGod in with them and input it whilst in the little booth?
24) What's the deal with Purgatory? Huh huh huh? Only the Catholics have this "place" between heaven & hell where you supposedly go if you've been bad, but not too bad. Here, your venial sins (as opposed to mortal sins, which are more serious and usually involve more profanity) are burned away (no, that's what they told me as a kid) until you're "clean" enough to go to heaven. Look, none of us is "clean" enough to get into heaven; that's why we need Salvation, and that's why Jesus came, and that ought to settle it. It's just another thing they hold over your head. Like the metal-tipped yardstick. Except this one's in another dimension.
25) WILL YOU PEOPLE PICK A DATE FOR EASTER AND BE DONE WITH IT?? Every single significant occasion in the church calendar (don't forget that Bingo is on Tuesday) has a specific date for it, including Christmas, even though we don't really know on what exact date Jesus was born. Fine; a day was picked (there's a reason why it was December 25, but that shall remain unexplained, in order to create an air of mystery and wonder at this blog entry)(Mainly, you wonder why I wrote it). We all agree on it & use it, and it's the principle, the significance of the occasion that makes the day special. This one day is set aside to observe the birth of Christ. All well and good, and mostly everyone is happy with it, especially the merchants whose livelihoods depend so much upon the commercialization thereof. Oh, but not Easter.... it's a movable feast. Rather than taking the space to explain how they do it, if you're really curious, check out this "Explanation". The crux of the matter is why they do it, and the answer is this: It's based on the pagan lunar calendar. There are 13 months in the lunar claendar, which does not line up with our 12 month calendar. Toss in the fact that 13 lunations do not equal 365 days, and you've got a bit of a mish-mash on your hands. Come on, it could be much easier than that! OK, you want it always to be on a Sunday, because there's Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and all that? Fine. Make it like Thanksgiving, which is the last Thursday in November. How about the first Sunday in April? Not the second or third, because that would be too close to April 15th, and there's that whole thing about death and taxes that doesn't fit in well with the whole Resurrection thing. Nooooooo, that would be too easy. They'd rather preserve their piece of mystery and wonder by making it too hard for the average person to figure out (although once you know the system, it isn't difficult). So, Jesus arises on a different day every year.... which day is it? You don't know, so you'd better be ready! Besides, see #5 and find out what asking them to explain it will get you. More of #4, just for starters, and then a healthy dose of #24. Ouch.

So, that's my experience with Catholicism by the numbers. The good news is that I have, over time, come to terms with all of these things, and come out all right in the end. One of the keys to this process was becoming "Not-a-Catholic-anymore", since we never could resolve the #5 issue. Oh, that doesn't mean that I don't believe in God or anything. Indeed I do! But, that's another story for another time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out when Easter is.... count back 40 days to Ash Wednesday, when all good Catholics come out of the closet with their smudge of ash on their foreheads, and most importantly, figure out what the day before Ash Wednesday is. The church calls it Shrove Tuesday; most of the rest of us refer to it as Mardi Gras. Now, there's a movable feast we can all enjoy!