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!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

25 Random Things

I got goaded into putting up this list on Facebook, and I figured that I'd put it here, too, just for the fun of it.

It's one of those things that you're supposed to do and then tag 25 other people for them to do the same. So far, the results have indeed been interesting, as well as the comments on my own.

25 Random Things About Me:

1. I was originally a pre-med major.... so along with my degree in acting & directing, I have a minor in science. Weird.

2. It takes me two hours to wake up and get going after I get up. I am SO not a morning person. Morning people should be severely punished.

3. I'm ambidextrous. I can write illegibly with either hand.

4. My computer/music room is painted royal purple. It's also royally disorganized.

5. I don't get stage fright (unless I have to sing classically; then I worry).

6. I'm a reformed Type A personality. Constant perfectionism takes too much effort, and other people find it annoying. I still have to fight it, though.

7. Few things make me angrier than being told what I think.

8. I like food that hurts (hot, spicy, bring it on!).

9. First, it was a one-book project, and now it's a THREE-book project, and there's nothing I can do about it but tell the story with as much truth and honesty as I can.

10. I don't have much talent for foreign languages. Despite this, I'm trying to teach myself Irish Gaelic.

11. I am a person who cares about cats. I dislike dogs intensely.

12. I hate dressing nicely (unless there's money involved). Ties are a kind of stylized noose.

13. In spite of its incredible simplicity, people misspell and get my name wrong all the time.

14. I'm a Christmas Eve baby. My birthday is September 24.

15. I fractured my skull by falling down a set of concrete stairs when I was nine months old. Some people feel that this explains a lot.

16. My high school nickname: Spock.

17. I'm an unreformed folkie, and I love singer/songwriter/guitarists.

18. I could have stayed in college my whole life, getting degree after degree. I love to learn, am eternally curious, and school beats the heck out of reality.

19. The more I read in the newspaper about the state of our nation, the better the idea of moving to Ireland looks.

20. I met my wife in a men's dressing room. I came in dressed as an Indian; she introduced herself, pulled my clothes off me and stuffed me into a nine-foot-long furry green crocodile suit. Absolutely true.

21. I have a picture of myself with Helen Hayes, first lady of the American theatre. One of us is dead now.

22. There are probably 2,500 books in the house.

23. I took two years of ballet in college.

24. I've picked up many skills as a result of being in the theatre.... For instance, I sew and have had my own machine for 30 years.

25. I can't draw, paint, sketch, or anything like that, and have always wished that I could. I stick to photography.

26. I know the rules call for 25, but I'm a dedicated nonconformist.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Topic Block

One of the problems that comes with not having added a post in a long while is that there is this great inertia behind the idea that the next topic had better be a darned good one.

Indeed, this is one of the many things that has kept me from posting. I can't say much for the part of last year when I had some surgery, things went wrong, and I took months to recover. In any case, I'm not going to talk about it, since it's not a "fun" topic. On the brighter side, I was involved in several artistic projects, which were challenging and rewarding. Those DO bear talking about, but then again, I'm not sure if I want that to be my topic.

Then there's the concept that it's just a blog post, and it doesn't have to be "about" anything. I hated Seinfeld for that very reason; watching a show that was proudly "about nothing" was irritating. I never made it through a whole episode. So, it seems that I ought to come up with some sort of solid idea.

But I digress. Which mostly proves that said idea has not come to me yet.

It is this kind of pressure, to do "something significant", that keeps a lot of people from doing things that they ought to do. Mostly, it's a fear of failure that drives this feeling; who wants to trip, fall down and look like an idiot? Well, I'm an actor and I do that with regularity, so that isn't what's stopping me. In fact, people enjoy watching me fall down and hurt myself. One of these days, I must figure out why that is.

So, here we are. 2009 is upon us. Idiot-Boy has gone home to Texas. The Super Bowl is nigh (though I don't know why I mention it, since I care so little about it that I don't even remember what teams are playing, and they're playing the stupid game in Tampa, which ain't far from this, my exiled cultural wasteland). A guy makes a textbook-perfect ditching of a plane in a river, and nobody loses their life.

Now, that's impressive.

Is this a hint of a topic?

I actually have little, if any, fear of flying, because I know that statistically, the chances of anything going seriously wrong are pretty small. Flying used to be kind of fun, before all this idiocy with taking off your shoes and such. It isn't so much the shoes that I mind, it's the belt. My buckle always sets the metal detector off. So, it isn't bad enough that you have to walk in your stocking feet to the nearest chair to put your shoes back on; no, you have to re-thread your belt, which means re-tucking your shirt.... it feels like getting changed in the dressing room sans the booth. the fact that everyone else is doing the same thing doesn't make it any more fun.

Side thought: Why don't underwire bras set the alarm off?

The whole security procedure is a nuisance that kills off any potential enjoyment of flying. It wouldn't be so bad if I couldn't think of a number of ways to "beat the system", which I think a lot of people can, at least in part. Sure, check my ID, by all means, especially since I don't have an actual ticket (online reservations mean that all you get is a boarding pass. Still, the airlines seem to manage the information all right. The downside to that is that they have an alarmingly large amount of information about you stored in their computers). But they don't look very hard at it. I've yet to have one of the TSA workers cross-check the name, look at the picture, and then look up to make sure that I am the same person. They also miss the chance to snidely observe that my driver license has one of the worst possible pictures of me on it. I wouldn't pass that up, as long as I politely followed it with some conciliatory phrase, such as "you poor, poor thing."

Then come the snake lines. DAMN the Disney people for having invented the snake line. OK, it saves space, I get that. However, it also means that you keep passing that same guy who's apparently never heard of deodorant in his life over and over. "Please," I think, "for the love of God, don't let him be my seat-mate on my flight." Thus far, God has been merciful and it hasn't happened. Then you have to put your bag with all your toys in it through the x-ray machine. I don't like this, because I don't like other people playing with my toys. Call me selfish, or call me the product of a large family. I don't care which.

You know what I miss, though? It used to be that you flew with people. This was before everyone was so self-absorbed in their laptops, their iPhones or their Gameboys. In the "old days", people were actually forced to say hello to one another. One time, I had this fascinating conversation with a woman who flew hot air balloons for Budweiser. She even gave me her card and hinted strongly that I should call her. Well, I never did, being spoken for, but it was nicely flattering and one of the most interesting travel conversations I've ever had. It would never happen today.

I suppose I've gotten just as guilty as other people in this regard, but not purposefully. I'm extremely sensitive to sound, so I have a noise-reducing headset on (not one of the fancy noise-cancelling headsets; would that I could afford them). Even walking the echoing halls of the airport, I have to have them on. People just assume that I'm listening to something, and leave me alone. I guess they're just being polite, when they aren't caught up in their e-devices. But I get my licks in my running my iPod ear buds underneath the headset and I listen to music for nearly the whole flight. I used to read on flights (you'll seldom catch me without a book), but even with the noise dampened, I find it hard to concentrate and enjoy the book.

So, sitting there with my headset and music standing between me and, say, the captain coming on the intercom, I might have missed the announcement to brace for impact that the USAir passengers were treated to just before they got introduced to the Hudson River in a very personal way (not actually; I can still hear such things just fine through my barriers, but it makes for a better example if I say otherwise).

Were I to be informed that my plane was about to crash, I think the firs thought that would run through my mind would be "What a stupid way to die." Then, for the sake of my family, I think I'd turn my cell phone on and text my wife & daughter goodbye and tell them that I love them.

What if everyone did that, which in this day and age seems likely? There you'd be, in with a hundred, two hundred people about to share the ultimate life experience (that is, having it suddenly taken away), and people would STILL be in their insular little electronic worlds. The news reports say that the passengers who crashed into the river didn't scream as it was all happening. Perhaps they were too stunned, or just didn't have the time.

More likely, however, they were all preoccupied with those same devices that are making the world smaller, yet making us more distant from each other every day. An interesting conundrum.

So, in light of that, and the extreme wave of emotion sweeping over the country as we've sworn in a new president, maybe it's not so significant that I couldn't come up with a brilliantly-written blog entry. In the cosmic scheme of things, it's not that big a deal, eh? On the other hand, I would have preferred something more than rambling, even though my rule for writing these things is "One draft, one revision, and post the darn thing." That's the challenge I've set for myself here, and to come up with a reasonably good result in the process. Sometimes, that works out well. The two very first entries I put up when I started The Eye Wit, I'm very happy with. Others, I'd love to go back and delete, but that's one of my other rules: No looking back.

So, if you happen to be reading this several months from its original date (and I hope you are while you've stopped in), let me just simply point out that they can't all be gems. Still, I have to start 2009 somewhere, and at least I have set the initial bar kind of low (he said, laughing bitterly at himself).

2009 is going to be a year where a lot of people are looking for higher "bars" than we've had in this country for a long while. Let's hope that we're all up to the challenges involved.