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.