Thursday, February 19, 2015

Awakening



I receive regular emails from an author and counselor named Mary O’Malley whose work, according to her website, Awakening with Mary O’Malley, “awakens others to the joy of being fully alive”.  Among other things, she asks “What would your life be like… if you truly trusted yourself and your life? …If your challenges, rather than being endless problems to be solved, became doorways into the healing you long for? …If you discovered that the peace you long for is always with you, right here, right now?”

There are articles and interviews, a blog, retreats, telephone groups, classes and workshops and, of course, books and CD’s and DVD’s. Mary is even licensed to perform weddings in the state of Washington and will officiate at your nuptials if you’re within an hour’s drive of her home/office.

She encourages us to meet our fears head on, to welcome the problems and grief that life can bring, treating them as ways to enlarge our experience of the world and ourselves, rather than swatting them away and trying to ignore or forget them “through busyness, compulsion, fixing, judging, analyzing”. There’s much about setting intentions rather than goals and opening our hearts and moving through life in kindness. I haven’t been able to go through all the newsletters and blog postings, and while there seems to be an element of “woo-woo” to it all, much of what I’ve read resonates for some reason. Basically she seems to be saying to live life as it comes, to welcome it all, the good, the bad, the messy, the happiness and the grieving.

The older I get, the more aware I am of feelings of unease and imbalance and, yes, fear. I try mightily to find the joy in things and have lately become aware that I’m really pretty self-absorbed. It’s probably time for me to reach out and find an outlet of some sort. I’m due to start a monthly creative workshop group with a few other artists, dedicated to keeping each other on course as far as our creative endeavors are concerned, to get each of us working and productive. Maybe, even given my 9-to-5 schedule, I could find some volunteer work somewhere… “Yeah,” as Jon Lovitz used to say, “that’s the ticket!”

Meanwhile, here’s a poem from one of Mary O’Malley’s recent emails. I only wish I could greet each day like this...

There is joy in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds

~ Anne Sexton (from The Awful Rowing Toward God)

How sad to think that such feelings of joy and gratitude coexisted in the heart and mind of a tragic figure: Anne Sexton died by her own hand. According to Wikipedia, in an interview over a year before her death, she explained she had written the first drafts of The Awful Rowing Toward God in twenty days with “two days out for despair and three days out in a mental hospital”. She went on to say she would not allow the poems to be published before her death.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

SAD

I don’t know about you, but it happens to me every year, at just about the same time: around
now. Suddenly one afternoon I notice that the shadows are getting a little longer a little earlier in the day. When I wake up it’s darker out than it has been. Worst of all, the news guy on the local NPR station starts telling me when the sun will rise and set, including how many minutes less daylight we’ll be having that day, which drives me crazy.

Eventually the temperature goes down and stays down, a sure sign that autumn is here and
winter won’t be far behind. (Although at present the temperatures have been fairly mild, save at night when they tend to drop into the 40’s and 50’s – temps which will, soon enough, seem positively balmy.)

All of this, of course, heralds the onset of that curious malady known as SAD – Seasonal
Affective Disorder – in which one’s overall mood takes a nose dive, a general sense of ennui sets in and you don’t even want to get out of bed, much less get dressed and venture out. At least that’s how it is for me. Mind you, I can experience the old ennui at any time of the year, and I am not one to bound out of bed with a song in my heart and a smile on my lips. Getting up in the a.m. can be a challenge. It just seems tougher as the days grow shorter.

But there is something about this particular time of year that brings out a little melancholy.
Eventually you almost get used to the light fading before you leave the office, the need for
sweaters and down coats and gloves, all the bulky accoutrements of winter, and eventually the sinking feeling that it will never end: the snow, the cold, the SADness.

Some do manage to get away to some Caribbean hot spot for a week or so in the middle of it all, or go on a cruise, leaving me sad and a little jealous. But that doesn’t last long.

One thing that’s become true for me as I get older is the inescapable fact that time seems to be rushing by. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were getting ramped up for summertime – and look where we are now, going home in the dark and anticipating The Holidays. Already!

So my heart takes a little comfort in the fact that this too shall pass and soon enough we’ll be anticipating the first stirrings of spring. Just a little something to contemplate as the season of SAD approaches.

Monday, August 4, 2014

An Evening with Leslie Jordan



We recently made a trip to New Hope, PA, to the Rrazz Room supper club, to see Leslie Jordan’s one-man show “Show Pony”. Jordan is, of course, best known for his role as Beverly Leslie on TV’s “Will and Grace”, as well as the film “Sordid Lives” in which he plays Earl “Brother Boy” Ingram,  a mental patient  who’s convinced he’s Tammy Wynette. He makes his entrance in a clown’s outfit, complete with enormous yellow shoes, a red fright wig and the requisite red nose. The outfit comes off early in the show, but it serves to underscore the putative theme of “poor, sad clown”. (That and the loop of circus music that played pre-show and all through dinner.)

To say Jordan’s life has been interesting is to understate the case. Sober by his own admission for something like 17 years, it’s been the proverbial roller coaster. While the show chronicles his fascination and disastrous relationships with otherwise “straight” young men, it’s not as comprehensively autobiographical as the other show of his, “Like a Dog on Linoleum”, which I saw some years back. Still, it does give the audience a glimpse into his background in the South, his relationship with his parents, his early school days and anecdotes about his life in show business.

Jordan was born in Chattanooga, TN to devoutly Christian parents. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the Army who died when Jordan was still a child. For years he thought his father was ashamed of him and didn’t love him, until his mother told him of the Christmas eve, when Jordan was three, that his daddy spent scouring Chattanooga for the bride doll Jordan had pleaded for from Santa. His mother, proud of her son’s success, nevertheless wonders why he has to air his dirty laundry in public. “Why,” she asks, “can’t you just whisper it to a therapist?” His fascination with straight men began early, in junior high, with his attraction to a 19 year-old janitor named Elrod. Pulling no punches, he describes this first “relationship” in hilarious, if intimate, detail.

There are several of these relationships with straight men that Jordan goes through, keeping us laughing all the while. (And “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” with the reveal of each of the mens’ portraits, larger than life size, as though to prove they were all real.) Still, there was an undercurrent of regret there, over the fact that he’s apparently not been able to maintain a true relationship with a gay man for all these years. A touch of wistfulness crept in at a couple of points, not enough to bring the show to a melodramatic halt; just enough to let us know that the poor, sad clown is, in fact, flesh-and-blood.

By the way, the club itself is a very nice, very intimate venue where there’s a constant stream of cabaret acts week after week. The food was fine, if a bit pricey, as was the service. Depending on the headliner we might just go back.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy New Year or The Value of Regret

I went to the gym today for the first time in weeks. It seems longer. I've been bothered with pain in my shoulders and arms and I thought a workout of some kind -- any kind -- would do me some good, work out the kinks, that sort of thing. And as I marched myself into the place, hopped up on the treadmill and began it occurred to me that this would be a good thing to start up on a regular basis in 2014, a thought that positively reeks of New Year's Resolution.

I gave up making resolutions years ago. I always had the feeling I was setting myself up for failure, somehow. Quit smoking. Cut down on my drinking. Spend less. Save more. Finish that play. You get the idea. As I understand it, the first of the year is always busiest at the gym. January into February gyms are packed with people who've made well-intentioned resolutions to lose those pounds, tone up, slim down. By March things have slowed down as the regulars keep going and the people who made all those well-intentioned resolutions drop like flies. (Please note that I did, eventually quit smoking and cut out drinking altogether, decisions that had nothing to do with January 1.)

And yet the impetus is there, that desire to somehow be... better. Of course, it pays to be rational about it. Looking at Facebook over the holidays I've seen many posts by people who have been spending time with their families, of origin or otherwise. I've seen pictures of happy children under the tree, happy families crowded onto sofas and around dinner tables. I envy them, as my family has grown smaller over the years, as often happens as we grow older, and my impulse is to resolve to get myself a family for the new year, a gurgling baby, an adorable toddler, some aunts and uncles, you get the picture. Not, as they say, bloody likely. Still it looks as though those lives are working out somehow better than mine in some indefinable way.

It is possible that I will, in fact, go to the gym more often this year, or get involved in some kind of theatrical enterprise, my full-time job notwithstanding. Or go back to my painting. And save more. And it occurs to me that I want to do these things because I haven't been doing them even though they mean something to me. I do feel better after I've worked out, even a little. I am, by nature, an artist and the artist in me is getting itchy.

And what's behind, or underneath, this desire to act and, in a perfect world, hire a personal trainer? Apart from everything else, I think there's a modicum of regret. Regret that I didn't exercise more this past year and can therefore not fit as comfortably into my pants as I used to. Regret that I'm working this full-time job and can't be out there auditioning. (Let it be said, however, that without the full-time job I wouldn't have a regular paycheck and rather good benefits, which I've needed, believe me.) Still it's there, the regret. A touch of disappointment in myself. The desire to be the better person I know a more toned physique will make me. (Okay, intellectually I know that's not true, but the Committee in my head keeps trying to tell me it is.)

Don't get me wrong, I don't spend my waking hours bitterly contemplating the rather large chunk of life, represented by the past year, that has passed by, and rather quickly at that. I get up and get on with it and do my best to live a day at a time, taking on only what's in front of me and not trying to figure out all of life's mysteries, joys and disappointments at once. Still those feelings are there. And the regret. And if that's what it takes to get me back to the gym, or to declutter the apartment, or to be more artistic - act, paint, write, something! -- then so be it.

I won't let it overwhelm me. I'll just acknowledge that it's there and move along. Forward. Ahead. Into 2014 and the next phase of life.

Happy New Year to us all!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Las Damas de Blanco



            I like to try to keep up with the work of the Human Rights Foundation and received a message recently about Cuba’s Ladies in White. The Ladies in White (“Las Damas de Blanco”) is a Cuban civil society organization founded by the very brave wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners jailed during the Castro regime’s “Black Spring” crackdown in 2003. Group members wear white to symbolize their commitment to a peaceful struggle for freedom. Despite repeated arrests and beatings by Cuban authorities, the group marches every Sunday in different locations around Cuba to protest human rights violations under the Castro dictatorship. Berta Soler has led the group since the death of founder Laura Pollán in 2011.
            Recently, the Ladies performed a Sunday march for freedom and human rights after a visit to the church of San Jose de Colon in Matanzas Province. According to the Human Rights Foundation website:

          “A group of government supporters cut off the protest and proceeded to beat and harass the group members, striking and shouting insults at the 12 female members of the group. Sayli Navarro, a group member who took part in the march on July 14, stated that after the mob attacked the peaceful protest, the Ladies took refuge in the home of one of the group members, where “the mob gathered outside her house” and “they began to carry out an ‘act of repudiation,’” throwing objects at the women and shouting insults.
On August 4, the Ladies in White asked Dionisio García Ibáñez, the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, to intervene on their behalf and request that the Cuban government stop the regime’s repressive actions against them.
          “That same day, while a group of Ladies attended mass in the southeastern city of Cárdenas, a crowd of government supporters gathered outside the church and waited for the members to come out. However, the Ladies were able to elude the mob and return to their homes unharmed.
          “These recent events remind us that the campaign of harassment, persecution, hostility, and threats against the Ladies in White is an ongoing pattern of militant behavior sponsored and directed by the Casto regime,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “These brave women face persecution, attacks, and arrests every Sunday during their peaceful protest. Their deplorable treatment at the hands of the government and its supporters underscores the fact that the story of ‘reform’ peddled by the Cuban government is fiction circulated by the Castro brothers.”

          The HRF is nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a special focus on the Americas. Check out their website: they do good – and important – work. www.thehrf.org.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Quartet



For a delightful, if leisurely-paced, time check out “Quartet” from director (yes, director) Dustin Hoffman. The 2012 film stars Maggie Smith (I’ll watch anything with Maggie Smith in it) along with other British stalwarts Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon. The plot, to borrow from the Rotten Tomatoes website, is as follows:

“Beecham House is abuzz. The rumor circling the halls is that the home for retired musicians is soon to play host to a new resident. Word is, it's a star. For Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cecily Robson (Pauline Collins) this sort of talk is par for the course at the gossipy home. But they're in for a special shock when the new arrival turns out to be none other than their former singing partner, Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Her subsequent career as a star soloist, and the ego that accompanied it, split up their long friendship and ended her marriage to Reggie, who takes the news of her arrival particularly hard. Can the passage of time heal old wounds? And will the famous quartet be able to patch up their differences in time for Beecham House's gala concert?”

The answers to these and other pressing questions are probably not in doubt, but there is definitely satisfaction in watching seasoned pros do their utmost with the material. Given the range of talent, it’s a safe bet that the performances would have been sublime in any case, but since the director is Dustin Hoffman I suspect he worked as an actor with other actors to elicit just a little more. (In fact, given his reputation as a perfectionist, it must have been interesting to see if he really worked his cast or just gave them free reign. Probably a little of both.) (It’s definitely some kind of an acting lesson just watching Maggie Smith, as the retired diva, sitting in her armchair at dusk, listening to her old recordings, reminiscing and possibly regretting. No words, no movement, just a brilliant actor simply being.)

Of course, I think everything sounds just a little better with a British accent, including the surprising – if justified – use of the f-bomb. I’m just saying…

For classical music (especially opera) buffs, there's a fair amount of music to be enjoyed, performed by real-life retired musicians and singers, all of whom are acknowledged at the end of the film. It's a touching tribute and a reminder that life doesn't have to end at retirement: the movie is as much about aging and growing old with spirit and dignity as anything else. As one character is fond of quoting (thanks to Bette Davis) "Old age isn't for sissies".

In any event, it’s a delightful little gem of a picture that’s definitely worth a look. Buy some scones, brew some tea and curl up with a cast of pros in “Quartet”.