a pall

img_0012It hangs. Quiet yet unnerving by it’s very presence. It has been gathering since before the election. Now, post-election, it sits thick and palpable.

There have been palls before. I recall the one that hung after Reagan was shot and when the space shuttle exploded. It could be argued that the pall that gripped the world with the tragedy of 9/11 still hangs a bit… a good 15 years after the fact.

The first I remember experiencing one was when I was all of 4 years old when Kennedy was assassinated. Then again when both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King met similar fates one after another.

All these palls were global and were born from tragedy. Mourning and uncertainty woven into it’s fabric. For the most part the thread count of the former surpassing the latter.

These palls are known to lift or dissipate into “getting on with it” or via a positive event that shifts the zeitgeist.  The current one may not.

You see, there is also a different type of pall… like the one I experienced in 1969. It started before the elections in Malaysia that year. The thread count of uncertainty dominated in the cowl of that one. One could almost feel a low rumble sparking intermittent glows and pops of anger like the bubbles in a lava lake.

That particular feeling of unease was justified. Soon after the elections, on May the 13th of that year… bloody race riots broke out.

The current pall feels similar… and uncomfortably familiar.

 

 

and then the morning arrived…

image from http://http://uk.pcmag.com
image from http://uk.pcmag.com

… to a great gnashing of teeth, the pulling of hair, the tearing of garments and mounds of mournful wailing. This was soon followed by finger pointing and the start of the blame game. At least, that is what greeted me on Facebook this morning. I suspect this will go on for the next several more weeks.

I’m not making light of it… believe me. I totally understand the despair felt by this segment of the citizenry. But please remember this also happened 8 years ago with a different segment of the population. I only know this because I have friends on pretty much all sides of the political spectrum… it’s a perk of being an independent. That’s perspective, eh?

The winning candidate was not one I would have chosen either for very many reasons that would be moot to go into now. I can also say that for a fact, he wasn’t the choice of many friends who sway to his side of the aisle either. I also have friends who did vote for him but I chose not to hold it against them… because it was their right to vote for whomever they chose – that’s democracy.

At this point I realize some of you reading this might be entertaining the slight urge to smear runny dog-shit on my face the next time you see me. I urge you to read on… at least before acting on that.

You see, I first arrived in this land while the 1980 election cycle was playing out. I’ve lived through five different presidential administrations. I thought some were better than others and mistakes were made by each and every one.

In that time, I have observed:

  • That political discourse has gone from “a gentleman’s disagreement” to “hateful vitriol” from both sides of the aisle. And when the subject is broached in conversation, both sides of supporters will fiercely claim. “They started it first!” or “Ours is not as bad as theirs!” Really?!
  • That political divisions have also devolved into the ugly side of team sports mentality where winning now means the annihilation via smears of one’s opponent instead of the sound excellence of the argument… which hopefully leads to a compromised solution to the issue. Is it any wonder very little gets accomplished?
  • That political engagement by the citizenry occurs mostly on social media via memes, insults, and various forms of “armchair activism”… none of which accomplishes any change in the real world. Sure, on occasion an issue will arise and gain popular momentum to spur on actual (boots on the ground) activism and even accomplish changes to the law of the land. My point being there is more armchair activism than actual engagement.

If it is one thing I know it is that the price for a democratic society is both vigilance and engagement. Yes, as a system it is messy, unwieldy and often times mind numbingly slow. There are more stops than starts, ebbs and flows… but that’s democracy… it is a process… and it is never ending.

Many have forgotten that fact which sadly seems to have led to a sense of instant entitlement. Perhaps the instant gratification from the speed afforded us by technology has had something to do with it… or perhaps it is living in a longer stretch of better times? I don’t know.

And on vigilance… many were surprised by the voting turnout by those who have felt disenfranchised for far too long. Have short memories made us forget the clues provided by the tea party or occupy movements not too long ago? I don’t know.

What I do know is this… it is a speech I would give during the first class of the school year when I was teaching:

“When I was growing up halfway around the world, I always heard about equality and opportunity in America. When I got here I learned that opportunity wasn’t handed to you – but you could create it for yourself. And on equality… the only time you really are equal is when you are in school. Every time you don’t do the work or sluff off you are making yourself less equal than someone who has. Knowledge provides you with more choices.”

It is something I still believe.

True, this election is very different because unlike the five administrations I lived through before, this individual has had no record of public service. Should be interesting to say the least.

In all the time I’ve been here (and as recently as last night) I have heard the phrase, “this great American experiment” bandied about. I think we can all agree (and if those who voted him are to be honest with themselves) this experiment is about to get a rigorous workout.

There has been a lot of fear and projection of what may lie ahead. Let’s see how and if the system holds together.

cha cha cha

img_3174

That was a private joke my Dad and I shared. I think I was ten or so when it first emerged. Like most private jokes, it didn’t make much sense to anyone else but us.

It happened at mass one nondescript Sunday when he caught me smiling in  the middle of a call and response section between the priest and the congregation. Then, during a sung prayer I was struggling to restrain the guffaws that were aching to be let loose in this sanctified sanctuary.

My 10 year old mind had replaced the words “cha cha cha” with whatever response the congregation was replying to the priest’s call. It also fit neatly into the dramatic pauses hymns were wont to have. (See, I told you it wouldn’t make any sense… unless you were the 10 year old me.)

Part of the post mass family Sunday ritual was to catch brunch at Chong Kee, a coffee-shop/restaurant. While Mum was off ordering her favorite popiah… Dad leaned over and asked me what I was laughing at in church. I hesitated… only because I thought the only decent response to what had run through my mind would be frowned upon at best.

Finally, I relented and tried to explain it to him. He really wasn’t getting it. So, I decided to demonstrate what I was trying to explain what was so hilarious to me. I began singing a section of the mass…

Lamb of God,
cha cha cha
Who takes away the sins of the world,
cha cha cha…

As I sang softly his smile got wider and wider. I felt like I was on top of the world. He genuinely thought this stupid joke was funny… plus, “Dad approval” is always a cool thing to get.

Then Mum returned and brunch was back to normal.

Yeah, it was a stupid joke. We never shared it with Mum… ever. Simply because she took the ostentatious nature of mass much more seriously  than the two of us did. At least, I discovered this fact about Dad that day… betraying the often stoic face he often wore in public. Soon after I had forgotten about the joke.

Then, two weeks later, in church, when the “Lamb of God” section of the mass came up… Dad tapped his fingers three times each time the pauses between came up. I looked at him as he betrayed a sly smile with a fleeting glance at me.

He had remembered and “secret coded” the joke back to me. How cool was that?! I nearly bust a gut but restrained myself. From that point on this became “our thing”.

This was a memory I recalled a couple of nights ago as I was about to drift into dreamland and it made me laugh out loud. It took me over an hour to get back to sleepy time.

It wasn’t something I had thought about in a long time and I couldn’t be happier that it has sneaked back into my life. It’s the little things, eh?

 

we shared a birthday

randynmeIn fact, I’m pretty sure this picture by Cynthia Cooper was taken when we were out celebrating several years ago.

We met in college. Both of us ensconced in the theatre department where we did shows together. We even shared the stage at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts in Washington DC for ACTF in a production of “The Taming of the Shrew” – he played “Petruchio” and I “Gremio”.

Over the years we would still be connected via the theatre. Long after college I had the crazy notion of putting on shows in my backyard and calling it WeedWacker Theatre. Early in the planning stages I ran into Randy at Livingstone’s. While drinking and chatting I casually mentioned the insanity I was planning for the Summer. He perked up and said, “Give me a slot… I’ll put something on.”

Well, I did give him a slot. To the delight of the audience that night… Randy, Marie (his then wife) and a couple of other friends put up a cardboard set and performed an episode of “The Honeymooners” with Randy playing the Ralph Kramden part. It was years later that I realized how close he was to that character.

We were even business partners for a time. In the early days of Theatre J’Nerique… Jeff White, Randy and I produced shows under that banner for about a year at The Laundromat… a fringe performance space in the Tower District. Heck, we even made money doing this. OK… to be fair we did lose money on a show to the tune of $3.76… something we laughed about over the years.

There’ll be many stories about Randy. How after college he had gone to LA to try his hand at the biz… or how when he got back he finally got into teaching… and everything in between.  He did have a good many accomplishments and many others will tell of those.

My latest association with Randy was that of slumlord to his tenant. (Something else we joked about.) He lived here the last 4 years of his life… until we had to get him to the hospital 3 months ago.

Like Ralph… Randy was a big lovable lug. At times blustery… funny… infuriating… supportive… he could be an asshole… he could be a gentleman… he could be all that and yet those who really knew him knew that it all hid essentially a sweet and generous interior.

He had more talent than he gave himself credit for. And even though he battled his own demons… even through that… he had the capacity to inspire. This was evident in the passion and “can-do-ness” his students exhibited and I witnessed when shooting many of the school shows he directed over the past few years… yet another legacy.

Randy passed away in hospice care last night. I last saw him a couple of days ago… in our own way we said, “See you around… somewhere, someplace… just not here”. Good night to a fellow actor & director, tenant, partner in crime… and above all… friend.

I used to think I was missing out on everything!

62411gWhen I was a kid there was always some exciting event that I wasn’t going to. A lot of the times it was because I was laid up in bed due to some inconvenient malady.  If it was just the mumps or measles (both of which I did have) perhaps I could have let it slide… but my state of health in my early years was a little more complicated. Ah, the woes of the sickly child. Then again, every child feels that way… (don’t they?) at least I think they do.

As a teen it was usually some party… that didn’t include me. I would hear about it via the grapevine… but nary a word that I was invited. Or I would hear about it after the fact. The thing is, I knew at least half of the “usual suspects” that had a grand time at these fun affairs… that didn’t include me.

Before we continue… NO, this is not a pity post. Really, it isn’t.

By the time I was in college… missing out was still happening but I was caring less and less that I was. Missing out seemed less and less important. This was only because by that time I had been self creating adventures. It was something that I had started in my mid-teens.

Being a boy scout provided me the license in my teens.

“Man, you missed a cool party last weekend!”

“Glad it was cool… I was camping.”

I may have left out the fact that I came face to face with a cobra or that a buddy and I had floated out on a bamboo raft in the dead of night drifting out to the middle of the Straits of Malacca. At times I would share the details… but mostly not. It was my own private adventure that they were not invited to. (Hah!)

The thing is… we are not missing out. We are in fact creating our own adventures.

Unless, of course we’re not. If we are sitting on the couch day after day in our undies stuffing our face with ho hos watching re-runs of bad 70s sitcoms thinking adventure will come knocking on our door… well, it’s not… having an adventure, that is. I guess being convinced you are having a heart attack, getting a ride in an ambulance to find out you only had bad heartburn counts as an adventure.

You got to create it for yourself. I look back… and I’ve had some. Some grand ones at that. Now I have become more discerning… I pick and choose the ones I want to have.

The upside of all of this is… it is never too late. And it is never too late… unless it is too late.

and then we say, “but… “

emptychairOver the last few years I have become acutely aware that my generation has reached the stage when we are not only burying our parents but also each other. This is neither good nor bad… it just is.

Death is a fact of life. The older we get, the more prevalent the occurrence.

The younger years of immortality delusion has faded. Replaced soberly by the knowledge that any meet up with a member of my generation or older might very well be the last.

Perhaps this is the one sin we are all guilty of – taking for granted “they” will always be there. We all do it. And when the inevitable happens we attempt to cover up our sin of not spending quality time with the individual with a series of “buts”.

“But he/she was too young!”

“But she/he looked fine the last time I saw her/him!”

Those, and a myriad number of other “buts” populate our conversation when talking about the recently departed. Sometimes accompanied with the gnashing of teeth, an unrelenting flow of tears and even the rendering of garments.

Sure, I could be cruelly flippant and say something like, “A fat load of good all that drama is gonna do now the person is gone.” Look, I understand the sadness of loss. And that is natural. However, that is not what this post is about. I may not be as cruel as the line above but the crux of it is what I’m trying to get at.

I’ve recently had losses in my life with friends & family. And yes, I have felt the loss… but not the regret.

This is only because over the last few years I’ve been mindful of making as many of my encounters with friends and family count. Not because of the “in case they die…” clause/possibility… but more so as an endeavor to maximize as fully as I can… the delight of living.

Part of that is in the communion with others… especially friends & family… of sharing the fullest experience one can in those situations.

Yes, it does take time and effort. Reaching out takes effort. Making the encounter full takes time. Yes, life does get busy… but the reach out is totally worth it. It fills the soul… at least it does mine.

Plus, the encounter does not have to be on the grand scale of an extravaganza. If a face to face is not feasible, an email and/or a phone exchange can be just as rewarding.

Of late it seems as if the more we have access to the modern tools of communication… the less we actually communicate. Some of my friends claim to text a lot. Texting has it’s place… but it is hardly a full experience, is it?

So, do yourself the favor and start taking the time and effort today. Start reaching out and making shared experiences count. Start taking delight in life and living… especially with your loved ones. Neither you nor them are going to be there forever.

 

 

buying to use… and don’t

payingSo, you’re rummaging through piles to find that one thing you’re sure you have. Along the way you run across at least three things you forgot you had.

Fact is, those three items are still encased in their original packaging… along with the original sales slip… from (insert number here) years ago.

You think to yourself, “Oh yeah… I got that at (insert store/location here) when I wanted to (insert flimsy reason here.)”

You set the item/s aside telling yourself that you’ll get to it (insert time span here). You never do… and probably never will. Chances are you’ll run into these items again… along with a few others and tell yourself the same thing… in another three years time.

Now, don’t pretend this hasn’t happened to you.

A variation to the scenario above… includes the thought, “What the hell was I thinking when I got this?!

Anyway, the point being, we often buy on a whim. We think we really needed that “thing” but we don’t. Mostly we are spurred on by a hazy grand delusion that this “thing” will make everything better. We conjure up an unrealistic fantasy of the world bathed in mild sunshine and vibrant rainbows because this “thing” is in our life.

Well, it obviously didn’t… and it probably won’t. Mainly because it has been sitting in dusty obscurity all this time… and probably will for even more trips around the sun.

So, one morning you wake to the inspiration that you are going to “scale down”. The decision is arrived at that a huge yard sale is a win-win. You’d be getting rid of the unessential for a little monetary gain.

You diligently set about “gathering to dispose”.  Soon you have a grand pile collected.

YAY… down-sizing is fun… and slightly profitable!!

But then you come across those things… still in packages. You just can’t sell them at the big yard sale. At least not for less than what you paid for them. Then you remember why you bought them in the first place. Now the visions of mild sunshine and vibrant rainbows return.

Those things go into the growing “someday” pile. Life goes on and the cycle continues.