Friday, April 27, 2007

Groovin' to the Oldies

April 27, 2007

Equipped with a little bit of software and the loan of a viable turntable, I am in the midst of re-recording all my old LPs onto my laptop. From there they'll go into CD's and some kind of miniature listening device. I'll be catapulted into the 21st Century!

It's been quite a trip. When in Second Life at the Organic School in 1949, our teacher Mrs. Gender reflected on the likelihood that we, her young charges, would live to see the turn of the Century. My nine-year-old mind grasped the concept, but shrugged it off as some kind of Utopian vision of a distant future I would hardly enjoy -- after all, by the year 2000 I would be sixty years old.

That milestone has come and gone, and, while like most geezers I wish things could be like they used to, I accept that there are better things in life than being saddled with a collection of rare and not-so-rare vinyl recordings. I have made the first move. I am going through the cabinets, record by record, and deciding which tunes I cannot live without.

The exercise has its compensations. It's difficult, sure, and time-consuming. And I'm sacrificing something in quality of sound by transferring music off the original and into the unknown. It's like going down underwater for the third time, hearing songs I hadn't thought about in years, and revisiting the times of my life that they reproduce. I had a pop period -- Frank Sinatra and Doris Day -- a folk period -- Crosby Stills & Nash, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Paxton, Bonnie Raitt -- a Broadway Musical period -- My Fair Lady, Gypsy, Company, and Barnum. I had a swing period -- Harry James, Count Basie, Glenn Miller. My jazz period spans early Duke Ellington (from the 20's and 30's) through to late Miles Davis. I have records of girl singers from Barbra Streisand to Kitty Kallen. I have boy singers from Dick Haymes to Rod Stewart. And to decide which tracks to keep, I have to listen to damned near all of them. I am revisiting my life; I am awash in nostalgia.

The good news is that I'm probably about one-quarter through my collection. I'll save a tiny portion of the albums -- so far I've set aside about 30 -- just to have and to hold. The rest I'll sell to another collector, either on eBay or to a record shop.

The paring down is good. I'll miss some of them, and undoubtably I may make some wrong decisions. But at this point I'm not worried about that. I'm just groovin' to the music.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Search of Good Flicks

April 24, 2007

I rented a few movies over the weekend, all of them serviceable for what they were, and one of them outstanding to the point that I kept thinking "Why didn't anyone tell me about this movie???" I thought about it with all three question marks, too.

The first one I watched was a no-brainer, a charming little English thing starring Maggie Smith as a axe-murderer. I knew it would be good, and, after a slow start, Dame Smith came on and straightened everything out by slinging a few axes around after dark. Lightly predictable and mildly entertaining, Keeping Mum is worth a watch if you're in that mood.

The Good Shepherd was another story altogether. Dark and grim, it told the story of the forming of the C.I.A. from its Yalie origins as the O.S.S. in the pre-WWII days, as seen through the life of an operative shaped by the paranoia inherent in his career choice. We have Matt Damon as the inscrutable spy; Robert de Niro (who also directed) in a few brief appearances as his tough mentor, and, incredibly, Angelina Jolie as the desperate housewife in the background, always a better actress than I expect, and always rather astonishing in appearance. The movie was well done, leaving many disturbing images and fresh thoughts in the mind.

Then came a little thing I picked up called Infamous. I don't know why I got this one; I had seen Capote last year and been underwhelmed, and this covered the same subject matter and time period. I don't mean to say I didn't admire Phillip Seymour Hoffman's work, or that I disliked the prior film for any reason, it just didn't capture the Truman Capote I thought I knew, but emphasized some evil strain that was hardly his raison d'etre.

Infamous did just the opposite: It took the viewer to a swanky world of New York in the late 1950's, beginning with scene at El Morocco, a torchy number sung by a gussied-up Gwyneth Paltrow who bound a spell over the equally glittery room of in-crowd hangers-on with a sultry number. Then we have testimonials about Truman from his lunching friend Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and Diana Vreeland. These society dames are played by Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and Juliet Stevenson. Delicious. And even better, Capote's buddy Nell Harper Lee is played by Sandra Bullock. Oh, and even better than that, when we get to Kansas to investigate the murders, the more interesting murderer Perry Smith is played by Daniel Craig, now aka Bond -- James Bond.

Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.

There are a couple of movies out there that I want to see. The Hoax, of course, is still on the big screen, and I may travel to one to see it this weekend. There is one out there, probably between big-screen and small at the moment about the spy Robert Hanssen who was working for Russia while in the employ of the F.B.I. This one is called Breach, and I have a devil of a time remembering that title.

In fact, of the latter three movies I've talked about, I have to repeat what actor Steven David Martin said when the movie Basic Instinct came out, following blockbuster Fatal Attraction. What's going on -- have they just run out of titles?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

After the Killing

April 22, 2007

The senseless mass murder-suicide of last week all but obliterated the news of the way Don Imus was handled for saying offensive words, which may be a blessing -- but it left the nation with something real to worry about.

The 24-hour news broadcasts told us that we are all grieving, which technically is not true. We may have compassion for the friends and families of the victims; we have a heightened sense of danger, for ourselves and our own loved ones; and most of us rushed to provide solutions for what we saw as the problem.

The first challenge was to identify the problem itself. We have not discovered the question, yet many immediately set forth partial solutions as answers. We haven’t even reached the identity stage, but some are saying that if we eliminated the availability of guns this never would have happened, while others maintain that the solution would be reached if all adults are allowed to carry handguns and use them when they deem necessary. All the chatter about what might have been done is certain to lead to fast band-aid fixes, such as those reached after a similar situation at Columbine High School ten years ago: Requiring all students in public school to wear uniforms.

The real questions are so much deeper, so much more morally profound, that we avoid them and leap to our knee-jerk responses, Liberal or Conservative, when in reality a reflection of time and depth is needed.

I posted some of the following last August, but have reworked it to apply to the situation in the country today. If you want to read the original post, my link-brain doesn't seem to be working today, but it can be found under "Searching Our Souls" on August 27.

Our minds are wired to expect linear behavior to achieve linear results, that is, if we are good, and working toward getting better, we should expect that rewards will come to us in the same way. The better people should have more of what they want, whether it be material goods or spiritual enlightenment. Otherwise, why even try to be better?

This kind of thinking leads us to believe that only good things happen to good people, and only good people have good things happen to them. By the same token, if we believe homosexuality to be a sin, the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic makes it clear that there is a God somewhere who wants people to stop having physical same-sex relations. People who believe this must ignore that innocent people die of undeserved causes every day, including wars. Surely an all-knowing Punisher would have better aim than this one does. A lot of innocent, well-meaning churchgoers must die as collateral damage. What kind of god would do this?

The simple answer is that if we believe we are going to be punished by God for our sins on this earth, we are mistaken. It's childish thinking put in our brains when we are children. It's fear of the razor strop, kept alive in many cases by our churches who have their own agenda of keeping their own coffers filled and keeping buns in the pews for generations. The innocents who were slaughtered at Virginia Tech were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a random madman chose not to heed society’s taboos. Did God choose to take those young people’s lives? No. A living, breathing human killing machine made that decision.

When someone dies, we say, "God decided it was his time." That's a poetic way to put it, but it has nothing to do with reality. There are any number of reasons that we die: Old age, disease, accident. Some of them we have a certain amount of control over. But we are not going to beat the odds and not die at all.

With the many man-made methods of dying at everyone's disposal – including the automobile, the hand gun, the airplane, cigarettes, alcohol, and living on the Coast – we can speed the process without thinking about it. A friend of mine was killed when struck by a car a year ago. This man had gone jogging just about every day for 30 years or more. On this particular morning he was hit by a car. He was jogging, presumably, to prolong his life span. Unfortunately, since automobiles have been invented, there is a chance that one might kill you if you venture into traffic at the wrong moment. This was not God's decision, nor my friend's. It was just a possibility that tragically worked against him. As much as we "love" God, and feel connected to Him, we are not in control of the natural laws. Like the Virginia students, my friend was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and, depending on how you feel about death, you may assume he is in a better place now. That's a subject for another post.

It is our fate to ask "why" all our lives, sometimes at the moment when a clear answer will come, sometimes not. Daddy didn't know all the answers. Neither did the minister, the professor, the philosopher in the books one might read. We shall ask why about all kinds of things, as we must. To demand that there is someone who can give us all the answers is to be unsatisfied for a lifetime.

It is not our job to judge, but to work with the reality we have. The first phase – identifying the problem – is just beginning. We are still in a state of shock that this killing happened. We are just learning the facts about the psycho who committed the crimes.

Is there some way that earlier intervention might have helped? Was there any tool to help this individual, or was he brain-damaged in an incurable way from the start? Should not his family have seen this, either through outside help or on their own?

Looking at it through hindsight, we say that if someone early on had had a gun in hand, the perp could have been executed on the spot and prevented a number of deaths. On the other hand, we could say that it guns were not available to all, the young man would have had considerably more difficulty in arming himself so efficiently, and would hardly have done as much damage with a couple of switchblades and an ice pick.

But among the deeper questions is why a god or higher power would allow this situation to happen in the first place. It is not in the realm of religion to deal with this, because religion exists to give us accessible answers. This one will take time and thought.

The question "why" may come up in prayer in meditation, and if we are in the right place to receive it, the answer may come too. But a life without questions is not even something to wish for.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rutgers and the Team

April 18, 2007

I have a soft spot in my heart for Rutgers. It's where my late husband matriculated, and although he was unsentimental about it, I know what it meant to him as a poor kid from Egg Harbor, New Jersey, to get to go to college, and that it was a fine school even then, back in the dark ages of World War II.

Jim would have been in the class of 1944, in fact, he was in the class of 1944, with the school awarding diplomas early to the boys of that class if they enlisted in the army. He originally had a 4-F qualification because of poor eyesight, but by 1944 the army accepted him. The class of '44 had a big reunion in '94 but Jim was too ill to attend. I would have loved to have met those guys, and when Jim died I made a donation to Rutgers in his name and my comment was run in the school newsletter: "Rutgers gave my husband the world." I got a lovely letter from one of his classmates, now a fund-raiser for the school, saying he was also in the class of '44 and that he remembered Jim -- and that he loved that line.

I think Rutgers, while being a first-rate university, suffers from a reputation as something of a blue-collar school, which, judging from its literature, it certainly is not. I think the women's basketball team, recently unfairly maligned, has proved that in its every appearance, beginning with their news conference on 4/10. Their coach, understandably protective of her little chickens, used the moment to inform us all with great patience and dignity that the young women on her team did not deserve the slam they had recently received.

Those of us who saw any of the press conference could not help but be impressed by the intelligence and class of the team. They were the opposite of what Don Imus had said they were, as he was to find out when he got to meet with them. "Unless," said team member Kia Vaughn, "They have given 'ho' a whole new definition, then that's not what I am."

The poise and wisdom of those young women and their coach must have been daunting to the usually bulletproof radio talk show host. He had already been fired, so he said to them, "I'm not here to save my job. I've lost both my jobs. I'm here to save my life." In the ensuing discussion, apparently they asked him just what his job was, since most had never heard him at work, and some had never even heard of him. He said that he made fun of people -- fat people, black people, white people, everybody. The girls must have been shocked. One of them said something like, "You make fun of people? How can that be a job?" I can picture that scene, with a sincere youngster asking that of the wounded old dragon, looking him in the eye and thinking, "Dear God, whatever happens, I don't want to grow up like that," and I'd like to know how Don Imus felt at that moment.

If he didn't get it before, I'm sure he gets it now.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Everybody Is So Damn Smart

April 16, 2007

Maybe it's the Imus in me (that title indeed sounds like something that would have come from him) but it's 3:30 A.M., I'm starting a diet this morning and my stomach is telling me to hold off another day and go raid the refrigerator right now, and I had a revelatory insight over the weekend. It was just this: Everybody thinks that he or she is smarter than everybody else.

I'm not just referring to people who appear on Sunday morning talking-head tv shows, or to people who write comments on this blog. I said "everybody," and I mean everybody. The guy who takes your money at Wal-Mart, your waitress at Starbuck's, your hairdresser, your yard man, everybody in the world. Not that they will necessarily challenge you, or engage you in a discussion, but if you look you can see it in their eyes. They think they know more than you think they do. And if you give them a chance, they will hold forth on any topic you throw out. They're looking for that chance. You're hoping to avoid it.

You want to avoid the discussion because, guess what, you too think you are smarter than they are and you'd feel better not finding out otherwise. Or maybe you think it polite not to show them up. Or maybe you just don't want to hear about it.

I have a friend who hates bigots but wants to start a blog where bigots of every stripe will have a say. He thinks this exposure will show them for what they are: ignorant, mean-spirited, and sometimes ridiculous. He thinks they need a place to ventilate. I wonder that he has not browsed the Internet enough to see that it abounds with such blogs -- some even call themselves "bigot blogs" -- representing outrageous viewpoints on every conceivable subject. I have read a few such rants myself. You might say, in my own modest and subtly brilliant way, I have written more than one.

Here is the difference. I am pretty damn smart too, but I am right, at least some of the time. Come to think of it, so is the guy taking my money at Wal-Mart. And he's smart enough to keep quiet and not post on a blog.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spring Festival Today

April 13, 2007

Today was Spring Festival at the Marietta Johnson School. It was perfect weather for the beautiful event that has taken place since at least the 1920's at the school. I've seen it take different shapes as the players change, but it's always a time for the many families who have supported the school over the years since its founding to get together and have a wonderful time.

Folk dancing is almost always demonstrated at the Festival. This year the teacher is a young woman whose family has attended or taught at the school since the 1930's. She is the mother of a little girl in kindergarten. First Life -- the first two grades -- danced and played the chimes with tremendous earnestness and some skill. There was a dance around the maypole and many cakewalks leading to the winning of cakes by participants of all ages. Laughter was heard all around, and three new students were enrolled by the end of the day.

Next year promises to be one of growth and the restoration of balance at the school, which has had difficult times in recent years. Nevertheless, its valid premise of allowing children to have a childhood and learn through hands-on projects as well as traditional academic courses transcends the vagaries of changing times. Founded in 1907 by visionary educator Marietta Johnson, the school has a less rigid format than Montessori, yet offers the supportive environment of celebrating achievement for its own sake rather than for the objective of a letter grade. It may be the only school in the world that claims to teach children to think for themselves and states that the love of learning is its mission.

All of this and the growth of enrollment made today's Festival one to remember. Parents are flocking through the doors, and pre-enrollment for the year 2007-08 is higher than it has been in years. It was a happy day.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Last Straw

April 12, 2007

The man Bill Maher referred to yesterday as "a wounded old mustang" will not be on the job this morning; Don Imus has been given his walking papers from cable news network MSNBC, which has been simulcasting his radio show for some seven years. As I said in my last post here, it appears to be the end of an era.

Imus was the kind of guy who could shift gears from a high-toned and intelligent discussion with very important news guys, historians, and people in power about events of the day, particularly politics, to locker-room yuks with his crew of sports reporters and guests. It made, for me, a welcome reality, un-canned television, a free-for-all where surprises abounded. I have no interest whatever in sports and often turned it off when the guys got to their serious bets on who was going to win what, but I've had some moments of astonishment when the I-man interviewed some of the best talking heads in the business. He had an ease and the curiousity of the man in the street, and I think that was what sunk him. All too many of the legions of commentators of his plight on the tube have been saying things like "He's trying to have it both ways! He wants to ask intelligent questions and also be one of the boys!" Apparently this is considered an outrageous oxymoron.

The powers at MSNBC say they based their decision on the feedback from their employees, particularly Al Roker. It was not about the sponsors pulling out. It was not about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and their group of picketers outside the door. It was because MSNBC has integrity. Having someone the likes of Don Imus on the payroll, with his ability to chat with Doris Kearns Goodwin, Joe Biden, Willie Nelson, Douglas Brinkley, Howard Fineman, Col. Jack Jacobs, George Carlin, John McCain, Bernadette Castro, and on and on, while in the next segment throwing out offensive epithets like beads from a Mardi Gras float in a parade, compromises the network's integrity and is outside Al Roker's comfort zone.

The nation can rest now. He will no longer visit our livingrooms in the morning, since we were required to watch his show before. We can begin healing from the grievous period of time in which the news was dominated by the constant repetition of a thoughtless offhand remark he made one morning about the girls' basketball team of Rutgers. It has even been said that this will begin a new, thoughtful era of race relations. There will be no bad boys at the party. No threat that something offensive will come out of somebody's mouth.

Everybody's going to be like Al Roker. Is this a great country or what?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus: The End of an Era

April 10, 2007

I have to admit Imus in the Morning is the white noise I wake up to in the morning. I like a jolt in the morning, and Don Imus, tempered by his elegant buddy Charles McCord and egged on by the abrasive and sharp-edged Bernard McGuirk, never fails to provide it.

I had the show on the other morning when the three began tossing around racial slurs about the Rutgers' women's basketball team. I shook my head and said to myself, "How does he get away with this stuff?" but I shrugged it off because "It's Imus. Nobody takes him seriously."

How wrong I was.

It was an offhand remark, in the midst of a discussion with Sid Rosenberg, a low-talent bigmouth who had been fired a few years ago from his job as Imus' sports reporter for making racist remarks about the Williams sisters. Yes, Imus's comment was offensive, but so are his insults to everybody from respected newsmen who frequent his morning shows to politicians in the highest offices in the land. He was trying to be funny, in a locker room kind of way -- which is his stock in trade. It was kind of like the old game of playing the dozens, which is a man's game, I understand, originating in the black community, of topping each other with insult after insult. One of the guys introduced Spike Lee's lingo of "jigaboo's" and "wannabe's" into the mix, and things began to get uglier from there.

There is no defense for what Imus said. There is no defense for his rudeness to everybody he deals with, except that it's meant to be funny and it often is. We all know people like this. Some of them are really racists, some are just going for laughs. If I laugh at it sometimes, does that reveal my own racism? I don't think so. I thought it was an awful remark. But not enough to turn off the set and refuse ever to watch again.

Then came the deluge of outrage ("fake outrage," according to comedian Bill Maher) from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Maher says we not only want to humiliate those who insult us, we insist that they go away forever.) There were press conferences demanding his removal from his job as early morning bad-boy interviewer. On the Internet I found him called everything from a burnt-out fossil -- that one hurt because I am the same age as Imus -- to a mean-spirited racist. It began to look like the end of Imus.

Anderson Cooper did a segment on the controversy; David Gregory, hosting Chris Matthews' Hardball interviewed some of Imus' regulars, and there was constant reference even as the I-Man spent two hours on Sharpton's radio show apologizing for his comment. Sharpton remained rigid and demanded that important people refuse to appear on the morning show, even when the calls coming in were mostly in support of the shock jock.

Imus's defense, after his apology to the members of the Rutgers' women's basketball team, was that he has a comedy show rather than a news one. He does not claim to be a political pundit, and he is the opposite of "politically correct," that's his humor, insult humor in the vein of Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles and Richard Pryor. He's walking a tightrope and this time he fell off by saying the wrong thing. He did not do it to characterize any members of any race by their physical characteristics, and he certainly was not thinking that he insulted a whole generation of black women, as Sharpton maintains. He had to admit he wasn't thinking of anything.

He wants to meet with the basketball team and present his apology in person, whether or not they accept it. He appears chastened and the team has set a time to meet with him this morning.

No one who watches Imus regularly can say seriously that he is a racist. Why he said what he did even he doesn't know; but he said it in jest and his apology and suspension from his job should have been enough. However, he has promised to change the tone of his program when and if it is reinstated.

If that is so we can expect a contrite Imus and probably a somewhat revamped morning program in May. He may have more blacks on his staff if he returns to the air. He will have to watch his mouth. The era of saying anything that pops into his head is over for him.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

At the Casino Royale

April 7, 2007

I rented Casino Royale and watched it last night. I am not so much a fan of James Bond as I am a fan of Daniel Craig. I've seen him in two films, Layer Cake and Enduring Love -- actually, checking Google, I realize I also saw him in Sylvia with Gwyneth Paltrow, a movie so forgettable I cannot remember who he played. I hope it wasn't Ted Hughes.

Craig is an extraordinary English actor. His bio tells me he is from Chester, and I've been to Chester but I can't seem to imagine him there. I was there in 1972, on my first trip to England, and I'm not sure he was even born yet. Chester is one of those storybook English towns, with lots of beautiful Tudor architecture and a sense of history. Maybe, like Fairhope, Chester has become something different now, producing such a contemporary young man that he could be Steve McQueen with a slight English accent. He has an athlete's physique that does not look like the body of an Englishman. I watched Casino Royale wondering why this Bond really doesn't have an English accent until the very last line of the film, and wondering how Daniel Craig got that bod. I admit it; I am smitten. For my fantasies he's right up there with Hugh Laurie and Campbell Scott.

Back to the movie. I loved the opening credits and the suspense sound track. The film is great stuff, starting with some 21st Century swashbuckling on a par with the days of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. or his father, jumping from cranes on a construction site. Then we get a bit of Bond in bed with a beautiful woman, clearly on the make for information from her, and, this being something of a prequel, we do not have a running repartee with Miss Moneypenny or a penchant for serial bed-hopping; all that is to come later as a result of this early experience in learning to achieve double-ought status. Judi Dench is delightful as his no-nonsense superior "M." Giancarlo Giannini has learned English at last and appears as a not-trustworthy ally. His sinister opponent, Mads Mikkelson, bleeds from his eyes when under stress. His female partner Eva Green is cool and only marginally gorgeous.

Not being a Bond afficianado I missed the Timothy Dalton series; ditto Pierce Brosnan and even Roger Moore. I only saw one Sean Connery, Goldfinger, in the 1960's, which as a blossoming Feminist -- bless my heart -- I despised. I take that back, I guess I did see another Bond, probably Roger Moore I saw, in the one where the villain had iron teeth.

I have a tendency to avert my head when movies get bloody; had I known that the crane-leaping sequences were actually done at heights of 100 ft. in the air I might have been under the coffee table rather than marvelling in my armchair about what we can do with special effects today. (There were stunt doubles, sure, but Craig was right up there in the fight scenes on the swinging cranes, and chasing at top speed the London street-runner Sebastian Foucan. Both are thrilling to watch in the chase sequences.)

If you rent this picture, you'll get a second disk with information about the filming of the movie. This is fascinating. Craig is interviewed, there is a special feature about the stunts and special effects, and we see the context of this new, harder, more serious Bond, who fights terrorists instead of evil masterminds. And we come away wanting to see him again.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

We All Have A.D.D

April 5, 2007

The human race has learned to compartmentalize everything – from brain activity and life challenges to the rooms we live in.

Older houses, for example, had a number of little rooms, each designed for a specific function – a little kitchen for preparing food, a bathroom for private body matters, and a few bedrooms, where one slept, changed clothes, and performed intimate activities in the marriage bed (adults only). Often children shared bedrooms, and almost always the whole family shared one bathroom. In the living room, we lived, and usually in the dining room, we had our meals. Some homes had a formal living room – a parlor really, rarely used – and a den for everyday family living.

How different our living compartments are today! Our living space includes a big open area for sofas, an entertainment center and a dining area – all open to the kitchen. Cooking is a represented as a shared activity, but often as not, it involves getting a package of something out of the freezer and putting it in a microwave oven for one to five minutes before consuming. Meals are eaten standing up at a counter, on the run, on the way to something -- and with the family only on holidays or special occasions.

There are playrooms in which to isolate the children with computers, videogames and other toys. These children have separate bedrooms, and most have individual bathrooms. The parents’ bedroom is a “Master Suite,” designed to look like a hotel room, with an adjoining bathroom full of gadgets like a jacuzzi tub and a television set. There may even be a separate room in the basement for our movie theatre!

Our lives are lived in brief compartments of time. We sit at computers and pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task; we assume our kids are brighter than previous generations because they master this technology at an early age. Our pace is accelerated and we feel as if we are always under stress. We cannot relax. We don’t sleep well.

We have relinquished a great deal in our worship of the great god Progress. We have not had time to process the future before we embraced it. The human brain was not designed to be at its best in the compressed, claustrophobic compartments we have created for it. Children, hurried to become adults, will never know what they missed. They will not know the pace of nature, of the gentle shift of seasons, or the inherent beauty of the planet. They are provided with organized activities to fill their time; their heads are pumped full of facts which have nothing to do with truth. They mistake, as their schools mistake, memorization for learning.

The spiritual is not in the program, unless it is seen as a way to amass more things or enhance one’s status. The spiritual side of life is seen as one of the steps toward the serenity we seek but never seem to find. In reality, to become truly spiritual is to step outside the materialism that surrounds us; it is a difficult and sometimes painful journey. The only way to arrive at that destination is the long way.

The fact is, we are all suffering from attention deficit disorder to some degree. Television has accustomed us all to the constant interruption of commercials and affected our ability to focus for longer periods of time. Our ability to meditate has been replaced by a need to be on top of all things at all times, to control the out of control, and to perform at our most intense if not most excellent level, or at least to give the appearance of doing so.

The price is high. We do not yet know what toll this compartmentalization has taken on our individual existence or society as a whole. Some of us are thrust into nostalgia at the thought of a low-pressure life and seek to recapture it if we can, even in some small measure. Some of us move to smaller communities, only to find them inhabited with other humans with attention deficits. We study, we write, we join committees, we choose politicians. But we are overwhelmed with the number of people who simply don’t understand and do not question.

It’s not about our houses or about our choice of television fare. It’s about a shift in our ability to reason with our own lives and think for ourselves. It’s about our need to cut off our feelings and present a solid front of surface ease by consuming material wealth and objects instead of building outwardly from a spiritual base.

It’s about making time for that very spiritual seeking. It’s about time.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

TV: The Geezer Hunks

April 4, 2007

I was late discovering House, the Fox offering about a particularly obnoxious genius doctor. I'm always kinda squeamish about hospital shows, and the title of this one didn't grab me. My channel-surfing remote just almost never finds it way to that channel anyway. Then my friend Justin Kahn made a mention on his blog about his lady love Lindsey ("the Lindzer") and her crush on that guy who plays House who actually is British but acts so American, and I just had to give it a look. This all happened a few months ago, and I think Justin an the Lindzer aren't together any more. But I'm hooked on Hugh Laurie, the dark and somehow familiar actor who impersonates a certain kind of misanthrope who gets by in this world by being right more often than not. I have to slap myself from time to time to figure out who he reminds me of. Often I say it's Prof, my old high school psychology teacher (read Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree for a thumbnail sketch), but I usually decide no, it's someone else. Then, I slap myself again and say, "That guy's English. I heard him do his English accent when he accepted his Golden Globe."

House is a character reportedly based on Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant loner who could solve mysteries in Victorian England and attracted a host of admirers without developing any particular charm or personality. The name "House" is a pun on "Holmes," and Dr. Wilson is supposed to be kind of a Dr. Watson, a second banana providing a voice for the viewers in an attempt to humanize the unapproachable title character. None of this is evident in watching the show; Dr. House has Holmes' uncanny ability to put together the pieces of a puzzle to diagnose what others overlook, but the idea that this show is a knockoff of anything is not the point anyway. It's original in its approach, and particularly in the character of House himself.

Hugh Laurie is a classic English actor, one who got his start in comedy and once dated Emma Thompson. He can play a little music and sometime does so on House. He has a beautiful deep, dark voice, and a scowly, sexy face. I look forward to seeing him in more things, even speaking in his native tongue.

I spent a little time on this blog trying to sell the offbeat series Six Degrees, which was pulled off the air around Christmas. Apparently my efforts worked because it's back on ABC on Friday nights. Based on the same premise as the play Six Degrees of Separation, that is that our lives are so entwined that we are only six people away from knowing everybody in the world. Something like that.

In the TV series Six Degrees, each episode follows the lives of a certain six people in New York, some of whom know each other and some don't, in parallel situations over a given period of time. It features Campbell Scott as a recovering alcoholic photographer, being as sensitive and sexy as I've ever seen him. The show is interesting; I like its New York locales and its realistic dialogue. But my main reason for watching it is my man Campbell, son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst and a solid actor on his own. And here he gets to show his romantic side. When first pulled, the show was criticized (at least by the Mobile Press Register critic) for being difficult to follow. I find it no more difficult to follow than House. They both require a certain amount of concentration and patience, but that's the reason they work.

That, and they both contain a little eye candy for us old babes who can still dream of a geezer hunk. Or at least watch one on TV.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Playing in Fairhope

April 1, 2007

I was in a play last night.

Actually, I was in a play reading, and I was in two. It was an evening of three one-acts, and two of the three had parts for "an attractive woman in her 60's," and, that being an unusual description in casts of characters, I jumped at the chance. Not having to memorize lines or commit to a grueling rehearsal schedule was another attraction.

The plays were written by Ron Mezsaros, a local writer-about-town who has had the works exposed to audiences at writers' readings at Martin Lanaux Booksellers (formerly Over the Transom Books) for a year or so. How he got my name I'm not sure, as I've been out of the theatre business in Fairhope for some time. The last show I was in was Dancing at Lughnasa at Theater 98 in 2002, and the last thing I directed was a production of "The Night Before Christmas" at the Marietta Johnson School Christmas before last. It's nice to be remembered.

At first glance I wasn't that taken with the plays. The first one -- did I say "attractive woman"? -- was a duet between a Southern dragon-cum-matriarch who gradually reveals the family secrets to her reluctant daughter-in-law whom she expects to carry on the traditions of deception and role-playing that she feels are vital to holding the family together. The script was wordy and had its awkward moments, but the role was too juicy to pass up.

It was intriguing to me that anyone could imagine such people as these characters living in Fairhope. Certainly not my Fairhope, but who knows? Maybe they just moved in when they won the lottery.

At the first reading, I was knocked out by the performance of my partner in the show. She went toe-to-toe with me and proved a worthy complement to the complex and nasty piece of work I was playing. At the end of the reading I discovered she was Heather Delker, daughter of my friends Terry and Steve! She got better and better, and was just perfect last night.

The play got better too. This is the advantage of work like this. Ron realized the play needed cutting, and cut he did, so that by the actual production we had a tight little show that had jaws dropping and got a few laughs as well.

The central play was a comedy about two guys who break into an antique bookstore in Fairhope in order to rob the safe -- one for money so he can have a date with Salma Hayek, and the other to steal what he thinks is a photo of the second shooter from the Book Depository in Dallas. It was a hoot, even though Ron had to step in and cover for an actor with an emergency -- and there was a mixup when one of the actors literally lost his place on the page. This caused much laughter and actually may have been the most fun the audience had in the evening.

In the last play I had my greatest triumph. I had to play a stylish widow...and when I looked in my closet I realized I would have to go shopping. I ended up buying a new dress, Michael Kors, in Mobile, with what we used to call a plunging neckline -- it kept plunging further as the night went on -- and a flirty skirt. I found some black spiky pumps in my closet, a pair of "control-top" pantyhose that worked magic, and I felt absolutely gorgeous in the role. I had a few killer monologues and felt quite free to chew the scenery a bit.

There was even a party after this extravaganza, at the local watering hole called Mateer's. The table was full of friends of the playwright, and the discussion was fun and wide-ranging. It felt good to be out at night for a change.