Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Define Complacency, Senator McConnell

Today Mitch McConnell gave a speech in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

On 9/11 we forever disabused of the notion that attacks, like the one that rocked Boston yesterday ,only happen on the field of battle or in distant countries. With the passage of time, however, and the vigilant efforts of our military, intelligence and law enforcement professionals, I think it’s safe to say that for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has actually returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain. And today again we recommit ourselves to the fight against terrorism at home and abroad.

So let's imagine something different yesterday.   Instead of using two bombs, a person or persons walks into the crowd and starts spraying bullets from a gun.     Essentially, the scene of Virginia Tech or Newtown is recreated on a busy street in the middle of a fun day in Boston. 

Mitch McConnell has shown in his reaction to Newtown that his concern would not be to deal with the "serious threats to our way of life" carried out by crazy people with guns.   Would his reaction to an event like this be the same complacency he's demonstrated in his entire five terms of congress toward the issue of gun violence?  

Why does he decry the attacks of yesterday, and turn a blind eye to action that might prevent the daily acts of terror perpetrated by gun violence?    I have to imagine it's because the bomb and terrorist lobby simply doesn't contribute enough money to Mitch.   

All I know is that it's a shame that our Republican Senators will wring their hands and vow to fight terrorism when it's done by a bomb, airplane, or other device.   But when terror is inflicted by a gun, they look the other way and vow to fight doing a damned thing about it.

That, Senator McConnell, is complacency.   Bought and paid for by the gun lobby.  


Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston -- More Than a Feeling

Boston and part of BU as viewed from my Freshman Dorm, Warren Towers.
In the fall of 1989, my mom and dad had their own Subaru moment when they pulled away from their suddenly petrified son at 700 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.   I remember tearing up, having stepped into the big city from my old Kentucky home, knowing only two people total at the school, and thinking, "what the hell have I done?"

Four years later, the only answer was, "a hell of a lot."  

Boston was the place where I learned I could live on my own, do my own laundry, shop for and cook my own food, study without mom and dad gently pressuring me, and survive in a big world without family ties nearby.

Boston's the place where I heard accents and languages of every kinds, from Chinese, to Russian, to Indian, to Long Island.   It took me two months before I could understand anyone.

Boston's where I met my first openly gay people.   And befriended them.  And realized it wasn't weird, and wasn't going to "rub off" or be held against me.  

Boston was the place where I bought tickets for my first concert, Paul McCartney at the Worcester Centrum, standing out in the cold for three hours outside of Tower Records.    It was on February 9th, the anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan.  That date would later hold another special place in my heart as the birthday of my beautiful wife. 

Boston's the place where I heard the bands I read about in Rolling Stone in high school.   It's where my hardcore indie/alternative loving roommate introduced me to the The Velvet Underground (and I tortured him with my classic rock.)   

Boston's the place where I saw my first joint, a huge number rolled by the guy I went to see McCartney with.  (Don't worry mom, I never touched the stuff.    Don't laugh, people, I'm serious.   I had a scholarship I didn't want to lose.   And I heard it is a gateway drug to listening to really bad jam bands.)

Boston's the place I first got drunk.  It's the place where I first got kicked out of a bar, and the place where I learned true friends will put your butt in a cab to get you home safely.    It's also where I threw up in a laundry bag and learned to swear off drinking. (Just kidding mom, I never touched the..... oh never mind.) 

Boston's where I saw my first (and last) line of cocaine, at a party that I left almost as soon as I entered.

Boston's where I met two students from Columbia who owned a hot rod sports car, refurnished their campus apartment with leather and glass furniture, had pilot's licenses and a dad in "agriculture." 

Boston's where I learned that you don't use the sink in an all night iHOP, since that sink's most likely been a urinal at some point.   

Boston's the place where I became a Fenway fan, even if I loved my Orioles.  It's where I saw Cal Ripken Jr. hit a homer, got caught in a peanut crossfire between Yankees and Red Sox fans, and saw an obscene inflatable doll turned into a beach ball.    It's also where I saw a guy pull a Peter Griffin, running from police so fast that he went face first into the concrete.  He jumped up, raised his hands in a "V", and smiled a face full of bloody teeth. 

Boston's the place where I built up my music collection with hundreds of CDs at Newbury Comics, Tower Records,  and Strawberries.    And I saw The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dinosaur Jr. at in store visits.  

Boston's the place where Penn Jillette called me a dick and Teller told me it was a pleasure to meet me. 

Boston's the place where Bruce Campbell stood and talked to us budding filmmakers for close to two hours at the same forum where Bobcat Goldthwait said, in response to his first question about independent films, said, "I'm looking around and I have no idea why the hell I'm here."  

Boston's the place where Lou Reed scribbled a couple of bird shapes instead of a signature in my book and didn't respond to me when I thanked him for his work, and Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) was incredibly kind.

Boston's the place where I saw the movie Woodstock and met the one man I know for sure was there, Michael Wadleigh.  I also got a brief glimpse of writer Julius Epstein, who penned Casablanca.

Boston's where I spent countless hours making 16 mm movies of my own that sucked.   It's where I discovered in an editing room that over two hours of footage was not shot with a 24 FPS camera, requiring us to spend hours splicing sound to match the footage.    It's also where I had my one and only line on film, as a phone sex operator, pulling a Meg Ryan.  

Boston's where we locked ourselves in an apartment filming, and then had Boston's finest come calling when we set off the fire alarm with our fog machine.

Boston's where I saw the Names Project Quilt, where those who died of AIDS were memorialized.   

Boston's where I was a DJ for four years, at WTBU, the first home of Howard Stern.  You'll note that I'm not hosting a reality TV show and do not have a trillion dollar contract with Sirius Radio. 

Boston's where I got to see Christopher Reeve receive an award from Jack Lemmon, and serve food to David E. Kelley.

Boston's where I got physically fit with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and was an extra in a really bad movie with Kevin Pollak and a little known actress named Courtney Cox (who was absolutely gorgeous).    

Boston's where I saw the premiere episode of The Simpsons and Boston's where I wrote my first script, an episode of The Simpsons, in a class where another student, Andrew Kreisberg, was writing a Mad About You script.   He later went on to be a story editor on the Simpsons, among other successes.   I later went on to write a blog.   Which you're reading.   Sucker. 

Boston's where I saw my favorite movie, Goodfellas.  It's where I saw a preview screening of The Bodyguard that had an entire reel misloaded, which somehow made that awful movie better.   And it's where I saw the very first screening of opening day of a movie called Reservoir Dogs, from a guy named Quentin Tarantino at the same theater where I had my freshman year COM class.   It was called the Nickelodeon, and it had friendly mice that scurried along the floors during those classes.    They ushered at night.   

Boston's where I sent my first e-mail across a network, to a person I knew from high school in Louisville.   I was blown away at how I could communicate across some strange unknown network over hundreds of miles.   FOR FREE!

All of these things come to mind as I watch the horror unfold today in Boston.    A few of those memories surround happier times in Copley Place and the Boston Public Library (which is the site of the finish line). 

Boston's where I spent many hours at the Boston Public Library only feet from the location of one of today's explosions., where I met Spenser writer, Robert B. Parker, perhaps the city's biggest fan.   

Boston's where I once sprinted a mile and a half to try and get close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon to take a single snapshot of the winner with my piece of crap Yashica MG-1.  I still have the slide somewhere, a wonderfully blurred shot of the winner, that simply adds to his speed.  

Boston's where I spent every Patriot's Day cheering on people from all over and watching their determined and weary faces light up when I would call out the places and names on their outfits.     A simple shout of a name and a personalized cheer would often perk them up for that endless last mile. 

Boston's where I met a fellow student from Kentucky with whom I had my first serious date, a movie caught at the world's most awful theater in Copley Place.  I spent the entire movie trying to touch my date's hand without seeming too obvious.    It's where I had my first serious kiss, my first serious romance, and thought I'd met the person I'd spent the rest of my life with.   It's where I said goodbye to her that summer before forever was to start.   And it's where I returned the next fall with a broken heart.  And it's where I began to learn that all hurts do indeed pass with time.     

Boston's where I met Bryan, Jen, Jess, Cord, Rolly, Kevin, Bill, Tara, Amy, Dr. Root, Leila, Ben, Holly, Jamal, John, and a ton more that are escaping my brain right now.    Many are friendships I continue to this day.  These were part of my family away from home.  
Boston's where I grew up a little, acted like a kid a lot, and even though it only took up 1/10th of my life, created more than a lifetime of memories.

And Boston's the place where thousands of kids like me get left by worried parents to live their lives, make memories, get an education, and enjoy days like today, never thinking anything like today will happen.    

I love you Boston.    And I hope today doesn't spoil the memories that you make for the people who make you their home for their college lives.     All the best.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Quiet Please -- Thoughts on being an Introvert

Several months ago I read a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and thought, "hey, that's me!"

As someone who spent a good chunk of my life wondering what the hell was wrong with me, here was validation that much of what made me feel different was indeed a part of a distinct personality type.    Here was an explanation why I spent so much time by myself and was okay with that.  Here was an explanation why group projects wore me out so quickly.    Here was an explanation why I often felt like I wanted to run away when I spent too much time in the company of others, especially those I shared nothing in common with.  

While reading more about it, I found these rules for caring for an Introvert.   My thoughts on each below.


1)  Respect their need for privacy.   My parents would always ask me about my day, my classes, or if there were girls I liked, or any number of things.   I couldn't explain to you why I didn't want to tell them.  There were no shocking secrets.   I just wanted these things for me.   I shared when I felt I needed to.    I now understand how tough that is on parents.      I also think that part of this is because an introvert is tougher to read.  There are lots of thoughts going on in our head of minimal importance, but we tend to register distress when this happens.   This causes people to pry for something deeper when we're still simply processing.

2)  Never embarrass them in public.   I can tell you tons of embarrassing things I've done to myself in public.  I may have been the only one who realized or cared.   But I remember.   Honestly, I don't think many people like to be embarrassed in public.  For me, I tend to internalize my embarrassments and over exaggerate their importance in my mind.  

3) Let them observe first in new situations.   I recently had to present something and then discuss at a standing meeting where I was unfamiliar with the dynamic.   I wanted to crawl out of my skin by the end of the meeting because I was trying to both absorb what was going on, understand the group dynamics, figure out an approach to what was being discuss, understand what was being discussed, and participate without being given much time to think on what I had to say.   It wiped out my energy.

4) Give them time to think.  Don't demand instant answers.     AND

5) Don't interrupt them.  

These two are separate, but often go together.   You can let me pause and think, or you can let me talk it out.    If I'm talking it out and I pause, don't feel the need to fill that pause instantly.   My mind is often at a point further down the road while my mouth is catching up.    I have something to say, and both YOU and I are better served by listening to everything I have to say before you interrupt.  

I'm not sure if I'm alone in this, but I often am unable to insert myself into a conversation.  Something hard wired in me makes it nearly impossible to get my voice inside of the brief gaps or pauses of extroverts in a discussion.   This leads to me shutting down or feeling like an a--hole for simply talking over you in a verbal game of chicken, hoping you'll stop before I do.

Recognize that you may instantly know what you want to say.   But also realize that my mind is hearing what you say, what others say, and what I'm thinking and trying to mash those all into a response that has some meaning.   In circumstances where I'm not fully engaged, I get no pleasure from simply running my mouth, or from you running your mouth.   Let's talk about the business at hand and think it through.   And if you want me to be a part, your polite silence and attentive ear is essential.     If you listen, you might find what I have to say is what it would take you and your extrovert friends 45 minutes to figure out on your own.  

And don't interrupt me.  You have no idea how that makes me feel.

6)  Give them advanced notice of expected changes in their lives.

I'll be the first to say this one is probably silly.  Life throws a lot of crap at you, and you have to deal with it.    But I am constantly processing everything, and my initial thought on changes is "OH SH*T!  The sky is falling!"

I can't speak for all introverts, but I know that when I hear of a change, especially one that someone else thinks is important, I look for the impacts of that change, and I start with the negatives.   Having to deal with that without having time to process it and, if necessary, talk myself off a ledge, is very tough.    See number four.

7) Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they're doing.

I never thought on this one, but it's true.   And it seems to be true with my daughter (who seems to need at least an hour).    Think of our brains as deep sea divers.   If we're working on something intently and we're not aware of the need to come back up by a certain point, we get the mental bends if we're asked to resurface too quickly.   We need time to wind down, put our mental bookmarks in place, and wrap things up.   Fifteen minutes may be far too short, but it's at least a courtesy.

8) Reprimand them privately.

Meh.  I have been through some real ridiculousness.  I'm over it.  Just make sure you're right, or I'll kick your ass verbally.

9) Teach them new skills privately.

This one doesn't apply to me much.  

10) Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities.

True.   I can count the truly dear friends I've had on one hand.  I have always felt a bit lost in the friends department, and my closest friends have been ones that share my interests and talents.    Part of my sadness at work these days is that I have nobody who really shows my same interests.

11)   Don't push them to make lots of friends.  

I don't think anyone's ever pushed me to have lots of friends, although I've often felt like I SHOULD have lots of friends if I want to be normal.    Does Facebook count?

12)  Respect their introversion.  Do not try to remake them into extroverts.  

This is the one that I have the biggest problem with now.  Because I'm usually buried within myself, there is a feeling that something must be wrong.   Truly, I'm kicking things around in my head, debating how to handle them, and what I might say.  Always.   Always.   If you want to know how I'm feeling, respect what I tell you.     If I don't go with you to lunch, don't think I'm rude or dislike you.    If I pull away from the pack at a party and sit with one or two people, don't think it's because I'm not having a good time.   Honestly, prior toward this bit of self discovery, I was the one who most pushed me to thinking I should be an introvert.   Glad that I didn't continue with that.    

So are you an introvert?  Which ones hit home with you?  

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Balcony Is Closed -- Roger Ebert 1942 - 2013

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
I grew up obsessed with entertainment trivia.    I loved reading about movies and music.   I bought books, magazines, and read our local paper religiously, perusing the capsules and in depth reviews of movies there, even reading the newspaper ads for movies (remember those?).

I have no direct memory of my first encounter with Roger Ebert, but I have to imagine it was something like this.....

I'm bored and sitting in my room.   It is a Saturday afternoon and since I grew up in a day when you were lucky to have cable on one TV, I have exactly six channels to choose from.   ABC, NBC, CBS, one independent, and two PBS stations (a local version and a statewide version).

My guess is that the days before infomercials the programming was a mixture of public interest (BORING), old B movies already in progress, and sports.   Finding nothing to watch, I ventured to PBS to see if perhaps an old episode of Sesame Street or Electric Company was on, and not the vast wasteland of programming that seemed to exist only to sell mugs and totebags to old people. 

And so I clicked over.  And found not Big Bird or Easy Reader, but two average looking men on a low budget set bickering about movies.

And instantly I was hooked.  

For years (in the days before DVR), I would follow these two men wherever there show might take them, listening to their insightful commentary and contrasting their opinions with others I was reading in magazines and newspapers.   Even if I'd never see the movie, I felt richer in my  knowledge of them simply for watching. 

Eventually, as their show got pushed to odd times on the weekend or late at night, I stopped watching.    I went to film school myself and realized instantly how hard it was to make ANYTHING, much less a watchable movie.    And then I got married and had a child and we saw fewer and fewer movies and my obsession waned even further. 

Then two things conspired to bring Roger Ebert back into the lives of so many of us.   Roger's cancer, and the rise of social media. 

In 2006, Roger Ebert lost his ability to speak to cancer, and his life and body would be altered drastically by the attempts to improve his life following the cancer.   His face was visibly altered, that familiar voice gone, and nobody could have blamed him if he simply retired.

But Roger didn't.   He put his voice back where it all began, in criticism and journalism.   On Twitter and Facebook, Roger not only gave us his reviews, but also his heart and his mind in great opinion pieces about the events of the day.    He also courageously took to TV to show us his new face and his computerized voice, and making it quite clear that cancer wasn't going to claim his mind, even if it took the other things that were important for his former career. 

What struck me most about Roger Ebert in those years is how beautiful, insightful and funny his writing was, both on movies, and on subjects far more serious.  His TV show reduced Roger and Gene to a few words about each movie, some creative bickering, and a hand gesture.    Now Roger could open up to us in as many or as few words as he desired.   And he held us captive.   Perhaps it helped that his political views were in line with mine, but the passion and intelligence in his words was simply something to behold. 

From Roger's less frequent posts the past few months on social media, it was quite clear that he was having health issues.   When he posted this week that he was taking "a leave of presence" it seemed to confirm what was already readily apparent.   Rereading it again, I have to wonder if both his wife Chaz and Roger sensed that the battle might be near the end, and an open ended goodbye might be better than a final one.  

Yesterday I heard of Roger's death in a way that I think Roger would have appreciated.  The initial notice was via a breaking news text message, and the subsequent details filled in via links in Twitter and Facebook.   One of those links is from Roger himself.   In a piece called "I do not fear death." he provides a message about why he does not fear death.   Roger provides a more fitting closure for his life than any of us could hope to provide.  

Godspeed Roger, and thumbs up for your love of movies and of life.    One day maybe we'll all see you....

At the movies.