I am what I am, or, come out, come out, wherever you are.

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Olly olly oxen-free.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day. For millions of LGBTQ people in our country, this means a celebration of their freedom to be in the world without hiding what and who they really are. For millions of others, this may mean a challenge to be courageous and reveal themselves fully to their families, friends, &/or colleagues; or it may be a source of pain as they experience the loss of relationship with loved ones who just can’t accept them as they are. And there are the still closeted, for whom their LGBTQ-ness is something to despise about themselves.

I’m not LGBT or Q; I’m just a pretty ordinary straight woman, so I celebrate these people and celebrate with them, and I pray for those for whom queerness is a burden, or worse, a source of danger. I don’t presume to identify with them, but I’m going to risk sounding like I’m trying to co-opt the occasion by sharing with you a metaphorical understanding.

On this National Coming Out Day, 2016, I’d like to suggest that everyone has a metaphorical closet, maybe several, and that we are all in various stages of either staying boxed in and safe, or inching ever closer toward the door. I think our mental and emotional health depends a great deal on how successful we are at coming out and staying out from behind those doors. For me the operative word is TRANSPARENCY. My personal closet has to do with hiding from myself and others, and failing to identify, fully experience, and express my ideas, my emotional content, and what I am, in appropriate ways. In other words, I have to work a little bit at keeping my freak flag hoisted up the pole and flying, cause, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, in many ways, it’d be easier to hide.

I’d therefore like to give the following advice to anyone who cares to take it.

In the words of Hippocrates, first, do no harm. To the best of your ability, inform every decision you make with those four words in mind. Once you’ve got that ethos firmly in place, pretty much everything you do will be OK.

Look the way you want to look. Wear a haircut you like. Color your hair in whatever way you think looks nice. Change it every week if you think that’s fun. Wear the clothes that please you; or, if there’s someone in your life that you’d like to be attractive to, wear something that pleases him/her occasionally. Within the bounds of your work culture, wear as much or as little makeup as you prefer. Guys, that goes for you too. Wear comfortable shoes, or not, depending on what you like. Stop giving a shit about looking like you fit in, and start becoming interested in looking like you.

Get as many tattoos as you want, as long as you can 1) cover them when you need to, and 2) be fairly certain that you’ll still be glad you’ve got them when you’re 80.

While we’re on the subject of personal appearance and other aspects of material possession, stop giving a rat’s ass about whether you’ve got a nice car, a nice house, or any other nice stuff. If a cool car gives you a significant amount of pleasure, then by all means, have a cool car, but whatever you do, don’t accumulate that shit because you think it’s going to make someone else think better of you. I promise you, everyone else is too busy worrying about whether their shit looks good enough, to even notice your shit.

In general, stop trying to please and impress other people. There are very few people in anyone’s life that they should genuinely care about pleasing, and even then only under certain circumstances. For the most part, though, act to please yourself.

Have opinions and, when it makes sense to do so, speak them. Do it with kindness, courtesy, and respect. Refrain from ad hominem attacks, don’t be offensive, and if you’re conversing about politics or current events, do your research and know what the fuck you’re talking about. Assuming that you’re fulfilling those criteria, if you’ve got an opinion and the time is right to express it, do so. Nothing irrevocably bad is going to happen if someone disagrees with you.

Get excited about things. Too many people go around trying to be cool. Being cool is a big fat fucking waste of time. Find things you dig, consume as much of them/get as much information about them as you can get your hands on, get totally stoked about them, and show your excitement, for fuck’s sake. Find other people who are as stoked about the same things as you are. If other people, the ones who are interested in being so cool, look at you with disdain because you’re some kind of nerd, so what? I feel really sorry for anyone who isn’t an unabashed nerd about something.

If you’re happy or excited or passionate, be happy or excited or passionate! This is ancillary to the previous paragraph. Stop being so damned afraid of looking stupid. Ask yourself, do you really give a shit about whether someone else is going to think you look dumb? Will this person’s disapprobation be harmful to you in some way? No, I didn’t think so.

Feel your feelings. Develop the skill of internal inquiry, know what’s going on in there, and acknowledge and allow your emotional content. If you’re angry, don’t pretend you’re not. If you’re sad, cry, for fuck’s sake. Yes, person of the male variety, even you. Don’t let anyone tell you to “get over it” or “cheer up”. Caveat: feeling your negative emotions =/= doing negative things. Acknowledging your anger or sadness doesn’t mean acting out in a destructive way. It might be enough to just say: Hi anger, hi sadness, hi annoyance, hi desire to eat a package of Oreos, I see you. I’m not going to act on you, I just see you. Try it out. Emotions are not sources of shame, they are a huge and essential piece of the whole package of being human, so it’s OK  so it’s good and desirable to have them.

Young ones, you may find the yoke of your parents’ wishes for you to be particularly galling right now, but try to remember these things if you can.

They’ve been your age, and they remember what it was like; even though their experience may have been far different from yours, one truism that spans the generations is that being young is terribly difficult, and if they’re good parents at all, they want to try to ease you through it as much as they can.

If it’s becoming clear that they’re not entirely happy with the trajectory you seem to be taking, do as much as you can to wait it out with kindness and grace. The reality is this: if you’re not making stupid decisions like not doing your homework, or taking bad drugs, or having a lot of ill-advised unsafe sex, and if you’ve given a considerable amount of thought and reflection to what and who God put you here to do and be, if you stay true to that path, no amount of effort on anybody’s part is going to pull you off of it. I have a young friend who was immensely relieved to learn that, even though his parental units are both gay men, he can still be a straight guy if that’s what he is. If the family are all penniless artists who have lived their entire lives in a grate, and you want to become an extremely high-priced attorney, no amount of parental influence is going to stop you from becoming an extremely high-priced attorney. If the whole fam dammily are staunch old-school William F. Buckley loving conservatives, and you turn out to be a yoga-doing, granola-crunching liberal, you go ahead and be that.

While you’re still a young ‘un, keep the faith as best as you can, and don’t be a rebellious asshole if you can help it. Always bear in mind that, ultimately, this is an argument you cannot lose. Find some significant other adults, teachers, coaches, aunties/uncles, etc., who can support you on your way. When you’re an adult you’ll be able to go ahead and be that black sheep. Black wool is very nice. The reality is that

They will not be able to stop you from being yourself, if you don’t allow them to.

I Am What I Am

In fact, that’s a nice way to summarize these suggestions. Just put yourself out there. I’m fairly convinced that the things that make us different, even the things we think we should be ashamed of, even the things that make us freaks, are the things that make us most valuable to the world. The world doesn’t need more sameness, it needs YOU in all your freaky glory. Come on out, now.

The Road Trip of History

 

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I thought it would be like this.

I guess I’m like every other child of the mid-century. Some of the very first memories I have of the world outside my home and back yard are about being aware, first in an amorphous way, and then with more clarity, of the daily nuclear threat we lived with in the 1960’s, the height of the ever-so-paranoid cold war. Yellow triangular civil defense signs were everywhere, school kids practiced drills that involved hiding under their desks to protect themselves from a nuclear blast; the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion had happened during my very early childhood, too early for me to remember. We all knew without ever having been specifically told that one too-itchy finger on the button, and we’d all be annihilated. Somehow I had absorbed or invented for myself the concept of mutually assured destruction, and so, at age 6, 7, 8, and a long time thereafter, I took comfort in believing that no one with any good sense at all would ever push that button, knowing that the Russians would immediately push their button too, and then we’d all go up in a mushroom shaped cloud.
I see now that I was not only an optimist, but a miniature linear Progressive. I pictured myself in a great big car, riding with all humanity along the road on which we travel in a more-or-less straight line through history, from inequality, ignorance, incivility, warfare, hatred, and all that stuff that even my 6-year-old self knew was bad, toward love, peace, understanding, and…well, you know, all that stuff that even 6-year-olds know is good. Even as every night, without fail, the TV showed us video footage of young men fighting a war in a far-off place, a war that seemed endless, still I knew in my bones that these were just bumps in the road, and when we got past them things would improve, because that’s the direction in which the great big car was inevitably moving. Toward better things for everyone.
Were we there yet? No, but no doubt, we’d get there.
There was war here in this country during my childhood, too. News reports of “racial unrest”, as they used to call it when I was a little kid, were quite frequent. I was 9 in the summer of 1967, and had just started listening to top forty AM radio with some regularity, when several days of rioting tore the city of Milwaukee apart; I heard all about it on WOKY and WRIT. We lived 30 miles, a whole world, away from North 3rd Street, and what little I recall is filtered through the prism of 50 years and my parents’ interpretation of the news. I now suspect my dad thought Father Groppi should have minded his own business like a good priest and stayed in the pulpit. Local TV stations started running the “It’s 10 o’clock…parents, do you know where your children are?” announcement, which I found to be mysterious and a little disturbing. I asked my mom what a curfew was. More growing pains, more bumps in the road; but pains to endure, the reward of which was that we, well, the adults anyway, would resolve all these black-white problems, and then we would all live together in harmony, or so my 9-year-old self believed.
Were we there yet? Not by a long shot.
1968, and in April Dr. King was shot dead, and then just two months later Bobby Kennedy was shot dead. That photo from the Ambassador Hotel, the one in which the 17-year-old busboy is crouched next to Bobby Kennedy, lying spread eagle in a pool of his own blood, haunts me to this day. I came to the conclusion that important people in politics get murdered on a regular basis, and was a little surprised when it didn’t happen again in another two months.
August of 1968, and I watched TV coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, not even half understanding what was happening and who the people involved were. In my 10-year-old mind, I had no idea who those weirdoes with the long hair were or what they wanted, only that they must be bad people because they were getting arrested. There were regular reports on various news broadcasts of people, women, Black, young, all doing something called “demonstrating”, which didn’t make much sense to me, because I knew demonstrating meant explaining how something works to someone, like show and tell.
Anyway, not having to go fight in a war, having equal rights, stuff like that, those seemed like desirable goals to 10-year-old me. Were we there yet? No, but maybe we were getting a little closer.

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Or maybe it was like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
There were other events that my small-town-Midwestern-kid self never knew about until much later. 1969, riots in Greenwich Village that started in a place called the Stonewall Inn. 1977, and someone named Harvey Milk was elected to a city supervisor seat in San Francisco. 1978, and he was shot dead. 1979, and the guy who shot Milk dead was acquitted of murder on the grounds that he’d eaten too many Twinkies, and was thus mentally unhinged.
Time went by. Women started doing things they’d never done before. Sandra Day O’Connor. Sally Ride. Carol Moseley-Braun. Mae Jemison. Madeleine Albright. Condoleeza Rice. Hillary Clinton.
Were we there yet?, because they kept telling us we’d come a long way, baby.
Meanwhile, in my world, I was starting to make what would become a life-long home in theatre, where homosexual men and women were, at first, if not out, then at least accepted with a tacit understanding of what they were. Gay? Lesbian? I can’t remember the first time I heard those words or understood what they meant, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until my college days, the late 70’s. Throughout the decades of the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, those people who had hidden, swallowed, or lied about what they really were so they could keep their jobs, or their safety, or their lives, they began to refuse to hide. They started to demand that they be seen and respected, and more, that they be accorded the same rights as everybody else.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in this country. He said, “I ask my gay sisters and brothers to make the commitment to fight. For themselves, for their freedom, for their country. We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it.”
Gay people coming out. Not there yet, but that brought us a little closer still.
2008, and a Black man was elected President of the United States. People said we were now in a post-racial America. Were we there yet? The day President Obama was inaugurated it felt like we were a lot closer.
2008, and Sean Penn won the Academy Award for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in the movie about his life. 2009, and President Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 2014, and the US Post Office issued a Harvey Milk stamp.
2015, and gay and lesbian people could get married. To each other. 2016, and the US Navy christened a ship the USNS Harvey Milk. Surely we’re there now. Aren’t we?

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Turns out it might be more like this.

August of 2016, and a Milwaukee cop shoots a young Black man who is running away after his car has been pulled over. Within hours, what begins as a demonstration (there’s that word again) turns violent, and two days of destruction, fire, and fighting ensues. Governor Walker puts the National Guard on standby. Milwaukee Sheriff Clarke blames liberals, particularly President Obama. The series of events gets international news coverage. It’s now just a week later and there’s already a Wikipedia article entitled 2016 Milwaukee Riots.
Dr. King, that guy who was shot back in 1968, said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It seems he was a believer in linear progress too.
Are we there yet?

 

(I originally posted this at Medium.com on August 22, 2016)

Focus. Or, The Principle Of Selective Attention

Focus is nothing more than selective attention. All day long, every day, we are surrounded by sensory input, and, whether we’re aware of it or not, we are constantly making choices about what to give our attention to. All day long, every day. We aren’t deciding whether to pay attention, we are selecting what gets attention. 4902513891_2f560d3a66_b

So let’s just say you’re in a group of people who are learning something that requires a lot of concentrated study, like singing, or algebra, or swinging a golf club. Suppose someone sneezes. In that second you have the choice to joke, laugh, and spend the next three minutes making sneeze noises in the effort to milk every last drop of comedic gold out of that sneeze, before at last turning your attention back to your music/algebra/golf. Because of The Principle of Selective Attention (something I just made that up), that’s three minutes you spent doing some stupid bullshit rather than something awesome.

BTW, don’t be offended by the silly sneeze example. I wouldn’t assume that you would do that, but a class full of 10-year-olds did it in my presence yesterday, so it’s fresh in my mind.well-that-was-an-hour-of-my-life-i-ll-never-get-b

It’s not apparent to 10-year-olds, but you know that you have a finite number of minutes. So you’ve gotta ask yourself how best to minimize the amount of times you say, “Well, that’s three minutes… an hour… a week… a year… I’ll never get back.”

The trick is to purposely select the best recipient of your attention as often as possible, so -just a random example, mind you- instead of losing a half hour messing around on Facebook looking at inane crap about people’s eating habits, love life drama, only somewhat funny memes, and cute kitties, you might instead bite into a really cool book or blog. I also wouldn’t assume that you would mess around like this, although you may go ahead and assume that on occasion I do.

The Principle Of Selective Attention is particularly useful and important  to remember when it comes to leisure time.

The world is full of bullshit things and activities that clearly don’t deserve your attention. The Bachelorette. The Kardashian family, all of them. The ongoing cargo pants controversy*. Getting drunk. Shopping as a recreational activity. Those are obvious, but anything else that you deem unworthy of your attention also goes on the list, regardless of how many of your friends, family members, or anybody else think otherwise. For me, that list includes but is by no means limited to: professional and college sports, the Olympics, Dancing With The Stars, astrology, wine connoisseurship, trends in home decor, and country music. If you get some value out of these things, that’s just fine. The Principle Of Selective Attention says YOU DECIDE, NO ONE ELSE. You decide what gets your attention, particularly during your oh-so-precious down time, so as often as you can, make it good stuff, not stuff that isn’t useful, helpful, interesting, educational, or enjoyable.

411I guess that’s one of the many things your meditation practice is good for**, to train you to wisely select the things that deserve your attention, to detect and opt to waste as little attention as possible on bullshit that isn’t worthy of you and doesn’t make you better; although if you truly enjoy reading about Miley and Liam, you go right ahead and do so. That is, in fact, the First Corollary of the Principle Of Selective Attention: An adult may always determine how s/he spends her/his leisure time, and no one may infringe upon that right unless said right is forfeited by the adult in question. Accordingly, you’ll get no judgement from me.

*that cargo pants thing.

**wait, you do have a meditation practice, don’t you?

Hiddleswift, or, having a little trouble shakin’ it off.

I’m aware of some deeply immature, petty thoughts around the news that Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift are now romantically involved. With each other. These thoughts are relics of my long ago days of high school, college, and beyond, a time of life in which girls sometimes labor under the impression that they are competing for the attention of various males. I’m not altogether proud of these thoughts I’m actually pretty disgusted that I’m having these thoughts at all, but what can I say? Old habits rear their ugly little heads when you least expect them, and die harder than you might think.

A little background: I put Tom Hiiuddleston in the same category as Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Radcliffe, and Robert Pattinson; “thinking girls’ hotties”, if you will. They’re the actor/celebs that my teenage students, smart, sophisticated, and thoughtful young women (and men) at the theatre academy at which I teach, drool over. Previous generations’ versions of the TGH include Idris Elba, Jonny Lee Miller, Colin Firth, and, going back in time yet further, Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery.

(Yes, I still harbor grown up lady crushes on some of the previous generations’ versions. But I digress.)

I myself was a smart and thoughtful, if not terribly sophisticated, young woman. I still feel a little sting over the memory of an impossibly handsome, also smart, college classmate whom I met in a poli sci class, and with whom I immediately hit it off. We enjoyed many a rich conversation about current events, philosophy, music, novels, movies, and life itself, as college students do. I thought, “Hey now, this guy is smart, nice, and easy on the eye, and, rather than being superficially interested in looks he actually seems to appreciate me for my sparkling wit, brains, and charm. Could it be I’ve finally hit the mother lode, opposite sex wise?” We spent a couple of weeks in a beer and discussion soaked haze, floating blissfully toward romance on a cloud of our own witty eloquence.

…Wait, that was just me. Not too much later he introduced me to his gorgeous but not terribly bright new girlfriend.

c31445f566495ac68f62b5afe8c2e60fI suspect many women who are, like me, average looking but otherwise abounding in attractive qualities, have a memory of a similar soul crushing experience.  He likes you all right, to have a rewarding heart to heart with, go to a baseball game with, or watch Doctor Who with. You’re smart as Madeline Albright, funny as Tina Fey, and generous as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But when he wants to get… er… romantically involved, he seeks out none of those, but someone who has more of a resemblance to Jayne Mansfield than to any of those aforementioned worthies.

WTF, dude?

Yes, these are deeply deeply DEEPLY immature thoughts. I hope you’ll applaud that I’m both owning and recognizing them as immature and petty. (Full disclosure: I have in fact been happily married for quite some time to one of the best men of a comparable level of physical attractiveness that I could find; that is to say, neither of us would scare small children, but you won’t see us in People’s 50 Sexiest 2016 either. We’re extremely ordinary, and we have a nice life together.)

I also hasten to say I don’t know Taylor Swift from Adam. Please be assured, this is not about her attributes as a performer, woman, or human. She sings a nice pop tune, and for all I know she can speak six languages and have done post-doctoral work in medieval literature; yet, to Tom Hiddleston I still wanna say WTF, dude? Like I have any business saying this at all, but, come on. She’s a bottle blonde who wears really tacky dark purple lipstick. You couldn’t have been attracted to Emma Watson?

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I’m so ashamed.

*****

It’s at least encouraging, maybe, a little, that my sentiments around this aren’t so much those of the smart, thoughtful young woman, and more those of Tom’s loving Auntie Paula, who’s known you, Tom, since you were a little boy, and wants to say this to you, that you’re gonna get bored with that pretty girl. Trust me on this… ask your longtime friend Hermione out on a date; you’ve got so much more in common with her and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Well, anyway, it’s none of my business. I hope they are having a great time together.

On the ability to enjoy a ribeye steak or favorite snack.

“He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile…His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve.” (Dan Turner, early June, 2016)*

“If you are hoping that one of my organs will implode from anger and I will die, I’m almost there. You are very close. This is not a story of another drunk college hook­up with poor decision making. Assault is not an accident. Somehow, you still don’t get it.” (the victim, June 2, 2016)

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry… When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22)

* Bullshit.

9edaefe6400eaf50ba30c6b6612bb2d4Yes it will. Give him a couple years and, empowered by his boyish good looks, his golden hair and charming smile, and his white upper middle class dad’s money, he’ll have completely overcome and forgotten about this little setback, and will be blissfully going about fulfilling the promise that over-privilege affords him.

By this time we’ve all read that slimy letter from Dan Turner, the father of the Stanford undergraduate kid, now convicted felon. (Just to be clear, I remind you that Brock Turner was not convicted of rape, but of three felony counts of sexual assault.) If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, here it is in its nauseating entirety. You may also have read the victim’s statement, all 12 pages of it. She has held nothing back in relating what happened to her and the damage it did- and continues to do- to her and her loved ones; yet she tells her story in complete eloquence and dignity. If you haven’t, please do so, and take the time to read the whole thing.

“In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.” (Judith Lewis Herman)

“I think it is a sign of being accustomed to such power that the truth does not matter because you cannot be contradicted.” (Anna Fundler)

This isn’t gonna be a diatribe, as there have been plenty of those already. Most everyone I know is horrified and completely pissed off by this story. Most, if not all, of the men I know would sooner chew off their own potentially offending body parts than commit such a grotesque act. So I don’t think I need to preach to anyone.

I just want to say this:

It is never, under any circumstances, OK to take advantage of someone who is weaker than you. It is never, without exception, ever, OK to use a situation in which someone has less power than you do, to get something you want. 4775f3_7f8eb6538c174a23bfc78ac58ddc16fa

I don’t think you have to think too hard about this. You pretty much know in any given situation whether you are the one with more or less power. Are you interacting with a child or teenager, with someone who has significantly less size or physical strength than you, with an animal, or someone who is less emotionally secure, or ill, or poor, or otherwise weakened by circumstances? OK, so it’s just that simple. Never use this interaction to your advantage, at their expense.

Never, never, never.

That’s it for today.

 

I was dreaming when I wrote this; forgive me if it goes too fast.

 

Little Red Corvette…1982

The happy upside to a sad situation is that, since Prince’s tragic passing last month, the floodgates have opened on the YouTube and many other sites. Right now we can see and hear a ton of fantastic content from His Highness, and others of his fiefdom like Morris Day and the Time, Vanity 6, etc. In case you don’t know, in addition to being one of the greatest musicians and performers of the rock era(s), Prince was also an exceptionally savvy businessman. He managed- many might say micromanaged- his output to the extent that, unlike just about every other recording artist ever, you could consume almost nothing of Prince’s output, no videos, no concert footage, no movie clips, no audio, no nothing, without buying it. Nothing for free on YouTube, nor Spotify, nor Pandora. This was the result of his outrageous notion that artists should be paid for their work, a hard-fought crusade that Prince and his legal team have waged since the late 1980’s.

This post isn’t about me agreeing or disagreeing with His Highness’ stance on the availability of recorded music, but since his passing, all bets seem to be off, at least for the time being, and we can avail ourselves of a wonderful smorgasbord of his music and live performances, especially on the YouTube. Who knows how long this unlimited access to such riches will last. For awhile anyway, while his estate is being settled, but I’ll bet not forever. I encourage you to jump down that rabbit hole while you can, and do as much watching and listening as possible.

Anyway, in sampling the smorgasbord, I ran across this delicious live performance of Prince’s classic, Little Red Corvette.

Corvette, a more recent model

There are no specifics, but it seems safe to assume that this was a fairly recent performance. Slim, elegant, clad entirely in black, not flashy, but stylish; a Thin Black Duke, as it were. The song seems to materialize out of a languid, lazy riff, which slowly becomes recognizable as the opening chord changes. Instead of the insistent, forward pressing feel of the 1982 recording, this is relaxed, with some long, sustained guitar licks. It isn’t until the refrain that the groove becomes eager, urgent, more the familiar Little Red Corvette that we knew and loved.

There is no thrilling, showy dance break, no jumps, no hip thrusts, no splits, as the 24 year old Prince did in 1982, but instead a melodic and oh-so-tasty guitar solo. He takes a few steps back, then forward, slowly, deliberately; rather than being constantly in motion, he poses. He has not abandoned his image as showman, but now seems much more interested in a display of virtuoso musicianship. The guitar solo is indeed the work of a real master of the instrument.

From about the 3:20 mark onward is an extended coda. The band never returns to Tempo Di 1982, but continues to drift along in that easy groove of the beginning, over which His Highness floats the most effortless, slow, dare one even say…sexy…guitar solo. This take on a 34 year old song is one that could only come from a veteran musician, one who is in complete control and proficiency of his instrument and idiom.

What do I call this? Aging gracefully?

I’m exactly the same age as Prince was at his passing, 57, and I struggle against becoming frumpy in mind and soul; however, I’m not sure Dylan’s “Forever Young” is the best thing to hope for either. I want to be vital but not juvenile, innovative but not inappropriate, youthful but not pitifully holding on to things that I’ve clearly outgrown. I don’t want to be old-fashioned or out of touch; neither do I desire to grasp at being young and hip, at the expense of all the wisdom, skill, and competency that I’m (at least supposed to be) acquiring as I age. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and I fear I’m getting it wrong a lot of the time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have the most respect for artists in the pop music world and elsewhere, who have the chops and the, yeah, gracefulness to tweak and re-imagine their stuff, speaking in intelligent and creative ways about the world as seen through the eyes of someone who’s been here for awhile. I’m not interested in seeing or hearing someone simply trying to replicate what they did, what they looked like, or who they were 40 years ago. As if one could. I’m sure you’ve observed, that’s often pretty embarrassing.

If you haven’t yet done so, watch and listen to the two clips I’ve linked to, the original and the recent re-imagining. There is absolutely no one in the world like the gorgeous, flamboyant Prince of 1982. Those kohl-lined eyes, those high kicks on 4 inch heels, those growls and squeals. And then the suave, laid back, stately 50-something Prince, equally gorgeous, but in a way no 24 year old could contemplate being.

The last three minutes of that recent live performance with the long, languid instrumental solo, is punctuated by the repetition of two words that, just at that moment, may have felt a little to me like a piece of advice given from one artist human at a certain time of life to another.

It’s ok, permissible, even a pretty good idea, to acknowledge and embrace this inevitability about art and life. In other words,

“Slow down.”

 

 

Honest, I didn’t mean it like that.

I’ve been observing the controversy brewing over J. K. Rowling’s pieces on History of American Magic, how the way she’s written about Native American practices is pissing some people off. Was just conversing about it a little bit with a very smart and circumspect friend from the “other side” of the political aisle.

The thought occurs that in this age of eagerness to take offense and react, we often fail to assume good will on the part of the other.

It seems rather safe to guess that Rowling was not engaged in an attempt to culturally appropriate Native American traditions in order to wring a little more milk out of the Harry Potter cash cow. Not being American, she may just be guilty of not doing enough research, and/or not knowing enough of the American cultural scene. Given what we know about her, we may see a lovely, heartfelt, and elegant apology from her in a day or two.

Here’s where I hasten to make it as clear as rainwater on a limpid pool in springtime that I am not saying Native American people, or any other minority people, should just get over it. Nope nope nope, not saying that, never even thinking that. Oppression, mistreatment, inequality, and cultural appropriation are all real, and are bad, evil things. It’s super fitting and right that people who are members of groups that are or have been picked on, misunderstood, used, hurt, or otherwise fucked over, be the ones who get to say what’s offensive to them. 

This little news story really was just the trigger that got me thinking about how we’re living in an American Age of Anger. For every person or group of people who are justifiably pissed off because society or history has taken a dump on them, there are ten who are mad because the waitress got their order wrong, or someone cut them off on the freeway, or the neighbor is playing their crappy music too loud, or just because someone else told them they should be mad. Then it gets scary because a fraction of these people act on their anger in really disproportionate ways, and other people get hurt.

You’re a pretty rational person, I’ll bet. Your best self is capable of recognizing that it’s not that the waitress is a moron who doesn’t care about you, the customer, she’s just really busy; the driver of that car isn’t trying to be a dick, it’s possible that he just didn’t see you;  your neighbor isn’t trying to be an asshole and foist her obnoxious music on to your entire block, she just isn’t aware that her music is bugging you and would, in fact, be 1) mortified if she knew you were annoyed and 2) thrilled to turn it down if it’ll make you more comfortable.

Your best self knows these things to be true, but it’s so easy to jump right past your best self and on to the conclusion that these and all the other people who do and say things that bug you are doing so because they want to be jerks. And that doesn’t just go for annoyances, it’s probably also true of inconveniences, insults, even injuries. It’s likely that most of the time they were honest mistakes or things that just happened, not things that someone did because they wanted to hurt you or fuck with you.

I’m convinced of this, I really am. It costs you absolutely nothing to assume the people you encounter to be nice people, men and women of good will, deserving of the benefit of the doubt, at very least until proven otherwise. Choosing this assumption takes you out of defensive mode and puts you in a position of both clarity and non-reactivity.

You don’t have to get pissed off. You might not even have a good reason to get pissed off. You can cruise past the situation and release it, with no further harm done to you, or you can choose to confront the alleged offender, if you wish to, with some civility, even generosity, thereby granting them the space to be clear about their intent. It’s a position that sets the stage for civilized interaction, conversation, even -dare I say it!- real understanding of others. Imagine that.

It’s a fractious time, people. Let’s not add to the mishigoss by assuming ill intent. If at all possible, let’s treat each other as people of good will. I think it might help.