Friday, July 22, 2016

"When Somebody You Know Dies..."


When somebody you know dies – Garry Shandling, Garry Marshall – it’s been a bad year for “Garrys” – it inevitably shakes you up.  

After you grieve – in proportion to how well you knew them, how old they were when they went, the specific circumstances of their departure and their proximity to your own age – you can’t help but start thinking.  You don’t want to.  But “The Issue” is glaringly “front and center.”

Understanding death’s finality – that, for example, I can write blog posts and they can’t – yes, you may initially feel grateful that, although their time has sadly arrived yours thankfully has not – you’re in the foxhole and the guy beside you was picked off.  But how exactly do you respond to that?

Two disparate alternatives:

“Wow.  I just dodged a bullet.” 

Or…

“Well, I guess it’s just a matter of time.”

The initiating source of these alternatives:

Attitude. 

“Comforting Relief” versus “Fatalistic Resignation.”

Eventually, you stop thinking primarily about them – for some the process takes decades; others “move on” driving home from the cemetery – and you begin thinking primarily about yourself.  The common denominator of these ponderings is this:

There is still time.  How much time, we’ve just been starkly reminded, is capriciously up in the air.  It could be a while.  It could be… you don’t finish this sentence.

The question is…

What will you do with that information?

Again, depending on attitude, there are differing outlooks:

“Carpe diem appears the sensible approach.  Our life expectancy is finite.  Do not waste a second of it.

But then, grounded in an opposing perspective, there is “Don’t waste a second of it doing what?”  Building sand castles that are inevitably washed away?  Keeping busy for the sake of keeping busy?  Making a name for yourself that – probably sooner than you think – will almost certainly be obliterated?

I realize that’s a “downer” perspective, but remember, you’re upset.  Plus, “downer” perspectives are necessarily incorrect. 

With these the diametrical alternatives, what path do you finally proceed down?

Two ends of the continuum: 

Fueled by your attitude, you take surrenderingly to your bed awaiting “The Grim Reaper” to show up.  Or you explode into “overdrive”, knowing the clock is inexorably ticking and that there is no precious time to waste. 

So you conquer that mountain.  (Literally or metaphorically.)  You eat that second – or fifth – macaroon.  You intensify your relationships.  You see Victoria Falls.  (Possibly all in the same week.)  Everyone’s list is different.  But underscoring them all is the driving imperative:

Do!

The person who took to their bed says:

You do.  I’ll wait here.” 

(Rationale:  If we all destined for the same outcome, why tire yourself out?)

Contrasting responses to “There’s only one way out of here and it’s not standing up.” 

And that’s the end of it?

No.

Sooner or later, you get exhausted always “doing”.  And you get bored to tears lying in bed.  So what happens?  The “doers” do less.  The surrenderers eventually do something.

All managing “The Inevitable” by forgetting there is one.

It’s not a glamorous solution.  It’s not heroic.  (It actually is, though not dramatically so.)  There is no box office blockbuster based on

“You put one foot in front of the other.” 

But that ultimately, it seems, is all we’ve got. 

And it works.  We commit to our chosen activities, the “Bad Thoughts” hovering harmlessly on the periphery, and we’re covered – the status quo of blissful obliviousness. 

Then somebody else you know dies.

And it’s “Here we go again.” 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Garry Marshall - A Remembrance"

See the twinkle.

And then it's gone.

Not many twinklers left.

I don't what know what we're going to do.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"More About Alain De Botton Than You Thought You Wanted To Know But Then You Hear What He Has To Say About Something And You Abruptly Change Your Mind"

I just finished listening to original thinker’s Alain De Botton’s lecture on YouTube extolling the “Up” side of pessimism, during which, among other things including leading a sing-along of an Elton John song about sadness, de Botton explains that anger is caused by optimism, the angry reaction triggered by irrational positive expectations gone awry.

Do de Botton’s popular pronouncements on uniquely perceived issues many of which I have considered myself but have promoted less successfully make me envious? 

They do not.

I have never envied “abilities.”  (I exhilarate in the human capacity for excellence.)   Everybody’s ability is different, and I am inordinately partial to my own.  It’s like my nose.  It may not be top-of-the-line, but I am inextricably attached to it. 

What I do envy is the stuff that certain people’s abilities allow them to procure, although upon further consideration, since I have the means to get most of the things I want and have little genuine interest in other stuff, I have come to realize that I am making myself unnecessarily miserable envying the Super-Rich’s access to luxuries I do not actually desire.  

I was reminded of that valuable insight by another lecture by de Botton.

Any surprise that I like this guy?

Anyway, enough about me.  Until next time. 

Without further ado – and though I could easily provide you a link I instead wish to include the following essay in the Just Thinking archival record:

Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person

by Alain de Botton.

“It’s one of the things we are most afraid might happen to us.  We go to great lengths to avoid it.  And yet we do it all the same:  We marry the wrong person.

Partly, it’s because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others.  We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well.  In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be:  “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation.  Nobody’s perfect.  The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities.  Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day.  As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us.  One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware.  Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them.  We visit their families.  We look at their photos, we meet their college friends.  All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework.  We haven’t.  Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons:  because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both set of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text.  And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors.  The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative.  That is why what has replaced it – the marriage of feeling – has largely been spared the need to account for itself.

What matters in the marriage of feeling is that two people are drawn to each other by an overwhelming instinct and know in their hearts that it is right.  Indeed, the more imprudent a marriage appears (perhaps it’s been only six months since they met; one of them has no job or both are barely out of their teens), the safer it can feel.  Recklessness is taken as a counterweight to all the errors of reason, that catalyst of misery, that accountant’s demand.  The prestige of instinct is the traumatized reaction against too many centuries of unreasonable reason.

But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple.  What we really seek is familiarity – which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness.  We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood.  The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics; feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes.  How logical, then, that we should as grownups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right – too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable – given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign.  We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.

We make mistakes, too, because we are so lonely.  No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable.  We have to be wholly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to be appropriately picky; otherwise, we risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.

Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent.  We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us:  Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in the risotto place a little later.  We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.

Indeed, marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged.  The only ingredient in common is the partner.  And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.  

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based on the last 250 years:  that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us – and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.  There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness.  But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce.  Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

This philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage.  It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage.  The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently – the person who is good at disagreement.  Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person.  Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be a precondition.


Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy.  It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling.  We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.”  We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"I Like This Guy (Though I May Possibly Have Confused Him With Myself)"

Have you ever wondered if you admired a person not because there is something inherently admirable about them but because they remind you significantly of yourself?

That’s just a cheesy mode of self-adulation, isn’t it?  Or maybe it isn’t.  The question is, how do you identify the distinction?

Or does admiring people who remind you of yourself normal and natural so I should forget about it and write about something more important like what it was like being a staff writer on Phyllis?  (Answer:  It was terrible.  Though that might have been because Cloris Leachman was absolutely nothing like myself.  Making my point, but in the opposite direction.)

Here’s where these random speculations derive from.

Recently, I was introduced via “Ted Talk” to…

No, wait.

How do I express this?

Over the years in this venue, there been have times when I have offered opinions that were provocative, unpopular, and angrily annoying because they stirred up feelings you were happy not to experience and now that they’re front and center you have to, followed by the necessary effort of forgetting them again.  Well, the good news is… 

I have actually been holding back, keeping my more unpalatable opinions to myself, sparing the reader even greater irritation and sparing myself the punishing abuse that would inevitably result.

“Give us an example of an opinion you deliberately held back.”

No.

“Do you believe in decapitating puppy dogs?”

I am not doing this.

“You’re going to leave us in the dark, thinking you’re a horrible person without clarifying examples?”

Considering the alterative, yes.

“Hey, ‘Free Speech.’ Give it a shot.”

To quote Mark Twain, although not exactly in these words (so I guess it’s not really a quote though I will put it in quotation marks anyway…): “Free speech is a wonderful idea.  But it is best reserved for after you are dead.”  (Inference:  Where the inevitable backlash will have negligible effect.)

Anyway…

… I don’t know why I even let that “Blue Italics Guy” say anything; the guy pisses me off.

“Hey, I’m just ‘you’, you know.”

The “unconscious” me.  And you’re unconscious for a reason.

Anyway, again…

I was introduced, via “Ted Talk” to Alain De Botton, a philosopher who is not only charming – though, having admitted a strong identification I may be sneakily “bank-shotting” myself a compliment – intelligent and highly provocative, although also like me, open to charges of oversimplifying generalization, though I believe that (for both of us) is a scurrilous technique for dismissing our challenging pronouncements.

I believe de Botton gets away with such shenanigans (Implication:  And I wouldn’t) due, first to his surname, de Botton, carrying more immediate authority than Pomerantz – his disarming presentation and his mellifluous accent.  (Both of which I have neglected to cultivate.)…

His technique defusing such incendiary pronouncements as…

From Religion For Atheists

“It’s clear to me that religions are in the end too complex, interesting and on occasion wise to be abandoned simply to those who believe in them.” 

(Note not only the contentious nature of de Botton’s assertion but also his bon-mo-ish stylisticness.  Both of which I myself shoot for but only sporadically achieve.)  

De Botton further proclaims in this context that we are the first society of people in history who, rather than worshipping “The Transcendent”, has an unshakable faith only in ourselves.   

Elsewhere, de Botton – how I love saying “de Botton” – argues that we make ourselves (unnecessarily) unhappy by wanting things we do not currently have which upon deeper examination we discover we never wanted in the first place; we just envied others for possessing them. 

We additionally (unnecessarily again) make ourselves miserable, de Botton believes, by the fact that in an meritocratic society where there are (supposedly) no impediments to success, if it is true that you are “on top” because you deserve to be, then it is equally true, by implication, that you are on the bottom – or at least embarrassingly lower on the hierarchical “food chain” – because you also deserve to be.  (And how good can you – “you” meaning everyone not “on top”, which is an enormous amount of people – feel about that?)

Finally, in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece which I shall publish in its entirely tomorrow… well… let me whet your appetite with only its title:

“Why You Marry The Wrong Person”

This guy’s terrific, isn’t he?

I am not ashamed to say so:

I love Alain de Botton!

Not only is he intrigued by rarely discussed subject matter, he offers dangerous opinions in public.  And I frequently agree with them.  (Because they are resonant with my own opinions?  You know what?  I don’t care.)

If I can’t always, or sufficiently often, do what de Botton does, I can at least introduce him (further; one of his YouTubed “Ted Talks” has attracted impressive multitudes of visitors) to my readers.

… banking on the TV-inspired strategy:  “New To You.”

I wish I were brave enough to do what de Botton does.  De Botton speaks freely and candidly.  Before he is dead.

I don’t know.   Maybe to do that,


You need a name like de Botton.

Monday, July 18, 2016

"So Far Away - Seeing 'Beautiful: The Carole King Musical'"

It begins when you are sitting in Row “YY”, closer to our car in the parking lot than we were to the stage. 

There is a definite “Distancing Effect.”

The sensation is compounded by the fact that not long ago, we saw the actual Carole King (in concert with James Taylor at the Hollywood Bowl) and felt the visceral connection between the singer-songwriter (or more accurately songwriter-singer) and her material, notwithstanding the fact that she was in many cases fifty years away from the original conception.  She was an electrifying septuagenarian.  (In contrast to some (unnamed) audience members who felt proud to just still be awake at that hour.)

Added to that is – which may some day be a musical of its own and one possibly  worth seeing – the performer playing Carole King in the touring company of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical currently in Los Angeles was Abby Mueller, the older sister of Jessie Mueller who won the 2014 Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award starring in the original Broadway production.

An unusuality of this nature sets my imaginatorial head spinning.  What was I actually witnessing here, an older sister’s interpretation of a younger sister’s interpretation of Carole King?  Or did the older sister “return to the source” and make her interpretation of Carole King different from her younger sister’s interpretation of Carole King?  Or did she eschew “interpretation” completely, offering instead a studied Carole King “sound-alike”?

IMAGINED ABBY MEULLER RESPONSE:  “The answer is neither, if “neither” can include three options, which I do not believe it can, but anyway.  Although I have enormous respect for Carole King and an enormous respect for my younger sister – and I sincerely mean that; the detectable edge in my voice comes from the exhaustion of performing eight days a week rather than sisterly envy because she played the character on Broadway and I’m touring the hinterlands in a road company and that “Tony” should definitely be mine! …I’m sorry, where was I?  Oh yes.  What I am offering is neither an interpretation of my sister’s interpretation of Carole King nor a knockoff imitation of Carole King, but instead a “take” on the role that is organically my own.  You understand?”

Whatever she was doing, I was two women away from the actual person. 

So, between sitting in Row “YY”, my familiarity with the actual Carole King and watching the star’s sister’s traveling presentation, as the above title reflects, I felt “so far away”.  From anything genuine, meaningful or emotionally involving.

Yet the audience around me was roaring with approval.

I get tired of not liking stuff everyone else is bowled over by (although the New York Times review for Beautiful was enthralled only by the lead actress’s performance, finding the production itself, to paraphrase his more erudite evaluation, artistically underwhelming.)

There is a moment near the end of the show where “Carole King” informs her best friends that she is relocating to Los Angeles, reassuring them of the eternality of their friendship by going to the piano and singing, “Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call”…

There is a  lot of that in the show.  Cues for songs from the “Carole King Playlist.”  (It’s like the Abba musical but less danceable.  And less fun.)

There are flashes – I don’t want to do a review; okay, just this… and maybe one more thing – eliciting hopeful sparks off possibility. 

In an early scene reflecting the explosion of creativity emanating from the offices of a single mid-Manhattan office building, little boxes on the set light up, offering a cleverly arranged medley of hits from the fifties – “Splish Splash (I was taking a bath…)”, “Yakkety Yak (don’t talk back)” Oh, Carol (I am but a fool)” that momentarily brought the proceedings and my expectations for the evening toe-tappingly to life. 

Then they went back to the accommodating girl with the prodigious talent for songwriting.  Writerly Note:  Recessive characters engender uninspiring storytelling.  (And a boatload of “Sleeping Giant clich├ęs.)

“She has to be accommodating for the ‘turn’ when Carole finally stands up for herself and the audience goes wild!”

Yeah, I know, but it’s boring and it’s predictable.  I audibly groaned at the manipulation.  (While the audience around me erupts with “You go, girl!” enthusiasm.)

What was my other “Theater Critic’s Hat” point?....

I forget.  Summing up, the show just never got to me.  (Maybe I’d have been more “into it” if I had seen the other sister.)

By the way – this may be picky but it confuses me.  How is “You make me feel like a natural woman” (the crescendoing number in the musical) feministically empowering?  Relying on someone else – imaginably a man – to make you feel like a natural woman.  Shouldn’t you just feel like a natural woman, without outside affirmation?    I’m just asking…

On the “up” side, the Beautiful’s musical numbers are the always welcome soundtrack of my youth.  Though to be honest, I prefer hearing them sung by the original performers on PBS fundraisers (even if the original performers are dead, their replacements are at least the same age) rather than by age-challenged mimics in a Broadway musical.

There is a final reason the evening’s experience left me “so far away.”

Although the people who put this show together and I were ostensibly in the same business, I could never do “corny.”  Seeing lightweight confections like Beautiful: The Carole King Musical I am dispiritingly reminded that “corny” invariably sells. 

Leading me to wonder wistfully – and hardly for the first time – whether I had gone into show business by mistake.

It was an understandable career choice.  I thought I was entering a field where originality was what we were supposed to be shooting for.


And there is no job called “Professional Grump.”