All Apologies

 I’ve never met the man in person, but I gotta tell you I’ve come to love me some Ryan Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy came into my life when a mutual friend recommended we connect on Facebook.  He’s one of those people who doesn’t post all that often, but when he does he gives you something to think about.  One of his recent posts was this:

The word “apology” is derived from the Greek word “apologia” which refers to a defense or explanation of a point of view in question. It seems to me that we would have much more meaningful communication if we could all keep this in mind the next time someone “owes us an apology.” Just a thought.

It’s actually just a very good thought that deserves a lot of consideration.  A true apology is not grovelling or saying you’re sorry or even simply seeking forgiveness.  So listen up — and you know who you are — there is a lot more to it than what the public stage suggests is an apology.  A true apology is an accounting of your actions, an explanation of the behavior or motives behind the events, and perhaps most importantly is merely a first step in an extended process of dialogue and reconnection with the damaged party or parties.  On the receiving end, let’s stop pretending all we have to do is say “OK” to make it over.

Apologies are hard work all around.  Which usually means if you do it right, it’s well worth it.  Rock on, Mr. Kennedy.

Elements of Style, Served Whole

A Single Man is a truly wonderful, heart-rending story and a beautifully constructed film.  I had some questions about how this movie would work out, as it was directed and written for the screen by Tom Ford, who built a decade of fashion and design credibility at the house of Gucci.  I have respect for what Ford has done in that field, but that was no guarantee of a cross over talent to writing and directing.  Zippee.  I was on board for Colin Firth (George).

Style is a whole thing.

This story portrays a deep and unyielding grief at the loss of a long-term partner and love.  It also is incredibly stylish down to every detail, and one can really see the hand of  haute couture creative direction in each element.  Costumes, accessories, hair styles, make-up, decorated rooms, offices, drawers, cars, bars…….everything has a refined finish that speaks of a world that rests on a foundation of commitment to design and beauty.

What most impressed me about Ford’s directing and screenwriting was his ability to avoid letting the elements of style mask the agony of the characters’ struggles.  In fact, he is masterful at using style as a vehicle for a theme of what happens when wholeness is severed.  The pretty things remain, but they are shadows and copies of what was once a complete life. 

Some characters cling desperately to the shadows, trying to leverage some kind of unity through lavender cigarettes and Tanqueray gin.  There is only one character unaffected by a splintered life; not coincidentally, it is George’s lost love, Jim.  Jim appears in flashback only, as when the story opens he is already dead.  He appears only in George’s memory, a memory steeped in devotion as well as the happiness and fulfullment that Jim brought into his life.

Ford is excellent at showing George’s attention to details like a beautiful smile, well coiffed hair, or a Windsor knot as what they are — the last grasps at pieces of beauty in the face of having lost what was truly beautiful and irreplaceable.  Never contemptuous but consistently honest, Ford manages to show even his own biographical engagement with style as walking a fine line between holding on to what is beautiful in appearance and being willing to embrace “the awful” — in this case the truth of homosexuality in the 1960s, grief, and growing old — as “having its own kind of beauty.”

I highly recommend watching this film with someone with whom you are completely, unrepentantly, and wholly in love.

You’re Not Really Real Sometimes. Really.

Don’t overthink it – quick, what do Charlie Brown’s teacher, The Graduate, and Heavenly Creatures have in common?

Remember? It felt about as comfortable as this.

I bet you know in your gut, but if you’re like me you prefer not to think about it.  They are all connected because they portray — sometimes frighteningly and sometimes humorously — what it looks like and sounds like when young people don’t really see anyone older than themselves as real.

I first started thinking about this in an ongoing way after seeing Heavenly Creatures.  I was an adolescent girl once upon a time, and it was quite disturbing to evaluate my comprehension of what happened to the girls in the film.  In short, they become obsessed with one another and the world they create for themselves, and when their parents develop concern that their connection is unhealthy and try to separate them, one of the girls kills the other one’s mother.  The film is based on a true story.

As with any shocking tale, there were a lot of water cooler conversations about, “Can you believe that happened?”  But there were also a lot of private conversations between women who trusted each other about how, yes, they could believe it happened.  It opened up a whole dialogue about the dangerous capacity of adolescents to disconnect from adults, not just by going to their rooms and turning up the music, but by completely discounting the humanity and “realness” of those adults.

I had a lot of conversations with friends from my youth about our perceptions of the adults around us.  Unlike the movie – thank God – there was never any serious animosity toward anyone.  But there was this shared sense of not perceiving our parents and their friends as really inhabiting our world.  They were like satellites orbiting around us, and while we acknowledged them, accepted their offers of food and a ride to the mall, we didn’t really connect with them at all as truly part of our reality.

It’s very weird to reflect on that psychological place.  But you can experience it as an observer any time you are in a crowd of kids.  Notice how they make eye contact only with each other, how they seem to hear only each other, how you could swear if you didn’t make a fuss about it they would trample you flat as they walk in a group down the street……….

I love young people.  Remembering how I perceived the world then helps me not go bananas when they seem to not even see me, because in truth, they don’t.  And it’s not exactly a picnic for them either.  I think it just means we have to try harder to reach them on their terms, and to remember that we were young once too.

The Other Triple Threat

In “the biz” a classic triple threat is someone who can sing, dance, and act — and he or she does it all quite well.  Think Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.

He can sing! He can dance! He can act!

There is an evolving other triple threat persona in contemporary life.   The type of person isn’t new, but society’s interest in such an individual is gaining ground again, and not a moment too soon.  It’s the person who has cultivated intelligence, genuine humility, and what I call a constant fidelity to organic purpose.

Cultivated Intelligence

Fortunately there are many ways to be an intelligent person, but not everyone proactively manages his or her gifts.  This triple threat is every day focused on learning, improving, and refining what she does well.  It’s more than being “smart” — being smart is something that can rest alone with the individual.  Intelligence is a kind of connectivity to others and a pushing out into the world of an energy that says, “I can do more to understand how events, people, and ideas intersect.”  Such individuals are never ashamed or embarrassed to leverage this energy.

Genuine Humility

This is where so many people who might have a cultivated intelligence or fidelity to organic purpose fall apart.  Genuine humility means understanding in your core that you are not very important in the scheme of things.  It doesn’t mean such a person is never proud of himself or that he has nothing to offer, but it does mean he possesses a self-deprecating attitude that keeps him close to earth.  These people are always sincerely trying to engage the talents of others and rarely are threatened by or fearful of that process.

Constant Fidelity to Organic Purpose

As with singing, acting, and dancing, each time another element is added to the formula it takes a person into a thinner atmosphere.  How many people really connect to a purpose that is not manufactured or self-serving, but that is an authentic part of who they are?  And how many of those people can stay true over time to that purpose?  In addition, the constant organic element knocks out anyone living a compartmentalized life.  It means not having gaping canyons of inconsistency in different areas of one’s life.  There are many fascinating people who have a lot to offer the world but who crumble when it comes to constant fidelity to organic purpose.  No one is perfect, but it’s fair to say some people are less imperfect than others, and it really shows in this category.

So, who are these people?

I’m not sure they are famous.  They seem to be our neighbors, our family members, and our friends.  But I am always on the watch for them, and I hold even “famous people” to this standard if they want my trust in any way.  If they aren’t lying through their teeth about who they are, I suppose I don’t really care much one way or the other.  I just want enough information to make a decision about what to expect and/or avoid.

My sister may have had the best line of the whole idea.  She thinks Harry Connick, Jr., raises the bar to impossible limits by breaking new ground in a life lived on all 6 characteristics.  Could it be there’s a new term?  The sextuple threat.  Now that’s some thin air!

Yon Cassius

There is so much to love about the movie The Usual Suspects, it’s hard to know where to start sometimes.  I love this movie on every level, in large part because it’s not original in its story as much as its story telling.

The name of the movie comes from one of Casablanca‘s best-loved lines.  In a completely dead-pan response to an entirely predictable requisite response to gambling at Rick’s Place, the local police captain — a good friend of Rick’s — rolls off the command, “Round up the usual suspects.”

"You just need the will to do what the other guy won't."

So today’s question, gentle reader, is this:  What happens when rounding up the usual suspects meets Shakespeare?  We might find out soon, if you follow West Virginia politics.  I’ve been pretty bored with the succession to Senator Byrd melodrama, up until a new character came on the scene.

In this little state, you can get on bad lists sometimes, just for being honest and paying attention.  I’m not in a “get on a bad list” mood today, so I’ll just say this.  If you read this blog it means you like to think and talk about ideas, and therefore I think you can connect the dots when I say that not everyone assumed to be a non-threat is such.

And that is pretty cool.  My chip is on yon Cassius.

The Fragile

Two years ago today my only child was born.  The earth definitely moved, and has been moving since, all for the very best.

Though I woke up with memories of wonder and amazement at her life, I also woke up to read this: 

The poverty rate in America is 13.2 percent, according to the US Census Bureau. In West Virginia, the rate is 17.2 percent, and recent figures indicate that 23.9 percent of West Virginia’s children live in povertySustained Outrage

I am aware of this figure.  The one-in-four statistic is like a nightmare from which you desperately want to wake, but can’t.  I thought this reality was the worst, but then I read something else this morning that may overtake the pain of the one-in-four. 

As you hear elected officials talk about cutting programs that care for children as “tough decisions” chew on this, if you will, in the context of politics and child poverty:

“These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain on others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted of enduring pain rather than imposing it on others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.” The Goat Rope

When I brought home a fragile 7 pound life two years ago, I was overcome with the reality of our responsibility to children.  I am frankly unconcerned with what the adults in the equation “have earned” or “deserve” or whether or not they are living up to their “personal responsibility.”  Would it be nice I didn’t have to take care of other people’s kids?  Um, yes.  Yes it would.  I’ve got my hands full over here.

But here’s the rub — these kids in poverty aren’t “other people’s kids”, not really.  They are my kids.  They are your kids.  First and foremost they are God’s children.  One day they will inherit the earth, and it matters a whole hell of a lot how well they are cared for now and how well they grow up.  It is absolutely imperative that we separate what these children so desperately need from our feelings about their parents.

If you have children it should scare you to death that if you couldn’t find a job, or got sick, or developed a raging substance abuse problem, that the greater community would tsk tsk it away and your child would be left to slowly disappear off of the social radar through no fault of his or her own.  This is completely unacceptable and is the behavior of a species that wants to go extinct.

We need to be in the business of strengthening the fragile.  That’s our job as adults when it comes to kids.  There are some things that don’t deserve “sustained outrage,” they deserve to get fixed permanently.  Will there always be poverty?  Probably.  But there doesn’t have to always be confusion about our moral obligation to children.

And So the Obsession Begins

That’s right, I am now the proud owner of the FestivALL 2010 “T” by Jim Probst!  Last year I convinced Mark Wolfe to sell me his “T” and I like to think that initiative had a little something to do with this year’s E-bay auction to benefit all of the artists and FestivALL itself.

So that’s all good….but now I have 2 sequential years of “T”s in the house.  What do they say, do it 3 times and it’s a habit? 

I can just see it 50 years from now.  My grandchildren come to help clean out the house after my death (for the record, I plan to be found with a smile on my face in bed with a one pound bag of peanut M & M’s, but that’s another story).  They bring some friends from college with them because it’s a big job, and when they open the front door the kids just stand wide-eyed in amazement…….the house is full of almost nothing but sculptures of the letter T.

To a T...and a T, and a T

I will have had to move everything else out over the years.  T’s will be on the walls, but also used as chairs, stools, and tables.  Out back they will be stools around the firepit, stepping stones through the garden, and propped as ladders against trees.  When they find me with my M & M’s my body will be resting on an extra-large T, commissioned one year in my honor of course, to serve as my bed.  Many artists will have competed for this amazing honor, and eventually this particular piece will be donated to the Smithsonian.

Finally one of the kids will find his breath and ask my grandaughter, “What….what was up with your grandma?”

She will smile that little heart-shaped smile she inherited from my daughter and say something mysterious like, “It’s a family secret, but let’s just say when she liked something, she went all the way.”