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Archive for the month “September, 2019”

Just for Laughs with Marc Maron

On Thursday night, we saw Marc Maron at Just For Laughs.We were particularly interested because we listen to his podcast, WTF,, and have heard his interviews with such greats as Barack Obama, Jane Fonda, David Letterman, Carl Reiner, and many others from mainly media industries.As well, we have been watching his acting in GLOW( Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) on Netflix. What’s interesting about Maron is somehow at his advanced age of 56, he has morphed from a failed comic to a minor celebrity, and his prologues that introduce his WTF podcasts have been crafted into a quite wonderful comedy shtick.

Usually those prologues are self- serving as he ponders what a messed up guy he is, his crazy parents, his failed past life. He moans about his penitent for self destructive addictions, particularly dope. But in spite of his at least fifteen minute introspection, his interviews, for the most part are exceedingly excellent until he crosses the boundary of interviewer, creating an ersatz familiarity with the star, and inserting himself into the talk. Most often, he holds the line and it results in providing insights into the life and work of the masters at the other end of his microphone.

The Just For Laughs performance Thursday night segued that self serving dialogue with his wounded other self into incredible comedy. Using a variety of comedic formats from slapstick to irony to physical manoeuvres, Maron crafted a narrative: again based on self but truly elevated beyond sad guy talking about himself. The usual elements of annoying parents, useless religious gods, drugtaking loser guy were still present, but he had written a more than one hour piece that nicely transitioned his themes into a storyline with beginning, middle and end: a piece so seamlessly and professionally rehearsed and performed that his spontaneity allowed for calling out late comers to the show and appearing to be talking off the cuff, even commenting on Trudeau’s brown face. It was casual, entertaining and even insightful at moments. Maron soared as actor, storyteller and writer. Wow.

He asserted, “ It’s all story, folks” and he drew us into his unravelling story, now populated with Mike Pence, vaccine nay- sayers, Satan, climate change and Marvel comics. Going beyond his own deep neuroses, he used his life as the basis for his show, but incorporated them fully into his text.

Because I’ve listened to WTF, I was familiar with his continual gripes and search for meaning in relationships and life so I was sensitive to the tome he was unwinding. And it made me think of how much our professional lives are rooted in our personal ones. My daughter, the social worker , who has asserted her fears of death from an early age has catapulted her fears to her work life wherein she deals with multi levels of mortality. It’s the old adage of do what you know. And I’m quite sure it’s not easy to separate work and personal anxieties, but when you don’t professionalism can suffer. But those who are able to use themselves as primary research can ,in fact , soar in the areas of true authentic  knowledge, empathy, struggle and outcome.

My interest in Maron was the transformation of life into “ more” wherein life substantiates the trigger but moves outward and beyond the self. And perhaps ironically as one’s inner life is set outside one’s own consciousness, and used as fodder or clay, self doubt absorption becomes not only enlightening and helpful, but something else. That does not mean one is ever free from the anxieties that pound in one’s head or one is able to stroll blissfully through the streets downtown, humming show tunes, but one has been able, briefly or concertedly to keep themselves in check, to move the pain and suffering to another platform ,poke at it, and remove its personal terror factor- maybe temporarily, but in that time, the time that Maron was doing his act, I’ll bet he was more concerned with his pacing, his audience engagement, the jokes and humour of his work ,making the parts subsume to the whole. And in that process, he was controlling, not controlled by the issues that dog him.

That’s another reason to love the arts. Whether you play an instrument, write a play, perform or paint, you set your task beyond yourself, and even if you engage in the arts just for yourself, not for audience consumption or laurels, there is a level that requires your mind, hands, voice, whatever to put yourself outside yourself and see/ hear/ whatever with the mind’s eye. It’s not that inner dialogue with self that merely beats you up. It’s something more as you become both critic/reviewer and performer. And it’s great because you are able to be objective, not wallowing on what was , what might have been, what could have been. “If apples had been oranges…”, for example, I used to chide my mother who wished she had pursued a life in nursing or interior design.( as always , it’s so much easier to dole out advice than take it yourself)

So it goes, we can’t change the past, maybe learn from it and leave it perhaps to rot as soil for new vegetables. Rehashing is only beneficial if something grows from the ashes. And so last night, the self flagellating Marc Maron took an impressive step in his professional life, showcasing himself as worthy of the acclaim he has been receiving, especially from GLOW and other acting gigs. So Bravo Marc.

Now , if some of that could transfer to his private life, maybe he’d be a happy dude, not the guy ruminating -and apparently according to the tabloids- still floundering , as the guy in those prologues still seeking redress as he castigates himself for growing into a talented successful man.

The Fall and Rosh Hashana

My sister reminded me how my mother approached the fall with dread. Where others might have fantasized about cooler nights, crisp days and the prospect of snowflakes, my mother recalled the onset of my father’s polio in those first days of autumn that altered her life forever. And interestingly, she passed away around the time of Rosh Hashana also -inthe fall.

Most Jews I think look forward to Rosh Hashana as the beginning of a new year, a spiritual cleanse and opportunity to wipe the slate, renew better behaviour and recharge their batteries. My mother’s dread overpowered her delight in any family gathering at this time of year and as she lead a particularly moral, good life, in truth she did not require refreshing. In stead, her perpetual reflecting and revaluation of her life might have granted herself a stay from Rosh Hashana re- examination.

For me, obtuse as I may have been as a child, sheltering myself from too much parental attitude, I did, in fact, associate the fall with the joy of Rosh Hashana. I did highly anticipate the burnished colours of the leaf change, the absenced days from school for dressing up for synagogue and seeing my cousins at the family dinners as we gathered at my grandparents.

I store Rosh Hashana in my own child’s eye as thrashing about with my cousins after dinner as we played long into the night while the grownups in pearls and Borsalino hats continued their prayers in the dining room above our heads. How I cherished and longingly anticipated our reunions back then,singing to myself, “ They’re coming. They’re coming.”

Downstairs, my cousin Allan, the captain of the kids, lead the assault between the teddy bears and rubber figurines knocking them off the bar top as we all hooted with laughter, falling on top of one another in belly exploding humour. Like a football crush, we were layers of interlaced combatants, enjoying the putsch against the adults distantly chanting above us. For me, the cousins were essential – especially my mother’s sister’s children who betrayed our love by moving far away to California after Allan’s bar mitzvah.

Yet now I think of my grandmother who dwelled in the kitchen between delivering food courses to all of us, to suck a chicken bone or to light a cigaret in the quiet of the moment, her eyes heavy, likely missing her own parents left in Poland. Only now do I consider the inner life this cold distant woman might have possessed. Mostly I dwelt in her harsh behaviours to my mother as a child, tearing up her books or refusing her a future of education. But in those peaceful moments, she too, must have regretted the fall when she became a servant to the cooking, cleaning, hosting.

I do not remember gatherings at my father’s parents, only associating them with their supper visits late Saturdays where my mother, after long hours of work, had to make them supper. They brought my sister and me chocolate bars but I can reimagine my wheezing stout Buby Molly, her feet barely touching the floor, enclosed in the pink brocade chair in the corner of the room, barely speaking. Occasionally there were meals at her house on Arlington, a small, dark place where we sat cramped together on a long bench behind a table. Noises of food being served, my father smiles at his beloved mother, but no true conversation. My grandfather, his full head of perfect white hair , commanding. And the tales of his violent temper silently enshrouding his presence at table.

Many years later, my mother with her pert scarf at her neck, her arms spreading to hug us at the door, she, too dead from the preparations, yet always the welcome, the love that clasped you around the middle and squeezed. And the unending fracas between my sister and me, desirous of my father’s approval. “Can’t you two ever get along?,” he would ponder.And only now, two ladies of advanced age, finally do.
And in my own home, a flurry of activity underscores the weeks before Rosh Hashana as I conjure the dinner, the food, the table set with my grandmother’s Rosenthal China, her Rosepoint silver divided between my sister and me. I visualize the flowers – of fall jewel tones, or more likely my favourite pinks, purples and whites. I think of the lit candle sticks warming, enhancing and glowing on the upturned faces of my family. I foresee my husband holding up two round, twisted challas, one with raisins, one plain, blessing them, along with the first rosy apples of the season, and passing them slathered with honey in its little honey pot shaped like a beehive. I smile to think of the children licking their stubby fingers, covering the good ivory napkins, but also their faces beaming behind streams of delicious sweetness.

And this year, the cousins, my grandchildren from Philadelphia will be united with their Canadian counterparts. I hope they too will make fond memories that will contribute to that feeling of belonging to a family. Will their tousled heads touch over the IPad? Will the oldest, like Allan, guide them into toss and tumble that will rock them into tears of laughter? Will the baby observe with her wise blue eyes and want to join in their games, to be included in a sweet moment with those she rarely sees or even knows, drawn by that string that magically entwines ?

I want my grandchildren’s Rosh Hashana supper to be filled with the notion of promise, good deeds, the warmth of their adoring grandparents, the clutch of their cousins, aunts and uncles. For me, besides the romantic idea of the mysterious dark, there is that feeling of being enclosed together in an evening with only the flicker of candles to suggest a greater sense of awe, that something unites us as a unit forever together.

As the holiday approaches and I cook my kugels and matzoh balls, I will miss my parents, especially my mother.

We silently greet them at our table, feeling them close, holding their memories dear. The words intoned at Yizkor during Rosh Hashana services at temple come to mind, “At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them…At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them. When we have joy we crave to share; For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.”

The fall of the year, sadness and joy, beginnings and endings: a time that marks and holds important days. Even if it’s fall.

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