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Mrs. Nebraska and Brave New World

I’m standing in the JCC parking lot with a woman from Nebraska. She looks quite nice, and relates that she is 74. As soon as she says Nebraska, I know what’s coming. I have rolled my eyes to reinforce that Trump is and will be a disaster. But she quickly retaliates that having lived in Central America for 2 years, that the Clinton Foundation is nothing but corruption. I actually believe this is true, but I respond, ‘When you have two terrible choices, you take the lesser of the two”. She vehemently disagrees, again trumpeting the corruption. I retaliate with the stories from the African- America cabbies from Chicago, the Meryl Streep twitter…but all is lightly dismissed, and as far as the Russians go, according to Mrs. Nebraska, they have always been involved, and they did not pull the levers in the polling booths. She throws her best shot( Martin Luther King Day was just yesterday), exhorting that the country is divided and everyone must come together.

I nicely retort that we are never going to agree and that really, I must leave. But she will not stop her harangue and because I am polite, I stand for a few more minutes, but when she turns her furor on Barack Obama, I walk away, leaving her to discourse with the empty parking lot.

Later I think of what I might have added- no doubt to deaf ears- regarding Trump’s choices for his cabinet posts that go against all of his promises to support the the poor stiffs and pains- in- the- butts : as in just encountered here. There’s the wall, attacks on women and disabled, thin skin, Trump University, no prior governmental experience, bad business deals, petulant retaliations….still I am boiling over at the stupidity of this woman.

***

Last week, we watched Lester Holt interview Barrack Obama. And then 60 Minutes also asked Obama some demanding questions.What a pleasure to observe such a thoughtful, positive voice which might have come from a historian, an artist or any thinking person. Truly, it gives one hope in spite of what is coming.

In many ways although with less laughter, the interview resembled the one with WTF’s Marc Maron in which Obama discoursed on democracy and the way all things take time, with no road being smooth, and for every set back, a small piece of the step forward has been – if not achieved, at least put in place. Referring to Obamacare, he spoke to its inception as a marker from which to grow- even if Trump will see to its being repealed and the insurance companies will barter for more covetous rates.

As I listened to Obama’s. exchanges with Lester Holt, and then Steve Kraft, in a truly tough conversations, I considered Obama’s optimism and his youth and at the end, was surprised that he is mid- 50’s and that he still maintains beliefs we usually associate with ingenues whose lights are still bright because they have not been tested by the world. That he has held strong to that attitude is admirable, one we DO want our children to embrace.

Still I couldn’t help but ruminate that he has revealed in his presidency, rather than just optimism a naïve stance: for his belief is very strong in the promise of an America as ideal. But perhaps even as a symbol, he must gasp that an African American having achieved the presidentship is close to miraculous. So perhaps that realization has prompted him to dream the impossible dream.

From my point of view, it was his desire to maintain his values of compromise and collaboration, that lofty goal to be inclusive with the Republicans that underlined issues in succeeding to establish his ventures .In deed, he had paused, tried to connect, offer opportunities for input, fought the dragons, but ultimately his plans for a stronger, safer, more inclusive country had fallen far from the goal. Particularly in his first term when like a knowing, autocratic parent, he should have prevailed in stead of tending to voices.

Yet, we are not privy to the workings within government, the wheels within wheels, the deals done and undone. But, even Obama in his interviews lamented the impossibility of changing votes that hinged on a representative’s constituency, his/ her state’s goals, self- interest and the desire for re- election. And it is true, decisions, even the most moral ones can be sidetracked for so many unknown reasons. For people like me who do not generally think in greys , the path towards what is right is straight ahead, but few are brave or strong enough to forge ahead and allow themselves to accept the fallout of choosing the path less travelled by. Perhaps too, I have lived long enough to observe that self- profit or a strong self- interested ego motivates too many. And yes of course, I am cynical.And at this point, I am rarely surprised by the tactics taken- even by those we would trust.

But Obama, with strong spirit and no corruption in his years as president did represent the Camelot we sought and believed was possible. But once again , we were proven wrong by those who lied, provided false research or did not truly care : that guns kill children; that everyone deserves health care; that clean air is a necessity; that we build through compromise and collaboration. The aims no aspirations we hope to plant and embrace, and ironically are even the last one of collaboration written here are penned in the statements that underpin companies’ philosophies and statements.

Congruently I reflected on articles last week, one in particular by Rick Salutin in The Toronto Star that listed OBama’s losses and failures in his eight years: Guantanamo, Iraq, Israel… The question put to Obama by his interviewers about the Middle East was a difficult one for the president. Yet without attacking those who dare to enquire and pose the hard questions, and without insulting or dismissing the uncomfortable probes and withholding resentment,Obama spoke of his work, commenting humbly on the successes along with the setbacks and frustrations.

Again for me, it was the handling of the intensity of the moment, “the how” as opposed to the what or why that impressed me the most about President Obama. How often in a tight squeeze , do we lose our cool, lash out, scream unfair, sulk or react defensively .

Along with a respective, reflective demeanour, Obama acknowledged that he had been so busy, there had not been time to connect with many people who felt disenfranchised by job loss, etc– in spite of having put so many Americans back to work.

Incredulous and backed by the parents of the Sandy Hill dead, he could not comprehend how gun laws and simple registration had been defeated. He acknowledged that the Republicans made up their minds and refused to even listen. With tears on his face and empathy for those parents, he stood as the challenging angel amid the satans of deafness.

There is so much to admire in this man. Besides being the harbinger of justice and symbol of the American Dream, he is a feeling individual, able to express his emotions of love, despair, anger. Yet his behaviour is tempered by rational thought. He thinks, he considers, he reflects and then he acts- in the good for all. He, like Nelson Mandela ,will remain, I believe, as the emblem of what is best in America. And like the cab drivers I spoke to in Chicago, he still dreams the dream- as quixotic as it may be by oldsters like myself. But he gives you reason to hope. That after the Trump years, and pray we and our children are not demolished, that another Phoenix will rise from the ashes to make a better world, with pure heart and intentions that we hope our children will choose to emulate.

The protesters, the Women’s March today, John Lewis’s remarks last week and even the debate on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press give us reason to hope that the best will endure to challenge a presidency that in its earliest beginnings has all ready reiterated its jingoistic slogans and, for reasons I cannot fathom, resonate with the Mrs. Nebraskas of America.

Yesterday at the end of my yoga class, an older man turned to the rest of us and  sadly muttered,” Brave new world”.

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Birdman

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We came later to Birdman. Actually about a month ago I heard Marc Glassman’s review and he seemed not too hot on it. So I was in no hurry to see it.

But last night I admit I was impressed. And what I thought was that this was as fine, thoughtful and pertinent as any book or play I’ve seen. Maybe that was the point. Except for Glassman and the general burble that accompanies Oscar nominations, I have not read the reviews. Except of course, daughter Ariel’s who said it was almost perfect.

For me, at the centre of the film is Emma Stone’s portrayal of Sam. She represents the present, and the future. Played so believably, she is the unflinchingly spoiled self obsessed scion of today’s society, so technologically focused that every bit of life is filtered through Twitter, Facebook: that external exposed lens of social media. From the tattoos, dress and game playing of Truth or Dare, she is the indulged unblinking offspring of a burgeoning world we have had to accept :as the generation who has lost a sense of the private, and having opted for almost always being on stage by putting one’s weak activities nonstop on the world platform of Facebook and such.( for example, today, I baked a pie; try this product; OMG I saw a frog; Jane, wanna to lunch…)

Half way towards SAM is the portrayal of Edward Norton, Michael Shiner, egotistical,also self obsessed but in a different way. If Emma represents part of a broader spectrum that includes all the media perception on the street,Michael is only drawn into his own narrow self, only able to get it up when he is on stage, arrogant, brilliant, blatant in his aggressive behaviour. He is a study in himself, just at the cusp of the media circus before it exploded into this world. He is the quintessential stereotype of the brooding actor so into himself that his world revolves solely upon himself, damaged because he cannot allow any light to shine in from the outside world that Emma hugely seeks and embraces .

Birdman himself is of course is a relic. Although having found fame through movies ironically-like Keaton himself in Batman and Robin-and having won the admiration of audiences for spectacular effects , explosions, etc, but not really acting, he longs as the Naomi Watts figure, Leslie , does for the purity of drama, of love,of the importance of the play, the theatre wherein connections and truths are revealed and important interchange is communicated: the original promise of Broadway . Continually we see the little slogan at the edge of Birdman’s mirror regarding love as opposed to the mere appearance of love. That theme of more than just labels and opinions is reinforced as Birdman lambasts the theatre reviewer he hopes will laud his play, for he covets her approval, believing it honesty. And yet, is the theatre not at least one time removed as the lines spoken are not real, but symbolic truths composed and created and rewritten to suggest real sentences spoken by real,people not actors, on a stage.

There are stories within stories, some touching. We are drawn in by Birdman to believe as to why he even began his career : because of Raymond Carver’s remark- though curiously penned on a cocktail napkin. His tale of childhood beating is a ploy, a ruse to engage Michael, to remind of the power of the thespian, though openly admitted to substantiate the power of acting.

Sam likes games, Truth and Dare, although not surprisingly preferring the lure of drugs. Yet in her talk with Michael where he probes her relationship with Birdman, her responses are weak: he didn’t spend much time with me, he wasn’t around…to which Michael queries, is that it? Her reasons are lame ,without much depth, almost without feeling as she coldly without malice and wide eyed sets them out. As always, it’s all about ME, my feelings, me as the centre. In a side discussion, Birdman as father has set aside the house to protect Sam’s precarious future.

For me, this is the Willy Logan play of the 21 St century, the alienation of each figure, unable to connect with peers or family, lies and games. Where for Loman, it was his career of selling, of showing, of travelling, here it is the fixation of media, the inability to perform on or off stage, knowing the boundaries that define public and private and bridging worlds.

And when she lays her head on his chest in the hospital, we intuit they do possess an authentic if only momentary connection of love. For this reason, her response at the end when he does truly fly is important in sustaining our belief in the possibility of Birdman rising above the mire of the world .

That relationships are possible, that theatre can endure, that words still have meaning, that what matters exists can be kept personal and private between two souls who are able to emote.

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