I’m Not a Pollyanna (I just play one on social media)

From time to time I get accused – usually lightly and by dear friends – of being a Pollyanna, i.e. in this case, a person who somewhat vacuously only sees the good in people and not the bad; a person removed from the news of the world, ignorant of the struggles of those around me; determined to believe that it will all work out for the best and as it should. My social media presence perhaps reflects this. I rarely ever post political comments, critiques, or articles, and I always make an attempt at posting in the realm of the positive: news and pics of my family, our adventures together, stories about John Adams’s latest verbal revelations, and lots and lots of positive quotes from varied sources. It is who I am, who I would like to be, and how I would like to be perceived. Some astute person once criticized Facebook for being everyone’s “highlight reel” and to some extent I must own that. I do try to showcase the best my family has to offer: the best pictures, stories, etc., and to minimize our woes. I don’t share personal failures, blurry or unflattering pics (like some family members), illnesses, and, generally speaking, personal or national, public misfortunes. I have my reasons for this and I’m happy to share those reasons with you. I’m glad you asked.

  1. For me, Facebook, Instagram, my blog, my twitter account, are records of my personal history. When I access them I want to see my smiling son, my beautiful wife, myself in periods of joy, quotes by great minds better than mine own that remind me of the value and purpose of living one’s best life. I want to read humorous stories I’d forgotten, personal and not, and, frankly, I want to be uplifted by accessing the record of my past. If that sounds selfish, well so be it. They’re my social media accounts, and I choose to record and read the ‘happy past’ not the ‘tragic present.’
  2. I have many people – friends and family – that are on all sides of the political spectrum. I love them all, not always equally and not at the same time, but I do nonetheless. 100% of the time I became friends with someone before knowing their politics, and at the end of the debate I would prefer to attempt to maintain a friendship across a political or social divide than just give up, unfriend, offend, or defend my rightness in any given situation. I am of course right in all my political opinions. Aren’t you? Of course you think you are. Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor, stated “Given the choice between being right and being kind, be kind.” So I have made my choice. I can be privately right, but publicly kind. And in case you think that’s easy, it’s not. It’s damn hard. But it might just preserve a friendship, keep a mind open to new ideas, and keep the dialogue going. And that’s worth more than righteousness.
  3. I also see many friends and family who post on the news of the day and get drawn in to needless arguments on social media that serve no purpose, change no minds, harm the integrity of all engaged, and ultimately contribute to a culture of hyper-partisan ugliness that seems to be the driver of the day. Rarely do I see people talking the high ground. Michelle Obama’s quote, “When they go low, we go high,” goes unheeded and falls largely on deaf, angry ears. Whether it’s twitter rants, Facebook wars, unseemly marcher signs, or what have you, few people want to model, most want to attack, and the big loser to our society is the children who see the adults behaving like toddlers and conclude that ‘when I grow up, I want to be just like that.’
  4. There is so much ugliness in the world, when people visit my sites/platforms etc. I want them to be able to take a break from it. To see smiling faces, great inspirational quotes, a dancing cow or two, and lots of love for the world. An oft referred to quote by me is Einstein’s, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” When people visit my sites I want the universe to be friendly, to be kind, to be receptive, and forgiving. I know where they’ve been and it’s anything but.

So that’s it. Believe me, I see the ugliness, the fear, the concern, the corruption, the manipulation, the greed, the ignorance, the evil. I’m concerned for my wife, my child, for all our children’s safeties and futures; for the stranger who needs a leg up, the adult who can’t afford healthcare, the environment, public education, PBS, animal welfare, the National Park Service, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the minimum wage, women’s rights, income inequality, gerrymandering, and the list goes on.

I see it all. I feel it all. I just choose to not make Facebook my private daily battleground or all my views public. In the days before social media, we were taught never discuss religion or politics. Now we discuss nothing else. Perhaps we could use a little old world wisdom and Aristotelian moderation now and then.

I don’t promise to never express a partisan opinion. But generally speaking, I’d rather lift up than tear down; elevate than agitate; raise up not run down.

We need more love in the world, and I’m just trying to do my part.

I hope this finds you well.

Namaste,

Jason

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Why I get up each day.

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Late March Haiku/Such a Long Week!

This week was a long, LONG week! On Friday, Nancy and I drove to her parents home outside of Philly and had dinner. On Saturday, Nancy and I went to our 15th consecutive Philadelphia Flower Show to celebrate our First Date Anniversary.

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Me and a Flower Show cow

On Sunday, I drove to Stafford, VA to conduct a three-hour rehearsal for the choir of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. On Monday, I went to the First Dress Rehearsal for Hunchback. On Tuesday, I had unsuccessful blood work done, taught lessons, and went to the Final Dress Rehearsal of Hunchback. (Hunchback opened successfully on Weds at the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts in Fredericksburg and I’m very proud of all the choir’s hard work and our involvement in the production, but I wasn’t in attendance.) On Weds., I had successful blood work done, a doctor’s appointment, taught piano, and conducted two handbell rehearsals. On Thursday, I taught voice and took our cat, Duke, for enema surgery to remove the impacted feces from his swollen colon. On Friday, Nancy and I went to Black Panther. On Saturday, I received the lab results from the blood draw, which were fine, but a stressful wait, and then I drove to the West Virginia border to perform in a murder mystery with Murder Mysteries Will Travel. Sunday morning, my Adult Choir performed two pieces and then Nancy and I drove to Baltimore to have dinner with my in-laws and collect my wayward, vacationing son.We drove home Sunday night and I pretty much collapsed.

It’s Monday and I’m exhausted. But if I could do all that, surely you can do anything.

Enjoy the haiku and hopefully I’ll essay again soon.

Namaste,

Jason

4720
No life is perfect.
Handling the imperfections
Defines character.

4721
You have the power.
You can make a difference.
You can change the world.

4722
Wake up each morning
Determined to make the world
A little better.

4723
Being a success
Starts with a good attitude.
This is no secret.

4724
Make a difference.
I can’t tell you what or how.
That’s yours to decide.

4725
How can you deny
The interconnectedness
Of all existence?

4727
Time’s always fleeting.
So many untraveled roads.
Make quick, wise choices.

4728
Live in gratitude.
Whatever you possess you
Could always have less.

4729
In every way
Take responsibility
For your life and health.

4730
Just hold your head high,
Forgive them their trespasses,
And keep on smiling.

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Rows of spring flowers – my favorites – at the Flower Show

Empowerment Haiku

I find myself wanting to share some more haiku this week…just because. It has been a very good – exceptional – week, and though I am tired on Monday (nothing new) I’m happy. John Adams was back this week after an extended visit with his grandparents. I announced two new career opportunities on social media: I have been hired by International Baccalaureate as an Examiner in Theatre, and also I have been hired as the Artistic Director/Conductor of the Stafford Regional Choral Society. Both wonderful opportunities and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Nancy paid down some debt and made progress on her dissertation. My UU Choir performed magnificently in our church Variety Show. The Christmas tree finally came down. And perhaps most importantly, John Adams had his four-year-old checkup and he is completely healthy. It’s been a long week and even the house feels fatigued, we got through it. So here’s some (mostly) empowering haiku to remind you that whatever you want or are struggling with, you can beat it, you can bear it, or you can weather it, you can do it!

Blessings to you all, and here’s wishing you peace, joy, and the resolve to make your dreams come true. Talk soon.

Namaste,

Jason

4695
Within you is the
Strength, drive, and ability
To do anything.

4696
Never celebrate
Even the worst person’s death.
They were someone’s child.

4702
Sins of the parents
Should not be held against the
Next generations.

4712
You’re The Decider
Of what you can and can’t do.
It’s your right by birth.

4713
Are you strong or weak?
Pessimism is easy,
Optimism’s hard.

4714
You can work through this.
You have the ability
To do anything.

4716
You must do your best
To surmount the obstacles
Life puts in your way.

4717
Ev’ryone has pain,
Mostly hidden from the world.
Knowing this, be kind.

4718
Breathe. Center yourself.
Acknowledge the world’s problems,
But don’t own each one.

4719
Hope can pull you through,
Even in the worst of times.
Never give it up.

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Requies-cat in Patchy

A friend of mine crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a few weeks ago. More than a friend. For more than five years, he was my brother-in-law. For at least thirteen he was my skittish orange pal and son of my future father-in-law. I’m talking about Patch the Cat, a beloved fixture at my in-laws’ home, now christened Vacation Cottage in honor of my son’s many visits, a singular slinking blur of nervousness and distant warmth that nonetheless captured our hearts with his unique affections, affectations, and antics. And he will be missed.

I first met Mr. Patch when Nancy and I started dating and her own cat, ‘Saki, was still living with him. ‘Saki and Patch never truly hit it off, the circumstances of why were never wholly clear (neither would come clean), and periodically Patch would feel the need to offer ‘Saki “rapid fire”, a series of quick paw slaps to her face to snap her back in line. The cause of these disciplinary actions is hard to determine but, having housed ‘Saki myself for several years, I have no doubt his corrective measures were justified.

Patch the Cat

Patch as a young kitten

While living with my future in-laws for several years, I had several dreams of Patch dressed up as historical or literary characters; I can’t explain why. They were often vivid and humorous, and they featured Mr. Patch in signature attire. There was The House at Patch Corner, featuring him as Winnie-the Pooh. Adolf Patchler, with him jack stepping about with a little Hitler mustache and riding crop. He and ‘Saki as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle from My Fair ‘Saki, both dressed up in Edwardian finery. And my favorite, Amelia Patchhart aka Earhart, where Patch flew over my head, saluted me with his paw and gave me a hearty, “meow” as he/she flew bravely into history and mystery. Again, no rational reason for these dreams, but good memories all.

Out of dreamland, but still somehow in the realm of fantasy, Mr. Patch, who never really lost his manly appetites despite having lost the corresponding anatomy, had a beloved black and white wool checked sweater named Lolita that he would “get busy with” by gripping her with his teeth, dragging her about the house, and vigorously twitching his tail and hindquarters in a seemingly trancelike motion. He would do this frequently, sometimes at inopportune moments, such as if guest were over, and always with the greatest of fascination from all who observed it. My favorite memory here – and I’m not making this up – was once when I decided to follow him with her as he dragged her up upstairs between his legs and into his bedroom. As I watched, transfixed, he turned around once he was in the bedroom with her still gripped in his teeth, put his head down and to the door, and closed the door on me as I watched from the hallway. They were to have privacy that day and voyeurs were not wanted! What a cat! He will be missed.

He loved chocolate pudding, he loved having his hair combed, he had been trained to shake hands, and he showed affection by doing that rubbing motion that cats do, but from several feet away. He didn’t like to be held, except by his daddy, Wron, my father-in-law, and he had learned out of love to say his name, sitting sometimes for hours by the door croaking out, “Rooon. Rooon,” when his human had to go to work. While both were home, he was almost always at Wron’s side, or in view, or “on guard” in case Wron did something exciting, needed assistance, or was ready with his prescribed Whiskas Temptations, which were doled out with loving clockwork precision. There was never any doubt whose cat he really was. He had come into the family as Mary Anne’s cat, but his heart belonged to Daddy.

Mr. Patch was nearly seventeen and in ill health when he made the last trip to the vet from which he didn’t return. Shortly before his death, he began to warm to Bup, allowing him to pet and hug his frail frame before doddering off to hide in his cat bed and get some much needed sleep. Bup was thrilled by this, loved Patch as much as his own brothers and sisters, and referred to Patchy as his cat in the same breath with ‘Seyde and Duke and Shadow. I’m so glad that Bup, at the end, was to find a loving relationship with this little soul who is as much a part of my memories of Nancy’s household from the very beginning. We all loved Patchy dearly, and he was as much of an idiosyncratic fixture in that household as any human could be. After all, when you spend seventeen years of your life with someone (frequently less), they all too easily go from being a pet to being family. And Patch, my friend, my brother-in-law, my dream weaver, was just that. And he will be missed.

Patchy, may you find peace at the other end of the Rainbow Bridge, dear soul.

Until we meet again,

RIP,

Jason

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Senior Mr. Patch in one of his favorite haunts

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Living in the Happy/Sad

I have not blogged in more than two months. There was no concerted plan behind this choice. Life gets busy, inspiration doesn’t strike, the reader stats leave me disappointed, my hands hurt, I choose not to share my thoughts, any and all the above. So much has happened since August when I wrote my last post. The world has gone up and down, awash in political and socio-cultural turmoil. Where will it lead? Who knows.  My life has felt like it’s been on a similar roller coaster, emotional and otherwise. Every perceived good has a down side; every happy moment is laced with the dewy-eyed veneer of sadness. Here are three examples from recent memory:

One:Our house had two trees crash into it in April. Many readers, friends, and family know this. The trees tore the front parts of the roof and siding off, ruined the storm door, iron railings, and shrubbery. For the six months that followed I went into our property management office (we rent) and politely requested that something be done, and for the better part of six months I was told that there was nothing that could be done until the owner chose to do something. He had the trees removed two weeks after the storm, but everything else waited for five months: waited for him to settle with his insurance, collect a fat check, and then repair our rental as cheaply as possible. When the repairs were finally completed two weeks ago, his handymen left trash and building materials all over our lawn. Again I requested, politely, that this long nightmare be finished. Come get your trash and let’s be done with it. Last week they did, and the repairs were completed and the ordeal was over. Happy, right? And then this week he had the rental office send a strongly worded letter to us complete with “spy” photos, wherein someone came on the property to document all the things he didn’t like about the way we were maintaining his property. Maintenance of our grounds had fallen by the wayside while we waited for repairs to be completed, it’s true, and he seized on every detail. Including some furniture we had moved out of the house after being gifted new pieces by a relative. To be fair, the maintenance requests are not unreasonable, and they are our responsibility. But the timing could only be interpreted one way: we had forced his hand  – albeit politely – to complete necessary repairs before winter, and so, purely out of spite, he was going to throw his weight around to show us whose property it is. Oh, and he raised our rent, before beginning repairs! We are happy the long process of repairs is complete. However, despite our best efforts to be gracious and patient, we still evoked the wrath of our elderly cheap ass miser of an owner, and we now need to contend with that.

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James the Tank Engine goes Halloweening

Two: Once again, I was unable to be with my son on Halloween. This is three years running that he has gone trick-or-treating without me. It’s not that I didn’t have a choice in the matter; Nancy and I were home on Halloween. But our home, along route 301, has no neighborhood to take him into. So every year, we farm him up to his grandparents outside Philly to maximize his candy quotient. Photos and video come back to us of our little boy being Halloween Boss, running up and down the street, knocking on doors, exclaiming, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” in one deliciously semi-incoherent sentence chain of candied ecstasy. He has the time of his life while we sit at a distance watching him make a ‘best’ memory. I begrudge neither him nor his grandparents anything, and we wouldn’t send him unless we knew he would have a better time up north, which he does. It makes me happy to see he and his grandparents create such a joyous memory. And sad that Nancy and I are not a part of the experience..

Halloween 2017

Halloween 2017. Goodbye, til tomorrow

Three: Mary Anne, Nancy’s sister, got in her little red car on November 1 and drove to Florida to begin a new life there. For six years she lived in and around Fredericksburg, the only family we had in the area. But a few weeks, ago the last of the ties holding her to this area were severed, and it became apparent that it was time for her to move her life forward in new ways in a new location. We helped her pack her goods. We housed her off and on for two weeks. Fed her. Oh, we fed her. And then the last night came, and she and Nancy cried. And then that morning, with Nancy off to work, it was my goodbye, and a hug, and a stoic I Love You, and I silent stance at the door, and then she drove off to new horizons as our house fell silent. The time was right, and we couldn’t be prouder of her that she’s finally going off on her own in pursuit of her dreams. Only time will tell if Florida is the right fit, but the intent is on target, and we back her 100%. Still, watching her drive off, knowing how much my son loves her, knowing she’ll be alone, knowing we won’t be in contact near as much, is bittersweet, you know. Happy/Sad.

Yeah, that’s the way the last few months have gone. Here’s hoping in the weeks ahead there’s more of the former and less of the latter.

And I wish that for you too as well.

Namaste,

Jason

Nazis I Have Known

As a wave of overt hatred and prejudice is rising in America like the polluted Jersey shore tide, fueled by white nationalists, the Alt-Right, and of all things Neo-Nazis, I’ve been reminiscing back to the simpler times of my childhood, when all of the U.S. of A. could agree that Nazis were bad, and that that conflict fought and won – WWII for the historically challenged – had put an end to that question. We had defeated the Krauts, Hitler, the Nazis, and then, having beaten them, took a victory lap at Nuremberg mostly for moral show, and then hired their best scientists to work for us, put their civic officials back in place (for they did know best how to ‘make their own trains run on time’), and considered the matter finished. Wasn’t it a simpler time?

Growing up outside Reading, PA with a music studio in our basement gave me an opportunity to meet some ‘interesting people’ as Bugs Bunny used to say. I’ve remarked previously about the high priest of a satanic cult (Mom and the Satan Worshiper). In this case, I want to briefly introduce you to Mrs. Schubert: Nazi Apologist. Mrs. Schubert either brought her children or grandchildren for lessons in our basement; those details are a blur and irrelevant. What is important is that Mrs. Schubert had been in Germany throughout World War II and had emigrated to the U.S. after the war with her family to seek new opportunities and economic advantage. She was (to my young mind) an elderly, pulled-back-grey-haired-harsh-voiced-bespectacled matron type that was neither nice nor naughty—just brusque, taut, and imposing. She was never anything but civil to me, and my memories of her are scant and few. However, I do remember one conversation vividly she had with my mother when I was a pre-teen. My mother, rarely afraid to ask the hard questions, inquired of Mrs. Schubert how much she actually knew of what was happening in Germany during Hitler: to the Jews, the gays, the minorities etc.? Mrs. Schubert stiffened and drew herself up, and spoke with an icy and almost comic defensiveness reminiscent of Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.

“We knew nothing of it. Nothing. There were rumors of course, but nothing that we knew for certain.”

And then she added with venomous emphasis…

“You think you know what your government does, but you don’t! Your government does vicious things all around the world too, but you don’t know about it, do you? We knew nothing!”

And that ended the interrogation, and she left, and it was never spoken of again. After all, business is business and Mrs. Schubert was a loyal customer. Right, Mom?

What Mrs. Schubert did or didn’t know will never be known, but her defensiveness, and her deflection, spoke volumes. Either she knew absolutely nothing and was ashamed after the fact (which is somewhat unlikely given what we know from history); or she knew something and supported it; or she knew something, but like so many was afraid to speak out. My vote, perhaps naively, will remain on the latter. One thing that is certain: she was an opportunist that found the first available transport to come to America and make a better life for herself and her family, and leave that pesky Nazi-business behind.

But wait! There’s more. Lest you think this a falsely advertised blog post, I want to introduce you to Erwin “the German,” a gym buddy of mine. I don’t remember Erwin’s last name (if I ever knew it). We used to work out together at the Wyomissing Sheraton fitness center when hotels used to have open memberships. This was in the early ‘90s and Erwin was much older than me. That’s because he was a real-life-honest-to-goodness/evilness Nazi. By the time I knew Erwin he was a tall, loud, rugged, portly, slow-moving and half-blind, jovial joy. He made no secret of his past, and his contemporaries often teased him about his past by calling him “Erwin the German” loudly from the other side of the pool. It was meant, oddly, endearingly, and he took it as such. He had joined the Hitler Youth as a boy, and later been stationed on the Eastern Front to counter the Ruskie incursion. He implied he had been in the Battle of Stalingrad. He implied he had killed Russians. But he always talked about his past briefly, somewhat romantically, and without passion. The war had happened, he was an American citizen (still with a thick German accent, as was Mrs. Schubert), and he had moved to the States to become a plumber. He had had a good life in America and seemed to have no regrets.

Erwin died while I still frequented the gym and was mourned by all who knew him as a kind and generous friend. I have no doubt that Mrs. Shubert is also gone. I say Nazis – plural – in this blog title because, whatever Mrs. Schubert’s feeling on the subject of Nazism, it was evident that she was there, was not the target of their evil, and did little to nothing to stop their spread. Guilty by association perhaps. But I’ve written none of this to condemn either individual, but rather to draw a gentle parallel from the past to the present. Both of my Nazi acquaintances had been caught in something both unfortunate and larger than themselves – partly through fear, ignorance, disadvantage, youth or the combination, but when that something larger was defeated, they reverted back to being decent, productive citizens of a free society, and went on to lead fine and benign lives.  I look at all the young men and women in Charlottesville and elsewhere, that have been caught up in the wave of hatred, ignorance, fake news, and economic instability, and as much as I know we need to stop the spread of their ideology and terror, I also know that they are our friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, and colleagues, and we’re going to have to work together to bring them back into a basic understanding of what it really means to be an American, to live in a free and equal society. And that, of course, will require some punching of Nazis at the outset. But it will also require some measure of reaching out to those who can be reached, forgiving, and modeling a better way to be. Repaying hatred with hatred is not the answer. It will only perpetuate the resentment and violence. Hatred must be met with strength, firstly yes, but then needs to be listening, compassion, and healing. Perhaps if we try this we’ll find ourselves forty years from now with a few more Erwin’s than David Duke’s. It’s just a thought.

Auf wiedersehen,

Jason

A Visit with Amma the Hugging Saint

“You cannot taste the sweetness of honey by licking a piece of paper on which the word ‘honey’ has been written. Likewise, the principles described in the religious texts must be contemplated, meditated upon, and finally realized.” – Amma the “hugging” saint

On July 5, at 6:30 AM, I arrived at my church to pick up two dear friends, Laura and Elaine, for a ‘wacky adventure’ to the congested streets of Arlington, VA. We were going to visit Amma the Hindu “Hugging Saint” on her world tour (possibly her last), and had gotten up extra early to make sure that we were assured of a good place in line so that our efforts were not in vain. For various reasons, each of us really felt we needed our hug, and we didn’t want to be left out.

To be bluntly honest, I had never heard of Amma. Facebook (FACEBOOK!!!) advertised her to me repeatedly, and as a result, I became intrigued and ultimately interested in going. I am somewhat obsessed with spiritual experiences, books, movies, and the like, and am always looking for an opportunity to expand my awareness of cultures, world religions, and thought systems, so my becoming interested was not much of a stretch. And I love events. Hay House Publishing used to do events with their spiritual authors called I Can Do It! and Nancy and I drove to Atlanta for one years ago. When the Dalai Lama was in D.C. in 2010 for the Kalachakra, we were in attendance for a day. Nancy attended Pope Francis’s D.C. Mass, but Catholic U only had enough tickets for students and faculty, so I missed that one, but I wasn’t going to miss this! And that is why I was up at 4:45 AM on July 5, and picking up my friends at 6:30 AM.

Our drive up to Arlington was friendly and uneventful. Spitty rain and D.C. traffic slowed us a bit, but nothing serious. We arrived at the Marriott Crystal City just after 8 AM and struggled despairingly to find a parking space in their labyrinth of an underground parking garage, until keen-eyed Laura spied a solitary overlooked space behind a pole, boxed in by other cars, that may have been used by staff but bore no designated markings. We maneuvered the car into the hidden gem, struggled further to find the elevators, and finally, with some effort and agitation, found an escalator marked “Amma – this way” – and knew we had arrived.

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Amma the “Hugging Saint” Image courtesy of Pintarest; no copyright info available

The next unexpected hurdle in our spiritual odyssey occurred almost immediately as we were confronted with hotel security bearing the Peanuts-gang-like message of “No Dogs Allowed” in variously hushed if vehement tones. My one friend, Elaine, had brought her licensed therapy dog along (a choice she had made after exhaustingly researching Amma’s website and deeming it acceptable), but Amma’s people had apparently not communicated their desires to the hotel management, the result being a serious conflict of protocol. I’m not going to dwell on this incident further out of discretion and respect for my friend, but suffice it to say, Elaine was wholly in the right, justice prevailed, a beautiful person named Victoria became the dog’s best friend (and ours) for the next few hours, and the Marriott needs to seriously rethink its customer service. For my part, I watched my friend repeatedly attempt to resolve the matter with Herculean strength, grace, and some frazzled charm, and my respect for her grew immensely as she fiercely protected her legal rights and those of her little charge. No adventure occurs without obstacles. But back to Amma.

“The aim of devotion and prayer is to develop love for everyone.”   – Amma the “hugging” saint

We were seated in one of several ballrooms, equipped with a stage at one end and an exhaustive gift shop at the other. We waited for more than an hour, watching a video scroll of Amma’s good works both here and abroad. She arrived on time at 10 AM, conducted a mostly silent – if loudly amplified – meditation, and by 10:40 AM the “hugging queue” was formed and the hugs began. My friends and I were in the first hour of the line and were moved swiftly barefoot from chair to chair, up onto the stage, and eventually into Amma’s waiting arms. It is not my place to retell how my friends felt about their experience, but each of us responded positively if differently. When it was my turn, I was hoisted before Amma on my knees and bent towards her at the waist. My body, for some inexplicable reason, became rigid. She gripped me, pulled me away from her body, gripped me tighter, and started whispering a Hindu prayer into my right ear. The world fell away, and for a few moments it was only she and I. Then she pulled me away from her body, looked me full in the face, handed me a present, and I was lifted by handlers emotionally to my feet and away from her embrace. I was dazed and unsteady and the handlers escorted me to a nearby seat, where I observed my friends have similar, but vastly different interactions with the woman known as “Mother.”

The three of us, satisfied that we had accomplished our goals, toured the gift shop, went to retrieve the car and dog, and headed out of Arlington for lunch and eventually a drop off at the church. We talked incessantly about the adventure, our various acutely emotional experiences with Amma, and the pros and cons of the day. The ballroom was exceedingly noisy throughout the event, even during the meditation to a degree, and Amma’s handlers were a swirl of activity throughout her hugging sessions. Amma was constantly talking to them, advising them, etc. while she was hugging participants, and that did diminish the intimacy and interpersonal communication one may have expected from the moment. She was also sweating profusely, it seemed, and constantly dabbing herself with a white towel, which made us wonder what was making her so hot. Was she ill, or was it just the intensity of her being? On the other hand, the thousands of devout participants at the event were staggering in their devotion, kindness, and compassion. Without the efforts of Victoria (truly living Amma’s message), our visit may have ended very differently and sadly. People in attendance were very open and receptive to being engaged in conversation and were exceedingly kind. All three of us felt the power of Amma’s energy/soul/compassion/what have you, coming off her and it was dizzying, enabling, and awe-inspiring. Laura quipped it best, and I paraphrase, “She seems to be in a perpetual state of happiness.” As little as I know about her even now, I know she is the real deal. Sorry fundamentalists of any faith, sainthood is about character and action, not about belief system. I’ve been in the presence of at least three “saints” in my life, and their aura of love is so palpable that it’s almost a narcotic “high.”

“The sun shines down, and its image reflects in a thousand different pots filled with water. The reflections are many, but they are each reflecting the same sun. Similarly, when we come to know who we truly are, we will see ourselves in all people.” – Amma the “hugging” saint

Five days since the event, I still don’t know a great deal about Amma. I watched the videos, read her Wikipedia article, and was hugged by her for heaven’s sake, but don’t know much else. I had never heard of her before, which I don’t understand, since she’s been touring the world for more than thirty years, hugging, raising millions for disaster relief here and abroad, building hospitals, advocating for the rights of women and children, and preaching a message of universal compassion. How is it we get so fixated on other lesser things that even when people do high-profile-good works for decades, it can still be lost to us until it’s advertised on Facebook? What does it take to put that which is truly important – peace, love, charity, compassion, kindness – front and center in the minds of the masses and the media? I honestly don’t know. But for what it’s worth, I’m grateful to Facebook for their targeted ads, I’m grateful to my friends for accompanying me on this adventure, and I’m grateful to Amma for the hug and for being who she is: a light in a dark world. May all such beings (and rest assured there are more and I’ll meet them) continue to shine, even in social media anonymity. We need you. We really need you.

Namaste,

Jason

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Three merry adventurers – Laura, myself, and Elaine – after our day of hugs, joy, and self-discovery

Hi Ho the Glamorous Life (Celebrating 40 “Happy” Years in the Theatre)

This weekend, as I sat in rehearsal for Shrek, the musical that I am currently music directing for Christian Youth Theatre of Fredericksburg, it occurred to me that, with the opening of this production, I will be celebrating forty years of involvement in show business. My first play was at the age of six around Christmastime. I played Santa Claus, and the play revolved around Santa considering putting jet packs on his sleigh to replace the reindeer. I remember almost nothing of the experience, save for the fact that it ended with me (pack over back) walking off the stage, stage left, to the cafeteria door and uttering before I exited, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.” A star was born. Oh, well, that and throwing up all over my beard once, due to only having eaten a mayonnaise sandwich for lunch before rehearsal.

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Me as Santa, with Karen Zimmerman as Mrs. Claus, in our first-grade play.

Forty years later, I’m on “the opposite side of the table,” just as much as acting, i.e. directing, music directing, composing, and the like, but after forty years I can honestly say that I still love the grand old pursuit or the Fabulous Invalid, but it goes without saying that there are lengthy periods where I hate the business just as much, wish I’d never gotten involved in the first place, and, without question, strongly dislike many of the negative and narcissistic personality types the business attracts. But with that aside, I want to focus on the good times, the special memories, and the unique experiences that being involved in Theatre has given me.

So in celebration of forty years of memories, here are a few of the most…uh…memorable. Almost every one of the following anecdotes is a blog post unto itself, but needless to say, after a forty year run, I’ve seen a few things. Here are a few selected highlights from the long strange trip, all good. I’ll save the not so good, bad, and bitchy memories for another day.

  1. Thanks to the now defunct American Family Theatre, I had the chance to tour parts of our grand country four times. I was to New Orleans before and after Mardi Gras in 1999, put my feet in the Gulf of Mexico, saw Addams Family in Chicago, visited lots of the southern Midwest, and went up and down the East Coast numerous times. With several cast mates from these tours I’m celebrating almost twenty years of friendship. How time flies.
  1. I have performed alongside or worked with a few Broadway veterans, some as acquaintances, others as friends. I have been blessed to work with Sally Struthers, Jonathan Groff, James Lane, Forrest McClendon, Milton Craig Nealy, and Celeste Holm, as well as a few lesser known luminaries. All have taught me something, and I couldn’t be prouder of my time spent with them. And I promise no more name-dropping.
  1. During my high school’s rehearsal period and run of Oklahoma! in 1986, both myself (playing Curly), and the boy playing Jud carried real guns to school in our backpacks, loaded with blanks made in our basement by our parents. The principal knew, and trusted us, and it was a non-issue. My how times have changed.
  1. I have played a Jewish father (Tevye in Fiddler), a woman (Edna in Hairspray), several priests, a movie mogul, a major-general, and lots of “loud-mouthed little guys.” I have been in not one but two productions of Dreamgirls, The Wiz, and Purlie, all with amazingly talented African-American casts. I was the youngest pit conductor to ever make his debut at the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, PA and once had a production of Annie I directed reviewed favorably by Greenwich Village’s newspaper, The Village Voice.
  1. I choked once on stage while drinking and stopped the show for nearly five minutes while I recovered my voice. Another time, while shooting trap onstage the gun fell apart in my hands. On another occasion my cast of pranksters Vaseline-d all my props so that I couldn’t pick any of them up. Theatre is unpredictable.
  1. When my father played in the onstage pit for Cabaret, a pit done entirely in drag, I had to take him shopping! I can still remember his ugly black sack dress, old lady earrings, and gray wig, all worn while playing his sax. Somewhere there’s a picture. Someday I’ll find it and post it.
  1. I have been in productions where “showmances” escalated into both on and offstage public displays of affection that skirted the boundaries of propriety and decency. And that said, I’m not telling you about any of them, but at the time they were scandalous and fun.
  1. I’ve had a song I wrote sung back to me with affection ten years later by an actor who didn’t realize I was the composer of the song he was singing. That led to my contributing songs to a New York fringe festival musical.
  1. I can name all the Signers of the Declaration of Independence thanks to my love of the musical 1776, and I know the names of more passengers on the Titanic than most people. My general knowledge of world history, cultures and customs, dates and events, has been greatly enhanced by all the plays and theatre history I’ve had to read over many years.
  1. Lastly, and most importantly, my wife Nancy and I met in an acting class at Villanova University. We were paired up for a scene from David Mamet’s Oleanna. I threw a chair at her, and said some horrible things I would never otherwise say to anyone…and she fell in love with me! Life is funny and wonderful that way.

So for all the above reasons and more I say, “Thanks, World of Theatre, for forty wonderful, terrible, illuminating, frustrating years. Here’s to many more together.”

Namaste,

Jason

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The next project – come see it!

My Son, the Brit

It’s been more than a month since I posted anything. What a slacker I am! Life has offered my family many changes, and at the same time stayed remarkably similar. Since the Comparative Drama Conference in April, I’ve worked steadily as Music Director on Christian Youth Theatre (CYT) of Fredericksburg’s production of Shrek; I’ve co-moderated a World Religions class at church; I’ve done several performances with Murder Mysteries Will Travel; I’ve rehearsed my Unitarian Universalist choirs and handbell ensemble closer and closer to our culminating performances on June 11 and 17; oh, and two trees fell on our house that, after a month, the landlord or owner have yet to do anything about! There are many things in the world to talk about and on my mind – Star Trek: Discovery, Season 10 of Doctor Who, the Trump presidency, the 2017 Hay House World Summit, my wife’s upcoming trip to London, my own future career plans, new music to compose, the third book in the Love Anyway Series, finishing that 5,000th haiku, my health etc. I think (for today, for this post anyway) I’ll concentrate on my son, the Bup or John Adams, who at the moment talks like he walked off the set of Downton Abbey. Which isn’t really a bad thing when you think about it.

For more than two months now, Bup has been obsessed with the British children’s show, Peppa Pig. For those keeping score, that means we’ve gone through (though still like) our Thomas the Train phase, into a British-dubbed show from Grenada called Pocoyo (narrated by Stephen Fry), into Peppa Pig. All three shows feature incredible diction, relatively good manners, limited sass, and of course lots and lots of British colloquialisms and variations of speech from American to British. The little sponge that Bup is, he is absorbing them all. And it’s often hilarious.

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Rockin’ his shades and Thomas jammies

At present we don’t take a nap. We take ‘a lie in.’ We don’t get gas. We check to see if ‘we’re out of petrol.’ And when the GPS is talking we ask ‘if the SAT-NAV knows where we are?’It’s also true that, compared to many three-year- olds, his diction is impeccable by comparison. When he is ‘cross’ with either me or Mummy, he hits his final consonants with a venom that could only make the Queen Mum proud. None of this was deliberately planned on my part. However, from little on up I’ve made it a point to police what he watches to make certain that his viewing is not too adversely affecting his behavior, and the harsh reality is that American children’s programming is often (with the exception of things like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers reruns) wise-cracky, mildly profane, mildly sexualized, full of burp and fart jokes, and often features imbecilic oblivious parents with slick, fast-talking children that outsmart them and disrespect them at every turn. And that’s pretty much any channel up to and including Disney Jr.

The best programs that we’ve been able to find for him (after Baby First TV when he was very little) or that he’s discovered on his own, have been either on PBS Kids, like Super WHYY, Nature Cat, and Peg + Cat, or have been British imports like Thomas, Pocoyo, or Peppa Pig. It is also true that we do watch live action shows with Bup like Star Trek, Once Upon a Time, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but we do try to contextualize the violence and fighting between the good and bad guys , and try to explain to him what’s good and bad behavior when given the opportunity. I don’t think we totally live in a bubble, but at least where his cartoons are concerned, the bubble has a distinctly European sensibility, and that brings with it better than average manners. And that is something I can live with.

Bup and George

Sporting his “Peppa Pig” George and his dinosaur T-shirt

And so, for the moment, I will continue to watch and rewatch the 208 episodes of Peppa Pig, enduring her family fascination with muddy puddles and living on hillsides, until Bup tires of her and decides to move on. At present, he pulls up Calliou on his Ipad (a show Nancy hates) and Ryan Toy’s Review (a show with little to no value whatsoever), but those are minor occurrences in our otherwise well-mannered and well-ordered world of more appropriate viewing. And when his tastes change, I will be the one to have to roll with it. For now, I just love my little Brit, and his ‘please, thank you, and it would be my pleasure’ ways. Case in point: the other day, driving home from Nanny and Pop Pop’s house in Philly I spied a large cross on the side of a church that I knew Bup could see from his car seat.

“Look at the big cross, Bup. There’s no Jesus on it. Where did Jesus go?” I asked.
He thought for a moment and then replied in his best aristocratic tone, “I don’t know, Daddy. Maybe he went on holiday.”

Kids do say the darnedest things.

Peace,
Jason

Seeing America

I drove fourteen hours one way, each way, to Orlando, FL this week. I left from Fredericksburg, VA in a little Hertz rental on Weds around noon to arrive at the Quality Inn, where I was staying, on International Drive around 4 AM. On Saturday, I left the Doubletree Hilton, where the conference was held, in Orlando and arrived back to my wife and my bed around 4 AM Sunday morning. I went to the Comparative Drama Conference to present a paper on tracing the tragic rhythm in the major musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. And, no, that is not the subject of this blog. No worries.

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After the conference, getting ready to drive home.

Driving alone gives you lots of time to think, to listen, to observe. I’m an avid podcast listener and almost never put on music in the car; it puts me to sleep. My business is often music, so listening to music can sometimes feel like work. No, I like the spoken word: podcasts, NPR, even talk radio in a pinch. Down and back I listened to several episodes of The Thomas Jefferson Hour (my favorite podcast) as well as podcast episodes of The Charged Life, Star Talk, Zig Ziglar, Wayne Dyer, The Tolkien Professor, Ben Franklin’s World, Back Story and NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t tell Me. I like to listen, I like to learn, I like to engage my mind. I recommend them all.

Most of my time was spent on I-95. It was congested in the southern middle states. It was often calm and clear from South Carolina downward. I was struck by how beautiful America’s landscape truly is; the trees changed, their beauty didn’t. I was dismayed by how many chain restaurants and fast food stops absorb the horizon. Mom and Pop stores, restaurants and the like, make up a very small percentage of the advertised businesses, and their signs often seem old, weathered, or downright archaic compared to the slickness that is the Whopper, the Arches, the Wal-Whathaveyou. I ate at a struggling Mom and Pop buffet called the Robbin’s Nest in mid-North Carolina. The food was amazing, and the price was dirt cheap: $8.75. The place was 9/10s empty, and the wait staff polite if rurally despairing. Once I got to Orlando, the prospects of eating simply and outside of chains practically dried up, and those that were there were largely out of my price range.

I-95, when you get away from the exit ramps, is littered with barns, silos, busted-up car garages, impound lots, go go bars, and lots of flat space in between. Don’t get me wrong, the landscaping is pretty and often custom-tailored to the weary traveler ‘just passing through’, but I was struck by how, well, poor hundreds and hundreds of miles of our great country looks, and along the scenic route no less! To see America, away from the clusters of chain shops by the exits, is to see a country wrestling with poverty, poor wages, and limited opportunities. It reminded me of the almost euphoric fervor people seemed to have around King George when the Wal-Mart started to go up. Now, five years later, over half of the existing family businesses pre-Wal-Mart have closed around town. What have we gained? What have we lost? I can’t imagine how I would feel if my highest aspiration for my son would be as a cashier at KFC, but I could sense that for many folks as I passed through, that would be ‘living the dream.’ Not really.

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At South of the Border, in South Carolina, just off I-95

I don’t mean to be dour or a downer in my post this week, but I do mean to suggest that as a country we need to do better…by everyone. State legislatures across the country over the last several weeks have announced plans to fund education or healthcare or both for their in-state residents. This is in response to what they see as a national government not tending to the needs of all citizens. If this trend continues, I predict we’ll see a flight from states that don’t adopt similar policies to aid their constituents, effectively making some of the poorest states even poorer and the richer states richer. As one Virginia friend said to me this week, after the announcement that New York was going to start offering free tuition to its state universities for residents, “It’s time to move home.” I understand and sympathize with her position. But in a larger sense, the problem is contained within the statement. Too many Americans (not my friend) have been weaned on state’s rights rhetoric – the kind that nearly destroyed our country 150 years ago and is verged to do so again – and it’s time to put that failed ideology behind us. We are all Americans and together, not separate, we can all do better: better healthcare, better education, better opportunities, better infrastructure, better as human beings.

We just have to start caring about each other, and start seeing America both for what it has become, and what it can be.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jason

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Bink and I (I’m on the left) poolside at the Quality Inn