One Crazy Week/You’ll Never Walk Alone

After the Philadelphia Flower Show last weekend (see Bicycles, Bridges, and Bulbs. Oh, My), John Adams stayed in Upper Darby to be with his grandparents. He occupied his week by helping Pop Pop with his physical therapy exercises, playing with his new glow in the dark racetrack, and going to his favorite place: The Strasburg Railroad. When he finally came home this past Sunday he was wiped out. Nancy and I know how he feels.

This past week for us was no less jam-packed and, for she and I, life changing. With the little guy up north we availed ourselves of a little ‘adult time’ by taking in a movie, watching two additional ones at home, and going out to eat as a couple, quietly and without diaper bag, antsy child, or small entourage of stuffed cats in tow. She passed a milestone this week, and I started two other jobs. We closed the weekend out with a magnificent set of choral performances in church and a wraparound trip to Maryland House on I-95 to reclaim our son. Yes, it was a busy week for all of us.

inferno-2016-poster-3

Inferno movie poster

On Monday evening, I cooked and we watched Dan Brown’s Inferno on DVD from the Redbox. It was – as you might guess from the reviews – nowhere near as good as the book. Three films in, Angels and Demons still remains the best. The book, Inferno, was a fun read with lots of back story on Dante, the creation of the Divine Comedy, and the art and concepts of hell it inspired. The film gives precious little of this, just what is needed to get from plot point to plot point. It’s worth a watch for the scenes of Europe, but otherwise read the book. You’ll get far more from it.

On Tuesday, Nancy found out that her dissertation proposal had passed the English Department at Catholic University without any revisions. This is nearly unheard of. Revisions are almost always required, and it is a testament to her writing and to her faculty mentors that it went through without incident. The Dean and an outside reader still need to pass on it, but she’s nearly home free. When it’s finally approved she can begin to write her dissertation: one step closer to her doctorate.

On Wednesday, I solidified details to join the artistic team of Christian Youth Theatre (CYT) Fredericksburg to be the music director for their production of Shrek. The production opens in June, I start rehearsals in April, but the agreement is in place. It’s been a year since I MDd a show, let alone for a new company, and on a show I’ve never done before. The gig came through a friend, Todd P., who is directing the show. He requested me, and so they hired me. Such an honor.

Thursday, I taught a voice lesson, cooked, and crammed like the devil for the show I was performing in on St. Paddy’s Day…Friday!

When Irish Eyes

The St. Patrick’s Day 2017 cast of Murder Mysteries Will Travel’s production of When Irish Eyes Are Crying

On Friday, I spent much of the morning and afternoon reviewing the script for When Irish Eyes Are Crying, a murder mystery in which I was playing the detective that night! I was recommended by my sister-in-law, Mary Anne, to join the company of Murder Mysteries Will Travel, and, after a meeting a few weeks ago, I was hired on.  So Friday, late afternoon, I trucked it up to the Bristow Country Club in Manassas to perform in my first show with the company. I was nervous – I had a lot of lines and improv – but the company of actors was amazing, professional, and empathetic to work with. The country club put out an scrumptious buffet of corned beef, cabbage, bangers, mash, and rum cake that we dined on between acts. The show itself came off well, and the company was already invited back for the summer. And I only blew a few lines toward the end that the others actors covered for me. Success.

On Saturday, Nancy and I went to Logan, the X-Men movie, and the final one for Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Nancy and I had totally opposite reactions to the picture. I found it disturbing and depressing, she found it to be a poignant farewell for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who are both retiring from the X-Men franchise. I won’t say more about the plot at this time because it’s still running, but I will say it’s well made, beautifully acted, and not, not, NOT for children. Depressed, I asked Nancy if we could rent a movie that night and she agreed. I picked Snowden. Again, we had opposite reactions. I found the movie empowering, she found it disturbing. As you can tell, both pictures have the ability to elicit multiple layers of divergent emotion. Go see both and decide for yourself. They are both thoughtful pieces and worth your time, but I can’t guarantee how you’ll feel about your country afterward.

Logan movie

Logan movie poster

Sunday morning, my Unitarian Universalist Adult Choir gathered to sing “The Impossible Dream” (from Man of La Mancha) and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (from Carousel) at our Sunday service. We were joined by two extraordinary dancers – Kendall M. and Anthony W. – for “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  The resultant magic is hard to describe, but their choreography and its execution were moving, beautiful, and inspiring, and the congregation greeted our collective efforts with a standing ovation. There were more than a few tears in the eyes of choristers and parishioners alike. After church, I monologue coached a talented young lady for an hour on an upcoming audition, and then Nancy and I headed north to Maryland House to collect our son from his grandparents.

It was a rough, busy week, and those are just the big ticket items, scratching the surface of life. But I am reminded that the two new jobs I started this week came as a result of other dear people looking out for me and thinking of me when I needed help and employment. Logan, Inferno, and Snowden are all at their core about one person making a difference in the lives of others, either one on one, or on a global scale. And “The Impossible Dream” is about one person’s idealism, and doing the right thing by others. The week kinda summed itself up on Sunday morning as Kendall and Anthony danced in the sunlight of our circular church window to one of the greatest songs of all time. Whatever you’re dealing with, struggling with, pained by, missing, or needing, know this, as I had affirmed for me again this week. KNOW THIS:

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Namaste,

Jason

Something Wicked and Wonderful

I started reading Ray Bradbury’s 1962 highly acclaimed dark fantasy novel Something Wicked This Way Comes at the beginning of this summer. Previously, I’d finished his The Martian Chronicles, The illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451, so, to my way of thinking, I was rounding out my knowledge of his most celebrated and familiar works. I had had mostly positive experiences with the three previous works; Martian and Illustrated are short story collections woven together with loose framing devices, and Fahrenheit is short and considered a “must-read” on many lists. All three were taut and accessible with frequent payoffs and didn’t put much pressure on the reader to enjoy or engage in them. I also had a faint positive memory of the 1983 Disney film of the same name that I had seen in the theater but not since, and of Jason Robards being great at something in it, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. Disney has announced plans in the future to re-shoot Something Wicked for the screen, so there’s no time like the present to read this significant novel. So I began…and it was like landing in some kind of literary bizarro hell right from the start.

Archaic, muddled, or just absent grammar; metaphors that seemed to run for pages; a muddied narrative that left me wondering “what the hell just happened?” and a loose story that seemed to never get started for chapter after chapter. I could make out that there were two boys; a salesman; a spinster teacher; and a kindly, wise, and weary father of one of the boys. I gathered that a carnival of freaks came to the Midwestern town, led by the ominous Mr. Dark, who was also their Illustrated Man (and may or may not be the same man from the eponymous novel), and people started disappearing. There was also a carousel that if run forward made one age rapidly, and if run backward made its passengers “youth-en” to fetal stage. The story slowly, joltingly, almost grudgingly un-spun itself in page after page of vivid, obtuse imagery that left me uncertain and angry as to what Bradbury was trying to say. I read each chapter and put the book down in frustration and apathy. ‘This feels like a short story strung out to novel length,’ I would lament to Nancy (which indeed is true). ‘I feel like Bradbury is just padding his prose to hit a word count. I don’t know what the Dust Witch is? Is she dead? What just happened?’ And on and on and on.

My relationship with the book soured early, and I turned to reading other things rather than grind through its flummoxing narrative. I never gave up on it. I just set an agenda that I would read one chapter at a setting and then set it down and pick up something else that I was truly enjoying. I rewarded myself for stomaching it and for keeping my promise to myself that I would read this mess? trash? critically praised opus? And so almost five months went by with me every couple of days peering back into the arcane head of Ray Bradbury, unsure of what would come out. Now finished, I can honestly say I’m glad I did.

Great literature makes us no promises. And I don’t know if Something Wicked This Way Comes is great literature. But it certainly is difficult in places, good, and meaningful.  Once the story had all but played itself out, the villains vanquished, the heroes triumphant, Bradbury in an eloquent, quiet denouement breathed the following exchange into his characters:

“Dad, will they ever come back?”
“No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “No not them. But yes, other people like    them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”
“Oh, no,” said Will.
“Oh, yes, said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”
They moved around the carousel slowly.
“What will they look like? How will we know them?”
“Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”
Both boys looked around swiftly.
But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.
Will looked at Jim, at his father, and then down at his own body and hands. He glanced up at Dad.
Dad nodded, once, gravely, and then nodded at the carousel, and stepped up on it, and touched a brass pole.
Will stepped up beside him. Jim stepped up beside Will.
Jim stroked a horse’s mane. Will patted a horse’s shoulders.
The great machine softly tilted in the tides of night.
Just three times around, ahead, thought Will. Hey.
Just four times around, ahead, thought Jim. Boy.
Just ten times around, back, thought Charles Halloway. Lord.
Each read the thoughts in the other’s eyes.
How easy, thought Will.
Just this once, thought Jim.
But then, thought Charles Halloway, once you start, you’d always come back. One more ride and one more ride. And, after awhile, you’d offer rides to friends, and more friends until finally…
The thought hit them all in the same quiet moment.
…finally you wind up owner of the carousel, keeper of the freaks…
proprietor for some small part of eternity of the traveling dark carnival shows….
Maybe, said their eyes, they’re already here.”

― Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1962

I was blown away. The elegance, the simplicity, the profoundness of the allegorical novel hit me all at once in one great rush. The novel was a cautionary tale about the gradual creep of evil into our lives; how we allow it through laziness, through neediness, through caving to addiction, through apathy, through ethical and moral ambiguity through not exercising our agency and industry. The novel is deliberately obtuse, for only through patience and diligence can we separate the wheat from the chaff, find the diamond in the rough, find the light at the end of a sea of darkness. Evil clouds our mind with extraneous questions and temptations that take us away from our charted endeavors. I found that my experience of the novel was no different. Bradbury made me work for the payoff, and I balked and bitched and hesitated for months because it was hard, because it wasn’t instant gratification, because it wasn’t “The Real Housewives of Ray Bradbury!” I was elated and ashamed, victorious though it be hollow, battle scarred but alive to live and learn another day. I had, in fact, experienced the greatness in good literature.

I am reminded of those memes that show up on social media every so often about how Lord of the Flies or Huck Finn or The Good Earth ruined someone’s summer. The implication is that the reader struggled through the book and got nothing but pain and lost pleasure out of it. It makes me wonder how many people of that opinion finish but don’t really listen or let it in, or skim, or read the Wiki entry, or just give up and glaze over while turning pages. I was right there with this novel until the carousel stopped and confronted me with my own wickedness, held the mirror up to nature, and made me dislike what I saw. We only grow in adversity. And the road less traveled makes all the difference. Only one in ten Americans actually read a book after high school, and even fewer attempt to crack truly worthwhile works of literature. Do me a favor: help me raise that percentage. It’s worth it. Really. You’ll see.

Now off to crack open Walden….again.

Namaste,

Jason

Still Wild About Hank (And Damned Proud of It!)

On Sunday, August 14, Nancy and I attended the Virginia/US Premiere of the new documentary, Wild About Hank, the true story of the cat that ran for US Senate in 2012. Hank’s story holds a very special place in both our hearts. We learned about his bid for Congress shortly after it started. We bought bumper stickers and a lawn sign. We followed him on Facebook, liked his campaign messages, and even drove to meet him at Felix and Oscar’s pet store on Backlick Rd. in Northern Virginia when he was on the campaign trail. On Election Day, in the race between George Allen and now Vice-Presidential Democratic nominee Tim Kaine, we proudly wrote his name in and voted for him. Though he came in third, Hank received just shy of 7,000 votes statewide. Yes, Hank was a cat, but to many of us he was more than that: he was a movement. One we proudly supported.

Nancy and I posing before the Wild About Hank movie sign

Nancy and I posing before the Wild About Hank movie sign

Now, four years later, much has changed, much has stayed the same, and, generally speaking politically, things are worse than ever. Hank passed away in 2014 due to declining health complications so there’s no comeback possible. The 2016 Presidential Election is made up of two candidates who are arguably the two most distrusted and/or despised people in America, all the while other candidates are either denied or manipulated out of having a voice by the two big machines, and everyone is bracing for the potential violent response that could be the day after Election Day. It’s not hard to despair in such times, and I’ve written about some of my feelings on this previously in another post, “Primary Colors,” so there’s no further need to dwell here. Needless to say, sitting in the Cinema Arts Theater in Fairfax, VA when the movie finally started around 7 PM, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia and sadness for the good old days…from just four years ago.

The documentary, Wild About Hank, is a short and sweet 30 minute reminiscence of the late beloved feline visionary. Utilizing Facebook quotes, stock footage from the campaign, and seven primary interviews – including Republican challenger George Allen (Tim Kaine was unavailable for some reason) – the documentary briskly recounts owners Matthew O’Leary and Anthony Roberts’s reasons for Hank’s run, the process of getting him on (or not on) the ballot, the campaign itself, and the post-campaign life and eventual death of their beloved boy. Very lovingly crafted by director Emma Kouguell, who was on hand to introduce the film and be a part of the post-screening panel Q and A, the film is a valentine to those fans who took part in Hank’s rise, run, and decline. On a very personal level, when the stock BBC footage surfaced about halfway through the film that included both Nancy and I snapping photos of Hank, only to be followed by a still photo of he and I discussing his campaign finance reform policies, we nearly leaped out of our seats with joy.  But the real substance of the documentary lies in the interviews of a few of his biggest fans, and in their responses as to why they would ever vote for a cat.

Hank the Cat for U.S. Senate, March 2012

Hank the Cat for U.S. Senate, March 2012

In one very emotional and poignant response toward the end of the film, one of the interviewees is recalling Hank’s run for Senate and discussing it with a mix of pride and deep-felt sadness. She recounts how her own district was so close to call that before she cast her ballot, she was pressured by friends out of voting for Hank, being told she was throwing her vote away on a third party write-in, and that it was her civic duty to vote for a particular candidate. She caved, didn’t vote for Hank, and through tears has regretted it ever since. She recounts emotionally how supporting Hank made her feel a part of the democratic process, and how proud she was to be supporting a clean-run campaign where due to Hank’s presence, candidates “would have to show up and be kind,” and where she knew the intentions of her candidate were noble. She then, to paraphrase, asks the question of us all, “What does it say about the state of American politics that a cat can win the hearts and minds of disaffected voters in a way that the humans we run for office can’t?”

What indeed.

With almost 7,000 votes, and over sixteen thousand dollars raised for animal charities in Virginia, to say nothing of the intangible amount of good his campaign did to raise awareness on animal rights and spay and neuter issues, I proudly supported Hank in 2012, and will gladly do so again when the right cat comes along.

Till then, we’re stuck with the Fat Cats. Lucky us.

Long Live Hank,

Jason

 

P.S. Here is the link to the official Wild About Hank website where you can view the trailer. http://www.wildabouthank.com/ We were told the film will be available for streaming later this year, so check back regularly.

Here is the BBC stock footage that includes Nancy and I: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-17348212

Here is Hank’s Wikipedia Page:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hank_the_Cat

Happy Exploring!

Ciao and Meow.

The cake at the Virginia Premiere of Wild About Hank

The cake at the Virginia Premiere of Wild About Hank