The Silence of Bees


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Are you wondering what happened to America? The America we remember? Welcome to my Blog. Please feel free to respond. I yearn for responses and dialectic.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Say Yes

Say Yes

when two violins are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is struck

the other violin will sound the note

if this is your definition of hope

this is for you

the ones who know how powerful we are

who know we can sound the music in the people around us

simply by playing our own strings

for the ones who sing life into broken wings

open their chests and offer their breath

as wind on a still day when nothing seems to be moving

spare those intent on proving god is dead

for you when your fingers are red

from clutching your heart

so it will beat faster

for the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else

for the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies

and lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky

this is for you

this is also for the people who wake early to watch flowers bloom

who notice the moon at noon on a day when the world

has slapped them in the face with its lack of light

for the mothers who feed their children first

and thirst for nothing when they're full

this is for women

and for the men who taught me only women bleed with the moon

but there are men who cry when women bleed

men who bleed from women's wounds

and this is for that moon

on the nights she seems hung by a noose

for the people who cut her loose

and for the people still waiting for the rope to burn
about to learn they have scissors in their hands

this is for the man who showed me

the hardest thing about having nothing

is having nothing to give

who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away

so this is for the day we'll quit or jobs and work for something real

we'll feel for sunshine in the shadows
look for sunrays in the shade

this is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built

and for the ones who didn't know the filth until tonight

but right now are beginning songs that sound something like
people turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home

this is for all the shit we own

and for the day we'll learn how much we have

when we learn to give that shit away

this is for doubt becoming faith

for falling from grace and climbing back up

for trading our silver platters for something that matters
like the gold that shines from our hands when we hold each other

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree

where the fruit would grow to laugh

for the ones who know the math of war

has always been subtraction

so they live like an action of addition

for you when you give like every star is wishing on you

and for the people still wishing on stars

this is for you too

this is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn't have to

for the time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful

this is for the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful

for the radical anarchist asking a republican to dance

cause what's the chance of everyone moving from right to left

if the only moves they see are NBC and CBS
this is for the no becoming yes

for scars becoming breath

for saying i love you to people who will never say it to us

for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine

for the dime you gave away when you didn't have a penny

for the many beautiful things we do

for every song we've ever sung

for refusing to believe in miracles

because miracles are the impossible coming true
and everything is possible

this is for the possibility that guides us

and for the possibilities still waiting to sing

and spread their wings inside us

cause tonight saturn is on his knees

proposing with all of his ten thousand rings

that whatever song we've been singing we sing even more
the world needs us right now more than it ever has before

pull all your strings

play every chord

if you're writing letters to the prisoners

start tearing down the bars

if you're handing our flashlights in the dark

start handing our stars

never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart

play loud

play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken

and you're their last chance for sun

play like there's no time for hoping brighter days will come

play like the apocalypse is only 4...3...2

but you have a drum in your chest that could save us

you have a song like a breath that could raise us
like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries to be blue
play like you know we won't survive if you don't
but we will if you do
play like saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that we give every single breath
this is for saying-yes

this is for saying-yes

--Andrea Gibson

Friday, February 12, 2010

My Friend The Screenwriter

I have a good friend who is a talented screenwriter. He has worked with the most imaginative and creative directors in the world. In fact, his name is on some groundbreaking films as a creative consultant. I won't mention his name to protect his privacy and will just refer to him as W. I met him in a workshop he was giving in Marin county about 20 years ago. At the time I was working on a story idea my colleague Carla Zilbersmith had given me while we sat and ate a Chinese meal at a now defunct Berkeley restaurant. A lot has happened to the three of us since then. Carla had a gifted and promising career as a singer and actor for many years and then contracted ALS, a wicked disease; W. worked in house at one of the most famous studios in the world as an esteemed colleague of the biggies, got divorced and left his lucrative position; and I actually grew up, a rather notable accomplishment for one who was rather thick headed and decidely without any role models to show me what growing up actually meant. I suppose I accomplished other things as well like dragging a dead theatre department back to life, writing some surprisingly good plays and film scripts, making an award winning short and establishing myself as an innovative teacher. I also went through a painful and gut wrenching divorce, got in a lot of serious trouble at work and became a militant anti Bush person openly supportive of some pretty controversial figures. Like I said I was growing up. I saw W. today after about a year of not having contact and we had a long, leisurely and delicious lunch together. We shared intimacies about our lives in a way neither of us was capable of in the past. It felt really great. But we also talked about that story idea that W. had asked to take control of 3 years ago. He's been developing it into a screenplay off and on for a while. I used to think he would never finish it because he was such a perfectionist and well, frankly, I just could not imagine the reality of what he was doing. I could not imagine the depth that he was seeking in this story through these characters because I had only seen the film as a popcorn movie, nothing more. But W. had always envisioned something great in this story idea. It had captured and obsessed him for years and today for the first time I understood why. The story's scope is enormous. Not only does it shapeshift and time travel but it deals with the most important parts of our collective lives: the loss of American ingenuity and community. He's in it up to his armpits now and he said it was the most important creative endeavor he had ever undertaken and I believed him. I think he's writing as if his life depends on his finishing it and you know what? It does. I don't know what this is going to turn into for him, for me and for Carla but something tells me that when W. finally types Fade Out, he will have written something remarkable. Everything we artist types do should be aiming at that star, everything we do should push us past our preconceived notions and tight boundaries into the possibility of the extraordinary. I am learning that in my acting classes, in my attempts at writing, in my teaching and interaction with students and friends and in my close personal and intimate relationships. It's a great lesson to learn because every moment of every day feels richer to me and I feel more alive. I wonder where this knowledge of the divinity in each of us sat for most of the years of my life. I think it was hunched down inside a cave poking its wary head out, looking for a safe haven. And finally, finally, I realize there is no safe haven. Everything is fraught with peril so why not just jump into the abyss while you have the chance and go for it? W. is doing that. Carla certainly is. And now I am doing it as well. I suppose there was a reason the three of us connected two decades ago. Our time is now. And guess what? So is yours.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cruelty and Humor

I don't have much of a sense of humor when folks make jokes at others' expense. I find it petty and, regardless of the wit involved, mean-spirited. I don't care if the person who says it is a stand up comic or a co worker or family member. If it is said in a way that lacks any awareness of another's feelings, I don't laugh. I don't appreciate cheap shots. When I was younger and had self-esteem problems, I wouldn't speak up when such nonsense was leveled at me but that is no longer the case. A person gets one chance with me and then I say adieu. Here's the reason: 99% of the time, a joke or remark made at another's expense is really a reflection of the joker's low sense of their own worth. I think the best way to get them to see they need to do some inner work is to have nothing to do with them and hope they just may wonder why. The other reason I walk away from them after letting them know how I feel is selfish: I don't want to waste precious minutes of my life around people who don't like themselves and in turn, don't really like me. I don't want to lose a nano second around misfits who make a living off self hate. They are in actuality losers. I am not a loser. So to the person who made a personal remark to me that was out of line and untrue: look inside yourself and ask yourself why you felt you needed to pass judgement on me so quickly without knowing me. If you're reading this, you know who you are. I venture you are just really terrified of anyone getting a little too close for comfort. How sad. No wonder you are alone.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Wise Mistress of the Imagination

I began writing again a few days ago. I'd noticed a contest for a one act and looked through my dozens of unfinished scripts and decided to yank one out of the slush heap of the abandoned. I really love when this happens, this beckoning. This one is a 2 character piece which is something I have never been able to handle before because my imagination tends to expand outward once I begin a play. In this case, however, the story of the long love affair that goes amiss between a man and a woman and then full circles again set against the backdrop of a failing America is irresistible. It's perhaps about many of us in a lot of ways; at least I'm hoping it has a universal quality to it. The tug on me to write this is really not about entering a contest. There's something else going on here. The recognition, perhaps, that a love from the past that would not be entirely extinguished may just have been the one true love of my character's life. And I wonder if there really is such a thing as a second chance when damage has been done both to the heart, mind and body of the relationship. Can we heal? There is after all the deeper Platonic love that won't die but what about the sexual love? What happens if that leaves? Is it true once that is gone it will never return? There's also the passage of time. So much has happened in the US during the 30 year span of the play. I like the way I am fracturing time, mixing up the decades, pulling from real events; I like the way this play has the potential to make a statement about both the personal and the political. The grand master of that blend was of course the late great Arthur Miller. Not coincidentally I am also working on a piece from A View from the Bridge in Richard Seyd's acting class where I am Beatrice Carbone, the neglected wife of Eddie Carbone who has an obsession with his 18 year old niece, Catherine. My play is nothing like A View except that it is about love: love of a man and a woman and love for a country's ideals and the sadness that comes to everyone when we betray each other and those ideals. Now that I think of it, I suppose it is a bit like Miller's piece. Any way it is good to be back, to be pulled at by the muse again. When she disappears under the onslaught of grading papers and writing course outlines and fixing up something else that has gone wrong in my 100 year old house, I think she will never return. But then one day she whispers seductively in my ear and I am pulled into the love affair with the pen. Or in this case, the keyboard. And then time becomes meaningless for a while as I disappear into the lives of these imaginary people speaking words they are saying for the first time and directing me through the labyrinth of imagination. (Aren't I lucky to be able to do this?) So here's a task for you: let your imagination seduce you in some small way today and as you do, be present to what that moment is like when you let yourself fall into her clutches. I would propose it is a lot like falling in love. Every time it happens, it really is a second chance.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Remarkable Carla Zilbersmith

I will confess. I adore Carla Zilbersmith. She is not only a brilliant writer and the one time possessor of the voice of angels but she is also, and I say this in no small way, the most honest and courageous human being I have ever known. Carla is facing and dealing with Lou Gehrig's disease that has stripped her of the ability to move and speak to a great degree. She is facing her death in a manner that leaves one deeply moved and changed. I saw Carla yesterday for the first time in 2 years although I have attempted to maintain a connection with her since she became ill, either through emails or her blog. I admit to being frightened and staying away out of that fear and I am not proud of that. But yesterday I finally did what my heart told me to do and I went to visit her, to show her a plaque that will hang in the college theatre honoring her and the students who receive a yearly scholarship named after her. It was a wise choice because it was a real choice, borne out of love and deep respect. And, frankly, it was propelled by the simple fact of deeply missing her presence in my life. It is Carla's presence that has always had an amazing effect on everyone. A few people didn't "get" Carla; they read her and her jokes too literally. Carla was always about irony, at least when she was being a shitkicker. That feisty, funny and wise person is alive and well in Carla. I saw that yesterday; but there is something else there now: a deep and compassionate humility for those she loves and the very world we all live in. Carla has few enemies but there are people in her life, one in particular, who has been extraordinarily destructive and mean-spirited. I suppose one could say this person is "troubled"; I think sociopathic is more like it. That person will get their comeuppance one day; the cruel and selfish nature of this person will bring about their own inevitable destruction. I have NO doubt about that. Carla, on the other hand, lives in a beautiful home of bright color with young people, some former students, as her caretakers and wise and beautiful old friends who rush to her whenever she is in need. And her father, Jack, a beautiful man of great strength, is by her side at all times, helping her cope and taking the love that emanates from Carla's extraordinary smile and heart and giving her love in every look and touch. I have not even mentioned Carla's deepest and most profound joy, her son Maclen. Carla says it best in the songs she wrote and delivers in her last remarkable CD. I have been honored to know this woman. I knew when I met her 18 years ago that she would have a profound impact on me and she has. Few people have had such an impact in such a way and I asked myself after I left her home yesterday, why? I think it is because Carla always tells the truth; she always knew when to call someone out on their bullshit and she did not have to do it with language. One penetrating gaze from Carla could rock and shake up your world and guess what? It still does. I know Carla is going to leave us soon although if there was something, anything I could do, to change this outcome, I truly would do it. She is an important person and her legacy is truth. Never let anyone tell you differently. Carla's life and the things she has done with it, the people she has helped grow and grow up (me included) will NEVER forget her and will make certain others know her name. This is how legends begin. It is how people really do live on. I confess. I adore Carla Zilbersmith.

Friday, February 5, 2010

In The Garden You Love

I spend a lot of time in my outdoor gardens growing things: fruit trees, vegetables, flowering plants, ornamental plum trees, Japanese maples, rhododendrums. Hundreds of plants each with their own lifecyle, passing in and out of the seasons. It's the way I was raised; my mother was a great outdoor gardener, both flowers and vegetables and even now at 89 years old, she seems to tend to her beautiful plants in her indoor window boxes as if her very life depended on it. And I suppose in a way, it does. Her gardening has sustained her through the majority of her very painful and challenged life. There is something profoundly peaceful and Zen-like about watching something grow. I never had children although I feel like I was part of the raising of my niece and nephew since I lived for a short time with my sister and her husband when Maria and Russ were babies. And I am connected to them despite whatever obstacles are put in our way. The connection is deep and mysterious. That's the way it is when you nurture anything I suppose. My little dog Luis has the same deep tug on me. I have had him since he was a tiny pup and now 12 years later in his waning years, the deep and profound love I have for him is more powerful than ever. He is my wunderdog. Hell, I named a screenplay after him. What we love lives on both within us and outside of us perhaps for eternity. Even when people and animals you love die, they are still in another way alive, in memory and thought. Just because the Japanese maple looks dead in winter does not mean it is. It comes back in its newest incarnation, more beautiful and stronger each time it makes it through the winter. And wherever there is a spot where once stood growth that is no longer there, I can vividly recall its shape and substance as if it still were. In my backyard garden I have a very large and very ancient oak tree. A few years back an unscrupulous tree guy told me I should take it down because it was dying. "You could put a patio there," he said matter of factly. And I thought about what he said because in truth the tree is dying. Each year there are less and less leaves and more and more of its branches fall to the ground. If I were practical, it would come down. Something about its demise, however, is quite lovely. I think it will tell me in no uncertain terms when it is time to go. It hasn't told me yet so my belief is it should be left in its dignity to live its remaining years any way it sees fit. It still provides shade and beauty. What it lacks in youthful vitality, it makes up for in wisdom. I look forward to the spring this year. It may be the last year I spend in this house. Whoever knows about these things really? So in April, I will begin the cycle again. Luis will sit by me in the garden while I dig up the soil and plant vegetables. He will lick at his paws, roll around in the grasses and chase squirrels, those dastardly critters. And I will say prayers and incantations to the flowering plum and the azalea and the old oak so they will stay just a little longer and fill the world with beauty. I can not get over what a remarkable gift this world is. Even the bees know that which is why they are sticking around when the human species works so hard to destroy them. You stick around too. No matter how bad it gets. Stick it out. It is so worth it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Staying positive...

I was feeling particularly blue last night after returning from an afternoon spent at my place of work. The changes that are taking place at my college, financial and people-wise, are sweeping. I think every aspect of life in higher education will be very different from now on and I am not sure how I feel about this. California has badly managed its wealth and now its piss poor, particularly in regards to its students. This is very sad to me. The shrinking of the availability of classes, the pulling back in innovative growth, the increased tuitions all make it harder and harder to achieve a higher education in our country. What concerns me most is the bleak future many of these students are facing. If we do not turn this state and our country around I fear that we will become a terribly stratified society of haves and have nots, much worse than what we are seeing today. And the areas in the arts will be the first to go. I worked for the last 18 years to build a theatre department out of thin air. No budget, little support, it was my joy, hard work and enthusiasm and the support of fellow theatre artists like Carla Zilbersmith, Casy Cann, members of The Shotgun Players and a few others here in the Bay area that made it possible to grow a barely breathing-on-life-support department into one that has a full time young man with enormous potential running it, committed to making it a successful program in the eyes of the rest of the college and the state. This is a good thing because when I leave in 3 years (hopefully), I can feel good that something I got off the ground will last. They are breaking ground in the next few years for a performing arts center (the funding apparently was already in place before the economy took a nose dive) and that is certainly needed. But what saddens me is that now this young man has to think about ways to please the management to stay alive. The whole point of the theatre dept was to make people think, shake people up, move them about what was happening in our country. To that end we did plays like The Laramie Project to promote tolerance for gays. We did The Vagina Monologues to raise money for domestic violence against women. We did anti war plays written by local playwrights when the Iraq debacle began. We stuck our neck out over and over again and we took our hits. We made enemies. But we made some very cool friends as well. I fear those days of making it real and political are going to be softened now by doing perhaps solid but very different kinds of work. I don't think this new young leader of the department wants to piss as many people off as I did with the work he does. He's more of a collaborator than I was. I take my hat off to him for those skills. But boy, there were moments we created in that little theatre that will live forever for those who were present to see them. And somehow in the run of my life, I feel blessed to have been a part of it. It's all different now and the baton is passed to the young. My wholehearted support for what they will do. Good bye rebel rousing, thought provoking, occasionally extraordinary theatre. Good bye to Cindy Sheehan standing on our stage after a play handing out a scholarship named in honor of her son, Casy. Good bye to Nikola Tesla mesmerizing an audience in a one man show that would eventually land in Los Angeles and tour Australia. Good bye to Carla and me running around on stage in goofy costumes doing Jake Zilber's piece in which we had to belch on cue and speak in double pig Latin. Good-bye dear sweet time of my life. And yet something stirs within. I think I have the urge to cause some trouble some place. Just not quite yet. I need these next 3 years to shift. And maybe grieve a little.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good Health

We take a lot for granted, don't we? Good health for example. We never bother to think "WOW, I feel great today and I've felt pretty terrific for years. None of my bones are broken. No brain tumor is growing. No cancer/multiple sclerosis/diabetes/serious mental illness, nothing. " Nope. We just go along from day to day taking our health for granted. Then of course something goes wrong and we swear and wave our fists at the heavens demanding to know why me? The way we treat our good health is a metaphor for the way we live our lives. Every day we wake up (which in and of itself is kind of miraculous) and go about our business. Like it was no big thing that we survived another night. Most of us have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge, some form of companionship, human or otherwise. There's no one shooting at our front door (usually). We're not dragged out in the street and taken to some unknown location and beaten senseless by the government. We have clothes to wear, warmth in our homes, friends, family of one kind or another, animal companions, we take trips, fly in airplanes, gamble in Vegas (despite what Obama says) and we get to have sex once in a while. And we take all of this for granted as if it's never going away. But it will go away. It may be hard to fathom this but trust me eventually you will be dust. Dust in the wind. So tomorrow morning when you wake up maybe say thank you that you have one more day. It really is a gift you know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jealousy: That Green Eyed Monster

It started when I was a baby. My father showed me some attention, seemed to prefer me over my sister and brother and the result was a childhood of endless teasing and "getting even" on the part of my siblings. They won't admit to it and most likely do not remember what they did but boy did they make my life hell. Especially my sister. Every chance she got to "get even", to undercut and undermine me she did. Why? She felt unloved by our father and in fact, she was unloved by him. Sadly, he himself, unloved and unloving, couldn't tolerate her. Why he seemed to like me who knows? I doubt it had too much to do with me and a lot to do with his own ego. But interestingly most of the men in my life never liked my sister. She seemed doomed from day one and turned out to be, please excuse the expression, a ball buster, a castrator of men. I look at her now across from me at this funeral banquet after she buried her 70 year old beaten down, ignored and generally disrespected husband and I can't help but see the sad child behind the contorted and bloated aging face. Hard to believe as I gaze at her that she was once a beauty, likened to Natalie Wood. Hard to believe what pain and repression does to a human being. She has a vicious streak in her that she wields to get her way, to make life hell for others. She is all about getting even. About threats, subtle and veiled sometimes, other times manipulative and cunning. There are people where I have worked for the last 18 years who are a lot like my sister. One woman, a sad, chubby and angry human being, is always out to undermine me. I think she too was very unloved as a child, rejected on some deep level by her caretakers again and again and trying to make up for it by puffing up her ego. And she seems to have the same need to "get even" with me as my sister, particularly when she doesn't get what she wants. I have tried with these two women for many years to get along. To make peace. And I have failed. Maybe I am just having too good a time with my own life. I think this really pisses a lot of people I work with off. I teach pretty much what I want, courses mostly of my own design and I enjoy it very much. I make movies, win awards, have friends all over the world, get up on the stage, am told I am doing "lovely" work by a great and inspiring acting teacher, fall in love unexpectedly and I breathe it all in. It's a wonderful life I have. So what I think the problem is with these women is they just are not doing what they love on a day to day basis. My sister really wanted to be an actress and instead became a secretary, developed a false self and buried her deepest desires. And this other women should have followed the path to being a fiction writer and instead lost her way. But mostly I believe they chose those paths, they sold themselves short, because they felt they did not really deserve to be happy. Somewhere deep inside them that little child screamed out to be loved, to be special and heard nothing in return. I've done a lot of deep feeling therapy in my life to heal that little kid and she is, I am pleased to report, pretty much in love with herself. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I really do like myself as a person. So it allows me to be more forgiving, more understanding of what self hate can do to a human being. I have to smile when I look at these women now, partly because I know the struggle they have to love themselves but maybe even more so because I finally realize they can't harm me. That whatever they or anyone else thinks they can do or manages to do to "even the score" or "get what they want", they can not in any way diminish my life. My life is my own. I roll with the punches, laugh all the way to the bank and reach out to those I can most affect in a positive way. In short, I love just about every moment of every day. So my advice to you, dear reader, whoever you may be is don't sell yourself short. You really are a child of the universe. And don't spend time getting even. Because you can't. You can only get on with it.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Watching Pink last night on The Grammy's took my breath away. Not only do I envy the powerful strength in her arms and legs but her lack of any apparent fear or nervousness was simply astonishing. Granted, I admire and envy singers. They have such a readily accessible performance tool...they open their mouths, breathe in air and the resultant expulsion of sound can be at times sublime. But Pink's twirling in mid air, suspended by a thin sheet of cloth, belting out the lyrics to Sparkle was not just a great piece of theatre. It was something else: a death defying act that would not admit any possibility of failure. She simply would not have it. What a tribute to life itself as well as the human body in its prime. I wonder why every moment of every single life can not be exactly like this. Why can't we recognize the power in the simplest thing? I know dying people often have this appreciation of nearly everything they experience, everything that comes into their range, animate or inanimate. Well, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? They KNOW they are about to lose it all ... they know fairly accurately when they will cease to exist. Their senses become heightened by that recognition. Quite often they see life moment to moment. But the rest of us...we aren't so certain. We know somewhere in the back of our minds we will die but because we don't know quite when, we fool ourselves for a great portion of our lives into thinking somehow it is endless. But in truth, neither you nor I have the slightest clue when it will be snatched away. When something inside goes haywire or something outside plows us down unexpectedly and the end comes, will we swing from a sheet, dripping wet, saying to hell with fear? Will we risk everything for the moment? Will we dangle upside down 25 feet off the ground, belting out the lyrics to a song we wrote? Or holler the name of the person we most love? Or laugh so hard and long that our last breath will freeze a smile on our face? Will we finally seize the moment and render it sublime? Imagine if everyone one of us every single day made every moment like Pink's moment. We would all sparkle into eternity.