If I don’t measure the amount of media in my daily diet, I will suffer from Press Plaque Buildup.
The main symptom of this disease is cynicism. Sometimes I don’t even know I have fallen into this state. I am so involved in staying involved and current, I don’t see my hope and positivity slip and slide right out of my brain ball into the flotsam on the jetsam (the lost and local river of my mind).
I am pulled back from the precipice by art or music or nature or my favorite online newsletter BRAINPICKINGS. Replace the word NEWS with ART…which it is for me an ARTLETTER for the mind.
Recently, my level of press plaque buildup has hit a new high. What with Afghanastan , vaccinate vs. unvaccinate, mask or unmask, airline passengers assaulting attendants, to Boost or not to Boost, Red States vs. Blue states, why was Ted Lasso Christmas Show shown in August, my brain was spinning from positive to negative from hopeful to hopeless.
If any of what I’ve written resonates with you, my dear friends and family, I wish you a speedy recovery from the crazy world we live in, which by the way has always been crazy…take a look at any era… lions chasing Jews/Christians in an arena (personally I prefer to watch the Jets chase the Marlins), Whites chasing anyone of any color, Christians chasing Muslims in the Holy Land, Southerners chasing Northerners followed by Northerners chasing Southerners….endless.
To help that recovery, please read and I promise you will be converted from a Cynic, which we all now is nothing but a disappointed idealist, to your true, beautiful hopeful self.
More Self: I can always depend on you to ask the right question at the right time.
Even More Self: Who are you talking to?
Back to the first Self: Don’t ask. Just go with the flow.
There are so many reasons I tuned into the story of Buddy Guy:
I love the Blues. I have a vision of myself from forever as a singer of the Blues. Sitting atop a piano, looking strangely like a bad imitation of Julie London, plaintively crying a river of blues. My audience suitably sobbing (free tissue packs included in the price of admission.) Scratch a comedienne and you’ll find a tragedienne.
I knew the name Buddy Guy. I didn’t really know who he is.
American Masters always find really interesting people to profile.
Their documentaries are gloriously, artistically interesting and informative.
Buddy Guy is a blues guitar player in the style of his heroes and mentors, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters. Familiar names but little known to me. Buddy was born 83 years ago in a small town in Louisiana. From the beginning he never thought of himself as special. And as I listened to him describe his life in this small town, where his family were share croppers and as a child, he picked cotton. Before I even heard him play, I felt I was being osmotically drawn to him right through all the electronic apparatus between him and me. As I watched and listened to him learn to play, at first with only two strings before he had enough money to buy a real guitar, I thought… ”What is it about this man that touches me so deeply? First, his humility… what can I say, is humbling. At a time when everyone is “look at me-ing” all over the place, he put his focus where it belonged… on discovering, exploring, and practicing his gift.
He needed to breathe. He needed to play. One was inextricably linked to the other. I related. Even when I didn’t want to, that is how I lived.
In the first moments of this profile, I watched as he listened to the greats of his time, first in Baton Rouge then after moving on to Chicago. All he ever wanted to do was try to play like they did. He never thought he’d ever become a professional musician. He just wanted to play his guitar. Chicago was a mecca for the Blues. He could and did watch. He could and did listen. For him it was simple. He needed to breathe. He needed to play. This was all very familiar to me. I was hooked.
Throughout the documentary, various personalities, guitar players (of all ages), managers, agents, tell Buddy’s story. And then we have the Brits. I find it interesting that most Americans of the 50’s and 60’s and even into the 70’s (my ignorance astounds me, but then it always has) didn’t know about Buddy or Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, or John Lee Hooker, but Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones knew. Eric Clapton knew. Stevie Ray Vaughn knew, and when Buddy went to London as a tourist…. the Brits pounced on him and made him play with them and it was the breakthrough he needed because it was when the Stones toured the States that they demanded and got these great unknown (Ha! Ha!) guitar players included in their tours.
An amazing piece of Black History. Of course there are so many unknown amazing pieces of Black History to shake up the shame I share with whoever is willing to share it with me.
Another piece of my ignorance follows the various interviews of one, John Mayer. I had only heard of him as the escort of various People Magazine movie and television stars. (Please don’t give me grief. People magazine is my go to the beauty salon, doctor offices, necessary reading material. I call ahead to be assured the establishments carry the latest issues.) So who knew from John Mayer? Turns out these movie stars knew a good thing after all. He was truly erudite, intelligent and bonkers over Buddy. And I understand he can play guitar as well as other things, too.
Buddy Guy’s life story stirred my thinking about the creative process.
As I view some of the artists today, I am saddened. It’s not as if I do not see the talent, the gift. In my thinking however, the gift really is only one small part of an artist’s process. Without discipline, without working the gift, it can only go so far. In fact, I would say, without the kind of practicing that Buddy Guy did, his glorious gift would never have developed the way it did. Practice doesn’t guarantee success, but without it the shelf life of the artist’s gift is a short one.
The Confession: I love music. However, I am not now or have I ever considered myself expert in the field of music… modern, classical, R&B, pop. I simply know what I like and what I don’t like. I think I would qualify as your average, every day, listener, EXCEPT for my opinionated Big Mouth.
The Disclaimer: Yes I was a singer. Yes I was a dancer. Yes I played a very bad piano. All to say I knew about music… definitively not as an expert but as a participating viewer, listener and performer.
This information is leading you to an adventure I had in the world of music and, oh, so much more, on Hulu Streaming last Friday evening: Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Over the course of six weeks during the summer of 1969, thousands of people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival to celebrate Black history, culture, music and fashion held in Morris Park in the Bronx (an almost as infamous borough as Brooklyn, but not quite).
I am and always will be the Brooklyn girl who had friends and went to school with all races and religions. In 1969, I was thirty-six. OMG was I ever 36? I guess I had to have been to get to 37 and on up and up and up. My life was circumscribed by my children and my career. In combination, there was not a spare breath for any other activity. I was living and working in Washington, D.C., a recently desegregated Southern city that had been rocked by the recent assassinations of Malcom X, Martin Luther King, JFK, Bobby Kennedy. Of course I was aware of the Happening in Woodstock… the crazies invading a bucolic setting in New York State where wild men and women made music, love, drank wine, did drugs and more… a veritable hippie Sodom and Gomorrah.
In 1969, the whole world knew about Woodstock. In 1969, no one knew about the Summer of Soul concerts in Morris Park.
The only people that knew about the Summer of Soul concerts in Morris Park were the 40,000 to 50,000 people who attended them. Definitely a Black majority coming out of Harlem… which is where the subtitle (When The Revolution Could Not be Televised) comes from. Woodstock had television and movie studios vying for the rights to film the concert. Summer of Soul sponsors had to beg for money to film and record their concerts. And we are thankful for those sponsors that had the foresight to make a record of an historical and cultural moment in Black History 52 years before BLACK LIVES MATTER.
I could do chapter and verse about the difference between Woodstock and Morris Park… it wouldn’t work… it’d be comparing apples and oranges. They are just two different fruits or vegetables. There is a striking difference, however, other than color in the demeanor of the attendees of Woodstock and Morris Park. A psychologist would have a grand time looking at the behavioral differences. Considering the line up of this concert, it will be no hardship for you to watch this concert and make your own evaluation. A picture is worth a thousand words.
These artists are enough to pump even this ‘ole soul. Stevie Wonder (looking like he’s 12), Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, The 5th Dimension, The Chamber Brothers, David Ruffin (I didn’t know him, but I did know My Girl), Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, Jesse Jackson (not singing but speaking eloquently), and an unbelievably incredible and stirring performance by Nina Simone. There are so many more and I am showing my ignorance by not knowing them before this documentary.
The point is I know them now. To watch these beautiful artists, is to be reminded of how long it takes this nation , indivisible (we hope), under God, to change a light bulb and the way it thinks.
Yup, as the privileged white woman watching this concert, I went through it all. From despair to hope. I am happy to report I came out on the side of HOPE. That is what good music always does for me.
I have been a Covid hostage from March of 2020 until February of 2021, which is when I got my first vaccination shot. That is enough time for what’s called the Stockholm Syndrome to take root and build within my psyche the necessary combination of fear and helplessness. If that isn’t a diagnosis of the Stockholm Syndrome then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Although, as we struggle with new gender definitions, I believe I would be a monkey’s aunt or monkey’s They???? Sorry, can’t go there because I am too ill informed.
Ok so I acknowledge I am a victim of Covid Stockholm Syndrome. And thankfully, I do not feel alone. Please let me know if this resonates with you.
Since I have returned north (Brrrrrrr!!!), I have been talking to friends and family about their winter in a cold Covid climate and the advent of the vaccinations and the promise of a different Spring and Summer from last year. I feel like I am a human who has been in hibernation. And as the vaccinations proceed very slowly, one foot in front of the other, sniffing and searching as I go, testing the waters as I move from my cave into the light.
In a sense, the exit from my cave and my acceptance of the vaccine is a very personal leap of faith. Every time I have ever made one of those leaps of faith, I have found the juice of life is more profound and though the leaps can be challenging and frightening, ultimately for me they make my life more satisfying.
Yeah??? So what’s my point???
Well, I have discovered quite a few friends that are satisfied with the Covid status quo of the past. Translation: No vaccine. I have spent much of my life opting for FREE CHOICE… religion, race, sex, education… your life, you choose. Well, of course there is a caveat… what’s the matter with you? You think life is fair or free? Not! Only for babies! And then, as sadly we know, in many cases not even for babies.
All right already, I’m getting to it. Here is my point. There is a cost to life. We are periodically asked to make a leap of faith. And for me, getting the vaccine is a leap of faith. There is so much we don’t know. We don’t know way more than we do know… forever. However, if I want to come out of my cave, not wear a mask, travel to see friends, relatives, or the Aurora Borealis, give or get a hug from someone outside my POD (OMG it sounds like a remake of The Body Snatchers), then I need to get my shot.
So what has this got to do with the Stockholm Syndrome?
All of us have been kidnapped by Covid, that’s what!!!
I think it’s time we recognize that fear and helplessness narrows the world and limits life’s opportunities and the wonderful joyful noise that goes with it.
I’m packing to travel North. This is not a fun thing to do. I need a laugh. I always need a laugh. And rewatching old episodes of The Nanny was not doing the trick because I can’t stand the laugh tracks
Over the covid-pandemic-isolating year finding a laugh meant I could hold out for another day. I’m down to counting microseconds so I can take my shot-up body North to hug other shot-up bodies.
Between packing breaks I hydrate and read.
Today I received the April 12th issue of The New Yorker. Anthony Lane, their movie critic, provided me with THE BIG LAUGH.
Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.
I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)
This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story. I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing. Thankfully, they agreed.
Enter the villain virus.
It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.
There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge. She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.
She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set. She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount – a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion. It was perfect.
Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead. Leaving this reader slightly frazzled. Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen. Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both. Take your pick.
The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.
“Be gone, Virus! You are not welcome here!”
The reading was SOLD OUT. The reading was limited to and audience of 45. I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!
I looked out over the audience. Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt. There was no audience seating. There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.
It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.
I would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship. A catharthis, right? (look it up) I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.
And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight. I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs. At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.
There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story. And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.
I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.
I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.
Right? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!
In a recent coffee klatsch with my new very best friend, Voltaire, he reminded me, “Sally-Jane…
In light of this very wise and prescient statement, I am all too aware of how little we know of American History. Of course, it didn’t help that history books until a recent time had a very one-sided version of what happened before, during and after the founding of these United States of America.
I am old enough to remember that my history books taught that many American Indian tribes were our enemies, but not how the enmity originated.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Jackson forcing them off their ancestral lands in the East onto the infamous march West… The Trail of Tears.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Johnson shredding Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation promises, aided and abetted by Confederate officers and soldiers into proclaiming Jim Crow as the law of the South and founding the KKK.
I could go on but I think I would rather present you with a cornucopia of gifted artists and writers who will, through document and performance, enlighten your way .
It has been spoken. It has been written. You cannot grow… You cannot know…
Where do I come from…?
How did I get here…?
Read on MacEveryone….
Don’t ask me why I chose this book, She Would Be King: A Novel by Wayétu Moore. I knew nothing about it. Maybe because I was celebrating my bookstore having finally come out of its pandemic hibernation. And the title was definitely quirky. I chose a winner. The author is black and beautiful and she writes like a dream. In fact dreams have a lot to do with this magically and very realistic story. I never understood what it meant to read a book of magic realism. I’m not sure I do now but I am beginning to understand this category mixes the reality of the founding of Liberia in the 19th Century and the fantastical but oh, so real journey of the three main characters towards their destiny. Their imprint is indelible in my psyche, my soul, but most of all, my spirit.
In the PBS program, Twilight: Los Angeles, award-winning director Marc Levin weaves, Anna Deavere Smith’s powerful one-woman theater piece of the same name with news footage and interviews to create a portrait of rage, sorrow, loss, and battered hope surrounding the 1991 Rodney King beating, the violent aftermath of the 1992 verdict, and the lasting impact of the L.A. riots on America’s conscience.
I have a confession to make. I am usually not a podcast listener. But I have an investigative reporter feeding me with brilliant podcasts. She also happens to be my daughter.
Have you been enjoying some of the most extraordinary watching on your computers, your television, your i- pads, your smart phones? The outpouring from every cultural corner of the world has been extraordinary.
Whether you choose to avail yourself of these privileges afforded you during this crises or not, if you are able, and it doesn’t have to be a large sum, but you have a debt that must be paid.
It is clear. The world will never be the same. There is a permanent change to all that were used to. Much adjusting and adapting must be done. Hopefully, most of it will be for the better.
However, we must guard against those things that without our help will disappear and leave our lives the emptier and shallower, and in my thinking, more meaningless. Of course, I am talking about those institutions we take for granted will always be there. Without support, they will not.
Here are some suggestions:
The local hospital, the library, the live theatre, dance and music organizations, the museums, public radio and television, all of those you have, in the past subscribed to. These represent our cultural history. It wasn’t so long ago we all went to see and hear a play, a recital, a dance, an opera, a lecture critical or not, something that challenged our minds and sensitivities. Now we turn to all our electronic accoutrement and in the convenience of our homes and with the kind generosity of these very same institutions reap the continued benefit of that challenge.
They need your help to sustain that challenge for the future or they will be gone. If we all do it, it doesn’t have to be much. All those political ads that ask for $5 or $10…they are counting on the multiples of giving people to make the difference. Be a multiple people person, and send to the group or groups of your choice what you can to help keep them alive.
And most importantly, send to your local shelter and food bank and community organizations that are helping people who have been displaced and discounted by this virus to get back onto their feet again. Never far from my thoughts, ever: “There but for the Grace of God…” I know you can finish the sentence.
Love – Sally-Jane
AMERICA: Oh my god! Coronavirus! What should we do?
CALIFORNIA: Shut down your state.
AMERICA: Wait… what? Why?
CALIFORNIA: Because 40 million people live here and we did it early, and it’s working.
NEW YORK: Welcome aboard.
OHIO: Whoa… whoa… let’s not be hasty now. The president said that this whole coronavirus thing is a democratic hoax.
CALIFORNIA: He also said that windmills cause cancer. Shut down your state.
TEXAS: But the president said that we only have 15 cases and soon it’ll be zero.
CALIFORNIA: The president can’t count to fifteen. Nor even spell it. Shut down your state.
NEW JERSEY: Us too?
CALIFORNIA: Yes, you guys too. Just like when Christie shut down the bridge, but it’s your whole state.
FLORIDA: But what about all these kids here on spring break?? They spend a lot of money here!
CALIFORNIA: Those kids invented the tide pod challenge. Shut down your state.
LOUISIANA: But wait let’s have Mardi Gras first. It entertains people.
CALIFORNIA: It also kills them. Shut it down.
GEORGIA: Ok well how about we keep the state open for all of our mega churches? Maybe we can all pray really hard until the coronavirus just goes away!
CALIFORNIA: Which is working like a charm for mass shootings. Jesus told us to tell you to shut down your state.
OKLAHOMA: What about the tigers?
CALIFORNIA: What about a dentist. Shut it down.
WYOMING: Hold up, maybe we should go county by county like the president said.
CALIFORNIA: Stop acting like there are counties in Wyoming. There are no counties in Wyoming. Wyoming is a county. Shut it down.
PENNSYLVANIA: But big coal.
CALIFORNIA: But big death. Shut it.
WEST VIRGINIA: But we were the last state to get coronavirus!
CALIFORNIA: And don’t make us explain to you why that was. Shut it down.
NORTH CAROLINA: But the republican national convention is coming here!
Laugh Lines or worry lines? This is not a difficult choice for me.
However, Guys, I am telling you, the “what if” scenarios about the virus are wreaking havoc in my un and subconscious mind. For me in the midst of any stress the antidote has always been humor.
And I have tried to make that available. I use my cell phone to go to Youtube and find the comedians from my generations that make me laugh. You can ask me later who my favorite oldies are. Netflix, Amazon, and Home Box Office display the young comics in their one man/woman shows. Yes, of course, there is the generational issue of what is funny to me and what is funny to a millennial being very different. It’s not that I don’t appreciate some of the humor of the present comic set.
And I am a pretty far out there lady as to spouting my own four letter words. But for me, in comedy, back up the colorful language with some clever situational and character and cross generation descriptions. Early Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Dick Gregory, Chris Rock, Robin Williams and today, Wanda Sykes… fantastic!!
All to say, I know where to go when I want a laugh from my favorite olden funny people – YouTube! However there was a bit of a problem. My stress level is always on the rise at night after I’ve gone to bed. I am awakened by yet another “what if” Titanic-sinking-scenario. So I grab my cell phone go to YouTube to play my funny people. So what’s my problem?
Lying in bed, even with good pillowing, watching that small screen for any length of time, gives me a backache and a neckache and a handache. Handache?? Of course! I recently put an ad on Craig’s list and in the classifieds for a nighttime cell phone holder. No one has applied.
And then, TA-DA! A miracle happened. I was notified that YouTube would be the electronic venue for the National Theatre of London’s brilliant and generous gift to the world of 5 of their past productions for a week at a clip. The first to be One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden. A production I saw in London 7 years ago. Sooo funny. I needed to see it. I had to see it. Just what the world ordered up, right? OMG! Could I do it? Could I sit in front of my computer for two and a half hours ORRRRRRRRR…. could I find a way to put YouTube on my television?? I only use my television to stream movies and favorite present day tv shows (yes, I am a Schitt’s Creek die hard). I asked myself, “Self!“ I said, “Is it possible that I can install the YouTube App on my television to see this London production?” (Ghostly spirituals begin…)
I couldn’t believe it! (Mahalia Jackson sings) I, of the most electronically challenged, actually thought to ask that question? What was happening? This virus, this quarantine, this sanitizing and washing must have stimulated a part of my brain that hasn’t seen light for all of my 86 years.
It worked! I did it! And I laughed and a light was seen that lifted me from the darkness. (Begin the Mormon Tabernacle Choir music) AMEN!! Next time I awake with heart pounding and visions of disasters, I can get up, go to my comfortable chair, even stop and make a cup of tea and watch my oldies and goodies.
For what it’s worth, I pass it onto you. And if any of you want to say to me, “What’s wrong with you. I’ve been doing this for years.” DON’T !
Stay Well. Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. I thank everyone who contributes to my laugh lines by sending these.
And finally, something for the spirit and the soul: