Category Archives: People

The World Stage

First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0212_(All_the_world's_a_stage)

William had a way with words, but more importantly, a way with thoughts. Most of us, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy Shakespeare because in high school literature class we read his plays, not as plays but as stories. They’re great plays. They’re TERRIBLE stories.

It’s like trying to sing a blueprint or mime an equation. It just don’t work.

However, he had some great thoughts.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

If we are the actors (players), to some extent we get to choose–or at least imagine–our audience. As the curtain opens, for whom are we performing? Facebook? Snapchat? The 24-hour news cycle? Reality TV producers? Our moral compass? God? The choice is ours.

On a real stage, the lights are so bright that it is almost impossible to see the audience. Since we don’t know who’s out there, we should play our parts as we believe they should be played.

The curtain is opening. Put your heart and soul into whatever role is yours to play.

Harry, Thank You and Godspeed

Harry

One of the most phenomenal gifts to magic left us today–Harry Anderson. He was a street performer, a delightful guest on Saturday Night Live, Judge Harry Stone on Night Court, and he played Dave Berry on Dave’s World.

How anyone could play Dave Berry is beyond me—but then Harry was also beyond me.

After television, he moved to New Orleans and opened a bar with a magic shop. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, the word is that he kept his place open to feed (important) and provide coffee (MORE important) to the first responders.  Later, he moved to Asheville, NC.

When I heard that he had moved, I did a search and found a Harry Anderson in Asheville, and wanted to send him a letter. I wanted to tell him that I enjoyed Night Court. I watched it here, In 1988, on my way to Antarctica, they only had a limited number of hours of television in New Zealand, but one program they had was Night Court–they must have enjoyed him, too. I think he would have liked that. I bought the DVDs. If you never saw Night Court #1, you need to.

Harry rekindled my interest in magic. I’m not much of a performer, but I love the art (and, yes, the science) of stage magic. It’s like the person who could never paint the Mona Lisa, but is dumbstruck by its beauty. Knowing how the magic is done only deepens my respect and admiration for those who perform.

The last performance I did was Thanksgiving, probably in the 1980s, in the basement of my parents’ home. My audience was my kids, parents, siblings, niece and nephews. When I did his trademark* needle through the arm (“It’s an illusion. It’s like–it’s like economic recovery. You think that it’s happening but it really isn’t!) my mother had to leave the room.

Harry would have approved.

I love magic, but to put it into perspective–I’ve seen Harry Blackstone, Jr. perform, and had a wonderful discussion with him after his show and got an autographed picture. (The picture faded but the conversation never will. He was a gentleman with class.) I would have loved to have had him as a next door neighbor.

I’ve seen David Copperfield several times; I suspect deep down inside he’s shy–in the lobby, after the show, he’d autograph memorabilia (including mine), but didn’t say much.

I saw Doug Henning on stage and the show was absolutely awesome, but never had the chance to talk with him.

I’ve been to the magic convention in Colon, Michigan and the Magic Castle in California, several times. I have to count the Safe House in Milwaukee as another great venue for magic.

But I never saw Harry’s show live and I never met him.

Doug Henning was wonderful, but we knew–KNEW–he wouldn’t drown upside down in the “milk jug.” David Copperfield’s illusions are so large that they defied description. We KNEW that the Statue of Liberty was still there and there was no passage through the Great Wall of China.

Then there was Harry. He told you it was an illusion. He told you that he really wasn’t pushing an 18 inch needle through his arm, BUT, we all knew a kid in high school who, for a few dollars would have done exactly that. That’s what made Harry’s performances so wonderful. You never could completely suspend the disbelief. Harry knew what was truly magic–and made us believe, even if just a little.

I’m sorry I never sent that letter. I might have made a friend, or one of us might have thought the other was a total jerk. But I never did, so I’ll never know.

How many opportunities do each of us pass on for no good reason? Maybe we should each take a chance on something before it’s too late.

Goodbye, Harry. I’m sorry I never sent the letter.

 

 

*Harry didn’t invent the illusion. It was once called Whodo Voodoo, which never made it because it was considered too gory, but Harry had the perfect story (patter) to make it work.

Goodbye to the Newspaper

When I was growing up, almost everybody took the local newspaper. Many cities had several competing newspapers, although Toledo’s two papers–one morning and one evening–were owned and operated by the same company.

Journalism is dead, having given way to commentary. Many newspapers are moribund. In my area, so few people subscribe to the actual news that the newspaper distributes a free weekly printing of advertisements. They probably copied the business model of the US Postal Service, which became a model of financial success when junk mail became their most profitable business.

Many papers already rely primarily on the wire services for their content, which means that in the morning paper you’ll see the same articles you read online the day before. With reliance on wire services–of which there are basically two–the entire nation receives the information as perceived by one writer. While I don’t like this, I must admit that it is an approach that has worked well for Vladimir Putin.

News is framed so as to attract everyone’s attention–in other words, it must be sensational or salacious–ideally both. This results in the media altering our perception. Travel by airplane, for example, is very safe, which is why an emergency landing on a highway with no injuries is considered nationally newsworthy and causes some people to perceive airplanes as dangerous. On the other hand, automobile accidents are so common that it must involve a self-driving vehicle, have a dozen or so fatalities, involve over 50 cars.

It’s sad that most people don’t want journalism because it requires readers to think. It’s easier to find some online source that reinforces their existing position and biases than to have to think and possibly change their minds occassionally.

I’ve Been Busy—Not Ignoring You

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing the materials for an emergency communications course. It’s amazing that when someone else has prepared over 600 PowerPoint slides (with notes) that it would take so much time to update. Why? Because what we know today about dealing with disasters is more than what we knew before Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Personally, I believe that being better prepared for the future is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m working on my short story—which has become at least a novelette (a short version of a short book? Huh?)—continues to develop. The more I learn about the characters (and more characters keep popping up), the more complex—but interesting—the story becomes. However, if a new character appears, a whole lot of the backstory changes. As a writer, I have a certain duty to the characters. Without me, they are doomed to shrivel away to nothingness, through no fault of their own. They deserve better, so I try to tell their stories. So far, the characters include a not-quite-dead aged business multi-multi-billionaire, several lawyers, most of whom are self-serving, but one of whom has a national security background, a distant relative who can see how the pieces fit, and someone (thing?) who seems to have many of the answers, but who is known as Zaznoz (sounds like a new drug or a new exercise routine to me).

Then I do need to devote time to the day job.

Not to mention that we celebrated Christmas with close friends, followed by my daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, who drove ten hours (I think she was being nice and understated the journey length) to visit us and to make for a wonderful time.

Oh, and my older son used his 3D printer to make my Christmas gift—a full size, accurate replica of Han Solo’s blaster. (Is that cool or what?)

Han Solo’s Blaster (Let’s me shoot first).

 

So, as you see, it’s not lack of interest in blogging, just lack of time.

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

XMAS, Improved

My friend, Rick Martinez, with whom I’ve shared wonderful intellectual and philosophical conversations—as well as my writing efforts throughout the years—comments on some of my blogs. This is in response to my last blog, and is a beautiful thought for the season. I formatted it as a blog, but the thoughts and words are Rick’s, unchanged.

Thank you, Steve, for writing about Christmas—the Birth of Christ. No matter of all the “scientific” facts surrounding when Jesus was born and who believes what–there’s at least two general things we all acknowledge and accept as true. At the time and in the area of Christ’s birth, what was true 2000 years ago continues to be true today–some 2000 years later: There were believers and non-believers and warring factions back then as there are now. And–for Christians all over the world, the most tragic words ever written of our Lord are those set down by the Apostle John in the beginning of his Gospel:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born;

Nazareth, no room for Him when He lived; and

Jerusalem, no room for Him when He died.

XMAS

As a Christian, I hold this time of year as a most special time. December 25th has a one in 365 ¼ chance of being Jesus’ actual day of birth. In the absence of accurate records of births circa 003 BCE, and given the significance of the winter solstice—when each day has more light—the early Christian church may have taken advantage of events and combined celebrations. (Since gospel means, “good news,” it should not be surprising that Christians enjoy celebrating all of the good things in life.)

Some Christians take issue with the idea of Xmas, but, as often happens, a study of history enhances understanding. Xmas is not a way of removing Christ from Christmas, but a connection back to a time closer to his life. The “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” the Greek word for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Christians have seen the chi-rho symbol, and because of the prominence of the Greek letter rho—which looks like a “P”, they transpose the first (X) and second (P) letters and miss the fact that Xmas appropriately recognizes the Christ and does not replace his name with a variable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, regardless of your religious viewpoint, celebrate a few days of love. History has examples of wartime enemies, laying down their weapons, exchanging food and drink, singing Christmas Carols and playing football (soccer), for one precious, blessed evening. THAT is powerful.