Monday, December 29, 2014

Goodbye 2014. Go away.

2014 is coming to a close and all I can say is THANK GOD.
This year, while it's had some great moments and some fun experiences, has not been awesome. I've just felt stagnant from the moment it started to the moment it's ending.

While I was in Dallas for Christmas, I attended church with my parents. While the church is in the same building it was in when I was growing up, it is, in no way, the same church. Here's some background:

I grew up in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible belt. I grew up attending a Pentecostal church and from the day I was born, I was at church every Sunday and Wednesday. My family is Methodist on my mom's side and Pentecostal on my dad's side. I sang in the children's musicals (I had the lead, thank you very much), I sang in the youth choir, and when I graduated from high school, I continued to lead the drama dept for the youth group. As much as I didn't want to fit into anyone's mold, I fit in that "church kid" mold perfectly. Everyone had the same opinion on most things and we were unified in that.
But as I got older, I began to question things that I wasn't really supposed to question. Namely: Just because it's been done one certain way for so long, why does that mean we have to keep doing it that way? Replace "it" with whatever is the hot topic of the moment. 
I wasn't alone by any stretch of the imagination. I feel like I was among a generation of church-going young people who all began to ask questions at the same time. I had friends who were in school to become pastors and many of the professors would get upset with them because they didn't want to run their congregations with the same legalism and rigidity that so many churches functioned in. 
At 21, I left the church I grew up in, and began attending a Baptist mega-church down the street where I attended until I transferred to a college further away.

I say all of that to say that this church was almost a second home. I was there all the time. I remember when the building was being built and we toured it, I remember when we were building the youth center and we canceled drama practice so we could go play in the rain inside the steel shell that would become that building. Most all of my teenage memories are tied to that place and the people inside of it.

But being inside there on Sunday, I was left with a hollow feeling of loss. It's nothing like it was. The people are different people, it's a different staff, it's even been remodeled somewhat so it's physically different. There's no remnant of what was previously so vibrant in my life. I sat through the service, trying to pay attention, but my thoughts were continually stolen away by looking around and seeing that nothing was the same.

I left there knowing I won't be returning. I care far too much about those memories to allow them to be diminished by whatever this new/other things is.  It's mildly appropriate that it happened at the end of the year. I'm so ready for a new year to begin. Usually, the fall is when I reboot, and that's true, but there's just something about this new years that feels so right.

I'm ready to close the door on 2014 and focus purely on what's ahead. There's nothing I hate more than being stagnant and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get out of that state of mind.

So thank God. Here's to 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The movie industry has two problems.

The movie industry has a problem. Well, its problems are legion but specifically, two problems rose to the surface yesterday, one of which dominated the news cycle and the other has been a steady factor for the past three years.

Problem One.
Yesterday, in a studio conference room where I'm sure all electronic communication of any kind was prohibited, studio execs decided to take the upcoming James Franco/Seth Rogen movie "The Interview" off the release schedule, due to threats from the Sony hackers. Personally, I think most every James Franco and/or Seth Rogen movie should be shelved, but this is different. This is a group of executives who were, ultimately, scared that more of their private info was going to be released and they buckled under an anonymous threat. No matter what is in that stupid movie, I guarantee worse has been said about and done to North Korea on "Family Guy" or "Robot Chicken" - both of which seem to be playing at all hours of the day. When "Team America" was released, no one saw it as a threat. (I will, however, argue that "Team America" had its farce was built into the characters, literally. No one expects any semblance of reality when watch puppets fight one another, no matter who they look like.) I'm sure there's much we don't know about the situation and I'm sure the FBI is very much involved - but as it stands, it reads as "freedom of speech is fallible and farce isn't allowed if someone doesn't like the joke you're telling."

Problem Two.
The other problem Hollywood had this year was an unnecessary problem.
One of the year's would-be biggest films was "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and although it made $700M globally, it did not fare anywhere near where the studio would have liked. The root of that issue is that it wasn't great. In my opinion, it wasn't even good. But mostly, it was unnecessary. As was the first outing Andrew Garfield made with the Spidey suit. Unnecessary. It's hadn't even been ten years since the last film but the drive to reboot was apparently so all-consuming, Sony was unable to ignore it.
There have been plenty of unnecessary films this year. "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Expendables 3," "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,"/"Transformers," (basically anything Michael Bay had a hand in) - but the most glaring example of uneccesary filmmaking in 2014 (and 2013 and 2012 for that matter) remains "The Hobbit" franchise.
I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I couldn't wait for each film to open, then I couldn't wait to get the DVDs to re-watch it and explore all I'd missed. The announcement of "The Hobbit" coming to the big screen was unsurprising, but when it was announced by Peter Jackson that the planned two-part story was going to expand to a three-part version, I knew this didn't actually mean good things. Jackson is one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, but he also seems to have an inability to say no in both the writing and editing rooms. The Lord of the Rings films were long and inflated, but because the public is such a fan of the source material, they let it slide. It didn't hurt that the films were all but spotless renderings on screen, a feast for the eyes, ears, and emotions. "The Hobbit" however, didn't have nearly the volume of source material to work with and the added filler stories left fans scratching their heads. Nothing can be exact when it comes to the translation from book-to-screen but this seemed to be a bit much. (The same could be said for stage-to-screen for that matter. This year's "Into the Woods" has garnered raves from musical theatre fans who have seen it to be a faithful telling of their beloved stage show, but when "The Producers" was released as a film that was basically a shot-for-shot reproduction of the stage production, it was maligned.)
I sat through all three of the films that made up "The Hobbit" and I did enjoy each of them. They felt different than the previous trilogy in Middle Earth, but that didn't really bother me. But at the end of what I'm calling, "The Hobbit: The (Incredibly long) Battle of the Five (four and a half really) Armies," I was left with the fact that this story could have been told in two volumes, not three. The first words out of my mouth were "It was good, but it didn't need to be three films." It was unnecessary to expand it in the way they did. Fleshing a story out makes sense, but this was so fleshed out, it was gluttonous and served the interest of a money-grab, not storytelling.

Hollywood has a problem. I fear there's no way to stop the unnecessary filmmaking and those films will usually find a way to saturate the conversation. But the way Sony just bent over and let the hackers have their way is unsettling. Perhaps time will tell the rest of the story, but for now, it seems freedom of speech lost a silly, yet very real, battle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"[name not found] It's Cold Outside"

I realized something very odd recently. I am ever the single-man when it comes to Christmastime.

The last time I had a reason to sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" was when I was a freshman in high school and I had a girlfriend named Amanda. I don't remember what exactly I got her, but I remember she got me something with Marvin the Martian on it. Perhaps it was a big plush version of him? Either way, that's what I remember. Not exactly the fodder for a Nicholas Sparks screenplay.

Not that I'm one of those people who is perpetually in a relationship, but the times when I have been, those relationships have met their demise before the holiday season has begun to materialize on storefronts and TV commercials. It's just how the cosmic timing of my life has panned out.

I don't suppose it's entirely upsetting. Beyond the fact that it makes having a "Love Actually" moment in real life momentarily impossible, it just means I hadn't found/been found by the right one yet. I think for some people, that upsets them. Some want to be in a relationship so desperately that the thought of flying solo at Christmas keeps them double-fisting the eggnog through all of December. I don't really feel that way. One day, that will be great. Til then, I've got a whole crew of folks to be merry with, I don't have to worry about where to spend Christmas, and I can still have all the eggnog I want without inciting stories of woe-is-me as I'm put into a cab. Though when the time does come, I plan on showing up outside with signs.

This whole "being single at New Years" thing usually parlays into being single for Valentines Day, something I'm completely comfortable with. I can enjoy the chocolate without having to share. Plus, Hallmark and Duane Reade have put such a weight of expectation on Valentines Day that it's really not fun or exciting. It's expected. And to me, expected is the enemy of romance. The best things in my life haven't come from being calculated or trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit just so. The best things in my life have been unexpected.

So while I won't be singing any rendition of the drunk, slutty and moderately misogynistic Christmas classic, "Baby It's Cold Outside," this year, I may look for that Marvin the Martian thing, to see if that still exists in the back of my old closet at my parents' house. And who knows, maybe this time next year, I'll be writing about using signs at Christmas and how I "feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes." I won't expect it, but it'd be nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A song that lingered

This week, I attended a showcase for new composers and lyricists of musical theatre and one of the songs that was performed was from a show in development called The Boy Who Danced On Air by Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser. The song I heard, "A Boy of my Own" was a beautiful ode from two young men that is ultimately about their desire for their future sons' lives to be better than their own.

Guiseppe Bausilio & Jamen Nanthakumar  


The song stayed with me, long after the singing ended, and I found the documentary that inspired the musical on YouTube.

In 2010, "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" aired on PBS. It chronicled the lives of men involved with bacha bazi, a form of sexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent and adolescent boys are sold to wealthy and powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities. They are taught to sing, play music and dance like women in order to perform for these rich men.  This ancient practice has all but disappeared in the world, except where it's thriving in Afghanistan. Many men there keep dancing boys as status symbols, even though it's illegal under Afghan law.

Beyond the apparent backwards mentality of both slavery and child prostitution, what I found so cripplingly painful was the fact that these boys are being raped and taken advantage of by rich men, in the name of entertainment. As someone who has first-hand experience of male-on-male rape culture, I didn't have to try very hard to put myself in these young boys' shoes. It's the type of pain that takes a very long time to move past and, that's if you have a support system that allows you to grow past it. If you are young and alone, as a piece of property, I can't imagine what that does to them.

The documentary states that the police treat this like just another taboo subject and they pay little attention to it, which has enabled it to spread. There are organizations like Hope for Justice who are working to end human trafficking, but this just shows how much more there is to do.

Watching the documentary, I couldn't help but feel glad that there's a team of theatre writers who are working to bring this story to the stage. In a culture that seems to only champion the film-turned-musical genre, having a new work written about something topical and timely is more important than ever. In the way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is illuminating a human story on stage, I hope this will as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Conundrum.

Last night, I found myself with a bit of a conundrum.


co·nun·drum
ˈnəndrəm/
noun
noun: conundrum; plural noun: conundrums
a confusing and difficult problem or question.
 
Dating can be confusing. When I was younger, I over-thought everything. We all do that. But as I've gotten older, it's become easier to just let it roll off my back and realize, it may work out or it may not. There's no reason to over-think the things we can't control.

Having made that very rational statement...last night, I began over-thinking again like a junior high kid who just had his first kiss on the dance floor as "I Swear" plays. It wasn't my first kiss. It wasn't even our first kiss. But it made my brain spin.

Why does this happen to us? Why do we find ourselves with butterflies in our stomachs, no matter what our age is? I think it's probably healthy to feel that way. Being jaded isn't attractive on anyone, so having a moment of pre-romantic-nervousness is a great way to ground us again. It reminds us we're human and that we aren't invincible. We're all just mush underneath, no matter how tough our exteriors may seem.

So a kiss left me feeling like mush, and I think that's fine. I prefer to be very much in control of what happens, but facing this conundrum of not being able to control things, I'm just gonna have to roll with it. And yes, think about it some more.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wanna be on top...

I feel like most of America forgot that "America's Next Top Model" was still on TV. The ratings have dwindled and the impact on pop culture is all but invisible - but this show has somehow survived the network chopping block and has been, apparently, trying to reinvent itself. 
I say apparently because I haven't been watching. The most of my Top Model watching occurred when I was in college when we would watch the all-day Saturday and Sunday marathons of previous seasons. I don't know that I've ever committed to watching the show when it originally aired. 

But this week, I felt oddly compelled to watch this season. Actually, the reason I felt compelled to watch was because I read an interview with the person who won this season. Oh - that's something else that has changed since the last time I watched - now, there are both guys and girls in the competition, which is fun, and a bit odd.

Today, I've spent hours reconnecting with the current incarnation of the show I use to binge-watch and it's been an oddly enlightening experience. Enlightening primarily because I wasn't able to reconnect with it at all. It's not that I haven't been enjoying it, I happen to really enjoy competition shows, but this wasn't the show I used to love. This was a completely different monster. Sure, there are a few similarities to what it used to be, but it's a different show. Not a bad show. Just different.

I recently had a similar experience with an old friend. We hadn't connected in such a long time and when our paths finally crossed again and we were able to have a real conversation, it was very apparent that the connection we once had was palpably different. We didn't have a bad time, but it wasn't what I used to know.

That happens. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. We're all works in progress who continue to grow and change. Sometimes we grow and change with people, sometimes we don't. I don't know when my friend and I are going to get together again, only time will tell. But I'm going to finish this season of ANTM. Mostly because I like photoshoots and pretty people. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Avalanched

I have a really emotional response to today. I'll be the first to admit that I'm overly emotional on a regular basis. I feel deeply, things affect me deeply, I want things for myself and for others in a deep and almost tangible way. But today came out of nowhere but I should have expected it. 
It happened at the convergence of stress and joy. Those two emotions don't plug into each other. One always overtakes the other and while we hope that joy is the victor, sometimes it's the other way around. But today, they collided into each other in my far-too-cluttered brainspace and the effect was this sort of avalanche of feelings and thoughts gone awry. 
This isn't making much sense. 
Let me rephrase.
You know in James Bond movies when they are trying to out-ski the avalanche on the side of the mountain, and they just so happen to have a jacket on that inflates to being a bubble around them, keeping them unharmed? Okay, now imagine Peter Griffin and the chicken fighting each other within that inflated bubble jacket. There. That was what it felt like. 
Great things, less-than-great things, petty things, important things - they all mixed together like the ingredients in a sauce Rachel Ray would make while shouting at her audience about the wonders of unripe tomatoes. And the great things overtook the less-than-great things and what I was left with was a really call feeling that things are actually going pretty well. 
Yeah, some big things went wrong over the past week, but some even bigger things went right. For some reason, my disappointment over the things that went wrong was disproportionate to what the situation warranted. Guess that's just another time when hindsight is 20/20. 
As jumbled as all of this sounds, we've all had those overwhelming moments where we can't process what we're feeling and aren't sure how to articulate it. But I tried to articulate it and it came out sounding like the above. There's no moral to the story or any real rhyme to why I had to write this. I just had to get it out. I had to try to process the thoughts into something I could grapple with. 
And now I kinda want chicken for dinner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In Crush.

I fell in love. 
Okay no, I haven't found my perfect match. I'm still very single. But I did fall in love. At first sight even. 
Okay it's not real love. It's not even real love adjacent. But it's an all-consuming, can't stop thinking about you, mentally-crippling crush that, to a junior high kid, would feel like a love that would never fade away. 
It's not even falling in lust. It's just a crush. (cue Jennifer Paige song) But it hit me in the face like a backpack full of grad school books and I've been dizzy ever since. I'm "in crush."

I'm 31 years old. Are crushes like this supposed to happen to people my age? Are our hearts still supposed to flutter at the mention of a name or at the remembrance of making eye contact? Whatever the answer is, I'm fluttering. Which is flustering. 

I prefer to be in charge. I like to lead things. I like to be in control. In so many aspects of life, that comes so naturally, but when it comes to a wandering heart that meanders its way wherever it so pleases, why do I feel completely helpless? I get a crush and my brain turns to Jello; it's functional as a solid but when you shake it around, it waivers and collapses like goo. 

I think the funny thing about crushes is that you are the one that ends up feeling crushed. I'm the one that can't stop thinking about it. They are blissfully moving on with their life...or are they? Maybe it's reciprocated? Maybe we can be "in crush" together? Maybe it's meant to be? Maybe I've found the love of my life?!

And then that happens. I hate this. 

But truthfully, I also love that I can still feel the flutter. It's a nice reminder that my single heart that's sat in time-out for a while still has a desire to come out and play. 

So if you need me, I'm going about my life: working, taking the train, walking here or there. And while my Jello brain is enabling all of those things to happen in a functional capacity, all it takes is one thought and I'm goo again. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The land of Insta-condemnation


I don’t believe in message boards. I think they are places where the lowest forms of life exist to not only bring down whatever the topic is but bring down anyone else who may be foolish enough to comment about said topic.

Having said that, I sometimes will make the haphazard decision to read what is in front of me, specifically if I’m looking at a Facebook post or an Instagram photo. The comments are right there on the screen and sometimes I’ll glance at them. There’s no harm in the glance, but when you start scrolling through…

A friend retweeted an Instagram photo of a very well known Christian music singer’s engagement photo. They’re on a beach, they’re elated, it’s wonderful. I was looking through some other photos on the singer’s page and there was one of Justin Timberlake mid-concert. Fun, I wish I could go see his show too. Then I made the mistake. I looked to the right and at the comments.

A debate had ensued in the comments left on the photo. A group of mostly women began an argument about the “spiritual repercussions” of the singer’s actions in the photo. Please bear in mind that her action was to go see Justin Timberlake sing and dance about a suit and a tie.

One woman said “I don't judge her! However - it's such a thin line to cross just because she's becoming more and more known around the world, so it requires being a little more careful with these things. Secular music is not bad, but someone with her shoes, this wasn't such a bright idea to post...especially to new believers who are coming to Christ. That's the only thing I see in this...”

Okay…

Then another woman agreed with her! “I totally agree with you! Such a bad move. Being a worship leader, she should set an example to those new believers. Such a shame.”

I fail to see the shame in going to a Justin Timberlake concert. I have a friend who saw him this weekend actually and loved the show. I also fail to see where it’s any of these people’s business to comment on the decisions this singer is making.

Sure, I know that we post things for people to see and comments come with that. Everyone has something to say and these women are allowed to be as loudly ignorant as they want to be. What concerns me is that their loud intolerance for decisions made by others is being thrust out into the world and people like me are stumbling on it, even if we don’t follow the singer on Instagram.

At what point will Christians understand that they have to function in a real world, where not everyone believes exactly what they believe, makes the same decisions they make or acts like they do? This insta-condemnation that is so readily accessible in much of Christian culture is the heavy hand that swats away people who don’t believe as they do. How do you expect someone to listen to your message with an open ear if you continue to slap them away at even the slightest hint of disagreement?

An old friend of mine posted an article from a VERY conservative site about the pastor of Hillsong church in New York City and about his approach to what he does. He then went on a rant about how wrong this man’s approach and doctrine is and that this is the problem with Christianity today. Now, I’ve been to said church and I know that things there don’t happen as they would in a small church on the buckle of the Bible Belt, but in no way did I feel like the teaching became a watered-down free-for-all.  I stated my opinion in the comments section, (there I go again, that damn comments section) and was ultimately told I still wasn’t correct in my thinking.

Christianity today doesn’t look like it did a decade ago. Why? The world doesn’t look the same as it did a decade ago. Just as pastors have to take the words written thousands of years ago and make them applicable to today’s living, we have to continue to do that over the course of our lives. The context when we were children isn’t the context we exist in as adults. There are so many people from where I’m from (Bible Belt) who are so afraid of the changes within churches like Hillsong who are welcoming to all people, approachable in their context and God isn’t portrayed as an angry being ready to strip us of our salvation at any given moment. Do crazy-overzealous-Christians go to Hillsong? Yes. Are there gay people at Hillsong? Yes. Do they sing in the choir? Yes. Are they open about their lifestyle? Yes. Does Justin Beiber attend when he’s in town? Yes. Is he the most obnoxious person in music? Yes. But all are welcome.

I personally don’t believe Jesus would be thrilled with the way Christians treat others, especially the way they treat their own. I think He’d be pretty saddened by it. I also don’t think He’d be all that pissed that this singer went to a Justin Timberlake concert. He would probably want to hear N’Sync songs just like the rest of us.  

My favorite comment though was by someone who had a least a modicum of sense. “You all obviously recognize him so you’ve listened to his music too. So you all need to sit down.” 

The power of a reboot

Nothing went right this morning. From the moment my feet hit the floor, it has been a sitcom-style-series of unfortunate events.
It took longer than expected to get ready because I couldn't find my pants because they were wadded up in the corner of my apartment for some reason.
Then I just missed the train but another was right behind it. A momentary break of luck. Too bad that two stops after boarding the train, it went out of service and hundreds of irritated New Yorkers got to wait on the platform for another train to show up. Which it did, minus the air conditioning the first train had.
The train took its sweet time getting downtown, all the while I'm beginning to sweat, which isn't a cute look when you're en route to the office.
I missed another connecting train before I finally got to where I was going, only to have little rain droplets begin to ping off my head.
This calls for an iced coffee. That fixes all things right? Except, I wanted some coffee with my sugar and creamer and apparently they missed that part of the order. So I have my coffee-laced sugar water and I finally made it to the office.

Time to reboot.

It's amazing really. No matter how strange our day has been, we have the ability to reboot just like we would a computer that's acting up. Some people haven't figured this out yet and if they "get up on the wrong side of the bed" in the morning, their entire day is somehow ruined. But there's such value in being able to put a mental stop to the bad moments to make way for the good.

So as I sat down at my desk, I rebooted along with my computer. There's no use hanging on to what happened this morning and letting it affect the rest of my day. That'd be a wasted day. Waste not, want not. And don't worry, I've got my coffee-laced sugar water to keep me alert.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thank you Lisa

I first became aware of Lisa Ling when I was in junior high and watched "Channel One" every day. The next time I heard from her was when she joined "The View." Leaving the daytime gab-fest may not have looked like a wise decision from someone so early in her career, but Ling knew she was meant to do more than have conversations around the table with celebrities. She was meant to talk to real people.

The first episode of "Our America" I saw was "Pray the Gay Away." Having had quite a bit of those same conversations in my own life, it was astonishing to see it play out on national television. There it was, being told out in the open. She also recognized that the story didn't end when the cameras stopped rolling and she revisited the subject. Not only was she a witness to the change, but her coverage also became a catalyst for the change. Exodus Ministries, the largest of the ex-gay movement ministries, shuttered and through "Our America," men who had been profoundly hurt and scarred were given the opportunity to confront the man behind the ministry. Some of the men found closure and maybe even forgiveness.

My personal favorite episode was actually about present day nuns. I tell people about it all the time. More than being an informative and enlightening hour of television, it was a masterclass in journalistic storytelling. Every angle was covered, every woman's story was told fully and with such care. The decisions of these women were honored by Ling in a way that made each of their stories important and meaningful. The amount of care shown left an impression on me that I haven't forgotten.

I'm going to miss "Our America." Ling has a way of telling the whole story, all sides and facets, and remaining as objective as a person can be while remaining present in the moment. Whether it was a gay christian, a man wrongfully convicted, a transgender person, a drug user or teenage mother, Ling allowed the stories of Americans to become thought-provoking and teachable moments. I know that her career doesn't end with "Our America," it continues to rise as she moves to CNN to continue her work, but I will miss this show. In an age where television channels are full of nonsense "reality" TV, "Our America" was TV that mattered and had the power to change lives.

Thank you Lisa.

A new Quest

Here's the thing. I watch a lot of TV. A lot. When someone asks me what shows I watch, I laugh first, blush second and own up to it third. I watch so much.

I've been excited about "The Quest" since I first heard the concept. It's a competition reality show set in a fantasy world that would coexist nicely within Middle Earth or any of the realms of "Game of Thrones." They are living in a fully realized world populated by citizens, royalty, monsters, villains and fantastical creatures. It's "Survivor" meets "Big Brother" meets "Lord of the Rings." I'm in.

I'll admit the first episode started slowly, but so did "The Fellowship of the Ring." There's a lot of groundwork that has to be laid for this fantasy world to build on. What did not take time to build was the fact that the attention to detail within this show is extraordinary. From the entrance through the tunnels to the grounds around the castle, everything felt as if we had gone on a journey with the contestants. It feels a lot like watching "Once Upon A Time," ABC's Sunday night fairy tale saga, except there's a human element of it knowing these contestants aren't actors. They are real people.

In an age where "reality TV" isn't really reality, the concept of "The Quest" is refreshing. It was said within the first two minutes of the show that the storyline is set and these adventurers are the pieces within the structured story. They fill out the narrative. While that removes the unpredictability so many watch reality TV for, it also gives us the knowledge that there's an endgame and it won't spiral on forever.

That narrative isn't that profound. But I think there's a lot underneath that narrative. One of that contestants, after she won the challenge, spoke about how she then felt like she deserved to be there. "...Not just a character I've build up in my head, but me, Bonnie. I deserve to be here." I feel like that's the takeaway from this show. Yes, the structure is fantasy and make-believe come to life, but the challenges and tests these people are facing are actually happening to them and for some of them, the boost in their self esteem is something they haven't felt before. The cast is a healthy mixture of diverse people but at the root of all of their stories, they felt like nerds. (Some are incredibly hot nerds I must say) Now, they are given the chance to exist in a world they previously only thought existed on a movie screen or in their imagination. Not only that, but they are the star of the story and have the opportunity to save the day in the final act.

I'm sticking with "The Quest." I think there's more to mine there and I'm a sucker for an underdog. And this is a show full of underdogs just waiting for their moment to prove to themselves they are worthy of the quest we call life.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Brittney Griner needs to take a seat.

Brittney Griner needs to take a seat.

In her new book, she talks about the homophobia she experienced while at Baylor University.

As a student of Baylor at the same time as Griner, I can tell you that we all knew she was gay. She openly held hands with her girlfriend on campus, they attended events together and spoke about it in class. The only time this has become an issue for her, is once she started talking to news outlets and she realized there's a lucrative book deal in talking trash about apparent conservatives in an effort to make her road appear more difficult as a gay person.

We know it's hard to come out and every person who goes through that process has their own story, especially in conservative environments. But Griner wasn't an outcast because she was gay at Baylor. People on campus looked up to her and in the two interactions I had with her, she was nothing but kind. Actually, one of those interactions was when she was hand-in-hand with her girlfriend. In public. No. One. Cared. She was doted upon and adulated like a celebrity and was often driven by a golf cart to her classes. There wasn't any talk about her not being able to be herself because in public, when I saw her, she was very open.

Gay people in the public eye need to quit this march of self-martyrdom. I understand that this story sells more books and will get you as the top news story on ESPN and OutSports, but the reality of the situation is not at all what she has presented it to be. It's a tacky scapegoat that sounds really great in the media. "The Baptist University tried to keep the superstar in the closet." When in reality, she was asked to not talk about it in relation to the basketball game. Why? Because it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight when you're on the court. It matters that you can make the play. So why take the focus off of being on a winning basketball team, one of the best in the country, to talk about the private life of a 22 year old girl?

Michael Sam has been in the news and was awarded at the ESPYs for being a trailblazer. While his coming out was also very calculated, he hasn't spoken ill of his time during college. As a matter of fact, he took the alternate route and has talked about the support he felt when he played football in college and that he's taking that support with him as he embarks on his NFL career this fall. Did he have people who didn't believe in him? Probably. But he's focused on the support.

While these comments from Griner will be but a blip on her career radar, it still irritates me that she took cheap shots at a university that paid for her education, gave her the opportunity to win a national championship and supported her all the way to the draft. Baylor is the alma mater of Olympic gold medalists, professional athletes, Emmy winning actresses and some of the top filmmakers in the country, all of which come back to Baylor to give back to the university that gave them their start. I wish Griner would do the same, rather than making Baylor a scapegoat for a more juicy sound bite to get people to buy her book.

I'm going to talk about Holler...

I keep my opinions mostly to myself when it comes to Broadway. Sure, my circle of friends and I will talk about what shows we liked and which ones we didn't, but basically, I keep that out of the public forum. Most of the reason is because I know and am friends with people who are working on Broadway in various capacities. Are they aware that not every show they've been a part of has been a winner? Yes. But they don't need me spewing that out on my Facebook feed. However, this summer, the debate about Broadway criticism has become almost more of a newsmaker than a show itself.

Holler If You Hear Me, the Broadway musical that used the music of Tupac as it's guide, opened and closed quickly. This wasn't surprising to most, especially among the people I know who saw the show, including myself.

I'll admit, I saw the show early on in previews. There were a couple weeks worth of changes that could have taken place between the time I saw it and when it opened, but in talking to people who went to see it after me, it didn't sound like much change had taken place.

My root-level thoughts are these: a large cast and crew were employed on Broadway. That's a win. The amount of talent within that cast list read like a gleaming beacon of belting divas and powerful men. That's a win.  The show was unlike anything else that was on the Great White Way. Win.
From the get-go, it was billed as the rap musical on Broadway. This was the selling point. Rap on Broadway with an almost entirely black cast. I think that's great. The Lion King and Motown both employ large mostly black casts, but that's about it. Broadway was and is a predominantly white person medium, something that is changing and needs to continue to do so. Even in BLEEP, I have written about the need for color-blind casting in classic shows. So having a big show in such a huge theater employing these actors was a win.

But when I got to the show, the excitement of something new quickly wore off as I was pummeled with the n-word in every other stanza, fed a less-than-compelling story and presented with performers who were not in the least bit utilized to the potential I've seen them have in other works. Another of the selling points was Tupac's poetic lyrics, which told the story of what was happening on the streets at the moment he was writing. The problem is that those lyrics were nearly impossible to understand as they were shouted sans any diction. Yes, I'm a white male with a masters degree in Communications from a private university, but for someone who doesn't know every word of the Tupac catalog (and I would argue that was 95% of the audience) that immediately sucked the poetic meaning out of the story...because you can't understand the story.

Even the ending, although borrowed from the book of West Side Story, felt like it could have been a poignant moment, until the shouting commenced again, utterly ruining any sort of emotional and teachable moment that existed.

After the show closes, star Saul Williams, did an interview with Rolling Stone where he blamed racism as the reason the show closed. There's no other way to read what he said. He is wrong. The show closed because it was a sub-par show, on too large of a stage, in a giant theater they could never fill in the middle of the summer. Motown sells out. Trip to the Bountiful was a hit. The Color Purple was a hit. This season, After Midnight was a hit and one of the best nights of theatre I have had. But when After Midnight closed, there wasn't any talk about racism being the reason.

Absent from most of the conversation was reference to In The Heights, the rap musical that won four Tonys, a Grammy and was nominated for the Pulitzer. But those were Hispanic people...so in some conversations I had, that nullified my argument apparently. But what I know, and this is coming from someone who actually lives in the heights and I experience the culture daily, is that In The Heights was rap. It was rap on Broadway that was insanely successful, launched people's careers and opened the door for more musicals in the same genre. The difference between In The Heights and Holler was that Holler wasn't a good musical. 

At the end of the day, it was poorly constructed, and rather than going Off-Broadway where it wouldn't be such a financial loss and also give the creative team time to gauge audience reaction, edit and change the show before spending Broadway money on it, they jumped at the chance to make a statement on a big stage. That statement didn't end up being what they wanted. 

I struggled with whether I was going to post this, but I've decided that just because I didn't like one show doesn't mean that I don't support art and the continued diversity of the art that's presented on the world's biggest stage, Broadway. After all, Broadway is the artform I love the most. I think that's why I just had to write it out and say what I wanted, because both audiences and the cast of Holler deserved better. Tupac deserved better than what was done with his lyrics. His writing serves as both a time capsule and a voice for people who feel voiceless. The intention was for that voice to roar on Broadway and instead, it shuttered with a whimper. 

What this show did do was ignite a conversation that needs to be had. Unfortunately, the conversation became about racism instead of what it needed to be about: producing better shows that warrant the $100 price tag attached to the tickets. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A new cadence

Is there anything as exciting as finding a new song to love? 
We live in a culture where new music is disseminated on an hourly basis and thanks to the internet, we have the ability to immediately listen to it, make a decision on whether to add it to one of our Spotify playlists and then go on with our day. But isn't it thrilling when you hear a song that stops you in your tracks for whatever reason and you not only press repeat, but can almost feel it sinking into your soul? 
Music has the ability to do that in a way that other artforms really don't. Other mediums can speak to us and they can certainly affect us, but music has a different affect on us. It's something we live our lives in. We walk down the street with our headphones in, we listen to it in our cars, we hear it at a church, it's overhead in a store - we actually have a soundtrack to our lives, whether we choose it or not. 
Every now and then, there's a song that surprises you for one reason or another and it becomes part of the fabric of our day. We hear it even when it's no longer playing. The beat becomes the cadence of our steps. Is there anything better? 

Sometimes, happiness is as simple as a new song to love and with it, a new cadence for our day. A small change that can mean so much. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Deep

Today is a deep day.
A deep day.
Some days, we go about our business, check the things off our schedule we need to get done, watch our shows at night, post a status or two about this or that and we head to bed before we start over again in the morning. Those aren't deep days. Those days, at best, are skimming on the surface. We all have those days. Sometimes, life can feel like it's made up of those days.
But then there are those days when something happens and it causes you to dig deep within you and fully be present for what comes up.
We released our new issue of the magazine today, and it's full of gospel artists. This isn't usually what we cover in the magazine, but why stick to a formula? We're creative so let's act that way. Interviewing some of these artists was like revisiting my childhood. I didn't listen to anything else besides them and talking to them felt like such a full-circle Oprah moment.
So I've been thinking deeply today. I began digging into my apartment to clean it and at the same time, I've been digging deep and allowing myself to remember the experiences that went on in my life that were tied to these artists. It's a lot of unpacking. Not that I'm a closed off person, I allow myself to be present again in those moments often, but today was a little different.
So I listened to that music again, I cleaned my apartment, and I even looked at some old pictures. Allowing yourself to remember, relive and feel deeply the moments of your past that sculpted you is a powerful thing. It's really something to let yourself be conscious in the moments that have passed. Today, we are overly focused on living in the now - telling ourselves that our pasts don't define us. And there'a a validity to that but only to a point. Our pasts absolutely define us and the decisions we make in the present.
I allowed myself the freedom to live in those moments, feel those moments again and dwell there again, if only for a moment. And it was freedom. And it was fulfilling to feel connected to those moments again.
That's why today is a deep day. That's also why today is a great day. It's great to feel deeply.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kids

Watching children's TV shows as an adult is an interesting experience. I'm not really talking about animated Disney movies per se because those films were never intended to be seen only by children. Disney knew adults had to enjoy them as well or they'd just wait for them to be on video and wouldn't take their kids to the theaters to see them.
No, what I'm talking about are the shows created today for children.
As it so happens, I stumbled upon an airing of Pocahontas on Disney Junior. Having written my thesis on the "Architected Architypes of Disney Animated Movie Musicals," I have a grown-up soft spot for these films. After spending considerable time staring at her hair blowing in the wind and trying to figure out why Mel Gibson is in the body of Beast after he's transformed back into a prince, it was time for a commercial break.
I spend the next however many minutes, it felt like three hours, being sung to by to men in what I can only assume are Party City pirate costumes, spliced with clips from this animated show that makes Captain Hook look like the fun uncle with a boat you'd always want to spend the summers with.
I have so many questions. What exactly is this about? When I was a kid, I was immersed in the week-to-week narrative of X-Men. In the first episode, one of the characters dies. They are dealing with issues ranging from racism to homophobia. What are these shows showing kids? That everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up and that everything is "bullying?"
When I was a kid, I learned that people are different and that's okay. I learned to respect others. I also learned to stand up for myself. I learned that from TV shows.
I'm not sure what kids are watching and I've written post after post about how cartoons were much more engaging and well-thought out than the swill that's on today, but I'm thankful I had cartoons like X-Men and Animaniacs that were both entertaining and made kids think. Even when we didn't know we were thinking about bigger things, bigger ideas, pop culture, and how we treated other people, we were thinking about it.
I don't know if shows today do the same thing.
The next commercial was for a show about some shapeless alien creatures who don't say much. I changed the channel at that point.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The true sadness

L'Wren Scott died today, an apparently suicide. Her name was synonymous with fashionistas on red carpets (see Christina Hendricks at right) and now, the light of her life has been snuffed out.

I saw many in Hollywood tweet their condolences and express their grief over the loss of her talent, but I didn't read many about the loss of her spirit.

It's fair to say her spirit needed finding much more than her little black dress, but when an artist dies by their own hand, the go-to sentiment of our culture is to lament the loss of the art and the hands that enabled that art to exist. We tend to skip over the fact that this person was so unhappy and felt so hopeless that they chose to end their existence rather than fight to find their happy.

I've been listening to Pharrell's new album, Girl, on repeat for the past few days. His performance of "Happy" at the Oscars was not only a great performance, but it may have been the best performance at an awards show in years. More than the catchy beat of the song, (and it's a terrific song) the performance was about exactly what the song was about: happiness.

Happiness is under-rated in our society. We value achievement and exploits over personal happiness and fulfillment of spirit. When you're an artist, so many people experience that happiness when they are creating. But no amount of artistry can fill the hole that happiness of spirit fills. Whatever happened in Ms. Scott's life, there was a hole there.

That's what we should be grieving.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Maybe I'm just not that into you either

I'm re-watching "He's Just Not That Into You" tonight. I know, what a raucous New York Friday night I'm having. It's alright that you're jealous. But if you can marshal the strength to overcome your jealousy for long enough, I'm in a moment.
Having just recently started dipping my toes into the dating pool again, I'm finding this film to be accurate on a semi-frightening level. While I don't aspire to be Ginnifer Goodwin in any sort of setting, I'm finding some of her obnoxious behavior familiar (but on a much tamer scale...clearly). The constant checking the cell phone, the over-thinking, the seemingly misplaced optimism - it's all part and partial to those first few dips in the pool.
But let's face it. I'm 30. I've done this before. Many times actually. And now that those first few dips are over, the novelty has worn off. The staring at the phone? Nope. Wondering what's happening? Uh uh. If I don't hear anything, then I'm moving on. Call it grown up self-preservation. That, and once you reach a certain age, you're too busy for the back-and-forth. I just don't have the time to invest in someone who isn't that into me.
Some of the most wise words ever uttered came from a fish. As Dory in "Finding Nemo" said, "Just keep swimming." I'm fairly certain I'm swimming against the current when it comes to what my culture says I should be doing, which is going to make it all the more difficult to hook a killer catch, but perhaps that's exactly what a picky OCD person like me wants. I don't want to be a stereotype. I don't want to go home with anyone who's slightly interested. I want substance and that's hard to find, no matter where you are.
You know, the videos of the bears standing upstream from the jumping fish always show the bear catching the fish, and we think that's amazing. They make for a really terrific Oprah-narrated, flute underscored, slow motion moment. However, they don't show the amount of times that giant bear was too much of a lug to catch the ones that hit them in the face. And as foolish as Smokey may feel for getting slapped in the face with a fish, does that detour him from his hunt? No.
So I'm just gonna stand where I am, be who I am, and stay who I am. And sure I'm gonna reach for those potential catches, and eventually, one will be the right one. Until then, those who are just not that into me will have to move along because they won't be getting anymore of my attention.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding God in the 'Cosmos'

"How can we humans, who rarely live more than a century, hope to grasp the vast expanse of time that is the history of the cosmos?"
That was the question proposed tonight on Fox's "Cosmos" and tonight, like so many Americans, I watched with amazement as the visuals took us from the Earth and outward beyond the galaxies and universes. It played out like the most expensive PBS special ever made. Even the animation throughout the historical narrative reminded me of the animation in the last Harry Potter films, which was stylistically incredible. I was hooked.
Then it happened.

The Big Bang.
As soon as those words were spoken, I knew an entire segment of the audience changed the channel. The big bang theory is like a poison dart, meant to be avoided where I come from in the Bible Belt.

"That's not how it happened. It happened in exactly seven calendar days and everything appeared out of thin air. Nothing about evolution could remotely be true. The Bible would have outlined it that way if that had been the case."

There will be sermons that denounce this special as a cog in the vast liberal agenda to tear down the Christian heritage. But in actuality, if you read along with the Bible as this special went played, you'd see it all lined up. Beyond just knowing it does, I double-checked. It does. The argument about creation isn't really about the order in which is happened. It's about the timeline in which it took place. Was it 7 days or was it billions of years? I hate to be the one to say this, but I really don't think it matters.

Even in the special, the narrator spoke of the "extreme contingency" that led to humans being on the Earth. Well I believe that extreme contingency of events were not happenstance. It's sad to me that so many Christians turned off their sets instead of turning on a discussion about how the Bible and science exist hand-in-hand. Blind faith may be the hope in which we believe, but God gave us brains for a reason. He gave us the ability to reason, for a reason.
I saw it play out on Twitter. One man said he was ashamed Fox would air a special about evolution. Another said this was a sign of the end of the times. I'm sorry they feel that way. This incredible special put everything we know about the universe we live in and laid it all out there. And it does suck that Christians during the renaissance and the times that followed were so stringent that they punished people for logic and reason. Much like the Pharisees written about in the Bible, many Christians refuse to look outside what's written in the book and fill in the blanks with the evidence that's buried beneath us or in the stars above.

I personally don't care if I evolved from a monkey. They're cute and I like them. What I do care about is that I'm here right now, meant to be here right now, and try to live each day knowing there's a purpose behind my place in the cosmos. 
And in that, knowing that I'm playing a teeny tiny part in this millisecond in the span of time and space, is pretty cool. As the Animaniacs said, "We're all just tiny little specs about the size of mickey-rooney."



"You, me, everyone. We are made of star stuff." I loved that line in the show. I believe that. Both literally and figuratively.
I hope people will continue to watch this show. It's important to be informed about our past. Maybe that's how the moon was formed. Maybe that's how generations from the past treated people who thought to challenge convention and fuse logic and faith together. Either way, Cosmos is an important show and I'm thankful it's educating and creating a dialogue between millions of people during prime time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

10 Things...

It's a fascinating concept: come up with ten things you like about yourself. On the outside, it appears as an exercise in arrogance, a platform to gloat about your finer qualities, or even a brazen attempt to self-congratulate ourselves on our own Oprah-induced self awareness.
But on a deeper level, it's an exercise in calling forth the thing in our lives that warrant reminding. It's a chance to marshal ten of the traits that fortify and hold us together when we're falling apart. 
So I'm diving in and thinking deeply about myself, hopefully doing so with as little arrogance and self-back-patting as possible. 

I like that I was born and raised in Texas. While I live in New York now and it's my favorite place in the entire world, I have a Texas flag hanging in my apartment as a reminder that everything that led me to my dream was cultivated in the Lone Star State.

I like that I don't look like everyone else. I'm not perfect, I need to clock more hours on the elliptical at Planet Fitness, but I'm glad I'm not a cookie cutter person, with the same features as everyone else. Being unique is fun.

I like my calves. It's not as morbidly self-indulgent a statement as it may seem. It's just a genetic thing. My father has great calves and so do I. 

I like how much I love television and how much it makes me feel. I like how much life it brings me when Ross yells "PIVOT!", when Liz Lemon high-fives a million angels or when Michael Scott hits Meredith with his car. On the surface, it's entertainment, but within me, it challenges my thinking, enhances the cadence of my language and makes me smile deeply. I like that.

I like my friends. What an amazing group of people insulate me from the banal stupidity in this world. Some are fit, some aren't. Some are gay, some aren't. Some are married. Some are oh so single. Boys, girls, young, old...how lucky am I to have such a human safety net just a subway ride, phone call, or text message away.

I like that I believe in people. Some call it naive and others might call it silly, but I am glad that my default is to believe in people and the dreams they have dared to dream for themselves. If that's silly, then I am a fan of the silliness.

Speaking of my default, I like that my default mood is a good one. My obnoxiously glass-half-full outlook on life may see my feelings get hurt once or twice, but I'd rather choose to believe in the happy as opposed to the alternative.

I like that I know my limits. Whether it's food, booze, a personality, or a topic of conversation, I like that I know when I need to stop and I have the willpower to make it happen. I also like that I have such strong will. Eating right, getting to the gym, staying in from the party to work on what I moved to the city to do...I have a freakishly strong will. That's two likes in one (and I like how that combination worked out too).
Lastly, I like that I was able to finish this list and not feel awesome about myself. Rather, I see the areas I need to work on to hopefully extend this list in the future. I'm an unfinished product, full of flaws, and I'm determined to work on me every day. I like that I've learned to accept that.

I encourage you to also put together a list of the ways you like yourself. It's fulfilling, it's challenging and it's inspiring for your tomorrow. 

Thank you to Christy from www.avoidingatrophy.com for extending this challenge to make this list. You inspire me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Confessional: Real World Style

I learn something every day.
I suppose that's the point of living: to always be learning. You're either learning about something that's happening on the other side of the world, you're learning how to do something in your office, or you're learning a life lesson from someplace unexpected.
I have the honor of running an online magazine and it's been the tool to teach me more than I ever thought I didn't know about various industries, working with people and about myself. I have had the privilege of working with some of the most talented artists in the world, both in front of and behind the camera, and not a day goes by where I'm not unbelievably thankful and overwhelmed by that. I've worked with artists who have such a genuine love for creating and collaborating, and that is deeply fulfilling, no matter what industry they may herald from.
But I've also been given the...opportunity...to work with people who are less than wonderful. It's from those people and those situations where I learn the most about myself.
I am such an optimist and when I'm so excited about interviewing someone I've looked up to for one reason or another, and they end up being an empty shell wrapped in an attractive exterior, I become depressed. I don't like people, no matter how famous they may be, who buy into their own hype. It's a turn off to me and not the reason I got into this business.
I got into this business to share the stories of artists who might not get their stories told otherwise. To give voice to creative people. As we've grown, it's become more important to speckle our issues with more known creative people because their draw will bring eyes and ears to read the stories of all of the other artists in the issue. And for the most part, those people have been lovely.
I'm not naming any names or specific people who have upset me - that's not important and it's been something that's been building for a while - but it's caused me some honest reflection and having to re-think some things.
My default mood is happy and when I can't seem to break out of being unhappy, that means I have to make a change. So I'm going to be making changes. I love what I do, I love what I get to do. But I can't indulge unappreciative and arrogant artists any longer.
Magazines are different than newspapers, in my opinion. Magazines are a part of the conversation, and at times, are creating the conversation - not just reporting it. I want the conversation that we create to be positive, uplifting to all types of artists and creative mediums, and to be a source readers can rely on solid content. I also want our issues to be full of artists worth caring about.
So as we grow, as things continue to change, one thing will remain the same: We love creative people. We do or we wouldn't kill ourselves every month to make these issues a reality. I am just going to be more choosy with who we love enough to put in our issues. My happiness depends on it.