So his fool tells King Lear: ”Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
I am 72 years old today and one step further into my next life. No not the afterlife… the next step and the opportunity of freedom which that entails. As it’s my birthday, I hope you’ll allow me this time to reflect…
I decided to start this blog several years ago to chronicle what would happen to me in retirement. I loved the practice of law, but concluded that there is a time to retire before you get in people’s way and can’t find the bathroom. I wanted to stay a little bit ahead of that curve so I got out early.
I already knew that eccentricity and determination always trumps a loss of intelligence. So this was my chance to be free to try something entirely different, but I still was not free of trepidation. Delusions of grandeur are a wonderful thing until you start to think you might act on them.
Nonetheless, I first decided I would become a “political force” as a Democrat in an entirely gerrymandered Republican district because I was very concerned about how we, as a country, were being divided by political forces and I was going to change that. This was Trump country. I raised more money than all my Republican opponents combined and knocked on almost 7000 doors for more than a half a year. I was resoundingly defeated and Trump became our president.
Because I obviously had learned nothing about impossibility, next I decided I would become a professional playwright. I bought a Shakespeare coffee mug and applied to the Yale Drama school, fully believing that I would be the oldest applicant ever accepted to Yale’s drama school. I succeeded only in becoming the oldest applicant ever rejected by Yale’s drama school. Nonetheless, I had decided this is what I wanted to do.
Obviously I had to rethink this thing again, with just a little more of my failing intelligence. So I applied to the Commercial Theater Institute (CTI) of New York for a class in producing theater. I had a plan. When the first morning of class broke up the students got lunch and inevitability they talked about what plays they were considering producing. When it came to my turn to talk I informed them I wasn’t considering producing anything. I wanted them to produce me. It worked. The impossible happened. A young producer agreed to read my work, liked it and arranged for professional staged readings in San Francisco and later in New York.
Because I had excelled in something I didn’t want to do and I had completed an introductory class in it, I applied for an advanced class in producing at the prestigious O’Neill Conference in Waterford Connecticut. I got in and there I met Sue Conover Marinello, who produced my play Onaje with great success last year in New York, and Christian De Gré Cardenas of Mind the Art Entertainment who has an amazing history of producing and also writing the music for a number of amazing operettas in New York. Both became friends.
After Sue Conover Marinello’s production of Onaje in New York, Mind the Art commissioned me to write the libretto for an operetta, Vox Populi, a comedy about the seventh deadly sin of pride, for Christian’s music. Last month, Christian and I completed the operetta in San Miguel Mexico.
Because Onaje had done so well, Sue convinced Kevin R. Free, the wonderful NYC director, to read the script. Kevin had fresh and original insights which lead to my reworking the script and his commitment to direct its next production.
The blog has become a happy travelogue. It is a history of mistakes and opportunities. It has taught me that even though I may not succeed in any of this, I’ve lost the fear of failure and each day is more fun than the last. The next step into a new thing is the hardest thing I ever do but it is getting easier with age.
Over the last month I have been traveling. As I would go into a hotel room there was this game I played. I found I couldn’t imagine who had lived there before me. I have played this game before. I have always wondered who were those people who have looked out the same window at the same view?
Yesterday, I stayed in Mexico City for one day with Christian de Gré Cardenas, my friend and collaborator, before flying home. We were celebrating a magnificent week during which we finished the libretto and musical outline for our new comic operetta, Vox Populi (the voice of the people).
Mexico City has more than 180 museums — more than any other city in the world. (Paris, where I was earlier this summer, is second with roughly 140.) Christian and I started our day with an early breakfast, went to different museums all day, finished at 5:45 that evening, and had dinner.
The museums have their own themes but one in particular returned me to my question about imagining the people who have lived in the same hotel rooms as I: Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, The Memory and Tolerance Museum.
Half of it is dedicated to the nightmares of humankind, but the second half is dedicated to tolerance. The first half shows, in painful detail, pictures, films, and the actual objects of genocide during and after WWII: German concentration camps, Rwanda, Sarajevo — it still goes on all around the world every day, forever.
This museum was very focused and shocked me out of my complacency on a subject that I felt I knew relatively well. How is it I only understood these numbers as the amount of times they would have filled a football stadium as a milling crowd or the number of times the population of Baltimore City?
These statistics were always there in The New York Times, The Sun, and The Post as I turn to the entertainment section or the sports page. Yet here, I walked into a small box car that carried people to the camps. I saw footage of the guns going off, the smoke, and the sacrificed falling headlong onto others in a mass grave. There in front of me was the gun that had been fired in the footage.
At dinner, as we talked, Christian read European news article on his phone, which I had missed. It said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had condemned the “undignified and damaging” conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held at the US border. She called for children never to be put in immigration detention or separated from their families. She said she was appalled by the camps, and that several UN human rights bodies had found the detention of migrant children may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, which is banned under international law.
In response, the United States threatened to stop payment of its dues unless it was exempted from the relevant UN provisions.
From the walls of that museum, the eyes looked back at me. It always starts with demonizing a selected group of people. There before my eyes the Propaganda was framed: that paper that had been circulated to the crowds and now was framed on the wall.
It always started with containment “for the public good”. Who are these people that look back at me from a museum exhibit? They must have looked out the windows at the same world I rent now.
It is almost impossible to describe the First World War in simple terms. It is unresolved as to how it evolved into the war it became — the number of casualties it caused easily exceeds eight million dead and double that in maimed and wounded — and its end probably was the beginning of the Second World War only twenty years later. Books and books and books continue to be written about it. It is a wellspring of scholarship and a mirror for the future and present.
There are two things it demonstrates to me, however. First, we seem to be incapable of maturing at the same speed as our ability to make weapons evermore capable of our mass destruction. Second, we seem to be able to commit ourselves blindly to use these weapons without realizing the extent of the destruction that we can cause. Both of these observations demonstrate the incredible capacity we have in the form of the “nation state” to destroy ourselves, despite our individual capacity to feel compassion, empathy, and kindness for each other on a daily basis as human beings who are not in a state of war.
Why have I attached a picture of a crater?
WWI introduced airplane warfare, submarine warfare, the machine gun, the tank, and gas warfare. The warfare was so intense that there are specific monuments dedicated to both missing soldiers and unidentifiable body parts.
So, is there something, a simple example from this war, that demonstrates redemption? Yes, I think there is.
Both sides built tunnels for days and months for incredible distances under entire towns and enemy lines to set explosives. Some of these tunnels were only four feet wide and three-and-a-half feet high. The excavation of the dirt was extremely difficult and endlessly time consuming. Imagine the commitment. Imagine the claustrophobia. Imagine the amount of explosives that then had to be carried underground to blow up a town or an enemy stronghold.
As I have said, the picture I have provided is of a crater. It is thirty to forty feet deep and almost a football field wide. The explosion sent debris four thousand feet in the air and killed and injured people who were never found. I took the photograph from the far side. There is a monument on the other side which, if you look closely, is a cross that is several stories high.
In the alternative, it has been documented that during a one-day armistice for Christmas the soldiers from both sides came out over their trenches, exchanged chocolate and cigarettes, and sang Christmas carols together.