I am trying to learn how to live at the heart of thank you.
Sixteen months ago, in March of last year, I left New York with a new play, The Grace of God & The Man Machine, born from the success of my one act play Onaje at FringeNYC. Mind The Art Entertainment (MTAE) had taken over management and production of the play and we were getting ready for an off-Broadway production. An unimaginable dream was coming true…Life was good!
Then COVID hit. Members of the team got sick, had to leave New York to recover and in some cases got the long-term devastating effects of the disease.
These people were my friends. These people are my friends!
The theaters closed. The effect of the pandemic on New York Theatre and on my friends was devastating.
During these dark times, the play was picked up by Riant Theater. They gave a surprising and outstanding virtual performance directed and staged by Van Dirk Fischer with amazing backdrops and brilliant actors who performed seamlessly from different locations and even different states. A remarkably large audience saw it and stayed on the Zoom call to discuss it for almost an hour afterwards. The pandemic loomed on unabated but the heart of theater kept beating…
On July 4 I was surprised and ecstatic. I received the following text message from MTAE:
“Mind the Art Entertainment will be presenting The Grace of God & the man machine by Robert Bowie as their opening mainstage production of their 15th season”
We were on again! We were headed for off-Broadway again! After almost a year and a half we were still alive. But then…
On July 27 I received a follow-up message from MTAE: The Delta variant is expected to continue impacting theater openings. This puts theaters back in closure scenarios for the winter.
… We were off again. There would be no opening this fall or coming year. Then yesterday I get this message…
“It looks like we are moving forward. Good. Sending you some project updates this week.”
This play will happen!
I jokingly sent a message back to MTAE
“We are going to Broadway even if I have to go in a coffin!” I’m sure they laughed because they get it!
These people, for me, have more fortitude and courage than I can imagine. They have brought into light the courage of numerous others who have faced this pandemic with great courage: the overworked healthcare workers, the selfless care givers who have seen the elderly die without loved ones around them, or the deceived who begged for the vaccine too late.
I have been learning that if I can convert the selfishness of my own pain to a selfless understanding of others’ lives, I will be better off. I am trying to learn how to live at the heart of thank you.
All the people at MTAE and The Riant Theater are the heart of theater, and the heart of theater keeps on beating.
The theater for me has always showed me, on stage, who we are. Now the theater has shown me, in real life, what I hope I can learn. I am grateful.
Ever since I was a little boy I dreamed that some day I would have the opportunity to write professionally full time, so I practiced.
Twenty years ago, I decided, for practice, to write a sonnet a week for a year and to exchange them with a friend every Monday morning for 52 weeks to keep this discipline alive. After that year I forgot about them. They were just another exercise like calisthenics or running laps. It was just practice.
Recently, I rediscovered the sonnets but they were different. I was surprised to find that because I was forced to write every week I had accomplished something I’d never expected. I had written an accidental diary.
What was wonderful about this accidental diary was that it never was designed to see the light of day. It was whimsical and nakedly honest. In hindsight, each sonnet turned out to be a snapshot of a random thought happening at the given moment that I had to write.
Most were finished late on Sunday nights, written from scratch. One I added latter. A few were reshaped from old stuff if I was short on time.
Each sonnet covered every subject imaginable but together they were a subjective scrapbook of a year of my life. They were little stories written in 14 lines which ended in rhymes and a rhyming couplet to tie it all up.
Now as I turn the pages of that year, I can see how unconsciously I developed confidence and a sense of humor and I found my voice.
It is so wonderful to take the time to look back over your shoulder and accidentally discover what you didn’t know you were. Practice makes pluperfect.
After a brief vacation, I’m back and in a good mood! I am refreshed and reinvigorated after visits from the family over July 4th and thereafter, and also by great news and a fresh draft of a new play.
Or maybe I’m just happy because I’m not writing about politics?
First, the producers have told me The Grace of God & the Man Machine, which was ready to go on stage just as the pandemic hit a year and a half ago, is being reconsidered for production. Their design is to be opening off-Broadway at the beginning of next year for a 3- or 4-week promotional run. More on this later as it develops.
And second, I have a new draft for COVID comedy: The Future of the World in 70 Minutes. It is high stakes.
What makes a COVID comedy? Rebellion, revenge, and redemption?
Consider the deep lingering embarrassment rats have suffered since they dropped the ball 400 years ago when they failed to eradicate mankind with the Black Plague and thus save the planet. What could be worse?
Bats are getting all the glory for COVID. They are smart. They have organized all of the planet’s animals and organisms to lay a new eradication trap for mankind. To trigger it, all that is needed is one revenge murder of a COVID spreader—in the name of justice. But why has the rat who has been assigned this responsibility delayed it for six months?
Could the rats fail again?
Our rat hero claims he can’t set the trap and the plan won’t work because humans are too stupid. Too stupid to fix global warming, the world’s pollution, or practice social distancing. Too stupid to wear masks and get vaccinated. So they can’t even imagine seeking justice against those who are killing their own fellow humans.
Millions dead and not even one prosecution or revenge murder? Even Man’s inhumanity to man will not work because mankind is too stupid.
Is that it? Or is our rat hero a victim of Stockholm Syndrome who secretly wants to go to Princeton, or has an eating disorder from living in a dumpster and is actually vegan?
The bats are very angry. They have just sent a general who is flying in from Wuhan. It must happen tonight…
Okay, so maybe I am still writing politics… but at least I’m happy because I had a great vacation.
I have decided to knock off for the next few weeks to enjoy the summer with the family. But before I do, just for the fun of it, let’s play devil’s advocate and irritate everybody.
Hey! Where are all the baby boomers protesting the January 6th “Stop the Steal” Capitol takeover and why aren’t they demanding an investigation?
And where are all the baby boomers protesting the misinformation being used by the Trump Republicans to take back the Senate and the House in only sixteen months?
The baby boomers divided into two groups back during the Vietnam War. There were those that were drafted and went to the war and those who went skirted the draft somehow and protested the war. Both sides claimed to be patriots.
The patriotism of the war protesters has always been tinged with a possible conflict of interest. Did the protesters prefer college rather than risking their lives at war? Still, their patriotism has always been secure because the war and its purpose were so mismanaged and the country was so misled. But…
But where are these patriots when our country and democracy are being threatened as it has rarely been before? Was that not an insurrection at the Capitol and is “Stop the Steal” not an ongoing attempted take over the country?
Is this not an issue that is far greater than the Vietnam War?
Those that criticized the protesters back then painted them as spoiled comfortable middle-and-upper- class brats who only thought of themselves and cared not for those who went in their place to possibly die.
What if the boomers are and always have been America’s selfish generation?
Let’s all pretend that it’s gonna be all right. The investigations of Trump will build and fill the newspapers with the same drip, drip, drip of sustained conversation as happened with Nixon. And slowly the big donors will drift away and the Trump party with its roots in Newt Gingrich and southern racism will finally die. And the Trump Republicans who only represent themselves will fail to take back the Senate and the House and gridlock the progressives as they did with Obama.
As the baby boomers drift into old age, don’t worry, it’s gonna all work out. Like the bumper sticker says: “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”
Still, it does make you think that maybe self-interest and the responsibility of patriotism was too much for my generation.
Perhaps irony is when you consider that the descendants of those who came from the previously enslaved may set the standard for the preservation of our freedom.
Last week I again listened to Amanda Gorman’s poem at President Biden’s inauguration and then to her TED Talk about how poetry is political. She points out that when totalitarian leaders take over, they burn books and imprison the creatives to silence alternative voices to their propaganda.
Today, I read a blog post by Heather Cox Richardson, the brilliant Boston College professor, about the courage of Frederick Douglass as he risked his life to secure his freedom. He was a tradesman in Baltimore with a relatively safe life compared to other slaves of his time, but he risked his life for freedom to become the leader he became.
He got on a train from Baltimore to New York with false documents saying that he was free to travel as a freeman. Once he left on that train, he was either going to get off in New York or he was going to be imprisoned and shipped to the Southern states and his likely death.
It must have taken incredible courage and determination to get on that train. He risked his life for his freedom.
As I read the news today, I am convinced that we are at a turning point for freedom in the United States.
The Republican party stands for nothing but itself, its authoritarianism, and Trump. It is unrecognizable and unreconcilable with its past.
There is a high likelihood that because of the propaganda, the falsehoods of “the big lie,” and the Republican southern legislatures that have curtailed the right to vote, the GOP will win dominance in the House and perhaps the Senate in 2022.
If we each do not act now to protect this democracy over the next year and a half, we will lose it as we know it.
I think of what it will take for all of us to get on the train.
Apologies in advance. I am going to use the “N word.”
On August 16, 1845, 27-year-old Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave at the risk of recapture, left the United States for a speaking tour of Ireland and the British Isles to promote his antislavery mission. When he reached Dublin, Douglas first saw Daniel O’Connell the famous Irish patriot and, that afternoon, went to hear him speak on Catholic emancipation, self-government for Ireland and his hatred of slavery in America. After O’Connell spoke, he was introduced to Douglass. O’Connell had just turned 70 and was more than twice Douglass’ age. They shared their mutual hatred of slavery, and then unexpectedly, O’Connell introduced Douglass to the remaining crowd as “the Black O’Connell.”
Hats off to Robert Manson, who introduced me to this subject.
IN FREEDOM’S NAME
“…I was born in exile from my native land,
Schooled with whips, and shackled by my fellow man,
Raised as chattel, alone, a slave and bastard,
As the property of my mother’s master
But not until I was free to come and go
Did I find the family I didn’t know
And not until the courthouse in County Cork
Did I discover O’Connell in my heart:
The two of us, as one, exiled from our faith
Our people and safety, by a nation state
“…Before I landed, after my weeks at sea,
(Free in a white country would be new for me)
The kind captain of our ship, the Cambria,
Asked that I speak upon my wild idea:
The granting of my country’s slaves their freedom.
The Americans on board came undone ‘n
Violent: ‘Down with the nigger! He shall not speak!’
Captain Judkins confronted them when they reached
Out to throw ‘the god damn nigger overboard’ —
Were there no boundaries to bondage and discord?…
“…Not until, in Dublin, near Sackville Street Bridge
When I saw him down by Trinity College
And heard him speak at Conciliation Hall:
Hating slavery, but nonviolence for all,
The temperance pledge, the failing potato crop
And the Irish servitude he’d try to stop:
Freed now, this Catholic beneath the English heel,
Of Peel, the P.M. he’d called ‘that Orange Peel’:
Freed now, fresh from prison for his English sins
I heard O’Connell turn Irish words to hymns…
“…Not ‘til County Cork, with the crowd before me,
When I said his name, they, as one, rose for me,
And from within, I heard my master curse him
And wondered what if O’Connell were my twin?
…Not until my heart asked me: ‘Why hesitate?
Trust him, he’s Irish. He’s born to agitate.
Weren’t you both born with bondage your argument?
And both born to harmonize as dissidents?’
…Only then, I was surprised to discover
In freedom’s name, I’d found my Irish brother…”
Until we realize that our individual freedoms are dependent on each other, we will repeat this servitude without end.
I want to share joy, appreciation, and an observation during this hardship on all graduating seniors, whether from high school, college, or any school, during this, our second COVID Graduation.
I don’t really remember that much about all the details of my high school graduation. But I do know that the friends I made and that school itself still shape my life with a respect for the arts and a respect for the uniqueness of the lives of the different people of that school.
My college graduation I do remember, but more because I have made new friends each year when I return to carry out my responsibilities on the “Happy Committee.” The alums on the Happy Committee put on and manage the graduation each year, so I relive the happiness of my graduation each year by helping others celebrate.
In both cases, my memories of graduation have been shaped over the years by the present more than the past.
For the last nine years, I have written a humorous, often self-mocking ode, which I read at the Spring meetings of my Alumni Association. Last year, there was no graduation because of COVID, so my ode had to be videoed outdoors and delivered by Zoom at the meeting.
This year that ritual had to be repeated again, as a “pandemic déjà vu. ..all over again.” But this time I compared the university’s response to the influenza of 1918 with its improved response to the present pandemic, in again a humorous, self-mocking effort to tell a story of joy and uniqueness.
This year, my advice to those graduating is to stay in touch with your classmates. You will find that those reunions and the evolving friendships will make these strange years even more precious even though you had to suffer through a Zoom graduation.
My guess is that you will share the humor from all of this with your classmates over time, and the bonds will grow stronger because of the uniqueness of this year—and because you survived all the craziness.
Yikes! Every day, in odd and different ways, I rediscover I am coming out of a dark place. So two days ago I needed someone I admired, someone inspirational, to show me some light.
So how bad was this bad place?
Two days ago, when I finished my first draft of a Covid Comedy about global warming, rats, bats and our place on the planet, I firmly believed my empathy had become misplaced by the pandemic.
The rats must be horribly embarrassed about dropping the ball 400 years ago, when their bubonic plague didn’t eradicate humankind once and for all. Because now, for the poor rats, it’s much worse.
The rats have been upstaged. These upstart bats are getting all the credit for COVID and the anti-homo sapiens dark web is reporting that the bats had unified all earth’s creatures for the great second global effort to liberate the planet. But the rats dropped the ball again because they are dangerously late coordinating and bringing out Bubonic 2.0.
Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome from eating human leftovers out of dumpsters for 100 years. I can feel their pain. After all, you are what you eat.
But think about how very sad the rats must feel now! Will they forever be remembered for being stupider than human beings who can’t stop global warming or polluting the planet or even stop killing their own kind and get vaccinated?
Yeah, that was dark! I decided I had better get back to creative and talented people to rediscover the joy which I had left behind.
I decided to call Van Dirk Fisher, an artist whom I admire greatly. I have never met Van in person. We have only met on Zoom calls but I have watched him work. He was the inspiration I needed.
The Black Experimental Theatre (BET) a.k.a. The Riant Theatre, was founded in New York in 1979, as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization, by artistic director Van Dirk Fisher. BET is a theatre that entertains as well as teaches by nurturing and developing new works by playwrights that encompass the historic and social progression of African Americans and the contributions the Black community has made in the United States. Last October, Van directed and staged a brilliant virtual performance of my play The Grace of God & The Man Machine in anticipation of a staged performance when the NYC theaters reopen.
Van is an inspiration first and foremost, both because he has and continues to make amazing art and because he overcomes the impossible, always. I saw him cast the virtual play brilliantly and then proceed to teach the actors how to use virtual backdrops, even though they were located in different states. He was so good, he got three actors in three different locations to pass a joint as if they were sitting at the same picnic table. He created both the intimacy of theater and the close-ups of movies.
The talkback afterwards had as many as 80 people participating while he artfully directed the conversation.
During the call, Van and I talked about his theatre and his accomplishments as well as about preparing for the performance of my play at The Riant Theatre.
Through the dark humor with its roots in despair came comedy, but from the dark comedy came a conversation with a Relentless Creator who brought me back to a balanced optimism with his joy.
Over 15 years ago I jumped the gun and began training for the Senior Olympics.
I always had a plan. I had made my commitment, early in life, when I was in second grade. I committed the first moment that mandatory exercise was imposed at school.
I dutifully avoided strenuous exercise in order to have absolutely no injuries when I turn 90.
I always played goalie to avoid running laps. Hockey and soccer practice always ended with the coach talking shots on the goalie while the rest of the team ran endless laps… but not me.
No, I was strategically planning and waiting in order to let the great athletes of my generation destroy their bodies and knock themselves out of competing with me.
I decided at the age of 90 I would announce invulnerability with a big press release and maybe a huge parade.
There would be no Senior Olympic marathoners my age because by then they would all be broken down or dead and as the only competitor I could win all three medals in one race and even better, I could walk.
This was a perfect plan except I did not count on the mental error of premature delusions of grandeur.
Yeah. I made one big mistake. I started training too early.
The Marathon Man
In a world of educated guesses
About one’s loves, integrity and health
It is my custom to keep promises,
Even if they are only to myself.
Still being a tenth of a ton and all,
With sacred dictates of my religion
Requiring too much food and alcohol,
What made me train to run a marathon?
I trained on a treadmill, March to July.
Got my first “runners high” at fifty-five.
Depleted my life’s endorphin supply,
And blew out both knees and begged to die.
Ah yes, but to Hell with all of this fun;
Next year, for sure, I’ll be ready to run.
One of the things I love about spring is it offers a welcome contrast between my focused pursuit of heaven in a church with a fresh reminder that we live surrounded always by the accidental beauty of nature.
Sunday Accidentally Spent
I’m by the pool on this sunny Sunday
With my wife and two children off at church.
I’ve pulled the Bible off the shelf, on display,
From its front row center prominent perch.
I’ll read it after The New York Times.
Midway through “The Book Review” I half-see
A Monarch butterfly in the sunshine
Hold the Book like a Christian “wannabe.”
Once you hold the Times, its history.
Finished. Forgotten. Trash canned people’s dreams.
But the Bible and butterfly as extremes?
The Christian code and the fatally free?
Did the two of them touch by accident?
And was my Sunday accidentally spent?