Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Death and Blood

I was recently thinking about what was important to me; my 'legacy', as it were, a bit of morbid reflection to be sure, but, as one ages, these are the pre-occupations that replace the sex-drive and quiet the incessant cry of ancient ghosts reminding one of uncompleted life-events.

That led me to thinking: Who do I want to speak at my funeral service? My first thought was: I want a long list of people: with a long list of maximum tears and maximum lies all recording the wonderfulness of my life and death.

But most of all I want to be surrounded by family; the primitive call of blood. My wife, my two children, my Granddaughter, even those nephews and cousins I ignored during my life (to be fair, they ignored me also, but, to be scrupulously fair, they ignored me in response to my initial ignore); I want them to stand at my coffin, in some strange way missing the 'me' they rarely encountered in life, and scream into the coffin that they are of my blood.

What is that call of "blood"? Today, the most hip people talk of family as function, not necessarily of blood: the alternative family, the modern family, the family of choice and not genetic necessity,

But in me "blood" calls, genes trump; at least in my atavistic heart. I hear the call of generations, and of Darwinian logic: we are our gene pools, and those gene pools which have gotten as far as we are. We are the surviving strands of DNA, the singular lone series of sperms that found or was attracted by that one egg(s), still floating through the universe in this cell-splitting amalgam of cells, the form we call human. This is me, my blood, the destiny that immortalizes me, and that I seek to surround me foremost at my funeral. My family, my clan, my tribe.

Others may remember me for as long as they live and in so doing, grant me the immortality of their memory cells; and to the degree that those cells and their effect on their evolution are ties to me, they are my blood also.

So I want them there, too, at the funeral parlor, scattered throughout the room, with their tall tales of my earthly importance. But mostly, in the front ranks nearest the coffin, I want blood.

And later in the day, when the coffin slips with its echoing thud into the earth, I want blood to issue forth a scream, a shriek, a cry, a wail of dominance: "We, this family. this clan, this tribe, still exist in the face of death...and the seduction of nothingness we call universe. This man is leaving, but we, of his blood--and therefore of him--goes on! And then, with a solemn spit in the face of the void, my blood kin rushes home from the burial ground not to cry, mourn, despair any longer, but to laugh, dance, drink, celebrate me in their respective bedroom, with extra effort, to create anew the unending gene pool that makes me live forever.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Happy Day

Some days are just happy. Today is one of them. I woke up from a nice sleep. I did my floor exercises full of energy; in fact I did more repetitions than usual. I came downstairs to breakfast to find my wife sitting up in the breakfast room on the lounge chair wearing lovely satin pajamas reading the paper. She look so pretty and content. I ate the fruit dish she had prepared for me. It was delicious. I dressed and went out to brunch with an old friend from Canada. The restaurant was pretty. The customers and wait staff all behaved civilly. My old friend and I ate vegan food; which I rarely do. It was healthy and delicious. I even had a chocolate desert, which I even less rarely do. I said goodbye to me friend, started to return home. The weather was beautiful; a gorgeous Southern California day. I pulled over to the side of the road. I called my daughter to tell her that her father was happy; not to worry about him getting old; and what she could do about making my life easier. I told her she was today free to worry about all the other problems she had in her world: the mutual worries all we all share about work, family, self. Exclude her father from her list of worries today. "Papa was happy." She put her daughter on the phone. She made me even happier. She said, "I miss you so much, Grandpa." She started singing one of our favorite shared songs: "I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushed and a peck and a barrel and a heap..." We spoke to each other about her upcoming visit: she was coming out to visit me and Grammy in California in three weeks. We mutually promised to count off every day until then: "Twenty more days, nineteen more days..." We concluded the talk with and mutual "I love you" and said "Bye." I smiled contentedly as I closed the cell phone. I completed the drive home. I took a route that avoided any beach congestion. Traffic moved smoothly. I pulled the car up to the house. I decided to visit our neighbors across the street, to see how they were doing. They always come over to see how I am doing. They postponed their walk and invited me in. We watched the news to see if the world was going to end at 3 PM, as predicted by a particular religious group. It didn't. We then talked of how long we've known each other, over thirty years. We talked about life and death, and how to deal best with both. I crossed the street, entered my house. I called a friend with whom I had had a rancorous, brief verbal tiff a few days ago (all my fault). He told me he was still hurt, but he kindly accepted my apology, I promised to improve. We agreed to move forward. The sun was still shining; the light cool breeze was still blowing in the neighborhood. I called my wife (who was at the hair salon) to tell her I was happy. Then I sat at the computer to write this blog. Days like this make living worthwhile. "Carpe Diem," as my neighbor had earlier said.

[You won't believe this...just as I finished writing this bog...but before I could hit the "PUBLISH POST" box...my computer crashed! Did I panic? No. Did I curse all technology? No. Did I threaten to smash the computer? No. I decided to see if I had lost this posting, while immediately and forlornly wondering if I had the desire or ability to write this blog a second time if it had been lost? Could I re-capture its essence. I calmly, and with hope, closed the computer, then opened it again, went to my blog site, and, lo and behold, there, in the 'Draft; section. my original blog! I told you: this is a happy day.]

Monday, May 16, 2011


I think I've finally discovered a couple of important reasons why old people tend to forget. One: They have too much to remember. Like a glass that gets filled to the brim: when you try to put anything else in it, it spills. Who has time or energy (or, in modern parlance, new memory receptors) for new information. My mind is too busy with the past. I don't remember last Christmas because, like Scrooge, my mind is already filled with the Ghosts of Christmas Past (like when I was a little boy).

Two: my senses are gone. I can't hear very well, can't see very well, can't smell the flowers very well. And see how long it takes me to pick up a coin on the counter? That's because it takes me three seconds to even feel it. So a new experience doesn't resonate with my sensory appreciation of it. Dull senses means dull and easily forgotten new memories.

Three: even if you could see, hear, smell, taste and touch everything now as acutely as you did in the past, it's all less important. When you're young and meet a new and striking person, you say: "Wow! This may be the most important person I'll ever meet. They may become my new love, my new boss, my new customer...the one that will put me over the top. I BETTER REMEMBER THEM! But, when you are older, you say, when meeting a new person or experiencing a new event: "So what?! The last thing I need is to fall in love again. Or: Another boss-y person! And...a new customer? I'm not selling anything anymore, anyway. And even if I was, there'll be someone else to come by and buy my product tomorrow. Forget it!

Four: The past is too great a friend. It is deliscious, tasty, and vivid. It recalls a time (and events) when one saw minute details of butterflies' wings, heard the sound of the wind, tasted the nuances in the skin of others you kissed. Those specific memories pushes the present away. It's like a good meal; you're so content digesting and remembering the taste of what you just swallowed that the last thing you want to do is stuff more food into your mouth.

The past is one's best friend. It's always with you. It's cheap. It's been paid for and delivered. You own it it. It's yours to arrange and re-arrange at your leisure. Who needs the present?! Forget it!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mrs. Vanotti -- Part Five

I also do not know Mr. Vanotti’s involvement in all this, whether he even knew, or approved; especially of his wife's loaning my mother the $100. However, what I do know is that in all the years I knew and loved Mrs. Vanotti—as I said, she was our Grandmother surrogate--I never met or saw Mr. Vanotti, except for the charcoal self-portrait. I don’t remember him ever visiting the candy store. We never went to his and Mrs. Vanotti’s house. He never came to our house.

Years later my mother explained to me that soon after my mother’s purchase of the house, Mr. Vanotti had gotten into a car accident, which left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He immediately stopped all his art work, and become increasingly angry and bitter. He became a recluse and misanthrope.
Mrs. Vanotti sold the candy store soon after my mother bought the house, perhaps in conjunction with Mr. Vanotti’s accident, perhaps because Mrs. Vanotti was now charged with the responsibility of taking care of her now-demanding husband.
But these personal changes and events never interfered with my mother’s and Mrs. Vanotti’s continuing close relationship. They remained in constant contact, both during and after the end of the war, throughout the late forties and well into the decade of the fifties.

(...to be continued.)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Osama bin Laden

To kill another human, even out of necessity, even when the death is deserved, is a solemn occasion. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

(Sigh) No More Sexual Metaphors?

I just wrote this blog on my "Cliff Osmond on Acting" blogsite. I thought I would like to share it with this "Cliff Osmond Unedited" personal blogsite:

I have often been accused in my teaching career of using too many sexual images in my meditations on acting. Why? A dirty young man? A dirty old man? Perhaps both. But I still find sexual analogies oh-so-apt when trying to explain acting. To begin with, both efforts involve similar concepts and language: both acting and sex involves mutual interrelating, conflict (people banging into one another, pun intended), build, climax, passion, deep emotional involvement. Also, both acting and sex shared the same divine origins (at least in Western Civilization)...they were favored by the same Greek God: Dionysus (who also was connected strongly with wine).

Good acting has always been to me like good sex. The less you fake it, the more satisfying it will be; and the more the passion arises in conjunction with the other person, the more both of you will be served by performance success and gratification.

There are differences between acting and sex of course: for one thing the dialogue in sex seem to be less important than in acting. (The Dionysian rites--early Greek religious rites that were at the origin of drama--were at their core dance efforts. Dialogue--scripts--talking while moving and feeling came later. NOTE: when the dialogue if acting or sex does transcend banalities, however, both efforts are served. A good script --sculpted language--is always welcome, in bed or on stage.

I must confess I use sexual images less in teaching...it is unseemly at my age. My wife recently criticized me for writing sexual banter in a scene I was creating...it had to do with two people in the seventies recalling a distant time of love: "I don't think it's realistic for people of their age to talk so openly about sex like that. It doesn't seem real, " she said. I just sighed, and moved on.

(Full disclosure: I use sports analogies less now as well; but that diminishing of usage may have to do with gender appropriateness rather than age-appropriateness: less women relate with sports: they often sit boringly unresponsive when I talk about sports in terms of emotion, spontaneity, conflict and...yes, I must admit, banging around within a proscribed field of endeavor.)

They say each effort, whether in analogy or in teaching, has its own time and effectiveness. So goodbye to sexual analogies; goodbye to sports analogies. And hello to...old age, death and eternity analogies?!...forget it.

Acting will always be, with or without sexual and sports analogies for me, a celebration of life, not a meditation on it. Acting is a joyous effort to create life, and celebrate characters involvement in it. As a teacher I may be forced by aging appropriateness to use sexual (and sports) analogies less...but I encourage other younger teachers to use them more. They are true. They are effective. They are pertinent. Acting is Living. Sex creates Life. Sports celebrates Life. They are different sides of the same Living coin.