Sometimes I have to wonder about myself

deeronroadThere are several small farms around where we live, and deer, in general, can be a big problem around this time of year.

When we think of deer, we often think of Bambi’s poor mother and the fact that some of them get to pull Santa’s sleigh.  I mean, who could dare speak ill of Dasher and Dancer?

That’s all well and good, but the fact is, they don’t look both ways when they cross the street, they carry the nastiest ticks, and they feel like they can just eat whatever they want.  Rude, right?

Well, it is the “garden state” after all, and there are quite a few deer that make their way onto the open fields on the local farms in search of some grub. So, logically, the local farmers counter with the wolves.

Yes, you heard me right.  Wolves.

So, cut to me, driving down a local stretch of road at just around twilight the other night, when I look ahead of me and see a deer standing motionless on the edge of a field just staring straight ahead.  I’ve got nothing going on, so I slow down and look to see if I can find the reason this deer is frozen in place and staring out at something more distracting than the noise and presence of a 94 Jeep Wrangler.  I park my Jeep a bit down the road and walk to within about 20 yards of the deer.

woodenwolves

Is that a wolf?! What the hell is a wolf doing out here in plain sight? I wondered.  He’s just standing there, too.

So, now I’m just standing there and so is this deer.  We’re both just staring at this wolf that is frozen in place in the middle of this field.  Then I turn to look at the deer who has, at some point, turned to look at me.  When we finally lock eyes, I say, “Is that wolf made out of wood? Dude, that wolf is made out of wood!”

Then, I turn around and get back into my Jeep and get ready to drive off.  The deer is still standing there, though.  He’s still completely frazzled by the sight of this wolf, fake or not.  When I start the car, he looks over at me again. Then he runs away, back into the woods.

Stupid deer.

I got a peaceful, easy feeling

cemetary1Not too long ago, I was walking through Princeton.  It was a perfect fall day weather wise, and the town is so beautiful this time of year.

I had a bit of time on my hands, and I decided that I wanted to spend it in some kind of thoughtful, perhaps even meaningful way.

There certainly were many options from which I could have chosen if “meaningful” were my goal, but my inclination was always, from the get go, to do something reflective.  I wanted to be thoughtful for a bit, focus a little, get some perspective.

cemetary

So, as I walked, I came upon a very peaceful cemetery just north of downtown.  I always feel a bit uneasy about cemeteries, not for the reasons you might think–ghosts, hands coming up from the ground and pulling me in, one-eyed caretakers with shovels, that kind of thing–but because of the extremely personal, sacred ground they are for a lot of people.

There’s another side to them, though, that fascinates me.  As I entered these particular grounds through the south gate, I almost immediately found a stone with a woman’s name and her dates underneath it (Abigail Williams 1935-2001), nothing unusual.  What made me pause, though, was her husband’s name next to her’s, but with only his birth date chiseled in (J. Robert Williams 1932- ) .  His death date was not yet known because, presumably, he is still alive.  That’s some kind of love.  It’s been twelve years and he is apparently still planning on keeping a date.  Some date.

I sat on the permanent bench, made from the same stone as the headstone.  He must come here still, I thought.  I wonder whether he’d mind if I’m sitting in his spot.

I looked around and then back to the stone once more.  I felt a breeze on my face and my heart felt easy. That’s some kind of love, I thought to myself, once more; a relationship that is still going strong, even with death as an inevitable adversary.

I thought of my own wife and my own children.  I thought of my friends and my extended family, my parents and brothers and their families.  I thought of my former students.  These are people I will always love, no matter what.  I was comforted by this thought.  I was comforted by this place.  I was comforted by Mr. and Mrs. Williams and I’ve never even met them.

Thanks, you two.  You still make a great couple.

Mike? Yes, Carol?

© Copyright 2007 Corbis CorporationEver watch The Brady Bunch? I always loved that show: Peter, with his “changes”; Cindy, with her lovable lisp; the AstroTurf out in the backyard where Joe Namath threw Bobby the game-winning TD.  So many wonderful TV moments!  HA!

One of the things that really stuck with me though, (and I’m being totally serious here) is the time we got to spend with Mike and Carol in bed.

Ok. OK. Hang on. Just hear me out!

There were many conversations, some significant, some not, that took place during that time spent between getting into bed and actually going to sleep.  Everybody’s clothed and there’s nothing lascivious here, but, in a way, those moments were as intimate, if not more so, than anything physical that could have gone on.

I’m not sure that I realized, when my wife and I first got married almost 22 years ago, how significant these “Brady Moments” would be.  I love that time with my wife– the time spent just being, just knowing that she’s there beside me, knitting or reading or whatever.  It makes me feel comfortable and special, like someone wants my company, too.

We’ll be lying there in bed, she’s knitting and I’m reading, and, all of a sudden, she’ll reach over and touch my hand.

“Anything wrong?” say I.

“Nope.” says she.

Baby, I was born to run on empty

45yearsrunning

I want to introduce you to a very special person I’ve never met.

Mark Covert is a runner–an extraordinary runner.

0724_NWS_LDN-L-COVERT-STREAK-DC

On July 23, 2013, Mark ended a streak of consecutive days during which he ran at least one mile.  That streak lasted exactly 45 years!!

That means that while my mother was about to enter into her second trimester with me, Mark Covert laced up his sneaks and set out on a run, and did the same thing every day after that for my entire existence on this planet!

Mind. Blown.

The only thing I’ve done every single day for my entire life is breathe (and pray for an Eagle’s Super Bowl win, but that’s something else, entirely…).

I can’t imagine the discipline, the commitment, the love for something that must go into keeping that kind of daily streak alive.

It is truly an amazing thing, and I just wanted you to know about this guy and what he’s done.

Why would he do such a thing?  You’ll have to ask him.   As for why I’ve taken the time to write a blog post about him?

Inspiration.

Period.

Just a moment, one peculiar passing moment…

Oh, if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments,
Then you’d never know you had one.
–Baker’s Wife, “Into The Woods”

Moments are amazing!

So often, we don’t realize we’re in a moment until after the moment has passed.  Then we’re no longer in a moment but a memory.

Lately, I’ve been trying to keep my heart’s antenna primed for receiving the waves of a moment.  I want to live in moments and fully immerse myself in them.

I want to create moments, for myself and for others!

Moments remind you of why you’re alive–to actually experience the brilliance of life!

Of course I understand that, like it says in the song, “If life were made of moments… you’d never know you had one.” So, I’m not saying that every second of the day is a moment.

Actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying!  Every second of every day is a moment!

I don’t want to waste a single one of those seconds.  Will I?  Of course I will, but that’s what makes the special moments so amazingly special.

Check out the clip of this amazingly special moment and have one for yourself!  Enjoy!!

I’m a fan Fridays!

Midnight in Paris (2011)Today, for “I’m a fan, Friday” I want to share a clip that has in it a bunch of things I’m a fan of: Ernest Hemingway; Woody Allen writing; Paris, in general; Owen Wilson (yeah, I said it. If the script is good, I find him charming!); and, specifically in this clip, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway (Stoll was brilliant in the first season of “House Of Cards”).

Could you imagine traveling back in time and having a conversation with one of the greats in history?  That’s exactly what happens for Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, in Woody Allen’s instant classic from 2011, “Midnight In Paris”.

Gil is a writer, and somehow during the wee hours of the morning in 2011 Paris, he gets into a vintage cab and is able to be transported back to the 1920s, a time when La Ville-Lumière was alive and teeming with some of the best writers, artists, and musicians of all time.

In this scene, Gil has a little one-on-one time with Papa. I love how Cory Stoll delivers his lines as if Hemingway were a sort of living embodiment of one of his novels.  It cracks me up every time I watch it!

Stoll and Wilson must have had a ball filming this scene!  Enjoy!

The man with ears on his heart

listeningThere was a man who spent his days at the homeless shelter in the heart of a city serving meals to those who came to seek shelter.  He not only served the food, but also liked to move through the cafeteria and strike up conversations with the guests while they ate.

One day, the man sat down beside a woman he had never seen before and began to speak with her. The woman immediately felt very comfortable with the man and opened up to him about her life and the terrible state in which she currently found herself. The man listened very intently to what she was saying and offered no judgement, only a sympathetic ear.

After the mealtime was over, the woman made her way to the door and thanked the man for listening.  The man smiled and invited her to come back whenever she was in need.  So, for the next three days, the woman came back to the shelter, enjoyed a hot meal and a nice conversation with the man.

On the evening of that fourth day, the man discovered that his wallet was missing.  He tried to retrace his steps from the day, but could not recall where he had last seen it.  He reported the loss to the supervisor of the shelter, and all but gave up on the idea that he would ever see it recovered.

The next morning, the supervisor called the man into his office.  When the man entered, he saw, sitting in one of the two chairs beside the supervisor’s desk, the woman whom he had befriended at the beginning of the week.

“Well, hello,” said the man.  “What brings you in here and at this time of day.”

The supervisor sat behind his desk and let the woman speak up for herself.

“I’m here because I felt terrible, ” she confessed.

“Whatever for?” asked the man, sitting down next to her in the other chair.

“I stole your wallet yesterday afternoon while we were sitting together at lunch.  You laid it down on the table, and while we were talking, I took it and put it in my coat.  You never even noticed.”

“Ok,” said the man, surprised at the honest confession.  “So, what brought you back?”

“After I had gotten away clean, I started to think about how easy it had been to lift the wallet from you.  I realized that the reason it was so simple was that you didn’t notice because you were listening to me so intently.  I had never had anyone so interested in what I had to say before.  I knew then that I could never live with myself if I kept it, so I brought it back to your supervisor.  I’m very sorry.”

The supervisor looked at the woman and then said to the man, “I’m not surprised at all, you know.  I knew this would happen to you.  You never pay close enough attention to what the guests are doing.  You’re too wrapped up in what they’re saying to guard against theft.  What am I going to do with you?”

“You’re right,” said the man.  “I’m surprised it’s taken this long.”  Then, looking forgivingly at the woman, he said, “Thank you for returning my wallet to me, and I accept your apology.  I hope you will stay and enjoy another meal with us today.”

“I’d love to stay, but please don’t fire this man,” pleaded the woman to the supervisor.  “Who would  ever listen to me like he does?”

“Fire him?” asked the supervisor, surprised by the very notion.  “I wish I had 50 more employees like him!  People try to steal things from our staff all the time, but never once has anyone gotten away with it and come back to return what they’ve taken.  Besides, if I fire him, who would ever listen to me like he does?”

A Picasso underneath

picassoBack in the day when l was an elementary school music teacher, I was continually stunned at how much content and information children can take in. I was always underestimating what the kids could do and comprehend. I would be standing up there talking to the class, and I would just have to stop.

It was like I could almost smell the smoke from the spinning gears inside their little brains. I would stop and look out and stare back at them for a moment.

“What did I just say?” I would ask, expecting no one to be with me at all.

To my surprise, virtually every hand would raise. They had all been listening. They had all been with me. They were simply taking in all of what I was giving them, downloading the information like some pint-sized PC.

There’s no accounting for what might fascinate one child and bore another.  Sometimes it makes no sense why a particular student will take to a certain book or piece of music, or develop a passion for a certain sport, or a love for cars. They just seem to be available at a particular time. Kids are open-minded. And I mean that in the most wonderful sense.

I’m not talking “open minded” as in an I see your point of view, but I’ve got my own so, thanks, but no thanks kind of way. I mean, children are canvases that are being painted on by many different artists in many different ways, most of whom don’t even realize they’re painting, and the children just soak up all the paint.

The brush strokes stay. They soak in, and it’s not only that impressions are formed, lasting portraits are painted, sometimes masterpieces, sometimes devastating failures.  Every detail is permanent. You may be able to cover over the surface, but the details are underneath the layers for a lifetime.

I love watching that show on PBS where people find old paintings in their attics or garages, and they bring them to this guy to tell them about what they’ve had under their noses all this time without knowing it.

On occasion, it turns out the home owners have a painting that seems pretty much worthless hanging in their living room. It’s like dogs playing Texas Hold’em or something, but that’s only the top layer. It turns out, when they take a look a bit deeper, they find that someone, perhaps several people, have been painting over other paintings on this canvas.  After about three layers or so have been taken away, the experts discover a lost Picasso, and it’s worth some ridiculous amount of money.

I’m not suggesting that a child’s value or worth is measured monetarily, but that there are layers upon layers of art that go into what a child becomes. Sometimes the more valuable looking art may be masked by the abusive father or the mother who’s never home to tuck them in, or the older brother who goes to prison way too young.

All of these things paint the canvas, and all of the paint is permanent.

Dig a little deeper and you just might find the priceless treasure you never knew existed.

I’m a fan Fridays!

dannykayeEvery night, during every performance of “Spamalot” at The Media Theatre, I find myself thinking about and trying desperately to channel the spirit of the great, Danny Kaye.

This show is full of brilliantly written comedic moments as well as several opportunities to play with the audience, making it just a little bit different every time.

I think of Danny Kaye for several reasons, but the main one takes me all the way back to graduate school.  As a vocal music major at Oklahoma City University in the mid 1990s, I spent a good deal of time in the library in the music school listening to records, cassettes and CDs (remember any of those ancient things?) and watching videos of great performances.

My first day there, I came across this VHS cassette (did he just say VHS?) of Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  It looked interesting, so I popped it in the player and put on the headphones.  After about the first five minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  When I turned around I saw the librarian with a very stern look on her face.  Apparently, I had been laughing so loudly I was disturbing the other students!

This performance, captured forever on video (thank God!!), changed my life!  When I saw this man exude the type of joy that can only come from complete immersion in total bliss, and how he was able to bring everyone along with him on this truly beautiful journey, I knew that I wanted to be as much like him as I could be in my career.

I play a lot of “creepy” characters and villains in my line of work, and I love it, it’s fun and often very challenging.  But, on the whole, I have to say, I prefer making people laugh and bringing them joy.

Some say you can’t teach comic timing.  I disagree completely!

If I have any sense of timing (and my mother says I do, so there!), I owe the vast majority of what I’ve learned to watching Danny Kaye work his magic, particularly in this video.

I present to you, on this very rainy Friday morning here in Philadelphia, one of my rays of brilliant sunshine!  It’s only a clip from the beginning of the evening, so, if you’ve got time later, treat yourself to the entire performance on YouTube.  It’s out of print and can only be found there.

Enjoy!!

Live like you were living

stranger_than_fiction_opening_contact-0-1080-0-0I got to thinking this morning about one of my favorite movies: “Stranger Than Fiction.”  I’ve seen it too many times to count, having used it as a teaching tool in the Humanities class I used to teach, and each time I revisit the film, something new jumps out at me.

I feel like a film has a significant impact on me as a piece of art when a couple of things happen:  First, it’s got to deserve multiple views or reads.  Second, every time I go to it, something new comes to me, some realization, some point of view, some new way of seeing my life, or some confirmation of a thought.

In “Stranger Than Fiction”, Harold Crick is an IRS agent who hears a voice, a voice narrating his life.  When he discovers that he is headed toward his imminent death, he makes a choice to start living the life he truly wants to live.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly acted by all.  It’s a story that speaks to me on so many levels.

My favorite line is spoken by Harold’s friend, who is a fellow IRS agent.  He and Harold are having dinner, and Harold asks his friend what he would do if he discovered that he was going to die soon.  His friend thinks for a moment and answers by saying that he would go to Space Camp.  It’s something he’s wanted to do since he was nine.  When Harold asks, “Aren’t you too old for Space Camp?” his friend responds with my favorite line in the whole movie,

“You’re never too old for Space Camp.”

I mention this because I sometimes wonder if I’ve been living my life waiting for what’s going to happen tomorrow and sometimes letting today go by.  I wonder if I’ve been sacrificing what I can do today because I somehow seem to think that tomorrow is going to bring my dreams right to me.  Tomorrow will come, as far as I know, and always brings with it enough trouble of it’s own.  That just takes me to the next tomorrow, where I start thinking about the next day or, more importantly, the next weekend.

The greatest moments of my life occur when I live in the now, the now of right now.  When I’m present in whatever situation or moment I’m in, life makes sense and my world is all right.

Do you plan for the future?  Do you save and make arrangements for your family and loved ones?  Of course you do!  Do all of those things.

But don’t waste a moment.  Don’t give in to your restless anxiety for a minute.

See your family and friends.  I mean really see them.

Appreciate them.

Love them.

Hug them.

Kiss them.

Not because they may not be here tomorrow but because they are here today!

“Life is too short.” Ok, so that’s a phrase you could use.

“Live like you were dying” is another.

I personally like the saying, “Live like you were living.”  Don’t look at your life in terms of when it might come to an end, but instead, look at it for all it could be now, in the “now of now.”

“Live in the now of now! Live like you were living!”

I like that!  Who said that?

Oh yeah, I did.  Just now.

Peace to you.