Monday, April 21, 2014

A Letter to my Friends in Boston

Walking down Boylston on Sunday and the sight breaks my heart: the Old South Church, barricaded.

It's Boston, it's Easter, and the church is blocked. Maybe, I think, this is what it's come to: for one day a year, Boston in Belfast in the nineties.

 ...but then three minutes later and half a block down, the Library.

And my heart mends a little, for I remember that Boston's values are my values. Surely this what we fought for, all those years ago; surely this is the best of us. Everything I love is in that building: knowledge, learning, beauty, hope, art. For all of us, for free. It's striking to me, these two scenes, but it's so often this way with life: the contrasts sit impossibly side by side. The juxtaposition reveals the beauty. (It's my eternal problem with Los Angeles: beauty-on-beauty doesn't juxtapose so good.)

 A year ago, we were all sorely tempted to conclude that belief in religion, art (or anything) is silly--good shit happens, bad shit happens; the good people lose their legs, the bad people are protected, and it all just sort of keeps happening until we die and, presumably, it all stops. But art and religion both say: no. Hard as it is to see sometimes, there is an order here. There is a meaning. There is a point.

And if you look for it, maybe the meaning is here, at the finish line: this iconic, city-defining event that was the sight of such tragedy... is a marathon.

I know a little bit about this. My brother is running the marathon today; I've run a couple myself, years back. Why has this event touched runners so much, especially those in this city? Because it's their home town, sure, and it's The Marathon, of course-- but there's something more.

While runners are by and large a happy, geeky lot, a joyful rainbow of sexes and sizes and colors, a lot of runners who either live in or hail from Boston are (myself included) of Irish Catholic stock. And here's one thing you need to know about the Irish Catholic: we tend not to be the largest, or the brawniest. We don't hit the grand slam. We don't throw the knockout punch.

But we sure can run. Our gift is in putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again and again and again and again.

 In other words, we endure. The marathoner's glory is not in the perfect pitch, the perfect swing, the perfect shot-- It is in finding the endurance to finish. This is what we do, we Irish Catholics: we endure because we become stronger than what challenges us-- sometimes just barely, but in matters of endurance, just barely is enough.

And as a region of Endurers, everyone in New England is a marathoner at heart. No one has to "explain" a marathon to a New Englander, and if they tried, it'd go something like this: "…you want me to do WHAT? Wake up at the crack of dawn, in the freezing cold, and go run like twenty miles-- and once I get there I gotta run six MORE? Ahhh, Christ, what the hell -- let's get on with it. Oh Sweet Jesus this is gonna suck." And, of course, we'd all do it again next year.

If you're not one of us, all I can say is: don't ask.

To those who perpetrated (or now find inspiration in) last year's events, I have a news flash: it didn't work. Boston survived you. And walking around the city yesterday it became clear to me that Bostonians, and runners, are also beginning to thrive.

I saw it everywhere. People are smiling. People are hopeful. The sun is out. The spirit is back. Daffodils in shop windows everywhere, delicate and tissue-thin, yet strong enough to survive months of winter and push their way through frozen ground.

 If I ever see Dzokhar, I'll tell him that. I'll tell him this too:

You never really stood a chance. Not here, against a city full of marathoners. See, all you brought this place was hardship-- and we own hardship. We cry through it, we laugh through it; while it wounds us, we learn to find pride, and sometimes even a kind of beauty, in the scars.

Mostly, though… whether they be real or artificial, we keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hot days or cold, good days or bad. And you know what? Sometimes it just sucks, and we don't see the point. But we do it. Again and again and again and again and again. (Sometimes it's even fun.) And before you know it, young man, you'll have faded into the rearview of our lives, a sad footnote to a glorious day in this city.

And you? You'll just be an another Old Man Still In Federal Prison.

 Say Hi to Whitey for us.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Flip: a lesson about casting.

So I read an article about "Perfect Technologies" a while back.

The gist of the thesis is that some things, once invented, can't really be improved upon. As I remember it, the purest example of a Perfect Technology is the hammer: one day, eons ago, some caveman tied a rock to the end of a stick, and voila. It's been refined, sure, but the essential design of the hammer is unchanged. Humans will always need a thing to bang on other things, and that thing-banger will always be the hammer. Years from now, there will be hammers in space.

I would add the book.

Now, no-- I'm not about to launch into a misty Lament For the Old Days. But here's the thing: by design, a book needs to be held-- so, by design, a book engages a second sense. While adding one's sense of touch to the experience of reading my seem like a small thing, I'd suggest the opposite. There's a specific feeling to being on page eight of a novel-- the heft of the book is in one's right hand, and that heft communicates that your journey has just begun. And as every book-lover knows, there are few experiences as exhilarating as being pages from the end of an epic novel, when your hands urge you: keep going. The end of the journey is close.

I could go on: about the durability of a thing that can be dropped, stepped on, lost in the sand, drenched in coffee (or wine...) and still fulfill its function; about the unique tactile memory contained in each book, how the feel and weight and typeface and scent of a college textbook brings one back to the classroom-- or, in some magical cases, the dorm room of one's first love.

And in each case the point's the same: swiping one's finger along a pane of glass ain't the same thing and never will be. To Kids These Days, I say: your loss.

Why am I telling you this, and what does it have to do with your acting career? Here's what: the same is true of an old-school printed headshot with a resume attached to the back. Looking at an actor's "pic and res" used to be the same visual-tactile experience as reading a book, and I can tell you now that the shift away from them, while streamlining the submission process for all concerned, is for the most part a decidedly unfortunate development for an actor.

Back in my picture-pulling days, my personal technique was to start with a stack of headshots on my lap. I could work with a stack four or five inches high, quickly flipping each headshot up into a vertical position against my chest, until one caught my eye-- at which point I'd effortlessly do The Flip, flipping it over with my left hand to peruse the "Res" on the back.

 I've done it countless times: no, no, no, no, no, no, no-- oh-whats-this??? Flip.

The design of the headshot/resume -- the Perfect Technology of it-- encouraged the flip. As with a book, the technology of the pic-and-res brought the users' hands into the process, so that "the flip" was as much a part of the process as "the glance." The Flip's revelation of who you were as an actor was a natural interaction with the what-you-look-like first impression of the headshot. No more.

Here's a sad truth: after glancing at, say, one's five thousandth headshot, one gets jaded, and the temptation to power through submissions and just get on with it grows strong. With an old-school pic-and-res, there is a physical limit to how quickly one can browse; with electronic submissions I'm not sure such a limit even exists, for the eye scans these "thumbnail photos" at a breathtaking clip. I cannot imagine being a young casting associate whose only experience of with submissions is electronic. (Again, to the young casting associates I say: you mean you've never spent an evening tearing open envelope after envelope, sorting each one, filling an office floor with stacks of submission "types?" Your loss.)

 I know this because I've taken myself out of mothballs and have been doing just this for the past week. And I can tell you that no matter how well-designed the website, "click to view resume", followed by "scroll-to-view", then another "click to return to thumbnails", is a pain in the ass.

I am a fan of actors. And not surprisingly, I'm a particular fan of training. Still, after days of looking at over a thousand submissions, I have a confession to make: in some cases, I made a decision on an actor without "clicking to view resume."

 Back in the day I would never, ever have skipped The Flip on any actor I was marginally interested in considering. In most cases, that decision was to pass.

But as time wore on, in a few cases... yes. I called an actor in based on their headshot alone. That's entirely new for me. And one of those actors was cast. (For the record, that person was wonderful. He was cast for his talent IN ADDITION to his look.)

Takeaway: your headshot needs to be SPECIFIC.

My pal Fern Orenstein at ABC always says "I don't want to see pictures of actors," and I'm starting to agree. Your picture should say one thing, and one thing only, and that thing needs to be specific to YOU (not simply "…hey! I'm another actor in a blue v-neck t-shirt!"), and where you best fit in that discouragingly large ocean of actors you swim in.

Good news: that guy I called in, the one who was cast? Yes, it ended up he had a good amount of talent (and TRAINING!) (ahem), and he'd done some stuff. But but but… I didn't know that when I called him in. For all I knew, he could have had no resume at all. To you beginning actors, the dreaded "white space" on a resume isn't the Scarlet A it used to be.

Provided your shot is wonderful. And specific. And you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some thoughts for my non-Bostonian friends.

As you probably know by now, Patriot's Day is a holiday in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Pretty much everyone's off.

And while many Bay Staters do call the day by its name, most of my friends called it Marathon Day.

 And every year, on Marathon Day, the Red Sox play a home game at 11AM. (For those so inclined --and most are-- the Cask 'n Flagon, the classic sports bar in the shadow of the Green Monster, opens for business at 11. I hear there's a line.) The game's unusual start time is set to coincide with the Marathon, allowing fans to leave the game and wander into Kenmore Square to cheer on the marathoners.

A typical game will get out around two PM; most people walk through the square, following the marathon route onto Boylston Street, and the finish line. They'll arrive around 2:30.

They can't help it; they're drawn there. In all of New England, the center of gravity on Marathon Day is Boylston street. IF the weather's right (and, honestly, even if it isn't), no place on earth, not Times Sqaure nor New Orleans, offers a better pub crawl than Boylston street on Marathon Day.

My friends and I would start at Division 16 before moving down the street, stuffing our way into bar after crowded bar, grabbing a round in each before returning to the street to cheer the runners on. By journey's end, it'd be close to six PM - just in time to cut through the Public Gardens, up the Commons, past the State House and down the backside of Beacon Hill to the Boston Garden, where either the Bruins or the Celtics always seemed to have a home game a home game at night.

For a visitor to the city, it's a glorious way to spend a day and really understand what makes Boston the special place it is. To a sports fan, Marathon Day is a little bit of Heaven on Earth.

Bostonians bristle at the notion that theirs is not a world class city. (Truth be told, Bostonians bristle at a lot of things-- but that's another tale.). But they fail to see the affection in these jests, for the size of the city is at the heart of Boston's charm. "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" has the romance, "New York, New York" is timeless, but "Dirty Water" is pure Boston-- a low-tech, rowdy stomp of a song that seems to say: "this may be the deal here, but it's ours. And in in our own way, we love it just the way it is."

To the rest of the world, it's Monday. But it's a Big Day in Boston, for it's Marathon Day, and if the weather's good (and even if it isn't)… no matter what else is going on in your life, all is right with the world. You can't even bounce a check that day (bank holiday, dontcha know).

Why am I telling you all this? Because Patriot's Day is Boston's day, God dammit. The city's own Special Day, when Boston - not New York or LA or London or anywhere - is the best place on the planet to be.

And whichever coward did this stained this day. For years to come.

Like all deep stains, today's ugliness will fade, but it will never really wash out. In addition to the sox game and the marathon, Patriot's Day in Boston will have new rituals: Moments of silence, tributes, prayers.

This is, of course, as it should be. But to this Calvinist New Englander (if not by home then by ancestry), this day is a sucker-punch reminder of The Way Of The World: if you have something simple, something unstained, something that's just plain good-- someone, somewhere, wants to ruin it.

I want to say that the best way to honor the day will be to dance. Go to the Flask, cheer the Sox, cheer the runners, do the pub crawl. Treasure the one carefree day. But somehow, that doesn't feel right. At least not now. But adding another day of mourning to our collective calendar feels wrong too.

I don't know what to do. And that angers me that I even have to contemplate it.

Here on Boston's Day. Patriot's Day. Marathon Day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, 9:20 AM. It's Day One, and I'm late. This is what happens when one travels a New Route in LA. I'm berating myself ("Rookie move! Rookie Move!!") and am in road-rage mode against anyone not speeding but it doesn't help because apparently I'm the winner of the hit-every-red-light lottery (on Venice Blvd? Really??) so I do the side-street shuffle to Van Ness where I Dukes-of-Hazard it over those aggravating speed bumps and I'm so focused I don't even giggle at the sign that says "Speed Humps" (yeah baby!!!) and thank Christ I FINALLY MAKE A LIGHT and I blast across Melrose and into the parking structure.... And just like that, I'm back. Season four. I landed in LA on July 4 after ten uninterrupted weeks in the Northeast. The re-entry has been surreal: everywhere, reminders that this is indeed Los Angeles. Where I live. Kind of. For most of the year. This is my car; this is the bright sun; this is my favorite spot for a beer. The return to routine feels --I don't know how else to say it-- strange. Once again, swiping my ID through the studio gate. Once again, a warm "welcome back!" from the guard. Once again hustling over to stage eight, only to find they've moved our trailers to free up parking spaces for those American Horror Story-ers. (Bastards!) I've done all this before, of course, so I guess it's this: one never imagines these little wonderful things will become habit. And it ends up the setup for the first shot took a while, so I'm not even late. I take it as a sign, and relax, and let in the strangeness-- this deja-vu of the returning senior, the "new-only-not" feeling unique to one's first day back at school as a vet. Strangest, though, is how quickly the newness fades. After all the hugs, the hello's, the "welcome backs," (and a few awkward "'re back?? I mean-- You're back!! Hey! Great!!"), it's suddenly as if we'd all been right here, doing this, yesterday. Perhaps it's due to experience, or so many familiar faces: our turnover is, apparently, remarkably low. We've got a new crew member, fresh from Mad Men, who remarks that our show is famed for its tight crew and easy days. Easy? Easy??? (Well, OK, that's true: we haven't had many 20-hour days. ) (And I cannot imagine a 20-hour day on Mad Men.) Victor (our genius DP) points out that very few people ever see Season Four on a single show. So this is how it feels four years in: at four years in, you answer questions from the New Guys; at four years in, you find you're chatty with pretty much everyone. (Except Miguel Ferrer - I still think of him as that intense dude in Traffic so he scares me a little. We just say hi.) To you, this all may seem like a given and not strange at all, but to me... I don't know. It's hard to define, beyond saying that it's nice to belong. But I can only dwell on the feeling for a moment-- rehearsal's up for the big scene. Back to work. Which feels nice too. Speaking of The Scene, a quick acting tale from Day One: After a couple of quick walk-and-talks, the first Big Scene of the day --remember, we're talking Day One of Episode One after two months off-- is a flashback. A flashback that is a CONTINUOUS LINK from a very, very tense, cliffhanger scene shot TEN WEEKS AGO. It will be the very first shot of the season for our stars, here at 10 AM after two months of travel and family and birthdays and reunions. (The script, if you're curious, came in on Friday.) Wanna know what we get for rehearsal and prep? For the first Big Scene here on a Big Network Show? A blocking rehearsal. One. Blocking rehearsal. Then it's back to the trailers, where we have twenty minutes to move from Vacation Mode to Big Drama mode. Oh, and since we're a little behind, once the cast is on set it'll move quickly. Grab a master, push in on a few closeups, move on. YES, I know: we're not talking Long Day's Journey Into Night here. It's a television crime procedural. A television crime procedural that's seen be fifteen million people a week. One's acting, for better or worse, judged by fifteen million people a week Funny, how that can creep into an actor's head right about at the moment of "...aaaaand, ACTION." The lesson(s)? Experience counts. The scene's gonna work because it will feel seamless. The seamless continuity works only because the character continuity works. The character continuity works because the actor (and the coach...) (ahem) have lived with it for so long and understand the job. You get the idea. So, finally, I leave you with my constant reminder about this work we do: think it's easy? You try it. Actually, if you haven't already, I truly hope you do. Because it's awesome. And, yes: strange.
Day Two. Emerging from the sea, take 4. Trust me, it only LOOKS warm.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My favorite oldie


So you've started to dread holidays because you're still not a famous actor.

And it's becoming just too painful to explain why you're still not, "...after all this time?"

In fact, every time you try to justify your thus-far-anonymous existence in LA or New York to your family, well, you always leave such conversations feeling worse than when you entered them --and you enter into them, as your family does, with the best of intentions. Yet attempts to make them understand the path you've chosen result in frustration, disappointment, and, sometimes, isolation and pain.

It's not your loved ones' fault: in recent years they've been so inundated with information (and misinformation) about the inner workings of Hollywood that they engage in such discussions assuming a knowledge that they actually lack. Honestly: did you ever imagine you'd be discussing box-office grosses with your parents? And eventually the prospect of reciting your padded resume to all who ask, followed by a series of humiliating "I-know-what-you-should-do" conversations prompted by some invariably unflattering comparison to a co-worker's relative who also acts, cause you to contemplate spending your holidays alone. And that ain't right.

Next time, try offering this analogy:

You're a gold miner.

Like all gold miners, you're a dreamer. (But you don't have to tell them that. And don't ever be ashamed of it. The world needs dreamers.)

Dreamers climb the highest mountain; Gold miners mine the richest mine. Otherwise, as any dreamer will tell you, what's the point?

So, like all real miners, off to Alaska you go. That's where the gold is. Being the best gold miner in Nebraska is a tin crown, at best.

And until the world hears otherwise, you're just another schmuck on the mountain. When you strike gold, you'll let them know.

In the meantime....

Don't try to share with those back home the specifics about your days. Your little ups, your little downs. People who've never been on the mountain don't understand it up there and never will. Not their fault; they can't.

(A rare exception: some miners leave behind those who truly believe in their dream-- better, those that believe in their ability to achieve it. If you're such a fortunate soul, you can --and should-- ask your supporters for whatever support they can offer. In helping you stay on the mountain they're dreaming, too. And they're the first people you pay back when you strike it rich. And, sure, tell them about your victories, cry with them about your defeats. But tell them not to spread it around.)

As to the rest: don't listen to their story of their friend, "the lawyer," who goes down to the local creek with a plastic pan on Saturdays ("...and really, he's pretty good at it. You two should meet."). He's not a gold miner, he's a lawyer who likes to play around with the pan, which is fun and not at all risky if, like him, you know that come Monday morning you're going to be at your desk and not along a crowded riverbank in freezing water with your pants rolled up.

You know the difference; they never will. They're afraid of the mountain, and for good reason....

Life on the mountain sucks. It's cold, or blistering hot; you spend what little money you have on mining supplies; worse, because it's a mining town, prices are gouged on everything else. Eventually you will have to take all manner of demeaning work merely to survive. No Carribbean Christmas, no 401-K, no health insurance for you, no, you need that money for a seventy-dollar trip to the grocery and coin-op laundries that charge six dollars a load. On the mountain, among the other miners, this is an accepted part of the bargain; down in the valley it sounds like failure. Remember: keep the day-to-day to yourself.....

And don't ever, ever, be swayed by the advice of those next to you along the river. No one knows exactly where the gold is, especially not them. And advise they will-- on the size of your pan, the shape of your pan, your sluicing technique, your position on the river (yet they will never, ever tell you if they hear rumor of a better spot); if you listen, you'll begin to doubt your every move, and quickly grow discouraged. Remember: if any of their suggestions were effective, they wouldn't be knee-deep in mud next to you.

Any advice whatsoever from anyone who's never been on the mountain is worse than useless.

On the other hand, advice from those few who actually walk off the mountain wealthy can be invaluable, but all they'll really tell you is this: keep at it. Because they know...

There is no justice on the mountain. Some pan for years, only to see those who stake claims yards away strike it rich; others find gold their first day out. This can be crippling to old-timers still chipping away.

And sometimes those who strike a little gold can be the harshest of all on their fellow miners. That's okay; they're just afraid their vein will dry up. And they're ashamed of all their days as a failure, which is a pity (more on this later).

All miners are, more or less, offered the same deal: in most cases, the mountain will win. (But you know that long odds never deter the true dreamer.) What your friends in the valley will never know is the cruelty in that bargain, how, as time goes on, every day becomes difficult. Every day there's a summoning of energy that must occur for you to crawl outside and return to the river. Every day you'll curse your tiny, decaying tent, you'll find it harder to smile when someone just above or below you strikes gold; every sunny card from friends and family not on the mountain announcing a new home, a new birth, will cut a little deeper, and every day you'll find it a little harder to ignore the gnawing thought that perhaps it isn't the mountain, it's you. And if you manage to survive up there for years without even a nugget (and you might) a funny paradox takes root inside you, paralyzing you as it grows: the longer you're on the mountain, the harder it is to stay or leave. If you stay, the hardships are harder, the sacrifices seem more meaningless; at the same time, well, you've been up here this long, and so you cling to the miner's one life-preserver thought: just one big strike and all this will be worth it. Then, if I want to, I'll leave.

And yet every day you'll see fellow miners leave the mountain. Some just walk off at night, under cover of darkness; others, overcome with exhasstion and grief, must be carried by family who load them into Volvos and Audis, triumphant in their sympathy. Young miners will scoff at such sites, for surely, they think, they share nothing with this weakling who simply doesn't "have it;" older miners either stand quietly, offering a moment of understanding and respect, or turn away, haunted by the thought that that spectacle should be, and perhaps soon will be, them.

And once in a great while, one of two things happens: the first, of course, is signaled by a banshee whoop!, an animal cry instantly understood by all miners: someone hits it. This is followed by a breathtaking stampede of hangers-on, well-wishers, gold-diggers, photographers, even, all wanting nothing more, ultimately, than proximity to the Winner and with it the possibility that some of that gold dust will rub off onto them-- or at least will buy them some six-degrees-of-fame free drinks or sex at the saloon. Depending on a fellow miner's frame of mind that day, such spectacles can be heartening ("see, it does happen"), or heartbreaking ("... but not to me.").

The second thing? That's the rarest of all:

someone walks down off the mountain, empty-handed. And smiling.

Something happened to them, one night.... maybe the newest young miner to earn the affections of the local suppliers did them in,,, or the latest baby shower invitation from a friend down in the valley... something... and some switch flipped, deep inside them, and they realized, awake in their raggedy tent as the sun comes up, the secret the mountain holds closest and reveals only to those who can become still enough to hear it: although they're leaving empty-handed, they didn't fail. And even though they can never explain this secret to those in the valley, they won't have to. That this strange, draining, heartbreaking life that they knew, this struggle, had its own awful beauty that those who stayed in the valley (and even those who struck gold right out of the gate) can never know. Bittersweet, too, that all those days that they'd cursed themselves and bullied themselves and agreed with all the whispers of failure that seemed to surround them, they'd failed to understand that they'd already won. They won the moment they'd staked their claim and set up their tent and waded into that cold water not even knowing how to hold the damned pan.

Or, maybe, they won the moment they stepped onto the bus to Alaska.

What did they finally, finally hear from that quiet voice that morning as they watched the sun come up? That through those scorching, humbling days and freezing nights, they'd been living a dream, and that dreams have lives, too, and deaths. And that while their dream slipped gently into the night, it lived a full life, and that smile they wear as they walk the trail off the mountain comes from a lack of regret, and peace.

None of us has any way of knowing whether we'll leave the mountain rich or poor; my hope is that either way you walk off happy, or at least content. In the meantime, whenever friends or family or boyfriends or girlfriends or neighbors ask "how's it going," tell them this:

"Think of me as a gold miner. When I strike it rich, I promise you, you'll know. Until then, you don't even have to ask. Just assume I'm still on the mountain with a pan in my hand, digging around in the mud for a dream. Wish me luck."

Peter Kelley
New York, NY
November, 2002

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some tardy (non-acting) thoughts on the Fourth.

They look so small from up here. Smaller even than you'd have thought.

Yeah yeah I know. I gotta back up.

Perhaps because it's an expectation-free holiday, I have a fondness for the Fourth of July. I love Christmas, too (I am the Christmas Ho, after all), but we want Christmas to go a certain way. The tree, the gifts, the music, we need it all to be just so; for Christmas, we even make requests of the weather (snow!).

But not the Fourth. You can go to a barbecue, or not; head away for the weekend, or not; gather with family or simply stay put. Up to you.

Me-- well, you know. I love fireworks. Love 'em. But this year I'd decided to head to LA for the weekend, and the return fares on the Fourth itself were simply to cheap to pass up. Since arrival in JFK in time to make a fireworks display would have meant leaving LA at an ungodly hour, I decided to gamble on the next best thing: a late afternoon flight that, if the route was right and the weather held, just might put me over some fireworks. It'd be a new perspective, and fun.

We push off fifteen minutes late, have a long taxi (TWO Delta flights get the call in front of us! Why? Why??), and aren't wheels-up until almost five. I curse American Airlines as I feel my plan slipping away.

But I do have a tendency to struggle against trusting in Faith.

The sun sets as we cross the Rockies... we clear a cloudy stretch... and we're somewhere over the Heartland (Iowa?) when I first see it: a small cluster of lights which can only be a town. (Thanks to the pervasiveness of the Sodium-Halogen streetlight, there's a distinct look to urban areas, even minor ones, from up here.) Then, just off to one side... there... no bigger than a single spark from a sparkler, really, so small I'm not even sure... until there's another. And this one's red. A tiny bright pin-pop that quickly fades.


And I suddenly ache to be there, wherever There is: some baseball diamond, some fairground outside of the town, sitting on a blanket, looking up at the night. The town's now sliding underneath the wing and out of view, but no matter: here's a slightly larger town, and over there, another... and if you let your eyes sort of... drift... these tiny, colorful puffs dot the land below. Pop, fade. Pop, fade. Happy Birthday, America. Happy Birthday, us.

Now, an incredible turn of good fortune: in the distance but coming up fast, Chicago! What are the odds? A major city, at just the right time-- and on a clear night! I'm gonna get my Big City fireworks after all.

I notice two concentrated bursts that are busier than the others --the big displays-- but, funny thing: from here, they're not that much different than the smaller ones. Not much at all. Still I watch, for the Grand Finales will be impressive, surely. And they do get a bit brighter... but then they simply stop.

I settle back in my seat. I'm depressed, a little, let down, a little... but there's something else, a thing I've felt before; a vague feeling of what I can only call profundity that's making itself known. And since I am a religious person I believe that to be the gentle nudging of God.

"Oh, come on, what--" I think, "can't I just sit here and feel depressed?" Fine. OK, Universe, I'll bite: what am I missing? Think, Peter.

Personally, I go back and forth on the whole There Are No Accidents concept. But tonight, well, the timing could be chalked up to chance (but that delay at the gate...), the clear sky, to predictable weather patterns...

...but the good stuff outside the window is NEVER on my side of the plane.

So. I got the Big Show, like I requested... but from up here, there really wasn't much difference...

Ah. Got it. I'm a little slow sometimes, but in the end I get it.

It's one of my great flaws, see, this Wishing I Was Somewhere Else. And I can imagine myself on that rural baseball diamond, pining for Chicago (or that plane flying way up high), not appreciating what was lighting up the sky right over my head, losing the moment while not realizing that, depending on your seat, that change-everything difference isn't such a difference at all.

Which leads to: is it like this about everything? Beauty, wealth, accomplishment? When you're Up Here, far enough from it, do all our seemingly-important differences grow narrow? All these distinctions we measure by, and value so highly-- success or failure, rich or poor, hot or not?

And I wonder if this is how it will be when we Depart: a flight that doesn't follow the curve of the earth but flies straight, soaring off while behind us everything slowly... fades. What's that? What kind of car did I drive? From up here you can't even recognize cars. (Although a bit of practical advice from a lot of night flying: have bright headlights.) So, maybe, none of this matters so much.

No. It's this: ALMOST nothing matters. For as I think on it, I come back to where I always come back: love.

I'll miss that a whole lot. I wouldn't have a panicky urge to claw out of my plane just to jump back down to get my car; I'd want to get back to the people. Sure, I'd want to experience a little more. But I've experienced plenty. Really, I'd want to feel a little more. That's what I'm gonna miss.

None of us have taken that particular flight yet, though we all have a reservation. But we already know that the feelings won't fade. As for the rest... perspective.

So, Universe, thanks for this-- and, ya know, worth the Holiday flight. A new experience, and a lesson learned.

But next year, I'm going to a Big Show.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A few thoughts about home (what else?)

"Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that LAND doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts."
--Gone With The Wind.

Nine PM. Back at Terminal Four at LAX. And, indeed, where better to finally write to you than the Admirals Club?

And, no, not gloating. At all. The kind of chap who's a gloater, see, would have MADE that 4:20PM flight, and not had to spend his last few hours in LA gazing out at at incoming and outgoing air traffic.

Anyway. Sorry for dropping off the radar for a bit. I've been working on two (!) Scene-of-the-months (and they're winners), and I didn't want to write 'til they were done... but here I am. Thinking. (...and, in truth, drinking as well. Never good, but free wine will do that to a man.)

I am by ancestry Irish, mostly. And as such, am a member of a culture for whom bonding to a place, a home, is a defining link in the DNA.

But I currently pay rent on three storage facilities. I am having mail held in two cities. My car keys are with a friend. I offer a quick nod of acquaintance to the ID kid at the TSA line at LAX (who, I SWEAR TO CHRIST, is the twin of Jake Gyllenhal), and he says: "where you been?" I have not boarded a plane in about two months and realize that is my longest flight-gap in over three years.

And standing here, gazing into the mirror of the admittedly lovely restroom in the Admiral's Club... I look tired. (When it didn't matter, I was often called "young-looking." Really, who gives a shit? Now, an embarrassing truth: I do. And I'm not, any more.) I don't think people are meant to live like this. At least not people like me.

But... what if I'm wrong? I never thought I'd get good at this life, but. No matter what it is, we get good at what we do. And I don't know how it happened but this is what I do.

Is there ever a moment? When a person looks in a mirror and realizes that, perhaps, This Is It, For Me? (and, if so, shouldn't such a moment have come earlier in life?) Is there a too-yong part of me fighting this, protesting that no, there's Something Else?

Besides. Amongst us humans there are nomads-- entire cultures defined by their ability to never put down roots. As one of the Concord Poets (Emerson?) pointed out, migratory birds never return to last year's nest. Thing is, how does one know such a thing about one's self?

Do you?

Outside, in a ballet of slow-motion, whale-like grace, a Quantas 747 is pushed onto the taxiway. Strange, how silent it is behind glass. In truth, I love this part. I love wondering where that plane is going, what lives are moving forward. I do love forward motion.

And now, quietly in the background, Miles Davis. Flamenco Sketches, off "Kind of Blue." One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded.

Again: what is it, exactly, with life? How can it be beautiful and mysterious and lonely and hard and joyful all at once? I thought only women possessed that capability...

I owe you an apology, I think, because this was heading somewhere when it started (I swear it was). But it ended... here.

So. I'm in NYC for a month or so, with a few Boston weekends in the mix. I'd love to see you-- so if you're looking for a class in NYC or Boston let me know.

Actually, shoot me an email either way. I'd love to hear your thoughts on all this. I really would.

Thanks for reading,