Thursday, May 29, 2014

Here’s to spring

I’ve not been writing; I’ve been consuming.

I’ve been reading books for long stretches until I can barely focus, reading online for inordinate periods of time - mostly reading.  But also eating a more than I should and more specifically, eating the wrong things.  It’s far too easy to do when your office is in your kitchen as mine is. 

The kitchen is my domain and when I’m not elsewhere reading, I’m in here at this laptop reading or writing , and almost constantly eating and drinking – coffee mostly.  I also cook two to three meals a day.  I love to cook.  I enjoy finding the foods I want to cook in the local market and then having something fresh and reasonably tasty for my family to eat.  On the other hand, even though I sit down to dinner, I rarely sit for any of the other meals I prepare.  I graze as I cook, or scavenge from the left-overs after the rest of the family has eaten.  I actually enjoy cooking a meal and then watching others enjoy it.  It’s a bit like theatre.  But I don’t think it’s the healthiest way to eat and my consumption in recent months has exceeded my output.  I’ve put on weight I will now have to either lose or live with.

And even though writing isn’t exactly exercise, it is exercise of a sort.  If I don’t work the writing muscle, it becomes slack.  The words don’t flow and the effort required increases – much like the muscles in my legs or my stomach or my back – all the places I feel the neglect piling up.

It is spring.  Winter was long, and for me, pleasurable.  I enjoy long reads on a rainy day with a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of maple-muesli cookies.  I enjoy it a bit too much probably.  When the first bright days of spring arrive, I close the drapes and snuggle even closer to my book.  The only thing that draws me out is the garden.  The garden is the other passionate pastime in my life.  I don’t consider my family a pastime; they are full-time, real-time, all the time.

In the past few weeks, I have spent countless hours digging and weeding and planting.  I love to see the garden come to life and I love to shape and color the spaces I husband.  I see gardening, at least the type of urban gardening that I practice, as a public trust.  I enjoy working a space that others will find calming, visually stimulating and probably most of all, an environment where people can wonder.

These are some of the things that have kept me from the page.  The list isn’t exhaustive and there is an element of pure laziness that I am reluctant to admit – but there it is.  So this post is an effort, an effort in a different direction, working a muscle that has been dormant for a few months.  

Here’s to spring.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Mickey Rooney made me do it

This is a post from 2008.  I have republished it today in honor of Mickey.

When I was a kid growing up in America I used to watch the old black and white films with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, the stories where Mickey and his pals would put on a show of some kind, stage it in a barn or a neighborhood playhouse. Something about those old films clicked for me and in junior high and high school I got involved in local productions – I think I was probably 10 when I first went on stage.
Much later while working on a film, the producer, who had been a casting director, had the idea of casting Mickey in a small but significant role. I hadn’t thought about him in decades but when the day came that Mickey was to arrive for the shoot, I was given the assignment of picking him up at the airport and driving him to the small city in Utah where we would be filming his scenes. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone of his age with so much energy. He was as intense and bright and talkative as his character Andy Hardy had been in his films of the 40’s, there was little about him to indicate that forty or fifty years had elapsed since he was the bright-eyed MGM superstar inspiring his thespian collaborators to action. It was an hour’s drive or more to the location and he did most of the talking, which certainly made things easier for me because I must admit I was more than a little star-struck.
A few years later I was producing a TV show in New York and there was an episode that called for a character not unlike Mickey to make a guest appearance. I persuaded the Executive Producer to hire Mickey for the show and again I had the chance to work with him. The cast of this show was comprised of solid New York actors, folks who worked in the theatre and did summer stock and when Mickey arrived there was a noticeable buzz in the air – he was a hero to all of them. When it came time to do his key scene Mickey bounded into the studio and after greeting all of his co-stars, proceeded to start the scene. I don’t think he had learned his lines or if he had he must have decided that they didn’t suit him particularly well so we had to do the scene a number of times. At some point the Director suggested that Mickey just sing his lines and so he did, improvising a tune that made the points his character was supposed to make and in the process charging the room with that inestimable Mickey Rooney energy – it was perfect.
Last night I performed in a concert here in Cologne. The other musicians were brilliant – I was far and away the least professional among them, but they were all very gracious and made me feel at home. It was as exciting as it had been years ago, preparing to go on stage, the billions of butterflies swarming through me, the sweat beading on my forehead as I waited in the wings to go on. Then there was the performance itself, little of which I remember. It was as if I had entered a space capsule and was transported to another realm where my memory banks were cleared before I was allowed to return to earth.
This morning, however, I am feeling a very familiar feeling, but one I haven’t felt for a long time. Anyone reading this who has ever done a play or worked with a group of other artists on stage knows what I’m talking about. You come together with a group of strangers and after rehearsing and commiserating with each other you go out there in front of a crowd and bare your soul. The bond created in such a situation is unique and after it is over, after the butterflies fly back to wherever they live when they are not torturing us, when the audience has left and the room is being swept clean, the lights taken down and the cables wrapped for storage, it isn’t just the theatre that is empty, there is also a place in your heart that hurts just a little because you know that as soon as you walk out that door and return home – it will all be over. Even if the project is a long one, a film or a TV series or a concert tour – there is always a point when the magic ends, when the audience leaves, when you are no longer a performer getting ready to step into the lurch – but you are just yourself again and you really miss all those folks you worked with on the production and no matter how difficult it was or how scared you were to go on stage or any of it – you want to do it again.
This morning I was reminded again why Mickey Rooney holds such a special place in my memory. He was the one who introduced me to the stage. And the wonderful thing about Mickey is that he has never lost that enthusiasm, he stills loves it. He still loves putting on a show and so do I.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Does he wake some mornings and say to himself, “No, it wasn’t a dream.  I was a Beatle once and I’m still alive.”  You bet.

Friday, March 21, 2014

To this water

I say ‘sweet dreams my brother’ as I go.
But you are not sleeping.
You are in my memory where it rubs against my heart.
And that is not enough.
And if you are, somewhere, it is a realm I have yet to find.
So I come here, to this water.
Where others, like you, like me, inclined to quiet places, stop.

March 21, 2014

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Michael E. Dooley


October 4, 1955 - March 2, 2014


Sunday, January 19, 2014


I am flying over Pittsburgh
Late on an autumn afternoon

I didn’t expect to be here
The Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio

Below me
Snow on Grant Street’s red bricks

It all comes rushing up
And I can only wait

For flight
To flee the chilling memory

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

January Bloom

I was in the gardens yesterday, tidying up, picking the pieces of broken bottles and last-night’s fast food trays from the beds.

These are pubic gardens, set in a square in the center of town. We live on the square. I can look out my windows and watch them from above, re-think them, dream, fantasize about what I might plant in the empty spaces.  I care for three of the fifteen beds that surround the neo-Romanesque church at the center of the square and I visit them just about every day, for the joy of it and from necessity.  Our visitors are not always thoughtful about taking their trash with them when they go, preferring to toss it into the flower beds.

When I visit I touch the plants, check them for broken parts, disease, growth. I am often surprised by returning varieties that have lain dormant for so long I don’t remember planting them, if I ever did.  Some I imagine are gifts from the birds. 

During the last six months or so, I have observed some puzzling developments.  My Lilac trees bloomed two months ago, the tulips are coming up and yesterday I noticed new buds forming on the roses.  Not one or two plants, but all the roses.  All of them sported new and prolific growth. 

It is January. I can’t imagine what April will look like.  What will happen to this new growth?  If any of my readers have experienced something similar, I would be pleased to know your experience and any advice you might have.