Monday, July 28, 2014

Brittney Griner needs to take a seat.

Brittney Griner needs to take a seat.

In her new book, she talks about the homophobia she experienced while at Baylor University.

As a student of Baylor at the same time as Griner, I can tell you that we all knew she was gay. She openly held hands with her girlfriend on campus, they attended events together and spoke about it in class. The only time this has become an issue for her, is once she started talking to news outlets and she realized there's a lucrative book deal in talking trash about apparent conservatives in an effort to make her road appear more difficult as a gay person.

We know it's hard to come out and every person who goes through that process has their own story, especially in conservative environments. But Griner wasn't an outcast because she was gay at Baylor. People on campus looked up to her and in the two interactions I had with her, she was nothing but kind. Actually, one of those interactions was when she was hand-in-hand with her girlfriend. In public. No. One. Cared. She was doted upon and adulated like a celebrity and was often driven by a golf cart to her classes. There wasn't any talk about her not being able to be herself because in public, when I saw her, she was very open.

Gay people in the public eye need to quit this march of self-martyrdom. I understand that this story sells more books and will get you as the top news story on ESPN and OutSports, but the reality of the situation is not at all what she has presented it to be. It's a tacky scapegoat that sounds really great in the media. "The Baptist University tried to keep the superstar in the closet." When in reality, she was asked to not talk about it in relation to the basketball game. Why? Because it doesn't matter if you're gay or straight when you're on the court. It matters that you can make the play. So why take the focus off of being on a winning basketball team, one of the best in the country, to talk about the private life of a 22 year old girl?

Michael Sam has been in the news and was awarded at the ESPYs for being a trailblazer. While his coming out was also very calculated, he hasn't spoken ill of his time during college. As a matter of fact, he took the alternate route and has talked about the support he felt when he played football in college and that he's taking that support with him as he embarks on his NFL career this fall. Did he have people who didn't believe in him? Probably. But he's focused on the support.

While these comments from Griner will be but a blip on her career radar, it still irritates me that she took cheap shots at a university that paid for her education, gave her the opportunity to win a national championship and supported her all the way to the draft. Baylor is the alma mater of Olympic gold medalists, professional athletes, Emmy winning actresses and some of the top filmmakers in the country, all of which come back to Baylor to give back to the university that gave them their start. I wish Griner would do the same, rather than making Baylor a scapegoat for a more juicy sound bite to get people to buy her book.

I'm going to talk about Holler...

I keep my opinions mostly to myself when it comes to Broadway. Sure, my circle of friends and I will talk about what shows we liked and which ones we didn't, but basically, I keep that out of the public forum. Most of the reason is because I know and am friends with people who are working on Broadway in various capacities. Are they aware that not every show they've been a part of has been a winner? Yes. But they don't need me spewing that out on my Facebook feed. However, this summer, the debate about Broadway criticism has become almost more of a newsmaker than a show itself.

Holler If You Hear Me, the Broadway musical that used the music of Tupac as it's guide, opened and closed quickly. This wasn't surprising to most, especially among the people I know who saw the show, including myself.

I'll admit, I saw the show early on in previews. There were a couple weeks worth of changes that could have taken place between the time I saw it and when it opened, but in talking to people who went to see it after me, it didn't sound like much change had taken place.

My root-level thoughts are these: a large cast and crew were employed on Broadway. That's a win. The amount of talent within that cast list read like a gleaming beacon of belting divas and powerful men. That's a win.  The show was unlike anything else that was on the Great White Way. Win.
From the get-go, it was billed as the rap musical on Broadway. This was the selling point. Rap on Broadway with an almost entirely black cast. I think that's great. The Lion King and Motown both employ large mostly black casts, but that's about it. Broadway was and is a predominantly white person medium, something that is changing and needs to continue to do so. Even in BLEEP, I have written about the need for color-blind casting in classic shows. So having a big show in such a huge theater employing these actors was a win.

But when I got to the show, the excitement of something new quickly wore off as I was pummeled with the n-word in every other stanza, fed a less-than-compelling story and presented with performers who were not in the least bit utilized to the potential I've seen them have in other works. Another of the selling points was Tupac's poetic lyrics, which told the story of what was happening on the streets at the moment he was writing. The problem is that those lyrics were nearly impossible to understand as they were shouted sans any diction. Yes, I'm a white male with a masters degree in Communications from a private university, but for someone who doesn't know every word of the Tupac catalog (and I would argue that was 95% of the audience) that immediately sucked the poetic meaning out of the story...because you can't understand the story.

Even the ending, although borrowed from the book of West Side Story, felt like it could have been a poignant moment, until the shouting commenced again, utterly ruining any sort of emotional and teachable moment that existed.

After the show closes, star Saul Williams, did an interview with Rolling Stone where he blamed racism as the reason the show closed. There's no other way to read what he said. He is wrong. The show closed because it was a sub-par show, on too large of a stage, in a giant theater they could never fill in the middle of the summer. Motown sells out. Trip to the Bountiful was a hit. The Color Purple was a hit. This season, After Midnight was a hit and one of the best nights of theatre I have had. But when After Midnight closed, there wasn't any talk about racism being the reason.

Absent from most of the conversation was reference to In The Heights, the rap musical that won four Tonys, a Grammy and was nominated for the Pulitzer. But those were Hispanic people...so in some conversations I had, that nullified my argument apparently. But what I know, and this is coming from someone who actually lives in the heights and I experience the culture daily, is that In The Heights was rap. It was rap on Broadway that was insanely successful, launched people's careers and opened the door for more musicals in the same genre. The difference between In The Heights and Holler was that Holler wasn't a good musical. 

At the end of the day, it was poorly constructed, and rather than going Off-Broadway where it wouldn't be such a financial loss and also give the creative team time to gauge audience reaction, edit and change the show before spending Broadway money on it, they jumped at the chance to make a statement on a big stage. That statement didn't end up being what they wanted. 

I struggled with whether I was going to post this, but I've decided that just because I didn't like one show doesn't mean that I don't support art and the continued diversity of the art that's presented on the world's biggest stage, Broadway. After all, Broadway is the artform I love the most. I think that's why I just had to write it out and say what I wanted, because both audiences and the cast of Holler deserved better. Tupac deserved better than what was done with his lyrics. His writing serves as both a time capsule and a voice for people who feel voiceless. The intention was for that voice to roar on Broadway and instead, it shuttered with a whimper. 

What this show did do was ignite a conversation that needs to be had. Unfortunately, the conversation became about racism instead of what it needed to be about: producing better shows that warrant the $100 price tag attached to the tickets. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A new cadence

Is there anything as exciting as finding a new song to love? 
We live in a culture where new music is disseminated on an hourly basis and thanks to the internet, we have the ability to immediately listen to it, make a decision on whether to add it to one of our Spotify playlists and then go on with our day. But isn't it thrilling when you hear a song that stops you in your tracks for whatever reason and you not only press repeat, but can almost feel it sinking into your soul? 
Music has the ability to do that in a way that other artforms really don't. Other mediums can speak to us and they can certainly affect us, but music has a different affect on us. It's something we live our lives in. We walk down the street with our headphones in, we listen to it in our cars, we hear it at a church, it's overhead in a store - we actually have a soundtrack to our lives, whether we choose it or not. 
Every now and then, there's a song that surprises you for one reason or another and it becomes part of the fabric of our day. We hear it even when it's no longer playing. The beat becomes the cadence of our steps. Is there anything better? 

Sometimes, happiness is as simple as a new song to love and with it, a new cadence for our day. A small change that can mean so much. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Deep

Today is a deep day.
A deep day.
Some days, we go about our business, check the things off our schedule we need to get done, watch our shows at night, post a status or two about this or that and we head to bed before we start over again in the morning. Those aren't deep days. Those days, at best, are skimming on the surface. We all have those days. Sometimes, life can feel like it's made up of those days.
But then there are those days when something happens and it causes you to dig deep within you and fully be present for what comes up.
We released our new issue of the magazine today, and it's full of gospel artists. This isn't usually what we cover in the magazine, but why stick to a formula? We're creative so let's act that way. Interviewing some of these artists was like revisiting my childhood. I didn't listen to anything else besides them and talking to them felt like such a full-circle Oprah moment.
So I've been thinking deeply today. I began digging into my apartment to clean it and at the same time, I've been digging deep and allowing myself to remember the experiences that went on in my life that were tied to these artists. It's a lot of unpacking. Not that I'm a closed off person, I allow myself to be present again in those moments often, but today was a little different.
So I listened to that music again, I cleaned my apartment, and I even looked at some old pictures. Allowing yourself to remember, relive and feel deeply the moments of your past that sculpted you is a powerful thing. It's really something to let yourself be conscious in the moments that have passed. Today, we are overly focused on living in the now - telling ourselves that our pasts don't define us. And there'a a validity to that but only to a point. Our pasts absolutely define us and the decisions we make in the present.
I allowed myself the freedom to live in those moments, feel those moments again and dwell there again, if only for a moment. And it was freedom. And it was fulfilling to feel connected to those moments again.
That's why today is a deep day. That's also why today is a great day. It's great to feel deeply.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kids

Watching children's TV shows as an adult is an interesting experience. I'm not really talking about animated Disney movies per se because those films were never intended to be seen only by children. Disney knew adults had to enjoy them as well or they'd just wait for them to be on video and wouldn't take their kids to the theaters to see them.
No, what I'm talking about are the shows created today for children.
As it so happens, I stumbled upon an airing of Pocahontas on Disney Junior. Having written my thesis on the "Architected Architypes of Disney Animated Movie Musicals," I have a grown-up soft spot for these films. After spending considerable time staring at her hair blowing in the wind and trying to figure out why Mel Gibson is in the body of Beast after he's transformed back into a prince, it was time for a commercial break.
I spend the next however many minutes, it felt like three hours, being sung to by to men in what I can only assume are Party City pirate costumes, spliced with clips from this animated show that makes Captain Hook look like the fun uncle with a boat you'd always want to spend the summers with.
I have so many questions. What exactly is this about? When I was a kid, I was immersed in the week-to-week narrative of X-Men. In the first episode, one of the characters dies. They are dealing with issues ranging from racism to homophobia. What are these shows showing kids? That everyone deserves a trophy just for showing up and that everything is "bullying?"
When I was a kid, I learned that people are different and that's okay. I learned to respect others. I also learned to stand up for myself. I learned that from TV shows.
I'm not sure what kids are watching and I've written post after post about how cartoons were much more engaging and well-thought out than the swill that's on today, but I'm thankful I had cartoons like X-Men and Animaniacs that were both entertaining and made kids think. Even when we didn't know we were thinking about bigger things, bigger ideas, pop culture, and how we treated other people, we were thinking about it.
I don't know if shows today do the same thing.
The next commercial was for a show about some shapeless alien creatures who don't say much. I changed the channel at that point.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The true sadness

L'Wren Scott died today, an apparently suicide. Her name was synonymous with fashionistas on red carpets (see Christina Hendricks at right) and now, the light of her life has been snuffed out.

I saw many in Hollywood tweet their condolences and express their grief over the loss of her talent, but I didn't read many about the loss of her spirit.

It's fair to say her spirit needed finding much more than her little black dress, but when an artist dies by their own hand, the go-to sentiment of our culture is to lament the loss of the art and the hands that enabled that art to exist. We tend to skip over the fact that this person was so unhappy and felt so hopeless that they chose to end their existence rather than fight to find their happy.

I've been listening to Pharrell's new album, Girl, on repeat for the past few days. His performance of "Happy" at the Oscars was not only a great performance, but it may have been the best performance at an awards show in years. More than the catchy beat of the song, (and it's a terrific song) the performance was about exactly what the song was about: happiness.

Happiness is under-rated in our society. We value achievement and exploits over personal happiness and fulfillment of spirit. When you're an artist, so many people experience that happiness when they are creating. But no amount of artistry can fill the hole that happiness of spirit fills. Whatever happened in Ms. Scott's life, there was a hole there.

That's what we should be grieving.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Maybe I'm just not that into you either

I'm re-watching "He's Just Not That Into You" tonight. I know, what a raucous New York Friday night I'm having. It's alright that you're jealous. But if you can marshal the strength to overcome your jealousy for long enough, I'm in a moment.
Having just recently started dipping my toes into the dating pool again, I'm finding this film to be accurate on a semi-frightening level. While I don't aspire to be Ginnifer Goodwin in any sort of setting, I'm finding some of her obnoxious behavior familiar (but on a much tamer scale...clearly). The constant checking the cell phone, the over-thinking, the seemingly misplaced optimism - it's all part and partial to those first few dips in the pool.
But let's face it. I'm 30. I've done this before. Many times actually. And now that those first few dips are over, the novelty has worn off. The staring at the phone? Nope. Wondering what's happening? Uh uh. If I don't hear anything, then I'm moving on. Call it grown up self-preservation. That, and once you reach a certain age, you're too busy for the back-and-forth. I just don't have the time to invest in someone who isn't that into me.
Some of the most wise words ever uttered came from a fish. As Dory in "Finding Nemo" said, "Just keep swimming." I'm fairly certain I'm swimming against the current when it comes to what my culture says I should be doing, which is going to make it all the more difficult to hook a killer catch, but perhaps that's exactly what a picky OCD person like me wants. I don't want to be a stereotype. I don't want to go home with anyone who's slightly interested. I want substance and that's hard to find, no matter where you are.
You know, the videos of the bears standing upstream from the jumping fish always show the bear catching the fish, and we think that's amazing. They make for a really terrific Oprah-narrated, flute underscored, slow motion moment. However, they don't show the amount of times that giant bear was too much of a lug to catch the ones that hit them in the face. And as foolish as Smokey may feel for getting slapped in the face with a fish, does that detour him from his hunt? No.
So I'm just gonna stand where I am, be who I am, and stay who I am. And sure I'm gonna reach for those potential catches, and eventually, one will be the right one. Until then, those who are just not that into me will have to move along because they won't be getting anymore of my attention.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding God in the 'Cosmos'

"How can we humans, who rarely live more than a century, hope to grasp the vast expanse of time that is the history of the cosmos?"
That was the question proposed tonight on Fox's "Cosmos" and tonight, like so many Americans, I watched with amazement as the visuals took us from the Earth and outward beyond the galaxies and universes. It played out like the most expensive PBS special ever made. Even the animation throughout the historical narrative reminded me of the animation in the last Harry Potter films, which was stylistically incredible. I was hooked.
Then it happened.

The Big Bang.
As soon as those words were spoken, I knew an entire segment of the audience changed the channel. The big bang theory is like a poison dart, meant to be avoided where I come from in the Bible Belt.

"That's not how it happened. It happened in exactly seven calendar days and everything appeared out of thin air. Nothing about evolution could remotely be true. The Bible would have outlined it that way if that had been the case."

There will be sermons that denounce this special as a cog in the vast liberal agenda to tear down the Christian heritage. But in actuality, if you read along with the Bible as this special went played, you'd see it all lined up. Beyond just knowing it does, I double-checked. It does. The argument about creation isn't really about the order in which is happened. It's about the timeline in which it took place. Was it 7 days or was it billions of years? I hate to be the one to say this, but I really don't think it matters.

Even in the special, the narrator spoke of the "extreme contingency" that led to humans being on the Earth. Well I believe that extreme contingency of events were not happenstance. It's sad to me that so many Christians turned off their sets instead of turning on a discussion about how the Bible and science exist hand-in-hand. Blind faith may be the hope in which we believe, but God gave us brains for a reason. He gave us the ability to reason, for a reason.
I saw it play out on Twitter. One man said he was ashamed Fox would air a special about evolution. Another said this was a sign of the end of the times. I'm sorry they feel that way. This incredible special put everything we know about the universe we live in and laid it all out there. And it does suck that Christians during the renaissance and the times that followed were so stringent that they punished people for logic and reason. Much like the Pharisees written about in the Bible, many Christians refuse to look outside what's written in the book and fill in the blanks with the evidence that's buried beneath us or in the stars above.

I personally don't care if I evolved from a monkey. They're cute and I like them. What I do care about is that I'm here right now, meant to be here right now, and try to live each day knowing there's a purpose behind my place in the cosmos. 
And in that, knowing that I'm playing a teeny tiny part in this millisecond in the span of time and space, is pretty cool. As the Animaniacs said, "We're all just tiny little specs about the size of mickey-rooney."



"You, me, everyone. We are made of star stuff." I loved that line in the show. I believe that. Both literally and figuratively.
I hope people will continue to watch this show. It's important to be informed about our past. Maybe that's how the moon was formed. Maybe that's how generations from the past treated people who thought to challenge convention and fuse logic and faith together. Either way, Cosmos is an important show and I'm thankful it's educating and creating a dialogue between millions of people during prime time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

10 Things...

It's a fascinating concept: come up with ten things you like about yourself. On the outside, it appears as an exercise in arrogance, a platform to gloat about your finer qualities, or even a brazen attempt to self-congratulate ourselves on our own Oprah-induced self awareness.
But on a deeper level, it's an exercise in calling forth the thing in our lives that warrant reminding. It's a chance to marshal ten of the traits that fortify and hold us together when we're falling apart. 
So I'm diving in and thinking deeply about myself, hopefully doing so with as little arrogance and self-back-patting as possible. 

I like that I was born and raised in Texas. While I live in New York now and it's my favorite place in the entire world, I have a Texas flag hanging in my apartment as a reminder that everything that led me to my dream was cultivated in the Lone Star State.

I like that I don't look like everyone else. I'm not perfect, I need to clock more hours on the elliptical at Planet Fitness, but I'm glad I'm not a cookie cutter person, with the same features as everyone else. Being unique is fun.

I like my calves. It's not as morbidly self-indulgent a statement as it may seem. It's just a genetic thing. My father has great calves and so do I. 

I like how much I love television and how much it makes me feel. I like how much life it brings me when Ross yells "PIVOT!", when Liz Lemon high-fives a million angels or when Michael Scott hits Meredith with his car. On the surface, it's entertainment, but within me, it challenges my thinking, enhances the cadence of my language and makes me smile deeply. I like that.

I like my friends. What an amazing group of people insulate me from the banal stupidity in this world. Some are fit, some aren't. Some are gay, some aren't. Some are married. Some are oh so single. Boys, girls, young, old...how lucky am I to have such a human safety net just a subway ride, phone call, or text message away.

I like that I believe in people. Some call it naive and others might call it silly, but I am glad that my default is to believe in people and the dreams they have dared to dream for themselves. If that's silly, then I am a fan of the silliness.

Speaking of my default, I like that my default mood is a good one. My obnoxiously glass-half-full outlook on life may see my feelings get hurt once or twice, but I'd rather choose to believe in the happy as opposed to the alternative.

I like that I know my limits. Whether it's food, booze, a personality, or a topic of conversation, I like that I know when I need to stop and I have the willpower to make it happen. I also like that I have such strong will. Eating right, getting to the gym, staying in from the party to work on what I moved to the city to do...I have a freakishly strong will. That's two likes in one (and I like how that combination worked out too).
Lastly, I like that I was able to finish this list and not feel awesome about myself. Rather, I see the areas I need to work on to hopefully extend this list in the future. I'm an unfinished product, full of flaws, and I'm determined to work on me every day. I like that I've learned to accept that.

I encourage you to also put together a list of the ways you like yourself. It's fulfilling, it's challenging and it's inspiring for your tomorrow. 

Thank you to Christy from www.avoidingatrophy.com for extending this challenge to make this list. You inspire me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Confessional: Real World Style

I learn something every day.
I suppose that's the point of living: to always be learning. You're either learning about something that's happening on the other side of the world, you're learning how to do something in your office, or you're learning a life lesson from someplace unexpected.
I have the honor of running an online magazine and it's been the tool to teach me more than I ever thought I didn't know about various industries, working with people and about myself. I have had the privilege of working with some of the most talented artists in the world, both in front of and behind the camera, and not a day goes by where I'm not unbelievably thankful and overwhelmed by that. I've worked with artists who have such a genuine love for creating and collaborating, and that is deeply fulfilling, no matter what industry they may herald from.
But I've also been given the...opportunity...to work with people who are less than wonderful. It's from those people and those situations where I learn the most about myself.
I am such an optimist and when I'm so excited about interviewing someone I've looked up to for one reason or another, and they end up being an empty shell wrapped in an attractive exterior, I become depressed. I don't like people, no matter how famous they may be, who buy into their own hype. It's a turn off to me and not the reason I got into this business.
I got into this business to share the stories of artists who might not get their stories told otherwise. To give voice to creative people. As we've grown, it's become more important to speckle our issues with more known creative people because their draw will bring eyes and ears to read the stories of all of the other artists in the issue. And for the most part, those people have been lovely.
I'm not naming any names or specific people who have upset me - that's not important and it's been something that's been building for a while - but it's caused me some honest reflection and having to re-think some things.
My default mood is happy and when I can't seem to break out of being unhappy, that means I have to make a change. So I'm going to be making changes. I love what I do, I love what I get to do. But I can't indulge unappreciative and arrogant artists any longer.
Magazines are different than newspapers, in my opinion. Magazines are a part of the conversation, and at times, are creating the conversation - not just reporting it. I want the conversation that we create to be positive, uplifting to all types of artists and creative mediums, and to be a source readers can rely on solid content. I also want our issues to be full of artists worth caring about.
So as we grow, as things continue to change, one thing will remain the same: We love creative people. We do or we wouldn't kill ourselves every month to make these issues a reality. I am just going to be more choosy with who we love enough to put in our issues. My happiness depends on it.