Mainstream Media’s 2015 Year in Review: Cynicism, Confusion and Laziness

ThreeWiseCryptoPartyMonkeys

“The mass market media has done society a lot of damage this year beyond stoking the flames of Trump’s burning narcissism. And not all incidents are as well known as the sycophantic pursuit of the Republican’s “shocking” soundbites. Here are three other stories on which the media spectacularly failed to do its job of informing and educating the public.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

2015: A Year of Fruition

Fruition

Last New Year’s Eve, I wrote this post, The Year After “Next Year.” In it, I took a retrospective look at 2014, a period where vague ideas I struggled with for so long finally coalesced. These two sentences really get to the heart of that transformation: “I am still traveling, but learning to enjoy the scenery and finally beginning to trust the internal compass. A solid year of slower, adrenaline-free decision making will do that.”

2015 began full of vigor and confidence. Vigor I’ve always known, but the cool underlying certainty with which I greeted the year was something new altogether. As I returned to the office post-holidays, I confided in a friend and colleague. The work I’d done in 2014 was moving in positive directions. 2015 was going to be big – even if I didn’t know what exactly that meant.

As I take stock of this year, one clear truth emerges. The highest expectations I had of myself and the last twelve months have been exceeded. Pick a life element: health, career, home, family, friendships, recreation or romantic love. Huge strides everywhere. The soundtrack in my head alternates between mental to-do lists, show tunes and reminiscences of things Bob said that made me laugh – the way my life was meant to be lived. A huge drop in the permitted white noise which rendered inertia has left me free to move in multiple new directions.

Hesitation and self-doubt hover, but are mostly relegated to the periphery where they belong. Because I’ve stared worst case scenarios in the eye, spit in them and started over. I can do that as many times as needed. But I don’t have to call up those survival skills as often now. Harnessing a commitment to change and a solid professional support team, centered decisions have resulted. Selfishness isn’t always a bad thing. The worst results of efforts made for and by myself exceed the helpless mediocrity I let others dictate in the past.

None of this insight means I’ve stopped requiring others, or become an island. Contrary to a co-dependent legacy, where I insisted that martyrdom was its own limp reward, I’ve added three important sentences to my vocabulary:

“I’m sorry I can’t/won’t do that.”
“I need help.”
“I want.”

I was raised to look at these utterances as weakness, when they actually represent strength. The power comes from using them judiciously. I remember sitting in session with a marriage counselor during the summer of 2011. He compared my then-husband to a “vending machine into which money is placed but no product released.” Smugly I turned that familiar look of martyrdom on the two men. I’d been vindicated. Yes. I’d invested so much in the relationship and just look at the results. Poor moi.

But then the therapist asked a follow-up question that seems so obvious from a healthier vantage point. If the vending machine continually cheated me, why did I keep depositing coins?

I don’t waste my metaphorical currency anymore. I let go of a friendship this year with someone I find tremendously talented and full of promise. Yet to misquote Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, I can’t afford to love the highest potential of a person more than who they actually are today.

I apply this value to myself as well. There’s less disconnect than ever between the ideal Becky I “should” be and the one who walks the dogs in board daylight wearing footie pajamas and a Storm Trooper winter cap. She’s no peerless Madonna (Virgin Mary or Material Girl – take your pick), But I kind of like her style. Owning that has attracted better quality opportunities that are exactly what I need.

So that’s my 2015. Justified faith, not in karma, the universe or some force beyond my control, but in my instincts and movements. They weren’t always right and were frequently ridiculous. But even the missteps offered something important.

Gotta Dance

Earlier this month, I attended the press premiere of the delightful “Potted Potter” with my boyfriend’s mother. As we walked down a hallway to take our seats for the show, we passed a promotional poster for “Gotta Dance,” the latest production from Broadway in Chicago. The faces of Andre De Shields (“The Jungle Book”), Georgia Engel (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and Stefanie Powers (“Hart to Hart”) jumped out at us immediately.

One stage icon and two small screen legends would have been more than enough to pull me in, but then I read the production’s synopsis: a “new Broadway-bound musical comedy about professional basketball’s first ever aged 60-and-older dance team.” Beloved performers from my childhood, dancing and the prospect of meaty roles for people over 40? A thousand times yes.

I was fortunate enough to secure reviewer duties for this week’s press opening, featuring a book by Tony Award-nominee Chad Beguelin and Tony Award-winner Bob Martin. The show’s music is the product of Matthew Sklar, Nell Benjamin and a young, upcoming kid by the name of Marvin Hamlisch(!). And “Gotta Dance” choreography is furnished by “Kinky Boots” Tony Award-winner Jerry Mitchell, in partnership with Nick Kenkel.

From writers to technical work and performers, “Gotta Dance” boasts an impressive pedigree of talent. Yet as we know, the presence of a chorus line of theater legends does not always result in success. I entered the Bank of America Theatre excited yet philosophical.

A resolve to remain impartial dissolved in mere seconds as the tremendously winning ensemble took the stage for “Just Look at Me Now.” The sassy song emphatically and proudly announces a unique and thrilling musical theater experience. I could write thousands of words about my love for this show. Like a fine wine, the production’s experienced artists and technicians have only improved with age.

Imagine an episode of “The Golden Girls,” packed with the same emotion, wit and acting talent, washed down with an energizing song and dance chaser. The press night opening crowd for “Gotta Dance” quite literally went wild. The momentum never slows. In yet another unconventional Broadway musical turn, the second act is actually stronger than the first. Take that “Dirty Dancing.”

Though the fairly straightforward plot can be described in a sentence, there is so much nuance in this semi-biographical story. The stilted estrangement of dance team member Bea (Lillias White) from her granddaughter Kendra (Joanna A. Jones) is a touching commentary on intergenerational misunderstanding. The two women meet three times on “Princess,” a lovely song which traces the evolution of their relationship as the geriatric team prepares for its debut. White and Jones have the vocal chops to convey the lightest wistfulness before belting a powerhouse finish that reaches the farthest recesses of the theater. They have marvelous chemistry.

Camilla (Nancy Ticotin) and Joanne (Powers) bring the sexy to the stage as two members of the “First Wives Club” with something to prove — namely that they still have all of “it.” In the sultry musical number “Como No,?” the 58-year-old Ticotin had me staring at my junior legs with disappointment. It’s no stretch of the imagination to believe Camilla with a much younger, satisfied lover. Yowza.

I could scarcely contain my glee with a subplot involving blossoming love between Ron (De Shields) and Dottie (Engel). The two veteran performers are a delightful match. De Shields brings moves of the swing era and tragic comic nuance to his role as a grieving widower resolved to give up hiding. And Engel, well what can I say? She simply steals the show. As Dottie, adorable professional schoolteacher and devoted fan of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop, she is the glue that holds the production together.

The vibrant and wonderful “Gotta Dance” is more than a tasty trifle. The suffering of Alzheimer’s disease, the pain of dreams deferred, the cold sting of rejection from a starter husband — the production is not laughing at the elderly. Instead it giggles and hurts with them, never for a second allowing doubt that older, wiser and sweeter makes for a satisfying product.

By the time the beautiful cast takes the stage for “Get Up,” the rousing finale to this multi-dimensional creation, audiences will wish for a third act. I have spent an embarrassing part of the morning scouring YouTube for unauthorized versions of the track — to no avail. I leave you with two urgent recommendations: see this production as soon and often as possible, and if an original cast soundtrack is released, could you let me know? Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and I just “Gotta Dance.”

“Gotta Dance” runs through Jan. 17, 2016 at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 800-775-2000 or visit the Broadway in Chicago website.

A Very Bluemel Christmas

Bluemel Christmas

In 2013, my then-25 and 33 year-old paternal cousins, female and male respectively, got into a holiday tiff that devolved into a food fight. My sister’s delicious cupcakes were the weapon of choice as the siblings angrily ground frosting into each other’s skulls. Alcohol may have been involved.

Except for the baked goods, there was only one casualty of the melee – a brand new pair of jeans from The Gap. I was wearing these when I had the misfortune to get caught in their Tasmanian Devil-like cloud of rage. I planted my left foot in order to pivot and move in the opposite direction. Male cousin dropped his considerably larger hoof on top of mine, and as I turned my knee, I heard the sickening tear of denim. In all the confusion, Jenny wasn’t aware until much later that my wardrobe was damaged. I believe her laughter was devoid of sympathy.

Last year, when I was 36, I took a proactive approach to the extended family Christmas. I was dating a 23 year-old gentleman at the time, and though the lark was invigorating and prepped me in many ways for my current relationship, it would be a waste of breath to try having an adult conversation with my uncles. Two of my father’s four brothers have never met a low-hanging joke they didn’t find worthy of repeating – loudly and often. I calculated that if I owned the unusualness of the situation, making a few cracks at my own expense, they’d quickly move on. Huge mistake. The cradle robbing puns flew fast and furiously. I drank at least three bottle of red wine to match the shamed ruddiness of my cheeks before going home to pass out.

Bob and I have been together for a year this coming February, and have cohabitated for almost six months. He has met nearly all of my friends and spent time getting acquainted with immediate family – particularly Jenny, Max and the girls. But somehow we’ve kept missing the Wisconsin contingency.

Although my dad has been out of our lives for some years, his five siblings, many of their children and the smallest generation of Bluemels remain a vibrant, silly support network. I spent too much time nursing anger and resentment at their collective failure to intervene during our childhood crisis years. I know now that my father’s mental illness, combined with my mother’s sociopathology, offered no easy course of action. Everyone did the best they could with their own families to manage. As Jenny and I grew into adults, there seemed to be an unspoken agreement that our presence came first. That we deserved to know it. As my father descended further into madness and strange behavior, extended family gatherings opened wider to my sister and I.

This Friday afternoon, Christmas Day, the private world of love, acceptance and contentment I enjoy with Bob, a world that I have shared with my sibling and her tribe, will finally collide with the extended clan. My partner is a relatively quiet man in a crowded room, and my family is rife with big, noisy personalities. I wasn’t grown in a cabbage patch, you know? The volume and verbosity run through the blood. There was a period this year when I wondered if Bob would be overwhelmed by the meeting.

Somehow Bob never seems to tire of me – my voice, rebellious and open approach to life, wild ideas, ambition, clumsiness, aversion to food preparation. A couple of months ago, after we drank way too much free hooch at the open bar of a friend’s wedding, he leaned over and whispered in my ear: “I’ll miss you when you’re gone.” I found that a rather fatalist remark on an otherwise fun evening and pressed him to explain. Because for me this is forever.

My boyfriend intoxicatedly clarified that “when” meant any future moment when I’m not at his side – like on a bathroom break. I’m with someone who wants me around. The inner child with abandonment issues revels in that certainty like a warm pair of sheets fresh from the dryer.

So I’m not worried about Christmas. Bob loves beer and sports – two perennially popular topics at the holiday dinner table. And there’s always the unity offered by taking the piss out of me. Although I haven’t always enjoyed the thought, the Bluemels are a huge piece of who I am. And for the first time in a romantic relationship, there are no parts I wish to hide from my significant other. There’s nothing I fear losing.

Bob will listen and observe, answer questions when asked and I suspect he’ll find a soft spot for my uncles’ one-liners. He’s no stranger to corny, terrible puns. But if he finds a new pair of jeans under the tree Christmas morning, he’s been advised to leave them at home.

DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz Give Ambivalent Clintonites the Holiday Bern

Debbie

“By the time the DNC suspended the Sanders campaign’s access to a voter data system the day before the third debate, and just six weeks before primaries begin, only the most stubbornly naïve Clintonite could dismiss reality. The DNC deck has been corruptly shuffled in Hillary’s favor. Many are calling for Wasserman Schultz’s resignation. This disgrace is more than just unbecoming of party leadership that purports to represent inclusive ideals. It’s an unforced error, creating an ugly holiday scandal when loyal Democrats should be enjoying a season of calm. Has party leadership watched or listened to the opposition lately?”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

 

This Holiday Season, Spring Comes Early for Chicago Cub Fans

Cubs

“It’s a season of comfort and unreserved giving for Cubs fans. At the time of this post, the thermometer registers an unseasonably terrific 59 degrees Fahrenheit – two days before Christmas. Throw in intermittent pouring rain and if one closes their eyes to the encroaching late afternoon darkness, it feels an awful lot like spring.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

He’ll Be Back: Antonin Scalia’s 2016 SCOTUS Racism Could Be Record Setting

scalia

“There are a number of important cases to be decided by the court in 2016 in addition to Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Issues regarding legislative gerrymandering, collective bargaining and capital punishment are among a series of bellwether determinations before the justices. Given Scalia’s continually vocal opposition to leveling the playing field according to true democratic principles, we can probably expect him to come down on the wrong moral side of each decision.

Enjoy the judicial-free calm before the winter storm.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.