The Old Globe Theatre's world-premiere of a new 10-minute play created by Bill Irwin (above) takes a frequently funny look at the Zoom world in which so many of us are residing. Christopher Fitzgerald co-stars in this production that can be streamed on the Globe's website -- theoldglobe.org -- through Saturday. I'll chime in further in next week's (May 21) Arts & Culture Newsletter in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
This is a time of sacrifice. Probably the most important sacrifice most of us have made or will make in our lifetimes. We're being asked to stay at home so as not to spread a virus that already has claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people in the United States and more than 200,000 worldwide. We've heard: "Hey, you're being asked to sit on your couch all day. How hard can that be?" But we all know it's not that easy. By staying home we're sequestering ourselves from friends, from loved ones, from places and activities that we are used to and that we care about.
That we ARE doing this is the greatest gesture of love for each other we can express.
But that's not enough for the selfish and the small-minded and the just plain stupid. With every passing week, it seems, small but vocal groups of protesters are gathering in public or, in the case of Michigan, storming the statehouse, demanding an end to sheltering-at-home. Many are shunning protective masks and ignoring social distancing.
They're demanding their "freedom." They're calling the stay-at-home guidelines "communism." They're equating sheltering with having their gun privileges threatened, and some of them are toting guns with them when they protest.
I feel the frustration of anyone who is at home and longs for the life we had before. And the longer the sheltering goes on -- and it's going to go on for a long time -- the more restless anyone, even good people, are likely to become.
But this is where trust comes in and this is where humanity comes in. Trust, because there are people who know far, far more than we do about COVID-19 and know, too what must be done if we have any hope of defeating it and returning our world to some semblance of normalcy. And trust, because we accept that a collective action for the greater good is worth doing.
And humanity, because no ONE person is threatened by this virus. No ONE person is unemployed because of it. No ONE person is separated from friends or loved ones. It's become a cliche that we're all in this together, but we SHOULD be all in this together. That's how we survive. By sticking together.
These MAGA-cap-wearing, sometimes Confederate flag- or gun-carrying protesters represent the worst of humanity in this, one of the worst of times. By their words and actions they're showing that their so-called freedom is more important than the common welfare. More important than human life.
We have a human right to be frustrated, to be lonely, to be afraid, to be upset, to be angry. Those who want their guns, OK, they have a constitutional right to have them.
But no one has the right to imperil lives out of sheer reckless selfishness.
We can't stop these protests, and they'll probably go on with the coming of summer. The best of us will overshadow them. And the best IN us will -- trust and humanity willing -- prevail.
My recent holiday-season stopover in Taos was distinguished by a first-time visit to The Brodsky Bookshop located right on Paseo del Pueblo Norte in the very heart of this charming northern New Mexico town. Aside from the shelves and shelves of books to be found in this cozy and welcoming store, you'll meet Rick Smith behind the counter, who'll share tales of the town as well as insights about the books and authors in his domain. There's also Willie, the resident cat, whose presence adds to the homey feeling of the bookshop. This is a friendly spot to be savored and appreciated, a destination good for your mind, your heart and your soul.
My second collection of short stories under the pseudonym Barrett McCloud has been completed. I hope that the book, "Blue Tomorrow," will be published by Lulu.com sometime before the end of this summer.
"Blue Tomorrow" includes 14 stories, all of them connected by the theme of love lost. Among them is "The Face," which is a continuation of the story "Too Much Red" that appeared in my previous Barrett McCloud 2018 anthology "Raining in Paradise." Also in the book is one set almost entirely in a New Orleans-area bedroom.
Stay tuned for updates on publication.
My third novel, "In Violet," is now available for purchase. You can order it in print or electronic form via Lulu.com. You can also order it for Kindle by going to Amazon.com.
The creation of "In Violet," a project that stretched from mid-2016 until the latter part of 2018, proved to be a personally enlightening process. I wrote the majority of the book while in the aftermath of an emotional upheaval, and that turmoil is perhaps reflected in portions of the book. I like to think, however, that rather than being a negative, the evocation of feelings associated with a life change helped "In Violet" in the long run and made it a read whose resonance goes well beyond any private event in my life.
This book also gave me the chance to pay homage to the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, whose cinematic femme fatales were the inspiration for the novel's meta-character, Violet Westwood. By injecting into the plot a word game played between the book's protagonist, Jonny Stoddard, and his agent, George Torio, called "Hitchcock Trivia," I was able to tap some favorite moments of mine from films by the master.
I encourage you to read "In Violet" and hope you will appreciate it, particularly the message it ultimately makes about who the best person to love is.
Autumn is here, and in celebration, I will soon be releasing, via Lulu Publishing Services, my third novel, titled "In Violet." It's the tale of an easily distracted and just as easily disillusioned high school English teacher who dreams of Hollywood stardom: not in front of the camera but behind it, as a screenwriter. His inspiration is Hitchcockian, in particular the femme fatales of the cinematic master's films: dangerous or disturbed (or sometimes both) women played by the likes of Kim Novak, Grace Kelly, Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren. His own femme fatale is a wannabe actress named Violet. But getting his screenplay written, to say nothing of getting it optioned, proves a daunting task and, in its way, dangerous, too. I hope "In Violet" will be available via Lulu or Amazon.com before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Meanwhile, my alter-ego, Barrett McCloud (author of this year's short-story anthology "Raining in Paradise") has begun work on another such collection, this one thematically linked by its characters' ill-fated love stories. Tentatively titled "Rushville," this anthology will hopefully see the light of day sometime early in 2019.
Until then, thanks for your support and for reading!
This is a piece I wrote two years ago, shortly before we marked 15 years since the terrorist attacks on America that changed our nation and our world:
“I SEE WATER, I SEE BUILDINGS”*
*the words of American Airlines flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney, moments before Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 15-year anniversary of 9/11 is just two months away. It sounds strange, inappropriate, to use the word “anniversary” in context with that terrible day in not just American history but human history. An anniversary typically celebrates joyous occasions, like weddings or dedicated service to an employer. Some chroniclers employ the word “commemoration” instead of “anniversary,” but that doesn’t sound quite right, either.
How to characterize the marking of the 15 years that, unbelievably, have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, is less troubling to me than is the complexity of my own emotions. Like most people, I responded to 9/11 at the time on both a collective and personal level. I imagine my response will be just as complicated as Sept. 11, 2016 approaches. On the one hand, I remain deeply moved by not only the tragedy that cost so many their lives, but the sacrifice of all the men and women who tried to preserve life: the police officers, firefighters and volunteers at Ground Zero, the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93, the survivors, the widowed, the motherless or fatherless. Yet the disturbing truth is that politicians with agendas, the idealogues and the blow-dried cable-TV talking heads will surely exploit the recognition of the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks to fan the flames of jingoism, racism and aggression. I gird myself even now for confrontational dialogues while striving to remain respectful of those who actually deserve my respect.
Sometimes I see in my dreams the World Trade Center towers, never edifices of great beauty but nevertheless impressive sentinels that rose high above New York Harbor and became part of the multifaceted personality of America’s largest city. In my dreams the towers are always standing, impregnable, as they should be today. I only see them fall and crumble into dust in “day-mares,” moments when my thoughts drift darkly and I recall the Tuesday morning a decade and a half ago when it felt like the world was coming to an end.
I was not in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Nor did I lose a loved one in any of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But I was far from removed from the day’s horrific events. I was working as an editor for a newspaper in San Diego, and when the towers were struck, all pursuit and reporting of other matters ceased. The job for everyone in the newsroom, regardless of beat, became monitoring and disseminating details from New York, Washington, D.C. and the open fields of Pennsylvania. Just as important, I discovered, was providing emotional support to the dozens who phoned the newspaper and wanted to know what most of the time we couldn’t answer, or the youngest, wide-eyed members of the staff who moved numbly through their duties and wondered aloud if this might be the first day of a war to end all wars.
“Be calm. Keep calm. Focus. Do what you have to do.” My words to those around me, and my words to myself.
A year or so later, after reading one of several Sept. 11-related columns I’d written in the newspaper, a friend accused me – there’s no other way to characterize it than an accusation – of being “obsessed with 9/11.” She was laughing as she said this, but I don’t believe she thought it was funny. Without saying so, I believe she thought I was sick. Without saying so, I believe she was suggesting: “You’re being morbid.” “You weren’t even there.” “It’s in the past. Move on!” Move on? To where? The Land of Denial? Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe? Never Never Land? Anywhere you can drive or take a train to, but avoid a jetliner?
Sometimes I think of water bottles. About five years after 9/11, I found myself in the audience at a one-woman show by New York-based performance artist Karen Finley. At the climax of a work she called “The Distribution of Empathy,” Finley placed two same-sized water bottles side by side on a table, then covered them with stark burlap wine bottle bags. As the lights lowered, she abandoned the stage while singing an echoey, ironic “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” The lines that cut through me the sharpest were: “The dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn. The taxi’s waitin’, he’s blowin’ his horn. Already I’m so lonesome I could die.” I sat there, trembling, in the dark theater and thought of how bright and blue the skies were the morning jetliners were crashed into the Twin Towers. I remembered how it was when you walked down a major street in New York City and saw the sea of taxicabs jockeying for position in traffic. I tried not to think of lonesomeness, and loneliness and death.
I remember how the character Richard Dreyfus played in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” couldn’t get out of his mind the stark image of that Devil’s Rock monolith. Sometimes, and as I write this now, this is one of those times, the Twin Towers are my Devil’s Rock monolith. They haunt and enchant at the same time, and for me they are just as elusive as Devil’s Rock seemed to Dreyfus’ cinematic everyman.
As the anniversary – there, I said it – of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches, I expect the image to crystallize and linger and perhaps travel from “day-mares” to my dreams. I’ll take my chances. What I won’t risk is succumbing to the urge to pay any attention at all to the vitriol sure to fly during all the televised run-up to the anniversary date – there, I said it again – or to the drivel that passes for intelligence or, heaven forbid “citizen journalism” in the blogosphere. This can only lead to anger, and if I embrace any anger 15 years to the day after 9/11, I want it to be directed at those responsible.
My gamut of emotions no doubt will mirror those of many friends, neighbors and people I don’t even know: pain, sorrow, regret. The president and the clergy and the mainstream media will urge us to remember the heroes as well as the victims of 9/11 and, without saying so, to “buck up.” “Heroes,” sadly, has become a cliché, and buck rhymes with a word that would seem a suitable response to hollow encouragement. But those who genuinely seek to comfort can only do so much, and they will speak words that we have heard thousands of times before. To accept or reject them is our choice.
I believe on the morning of Sept. 11, 2016, if I can, I will drive to the seaside, stand in the ocean air, cup headphones over my ears, listen to Peter Paul and Mary singing “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and remain very still until the song is over. Then, to borrow from Prince Hamlet, the rest is silence.
Join me for a celebration of my recently published anthology of short stories, titled "Raining in Paradise." As you can see from the photo of the cover above, I'm using my pen name on this book, Barrett McCloud. But that is indeed me!
The book party is happening Saturday, August 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Inspirations Gallery in Point Loma's Liberty Station. The gallery is located on the second floor of Barracks 16, which is just south of the Liberty Station Public Market. The actual address is 2730 Historic Decatur Road, SD, 92106. There is plenty of free parking in a lot adjacent to Barracks 16, and street parking is also available.
I will have copies of the book for sale for $10, though you certainly are not obligated to purchase one. Feel free to come any time between 6 and 8 and stay as long or as briefly as you wish -- I will do a reading from the book around 7 p.m., FYI.
There will be free wine or bottled water as well as light snacks in the gallery space.
I look forward to seeing you there!
"Raining in Paradise," my anthology of short stories and poetry, has now been published in both book and e-book format. You can find it, for now, by going to Lulu.com and searching the store. In the next week or two, the book and e-book should also be available via amazon.com and other online retail outlets.
This is a work that's actually many years in the making. Some of the stories date back, at least in early incarnations, to pieces that I wrote while an MFA student at San Diego State between 2008-2011. Others were written in just the past six months to a year. The title might suggest dark undertones about the content, and it's true that in this collection I address not only my own mortality but that of my parents, and in many of the stories the issue of loss pervades.
But "Raining in Paradise" is also a collective treatise on survival and perseverance, and more so on cherishing the life we have and its every precious moment. I hope you will read these stories and make discoveries of your own. One last note: the author of "Raining in Paradise" is Barrett McCloud, which happens to be my pen name. This is the first time I've used it in the public domain.
On Saturday, March 3 from 1 to 2 p.m. I'll be hosting a book chat and reading of my 2017 novel "There and Back Again." I'm the San Diego Public Library's Local Author of the Month, an honor for which I am very grateful and about which I am immensely excited. If you haven't been to the Central Library downtown yet, this is your opportunity to experience it in all its grandeur and beauty. The book event will be held in a room on the first floor, just to the west of the lobby entrance -- you can't miss it. But by all means stay afterward to visit and to tour the library. I'll see you there!