At 88 years old, Seymour Bernstein looks more than a decade younger. He lives on the upper West Side of Manhattan in a prewar studio that he shares with his grand piano and momentos of his life in music. He is nothing less than extraordinary As a pianist. A musician. A composer. A teacher. And as a man.
The film “Seymour,” created by Ethan Hawke, is a work of wonder. Far more than a film about music, or the biography of a brilliant pianist, it’s a film about life. How to live it. How to look at it. How to survive it. And how to feel it in your bones.
It begins as Seymour speaks with Michael Kimmelman, award winning author, chief art critic of the New York Times, and a concert pianist himself, who has been Seymour’s student since the age of five. He questions Seymour about his life, and delicately, yet powerfully, this life unfolds before us like a worn, yet gorgeous, silken quilt.
His childhood: “There was no music in my house.”
His father: “I have three daughters and a pianist.”
His time in Korea: “I hiked 20 miles in zero degree weather. Others didn’t make it. I kept going. It was the musical mindset that did it.”
When I think of Seymour, and I’ve been thinking of him a lot, since I saw the film last week, he’s a place as well as a person. He’s the Seymour place, where the irritations and difficulties fall away. A place of solitude, grace, and beauty, where life’s detritus is forbidden to make the slightest appearance.
Along with hearing him speak, we see Seymour teach. We see the meticulous practice of a phrase played again and again, until the notes flow, until the slightest failed nuance is addressed.
Despite his success and stunning reviews, Seymour stopped playing in public when he was fifty. He was at the height of his celebrity, but had terrible stage fright — an experience he shares with Ethan Hawke. It took too much from him. It got in his way when he wanted to give the world and himself something else. Something not so self-obsessed. Something beyond the conceit of a brilliant performance.
Toward the end of the film, there’s a small private concert where we hear him play. He admits that he’s nervous. Yet, once he begins he’s calm. Transparent. He plays like an angel. No drama. No ego. Pure art. Even I could hear it, and I’m no musician.
Life is many things. Love, beauty, connection, happiness, joy, pain, failure and triumph. At this juncture, I can add Seymour. Yes. Life, if you’re lucky, is Seymour. You might enjoy seeing this film. And you might choose to invite Seymour into your own life as well. You could hardly do better.
Note: A friend pointed out that Ethan Hawke was “the shy boy,” in Dead Poets Society.” In a way, he remains that boy. Wondering what it’s all about; how to relate to life in a more genuine way. Here, he looks to Seymour, as his character did with Robin Williams in that long ago film. But Seymour is a better bet. He’s real. And he chooses life at every turn
Who knows what made me turn on my TV at 1 a.m. last Wednesday. I’m a night owl, but once I turn the thing off, it usually stays that way. Yet the spirit moved me. And with a flick of the switch I was transported to October of 1991, when I first bore witness to those infamous hearings where Anita Hill, a young black law professor was being quizzed by an all male senate committee about her claim that she’d been sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas who was being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court. The atmosphere was rife with testosterone. And it wasn’t long before I could see this woman was in trouble,
Justification for Night Owls
But this time I saw it all from a distance. Like a Chuck Close painting, the whole portrait instantly appeared. Painful. Yet, glorious and complete. And as I watched the documentary ”Anita: Speaking Truth to Power,” and saw Ms. Hill’s journey through the labyrinth of senatorial prejudice and ineptitude, I felt not only had she been vindicated, but so had I. And so had millions more who dared to stand up for their personal truth from that moment forward.
Risk takers beware!
Initially, it appeared she had lost, that Thomas had gotten away with his masquerade. His strategy was brilliant. The one brilliant thing I can recall him doing over these past 24 years. He claimed her testimony and the hearing was a “high tech lynching for uppity blacks.” He spewed rage; he bullied the committee into an embarrassed submission and the whole event went south. The slight possibility of Hill’s triumph was lost in Republican self-righteousness, and Democratic cowardice.The committee split its vote. The decision on Thomas’ appointment went to the Senate. And he was approved, 52 to 48 — the narrowest margin in a century. It was a blot on all those involved. One that shall remain in tact forever.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, what a life this woman has led. Though there were calls for her dismissal, she kept teaching. She became an inspiration for those who wanted and needed her to shine a light into the darkness of sexual harassment and lead the way to freedom. Ah, freedom. Nothing like it. No bending over backward to please others, to fit in, to be accepted. And thus, she became a model of how to live this ethic for women throughout this country and the world.
In the beginning of the film, we hear a phone message from Ginni Thomas, made twenty years later, asking Hill for an apology,” for what you did with my husband.” Yes. Mrs. Thomas said “with,” not “to.” A Freudian slip? A sexual slur? However she intended it, it was insulting. And ultimately unhinged.
When you deal with insanity, never say you’re sorry
Ms. Hill did not call back. No apology was made. Nor will it be. Ever!
At the end of the film, Anita Hill says that “honesty, dignity, and courage is what will always be remembered.”
I hope she’s right.
Some people tell me they don’t watch TV. As though it’s not worth it. Not worthy of their time. But when I tune in at 1 a.m., on a freezing cold winter night in D.C., and get to see Anita Hill still standing her ground, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Use this visualization to stand your own ground, and to become your own hero. It’s a good tool to have in reserve.
Become Your Own Hero
Close your eyes and breathe out one time.
See and sense how it is to become your own hero. Know that you are connected to your Source. Imagine this Source as coming from above and beyond you, from the highest and most powerful. See and sense the blue-golden light of courage and truth emanating from this Source and streaming through you, from the top of your head through every cell and bone in your body. Feel this powerful light strengthening and emboldening your entire body and mind. As your own hero, see yourself overcoming the gremlins of fear and doubt, and doing what needs to be done.
Celebrate your power, and your new life. Then breathe out, open your eyes, and return.
“Each time we don’t say what we wanna say, we’re dying.”― Yoko Ono
The Beatles never liked Yoko much. She went her own way and John followed. She spoke her truth, not caring if the group.agreed. Mostly, they didn’t.
Speaking one’s truth isn’t easy. Being nice, accepted, respected, well thought of, and safe, gets in the way. Many avoid saying what they believe, think, even know: it’s too risky, too dicey, too great a leap.
Playing for High Stakes
They have good reason. It gets us into the down and dirty. We saw it play out this week, when, in the name of religion, of God, of twisted beliefs and sacred tradition, people were murdered for being willing to speak out..
My platform is small, and my risk barely measurable, but these brave souls put themselves out there and lost their lives doing it, knowing full well it might happen, yet refusing to fold.
In the past I was more tolerant. Sure, build a mosque a few blocks from the smoldering World Trade Center. Come speak in my temple. Who does it hurt? Not now. Done that, been there.Look what it got us?
Feeling Dissed and Excluded
Yes, they feel dissed, excluded, . At one time or another, who doesn’t? I recall when I graduated high school, going with my friend Cathy Powers, a beautiful Wasp princess, to seek a summer job at Metropolitan Life. They hired her and turned me down. So what. It happens. I’ve had people convert my last name from Greenfield to Winfield or Grenville, so many times I’ve given up correcting them.
I killed Who?
When I was eight, the children from the Sacred Heart School, across the street, wouldn’t allow me or my friends to walk on what they labeled their side. They pushed us into the gutter and told us we had killed Jesus. I was amazed. How could I have done that? I wasn’t even born yet, and my parents were refined, peace loving people who hardly ever spanked me. Besides, he was one of us, way before they claimed him as their own.
Je Suis Charlie
Time to wise up. People’s tolerance has hit bottom. We all have our troubles. Blaming others gets boring. it gets on my nerves..
Yoko left the popularity thing behind and lived out her blueprint (i.e. the meaning and purpose of her life). That place of dreams and visions where possibility remains unlimited, mysterious, open, and luminous.
This comes easier for some than others. The more uncomfortable it makes you feel, the more you need to do it. No reason why it works this way. It just does.
Yoko’s 81 now, but she still has her moxie. She didn’t care who liked her then.. And she cares even less today. She’s one of a kind. To her own self she’s true.
May it be so for all of us in this New Year of 2015. Not easy, but deeply worthwhile. And sorely needed. Meanwhile “Je suis Charlie!” How about we keep it going? How about we never stop!
After posting my letter to Robin yesterday, I heard something from an impeccable source whose wife, was in an improv group with Robin, pre- Mork & Mindy days. He shared the following about her experience:
“Robin was the Brilliant One who always got the biggest laughs, but he also was the most generous performer in the group, using his comic genius to set up another actor who would almost be forced into improvising a killer blackout line that tore the house down. He never ducked old acquaintances and even if he forgot your name, he remembered the face and often made the first move to say hello. Terribly sad that such a mensch should have been so tormented by demons we can’t even imagine.”
Shortly before Robin opted out of this life he spoke to the media about his tight finances and how he was seeking all the work he could get, even work he ordinarily wouldn’t have taken. When asked what happened to the money he said “Alimony.” That he was supporting two ex-wives along with his current family. He failed to mention his habit of generosity, personally and globally. He was close with Christopher Reeve from their time at Julliard, and after Reeve’s accident he stood by him and became a big donor to Reeve’s Foundation, along with his work for, and donations to, the homeless, and for other causes throughout the world. Money slipped through his fingers. Like his talent, he wasn’t attached to it. He was always generous. He did everything full out. Whatever he had, materially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, he shared it, or gave it away.
Strangers at a Funeral
About a week ago, I watched a Louie CK episode. Just Robin and Louie. at a funeral. They’re the only two people at the cemetery. They stand there in the cold, before a huge mound of dirt, watching. Silently. They go out to a diner afterward where they introduce themselves to each other, announcing just their first names. ”Louie,” “Robin.” As they’re about to part ways they agree in a bumbling, cryptic shorthand that whoever dies first will attend the funeral of the other. Robin looked lost, subdued. The moment was chilling. More now than it was last week.
I turned on the TV last night and the normal Showtime programming had been preempted by a rerun of “Dead Poets Society.” And there’s Robin, young, charming, brilliant, giving every one of those kids in the movie the greatest acting lesson of their lives. He impersonates Marlon Brando and John Wayne doing Shakespeare. And you can see the kids’ faces turning bright red as they laugh. Really laugh, because, he’s so funny, so outrageous, and he, may, indeed, have come up with this, in that moment, out of the blue.
Of course there’s more. A never-ending stream of more. Until now. “More” is over now. What a loss. What an incredibly tragic ending. This will take a lot of people, including me, a while to process. I think we should all take as long as we need. You deserve it Robin, and so do we.