Seymour: Three Daughters and a Pianist

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

Beauty and the Beast: The Ultimate Triumph of Anita Hill

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.

 

Aging in Real Time

Bill Maher’s recent commentary  on “Real Time,” featured a photo of a lovely young woman, definitely a head turner. That photo was of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Yes. That Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

We all start out young. We may even start out beautiful. Then we age, and get less young, and less beautiful. No matter how we struggle, there’s no way around it, . And though some manage to stay younger longer— I got carded when I was fifty. Now, cab drivers ask my advice about Medicare— the truth is, it all goes. And goes and goes and goes.

Botox and surgery have their limits. And those who indulge take the risk of looking pathetically “plastic.” Is it worth it? Ask some of our face-lift royalty.Though tempted, I won’t name names. But I’ll bet there are  more than a few regrets.

Held hostage to our American prejudice 

So what holds us hostage to this unholy American prejudice of “ageism”?  What makes us hand over our power and possibility while trying to hang onto something that’s guaranteed to be fleeting, no matter what? And why are the young so bent on labeling their elders as irrelevant?

Yes. The young are younger. That comes with the territory. But they lack experience and wisdom. And despite the sexy iPhone appendages that bind them to overloads of unnecessary information, wisdom is not their forte.

Starting at the top

My daughter is a civil engineer. She’s been one for 25 years. She’s paid her dues and still pays them, daily. She finds it absurd that newcomers to the business question the need for them to pay theirs’. They want to start at the top.  To do  her job, right here. right now. They think they are ready. Clearly, they’re not!

The invaluable payoff in aging

FDR, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson, got so much done since beyond being smart and canny they were old enough to know what they were doing! There’s an invaluable pay off in that. It’s time we stop our pointless groveling at the shaky altar of youth, give age it’s due, and let it roll. The following image may come in handy if you’re so inclined. .

Golden Age

Breathe out one time and see, sense and feel the golden mantle of maturity as it settles about you. Know and live the wisdom of the ages woven into its cloth. Lovingly pass this along to those who come after you. Give thanks for this privilege.  And then breathe out and open your eyes.

 

 

 

Granted: A New View of An OLd Favorite

Today I watched An Affair to Remember.  An old favorite for many reasons. One through one hundred being Cary Grant. Even now, no male movie star comes close. How could they? He never disappoints. Even a “bomb” with him in it is eminently enjoyable.

I don’t recall why I tuned into this, or how. But there it was on You Tube. And I couldn’t resist.

Call me nostalgic. Who cares? The past is with us right here, right now,  at every moment, in more ways than we recognize. It connects me to my romance gene. And I choose to honor it with both sentiment and longing.

I’ve attached  a clip from the movie.  Watch it. And see the most romantic, sexy, classiest scenes, without any real sex in them at all. A look. A glance a nod, a raised eyebrow, a flirtatious smile, was all it took

Today, they hammer us over the head with whatever it is they want us to feel and  know. They tell us. They show us.  Then they tell us they told us and show us again, to make sure that we get it. They don’t trust us to get it on our own. Cary never did that. He didn’t need to. All he had to do was to “be there”. A hand in his pocket, that look on his face.

Grant created himself anew at the age of fourteen. From humble beginnings. From his father’s lie about his mother’s death. Then learning 20 years later she was alive and well, he literally tumbled and leapt his way into a new life in the U.S where he struggled on stilts at Coney Island, then made it to the Broadway stage, and on to Hollywood. After that, the way opened and it never closed.

Married five times, rumored to be bi-sexual, a rumor he neither confirmed nor denied, and while in his sixties, fathering a daughter and diving into the off- limits world of LSD as a form of psychotherapy and an exploration of spirit,  he walked a walk like no one else’s. Even the wives he left in his wake, loved him to the end. They couldn’t help themselves.

They say George Clooney is the new Cary Grant. They are Wrong! There is no new Cary Grant. There never will be. There’s only one Cary Grant. The one who left us too soon. It doesn’t matter that he was 81. I miss him. And wish he were here.

But I guess we need to make do with what we have. I’m glad I’m not young anymore. This way I don’t need to fake it. I don’t even need to try.

 

Remembering Joan

I found a New York Times clip on line today — A montage of Joan Rivers moments. Seeing how she changed herself over the years is both amazing and scary. Before she put on the  Zsa Zsa face, she was no ugly duckling. Indeed, there was a time when she looked quite lovely. But Joan wanted more than lovely. She always wanted more.

 

I never really liked Joan. Her mean streak put me off in life, as it did on stage. But despite my judgment call on her character, she made me laugh. I loved her wit, her work, her ceaseless energy, her fearlessness, her devotion to making her audience happy, and to them loving her, at least a little.

I once had a dream where both Joan and Woody Allen made brief appearances. In the dream, Woody was my friend. He liked me. Joan was not my friend. She didn’t like me. In fact she hated me. For years, when either of these people were mentioned, by me or anyone else, I explained that Woody liked me, while Joan hated me. It became part of my shtick. It made me famous by association..

Though I never actually met Joan, I did come face to face with Woody at the Cafe Carlyle some years ago. He was walking toward the stage to perform with his jazz band, I was on my way to the ladies room. The aisle between the tables was so narrow he stepped aside so I could get past. And call me crazy, but I swear there was a moment of recognition. How could there not be? We had already met in my dream.

The good thing in all this, a kind of blessing really, is that Joan was in top form to the end. No withering away. No extended painful illness. She went out looking and performing the way she wanted. At the top of her game. No downturn. No dementia. No final act. She was the energizer bunny of female comedians. Like Robin Williams, when she was out there, on stage, she kept going and going and going. But unlike our dear tortured Robin, she wanted to live forever. And I get that. For so do I.

Use this image if you dare to experiment with Living forever:

Eternity

Close your eyes, breathe out one long exhalation, and see yourself living forever. No beginning no end, just you and eternity. See, sense, feel, and know this endless state of being. Cast off your fears and be.in this one timeless moment. What happens how do you feel? What do you see, learn, discover, know?
Then breathe out, return, and open your eyes.