Make Lillian Way Great Again

 

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You know, what is a blog if not an opportunity to air one’s grievances? To share what just happened with a plaintive hope that maybe someone out there will say, “I feel you, I see your point, I get it.” And you know, maybe you will get it. Also, maybe you’ll just think I’m a weepy Vanya.

As I was walking to my car this morning, on the street where I’ve parked my car for the last 18 years, my neighbor and friend Mark waved and said he had something to tell me. Long story short, he told me that there had been an initiative to implement permit parking and that the majority of the street had been for it and it went through. The change will go into effect shortly.

So, I live on one street, which is a major street with little parking and apartment complexes with little or no parking garages. So most of us who live in my building, as well as the other buildings of my street, park on another street enchantingly named Lillian Way. Lillian Way is a verdant, lush, old-fashioned street lined with 60-80 year old homes, houses built at a time when Los Angeles was neither old nor young, just hopeful.

I have lived in my neighborhood, on my street, for 18 years. And mostly, every day and night, I have parked my car on Lillian Way. Through the years, I thought I had built relationships with my seemingly friendly, devoutly Democratic neighbors. There were friendly exchanges. My compadres knew, if not my name, at least the names of my dogs.

Many years ago, I read an article in Los Angeles magazine about how when people love living in LA, it’s because they live somewhere where they feel like they are living in a small town. And if you know LA, you probably know that to be true. There are all these villages here, like Larchmont Village and Brentwood Village or Valley Village that say, “Hey, we aren’t a metropolis, just a few hundred cozy hamlets all cobbled together.”

And for 18 years, I certainly would have echoed that sentiment.

But now, suddenly, shockingly, permit parking has come to my abode. I will never again be able to park my car overnight or longer than 2 hours during the day. And most of the other folks who live on my street are in the same position.

I interrogated Mark for details. When does it start?  Who spearheaded all of this?  How long was this brewing? He said that the decision was mostly unopposed. So basically, all (or most) of these people who I thought I had an amicable relationship with had been plotting to prevent me from parking the way I have parked for the last, yes, 18 years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that for the people who live in houses on Lillian, having the “apartment dwellers” invade their curbs and walk on their lawns gets annoying. Day after day, year after year. I see trash or dog droppings that litter homeowners yards and while I don’t do things like that, I suspect there are some without my staunch (that’s for you, J.J.) values.  I do get it. And please do not get me going again about people running the stops signs.

BUT, I do think it’s revealing that all these people who put Hillary and Obama and John Kerry and Al Gore (that’s how long I’ve lived here) signs on their lawns have now built their own wall, not unlike Donald Trump’s plans for America’s borders.  They are going to make America GREAT again, by taking away parking for people too poor to own a house.

The line has been drawn and it’s icky and I am well aware of where I fall.  All those people I thought were my friends, as it turns out, were not my friends.  We were not Grover’s Corners of Bedford Falls or Mayberry after all. Since I found out about this earlier today, everyone I talked to about it, and there were a few, all those people said, “Ray, don’t take it personally.  It’s not personal.”

But wouldn’t George Bailey take it personally?

Maybe it’s not personal.  And maybe when the sting wears off, I won’t care.  Maybe parking won’t be as troublesome as I fear. But right now, while it is still fresh, I don’t know if I will stay on this street or in this town or in this state.  Because home is no longer home to me.  That might not be the worst thing in the world, but in this breath, as I type these words, it’s really not a welcome feeling.

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Well…



There is some irony that my last blog post, which was intended to be my last blog post, led to me adding a handful of new followers. As if even a stranger just stumbling in for the first time might be able to discern that I don’t always mean what I say. 

I’ll tell you a little bit about what the last couple days have been like for me. First, I must say that my post was not exactly spur of the moment, I had pondered ending the blog for months, more seriously in the last few weeks. I was on a walk on Wednesday and decided, definitively, dramatically, despondently, I am ending Easily Crestfallen.  I went home, sat at the computer for 45 minutes. If I’d had more time before work, I probably would have sat a bit longer and edited more, but I was working on a deadline. From a writing standpoint, I didn’t see it as one of my best.

I published the post and of course, several friends who subscribe to my blog left sweet, concerned, encouraging comments.  And you know, I appreciate those kind words. Most of those friends who commented I only know through blogging and for people to take the time to encourage another struggling artist, is a beautiful thing.

On Thursday, I awoke with a plan to start a new blog, a secret blog. I spent two hours creating two new email addresses, and a blog, called Jouncing The Branch. I hope I still sound humble, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. Based on A Separate Peace, that moment when the title character jounces the branch he and his best friend/competitive nemesis are standing on causing the friend to fall and become tragically injured. I was to explore the darkness within myself and us all. And I was going to feel free to be as unedited and cruel and petty and self-absorbed as I wanted. Also, since I am being honest here, I was going to talk about sex more, since family members would never be able to read it.

But, even before I published my first post, I knew I would always, always fear that someone I love would somehow discover this secret blog and they might be shocked or wounded or angered. Also, I thought, how could I ever promote a blog if I’m not on Facebook? 

Last night at work, there was a bit of chaos for about an hour. God knows, YOU know, I’ve experienced worse, but I did have the standing in the dish room, how much longer can I do this, moment. I’m just so sad, I thought. Waiting tables at 46, creatively stymied, poor, in a fight with one of my dogs. (Ricky. Don’t ask.)  I’m so sad, I have nothing. I don’t even have my blog. 

And this morning, I woke up, made my coffee, had an Entenmann’s chocolate covered donut. I am currently reading a book called Actress to Actress: Memories, Profiles, Conversations by an actress named Rita Gam. She remembers, profiles and converses with and about several movie and theatre legends. At one point, Rita is at her friend Shelley Winters Upper West Side apartment, interviewing her for this book. Rita asks Shelley if she ever had an affair with Brando. Shelley scolds her. “Just read my book. You obviously didn’t even read it, much less memorize it. A good friend would memorize it. I’ll give you a copy: read it.”

I loved the story because I can see it. Shelley and Rita, just eating chicken soup in the dining room of a Central Park West apartment.  It’s no wonder Shelley Winters had the fascinating career she had because she was so tough and strong and still could say, to her longtime friend, that vulnerable, “Hey, please read my book. You’re my friend. Here, read it.”

I realized this morning, I need this blog.  You might like or loathe or love this blog, but I am the only person in the world who needs it. At this moment, it’s my only platform and I have to make the most of it. Might I continue to storm out in a huff, only to return contrite a few minutes later, over and over and over again? Perhaps. 

For as long as I live, I am quite sure that my two literary touchstones will be Charlie Brown and Uncle Vanya. At the end of the third act, Vanya comes into the house, waving a gun, threatening to kill the professor. The gun goes off, no one is injured, and somehow, because he is Vanya, all is forgiven and, mostly, forgotten. As if, everyone in the house just thinks, oh, that’s just Vanya being Vanya.

And I suppose quitting a blog FOREVER and resuming two days later is just Ray being Ray. You’re used to it at this point. So, in other words, I’m back.  

If I have Vanya in spades in me, I also have a bit of Shelley Winters too. More vulnerable than tough, to be sure. It’s a sad little plea, I know, but if you are my friend, please read my book. Here, let me give it to you again. Read it.

A Meaning of Life

1798866_10152304887902755_1072442248_nMy friend Michael and I were talking about the meaning of life today. He is the Sonja to my woeful uncle Vanya. We conjectured that friends and faith and spouses and children are all the pools we draw from to drink of life.

I took an Ambien type pill about an hour ago. It calmed me a bit immediately. I’ve had a big day, you could read about it if you want, and I must be honest with you, it would mean much for me for you to read the the things I write. A man who calls his blog easily crestfallen is not cavalier about his feelings when he sees no one is reading his epistles, though admittedly, sometimes my words are overlooked for good reasons.

I’ve gotten off track. I took a pill that I sometimes, but seldom take, a pill that is supposed to help me sleep. I watched Below Deck on Bravo sans side effects and then I started to watch Big Brother. And then I started hallucinating prisms coming out of the tv. It was cool, but I took that as a sign for me to go to bed. I passed by, in the hall, a valued gift, A Phyllis Diller print called Reclusive Star. Again, I thought I saw prisms coming from the painting and the mirror facing it on the other wall. I felt like Jessica Lange in the new season of American Horror Story. I tried, most unsuccessfully to take selfies with Phyllis’ picture.

My clumsiness deterred my goal, I found myself smiling and giggling, fearlessly playing with my phone when the possibility of it dropping was extremely high. And I paused and thought. I am so happy. Drug induced, no please let me call it drug enhanced, like summer highlights or a beer chaser. But this feeling is unmistakeable and I’m sure most of you have experienced it, whether it’s enhanced by a prescription drug, an illegal drug, alcohol, extreme yoga, swimming, a great sex session. An otherworldly bliss is what I’m experiencing right now and I’m grateful for it because I had an introspective, confusing day where I was forced to make a big, burdening decision. And now I feel lighter, lighter than I felt all summer, all year.

And tomorrow I will rise and I might be proud of my wisdom, my honesty. I might be ashamed, too. I just realized the pages I read this morning are putting me to bed tonight. I’m currently reading James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone. There is a scene in a New Jersey pizza parlor with 4 men, two women. Three of the men are black, one man is Italian. Both women are actresses, one from Kentucky, the other from Texas. But they’ve met at this place and started drinking together. One of the black men compliments the actress from Kentucky, telling her she’s quite a lady.

“Oh!” said Barbara. “I just want to live!”

“Tell me,” said Matthew (the young sensitive soldier) quickly, “do you find it hard to live? I mean”~he was very earnest; Fowler watched him with a smile~”really to live? Not just”~he waved his big hands nervously~”not just to go to the job and come home and go to sleep and get up and eat and go back to the job~but~to live.” His hands reached out, his fingers clutched the table, flat, palms downward; and he looked, for a moment at his hands. Then he looked at Barbara. “You know?”

When I read this this morning, I understood this young man’s ache. I know that ache. I want to wave my arms, clutch the air, look at my tired hands and proclaim, “I want to live.”

And in a moment or two, I will tumble into my bed, my mind will wander fancifully, a conscious dream state before my soon descending unconscious one. And I’ll giggle like a drunken accountant living in the Russian countryside. “This is the meaning of life!”

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The Way I Remembered It

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A few months ago, I had the good fortune to participate in a storytelling show called Spark Off Rose. It was a great night, I wrote about it here and then here. Six months later, I remembered my story as me at my very best. Funny, sweet, humble, seeking, tender. In the past six months, I’ve thought about that night, and I kid you not, EVERY TIME, I thought, dang, Ray, you were pure magic.

Well, guess what? My friend and producer Janet sent me the link to the audio recording from the night, that night that seemed perfect in the misty watercolor corners of my mind. I listened and well, it wasn’t quite the Carnegie Hall debut I remembered. If I could go back and relive the evening, there are things I would change, tweak. But of course, that night has come and passed. This audio is a record of what transpired, proof. But, even hearing the flaws that I had not previously pondered, I still appreciate this particular offering as something honest, confessional, distinctively me and yes, a little bit funny too.

So, here it is. The theme was You Don’t Know Me. Obviously, if you’ve been reading this blog, you do know me, at least a bit. I’d love for you to have a listen and in doing so, get to know me, just a little more.

http://www.sparkoffrose.com/audio_performers_18.php#ray-barnhart

Patron of the Arts

1798866_10152304887902755_1072442248_nAs my one year blog anniversary draws nigh, I will confess to you, today, why I started this thing.  I used to take an acting class. I’ve talked about the teacher at times on stage.  He figures into a story I often share about my struggles working on Uncle Vanya.  My feelings for this teacher, whom I’ll call Professor, are complicated.  At times, he could be overwhelmingly nurturing and other times he could be mercilessly cruel.

I left his class several years ago, then after a two year absence, I returned.  I think he was disappointed and hurt that I left class initially and when I returned, I never felt like he liked me.  I hope that you are different than me, but I am one of those insecure types that likes for people to like him.  When I returned to class, our every conversation was adversarial or dismissive or academic.  In my early days of class, he had told me how unique and special my instrument was, but after my flight and return, he never said things like that to me.

After I left class the second time, he told a story to his New York class about a student in the LA class who was nothing more than a patron of the arts.  “This student is in his 40s, he calls himself an actor, but he is nothing more than a patron of the arts.  He goes to plays and read books and goes to museums.  He can talk at length about what he reads or sees, but he, himself, is not an artist.  He does not dig deep the way an artist digs.”  And of course, I was that LA student he was talking about.  When I first heard about it, obviously, it hurt my feelings.  Professor often talks about his students, usually derisivlely, in class, often in the victim’s presence, but more often, behind their back.  As perceptive as he is about humanity, he chooses to build his class around his own antagonistic pathology.

But, back to me, this is my story, after all.  What I did love about Professor is that when he said something about me, usually something negative, I was able to look at it and ask myself, if there was truth there.  And of course, always, there was something true, maybe not 100% true, but somehow, as ugly as it was, there was at least a part of it that resonated.  

I am a patron of the arts.  I read books, but don’t write them.  I see plays, but don’t act in them.  I go to art museums, but I don’t paint.  But I am an artist, and that’s not to say that I am a good artist.  This blog is my art, over which I toil.  And I am not attempting histrionics by saying that it’s been mostly failure.  Not one of my posts has “gone viral.”  Most of my posts receive startling few hits.  Many friends have openly told me that they don’t understand why I am doing this.  And, Amy Grant has not retweeted even ONE of my beautiful, complimentary, open-hearted posts that I’ve written about her and repeatedly tweeted to her.   But still, I keep going.

There have been some successes.  I’ve received nice compliments.  I’ve made a couple people laugh, a couple people cry and of course, my holy grail, a couple people laugh through tears. My favorite emotion!  What’s more, I feel I’ve gained something as an artist.  It’s helped my onstage ventures. I am better at writing than when I started.  I think I understand story a little better.   

So, I am glad a low moment inspired me to create Easily Crestfallen.  It’s kind of thrilling to think that hearing something unfavorable about yourself, can open you up to the possibilities.

The Pages

1660523_10152174788269437_2144488630_nI participated in a storytelling show on Monday, Spark Off Rose.  It was a piece that I had been writing for about three months.  There were several drafts and I had regular meetings with this particular show’s lead producer, Janet Blake, who is also a friend of mine.  (Started 13 years ago, by Jessica Tuck, Spark Off Rose does ten themed shows a year, with 5 different producers taking turns as lead producer.) It was an arduous process that was ultimately rewarding,  one of the best night’s of my life.  

The story that I shared on Monday was framed within the context of an acting class I took a few years ago, about my identification with Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.   Really, though, it was the story of Ray in less than 8 minutes.  I didn’t even know if there was even a story there, but Janet encouraged me.  I hated what I wrote.  I fought to salvage threads that Janet told me didn’t serve the piece.  I complained.  I lost sleep.  Every looming deadline was something I dreaded.  But Janet was faithful.  Finally, the two of us arrived at a rehearsal draft for the show.  Our rehearsal was on Saturday.  I had a flat tire that morning, dropped my phone and chipped it a little, spilled coffee on my favorite sweater.  But the rehearsal itself went okay, actually, it went pretty well.  Every storyteller shared a beautiful story, some very funny, some haunting, some sad, all were affecting.  

And then the night of the show came.  Eric didn’t make it to the show because his car broke down.  I was nervous.  My chest was tight, one of my arms was sore and I wondered if I might be having a heart attack.  Also, I had the added pressure of going first.    I stood backstage, listening to Janet welcome the crowd, introduce the show, talk about the night’s theme, You Don’t Know Me.  And a resolve washed over me.  All the work has been done, I thought.  At this point, it’s just me and the pages.  All I have to do is go out there and read.  It was freeing. And then my introductory song, Is It Okay if I Call You Mine, chosen by me, began to play.

And what was on those pages?  My journey, in fact, things I’ve written about here on this blog.  I read about growing up in Kansas, dreaming of the world out there. I read about Bible college and New York and the game show and working in a restaurant and meeting Eric and finally, about swimming.   And the entire time, I clung to those pages. They weren’t just pieces of paper, of course, they were MY pages, MY story.

And it went the way I thought I could only dream it might go.  

Notes from the William Inge Theatre Festival

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It’s 1:30 am and I’m in bed, trying to go to sleep but I can’t turn my brain off. I spent the day and evening taking in the William Inge Festival here in Independence. It’s an annual theatre festival and I have not attended one for over 15 years. There were several highlights but the big one for me was a talk with the actress Elizabeth Wilson. You might not know her by name but she was Ralph Fiennes’ mother in Quiz Show, Dustin Hoffman’s mother in The Graduate and is perhaps best known as Roz in Nine to Five. Most recently, at 91, she was in Hyde Park on Hudson as Franklin Roosevelt’s mother. There’s not a scene she’s in that doesn’t belong to her. I’m still thinking about something she said today. She was talking about working with Kim Stanley in the original Broadway production of Picnic. She said Ms. Stanley revealed so much that it was like she had no skin. As she said it, she grabbed her arm and pinched her skin. She told us that Inge was the same way, giving everything he had inside of him. Another woman in the panel, actress and writer Barbara Dana talked about how magical it had been to watch Elizabeth play Sonia in Uncle Vanya in the early 70s. And because I’m always thinking about age, I did the math and realized she was over 50 when she played her. Sonia is around 20. I have such a habit of limiting myself, doubting what I am capable of and there’s something so brave about a 50 year old playing a 20 year old. It reminded me to always see the possibilities. She also was told us a piece of information about Dolly Parton that surprised me and no, it’s not what you think. Anyway, it’s now 2:30 and I’m even more tired, but I wanted to share a little about my day. And if you ever see a 47 year old me playing Tom in The Glass Menagerie, you have Elizabeth Wilson to blame.

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