Archive for June, 2014

The Asian Equation

I went to play tennis yesterday, and the guy I was playing with managed to make fun of both me and Asian-American culture at the same time. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve gotten a bit out of shape, more out of shape than I’m comfortable with, so in between games, I was running lines. For those not familiar with the exercise, what’s involved is that the player starts off on the far side of the court touching the outside line, runs, bends over and touches the next line, and runs the distance of the whole court that way. Since two courts were available, I ran two sets of lines at a tennis club called Tanglewood while an Asian family played tennis on some other other courts that were closer to the swimming pool. The kid playing was good. His serve was especially good. He served with deadly accuracy.

“Whatta happen? Why you try so hard?” My friend mock joked, teasing me being winded, out of shape, and for trying to be extra diligent about getting back in shape.

There are many cultural stereotypes out there, and one of the most persistent is that Asian-Americans simply work harder than the rest of us, that they’re more dedicated, better pianists, better students, harder workers. Why should this be a problem?

I think this becomes a problem because there’s a subtle pressure in our culture not to stick out, a pressure to blend in, and fit in, even if that means being average in each and every way. There are repercussions for more than just Asians. It means that others among us, including the dominant Caucasian culture, are taught that it’s not okay to be a high achiever, and to me, that’s not okay.

In the meantime, we need to be just a little more careful with what we carelessly say.


Weighing Me Down

Over the course of the last five months or so, I’ve somehow put on 25 to 30 lbs, and trust me, not all of it has been muscle, so it begs the question, what exactly is going on? I’m convinced that stress, both good stress and bad stress, can pack on the pounds.

Of course I’m responsible for what I eat, and probably having that pint of ice cream late at night isn’t helping, but one pint doesn’t translate into thirty lbs, and, as my friends know, I’m a pretty active guy. I workout at the gym a minimum of two times a week, and I walk my two dogs at least one to two miles each and every day. Basically, I try to lead a really active lifestyle, but I think, if I’m being honest, that having gone through a major depression this past year really set me back. It’s almost as though my body is reacting six months after the fact. I’m no longer depressed, and in fact feel pretty darn great, but having struggled mightily in October, November and December, my body simply said, enough is enough, you’re shutting down. You’ve been severely depressed, and now your body is going to reflect that fact back to the world.

I’m listening to Nina Simone singing the song, “Feeling Good,” right now, and she cries out, “Birds flying high, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by, you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me, yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good.”

Making matters worse in here in Chicago is that we’ve had one of our worse winters on record. So many grey, gloomy days, so many snowstorms, so many bitter cold afternoons and evenings that even turning on the TV felt like a chore. The good news is that we have a beautiful spring and summer on deck with lovely summer weather, and the opportunity for lots of outdoor activities.

The frustration is this weight problem didn’t happen overnight, and can’t be solved overnight. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s a Day at a Time program, and I get the opportunity to make better choices a day at a time. The key, however, is, to the best of my ability, to be happy where I’m at, because, after all, that’s is where I’m at.

Boozy But Beautiful

Veronica Lake made a splash in Hollywood in her breakthrough role in the 1941 war drama “I Wanted Wings.” During filming, her trademark blonde hair slipped over her eyes, creating her signature peekaboo look.

She struggled mightily with stardom, however, and fame was a fickle friend. Alcoholism and mental illness dogged her career and marred her legacy, and she faded into ignominy later in life.

I worked at E! Entertainment television between 1997 and 1999 on a little known show called Mysteries and Scandals, and we used to do profiles of all the old Hollywood legends, covering, of course, all the greats, such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner, but we also focused on lesser known figures like dancer Isadora Duncan, comedian Fatty Arbuckle, actor John Barrymore and, naturally, Veronica Lake.

Veronica Lake made several films with the five-foot five stature-challenged actor Alan Ladd, including the memorable “This Gun For Hire,” and the lessor known film noir classic, “The Blue Dahlia.” Ladd was known for his height, or lack thereof, and Lake was known for her hair and smoldering eyes. She later became a pin-up girl for soldiers during WWII and sold more than her fair share of war bonds.

Unfortunately, alcoholism, and later, mental illness, took its toll. The two in combination proved deadly, and she died of hepatitis and acute kidney injury at age 50. In reality, Lake ran through her money, and was forced to stay in a series of low rent motels, barely able to pay her bills or put food on the table. When fans tried to send her money, though, she turned down their offers of assistance, insisting that she was still able to make ends meet, and that she was doing just fine on her own, thank you very much.

In our Mysteries and Scandals TV feature at E! Entertainment television, we hinted through a bizarre interview clip that Veronica Lake may have had a lobotomy, but this idea was never substantiated, and in fact, her behavior, strange though it was, could probably have been chalked up to tipping back one too many drinks, one too many days in a row.

I’m reminded of the Marlon Brando quote from the film, “On the Waterfront,” where he shouts out, “I coulda been a contender.” Veronica Lake coulda been a big star, but her career careened off-course, and she never really dealt with the personal demons that haunted her.

Broken Dreams

I don’t read much poetry. I find it an art form somewhat inaccessible to our modern age, discordant to our modern ear, and yet of late I have been much drawn to the work of Irish poet and Nobel Laureate William Butler Yeats who lived between 1865 and 1939.

A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, Yeats wrote traditional verse poems about Irish fairy tales, Irish legends and folklore and was much interested in such taboo topics as the occult, but who nevertheless simultaneously concerned himself with politics, serving as a senator for the Irish Free State. He’s not only one of the greatest Irish writers ever to have lived, he may indeed be one of the very greatest poets ever to walk the earth as well.

I was fascinated, in particular, by one of his poems, “Broken Dreams.”

It starts:

“There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.”

. . .

“Your beauty can but leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, ‘Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood.’

“Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.

“The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.

“You are more beautiful than any one,
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those that have obeyed the holy law
Paddle and are perfect. Leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed,
For old sake’s sake.

“The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.”

The line that repeats, the line that recurs is that memories are vague, that all we have to hold on to is nothing but mere memories. It is the work of the poet to conjure these insubstantial images and spirits and memories to live on in the minds of others as the read the poem in later years.

W. B. Yeats had a lifelong love affair with Maud Gonne who started out more political than Yeats, and in fact, later in life, married Irish republican John MacBride who was executed for his participation in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Yeats steadfastly maintained his love for Gonne, proposing to her four times before their marriages to other people, and he made her the focus of several poems, including, in fact, the beautifully constructed “Broken Dreams.”

I really liked the image that men might no longer catch their breath at the sight of you, yet something lives on, even if it is so insubstantial and vague as a memory.