The Secret Chord

Saturday Night Live: Kate McKinnon is sitting at a grand piano, in a white jacket. Those of us who have tuned in tonight see her as Hillary, because we’ve been watching McKinnon and Alec Baldwin skew Hillary and Trump for the last several weeks, serving up brilliant comedy out of a pre-election season that was often its own version of ultra-strange satire. And we want to know: what is SNL going to do on this post-election night? The unthinkable has happened. Donald J. Trump is our President-Elect. What kind of comedy can they make out of November 8, 2016?

What they do is tell the truth. They bypass comedy, and go straight to the center and soul of what millions of us are feeling. Kate’s hands press down on the keys, the music begins, and she sings.

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah…

leonard-cohenThe great Leonard Cohen left this earth one day before the election, and our sadness at his passing was interwoven with the misery and shock more than half the nation was experiencing the day after the election. Kate is singing Hallelujah, his signature song. In this song, we hear Leonard’s compassion, and the depth of mourning in him. It is music that breaks the heart, and Kate’s voice, the feeling she brings to these words, moves me to tears.

As she comes to the last verse, Kate is transformed. She is herself, and she is Hillary, singing lyrics that seem to have been written for Hillary, written for this moment.

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

And then she turns to us and says, “I’m not giving up, and neither should you.”

In that single sentence, Kate McKinnon-as-Hillary has struck the secret chord. It was two days before I first heard it. It happened while I appeared to be walking upright, getting on with life, while inside I was stumbling, wounded, grieving, with my sense of safety ripped away. As a part of the LGBT community, I felt ice in my veins, the same icy cold sent to steal the breath from minorities, immigrants, muslims, women, the disabled, progressives, liberals, and all those who care about the fate of our good earth. I felt under threat in a way I could not have fathomed before this new reality, the reality of Trump-Pence.

Thrown back on my heels, the air knocked out of me, I called friends who were at a distance, and spoke to a few that were nearby. I checked in with my internet tribe. Scanning my Facebook wall, I came across a photo of Trump and Pence with the headline, “Trump will roll back Obama’s LGBT rights, protections, Mike Pence confirms.” A surge of anger and rebellion welled up in me, and I added my own voice to the string of comments posted there: “They can try. We’re not going to let them. Believe me. We won the popular vote. And we will not be silenced. Nor give up the rights we have and deserve to have as American citizens.”

In stating that, I felt the blood begin to course through my veins again, my breath move more evenly in and out, my muscles flex.

That is the chord that must hum in all of us now, that we must stay tuned to in ourselves and in each other. We must band together and raise our voices against the forces that want to strip us of our rights and our love for all that is decent and fair and good. All together now: Hallelujah.


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Let me echo that…

Michael Moore made the rounds of TV talk shows last week, promoting “Trumpland,” his new movie. It turns out that Trumpland is not about Trump. It is, Mr. Moore said, about Hillary. He was for Bernie, now he’s for Hillary, and he’s making a case for why it’s so important to elect Hillary as our next President.

Michael Moore in Trumpland

Michael Moore in Trumpland

What impressed me most about Michael Moore’s message was his wholehearted concern that people would not bother to vote. Before Mr. Comey went all-out partisan and used his position as FBI Director to help Donald Trump, most of the polls put Hillary comfortably ahead of Trump. Now those polls are tightening. If there are still people out there who think it doesn’t matter if they vote, we are screwed. Not voting will give us President Donald J. Trump.

The stats vary, but at least forty percent of Americans are for Trump. Forty percent! And if they’re for Trump, they are generally die-hard Trumpettes. They are undeterred by his misogyny, his racism, his lies, his bullying, his bankruptcies and bad business deals. People voting for Trump generally either love him fanatically or hate Hillary intensely, or both. Believe me, they will turn out to vote.

So, wherever you are, whoever you are, vote. Encourage everyone you know to vote. Especially if you’re a Democrat, vote. After all, it’s really the Democrats who didn’t turn out to vote in 2010 who gave us our current do nothing, dysfunctional, defeat-Obama-first and country-comes-last Congress. If you were for Bernie, vote for Hillary. She’s incorporated many of the ideas and issues that made you love Bernie. She’ll continue to work with him and be accountable to the people who were a key part of his campaign. If you’re a Republican who cares for country first, vote for Hillary. Many Republicans are doing just that, and it’s renewed my faith that we who are on opposite sides of the aisle can work together again to solve problems and make the country work for all of us.

Hillary is an intelligent, incredibly competent, strong and capable woman who has worked with Republicans in the past and who has what it takes to get to solutions and get things done.

Hugh Laurie on Trump: "He's... unspeakable."

Hugh Laurie on Trump: “He’s… unspeakable.”

As for Trump, he’s shown us who he is, and I need add no more. I can only repeat what Hugh Laurie said about Trump. “He’s…unspeakable.” If he were in the White House, the consequences are unthinkable. If you don’t want him to be your President, only you have the power to send him back to being a rich private citizen. Let me please echo Michael Moore: Vote. Vote for Hillary. Vote.

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Kilchurn Castle, Scotland

For your Tolkien fantasies…

Wanderlust Pic

Kilchurn Castle, Scotland

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昼下がりの散歩から #067

While I’m on hiatus from blogging, here’s another striking photo from Flaneur. The hat says it all, don’t you think?



丸の内, 東京
Marunouchi, Tokyo

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Narrow Street, Burano, Italy

I’m not blogging these days, because nearly all my time and writing energy is being given to completing the revision of my mystery novel, The Last Question. Meanwhile, for those of you checking in, here’s a wonderful photo from Wanderlustpic.

Wanderlust Pic

Narrow Street, Burano, Italy

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Civility, Civil Rights, Civilization

“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Carol: The Price of Salt

There is an undeniable aura about Carol, an elegance and mystery that wafts around her like the perfume she wears. Sitting in a darkened movie house, watching Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, I was never able to inhale the fragrance she applies so lightly to her wrists. But she evoked the memory of a lovely woman who passed by me years ago—she was wearing a rare perfume, and I wanted to follow her, just to breathe in her scent once more.

It is easy to see why the shop girl Therese, played by Rooney Mara, is so immediately intrigued by the well-dressed woman who walks into the toy department of the store where Therese works. Therese is transfixed, and the woman returns her look. In that moment, for both of them, there is no one else in the room. But then Therese must turn her attention to another shopper, and when she looks again for the woman in the luxurious fur, she is gone. Alone once more with the dolls on display for Christmas, Therese turns back to the ordinary tasks that fill all the week days of her life. At first she doesn’t see that the woman has reappeared—Carol is there, deliberately placing her suede gloves on the counter as she waits for Therese to notice her.

Upon finding that the doll she wanted for her daughter isn’t available, Carol asks Therese what she wanted for Christmas when she was a little girl. “A train set,” Therese answers. In their first encounter, the gap that separates these two women is obliterated. Their age difference, their social status, the counter between them, none of that matters. And as the scene plays out, we understand that the moment she saw Therese was decisive for Carol—she has recognized in this young woman someone she wants in her life. She orders a train set to be delivered to her home, writes out her address and pays for her purchase. Then, with one last smile and the adroit remark of a woman who knows how to flirt, Carol walks away without her gloves, leaving a trail for Therese to follow. There is a subtle trace of suspense throughout this film, and the first one we experience is in Therese’s hesitation upon discovering Carol’s gloves. Will she accept the invitation implied in those gloves?

It’s Cate Blanchett. What would you do?Cate Blanchett 400-300


The love story that unfolds between Carol and Therese is poignant, tender, and layered with all the complexities of a time characterized by constraint. The constraint bore down on both men and women, but that weighted leash certainly placed greater restraints on women. It was a man’s world, and women were expected to accept without question their secondary, supportive roles. Director Todd Haynes uses muted tones to create the mood of his movie. Set in New York in the 1950s, brightness is suppressed in the same way so many emotions were repressed in that ultra-conservative decade. But Carol’s defiance is the point of light in this beautiful film. She glows.

The counterpoint to the ease and self-assurance of Cate Blanchett’s Carol is Rooney Mara’s Therese. She is awkward, unformed, searching. When they first meet for lunch, Therese tells Carol that her boyfriend Richard wants to marry her. “Is that what you want?” Carol asks.

“I barely even know what to order for lunch,” Therese says. She doesn’t know what she wants, or what else life may have to offer, but she catches a glimpse of the possibilities in Carol. What is tenuous with others can take on substance in this relationship, one that is unlike any other Therese has known. And though there is something dangerous about her, Carol’s warmth and strength are irresistible.
Cate Blanchett in Carol
I saw Carol with Donna, my love and life-mate for the past 37 years. As we left the movie and stepped out into the small lobby of the Darkside Cinema, a woman seated on the comfortable old couch there asked, “Did you like it?”

“Yes,” I said. “Very much.” I could also have said, “It’s gorgeous, beautiful, exquisite.” All true, but I didn’t know this woman, and some of the fifties-era reserve that was once ingrained in me had reasserted itself.

The woman told us she had read The Price of Salt, the novel by Patricia Highsmith that Carol is based on. “Did you know Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train?” she asked. She spoke about seeing The Talented Mister Ripley, also written by Highsmith, and when she said “we,” she indicated the woman resting across the way on another sofa, to let us know she was there to see Carol with her partner.

On the street, lingering near the doorway to watch the sunset sky, two young women walked by us and we glanced at one another. I thought they were probably on their way to the next showing of Carol, just as they may have assumed (rightly) that we had just seen, or were about to see, the same movie.

These brief exchanges drove home the feeling that I am still part of a secret society. Gay marriage is now legal in all fifty states, and Donna and I live in a liberal town where our marriage is accepted. We have both been out of the closet for several decades. And yet, with all that, the sense that we are part of a closed circle lingers. It lingers because we know there are some countries where we could be stoned for loving someone of our own gender. It is stamped into our consciousness because it is a fact there are places in these United States where we are regularly vilified, demeaned, and ostracized.

On one level, this film served as a reminder that I am outside the norm, and that there are regions where gay people are still an endangered species. At the same time, the wondrous actress who plays the title role conveyed a gift as rare and mysterious as the imagined perfume Carol wears. As we walked along the street back to our car, I felt a difference in the way I carried myself, the way I stood at the corner waiting for the light to change. I realized that Cate Blanchett had left her imprint, caused a shift in my perspective and sense of self. For a while, I was Carol—beautiful, strong, decent, flawed, brave. And even after that sense of myself as someone else faded, a deeper affinity remained: Like Carol, I have chosen to be myself. With all its struggles and sorrows, no matter the cost, claiming your own identity is worth the price.

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夜の街から #11

I love the warmth of this photograph, as if these lamps are inviting you to spend a quiet hour with them.



恵比寿, 東京
Ebisu, Tokyo

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夜の街から #11

恵比寿, 東京 Ebisu, Tokyo

Source: 夜の街から #11

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Best and Worst Movies of 2015

Just so you know, I’m the only one voting, and my totally diverse self came up with these ten flicks:

Best Comedy: Trainwreck
This is comedy with a heart. Amy Schumer plays a woman committed to booze, pills, and one-night stands. When her editor assigns her to do a story about sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), Amy’s totally out-of-control life veers toward a kind of normalcy she’s been steadfastly avoiding her entire adult life. Bill Hader is charming and completely believable as a man baffled by relationships in general, and his relationship with Amy in particular. Apart from the leads, my favorite people in this movie are LeBron James playing himself as a tight-wad millionaire, Tilda Swinton as an ultra-cool and beyond-cynical magazine editor, and John Cena as Amy’s muscle-bound and clueless boyfriend Steven. Written by Amy Schumer, this movie is ballsy in the way only Schumer can be, and downright loving.
Movie Popcorn
Best Popcorn Movie: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
If you like action thrillers, you can’t go wrong with this Mission Impossible. There are superb action sequences, plenty of underplayed comedy, and great locales. Nobody runs or rides a motorcycle the way Cruise does, and he is still in top form as our hero Ethan Hunt. There’s a nice rhythm to this movie—slowing down just enough to let you enjoy the character interaction and dry humor before you’re swept up into the next thrill-a-minute situation. Maybe best of all is the beautiful Rebecca Ferguson. Is she with the good guys or the bad guys? Whoever she’s with, she’s wonderful to watch. Whether she’s rescuing our hero, pulling off a great escape with him, or doing in an evil villain, this woman really knows how to wrap her legs around a man.

Best Sci-Fi Horror Film: Ex Machina

Ex Machina

Ex Machina

Though Ex Machina is described as a science fiction psychological thriller, horror is the ultimate effect of this taut and terrifying film, and I had difficulty shaking it off after seeing it. Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb Smith, a programmer who wins a week at the super-isolated private estate of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the genius CEO of the internet company where Caleb works. The film is elegant, chilling, spellbinding and so claustrophobic I could barely breathe while watching it. Oscar Isaac is menacing throughout, even when he’s being friendly. And Alicia Vikander, as the beautiful robot Ava, will leave you wondering if we’d better re-think this whole rush to develop artificial intelligence.

Best Sci-Fi Solve This Problem Movie: The Martian
Leave a man for dead on Mars and see what happens when he wakes up still alive. Matt Daemon is the astronaut who has to figure out how to survive on a planet where nothing grows. How can you not like a guy who has zilch chance of surviving and decides not to die? It’s one problem after another, and great fun to watch Daemon—and eventually the people who help him—tackle each one.

Best Small Town Track Team True Story: McFarland, USA
Kevin Costner plays coach Jim White, who loses his job as a football coach and ends up at a predominantly Latino high school in California’s Central Valley. While he and his family slowly adjust to a completely unfamiliar rural way of life, he realizes that the boys in his charge have exceptional running abilities. When he sets out to form a track team, he is met with skepticism from his boss and gets little cooperation from the boys’ families. The movie led me to reflect again on the people who pick our crops and the hard labor they put in, day after day. It’s inspiring to watch the McFarland kids train and become a team, and to see them competing with boys whose lives are so much easier in so many ways. It’s especially moving to know that this is about real people and a teacher who believed in them.

Best Quirky Film About Quirky People: Infinitely Polar Bear

Zoe Saldana

Zoe Saldana

Written and directed by Maya Forbes, the sister of China Forbes (yes, Pink Martini fans, that China Forbes), this is the story of a bipolar father (Mark Ruffalo) taking sole charge of his two little girls while his wife (Zoe Saldana) attends graduate school in New York. It is based on Maya’s own life experience, and I can only agree with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who called this movie “hilarious and heartbreaking.” Mark Ruffalo turns in a stellar performance, and Zoe Saldana captures the struggle and sadness of a mother who has to tear herself away from her daughters in order to provide a better life for them. The two young actresses portraying the Forbes girls, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide, are superb.

Worst Two Movies: Spy (Melissa McCarthy) and Welcome to Me (Kristin Wiig)
Ladies, get a script.

Best Film About Art, Humanity, and Heritage: Woman in Gold
Woman in Gold is the story of one woman, one family, one painting. It is also about all of us: our families, our art, all our heritage and humanity.” You can read more of my review here.

Best and Favorite of All: Pride
“If I had only two words to describe the rough beauty of this wonderful film, compassion and comedy would serve perfectly. Pride made me laugh and cry. As the last scene unfolded, I wept, while at the same time I was filled with joy.” You can read my whole review here.

Also well worth seeing: The Imitation Game, Mr. Holmes, and Spotlight. Wishing you all good and great movies in 2016.

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