Phyllis Diller is 94. Carol Channing will be 91 at the end of January. Betty White is 90. Carol Burnett and Joan Rivers (the first female comedian admitted to the famous Friar’s Club) are 78. Mary Tyler Moore is 75. Lily Tomlin is 72. It’s hard to imagine that this country’s funniest women have become not only icons, but grand matriarchs of comedy. These women have made us laugh on radio and television, in film, and in concert time and again.
I first remember seeing Phyllis Diller on television in the 1960s. I resonated with her self-deprecating humor, huge ribald laughter, and crabby reflections on her life with imaginary husband, Fang. Little did I know that we shared a birthday of July 17. Not the same year, of course, but the day was enough for me. Then in the early 1970s, I saw Lily Tomlin in concert. What an amazing ride that was as she shared Edith Ann, Ernestine the Telephone Operator, and Mrs. Judith Beasley with us. I was transported with each new character that arrived on stage.
After Ms. Tomlin left the stage, my father dragged my brother, David, and me across the stage to the dressing room door to say hello to Ms. Tomlin. We were first in line because of Dad’s audacity. As Ms. Tomlin opened the door, she smiled at David and me, and said a gracious hello. In a fit of certain insanity, I broke into Ernestine’s voice and said, “A gracious good evening, Miss Tomlin. We truly enjoyed your show. *snort snort*”
Ms. Tomlin roared with laughter. Dad and David were not as amused. They looked simply mortified watching their 11-year-old son and brother putting the fingers of his right hand down his shirt, and the fingers of his left hand to his ear, intermittently puffing his hair mimicking what he had just seen Ms. Tomlin do. We got her autograph and started walking down the hallway in what should have been a walk of shame. The audience members lined up behind us giggled and pointed. Suddenly, they broke out in applause. I knew this would be a moment that would live in my heart forever.
Last year, I wrote to Ms. Tomlin celebrating her birthday to share this memory with her. She wrote back through her manager and invited my husband, David, and I to her show in March as her guests, with full backstage privileges. This invitation came with the caveat that Ms. Tomlin hopes I reprise my performance for her these 40-plus years later. We’re going.
Many people have memories equally as dazzling as mine because these women chose to share their enormous gifts with us. Could trailblazers such as Sophie Tucker (January 13, 1886 – February 9, 1966) , Fannie Brice (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951), Moms Mabley (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), Lucille Ball (August 6, 1911 – April 26, 1989) and their ilk have realized what they were starting? They paved the way for our current and upcoming grande dames of delight! Through jokes, skits, and bawdy songs, these women took risks that were less common in that era. They dared to say unladylike things, at least by the standards of the day. They laughed with the big boys, even while remaining vastly outnumbered. Even today, if one looks at any random list of comedians, one finds the ratio of women to men about 1:20.
Now, the Bette Midlers, Whoopi Goldbergs, and Ellen Degenereses are already making room for the Kathy Griffins, Chelsea Handlers, and Wanda Sykeses, and others of the newer generation of funny ladies. They definitely have huge pumps to fill.
The elder stateswomen of giggles perpetuate their legacy of guffaws still in concerts, appearances, and red carpet photos. We have the pleasure of knowing that there are those who are moving ahead of a younger generation as well, learning from the dynamic mothers of comedy. We can securely know that our laughter remains in good hands.
Thank you women of laughter. We value your presence in our lives and celebrate your creativity, daring, and willingness to tell the truth in the funniest ways possible! Brava diva, one and all!
To honor these performers, my company, Sacramento Vocal Music, will produce a show of all comedy music entitled, “Grins, Giggles, and Grace Notes,” at the Woodland Opera House. The show on June 15, 2012, will feature my vocal students performing funny songs and standard pieces created to be funny. I hope that our Matriarchs of Mirth would be proud!
Today, June 24, 2011, New York became the sixth state in the republic to provide marriage equality whether a couple is heteroamorous or homoamorous when their State Senate voted 33-29 for the bill. Previous states that have provided marriage equality include Massachussets, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon also allow the same rights. The population of these original five states equals 15.63 million American citizens. New York adds another 19.3 million people, more than doubling the number of citizens who now have complete freedom to marry the partner of their choice.
It is a momentous day because New York has shown that men and women of conscience can come together in honest debate and negotiation to structure a plan that works for all its citizens. There were compromises on both sides of the equation, but the whole is what truly matters. The New York legislature was wise enough to ensure that this bill did not affect religious organizations and their ability to choose the couples they would join. This has nothing to do with religion. It is a state issue of equality. The small details of their compromises will barely be remembered, but the wedding day that joined Dad and Papa, or Mom and Mama, will be just as important to their children as my parents’ wedding pictures are to me.
When my mother died, I went through her photographs. As the family historian, it fell on me to maintain these photos that included my parent’s wedding pictures from November 1956. As I wandered through the pages of this vibrant couple’s memories, neither of whom were now here to remember them, I recognized this as the starting point toward our family.
Now, the children of LGBT couples will be able to have the same memories as straight couples do. It is as important to them as it is to me. My wedding pictures with my now ex-wife, Barbara, from 1977 are still as beautiful as the photos of my marriage to my husband, David, in 2006.
As we celebrate this victory for equal rights in our country, we must also ask ourselves who is next? Which state next will take the appropriate actions to ensure that 100% of American citizens will see in their lifetimes a nation that will not leave anyone behind regarding equality. Equality is not limited to marriage. Equality must be pervasive in every area of our lives. If one individual does not have equal rights in our country, then none of us have equal rights. As it stands, some people continue to be offered more freedom than others. This cannot be what we mean by the beginning of the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence when the signateurs affirmed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
~ The Declaration of Independence (USHistory.org, 1776)
Since May 17, 2004, when Massachussets became the first state in the Union to finally attain freedom for all regarding marriage, our country has been on a trek toward consistency. Eventually, marriage equality will become the law of the nation, and our descendants will raise their eyebrows when their history teachers tell them that at one time, gay people couldn’t get married. As I’ve seen firsthand as a classroom teacher, this same response occurs when the young people are told that at one time Blacks and Whites were not allowed to marry. We do not call marriage between mixed-race couples anything other than marriage. That is the way it will be in the years to come about marriage for same-sex couples. It will simply be marriage.
In many ways, our country is like a majestic redwood; no matter how much shade is in our way, we always stretch toward the light. Today, we have stretched a little bit higher toward that light.
“2010 Resident Population Data” (2010) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved June 24, 2011 f
USHistory.org (1999) “The Declaration of Independence.” USHistory.org. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/.
What is so wrong with a fifty-year-old man enjoying the movies, Wizard of Oz, Legally Blonde, Annie, or Like Water for Chocolate? Admittedly, these pictures are not standard fare for adult males of my age; however, are we so sure?
Of course, I like football, basketball, the History Channel, and ESPN, like any other guy, but there is more to me than those few facets.
We have to ask ourselves, “Is Biff secretly locking himself away, weeping over Elle Woods almost leaving Harvard? Is Dirk’s heart racing as Dorothy is trying to escape the Wicked Witch’s castle with her cohorts? Is Pete screaming at the t.v., ‘Leave her alone!’ as Annie dangles from the elevated draw bridge, threatened so menacingly by Rooster?”
I don’t know the answer, but, today I stand up as a culturally challenged man who declares out loud, “I love chick flicks, heel reels, or whatever else you want to call them!”
Who stands with me, men of America? (This is where the roar of applause by hundreds of thousands of manly men makes a dramatic crescendo in my head.)
God, I feel so free!
We are proud to present the details for the upcoming free concert honoring Sacramento musician and friend, Rindy Sumners. Rindy died on August 26, 2009 as a result of injuries she sustained in an automobile accident on Interstate I-80.
This concert promises to be filled with an eclectic array of performers and an abundance of love for our talented and precious Rindy.
October 10, 2009 at 5:00 PM
Natomas Charter School North Field
4600 Blackrock Road
Sacramento, CA 95835
For more information, contact: Netty at (916) 595-9342, or James at (916) 201-1168
Man, Oh Man!!
American River College Vocal Jazz Ensemble
Too Much Fiction
We are fortunate to have this particular ensemble of professional musicians who are willing donate their time and creativity to this important venture and everyone involved is so deeply grateful. The professional companies and individual who are donating their expertise, resources and manhours for this free concert are growing in number by the day.
There will be a table manned by Rindy’s close friends who will accept individual monetary gifts for the family toward the completion of the CD on which she was so ardently working before her death. Although they are not affiliated with this concert, we thoroughly support their efforts. We’ve been made aware that these gifts are not tax-deductible donations to any tax-exempt cause or organization. They are simply individuals’ generous offer of assistance toward the realization of Rindy’s greatest dream.
We all look forward to seeing you at the concert. Updates will be forthcoming.
This photo by Shane Taylor of a man watching the forest burn around his home got me to thinking. As beautiful as that forest was, this man’s perspective must have changed dramatically when the magnificent trees that surrounded his abode were destroyed. His life would never be the same after that day. As he struggled to make sense of this ravaging destruction, ultimately, this may have created something amazing for him. It did, after all, provide us with this dynamic image, if nothing else.
It is the same for those of us who aspire to artistic endeavors. As often as we’d love to be certain of our subject matter that is to go on the canvas, manuscript paper, or writing tablet, it just isn’t that way for some of us. We await our inspiration. We struggle to find the theme, color, texture, movement, or sound, that will reflect what we are feeling inside. The challenge is we sometimes don’t know what we’re truly feeling inside.
It is in the vulnerability of ourselves that we find an open archway to our creativity.
I have often taught my students a variation of Marianne Williamson’s phrase, “Fear and love cannot co-exist.” My offered mantra is, “Fear and creativity cannot co-exist.”
Although fear can clearly show us where we need to focus our attention, like the pain of a wound, it isn’t until we are beyond that fear that we find depth in our artistry. Each word, each brush stroke, each jeté, is a testament to our willingness to go to another level of intimacy with our creative heart.
Personal relationships operate very similarly to artistic endeavors. The more available we are with our raw heart open to the object of our affection, the more likelihood there is to a true union. One can have the structure of marriage without intimacy, but it is often brittle and unsatisfying. In the same way, one can write a paragraph without spiritual openness, but the words are simply strung together without much more purpose than popcorn tinsel at Christmastime. Without vulnerability and intimacy, nothing is really offered and nothing is really gained.
I struggle with these issues as I attempt to grow my art. My paintings are sometimes functional, but not dynamic. My words can be pedestrian when I so want them to change another’s cells. My music is a wet match when all I want is a roaring fire. There are days when my mediocrity feels like knives in my heart and I want to give up.
Of course, when one is aware that it is only when one’s heart is naked and exposed that art flourishes, one… I… am obligated to look at that honestly and go past my fear of “average,” to keep my face pointed toward the brightest part of the sunlight to attain, if not excellence, then truth.
I daily commit to putting words on paper, even if it represents rudimentary language and thought, because I know it eventually speaks to my tenacity of purpose and my desire for deep intimacy. I commit to keeping my face to the brightest part of the sunlight in my art and in my life.
My dear friends,
In February 2009, I began a process of writing in a more focused manner than I’ve ever done before. In what was for me a huge emotional risk, I presented these words for public consumption. Rightly or wrongly, I have chosen to express my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and challenges in a more visible forum. These blogs now number one hundred which coincides today, July 17, 2009, with my fiftieth (50th) birthday.
I am humbled by the generous responses I’ve received to my writing. My blogs have been argued, dismissed, and appreciated along the way. All of this feedback has truly helped me develop as a writer.
The confidence that I have seen grow in these last six months has prepared me for a larger work on which I’m currently working, my memoir about adoption, genealogy, and family, in general entitled, Interwoven. I now trust my words in ways I never imagined possible, which is a surprising accomplishment for one who has only recently chosen to follow this new artistic path at this nearly-Grandma Moses time of my life.
So, let me take this moment to say thank you to everyone reading my tiny tome-home on the blogosphere for their time and energy shared with me.
I especially want to thank two special people who have provided significant guidance, wisdom and love on this particular part of my path.
First, Suzanne White, an amazing person and author of many important works, not the least of which are, The New Chinese Astrology and The New Astrology, has been such a generous source of strength and courage for me along the way. I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for her participation in my process. I tip my hat and humbly bow to your experience and strength of purpose, Suzanne.
Last, but by no means least, my cousin, Catherine Herrera, who as an artist, photographer, videographer, and historian, has most intimately walked with me down this challenging and invigorating road of writing and genealogy. Her genetic knowingness and keen intellect have given me insights into my writing and into myself that few others could have done so patiently and lovingly. Thank you, Cousin.
So, as I begin my next one hundred blogs, please know how grateful I am to those of you who visit me here. I pray for your continuing and increasing health, happiness, and abundance for many years to come. May your successes be large, joyful, and deeply satisfying.
Be well, dear friends, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
In the last few days, we have lost three distinctly different personalities. I was watching CNN and there was a blog entry read that talked about Ed McMahon and his distinguished service as a colonel in the military. This person referenced Farrah Fawcett’s valiant struggle against cancer and her work against domestic violence. The individual then referred to Michael Jackson’s criminal trials for child molestation and his drug use.
It breaks my heart that at this point in our history, we are still looking at others with such a jaded eye. The truth is Ed McMahon was in debt up to his eyes. Farrah Fawcett began her career as simply a pretty face. Michael Jackson was worked far beyond any reasonable level by his own parents during his entire childhood.
The point is that every single person on this great big planet has a story and that story is a complete one. It has really beautiful parts to it and it has hideously ugly parts to it, as well. Such is the nature of life. For those who feel that they have not been touched by severe tragedy or extreme joy, allow me to express my deepest sympathy to you because it is most likely because you have chosen to live a life of fear, keeping yourself safe from every possible danger or sadness. That’s not living. That’s existing.
Without risk, there is no glory. (I wish I could find who said that first). Of course, I’m not talking about fame when I use the word, “glory.” I’m talking about that feeling of basking in one’s ultimate success. Without scars, there is no character. Without pain, there is no healing. Without horror, there is no joy. Life, as we know it, is full of polarity. It’s the nature of the beast.
Ed McMahon defended our country as a valiant and honorable soldier. Farrah Fawcett struggled against misogyny and violence, bringing at least one wonderful movie to light in that effort. Michael Jackson changed the face of pop music from the time he was ten years old. Each of these actions has value and will find longevity.
Their agonies are not ones we will ever understand because we have not walked in their shoes. So, what they offered us personally was joy, creativity, and abundance. I suggest we simply say, “Thank you, Ed. Thank you, Farrah. Thank you, Michael.”
There have only been two celebrity deaths that affected me so personally that I wept. One was when George Burns died. I respected his power and his humor and I felt he represented
the best of comedy and sophistication in the art form. The second was Katherine Hepburn. Again, she was a pinnacle of class, sophistication, directness and artistry. Their passing was deeply moving to me because with them went a level of talent that we will rarely see again.
This article appeared from the middle of a collection of newspaper cutouts my late parents had kept dating back to the early 1940’s. I couldn’t help but laugh that I began my life in the news. I keep showing up periodically there time and time again. The truth is, I have no idea why. I haven’t cured cancer. I haven’t written the great American novel. I haven’t done anything particularly remarkable, but there I am, on Page 23 every so often.
It’s a real giggle. Enjoy!
I’ve found that, recently, I’m becoming so incredibly political. Writing blogs, sending periodic missives to the President of the United States, updating him on my current priorities for our country, and chatting with friends about important and life-changing current events.
In years gone by, I was always more interested in spiritual matters and emotional matters and circumstantial matters in my life. It was all so intimate.
Now, I’m feeling my voice rising, if only in writing. My security with who I am may be coming from my approaching, or lurching, fiftieth birthday, or it may simply be that I am claiming my mind, as well as the other components of my life macrosystem.
It feels good to be saying something, anything. It’s enriching my life to feel as though my opinion counts. I do have a few years under my belt, as well as a spare tire. I do have history behind me, as well as… well… my rotund behind.
Like the song sings in the campy, poignant musical, La Cage aux Folles, “I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses!”
So, here I am, the political me, singing my own version of the song. If it’s not your cup of tea, leave the theatre. Sadly, there are no refunds. If it is, take a seat in the dress circle. You are more than welcome!
This evening, I went to see some of my former students graduate from the school where I used to teach vocal music. There were some definite surprises for me there.
When I began teaching in 2001, it was a fluke. A friend of mine called me on the phone in the middle of my retirement and said, “James, we really need a singing teacher here.”
I had sworn many years ago never to teach in a classroom setting. Of course, I never thought I could since I hadn’t completed my degree, much less acquire a teaching credential. This was, however, a charter school that specialized in the arts, so I didn’t need a credential. I did have plenty of experience, having had my first student in 1977. I had directed vocal music regularly since the early 1990’s. I was as prepared as someone could be without the credential, I thought.
The day I began, the co-founders asked me why I wanted to teach there since I was so over-qualified? Ah, how things were to change.
As the years progressed, I realized I had a lot to learn, but as I had often been told, teaching came naturally to me. As my supervisor at the time told me, I was an intuitive teacher. While that was a plus at that point, this same person eventually decided that pedagogy was much more important.
I resigned my position in 2008 when I realized that the school had changed so dramatically that these adjustments were sucking the life out of what was once a dynamic and formidible educational institution. The spirit of our organization was barely flickering any more. I had to get out. I had lost my voice with the administration and for someone like me who spent his life helping others find their voices, this was untenable to me.
As I was having my final meeting with the Executive Director, he offered me two beginning vocal classes. He wanted some “new blood” for the other vocal music classes. His words, not mine. It was of no interest to me at all. This school was breaking my heart. Teachers expressed they felt the same way, but were afraid to leave in this economy. Parents said they wanted to change schools, but knew that most other schools were more dangerous for their students. The children themselves said there was something missing that was there in the past. Everyone got the same message except the administration.
Other than a couple of brief visits to the campus, I really haven’t been back since I left. I attended several performances. I couldn’t help but think, “This is why they wanted me gone, so they could have this level of quality at their school?” Again, I was not alone in this assessment.
As I arrived at the school this evening, teachers, students, and parents greeted me with the most genuine happiness I remember in a long, long time. If I had to call it anything, it was almost relief that I felt as they hugged me.
“Nothing is the same since you left, Mr. Hernandez.”
“There’s been a spark missing since you left, James.”
These are actual quotes I heard tonight. Even the Executive Director did not seem as joyful as he had been in years past as he sat on the dais.
Everything from the singing of the National Anthem to the keynote address was vanilla pudding. It was Wonder Bread. It was white rice. It was beige.
This was no longer a performing and fine arts academy. It was a traditional, plain school.
Yet, the one thing that amazed me was that with all the changes notwithstanding, the children have grown up to be creative, motivated people. I attribute that to the tenacity of the amazing teachers on campus.
They have fought valiantly against the brutal criticism and desperate neglect offered by the Program Coordinator and Co-Founder of the school. Both of these administrators have their priorities firmly established although they have not considered the needs of the people involved. It is all about the awards and recognition and scores. The people, with spirits and minds and hearts, seem to have become functionaries to the administrators involved.
The Program Coordinator, in all her ingenuous behaviors, is not above being obviously phony in public when everyone knows how she really feels. I was embarrassed for her.
Yet, the children advance. What is it in them that allows them to grow in this way? They are like roses growing in the desert. They are like albino shrimp living in the deepest sulphuric recesses of the ocean. They are strong and resilient and protected by really great parents and phenomenal teachers.
I have held my tongue for a year, and now, at long last, I am speaking my mind in an open forum. It feels great!
God bless the children for their success. May their journey be full of joy and wisdom enough to learn from their challenges and celebrate their accomplishments.
I won’t be back for another graduation without a specific invitation. My time there is over. They do grow up. What’s surprising is so do I.