You Can’t Go Home Again (The Packing Alone Will Stop You)

Yesterday, I stepped out the door of my childhood home for the final time. I moved there in early 1978 (I distinctly recall thinking at the time how long ago that was), and apart from a 14 month sojourn in London, stayed there through the early 1990s, apart from when I was away at college. I’ve lived many other places, but that house, or home if you want to be all Oprah about it, was the chief setting of my little life: a central and abiding fact of my existence.

And now, to be factual and melodramatic at once, I will never return. Which isn’t all bad, by any stretch. As Arthur Miller wrote, “Life is a casting off.” I had spent the last few years back in an apartment on my parents’ property – because I’m exactly that cool – and it had long since been time for me to move on. Besides, as people in their 70s living in the suburbs of New York, my parents are required under penalty of the law to move to Florida. So the writing was on the wall that the movers nicked a few times getting my couch out.

But as I walked through my old home’s rooms after they’d been freshly hollowed out, and every step or sound was thrown back in shrill echoes, I once again found myself a victim of my crippling nostalgia.

I mean, let’s face it: not every memory there is a happy one. That’s hardly surprising for a relationship that lasted nearly half a century. But I know that my children, and I think my father, and perhaps even myself, always had a vague ghostly notion that the property would stay in the family somehow. Life had other plans, like always (life can be a dick that way). But the fact remains, regardless of what happens in my remaining time above ground, I will have spent the bulk of my life in the emotional and pragmatic orbit of that home.

My children still live nearby (for now, when they aren’t in school), and I won’t be too far away, either, so I’ll have ample chance to drive by. But I don’t see that happening. I have a sentimental weakness for having a sentimental weakness, so that trip would puncture too big a hole in my balloon-thin facade of stoicism. Perhaps I’m more affected by this than I think I should be (even more than I’m letting on, which, considering this whole post is centered around how much this is affecting me, is probably quite a bit) because in my formative years, the corporate ladder my father climbed had rungs in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York once again, London, and then New York for good. All of them ascended before I turned 12. It’s probably why I’ve lacked the geographic restlessness so many of my friends have had.

It’s been an interesting few days. Scrambling to move is often a bit of an emotional and logistical trial, and this one really leaned into that aspect. On the plus side, I did set a new sea-level record for putting down a roll of packing tape only to be unable to find it 10 seconds later. Watching my parents leave the house for their final time, my mother without so much as a look back (my mother’s photo, accompanied by her statement, “I’m not a sentimental person” is now the Oxford English Dictionary’s official definition for the word “Understatement”), my father worrying over practical details as ever, I was struck by how unlike their attitudes mine is. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Maybe I’m just a bit of a wuss; it’s quite possibly both. Definitely the second one plays some role.

Either way, to quote my second playwright of this post (Kushner, Tony), “The world only spins forward.” And while I have some quibbles with that cosmic plan, God isn’t returning my texts these days. So, while my two dogs and I wait out my nearby move into our new home (hard to tell which of the three of us feels most unsettled), at an Air B and B 15 miles to the east of my family’s no-longer home, I am using my time in isolation to improve at something I have no gift for: looking ahead without resisting the urge to rent a boat and row against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. That was a pretty good line I just wrote, no? Don’t Google it. Anyway, it’s out of copyright.

For once, my actual environs match my inner ones: dislocation. It’s probably good for me. Perhaps it builds character, which is something stupid people say when they’re trying, but not really trying especially hard, to pretend an objectively awful thing isn’t objectively awful.

So, if the moment calls for a little wallowing, I’ll probably indulge in a wallow or two. This certainly counts as one. But it’s always good to know that ultimately you can carry things with you and still move forward. Or, I as I wrote in a song I composed this morning, “You and I have memories/Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Good, no? Don’t Google it.

Context > Text

I’ll start with a tangent (can you begin with a tangent? If you’re starting with it, by definition it’s the thing your discussing. Anyway): today in the American Northeast, January is wearing the look that earned it its street cred: impossibly depressing wet snow that can’t even reach the muddy dead grass without corroding into slush, a thick sheet of gun-metal gray skies, and temperatures that can’t even be bothered to go extremes. Anyways it occurred to me today that, round these parts, there is no surer sign that your inner child, citing poor working conditions, has left you than in the tonal difference you use when you see snow falling. A child’s jubilant “Oh boy!” Has curdled into the adult’s grimly resigned, “Oh boy.”

Which got me thinking that (I guess it wasn’t much of a tangent after all) that maybe what causes so many of us living in Western Society to feel the ever-tightening squeeze of depression and anxiety isn’t simply late capitalism (although, yes), or social media (Jesus, yes. And don’t bother pointing out the irony of my using social media to be critical of it; my life is a constant DEFCON FIVE state of readiness to intercept all hints of irony) or even, well, I honestly don’t know all the reasons, or even the key reason, assuming there is one, for all this formless dread, which I’m skeptical about. But one possible proximate cause that’s been overlooked (by me; I’m sure others haven’t) is the degree to which the world strips modern life of context.

News channels spin rather than report, which which requires removing context. Facebook and Instagram curate only the most unrealistic patina of happiness and success to project to the world. Unless we know these people literally in three dimensions, we can’t really get to anything like the truth of their lives (I originally typed “lies”’ there. a Freudian typo). Even that is an aspirational goal.

And Twitter, comes from an old Norse worse meaning, “Nuance goes to die.”

Faced with all of these forces, and with either a plethora of free time or not a minute to stop and breathe and evaluate, we are robbed of any real context of ourselves. The way we live our lives now strips us of the thing we used to not even be conscious of, but we need to survive, like breathing or good cell coverage. And without context, you’re looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror – you’re looking at the whole world that way, but transformation has been so incremental we’ve likely failed to notice. 

I’m not saying that’s the whole answer. How would I even know that without proper context? I’m just wondering if it isn’t at least a part of it.

Must Great Artists Act Like Bad People? Joan Didion Had Some Thoughts

Ok, just to be clear, this isn’t a post debating the merits and debits of cancel culture. At all. So, let’s all take a cleansing breath to celebrate that. However, the passing of the peerless Joan Didion got me thinking about what it takes to be a great writer (not that I’m putting myself in the running at all). Didion, with her clean, often spare yet often poetic prose, her cool objectivity that allowed her readers to see with unprecedented clarity, wrote some of the greatest sentences I’ve ever read. That’s a big part of what makes a her deeply memorable writer, in fact a supremely gifted writer, to be sure. But I think, and further, I bet she’d agree, those qualities are necessary but not sufficient to make her the truly great writer she was.

She was unquestionably a GREAT writer. So, then, what is that special quality that separates the very, very good, even the gifted writers, from those who works will be read 50 and even 100 years from now.? Didion felt quite sure – and was happy to talk openly about it – that quality is ruthlessness. She was, with admirable frankness, unambiguous about expressing this idea. She referred to writing as an “act of aggression,” and added, “there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Well, you may be saying, that’s not so bad, I mean, it’s not like she holds a gun to the reader’s head to read her thoughts. I sympathize with that notion. Most readers want authors to challenge or impose themselves with their writing.

But what about the time in the late 60s, while visiting a filthy hellish distortion of a hippie commune in San Francisco, sifting through the putrid aftermath of “Flower Power,” and she happened upon a toddler on LSD? ] She was later asked what her reaction to this sight was. She said she was appalled, that she wanted to call the police. But, after a long embarrassed pause, she added, with more quiet conviction “Let me tell you, it was gold.” Her face in this interview suddenly reveals a bright unapologetic gleam in her eyes. “You live for moments like that,” she flatly declared, “if you’re doing a piece. Good or bad.” You live, she makes plain, for moments like that. A human tragedy and a scene of jaw-dropping child abuse? No doubt. But what an image! But the fact is, she has a point. That moment framed not only one of her greatest essays, but one of the definitive essays of that era.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about great artists who were jerks more or less all their lives, like Hemingway or Picasso. I’m asking if every writer needs an unabashed thirst for the jugular if they want to write anything within walking distance of “great.” I’m not calling a Joan Didion a monster or anything. That’s what makes this so interesting to me: she wasn’t. She was, by many measures, a very good person. She felt genuine pity and disgust for what that poor child was being subjected to. But any impulse of compassion was usurped by the palpable thrill of what she knew would make an indelible mark in her essay and in the minds of those who read it.

I’m a playwright, mostly, not an essayist. And I’ve only written one play in my life that was vaguely based on my direct experience. And it wasn’t really very good: I was probably too close. I’m also not pretending to in any way on the level of Joan Didion, of course. But the fact is, the cliche about every character in a writer’s works are reflections of the writer’s mind, which necessarily includes her/his feelings and opinions of others, has more merit than I’d like to cop to. I sometimes wonder if the difference ultimately between a wonderfully gifted writers and GREAT writers is more than a willingness to live with their mouths filled with the taste of blood, but craving it.

It’s entirely plausible to me that a truly great writer will – in fact, must -privilege their work over everything else in their lives – including their family. I mean not only in terms of giving them her time and presence, but a willingness, perhaps even an eagerness, to peel back away the psychological pain of those closest to them like a cored apple. Or, as Didion herself expressed with characteristic distance and clarity, “Writers are always selling somebody out.” I kinda see her point. I’m relentless with my characters, not to be cruel to them, but to reveal themselves with as much honesty as possible.

And any true act of honesty has at least a whiff of cruelty to it.

I also think it’s important as a writer to find a part of their characters they can empathize with, no matter what they do or how they behave. And the truth is, although my plays almost exclusively deal with characters and situations I’ve never directly experienced, I can only write about what I know about people, who by definition are comprised largely of my friends, partners, and family. It has long been impossible for me to be with anyone, in any context, without unthinkingly observing their behaviors, attitudes, language, and even – let’s face it, especially – their pain, which I unconsciously (mostly) store like live lobsters in a tank, until I see one I think will do, pluck it squirming, and toss it into the boiling pot until it’s ready foe consumption.

Are most of my characters directly related to the people in my life? Almost always not. But sometimes, there are clear moments (or clear to me) of overlap, and it’s never focused on what’s admirable and dignified about them. Because those things are, from a dramatic perspective, boring. I’ve stolen individual moments and words – too many to count – and although sometimes I’m not conscious of doing so, just as often I am. I try to justify this by thinking the individuals are unlikely to recognize themselves – in fact, it’s fascinating how often people see themselves in characters they having nothing to do with. At least I think they don’t. How can I claim to know?

I quote Didion again: “To believe in the “greater good” is to operate, necessarily, in a certain ethical suspension.” I’d like to think it’s not a prerequisite. Perhaps it isn’t.

But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exactly hurt.

A Letter For Those Who Feel Lonely At Christmas

And the bonus is, it wasn’t written by me, but by someone much better, and better still, now long since gone past the point of copyright concerns!

Besides, the letter is written to someone named Kappus, which I repeatedly misread as Krappus, so that’s comic gold right there…

Rome, 23 December 1903

My dear Mr Kappus,

You shall not go without greetings from me at Christmas time, when you are perhaps finding your solitude harder than usual to bear among all the festivities. But if you notice that it is great, then be glad of it; for what (you must ask yourself) would a solitude be that was not great?

There is only one solitude, and it is vast and not easy to bear and almost everyone has moments when they would happily exchange it for some form of company, be it ever so banal or trivial, for the illusion of some slight correspondence with whoever one happens to come across, however unworthy …

But perhaps those are precisely the hours when solitude grows, for its growth is painful like the growth of boys and sad like the beginning of spring. But that must not put you off. What is needed is this, and this alone: solitude, great inner loneliness. Going into oneself and not meeting anyone for hours – that is what one must arrive at. Loneliness of the kind one knew as a child, when the grown-ups went back and forth bound up in things which seemed grave and weighty because they looked so busy, and because one had no idea what they were up to.

And when one day you realize that their preoccupations are meagre, their professions barren and no longer connected to life, why not continue to look on them like a child, as if on something alien, drawing on the depths of your own world, on the expanse of your own solitude, which itself is work and achievement and a vocation?

Why wish to exchange a child’s wise incomprehension for rejection and contempt, when incomprehension is solitude, whereas rejection and contempt are ways of participating in what, by precisely these means, you want to sever yourself from?

  • R. M. Rilke

Lend Me Your Ears And I’ll Sing You A Song, Or At Least Unpack a Nine Hour Documentary

I’d not planned on posting in depth about “Get Back,” but after a couple of people expressed disbelief that I hadn’t, I realized, “Hasn’t my entire life on social media been leading up to this?” Fair point. So, having had some time (not enough, I’ll be returning to and unpacking this behemoth for a while to come), I’ll offer my first impressions.

Spoiler Alert: The Beatles Eventually Break Up

Spoiler alerts. First off, if you’re at best a casual fan of the band, I’d wager there will be parts that will be pretty tedious and downright yawn-inducing. This project wasn’t really made with them in mind. If you’re moderate fan, I think you’ll enjoy it quite a bit, even though you’ll maybe want to fast forward here and there. I mean, it’s 8 1/2 hours in total. But if you’re a serious fan of The Beatles, well, it’s one of the most fascinating things you’re likely to ever see on them. It has fundamentally rewritten the story of how and why they broke up, for one. More on that in a bit.

Allow Me To Mansplain The Beatles For A Second

But here’s my theory about why The Beatles get into so many people’s nervous systems and stay there forever. Of course, most of it is that they wrote and recorded some of the greatest music ever, period. But beyond that, more than any band I can think of, their personalities were so interesting and large that they had their own narratives. So much so that even casual fans have some vague and yes, reductive, notion of who they were: Paul polite and cute, Lennon funny and biting, Harrison removed and spiritual, Ringo affable, etc. Their music and their personalities can make you feel on some deep and ineffable level that you know them and they – somehow – know and understand you. I’m talking in sweeping and simplified generalizations, but I hope you get the gist. And Get Back’s greatest accomplishment emotionally is that feeling of truly having a mysterious, inexplicable, intimate knowledge of them is intensified geometrically. We are in the room with them, hearing and seeing how they interact with another in a way that’s nothing short of revelatory. Yes, there is an awareness on their part that they’re being filmed. But the cameras are so ubiquitous the unrelenting they often, especially in Parts 2 and 3, seem to forget about them and we see how they truly worked together as a band and as friends.

Part One is at times, frankly, a little tough to watch, as there is a palpably odd vibe (to borrow from the vernacular) to it. It’s far too early in the morning for them – namely, it’s morning – they’re in a cavernous and cold foreign space with as, George immediately observes, “Terrible acoustics.” Also, bear in mind, they had released The White Album – 30 songs – less than two months before, and now they proposed writing and performing 14 new songs in less than a month. Who’d even try that? The traditional narrative (bolstered by the Let It Be film) paints Paul out as a bossy and relentless taskmaster whom John and George understandably grow sick of. And yes, Paul IS very much the one to wrangle them like a teacher trying to inspire bored students (I know his pain). But what’s made clear here is that Paul knows he’s coming off this way, and he HATES having to be put in that position. And he has been put in that position. Most immediately because John is addicted to heroin and Yoko and has seemingly checked out (which he kinda is through much of the first part). And George….well, let’s talk about George for a second.

The Quiet One

Harrison, after contributing songs like the brilliant While My Guitar Gently Weeps and the tragically underrated Long, Long, Long, had established himself as among the better songwriters around to more or less everyone except John and Paul. To them, he was still a kid. When George joined the band, John was 17 and George 14. Think of that age gap. And think of your family – it’s really hard to ever escape how you’re seen by your older siblings. In Part One, George had just returned from hanging out with The Band and a singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan. It turns out they not only respected George as a musician and composer, but admired him. Dylan himself expressed his admiration for George’s musicianship and writing.

And so George comes into the project hoping to instill some of that feeling of open and easy collaboration. But he is immediately reminded by Paul and John he’s the junior. Paul does this by barely being able to muster polite interest in his work, and Lennon with outright mockery of George’s new song, I, Me, Mine. George responds appropriately with “I don’t give a fuck if you don’t want it on your album.”

Finally, George quits, in a very Harrison way: quiet and totally indifferent to what other people think. He says simply he’s leaving, and when asked when, he says “Now. See you round the clubs.” and he’s gone. And while Lennon quips they have to figure out how to split up George’s instruments, and callously says if he’s not back by Tuesday they’ll get Clapton, we see that this is bluster. The three remaining Beatles huddle together, physically and off mic, clearly shaken by this.

Let’s Do Lunch, And Secretly Record It

In one of the most amazing parts of the documentary, a mic is hidden at a table unbeknownst to John and Paul as they talk about George over lunch. Lennon is honest and insightful, owning up to the truth that he and Paul have created a deep wound with George and that it’s now “festering.” Paul agrees. John also says that Paul’s penchant for knowing exactly what he wants everyone to play on his songs has made them feel like session musicians rather than collaborators. What’s unmistakable in this exchange is that these two men have great love and respect for each other, and feel bad about mistreating George, whom they also love and, yes, if they have to admit it, admire at least a little, and their regret at treating him badly for so long. They have hurt him in the way many family members hurt each other: unthinkingly and carelessly. When George does come back, they both make a point of treating him with more respect, and they are all the better for it, emotionally and musically.

From there on in what we see is a band of brothers. Lennon is fully engaged, invested and brilliantly playful and witty. He’s also charmingly self-deprecating about his relative lack of instrumental skill compared to George and Paul. Playing a rare lead part on a song, he quips, “Every time I play lead I remember why I don’t play lead.” George’s input is heard and valued, Paul is still leading the way, but with a gentler touch, and Ringo remains everyone’s friend.

It’s also clear they know they are on the cusp of breaking up, not because of Yoko, but because they’ve been been together for a decade and, just like brothers leaving home, they have reached a stage where they need to be their own people. Even Paul, who clearly doesn’t want this to be true, tacitly acknowledges this.

Here are some fascinating/fun/moving takeaways, in no order:

– Yoko is actually pretty chill. Once or twice she does her unbearable wailing thing, but she doesn’t seem to impose herself very much. She is right next to John at more or less all times, but that is clearly John’s need, and the others, especially Paul are generally respectful of that. Paul makes a couple of oddly prescient and prophetic points throughout the series, but perhaps none more than his observation “It’ll seem pretty silly in 50 years time if people say we broke up because Yoko sat on an amp.” He is largely supportive of the relationship, admitting they’ve gone a bit overboard, but he says “That’s what John does.”

– The moment early in Part Two when Paul starts to think the band may be over, the camera stays on his face as he sits silently with tears welling in his eyes. He is a man dazed and crushed by grief, and it’s heartbreaking.- When John arrives soon after then and resolves to be more committed and begins to joke and entertain everyone, Paul is in heaven. Throughout the series, the love and respect the two have each other is made more clear than ever. Their bond is unique, once in a lifetime, and though they wouldn’t admit it, they both know it.

– It’s no news to hear that they weren’t saints by any means, but something I felt and have heard from others is just how NICE they were all are, even John. They are surrounded by people who are desperate to be near them and want something from them all day every day all their lives, but seem largely mindful of how to treat people with kindness and dignity. The moment where a clapboard operator stands near Paul and asks him questions about how to write songs is a great example. Paul sits at the piano and talks to him in a completely unpretentious way, and treats the kid (maybe he’s 20?) as an equal, explaining things without seeming arrogant in any way. He then tells him, “Unless you stop yourself, nothing can stop yourself,” which is both something Yogi Berra should’ve said, and a truly profound statement about making art.

– speaking of creating, the sequence in which Paul, knowing they’re short of material, starts strumming one string on his bass over and over until we see, in the space of about three minutes, he wills a new song – Get Back – out of the ether. George and Ringo witness and go from being bored to enthused in three minutes. It’s just sort of a jaw-dropping moment to behold. Getting to watch Paul McCartney make up a song is one of the greatest gifts of the film, I think.

– Man, was McCartney on fire. After all of his White album contributions, as well as writing Lady Madonna and Hey Jude in ’68, he shows up in January with another trove of tunes, including Let It Be, and brings new ones in almost daily. Many of which end up on Abbey Road, and one or two in his solo work. Part of this is also clearly showing off for his new girlfriend Linda Eastman. It worked

– Not that this is important, but Linda, often derided by misogynists for not being as pretty as her husband is, in fact, quite beautiful as well as being funny and instantly likable. Her six year old daughter Heather shows up for one session. Paul’s clearly in love with her and is heartwarmingly paternal. The other Beatles are also great with her: Ringo makes her laugh by letting her bash on his cymbals and acting stunned, and John gently teases her about her new kittens, asking if she’s going to eat them. She finds this funny and tells him you don’t eat cats. She then describes the kittens, and John grudgingly agrees, “No you don’t eat those kind of cats, you’re right.”

– The film’s director is pretty unbearable, and they are all far more patient and polite with him than you’d expect of not only the world’s biggest stars, but just any sentient being. They make it clear they’re in charge, but in a very gentle and non-aggressive way.

– Billy Preston’s arrival and joining the group invigorates them and they are all spurred on to give their all- The unabashed joy Paul and John take in playing live together and the looks they exchange are thrilling and moving- Watching all four of them listening back to their music in the control room, clearly happy with what they’ve done, and being in each other’s company, making each other laugh, makes you understand how special their bond was.

  • I’ve been right all of this time to like The Beatles

Anyway, that’s my first impression thoughts. If you had the patience to read this whole thing, you’ve definitely got the stamina to watch it in its entirety.

I hope I passed the audition.

1Matthew Coleman

Things No One Has Ever Said To Me

“You make it look so easy.”

“Could you tell us another piece of trivia?”

“Eyes were bigger than your stomach, eh?”

“What should I invest in?”

“But you dance so beautifully!”

“You have a mind like Aristotle’s, only funnier”

“Please, just ONE more song!”

“Your eyes…I can’t describe them precisely, but have you ever been on Diamond Head Beach at Sunrise? That’s the closest I can come”

“Why yes, I’d love to read your poetry!”

“Your take on contemporary issues is so fresh”

“I don’t find your near-pathological need to correct the grammar of sports announcers during the games even vaguely annoying”

“Nor, for that manner, do I find your use of ‘whom’ conversationally the least bit pretentious”

“I think it’s great when you call stuff that you’ve done as being ‘part of my journey.’”

“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe”

“You’re right: I was listening to my favorite musicians incorrectly. I no longer like them!”

“Dear Lord, you’re graceful”

“I’d gladly loan you money”

“Thanks for acting out whole scenes verbatim from ‘The Godfather’ that time I simply asked if you’d seen it before”

“My God, you’ve really hit upon something: the books IS often better than the movie!”

“I never thought quoting Monty Python was sexy, but then I met you.”

“Your empathy is an example to us all.”

“I have a quick question about car repair I want to run by you”

“Also, when you get a minute, I’d like your thoughts on the color pallet for my house”

“Yes, my rejection of your request to date me has haunted me daily ever since”

“You’ve talked me out of believing in astrology. Thank you.”

“You’ve talked me into believing in astrology. Thank you.”

“It’s incredible – you seem to never make a typo.”

“You always know what to say to make things not creepy and awkward at all!”

“Christmas just isn’t Christmas without your one man, three hour ‘A Christmas Carol!’”

“I took your advice at the end of your posts and followed you on Instagram and Twitter!”

Thank God the world of technology has caught up with my narcissistic needs! Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jackcanfora

Nothing is Nice (In a Good Way)

Trigger Warning: this post has no content. Not literally, obviously. I mean, the very words “this post has no content” proves that there IS content. I mean, there’s nothing in this post in terms of, well, anything. It’s a blank canvass, minus the blankness and the canvass. This piece is pure Zen, but without the Zen part. It’s, for all intents and purposes, Zenless.

That should be clear at this point. But I don’t mean “nothing” in the smoking cigarettes in a Paris cafe and romanticizing the vacuum that we all must face. Well, maybe a bit. But that’s not its central thrust. I come not to bury nothingness, but to praise it. Full disclosure: you can’t bury emptiness. Which, just taken on its own terms, sounds vaguely profound. But I’m here to reassure you it isn’t. It is, in fact, nothing.

As usual, The Beatles were right: “Nothing is real.”

Don’t get me wrong: too much of nothing, assuming there can be too much of something that doesn’t exist, is problematic. Paradoxically, I’ve found when I have nothing to do for too long, that nothing corrodes into an interiority which is quite unpleasant. So too much nothing becomes something if you’re not careful.

But, just the right amount of nothing, which is something I find, well, hard to find (hard to find being one of nothing’s primary characteristics) is a wonderful tonic for the soul (assuming the soul is something). Today, for no reason I can think of, the relentless inner monologue that normally pinballs around my head has taken a brief intermission. For the sheer disquietude of that I can only liken it to a snake eating its own tail in a documentary narrated by Gilbert Gottfried. By the way, there is a word for a snake eating its own tail: ouroboros. Isn’t that something?

But not today. Today the vast presence of absence fills me with calm, or, more accurately I guess, drains me of uncalm. Which I don’t think is a thing. Not for nothing, but I know what you’re thinking (I think). You may be thinking: “But Jack, you ruggedly handsome thing, this whole post is so achingly self-conscious, the idea that nothing is happening in your head is ridiculous. Nothing worthwhile? Sure. But surely something’s going on up there.”

Ouch. First of all, stop objectifying me. And…you may well be right. However, today, where I live, it’s gloriously sunny and warm, but not hot, and the leaves are starting to put on a show, and I, for once, am content to just watch them fall softly to the ground. And I’m happy, at least for the moment, to be contented with that.

And that’s not nothing.

What’s The Point?

By Jack Canfora

This evening, I will have a (virtual) table read of a new play of mine. I think it has promise, but for me, and I think I’m not alone in this among playwrights, until I hear it out loud, I can’t be sure. Reading it is different from hearing. Unlike, say, novels or poetry, the text is not the event, although it’s main event in a reading. It’s what they call a “two-hander,” as it has only two characters. To me, more times than not, it would seem the phrase “four-hander” would be more accurate, but I don’t have the kind of pull to make everyone change that idiom. I just don’t. 

The two actors who are doing the reading this evening aren’t good: they are absurdly gifted. This is double-edged sword when hearing a play for the first time. On the one hand, they’ll do your text justice, but on the other hand, they’re both so good, that their talent might wallpaper over some cracks in the wall you’ve built (that’s obviously a metaphor. I wouldn’t have the first clue about how to build a wall, other than an emotional one). Actually, that’s two hands. Huh.

Anyway, by rights, both of these actors – professional, working actors – should be household names. They are simply as good as it gets. And hopefully they yet become so, but as of now, they aren’t. Watching the sublimely gifted face the same cruelties and randomness endemic in all the arts fills me with both grief and a certain degree of thankfulness. Don’t get me wrong – I wish these actors, who are also my friends, every success in the world – but it also reaffirms that very randomness I’ve just mentioned. But they actors, they dedicated their lives to the that craft, and have become masters at it. That’s really the only thing in their control. I tell myself the same thing re: my creative endeavors (I’m not saying I’m as gifted as they are): do the work as best you possibly can, always look to improve it, and, if you feel you’ve done something of some merit, that’s it. That’s the ballgame. That’s the whole point. It’s all you can ask of yourself, which is hard enough, you can’t also expect the world to come to your door by chance. 

Sure, you do the business-like activities that a life in the arts demands, and you push and hope for the best. But all you can control is what you can control. So when you get a chance to spend some time with gifted artists willing to give some of their time and talent to you, there’s a degree to which it would be greedy to expect or even want more out of your creative life than that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m greedy. But at least I know I am. And no matter the outcome of this evening, short-term or long-term, I’ll know that tonight, I was lucky. I got to spend time doing what I love with people who are doing what they love. And, I think, that’s the point.

Parenting: The Little I’ve Learned in Over 20 Years

In my younger and (seemingly) more vulnerable years as a parent, I had assumed that taking care of a child through their infancy and youth would be the most demanding part of parenting. I certainly expected some bumps in adolescence and in between, but I felt confident there would reach a point at which I could sit back and, having tried to do my best (with varying degrees of success), I could feel less worried, less vigilant and beholden.

Unsurprisingly, I was an idiot.

The challenges merely shift. Today my daughter left for Berlin to study for the semester. Though I’m sure she’ll face challenges, it will ultimately be among the more defining and transformative periods of her life. It also solidifies, for me, that she is essentially and irrevocably an adult.

All of this is good; it is, in fact, wonderful. It’s a true blessing. If I were so inclined and had the emotional and physical flexibility, I might even be tempted to give myself (and her mother, of course), a pat on the back. It means we’ve done our job; she is now an independent, adventurous, and forward-thinking adult.

But here’s the big surprise: there will one day reach a point when you realize you need your children more than they need you.

That’s healthy, natural, and heart-shreddingly sad.

What I wish for my children, and what I’m confident will happen, is that they will continue to grow away from us and towards themselves – always feeling close to us and loving us, I hope – but experiencing life fully as and for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I still hope to a live a fulfilling life with friends and purpose.

But what I’m confident will happen, too, is that I will forever feel a little cavity in my soul that won’t ever be filled. In fact, I wouldn’t want it to.

It’s a piercing, unique ache that simultaneously conveys deep pride, unassailable love, and searing sorrow.

Ironically, I bet the Germans have a word for it. Hopefully, my daughter will teach me it when she returns.

George Washington: Freedom Hater

George Washington mandated his troops get small pox inoculations (he was initially hesitant, as he was afraid it would signal weakness to the British then realized the pros vastly outweighed the cons), when its efficacy wasn’t exactly peer reviewed.

He didn’t tolerate the insipid line of thinking that confuses freedom with utter self-absorption.

If you think Governors Greg Abbot and Ron DeSantis know more about core American values than George Washington, you shouldn’t be allowed outdoors unaccompanied. Nor indoors, come to think of it. History will unambiguously damn these politicians and their sociopathic, enabling hucksters who play on peoples’ ignorance and heartlessly sacrifice lives to keep their bloodstained clutches on the levers of power to compensate for the gaping holes in their humanity. But shame on us for letting them.

Sorry. That’s all for now.