Reflecting on a July 4th Favorite: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942 (Through 2:46)

Anyone who knows movies knows that the brass section of the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra was like no other. Whether scoring a Bugs Bunny cartoon, Bogart film or Errol Flynn swashbuckler, their trumpets are instantly recognizable, and warming to the soul.

Like in Yankee Doodle Dandy, the 1942 James Cagney film that won him an Oscar for Best Actor portraying the song and dance man and Broadway actor/composer/producer, George M. Cohan — who crafted the famous songs Grand Old Flag, Over There, Give My Regards to Broadway, and of course the title song. The above scene is one of the greatest musical dance numbers ever put on film.

Here on this July 4th weekend, hearing those heralding trumpets again, and through all my years, I was reminded how special this film has been to our family in so many ways.

My mother always says that when I was just a toddler, I’d get up on the piano bench during the famous scene above, and I would start dancing with glee on my face.

As a bigger kid, I’d practice and practice this dance routine in the living room or garage and imitate it best I could — as well as the final scene when the elder George dances down the stairs of the White House after receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor from FDR:

Then as a pre-teen, I was struck by what a bratty stage kid young George was, and how his arrogance hurt his family’s opportunities on the vaudeville circuit. And yet I loved how wonderfully kind and humble he became later in life, with the right discipline, guidance and wisdom from his family and friends. Strong yet gentle. It made me think of my own parents raising us while juggling so many demands — their example, and Cohan’s, made me want to be a better writer for the stage myself, and a better person.

Later, the film shaped my view of our country, of how art can touch people in times of crisis, and how our personal integrity and loyalty to family are far more important than our success.

And finally, now more than ever, watching it with our daughters, this film reminds me that I’m so grateful for the freedom to live each day that comes our way, to worship God, to celebrate together as family and friends on weekends like this, and to share the truths that matter most with our precious children.

My mother thanks you…

My father thanks you…

My sister thanks you…

And I thank you…

Onward!

Tips for Teenage Writers

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A few months ago I had the privilege of speaking at a theater event sponsored by Playwrights Project, a fantastic organization which uses drama-based activities to teach literacy and communication skills to youth and seniors. They also sponsor the California Young Playwrights Contest, professionally producing winning plays by writers under age 19.  They produced my first play as a teenager and were instrumental in my becoming a writer.

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On this special night I got to speak to the teen finalists and winners of this year’s Contest, being produced this month of January and premiering this coming week (http://www.playwrightsproject.org/PBYW.htm).

I hope these words are an encouragement to writers of all ages.

———–

Great to be with you tonight and congratulations to all the finalists and winners!

To me you’re all winners, because I wrote three plays over three years, before being a winner of the California Young Playwrights Contest, and each year I took the page of written comments they sent me, you know what I’m talking about — I took those comments to heart and tried to do better the next time. And the next time, and the next time. For that habit of seeking improvement, for those practical examples of how to work past mistakes and weaknesses toward success, I’m forever grateful to Playwrights Project, because those lessons have served me well in writing and life ever since.

That winning play production in 1989, 25 years ago amazingly, and during my freshman year at Stanford, was my very first. I thought: maybe I had a voice, something worthwhile to say, and maybe I was saying it in a way that made people listen, think, or be inspired to live or act differently. Or maybe, just maybe, I was writing so that I would live or act or think differently. Your playwriting, your art, will change you as much or more than it changes anyone else.

Whatever you do in your life, with your life, and whomever you do it with, here are three things to remember, whether you go on to be a playwright, an accountant, a lab scientist, or anything else:

  1. Notice the Unnoticeable. Don’t stop looking around you, noticing others who are rarely seen or think they’re not being seen. Listen carefully to what they say, speaking honestly about what you see and hear.
  2. Ask the Unaskable. Don’t stop asking tough questions. Don’t be afraid to suggest tough solutions — or to not suggest a solution at all.
  3. Feel the Unfeelable. Don’t say, “I can’t put that much anger out there.” Put it out there. Or don’t say, “I can’t put that much joy out there.” Put it out there, and everything in between. The scariest place in the world might be on the empty page. But it’s also the safest and freest place in the world, to be yourself.

Just think. Your winning play, the one you’re being honored for, today, the one being lauded above hundreds of others across the state, the one that’s going to be produced in a few months and bring you so much encouragement and confidence and joy? Imagine: This play of yours will one day be your worst play.

But that’s okay. Because it means you’ll only be getting better and better. Every play you write builds upon the last one, just as every year of your life ahead will build on the year you live before. Nothing is wasted in the life of a writer, an artist, nothing is ever wasted in the life of one who chooses to see with both eyes, nothing is wasted in the life of one who chooses to live with their whole heart, chooses to be grateful for the life they have, no matter what, and who want to share about it with everyone, warts and all.

Nothing you experience, or hear, or suffer, or succeed in, or learn in life, will ever be wasted. My first playwriting teacher, Janet Tiger, said that if you decide to be a writer, you’ll never be bored again. She was right. From then on, after that playwriting residency at Patrick Henry High School, even if I was dragged to the mall by my mom, or sitting in a doctor’s office with gross beige walls, I was never bored. I was always checking things out. Checking people out.

You should always be watching people, listening to people, to what they say and what goes unsaid, what they do and leave undone. Because as a writer what you leave out is just as important as what you leave in. What you leave to our imagination in the audience, is just as powerful as what you explicitly tell or show us on stage.

I can’t wait to hear all you have to say, to show, to share. Just never, ever stop. Congratulations.

———

Onward!

(This blog originally posted on Jan. 19, 2015. em>)

Blog Tour — ​JESSICA: The Autobiography of an Infant​​​, by Dr. Jeffrey Von Glahn

I am pleased today to host a blog tour stop for Dr. Jeffrey Von Glahn’s fascinating book, JESSICA: The Autobiography of an Infant.

Jessica by Jeffrey Von Glahn

Background:  

​Jessica had always been haunted by the fear that the unthinkable had happened when she had been “made-up.” For as far back as she could remember, she had no sense of a Self. Her mother thought of her as the “perfect infant” because “she never wanted anything and she never needed anything.” As a child, just thinking of saying “I need” or “I want” left her feeling like an empty shell and that her mind was about to spin out of control. Terrified of who––or what––she was, she lived in constant dread over being found guilty of impersonating a human being.

Jeffrey Von Glahn, Ph.D., an experienced therapist with an unshakable belief in the healing powers of the human spirit, and Jessica blaze a trail into this unexplored territory. As if she has, in fact, become an infant again, Jessica remembers in extraordinary detail events from the earliest days of her life––events that threatened to twist her embryonic humanness from its natural course of development. Her recollections are like listening to an infant who could talk describe every psychologically dramatic moment of its life as it was happening.

When Dr. Von Glahn met Jessica, she was 23. Everyone regarded her as a responsible, caring person – except that she never drove and she stayed at her mother’s when her husband worked nights.

For many months, Jessica’s therapy was stuck in an impasse. Dr. Von Glahn had absolutely no idea that she was so terrified over simply talking about herself. In hopes of breakthrough, she boldly asked for four hours of therapy a day, for three days a week, for six weeks. The mystery that was Jessica cracked open in dramatic fashion, and in a way that Dr. Von Glahn could never have imagined. Then she asked for four days a week – and for however long it took. In the following months, her electrifying journey into her mystifying past brought her ever closer to a final confrontation with the events that had threatened to forever strip her of her basic humanness.

1 Jeffrey Von Glahn

BLOG POST:

​In this excerpt, I had been seeing Jessica for over a year. I was still struggling with getting her to be more open about herself.

I knew I had to do something about Jessica’s continuing guardedness about herself. I had a foolish urge to ask Jessica herself about this, but, fortunately, the notion flew out of my mind as fast as it had entered….I finally developed what I thought was a rather creative idea. Little did I know that…I would make an unexpected discovery: for all these months, I had been laboring under a delusion about who was sitting across from me; and, in fact, I had been deluded from the moment Jessica first stepped into my office….

One day, after Jessica finished venting her feelings about whatever had troubled her since the last session, I said I had a question, gave her a warm smile and said, “How do you feel about me trying to get to know you?”

I sprang this question on her without any warning, for a very specific reason. I hoped it would force her to react on the spot, before her defenses had had a chance to get organized. I was tired of listening to bland reports of incidents that had already happened, after her psyche had transformed them into emotionally sterile recollections….

Even though I had never before asked her anything even remotely similar, she replied immediately. It was as if she had been expecting my question from the very start of therapy and had been steeling herself for it ever since.

“You’re just a computer,” she quickly began. She sounded like a professor who was impatiently explaining a fundamental point to an obtuse student. “You’re just a thing I put information into and get a program back. You can’t be human. You can’t have any feelings.” Then her words stopped as abruptly as they had started. She stared blankly at me.

It felt like a million light bulbs went off in my head. I immediately thought, “No wonder I’ve had such a hard time reaching her. In her mind, I’m not a person. I’m just a pile of electrical parts!”

When Jessica looked at me, did she see that I was a human being? Of course she did. Yet, that reality wasn’t enough for her to overcome her fear about relating to me as a human being. Why she wasn’t able to do that was beyond my comprehension. I just couldn’t understand how she could see me as something other than human, after I’d spent months of unrelenting effort trying to reach her.

Her chilling answer was one I might have expected from a robot, not from someone who functioned in society, talked face-to-face to me, and, aside from her inability to stay home alone at night and her fear of driving, behaved like an ordinary person. I had never felt so estranged from another human being in my life.

Jessica by Jeffrey Von Glahn

Twitter Handle:  @JeffreyVonGlahn
Website:  http://jeffreyvonglahn.com

Purchase Link for book:  http://www.amazon.com/Jessica-Autobiography-Jeffrey-Von-Glahn-ebook/dp/B00IUCKOD8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418530951&sr=1-1&keywords=JESSICA+by+jeffrey+von+glahn​

This tour sponsored by 4WillsPublishing.wordpress.com.

Thank you, Jeffrey and 4Wills Publishing, for such an insightful and important work.

Onward!

The Proudest Day of My Life

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This past week, on the eve of Election Day, I learned without a doubt that nothing I accomplish in my life will ever be as satisfying or fill me with the same depth of joy and pride as when my children accomplish something special. There is no comparison.

Over the last few months our local Armenian community has been trying to get approval for a new church facility to better accommodate its needs after 35 years in a sweet but outdated and undersized facility. My family’s connection to the church is deep, complex and multifaceted. But suffice it to say that despite various community dramas over the years, it is where we grew up, where we are still involved and where our children participate, and we’d always like to see the church — its people and its place — progress spiritually and physically in the years to come.

A month or so ago, we decided to take our girls to our local planning board meeting to see local government in action. For four hours (yes, we brought the ipad), our nine-year old and five-year old daughters listened to this board debate our church project. The girls wanted to get up and speak but couldn’t. But when the vote finally came in favor 6-4, they were so proud and excited that they were there. I told them: “In years to come, when the church is built and you are walking on its blessed grounds, you’re going to remember that you were there the day our local community first approved it.” And they nodded vigorously before falling asleep on the car ride home.

Then, this past week, the project had to pass through another hurdle — the city planning commission, before going to the state coastal commission. Many in the community wrote letters, so we felt it important that our girls write letters too, to share their feelings about why we need a new church.

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They were very intent on doing a good job, and they did.

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At the commission meeting, I sat in the same chamber where I, as a junior high student years before, twice pleaded with our city council to save our school music education funding for orchestra and band. Those were experiences I never forgot, and I believe they fortified me early on to be more involved in my community and to speak up for what’s important to me.

And here we were in the same room, years later, hearing about another heart and soul issue — not the arts, but the faith community and its gathering place — now being debated before a new set of officials.

The architects, consultants, and some of us leaders in the community all spoke, gave it our best and did well.

But when the commissioners gave their various comments, concerns, and preferences, one commissioner said that he was very touched, and quite impacted, toward the yes vote, because of two letters that came in — from two young girls…

I looked at my husband.

“From…Mari…?” the commissioner said. “And her sister…Ani?…”

Our daughters. He was talking about them! There, in front of everyone. On local TV. And when he cutely mispronounced the latter’s name, our entire community entourage in the audience corrected him in unison. (“AH-nee, not Annie!”)

The commissioner went on to say how the letters were the most compelling thing he came across in more than two hours of discussion, and that our girls’ words were what convinced him to vote yes — reminding him what civic engagement is all about, what community is all about, what the life of a young person is all about, and….

And I don’t know what else — because I was crying. Crying that our girls had tangibly made a difference. Our little ones, who were probably running wild at school recess, had no idea their names were being spoken and placed in the city public record, having a forever impact on the vote, and thus on our community.

I became a bumbling mess. When the commissioner finished thanking the girls, he immediately made the motion to approve the project.

When the vote came out unanimous, I looked again at my husband, and all I could say was “Our girls, lovie. Our girls…!” He and I were both overcome.

I hope that on the crazy days when the girls try my patience, I’ll remember that on this day they filled me with more humbling pride and joy than I’ve ever experienced. No Academy Award, Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critics Circle award, or anything could even compare.

When we got home and told the girls, they were so excited that their letters made a difference. Our youngest asked, “Did you talk to Mr. Golba?” even remembering the name of the commission chairman she addressed her letter to. And I said that yes, I did speak with him (which was true, afterwards.) We told the girls the rest of the details and even showed them the webcast where the commissioner acknowledged them, and they simply beamed.

One day, our girls will be able to vote, like I hope we all will this week. One day, they will take leadership positions and impact their world. And one day, when they’re grown, I hope to show the girls their letters again, to remind them that at any time, at any age:

Yes, your voice matters.

Yes, you can make a difference.

And yes, your writing has power.

Always.

Onward! And don’t forget to vote!

Being a Musician vs. Being a Writer

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In my freshman year of college a few things happened where I felt I had to decide between being a musician and being a writer.

 

I had gotten to the point in the repertoire as a violinist where I’d either have to become a professional or keep it as a hobby. To take the professional route would require me to spend a dozen or more hours a day in practice and let go of most other time commitments in my life. I had concertized; I had been in orchestras, even toured a bit — but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted above all else.

 

Alongside my musical studies in those years, I also studied theater, acting and playwriting. It just so happened that in this same period of my freshman year, I had entered a young playwrights festival contest and got word that I was one of the contest winners. The prize was to have my play produced professionally.

 

The process of seeing my play come to life for the first time — working with a director and dramaturg, doing revisions, watching actors audition to play my characters, seeing them bring the roles to life — all of it transformed me. My words, my thoughts, my voice were not only coming out but being affirmed by professional artists and by audiences.

 

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As an 18-year old, this took me in a direction I didn’t quite expect. Music was always my main thing; theater was second. But winning that contest and seeing my play performed in front of me that year clarified my decision.

 

I decided to be a writer.

 

Why? For the “glory”? No. There were gloriously satisfying moments as a musician too — performing solo on stage to enthusiastic applause after hours of learning a piece, winning regional or national competitions, touring the country. It required my creativity, my being, poured into the work, just like with writing. I knew that either field would require a lot of un-glorious work, rejection, and persistence, like in any arts field.

 

What was different?

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