Saturday, May 22, 2010

My Gift Vacation, Back to Basics


My very first blog post was about my invigorating trip to Japan in 2004. My next few will pick up on that precedent and put down some thoughts during my trip to Hollywood, California to mark the end of my 60th year on this fine globe. I'm sharing it here to reflect upon it while it's happening. Feel free to give these posts a pass if rambling reflection isn't your cup of tea. I'll be back to thinking about education and change soon enough. Right now I'm into the present and the personal, a gift from my extraordinarily loving wife. Thank you, my love.

My Gift Vacation, 1

So at work on Thursday, May 20, I opened my gmail and there was an email from American Airlines with the subject: Your flight is ready for check-in, or some such flag. I really did think to myself, referencing the shared MUVErs LLC email that forwards to my gmail, "Well, I wonder where Cathy's going now?" and so I clicked to see. Imagine my amazement to read that my flight that evening to Los Angeles, California was confirmed and that I could check in. Dutifully, I checked in, only to be told "You are already checked in for this flight."

I knew what this meant, of course. My adored wife Lee Ann had conspired to book me passage to visit my "bfam" (brother from another mother) and my godson and the lovely prime mover of their household, Riad. My godson, Seamus, just turned 11, has also just finished up another in his series of chemotherapies for a brain tumor he contracted last summer. He's doing very well, thank you, and you'll likely hear more about that as we go. My bfam (I really have never seen that before--did I coin it?) Jimmy, known to the world as James Paige Morrison, is a yoga master and actor, having just wrapped the season of "Hawthorn" in which he had a recurring role. Also wrapping this season, "Private Practice" and "24," the latter in which he did not appear this season, but which he co-starred for I think 5 seasons as the unflappable Bill Buchanon, head of the Counter Terrorist Unit Jack Bauer so continuously made interesting. "Interesting" in the context of the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

Anyway, Lee Ann was outraged that the airlines had given away that secret, held by nearly everyone who knows me since it manifested itself in March. I'm sure someone at American Airlines has a smoking ear from the first call she made. The error had unintended good consequences, though; it let me weep my tears of joy in private rather than surrounded by family and colleagues at the end of the day. I retain my manly pride.

Thursday: Lee Ann and Colin got me to the airport right after school. My bag was packed with clothes and necessities, I had my backpack with laptop and such, and at the airport I picked up a pre-wrapped deli sandwich to keep me fed. A fine long flight, around 4 hours, got me to the City of Angels. I texted Jimmy "landed" and he replied "Parking" to which I replied "isn't that a movie?" Following the lemmings off the plane to the baggage claim area I eased down the final escalator to see him standing at the foot of it, surrounded by a sea of humanity, an island of smile. Long hug (I didn't cry, though it was touch and go for a moment), bag fetch, to the car, and home. The beautiful stucco cottage on June was dark and we sat up jabbering on his back porch, clear skies above past 80 foot palm trees, cigars blazing, minds sparking over topics such as life, its meaning, and something we agreed could be called "dogmatic scepticism." Don't ask. I got to sleep around midnight, retiring relaxed, content, and centered in a way I haven't felt centered in a long long time. I slept, awoke around 6, went back to sleep, then awoke just enough to plug in my iPod and dial up the audiobook "Five Classic Meditations" by Shinzen Young, working my way through the first mantra meditation, laying down in the amazingly comfy fold-out bed in the backyard cabana. Up after, I dressed to run, then proceeded to jog all the way south on June Street and back. Not a run, mind you--my knees don't like that anymore, but a good solid 50 minute jog. Back here, no one's about but the lawn maintenance folks, and I'm now cooled down from the exercise. I'll have wireless later on this XPS and I'll start uploading my little journal. Writing helps me think, like thinking helps me write. I hope to share some of the discussion we had last night. It really was about the meaning of life.

Like that's ever going to happen.

Tonight I get to sit in on a recording session of one of Jimmy's new tracks. He's compiling original songs for release "when they're cooked." Tomorrow I'll help a group of musicians provide accompaniment for his large yoga class, 40 or 50 folks, and I don't know what else. I hope to spend a great deal of time with Seamus and to hear him play Blackbird on the piano. 11 months after surgery which left him without a lot of things, including the use of his right hand and his ability to speak, this alone will be worth the cost of admission. Thanks, honey, and thanks Annemarie, for the flight ticket. It was a little bumpy getting out of Nashville, but smooth sailing after that, and I predict more of the same. Later.

The rest of Friday: Showered and dressed in jeans and tee-shirt I opened the cabana door to signal I was up, then sat to start writing this. When I was finished, I looked up and Seamus was making his way through the house's back door to me. Barefoot, bald, and beautiful, he said "Happy Birthday, Scotty." I held back tears and said in my silly shaky Johnny Cash voice, "Seaaaaaaaaaamus" and hugged him. He presented me with a beautiful handmade birthday card,
It has colored puffballs on it and a single white feather. Inside, handwritted with purple marker on the shiny black paper, it says, "Happy Birthday, I hope your Birthday is the Best Ever." I hugged him for along time, a little awkwardly. I realized then how little I really know this little guy. I resolve to work on that.

Riad cooked us some luscious buckweat pancakes (I need a package of that from Whole Foods for home!) and I topped mine with the sweetened syrupy strawberries she had prepared for that purpose. Seamus sat with us, a bit tired and sad over the fact that his playdate a little later is to be cut short by his friend William's commitment to a ballet class. Riad later explained that much of his emotional turmoil is chemo driven. That and his struggling gait when walking and more can be attributed to the powerful array of drugs he's taken to ensure the cancer has left his little body. Just before this round of chemo, Jimmy told me later, he was becoming more himself, his hair beginning to return, his voice less shaky, and his moods stronger. Then here we went all over again, his body forced to fight against drugs that are geared to kill everything they come in contact with, including cells and muscles and nerves repairing from the trauma of the surgery that removed his brain tumor 11 months ago. Twice more he must undergo that cycle before, the battle called, he can look forward to healing on a trajectory that will bring back himself, the recovered Seamus. If things go on schedule, he'll be done in August, get his clean bill of health, and begin that trajectory. That'll be the day. That'll be the day.

After breakfast, I was treated to 45 minutes or so of the work my favorite married couple is just now picking up after the medical crises of the past year, their film "Showing Up: A Documentary about The Audition." You can get a taste of what this is about at http://showingupmovie.com, where they've parked their work whilst the digital cutting room floor fills up with digital clips and the film takes shape under Riad's talented FinalCut Pro direction. 60 actors told their stories in 10 or 20 separate film clips apiece, filmed professionally face-on in locations from LA to New York to North Carolina. It's absolutely amazing, and to watch portions of it coming together on their huge Mac monitor was a treat. Once finished, it will be a gift to the world, to people who have not ever auditioned, because it offers eloquent insights into the practice; and to people who have, because it will help them know that they are not alone. Its viewing will be required assignment in acting classes and film classes for decades to come. That's my prediction and I'm sticking to it.

They were funny through the morning, excitedly pulling me into the office to see the latest segment that had been pulled together from clips in the 6 or so thematic groups they've identified. "You sure you can stand to watch some more?," they'd ask? I could have watched the segments I'd just watched over and over again: It's that good.

Seamus's friend William came and they played on the Wii, the boys laughing and shouting in the living room as their digital characters careened over the terrain until crashing into digital waters to end a player's turn. Later they would break out more Legos. When Jimmy and I left to work out at Gold's Gym, they were sitting at the coffee table eating mac and cheese, surrounded by Lego constructions.

We worked out, Jimmy on an elliptical and me on a stationery bike, Rush on the iPod, Guitar Magazine on the rack in front of me, for 40 minutes before heading back home, where I checked email and caught up, more or less, with my ISTE work. I'm detached from it here. I like that feeling but I also look so forward to the conference in Denver that I see this break as a godsend respite.

Around six o'clock we headed out to the car and to Jonathan Baker's studio, 10 minutes away in the detached garage of his home off Sunset Boulevard. That's what I'll write about next, after getting to sleep at 3 this morning (Saturday), awakening at 7, uploading pics to the laptop from digicam and FlipVideo, and then taking a jog, which I'm doing just as soon as I dress and stretch. This time I'll take the real camera so I can grab some of those California spring flowers. More later...

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