Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allegiance (Broadway Show) … and a look at intolerance then and now

"Allegiance" is the Broadway show based on a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, that takes us inside the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II. My awareness of the play, and I admit, my primary reason for initially buying a ticket, was due to GeorgeTakei, who I follow for his humorous posts on Facebook, and who plays the older Sam Kimura and Ojii-chan. When I became aware that Lea Salonga was starring in the role of Kei Kimura, my interest as a Broadway fan peaked. I had not seen "Miss Saigon," for which Ms. Salonga won a Tony Award, so this was an opportunity to see one of Broadway's finest.

I left the theater pleasantly surprised. While my expectations were that Salonga would be brilliant, I was unsure what to expect from the show itself, and even Mr. Takei. Lea Salonga, who is one of the shining lights of Broadway, exhibits why in this performance. Her vocals are stunning; her portrayal of Kei both heartfelt and true. She is worth the price of any Broadway ticket all on her own merit.

"Allegiance" offers so much more than just Ms. Salonga. George Takei is funny, warm and quite strong in both his roles. He more than holds his own with the remaining cast. Young Sammy Kimura is played well by Telly Leung, who exhibited good vocal and acting performances. A standout for me was Katie Rose Clarke, in the role of Hannah Campbell (previously in the role of Glinda in "Wicked"), whose voice was forceful and who also contributed a fine stage presence.

"Allegiance" is a message of idealism, keeping eyes open enough to realize not everything is black and white, the dangers of patriotism for America without being willing to see its warts and imperfections, and of love. That love comes in many forms, be it for country, culture, family, or individual. "Allegiance" tells us there can be redemption, despite the casualties of war and intolerance.

The show is emotional on so many levels, some described more fully below. If you are not shedding a tear or two by its conclusion, check yourself for a pulse.

"Allegiance" itself was quite entertaining. The choreography and staging was well done, some musical numbers, especially when Salonga led the way, left a lasting impression, and humor was sprinkled throughout. On the other hand, some lyrics might have been a bit cliched and a few performances were stilted.

But the most important aspects of "Allegiance" revolve around the timely messages it dispenses. I write this review one day after the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which as of this writing number 129 dead and several hundred wounded. It also comes in an environment of political campaigning and social unrest, especially in the U.S., but also in Europe in intermittent intervals, where rightwing rhetoric feeds fear, intolerance and extremism against immigrants from Mexico (in the case of the U.S.) and from the Middle East and Northern Africa (mostly in Europe, but also, again, in the U.S.).

The cautionary tale of the Japanese-American internment roughly 70 years ago echoes throughout as a warning against reacting to tragedy, terror and radical ideology with overreaction. I am no pacifist, and support reasonable security measures and even military action when appropriate and well-thought out. But the response to an extreme should never be with a returned extreme. Justifiable anger, grief and, yes, forceful responses to terrorism in no way legitimize bigotry, blanket presumptions of guilt based upon religion, race, creed, or color, intolerance, and non-acceptance of multiculturalism.

Where once we saw Japanese-Americans as only Japanese, and therefore the enemy, today, we see Muslims and Arabs in much the same vein. Strength is understandable; allowing fear and intolerance to rule the day is only self-defeating.

I highly recommend seeing "Allegiance." If you are a hardcore Broadway affecionado, you will not be disappointed. If you're a George Takei fan, enjoy! As a student of history or an interested party as to exploring race relations and intolerance, "Allegiance" will most assuredly provide food for thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poem: The Girl With M.S.

We touch people. I did not wish to get cancer, and I would be quite happy to have never had that experience. But because of it, I am stronger. Because of it, I met and befriended other survivors. Okay, because of it, I tilt a bit more to the right, too. Get it?

Facebook is a weird creature. It can be addictive, mindless and a sounding board for the worst of who we as a society can be. But it also re-ignites old friendships, lets us know what other people are up to and introduces us to amazing, amazing individuals.

I met Jen and Pier on Facebook, and their raising of a young boy with autism is courageous and daunting and inspiring. Through them, I met Jamie. Jamie has M.S. She also has unyielding determination, fearless honesty, a depth of character few can match, a wonderful sense of humor, and a beautiful family.

Each day on the walls of Facebook, I read stories about her struggle with M.S., her silly moments with her husband, Tony, and her two children, and a constant stream of the most smile-inducing videos on the internet.

People who never give up, even when they are completely exhausted, are heroic figures. People who admit to their darkest moments, show us their struggles so we can be stronger through them, and who laugh and cry in a way that invites us to join them in all their emotions, are teachers, figurative Buddhas offering life lessons through their being nothing more than who they are.

So I was inspired. I wrote the poem below. Jamie has a blog called "Ugly Like Me," and wrote this to accompany the poem. Her words made me laugh and cry in the best ways; typical Jamie.

One thing Jamie does not know about me, and please, Jamie, when you read this, don't change what you wrote, is I have shared some of my cancer story. You can find my words here, here, here, and here. I do need to put more out into the world about my struggles with depression and anxiety; give me time. Poems on both can be found here and here.

Without further adieu, because we've had quite enough adieu, a poem:

The Girl With M.S.

The girl with M.S.
Is much more than that.
Narrow description,
One learns over time.
Still, introduction.
A place to begin.

The girl with M.S.
Inspires my own strength.
Smiles when faced with “life.”
Yet weakness revealed;
And that is okay.

The girl with M.S.
Teaches me courage.
Also, frailty;
Needing love’s support
Of family and
A community
And those she touches
With her charm, wisdom;
Goofiness, spirit

The girl with M.S.
Is much more than that.
The world can see her;
Learning bountiful,
Blessed principles;
Being someone with,
Or without, M.S.

Copyright SGW 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Poem: Sally's Voice

Sally’s Voice

Do you hear my voice
Whispering over these paths
In the hallways and backrooms
I am your original sin
Your hypocrisy

I bore you children
As your possession
Was there love
Could there be
When one isn’t free to love
They fear
And succumb
While numb within the vulgarity

Masked or confused affection
Gave myself to your need
Or you took who I was
Until the legacy of slavery
Mixed blood
Varied shades

And time marched on
With my descendants
Waiting for full equality
Where chains, whips and oppression
Became societal bigotry, institutional racism
Rigged juries and cries of “Black Lives Matter”

Where does it end

Do you hear my voice
Whispering over these paths
In the hallways and backrooms
I am your original sin
Your hypocrisy

From Sally Hemings to Sandra Bland
All men, and women, were created equal
They shall have their day

Copyright SGW 2015

Footnote: Written in the Garden Pavilion on the grounds of Monticello; my favorite spot there (Also, Jefferson's favorite for writing, reading and thinking.). Sally Hemings began to speak to me a bit the night before and then this flowed while visiting Thomas Jefferson's home.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee (Novel)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is my favorite book. That is as good a place as any to begin discussing “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s second (though written first) published novel. Who can argue the greatness of “Mockingbird?” It must find its spot in any discussion of great, classic American, or worldwide, literature.

I would also mention at this point that I have read no reviews or commentaries on the new book, though I am aware of the uproar it has caused regarding Atticus Finch. I read “Watchman” and have processed my thoughts with as small an outside influence as I could manage.

If “To Kill a Mockingbird” did not exist, “Go Set a Watchman” would be easier to take measure of. It would be deemed an exceedingly good, but not great, book, though it tends to go off into the realm of political and social commentary polemic at times, especially in the latter stages of the story. Of course, Harper Lee was writing on the heels of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that shook the southern world in ways it has still not come to terms with. The story sometimes strays into abstract concepts, too, becoming a challenge to follow and fully grasp.

Leading up to the release of “Watchman” there was considerable discussion as to whether or not Harper Lee wanted this story told to the public. I will delve into this in more detail shortly, but for now, I offer the thought that I find it odd that a writer of Lee’s quality would be comfortable with the minor inconsistencies between “Mockingbird” and “Watchman;” examples being the historical founding of Maycomb and some aspects of Alexandra Finch, Atticus’s sister. More troublesome are substantial conflicts between the two books that are wholly irreconcilable such as in the Tom Robinson rape trial’s verdict and Henry Clinton’s role as “oldest friend” from Scout Finch’s childhood.

There are also instances of sloppy editing. The Ms. Tuffet/Mr. Muffet confusion and one clear line where “I” is used for first person in a manner that was not Scout’s internal dialogue were two cases that stood out.

Some of what makes “Watchman” better than I believe most people will credit it for are related to the problems I have with the book. While “Watchman” does not have Scout as its narrator, Jean Louise does remain its focus. And as she unravels the “hidden” truths of Atticus Finch and much of Maycomb itself, is it possible all of this was apparent in Scout’s childhood, but being a child who worshipped her father, she was incapable, or unwilling, to see his warts and flaws? Since we were reading “Mockingbird” through her eyes, we were perhaps blinded to the realities around Scout, too.

With each discovery of Atticus’s racism, and Jean Louise’s corresponding disgust, pain, loss, contempt, and confusion in encountering them, the reader is meant to sense the same. We are left heartbroken in the wake of Atticus’s betrayal. Even Calpurnia’s justified walls around herself after her grandson’s arrest bring feelings of anguish to the reader.

But the Atticus of “Watchman,” a man now in his early 70’s, is also unrecognizable given “Mockingbird.” And it is hard to believe this is simply due to Scout’s perception of her father. Here I question most strongly whether Harper Lee wanted “Watchman” published. Though this story attempts to explain the Finch of his early years as being no more than a respecter of the rule of law, it is hard to imagine the man in “Mockingbird” being limited in this manner. Atticus Finch went far beyond that characterization in his treatment of blacks, both in word and deed. It is my contention that Lee wrote during the fervor of the post-Brown times, saw her work as too much a social commentary and less a moving story, and put the book aside for a reason. “Mockingbird’s” brilliance lies not only in its lyricism, but in the sweetness of Scout’s story balanced against the troubles of the time. “Watchman” loses this balance.

Uncle Jack, Dr. Finch, is a better man in “Watchman,” but here, too, Lee allows for a longwinded and forced Civil War apologia that, while offering speckles of truth, is simply a bridge too far. And while many southerners, both pre-Civil War and since the Civil Rights movement gained force, ran the states’ rights arguments up the proverbial flagpole (the Confederate flag?), and attempted to cover their racism, both apparent and in the shadows, Lee allows for an excess of “explanation” for Atticus’s and Maycomb’s attitudes. She comes dangerously close in a number of instances to justifying them.

At the end of the day, Jean Louise Finch is able to maintain her integrity in the face of an onslaught of “this is who we are” poppycock and states’ rights rationalizations. Both the climactic confrontation between Jean Louise and Atticus, and the ultimate manner in which Jean Louise comes to something less than an understanding with her father, ring true and real. While we lose one of our oldest and dearest figures, Atticus Finch, Harper Lee does not take Scout from us. We loved her in “Mockingbird,” and we preserve this affection as we close the pages on “Watchman.”

Ultimately, though, my struggle remains with whether or not Harper Lee truly wanted “Go Set a Watchman” published. As stated above, as a standalone novel, it is not to be dismissed and will likely be with us in discussion and literary study for a long, long time. But it is not a book without a partner. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is joined to it, and in a manner that calls much into question. Did Lee see “Watchman’s” deficiencies and put it aside permanently? After publishing “Mockingbird,” did she know both books could not reasonably co-exist? Atticus Finch cannot be both the “Mockingbird” man in his 50’s and the “Watchman” figure in his 70’s. They are too distinct. I hope I am wrong. I fear the veracity of my conclusions are where the truth lies.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Poem: Twisted


In writing of Oz
One does what one does
With L. Frank Baum’s book as the source
The players all known
The house Kansas-thrown
And Yellow Brick Road sets the course

The Wizard as friend
On Glinda depend
That Wicked Witch West looming dark
Yet shadings of gray
Or green on display
The matter at hand is less stark

Elphaba her name
Her true claim to fame
Unmasking oppressive regime
Must never assume
Why she’d taken to broom
For we’ve all our own sins to redeem

To click those heels thrice
Suggest you think twice
And don’t opt for highlighted brick
Choose your direction
With earnest reflection
So true to that path you should stick

My message as such
No matter how much
You’re given to singular choice
All your decisions
Have room for revisions
And don’t trust the noisiest voice

Copyright SGW 2015

Footnote:  Based on “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire and “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Poem: Ambiguous


Formulate a hypothesis
Sit here quite anonymous
Don’t tell me it’s preposterous
Watched lions hunt rhinoceros (On “Big Cat Diary”)
Sometimes thoughts feel bottomless
Rise within my consciousness
Repetition becomes monotonous
Lost in the metropolis
Devout await apocalypse
Irrational their prophetess
It’s all a vast necropolis
Behold the cold sarcophagus
Comes across as ludicrous
The weight of it is ponderous
One percent of us is phosphorus (Google it!)
Total friggin’ awesomeness
The world is often monstrous
Yet equal parts so wondrous
Voices singing sonorous
Crescendo to the thunderous
Approach an end so ominous
Love no less than pompitous

Copyright SGW 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Poem: Tree Pollen

Tree Pollen

Trees are a beauty of our natural world
Magnificent forests through their growth are unfurled
Needed for life in multitude image
Landscapes of greens as a picturesque visage


For three weeks in spring they’re my most mortal foe
When tree pollen falls and soft breezes blow
Tree reproduction produces miserable condition
Nothing relieves whether pill, drops, physician
Eyes start to itch ‘till I rub the skin red
Nose is congested as to weigh down my head
Sneeze, and I sneeze, then I sneeze yet again
Sniffle, nose running, scratch my eyes, sneeze and then
More sneezes, more sniffles and my eyes are now blurred
Massive allergic reactions my whole life have occurred
Pollen covers my car and it fills up the air
I sneeze yet once more and no tissue I’ll spare

Copyright SGW 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Engineered Underground," by Melissa Donovan (Book)

I highly recommend this book by author Melissa Donovan. If you enjoy Sci-Fi that will keep you riveted, this book is for you. Plus, how refreshing to see strong, female characters.

Engineered Underground - Metamorphosis-Book-One (Kindle Version) $2.99

Engineered-Underground-Metamorphosis-Book-One (Hard Copy) $12.99  I recommend the hard copy. Books should be held and loved.

Also, check out more from Melissa Donovan at: Writing Forward.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Poem: Paralysis

Wake from the dreams that devolve into fear
Feel the walls close as they corner me near
Exposed to the cuttings of the knives in mind’s eye
Spun with a vision of the grief that seems nigh
Like proverbial deer in the headlights left numb
Paralysis set as the all to become
Sweat beads in patterns filling time’s worried track
Has the moment been met to accept all I lack?
Stare into darkness offering imperceptible choice
Scream for the answers with an indistinct voice

 Copyright SGW 2014

Sunday, February 1, 2015

American Sniper

Let me preface my main comments with a few words. I tend to believe Chris Kyle and I would disagree on politics, the Second Amendment, violence as a general solution to problems, and much more. I also understand that his book is more severe than the movie, which his wife's perspective has apparently softened. Also, I am no fan of Clint Eastwood, who I find to be one of the most overrated people in Hollywood, and a bit of a dick politically.

Having said all of that, "American Sniper" is worth seeing. It is not a pro-war propaganda piece. The harsh realities of war are on full display and Kyle's imperfections are bluntly shown at times. While his good qualities might be embellished somewhat, his flaws are far from hidden. Also, I genuinely believe he was modest about his sniper kills, more concerned with the lives of American soldiers he saved by doing his job and acted in a manner of honor and moral codes of war during his service.

While I appreciate Michael Moore's feelings, resulting from a sniper's killing of a family member in World War II, his views that a sniper is a coward are ridiculous and uncalled for. A sniper in the context of Chris Kyle's service is doing a job that saves the lives of other soldiers, and there is nothing within Kyle's time of service I am aware of that indicates dishonor, war crimes or cowardice.

As for the movie, it does not lead anyone to believe 9/11 was connected to Iraq. In fact, it shows Kyle being driven to serve by the 1998 bombings in Kenya and being affected by 9/11. We all were, so why not him? He served in Iraq, but I would assume that is where he was called to duty.

I opposed the Iraq War, and remain convinced that it was a wholly unnecessary endeavor that led to much unnecessary and pointless death and helped spread Islamic extremism's reach to areas it would not exist in otherwise. I believe members of the Bush Administration acted treasonously by lying about weapons of mass destruction and al Qaeda links. I also feel war crimes were committed at very high levels and by some troops. However, the majority of the soldiers who fought there did so with honor and courage. They deserve our respect. Chris Kyle was one of those soldiers. His service was incredible and he deserves all the honors he received. Calling him an American hero within the context of his military service is completely justifiable.

Bradley Cooper does an excellent job of portraying Kyle. Sienna Miller is equally superb as Kyle's wife. Eastwood has given a fair portrayal of war in Iraq, showing the horror, courage, destruction, and ambivalence of war. He also gives us the impact of that war on the people there who were caught in the middle. Lastly, Kyle's struggle with re-integrating into civilian life is conveyed well and you feel his undertaking to "come home."

I went into the viewing of "American Sniper" expecting to gain "evidence" to criticize Clint Eastwood for making a pro-war movie. I expected to find significant flaws in the character of Chris Kyle. After leaving the theater and reading a bit about the man's life, he clearly had warts. But Chris Kyle was a hero deserving of respect and appreciation for his service. Clint Eastwood has made a quality movie and both Cooper and Miller are outstanding. Nothing here should win an Oscar, but this is a movie worth seeing and talking about. Kyle is worth getting an appreciation of as well.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I don't know if the movie "Selma" is an Oscar-winning worthy movie, or if its lead actor, David Oyelowo, and director, Ava DuVernay, should win either. Personally, my votes would lie elsewhere. I also wish a powerful, history-based film would have been more true to that history, especially as regards President Lyndon Johnson.

However, "Selma" is an extraordinarily important film and it merits strong praise and commendation. As I sat watching the movie, the most important thing that entered my mind was the reminder of the struggles that had to be fought, and are continuing today. 

The bravery that so many anonymous people displayed in the Civil Rights movement is astounding. To have the fortitude to walk into a government office to register to vote in Alabama in the 60's, or to lead marches and rallies while Klansman salivated nearby over the opportunity to beat and lynch you, or to stand up to incredible power and force and say, "I will not go quietly," is remarkable for its courage. 

We can remember Dr. King and other famous figures. But we cannot forget the countless, unnamed people who were bruised, battered, hosed, attacked by dogs, lynched, shot, and bombed all in the name of simple and basic equality.

So as I left the theater, my hope became that "Selma" might be a movie that is shown to schoolchildren all over the nation. That viewing would be followed by long discussions on Dr. King, President Johnson and the entire Civil Rights movement, and then connected to our modern times in the on-going struggle for full equality for blacks ... and Hispanics, gays, women ...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

It is time to put an end to radical, extremism in all religions. Islam is currently the worst strain, but all three major religions need to keep their beliefs to themselves on a personal level.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Poem: Evil's Triangle

Evil’s Triangle

Do not speak to me of holiness,
Or piety.
Wretched and weak, the soul
And mind
Of the mindless worshipper;
Following works; myths, illusions.
To remind you that you stand for something;
Something destructive,
As you inflict upon others divisiveness, fear, intolerance,
And subservient obedience.

This leads me to ask what you follow?
A madman who heard voices and was a slaughterer?
Or the twisted fabric of stories wound by a malevolent force?
The Church.
For if Jesus existed; a question, he was not this Christ;
Your creation.
Now of bigotry, smallness and corruption.
Devoid of God.
Finally, the radicalism of the Chosen zealots.
Fiction’s account.
Oppressive, obsessive and possessive of “righteous” land,
Tainted completely.
Stubbornly held devotion … to … to … to
Religious insanity.

Copyright SGW 2015

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Poem: Flexible Thinking

This is a poem about how we, as a society, view those who are "different" than most, specifically people with mental illnesses.

Flexible Thinking

The world creates footprints having us walk as assigned
Whether the path’s one we’ve chosen becomes poorly defined
What is considered as different seems confining in space
Judgments lacking of depth rather made with much haste
The inner workings of minds don’t tend to follow set planning
Divergent formation is forever wide-spanning
Understanding’s required and we all must remember
Isolation of variation is a greatest offender
Seen in each person is an aspirational composition
Growth, respect, wellness build sincere recognition

Copyright SGW 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Poem: Feline


Portrayed as a villain
Yet conflicted dimension
Anti-heroine persona
Defies comprehension

Circumstance driven
Complexity shaped
Hardships evolve
Until can’t be escaped

Run in the shadows
Night as companion
Driven by purpose
Or reckless abandon?

Nine lives since granted
Cat burglar’s touch
Declaring the victim
Lacking focus as such

Copyright SGW 2014

And read Melissa Donovan's poem, Catwoman, on the same subject.