I am listening to this way too late at night, so emotions are raw. When Sheryl talks about data giving her comfort it seems like a strange process. When she talks about her Jewishness, the way Adam taught her to imagine things even worse - and ultimately finding a way forward with her life - there is great strength. The bottom line here is that when we are so raw we are also the most alive. You can be alive without grief, but the most intense moments of sadness allow us to appreciate the joy in our daily lives even more. The key is stop and hear and smell and taste how precious the smallest joys in our lives are. Or....as Krista Tippett quotes Annie Dillard, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."
The extraordinary Tammy Hepps has been unearthing the Jewish culture in Homestead Pennsylvania - where my mother's family lived. This is an ad from my great grandfather's clothing store. I never knew Ben Friedlander - but we do share an appreciation of great hats! Tammy's Homestead project is here: http://homesteadhebrews.com/ . I highly recommend checking out all her work - and for Pittsburgh friends, hearing Tammy speak.
Opening day of AAA Little League. Baby Lange #1 is now 9 1/2 and has a triple header. Little League opening day ceremonies. First game right after then. Then straight down to Coor's Field in Denver for the Rockies. HAVE to be there when the doors open. Jackson will race out to center field to catch (and beg) for balls during batting practice. Sometime around 10 or 11 tonight we will pull up in front of the house. Exhausted...baseballed out...but having had a great day together. The day started with a morning walk. Jackson was in his new uniform. He held my hand the whole way. It can't get any better than this. These are the days my friends....these are the days. Today I also take my first dive into a dream assignment for Dick's Sporting Goods to shoot the emotional side of sports. More. Much more on that later.
George Pitts was bigger than life. Inspiring. Mysterious. Thoughtful and sensitive in a way that touched us all. I wanted to listen to George forever. Imagine how he created his images. Dance in his brilliant shadow.
I got to do one cover for Vibe with George. In LA we shot Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Coolio one afternoon in that studio at Smash Box facing west. Stevie sang "As" for us. Quincey Jones shared his incredible life. Coolio and I created an image that was ripped off by Weird Al (I guess that is some kind of flattery). I pulled out all the stops trying to impress George. He didn't need to say, "astonish me." His presence was something both powerful and magical.
Life is too short. Life is precious. George Pitts touched many of us.
On our wedding weekend, Stephie’s father Steve got up in front of our friends and families the night before the ceremony and did something incredibly powerful and moving. He had changed some of the lyrics to “I Will Walk With You” and sang it accompanied by his double bass and bluegrass band for us. Steve had my same problem of not being great at memorizing things, but he had practiced for weeks for this moment. Still, before the final verse he briefly stumbled and instantly recovered saying, “Stick with me–this is important.” And it was. Not a dry eye accompanied the applause at the end. What he had done was created an emotional center for the whole weekend.
I have thought about that a lot afterwards–how every event needs an emotional center to bring people in and allow them all to embrace each other creating something really special. Being able to connect emotionally allows us to get out of our routines to appreciate how special a moment (or event) can be.
When I was asked to speak at the Facebook Leadership Communications Summit in Menlo Park last week, I felt like my role for the group of marketers and strategists was to step up and create that emotional center. I am used to doing that at my photo and video shoots. Getting up on stage in front of 300 people is another challenge.
I built my talk for emotional connection. I talked about how if we really pay attention to all the details in our lives before breakfast, we can create a foundation for the rest of our day. I talked about really appreciating our lives in a way that is not looking for more, but rather diving deeper.
I showed some of my most personal work. Recently I have started embracing my personal work in new ways and it has led to a string of new assignments perfectly aligned to where my heart and soul are. It is thrilling to be starting these new adventures.
I talked about the tools Facebook and Instagram have built for us to communicate in totally new ways in 2017, but I talked about them like hammers and nails and wood. We have these amazing tools, but now, what are we going to build with them??
Many of the people at the conference shared their struggles with convincing their clients–mostly large global brands–to embrace the opportunities (and tools) we now have to share what makes them amazing. This is not about inventing who they are or creating something that doesn’t exist to represent them. It simply requires digging down deep into the stories that never get told and taking the pictures that never get taken. I talked about the value in telling the best stories that often never see the light of day. I was told over and over, “Easy for you to say–you come in and see those stories so clearly. Not everyone can do that.”
As Tom Waits sings in “Foreign Affair” –
when traveling abroad in the continental style
it's my belief one must attempt to be discreet
and subsequently bear in mind your transient position
allows you a perspective that's unique
The discretion is the trust we establish. Trust is necessary for us to do our work, and that demands that we are trustworthy. Our “transient position” is essential for our role as outliers, which allows for our “perspective that’s unique.” We dig down deep into the stories that are sitting right on the end of our nose and capture them for sharing.
My 6 year old Asher was telling me his dream a couple of weeks ago when I asked him what dreams are. He said, “Dad – you know when you close your eyes to sleep and it gets dark? Dreams are what let the light in.”
Our job as creatives is to let the light in with the most personal and intimate approach possible. Communication is about sharing that light.
Viola Davis’s beautiful Oscar acceptance speech last night started out confusing. She said, “There is one place where all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place. And that is the graveyard.” She then continued, “People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed.”
Last Thursday I was sitting in the afternoon sun in the courtyard at Facebook with my treasured friend, Damien Baines. I wish I could record my conversations with Damien, for they are dense and I have a horrible memory. What I remember Damien saying is, “we cannot go forward until we understand our histories.”
I have spent my life trying to live in the moment. Not holding onto the past too much and not looking too far ahead. Knowing that underneath it all, we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and shared histories. With African American history, way too much has been lost. Yet, when I think about trying to understand that past, there is the deepest well of inspiration. The cultural gifts – music, theater, choreography, dance, literature – that have been handed down to all of us from African American artists and authors is more than I can even absorb in one lifetime.
When I squinted into the audience at the Oscars it looked like a sea of white faces. Then the camera zoomed in and as the awards were announced, there were the beautiful African American artists, proud and full of grace in their success and tears. Even if I could never fully comprehend the journey that delivered those artists to that moment, I could still embrace that moment of appreciation and recognition.
Viola Davis continued, ““I became an artist, and thank god I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.”
There is no greater American playwright than August Wilson. I have seen most of his plays– and never a production that did not change my life. Wilson’s plays demand a level of performance that is beyond anything I could ever imagine, yet cast after cast has risen to the level that is demanded and rewarded. I cannot comprehend how challenging it must be to learn –let alone communicate–his astonishing dialogue. He digs deep into the soul of his characters and finds that place that is both normal and extraordinary. The humanity he “exhumes and exalts” is at the heart of all of us.
If we could all see just one August Wilson play our country would be a much better place. “Jitney” is playing in NY right now. “Fences” is on screens big and small. See them. Revel in them. Be grateful we are living in a time of August Wilson and Moonlight and Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali.
We are living in the time of the new James Baldwin documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.” –which Damien insisted I see. You need to see it in a theater while it is still there. For the sound of Samuel Jackson’s voice reading Baldwin’s words–so deep on a great sound system. For the brilliant construction that Raoul Peck built – blending the power of Baldwin’s words and showing how relevant they are today.
Somewhere James Baldwin is exhaling his own perfect circle of smoke.
My father used to have a small transistor radio by his bed. When he woke up in the middle of the night he would put the mono earbud in, and listen to AM radio in Pittsburgh. I don’t know if he listened to news or music or sports - what was on in the middle of the night?
I don’t like waking up in the middle of sleep, but after a while of trying to slow down my brain, I sometimes reach for my own radio..which is my phone that can play way too much to ever find sleep again. I like to listen to people talking at a really low volume. I like to be at a dinner party I was not invited to, but can listen in on. David Remnick on the New Yorker Podcast is amazing. Quiet in depth interviews by David Axelrod on the, “Axe Files”. I listen to “On Being” sometimes (love the recent John Lewis episode). I sometimes listen to “WTF with Marc Moran” - but have to skip the first 20 minutes where he is talking about himself. I have listened to some of the drama podcasts like “Homecoming”, smart takes on history from Malcolm Gladwell’s “REvisionist History” and of course “This American Life” and it’s spin off, “Serial”.
Then there is all the politics - which I should NOT be listening to in the middle of the night.
Lately I have been obsessed with a podcast 3 Obama speechwriters have created called, “Pod Save America.” They describe their podcast as, “ a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor.” I started with their Obama interview, which was his last as president. This week they talk about what it was like working with President Obama as his speechwriters. The whole podcast is really brilliant, but towards the end they gave me a gift. It was this, “There is an America that is dying and it is going out with a super nova. Some stars just die and fade away, but others explode brightly before they disappear. Trump is is a supernova of a kind of politics we are saying goodbye to. The future is on our side. Let’s make it so.” I needed to hear this to put this whole political nightmare in some kind of perspective. Listen to this episode. You will learn a lot - and afterwards you will sleep much better.
I have been trying to get some fiction into the mix - not in the background but front and center. One way is to get lost in the boy's dreams. This morning Asher was telling me about a "bad dream". He said we went on a hike and got to the top of a mountain. (love that part!). He then describes the most beautiful sky - pinks and yellows and puffy clouds. But then, when he picked up a camera and tried to take a picture - everything beautiful disappeared. When I asked him if that means we should not take pictures - but rather look at it and try to remember it - he said, "No. Daddy, how many pictures have you taken??"
Part of me is dreaming of starting an extermination company to get all this Trump crap out of my dining room and kitchen, out of my bedroom and my dreams (/nightmares). He is taking way too much oxygen out of my home. I know this is making us stronger and focussed and more vocal and more alive. Still...Darth Bannon and his puppet are slinging too much shit around my life. It is like a giant political factory polluting all the air we breathe.
The antidote is making our voices heard. Speaking up and out. Also - allowing some beauty and inspiration into our lives in new ways. John Lewis's conversation with Krista Tippet is brilliant and offers some tools to fight back. Lewis explains, " It’s the power to believe that you can see, that you visualize, that sense of community, that sense of family, that sense of one house. If you live that you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house. If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you it is already there. And during the early days of the movement, I believed that the only true and real integration for that sense of the beloved community existed within the movement itself. Because in the final analysis, we did become a circle of trust, a band of brothers and sisters. So it didn’t matter whether we’re black or white. It didn’t matter whether you came from the North, to the South, or whether you’re a Northerner or Southerner. We were one."
I turned off the news for a moment yesterday and listened to Billie Holiday and Lester Young in totally new ways. More art. More music. More life. More community. More faith.
My mother reads every word I write here, so I better get the punctuation right. She called this morning and reminded it was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 92 today. He has been gone since 1998. In terms of his growing any older, time stopped with his last breath. The place I miss him the most is with my boys - and not being able to share them with him. It forces me to double team - being both their father and their grandfather. Being the Dad everyday dealing with all the small stuff - and being the grandfather talking about the things that get lost in the daily shuffle.
My father was into being loved. His life was a lesson in finding love in the most unlikely of places. He went with his brother, a card table, and my mother’s college Smith Corona typewriter to build a home remodeling company in a steel valley outside of Pittsburgh. He knew no one there. He was one of the first Jews any of them had ever met. In the end - he developed friendships that were deep and meaningful and powerful. He fed a whole team of families who worked for him. He could ride through the valley and point out houses, “We done that job….we done that job…” His gift was not business - it was relationships. I get that.
My father was not political - but he did vote democratic and loved this country. My father loved Sinatra and Fitzgerald and Armstrong and Bobby Short. He liked the idea of Vegas - but then couldn’t wait to leave there once we finally arrived. He drove past the Pittsburgh airport everyday going to work and always dreamed of just parking and getting on a plane, although he would never have done that alone. He once claimed he met aliens and had us all convinced. The joke at dinner every night - he would often get home after we had finished - was what we were having was exactly what he had for lunch at work. But it was a joke. Getting a sip of his Pepsi was no joke. On Saturdays he would work a half day and come home with fresh corned beef and a loaf of crusty rye bread. On Sunday’s we went to every home Steeler game together for over a dozen years. I remember little of what happened on the field. I remember everything about sitting next to my father freezing while he drank coffee and smoked cigarettes.
In the last year of his life I flew home one morning when he was in the hospital. When I arrived in his room he sat up and said, “I am not leaving this life until I know that you are happy.” In that instant my life took a radical turn towards happiness. He flipped a switch I never knew how to flip.
My father never met Stephie which seems like such a strange unfolding of circumstance - except for my knowing everyday how much of him she embodies. He would have instantly loved Stephie - in the same way her parents embraced me. Our boys - without even having met their grandfather carry so much of his spirit in everything they do. He is in their DNA. He is in their soul. He is in the way they laugh and treat others.
So when I miss my father, I also know he is alive. In me. In my boys. In Stephie. For sure in my brother and mother. Still it would be more fun sharing all of this with him. And he was really into fun.
I remember sitting on the front steps when I was young looking down the street waiting for my father to come around the bend in one of his fancy leased cars. He had this deal to get a new car every six months - a front wheel drive Toronado, a big Lincoln with the adjacent door handles. I would sit there forever waiting for his car to come around the bend and pull into our driveway. It is probably the most patience I remember ever having been as a child. And then....magically he would pull off Fair Oaks onto Inverness and with a big right hand turn into our driveway. I would run over and give my father the biggest hug. After two hours of driving and a day at work that began before dawn, my father would be totally there. In each other's arms. That was the best feeling in the world. Sometimes when I visit Pittsburgh I sit on those same steps and look down that same street imagining his car turning the corner. Now...with another kind of patience.
Am I not alarmed? Do you share your alarm with your kids as they jump through the snow going to the bus stop? Do you bring it up when you finally get a quiet moment over coffee with your wife? Alarms are ringing all day long listening to NPR, reading the Times ( how dangerously incompetent Trump is proving to be) and Journal (great conservative thinkers welcome the second coming). Alarms going off between my earbuds listening to podcasts, watching Vice news, and talking to neighbors. David Remnick in the New Yorker tries to find a way in (http://www.newyorker.com/…/news…/preserve-protect-and-defend).
Mostly I just want to live my life in peace. I want to be healthy. I want to be loving. I want to dream. I want good things for everyone and am willing to work for freedom and equality and fairness. But what if things start to line up that scare the shit out of us? Do we tamp those thoughts, delete that darkness from our daily social feeds? I read Charles Blow in the Times not because I want to - but because I have to.
Alarms light the fuse, but I cannot live my life worried and depressed. I have to live my life in search of joy. It is how I am wired. The challenge is to be alarmed and moving forward at the same time, that is where we are right now. Despite how foolish this past election was, I still have to be political. I have to speak out and try even harder to listen really intently to understand how we are all still connected. I still have to care. We ARE all still connected. We also understand even more knowing how fragile everything we have is.
Everything is personal. The best stuff is local. VERY local. Like eye to eye, and heart to heart.
Our tradition from the house I grew up in and in my mother's bed for the New Year - all awake (except for Asher who crashed watching my mother's dance school teacher Singin' In The Rain). Happy New Year all from Pittsburgh.