FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE

FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE
By Ron Steelman
5-20-18

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week:
(I have stolen this opening line from the blog posts of a writer/artist whose blog I follow, Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like An Artist.”)

1.  As an actor I was trained in classic repertory theaters. I acted in over a hundred professional productions including Shakespeare, many classic plays, and numerous modern American classics. However, the comedies were my first love. You can keep the tragedies and the dramas and the histories. Which leads me to this quote from a 95-year-old comedy genius:

                       “Laughter adds time to your life.”
                                      – Norman Lear

We don’t have hard proof of this, but a few years back there was an article with some anecdotal evidence about how long famous comedians lived. Their lives consisted of writing, testing and performing jokes. If they laughed, then they knew the audience would. The article is here in Psychology Today. Also, studies show people can learn to embrace the absurdity of life at any age, see Scientific American.

2.
  Having spent a good deal of my life as an actor, I wouldn’t encourage my children to go into the theater. I’d just have to tie them up and keep them in the attic until they came to their senses (you know I’m kidding, of course). But I saw this recently and it has something to do with being human.
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3.  There’s so much I didn’t know about poet Walt Whitman and his classic poem, Leaves of Grass. For example:  “(the) responses to different aspects of the poem – its understanding of nature, its celebration of sexuality, its advocacy of a radical equality and democracy.”  This is from a book review of Poet as Prophet: The Religious Whitman and His Disciples, by David E. Anderson.  He begins with a little historical perspective: “Before the twentieth century there was a long tradition of the poet as prophet and seer, and poetry as a form of religious language.” 

walt-whitman-wikipediaFrom Wikipedia:Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Although the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first, a small book of twelve poems and the last, a compilation of over 400.”

But enough of me. Read David E. Anderson’s review here.


4.
From my “I Love Quotes” Department:

‘I get tired of God getting credit for all the things the human race achieves.’
– Lorraine Hansberry, “Raisin in the Sun” (words ascribed to Beneatha)


5.  
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
     – Leo Rosten, “The Myths by Which We Live”

6.   Ricky Gervais – Religion Explained in Two Minutes.

We should not be pushing religion on children. That may sound shocking at first, especially if you were brought up going to religious services every week as a child. But listen to his logic. 

 

7.  The following title made no sense to me until I read this short article. Grief and mourning is something we all deal with, both the religious and the non-religious. You may have never thought about it, but we all lose family and friends and we need to find ways to deal with it.

 

8. “When I Think Of Death”– Maya Angelou

“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.'”


9.  On Being 72

Mark_Twain_Tonight_Album_CoverToday I’m actually 72!

I grew up in Columbus, OH, and when I was 18 or so, I transcribed a track from the 1959, 33- rpm Broadway album of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight. I had performed in ten plays while in high school, several times playing old men. I had my old geezer voice perfected. Therefore, it did not seem out of character for me to mimic Mr. Holbrook’s version of the famous Twain speech.  I made my own recording of “How to be 70” on a small reel-to-reel audio tape ( I wish I still had that recording). That was one of two audition recordings I sent to a performing arts college in San Diego, CA, hoping to get accepted. Although San Diego was way out there on the left coast, I had visited my aunt and uncle there and various relatives several times, so I was not worried about leaving Columbus at all. I loved California and surfing life. I have to admit that I never surfed myself. My cousin Mike did.  I figured I’d try it if I got back out there again (and got the nerve). My bag was packed and waiting by the front door. I received the acceptance letter and I was thrilled. Then I read a little further in the letter. They offered me a “1/2” scholarship. Trouble was, my Dad had been out of work for an extended illness and my parents couldn’t afford the other “1/2.” So long Southern California, Hollywood, and the beach. So long slick new cool surf board (not). Anyway, it was heartening to learn that somebody was willing to pay me to act. Kinda. At least “1/2” worth.

I learned so much about acting from Hal Holbrook, and so much about timing. He also taught me a lot about Mark Twain.

So even though I’m two years past 70 now, I could listen to masterful Mr. Holbrook play Mark Twain any day of any year. Enjoy.

Mark Twain Tonight – How to be 70 (couldn’t find the video, but here’s the audio)

 

10. Here are two clips. One is from a Mark Twain Tonight performance by Hal Holbrook. The other is Michael Eisner ( the Disney guy) talking to Hal Holbrook at 90.

 

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Encouragement to Keep Living

Encouragement to Keep Living
by Ron Steelman
3-23-18


In my last two posts I highlighted the Principles of Humanism. As an actor, writer, director, and producer, my entire life has been all about creativity. So, it’s probably not a surprise that I have cherry-picked these two Humanist principles out of the list to begin this post:

◊ We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

◊ We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.



Who Is Austin Kleon?

My musician/artist brother, Scott, introduced me to Austin’s book, “Steal Like An Artist.” But today I’m dying to tell you how much I am enjoying his weekly newsletters. They are packed with many links and comments about art and creativity and books and films and music and, and, and, and. When it arrives I happily find numerous things that intrigue me. 

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Austin Kleon

Kleon is an artist/writer who lives in Austin, Texas. . .in the same neighborhood where that insane terrorist (locally bred) put a number of deadly bombs in places so that people would get killed. He did and they did. Clearly, Kleon and his family are still quite shaken.

The link that caught my eye in Kleon’s newsletter this week was simply the word, “Bach.” I was curious because his newsletters are filled with surprises, so I clicked it to see where it would take me. Taa-Dah! It was his short essay about dealing with all the violence we face in life, and about how the beauty of Bach’s music gives him hope.

Kleon closes with, “Artists like Bach do us the greatest service of any true artist: they give us encouragement to keep living, to keep going.”

I have no idea if Austin is at all religious or even a humanist. That doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I believe human creativity is in all of us. Austin is extremely creative. Your creativity can manifest itself in many different ways. And this is very important, your creativity is not “a God-given talent.” It is simply a facet of your humanity. It is not magic, and yet it is magical.

At the end of Austin’s essay is a video with pianist James Rhodes that you must watch. I almost quit right after the music, but you mustn’t do that. Rhodes gives a little pitch saying that you too can learn to play Bach. He also describes the beauty of Bach’s music, why it is so beautiful, and why it makes him so happy. And it worked. Bach and Rhodes made me happy as well.

Austin Kleon’s “Prelude”

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PLEASE DON’T BE SHOCKED . . .when I say I’m an atheist

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I always like to point out to people that there are many famous atheists in every profession. To demonstrate that fact, I have prepared a short list of classical composers, many of whom were obliged to create religious music simply to pay their bills, yet they were sincere atheists. Why are there so many atheist composers?

You might expect scientists to be atheists because they haven’t found any proof that there is a God. However, I think many “creative types” may be predisposed to atheism as well. This is pure speculation on my part (or possibly the ramblings of an idiot savant). I think the creative process allows the mind to explore all possibilities – including the denial of the existence of a supernatural being. Once accomplished, that denial sure eliminates a ton of spiritual baggage.

I have included several modern atheist composers as well, just to see if you can find them in the list.

THE LIST:

Béla Bartók

Hector Berlioz

Georges Bizet

Johannes Brahms

Claude Debussy

Frederick Delius

Brian Eno

Leoš Janáček

Tom Lehrer

Tim Minchin

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Maurice Ravel

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Richard Rodgers

Camille Saint-Saëns

Franz Peter Schubert

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Richard Wagner

Vaughan Williams

Frank Zappa
(yes, he was a serious composer of modern classical music)

Smile_No_Hell_Black

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Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?

Bill Murray Philosopher / Humanist?
by Ron Steelman

I never thought of Bill Murray as a philosopher. I simply viewed him as an actor, a top notch, one-of-a-kind, always surprising clown, who can morph into a serious character on a dime. I greatly admire his acting skills, particularly his later work. Bill MurrayWhat a screwball! He has evolved into a highly regarded actor, one able to create rich characters that reveal many layers of their humanity. He loves to never do what you’d expect of him, both on screen and in real life. I believe that’s what makes him unique
. . .and funny.

As my wife read aloud an article about Mr. Murray in the Sunday, December 2nd Arts section of the New York Times, we chuckled, cackled, and guffawed. A portion of it included an interview with Bill, which was revelatory. My take is that aspects of his personal philosophy seem very Humanist-like. Now I understand how he employs this worldview in his acting. In fact, it’s this sense of reality that makes him so funny and such a great success.

Is he really a humanist? I don’t know. I doubt if you could ever get a straight answer out of him. He’s a master at avoiding direct answers to questions. I do know he’s a lapsed Catholic who is reported to have said, “Religion is the worst enemy of mankind. No single war in the history of humanity has killed as many people as religion has.” Therefore, I think he is now somewhat post-theological (I’ll correct this if he calls to complain). In the Times article his philosophy reveals a gentle compassion towards others, and a belief in hope. Compassion and hope are two of the three pillars of Humanism: reason, compassion, and hope. Well, that’s two out of three anyway. We’ll leave the discussion of his view of “reason” till he calls to explain.

After reading the excerpt from the Times article, please watch the YouTube video below. As usual, Murray’s plan is to never do what you’d expect of him, while sprinkling a little compassion into his interpersonal communication skills.
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(Excerpts from🙂
THE NEW YORK TIMES
With Bill Murray, Just Take the Trip

By DAVE ITZKOFF
Published: November 28, 2012

…”Q. That seems to be a philosophy you apply not only to your work but to your entire life.

A. Well, I’ve made some mistakes in that area too. The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself.”
____________

(describing his authentic self.)

A. …”I spoke about the first time I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and I was a big Cubs fan, and I watched all the games on TV, but when I grew up, TV was in black and white. So when I was 7 years old, I was taken to my first Cubs games, and my brother Brian said, “Wait, Billy,” and he put his hands over my eyes, and he walked me up the stairs. And then he took his hands away. [He begins to get choked up.] And there was Wrigley Field, in green. There was this beautiful grass and this beautiful ivy. I’d only seen it in black and white. It was like I was a blind man made to see. It was something.”
____________

…”Q. There seems to be so much serendipity in your life. Are you actively cultivating these moments or just hoping that they come to you?

A. Well, you have to hope that they happen to you. That’s Pandora’s box, right? She opens up the box, and all the nightmares fly out. And slams the lid shut, like, “Oops,” and opens it one more time, and hope pops out of the box. That’s the only thing we really, surely have, is hope. You hope that you can be alive, that things will happen to you that you’ll actually witness, that you’ll participate in. Rather than life just rolling over you, and you wake up and it’s Thursday, and what happened to Monday? Whatever the best part of my life has been, has been as a result of that remembering.”

Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”?

A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.”
_____________

…”Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?

A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.”
______________

YouTube: Bill Murray on David Letterman
This clip demonstrates some of Bill Murray’s wacky philosophy:


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A couple of online comments about Bill Murray on this Letterman appearance:

“This guy is just charm incarnate. The sweetest, funniest man on earth. You can feel the shyness too, which is just like the cherry on the cake”

“This world is going to collapse in on itself when this man dies…”
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Some of Steelman’s favorite Bill Murray films:

– Moonrise Kingdom
– Get Low
– The Darjeeling Limited
– Lost In Translation
– Groundhog Day
– What About Bob
– Hyde Park On The Hudson (soon to be released. . .I’m sure I’ll love him as FDR)

Bill Murray as FDR

Bill Murray as FDR – by Nicola Dove/Focus Features

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Humanist Poetry?

Humanist Poetry?
By Ron Steelman
_________________________

I said, “Why are we doing this?”

Brother Scott said, “It’s just a gift, that’s all.”

I liked the simplicity of that. Even though I’m a devout skeptic, I couldn’t find any reason to object.

Scott said, “You pick some of the poems from the book, the ones that speak to you, and record them. Send the files to me and I’ll score some background music. We’ll put them
on a CD by Thanksgiving and Paul will take it to his dad, the poet, up in Woodstock, New York.”

I selected the poems I liked, rehearsed, and then recorded them — sitting in my pantry with beach towels masking the food on three sides. It makes a good sound booth with dead air, perfect for recording.

As I read the poems they made me think about how universal the human experience is. These poems were not my poems, yet they seemed to dig down and explore aspects of the human spirit to which we all can relate. These poems have nothing to do with secular humanism, but they have everything to do with being human. This isn’t a naive revelation about poetry, but rather a reminder to me that Humanism espouses the arts. The human creativity involved in this project is a demonstration of that philosophy.

The following statements are from  Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles. Whenever I read through the Affirmations I linger over these two statements, pondering my life, much of it spent in the arts:
“• We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
• We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.”

My response is always, “Yes, yes, yes, Arts change lives!” The more we experience music, dance, theater, poetry, literature, art — the more we come to realize that we are all one.  As Humanists:
“• We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.”

Paul read two of his father’s poems. Scott read one. Plus, Scott introduced the text-to-voice character, the irreverent Glot Schpeilman. Bob’s poetry will never be the same.

Scott’s skillful musical scoring frames these poems, carefully supporting every word. His music is not background music, but rather, something called “magic.”

Enjoy.

CD Label

Turn up your speakers and play here.


CD Tracks