I hope you enjoy the short video I created about my love for live theater and the Orlando Fringe Festival.
We need Archie Bunker to save America. Even though he was a fictional character of an uneducated, narrow-minded, right-wing, homophobic racist bigot, he spoke to us all during the turmoil of the Vietnam War, the Sexual Revolution, and Watergate, and we all loved him, or we at least loved hating him. Growing up in the 1970’s, I remember that iconic theme song as each week my family would watch Archie clash with his hippie son-in-law, Michael, (a.k.a: “Meathead”), his feminist daughter, Gloria, his long-suffering wife, Edith, and a parade of relatives and neighbors. Through their conflicts they struggled with the social and political upheaval of the time.
At a time when many were losing faith in the institutions of American life, and many feared our nation wouldn’t survive, Archie was there every week being his loud and obnoxious self. Despite his divisive ideas and arguments, he brought us together and carried us through in a way that no other character of the time did. It didn’t matter if you were a liberal hippie or a Nixon Republican, you could watch Archie Bunker, and somehow it wasn’t so bad.
When I see the reruns of All in the Family today, I’m amazed at the complexity of the writing. The interplay between Archie and the Meathead, both of them strong-willed, self-righteous, and attempting to shout the other down, all the while missing how similar they really are, was the most radical television of its era. I loved the irony of the Meathead trying to change Archie, often judging him, while also accepting the free room and board that allowed him to obtain the education that he so often wielded against Archie.
Perhaps it was the competing, and often opposing, characteristics within the character of Archie Bunker that endeared him to so many of us. Despite his ignorance and prejudice, there were also facets of him that were kind, compassionate, and selfless, and his desire to be a good person could not be ignored by the viewer. His racial and ethnic prejudices, which were a running theme of the show, weren’t simple. He wasn’t a cross-burning Klan style bigot, his was a prejudice that was fueled by tradition more than hatred, and maintained by a fear of change. He didn’t ask for forgiveness or understanding, but there were boundaries to his prejudices that humanized him.
Archie Bunker did more than just give America an opportunity to spend 30 minutes each week laughing at itself, he gave us an image of ourselves that was far from perfect, yet was worthy of redemption, and would occasionally find its best self. He let us see each other beyond the single dimensions created by the labels that we often attach to each other. He showed us that we’re all capable of growing, of being kind to the stranger, and that we can love each other without agreeing or “fixing” each other.
As I look at America today and the angry divisions that I fear are going to tear us apart, I wonder what happened to Archie Bunker? Can the left and right still laugh at themselves and their own hypocrisies? Do we still have the ability to look past the labels, the differences of opinion, and see something good in each other? How would Archie, Edith, Gloria, and Michael (a.k.a: “Meathead”) navigate the issues of our time? Where would Archie fall on the political spectrum today? He was a dedicated union member, which is now inconsistent with the conservative politics with which he identified a generation ago. What would Archie Bunker be like with today’s never-ending stream of fear-inducing headlines? Would Michael and Gloria have outgrown their youthful idealism? Would the passionate arguments between Meathead and Archie end with claims of “fake news”?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I sure do wish Archie was still around to get us through the present day. All In The Family was a safe place in which to look at ourselves and laugh through the discomfort of the image that the show reflected. While we don’t admit it, I think there is a little bit of Archie and the Meathead in all of us, and it’s good for us to be reminded of that. Sadly, the 1970’s sitcom is long-gone in this era of reality television, Facebook postings, and YouTube videos. Walter Cronkite and the evening news have been replaced by Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, and a million blogs offering up dubious, yet self-validating content 24 hours a day. We now have the power to create our own reality that reinforces our beliefs and image of ourselves – no matter how incorrect, shallow, or one dimensional that “reality” may be. Maybe instead of unfriending each other and posting every news article that says, “I’m right and you’re wrong” we need “All In the Family” rerun parties where we stream those long-ago filmed episodes of life at 704 Hauser Street? Maybe the magic will still be there, we’ll all share a laugh at ourselves, all be humbled just enough, and be able to find enough love and goodness in each other to carry on together.
A weekend ride through Tallahassee to the All Saints Theater, located in an old train station, where the Tallahassee Film Society shows great films that often miss the regular theaters. While riding, David shares some of his favorite films that most people have never heard of.
Have you ever entertained a daydream of what it might be like to run away from the stress, strain, and monotony of working a steady job and join a traveling circus? For many of us, the security of a steady income and a predictable routine keep us rooted in place, fearful of going out into the world, and untrusting of our own abilities to provide for ourselves. Perhaps an even greater pressure is the fear of what others might say, of being condemned as irresponsible or foolish.
My wife and I have just spent several enjoyable days with some people who aren’t afraid to take that leap and put themselves out there. For more than a decade, we have made an annual trip to the Orlando Fringe Festival, an alternative theatre festival that features both local and traveling performers who put on what are generally very simple plays of their own creation lasting approximately 60 minutes. I love this festival and the creativity and the talent the performers bring to their shows. Some shows are pure genius that leaves me awestruck: flawless in execution and brilliant in their concept and design. Others are episodes in courage with an artist or cast struggling through a performance or show that either isn’t working or was poorly conceived from the start.
About two years ago, inspired by the many shows and artists, I wrote, produced, and performed my own show at the Orlando Fringe Festival and then took it on the road to the Syracuse Fringe Festival. Watching this year’s performers, I was reminded of the hard work, the struggle, and the joy of doing my show. I remembered standing in the hot sun handing out cards to try to convince total strangers to pay $10 each to come in and watch my show. I remember that first show with a live paying audience and how frightening it was. I remember making a mistake performing one of the songs during that show and my surprise that I didn’t drop dead on the spot. I remember how my show got better with every performance and how wonderful it was when I felt the audience joining me on the journey of my performance. They joined me in the songs I was singing and I could see their bodies moving in rhythm with the music and my spirit soared. I loved when they would approach me after the show and tell me how much they enjoyed the play, how it changed their perspective or connected with something they already knew.
When I first started writing my Fringe play, Which Side Are You On?, I was afraid. I was afraid that I lacked the talent or ideas to create something that anyone would be interested in, much less pay money to see. I was afraid that my play and performance would totally suck and that people would ridicule me. I’m so glad I didn’t listen to those voices.
I gained so much from my Fringe performances. I created relationships with members of the audience, some of whom still approach me to talk about my play. I also created relationships with many other artists, such as Stewart Huff and Martin Dockery, who welcomed me as a performer, encouraged me, and whom I have come to admire. One night even found the courage to take my guitar out into the beer and wine garden where I started busking. In less than a half hour I’d earned enough money to buy dinner. Ever since I’ve felt that I have options, and that as long as I can play my guitar and sing a song, I won’t starve to death.
You don’t really have to run off and join the circus to find freedom, indulge your creative self, or break the monotony of everyday life, but you do have to be willing to put yourself out there. In the modern world we have unprecedented opportunities for artistic expression ranging from coffee house poetry readings to self-produced music shared online. You simply have to be willing to be vulnerable. Forgetting to words to a song in front of an audience is embarrassing, but it’s not fatal. In fact, it’s liberating in a way because once it happens and you survive it, you stop worrying so much about it, you relax, and then the real fun begins.
For the past 8 days many Jews, including my wife and me, have abstained from eating bread as part of our observance of the holiday of Passover. My go-to food during this time of year is the legendary Chicken Matzo Ball Soup. Actually, this is one of my go-to foods throughout the entire year. For me, there isn’t a holiday or season where chicken matzo ball soup doesn’t enhance the experience.
I’ve been on a quest for many years in pursuit of the world’s best chicken matzo ball soup. At least once a month I try out a new recipe or tweak the ingredients of an existing recipe in hopes of taking an already nearly perfect food to the nirvana level. Chicken Matzo Ball soup is really wonderful medium for artistic expression because it’s simple, yet the balance of the details matters tremendously. For example, the basic standard ingredients are simple: chicken, broth, matzo balls, carrots, celery, and spices. From these basic ingredients you have a platform upon which you can build a gastronomical masterpiece.
I experiment with different ways of cooking the chicken. I’m committed to adding ground peppercorns, although they’re missing in some of the recipes. Ground peppercorns give the soup a bite that brings it alive. Another trick I’ve learned is that I make the matzo balls with olive oil rather than regular vegetable oil because I find that it gives me a lighter and fluffier matzo ball.
I cook by feel. I add parsley, dill, salt, and ground peppercorns until I sense it’s right. I let it cook a while. Taste. Add whatever additional spice my instincts tell me to. It cooks some more. I taste. Tweak the spices. The process repeats itself time and time again. Throughout the entire cooking process, I keep the peppercorn grinder handy and use it liberally.
My lack of measurement and intuitive cooking style results in erratic outcomes that take me to one of two places. Either my wife says “This is best batch yet”, and I mentally crown myself as worldwide king of chicken matzo ball soup, or she says “this isn’t your best batch” at which point I do my best to hide my sense of failure while desperately trying to figure out where that batch went wrong.
Each time I set the empty pot on the stove in preparation for soup-making I receive the gift of possibility. The majority of my diet consists of remarkably predictable mass-produced restaurant food or prepared food. The quality is consistent. The taste, predictable. Unless someone screws up, there are no surprises. Scratch cooking doesn’t come with guarantees. It leaves open the possibility of greatness, the specter of mediocrity, or worse, culinary disaster. I find joy in this possibility of creation. Not all art involves watercolors and easels. Art exists where we find it, where we express ourselves, and where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We only need to set the scripts and recipes aside. The rewards of possibility arrive when someone sits at my table. They take the first spoonful expecting an ordinary bowl of chicken matzo ball soup. I watch as their eyebrows raise and they smile in response to the flavors passing over their tongue as they recognize an old friend dressed in a fresh set of clothes. Chicken Matzo Ball soup is no longer the same for them. It has forever changed. Art happened.
A woman at a conference I was attending recently commented to me that she always looks forwarding to seeing me and seeing what kind of hat I’m going to be wearing. She told me that she always finds my hats to be handsome looking and wished more men would wear them. I smiled and thanked her for the compliment, delighted that my fashion peccadillo brings happiness to her. I was pleased that in a world full of people she found me interesting enough to remember and look forward to seeing again.
Simply put, I love hats. I like wearing hats, shopping for new hats, finding good deals on new hats, receiving them as gifts, and sharing my love of hats with others who are similarly afflicted with “hat head fever”. Of course, what’s not to love? Hats are stylish, they protect my balding head from sunburn, and they can be worn with just about any sort of outfit. Oh, and you can never have too many.
Lately, I’ve been playing around a lot with video and trying to learn the basics of filming and editing video. Beyond hats, I’ve long been addicted to YouTube and am fascinated by the glimpses this medium provides us of other places and the lives of other people. As part of this learning process I made a video when I visited the Goorin Brothers Hat Shop located in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC.
I specifically went into this hat shop because I am always on the prowl for another hat. I’ve order from them online and I visited their store in New York City last year, so I know that they have a wide selection of men’s hats, and such places are rare in the world. This puzzles me given my love hats and the fact that I never leave the house without one of many hats perched atop my head. Unfortunately, I seem to be in a very small hat-wearing minority.
If you go to the mall in Tallahassee you will find a small selection of fedoras, maybe a driver’s cap or two, in stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s but the selection will be very limited. The only store in the mall that even pretends to be any form of a haberdashery is a place called “Lids” that doesn’t really sell hats all, but sells high-end ball caps. Please understand, in my world a ball cap is not a gentlemen’s hat. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to wear them to a sporting event or on a fishing trip (although you get much better sun coverage from a proper sportsmen’s hat), but if you show up wearing one for Court or at a dinner party, you’re screaming “I’m a doofus” at the top of your lungs.
If you look at old photographs of men outdoors taken pre-1960’s, you’ll quickly notice that almost all the men wore hats. Often these photos display a sea of gray fedoras. Until very recent time a hat was an indispensable part of a man’s wardrobe. I recall an old lawyer whom I met in a rural courthouse one day commented on my hat and said to me “In my day, a man didn’t leave home without his hat…” he paused, and then added “…and a ball cap isn’t a hat” as he smiled at me.
If you’re guy who regularly wears real men’s hats, then you’ll also notice that there are some stupid leftover customs regarding hat wearing. The custom that a man takes off his hat in a building, whereas ladies don’t, is stupid and unrealistic in my opinion. Maybe in the old days when they had hat racks, but the problem in the modern world is that once you take it off, there’s no place to put it unless you want to carry your hat around in your hand all day. When you do find a place to leave your hat there’s always a good chance you’ll never see it again. A couple years ago I took off a prized brown fedora at a Rotary meeting and set it on the table to never see it again. In other instances, I’ve had to return to places to retrieve hats I’ve left behind.
There are a number of reasons I can give you in support of the benefits of men wearing hats. Certainly, there is the protection against sunburn and skin cancer for those of us who no longer have a thick head of hair. But I think the greatest advantage is the aesthetic value. With the exception of sportswear, men’s clothing is generally boring and uninspired. Our dress suits tend to be pretty much the same design and the colors rarely depart from grays, blues, black, and browns. Even business casual styles tend to be some sort of kaki or blue pants with a checkered or plaid shirt of some sort.
Unless we embrace the hat, men looking to distinguish themselves with a fashion statement are pretty much limited to trying to find a stylish tie, which will inevitably be cut in the length and width as all the other ties of the current fashion season. Hats give us a great platform for self-expression and uniqueness. I’ve found that my hats have become a trade-mark of sorts and that, for better or worse, I’ve become known as the guy who wears the hats. Hats can be customized with an almost endless variety of bands, pins, and feathers. They can be steamed to drop or curl a brim. A good hat will help people remember you and set you apart in the often infinite pool of humanity clothed in the conforming boredom of mass produced textiles.
So, that’s part of the deal for me with all these hats. I hope you’ll consider sporting your own unique chapeau next time you venture out into the world. I’m sure that, like me, you’ll find that your hats create opportunities for conversations and smiles with the people we meet. Remember, people are drawn to our authenticity, and by creating a bit of artistic self-expression with a good hat, you’ll find them drawn to you too.
“Kill all the Lawyers” was a comment in an email I received this week as part of a group discussion on a safety issue I raised as part of a community group where I donate my time. In some ways, the timing of the comment is somewhat ironic given that Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and creator of the iconic lawyer character, Atticus Finch, died this week.
It is impossible to know how many legal careers were inspired by 8th grade English classes reading “To Kill A Mockingbird. The book continues to resonate with readers and greatly influences how we view lawyers. In many ways, Atticus Finch is the lawyer that we all aspire to be. A noble advocate fighting for justice on behalf of an innocent client against the biases and prejudices of an unjust world.
As someone who practices law in the South, and often in rural communities, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of Atticus Finch. I remember thinking of him years ago during one of my earliest cases when I stood to address the Court in a small county courthouse and I heard the boards of the wooden floor creaking under me. The nostalgic atmosphere of the century old building put me in mind of the story and reminded me of the nobility of defending those who live on the margins of our society.
My world isn’t really that different from the book. I regularly enter old courthouses set in the center of town with monuments to confederate soldiers standing guard before the main entrance. I currently have an elderly black client who grew up in the segregated south and raised his family with money he earned by picking tobacco. Of course, the world and the law are not static and things have changed. For instance, a Black female Judge now is the sole judge sitting on the County Court bench of the courthouse pictured to the left with the confederate soldier.
Equally impossible to escape are the comments such as the one I received in the email seeking to vilify lawyers, often misquoting the phrase, from Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI”, which goes: “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”. This phrase is probably one of the most misconstrued phrases of all time. As explained by Professor Stephen Gey, during an FSU Law School graduation ceremony several years ago, the phrase was uttered by the bad guy in the play. You can view Professor Gey’s excellent and entertaining talk on You Tube here:
Both Harper Lee and Shakespeare created works of art that reflect elements of truth about law and lawyering. Despite the common misunderstanding of Shakespeare’s quote, both Harper Lee and Shakespeare speak to the nobility of the law and the legal profession.
However, it would be inaccurate to simply declare the law as perfect and lawyers as always championing the cause of justice. One cannot forget that slavery and segregation were once given sanction under the law. The truth is that law often fails to protect the weak and vulnerable and it often fails to deliver justice. Atticus Finch did not win his case in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” This outcome parallels real life. Harper Lee’s father was a lawyer who, in 1919, defended two black men accused of murder. The men were convicted, hanged, and their bodies mutilated. It is said that Harper Lee’s father never tried another criminal case.
When I was a law student I attended a lecture by Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ll never forget when he told our group of law students that in the law it doesn’t matter what role you have, but how you conduct yourself in that role. Being a criminal defense attorney or a prosecutor isn’t nearly as important as the ethics you bring to the role. You can be a corporate attorney and exist as the conscience of the organization, or you can simply be a hatchet man using the law to oppress and bully those who are weaker or have less legal resources.
The truth about laws and lawyers is complex. I know that I work in an imperfect system where justice is sometimes sacrificed for that which is predictable and efficient. I have long believed that law’s primary function isn’t justice at all, but to maintain the power structure of society in all but the most egregious cases. However, I also know that, as a lawyer, I can sometimes make a difference and create justice and truth where it wouldn’t otherwise happen. When I think about Atticus Finch, I’m reminded that as a lawyer I can bring optimism, hope, and voice to injustice.
Last weekend, while visiting in my in-laws in Cleveland, Ohio for Thanksgiving, I was able to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art. The museum was hosting an exhibition called “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”. The exhibition contained many impressionist paintings, which are always favorites of mine.
For me, visiting an art museum is a spiritual experience. As I walk through the galleries, studying the expressions of the artists’ imaginations, it’s as if I am drinking in an elixir that opens my mind and helps me see the world both as it is and as it could be.
I’m at a loss to understand why the arts are relegated to a second place status in our national culture and in our education system. It often seems to me that many of our leaders regard the arts as a nice frivolity that has no economic value. The logic seems to be that only math and science are needed to compete economically and for innovation. In my opinion, to regard art as secondary or as a frivolity is profoundly ignorant and absolutely detrimental to society.
Art is foundational to both economic and technological progress. Exposure to art opens our minds to the possible and gives us a fresh perspective on what already exists. Art education is where we learn to create, to imagine, and to communicate our innermost thoughts and ideas. Science and math are of little value in the absence of imagination and creativity. Before you can build it, you have to imagine it.
Albert Einstein, often considered the greatest scientist of the 20th century, is quoted as saying:
“The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
Additionally, the arts were so important to Einstein that he is said to have remarked,
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.”
In more recent times, the founders of the two largest technology companies, Microsoft and Apple, both pointed to the importance of art in the development of their companies. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, stated:
“I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities….the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, also recognized the importance of the arts when he said:
“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
We cannot ignore the value of art in simply improving the quality of life in our communities. Consider the cultural differences between living in Paris, France, with its many artistic resources and influences, and a less artistic city, such as Jacksonville, Florida. Paris is legendary, largely because of its artistic richness.
I am fortunate. I have the arts in my life. I had art and music in my elementary school when I was a child. I have access to great music and just about any book of literature I could ever want to read. I play guitar, violin, and banjo. I see theatre and have written and performed a musical play in two Fringe Festivals. In my life I’ve been able to visit some of the great art museums of the world such as my recent visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art. I know the impact art has had on my life, but I also know that many people don’t have the arts in their lives. We must make sure that art is in our schools and in our small towns and communities. Now more than ever, we need the inspiration that art provides us to see our world in new ways and to recognize the potential that surrounds us. After all, it all begins with the arts.
In 1989 Salman Rushdie was quoted in the London Independent as saying:
“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”
To me this sounds a lot like the work of a lawyer. Is there a connection between artistic creation such as one finds in poetry and the practice law? Can a lawyer be an artist, or are we merely logical thinkers who rarely color outside the lines society draws for us?
When I was a law student attending City University of New York School of Law I lived in Brooklyn. When the long hours of studying law exhausted my energies I would sometimes take the subway into Manhattan, or “the city” as genuine city dwellers call it. Once in there, I would go to the Pastel Society of America where they offered inexpensive classes in pastel painting led by the top pastel painting artists in the United States. I loved these classes and found the process by which these incredible artists created their paintings to be fascinating. Through these classes I began to see that a tree is more than just green and brown, but is really a collection of an endless variety of different colors spanning the entire rainbow. Indeed, the only limit on the colors found in a tree is that created by the artist’s own mind. When I would return from my expedition into the world of art and creativity to the “logical” world of law I noticed that my understanding of the cases and legal principles I was studying seemed to be enhanced. I wasn’t just rejuvenated – I was inspired. It occurred to me that, after the classes, I was seeing law differently, and this led to a continuing curiosity into the intersection between law and art.
I don’t often hear people describing lawyers as artists, but in my mind great lawyers think artistically as well as logically. I love going to art museums, plays, concerts, and reading great writing because, when executed well, they provide me with opportunities to see some aspect of the world from a different perspective. For me, art is fundamental. In my spare time I play and study music. I explore Tallahassee on my bicycle and take photographs. I’ve written and performed a play about economic justice. Even this blog is a creative outlet that allows me to play with ideas. I find that art is at its very best when it takes something that is familiar to me and lets me see it in a totally different way than I’ve ever seen it before.
So it is with law. I believe that a great lawyer or judge doesn’t just see law and justice as words on a page to be blindly followed and applied. Such an approach to the law would leave it forever stagnant and allow injustices to go undiscovered. Great lawyers recognize injustices and create for themselves and others, a constantly refining vision of justice. Consider that for nearly 100 years the law and the courts in the United States steadfastly held onto the rarely challenged notion that racial segregation under the doctrine of “separate but equal” was justice. However, it took visionary lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall to show them a different perspective, that “separate but equal” would never be equal. Such work is as much art as it is logic. The question is how to tell the story such that the injustice of the status quo becomes undeniable.
The primary art form of the lawyer is that of storyteller. Our client’s cases are non-fiction stories that we advocate be viewed from a certain perspective. Our choice of words, the way in which we present evidence, the focus we give to certain facts, and the way in which interpret the law all become part of our storytelling vision. I know that many will read this and think that this idea of “storytelling” is justification for deception and dishonesty, but it’s not that at all. Effective storytelling is truthful. When a story becomes dishonest it loses the ability to fully engage us. Good stories are often messy and even the best cases usually present a challenging fact or two for a lawyer to deal with. It is the lawyer’s ability to weave the messy or difficult parts of the story into a collective whole with a positive truth for the client that I believe distinguishes great creative lawyers from the ordinary.
Many lawyers such as John Grisham, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Scott Turow have made successful transitions from lawyer to author. In fact, so many lawyers are interested in making the transition from lawyer to author that there actually was a panel called “The Law as a Platform for Writing” at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Bar Association. While I hear many stories of unhappy lawyers, I don’t see the interest in writing as a product of that unhappiness. Instead, I see it as evidence that many lawyers see the art in our profession, and once this is recognized, are compelled to give expression to that art in as many ways possible both in and out of the courtroom.