Carpe Diem to Nanu Nanu: Keeping it all inside
August 12th, 2014 by Peggy Aycinena
Amidst this terrible summer of death in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Syria and Iraq, how can we be so narcissistic as to mourn the death of an entertainer, a man who did nothing more than ham it up on stage and in front of the camera?
I’ll tell you how. It was Robin Williams. A man who was far more about the wistful, sun-and-fog-filled spirit of the Bay Area, than he ever was about the glitz and gluttony of Hollywood. A product of this region, a neighbor, and a most-beloved native son, he was our Robin Williams. Someone who reflected our eclectic tastes, our egalitarian nature, our breezy weather, our naughty frantic energy, and the boundless opportunities here to stretch one’s imaginations, talents, and zany innovations to the limit.
We loved Robin Williams. More personally, my family loved Robin Williams. And it’s a reflection of my non-PTA-approved parenting that one of our absolutely favorite movies, one that we shared repeatedly, was The Birdcage.
A movie where Hank Azaria sashays around the kitchen with a mop and an orange wig, channeling Lucy and invoking his Guatemalan heat. A movie where Nathan Lane shows up in a man-suit and salmon-colored socks, because one does want a little color, doesn’t one. A movie where Gene Hackman drones on and on delivering a politician’s stump speech that’s elbowed its way into a dinner party. A movie where Robin Williams does “Fosse, Fosse, Fosse, Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Martha Graham, Twyla, Twyla, Twyla, Madonna, Madonna, Madonna,” but keeps it all inside and, “Actually it’s perfect. I just never realized John Wayne walked like that.”
My kids didn’t get to see the final 5 minutes of The Great Escape until they were old enough to drive – at least, not on our TV – but they watched me roll in laughter at the antics of an old married couple facing the less-than-desired engagement of their beloved only child, a son, to a woman who they doubt is good enough for him, or will ever understand them.
This morning at the coffee shop, I ran into an acquaintance who told me her daughter’s getting married in just 9 days. As mother of the bride, MOB, she’s running the event. Gesturing to her upper abdomen, she said plaintively, “I’ve never had an ulcer before, but I think I’m getting one now. I may not survive the next 9 days!”
I mentioned that my own son is getting married in September, and she responded, “Listen, I’ve been mother of the groom. That’s nothing compared to this!”
Yes, I understand, I said and then thought again about The Birdcage. It’s there that Robin Williams and Nathan Lane – yeah, yeah, mouthing words given to them by script writers – taught us everything we need to know about surviving marriage, and rejecting/then embracing new family members that bring their refreshing talents and energy to the clan following the agony and ecstasy of that MOB, MOG, FOB, FOG thing.
And then there was Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams striking to the core of what the Bay Area is all about.
The City by the Bay. Bad marriages between good people. Life after divorce. Blended families. Wealth that cannot buy happiness. Learning to mine the depths for understanding, patience and empathy for those who suffer from extreme levels of dysfunctional creativity. The Bay Area is not the only place where these skills are honed and implemented, but it is certainly the most beautiful.
And there’s one more thing.
Robin Williams and Steve Jobs were both products of our region. Native sons cut from the same cloth. Follow no rules. Have no limitations. Know no bounds. Embrace life. Be at times dysfunctional with creativity. Succumb to the ravages of illness. Mental illness for one and physical illness for the other.
Robin Williams. Steve Jobs. We thought they would live forever. More brutally, more candidly, as long as they were alive, we were alive. How dare they leave us this way? Questioning our own mortality.
Oh, please. Snap out of it.
Williams and Jobs were not reality. They were only ephemera in our own reality. Your life is the reality. The truth. Capture it. Embrace it. Live it to completion. Carpe diem and all that bullshit. More importantly, if you ever thought your death would impact those around you, ask them. Let them tell you how loved you are. Don’t leave them to express it after you are gone. Let them at least try to save you.
I’m sure Steve Jobs could not be saved. Physical illness works that way. But I’m not sure Robin Williams could not be saved. I’m not sure mental illness works that way. Did Robin Williams know how loved he was? Could he be saved? Would he have rallied had he known about our national anguish today over his anguished death yesterday? When mental illness takes those we love, we can never know. That’s the ephemera of this reality.
Fosse Fosse. Twyla Twyla. Madonna Madonna. You keep it all inside.
Tags: Bob Fosse, Gene Hackman, Hank Azaria, Madonna, Martha Graham, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, San Francisco, Steve Jobs, The Birdcage, The Great Escape, Twyla Tharp