Saturday, January 15, 2022

Ravenswood Notes: TKO

     One of the more difficult parts of being a professional writer is learning to trust the people you work with. Sometimes my book editor will make a decision that rubs me the wrong way, and I'll have to pause and remind myself that I had no trouble embracing his judgment when he was praising me, so maybe I ought to consider that he still might be right about this edit I disagree with.      
    With Caren Jeskey's Saturday offering below, I was nearing the end, and references to me  started thudding down like hail. I was just at her last paragraph, thinking, "All this has to go," when I got to the part where she says that no, Neil-be-damned, it has to stay. Well, okay. If you insist, but it goes against my better judgment. Speaking of which, I thought it high time to add a formal bio of Caren to the blog, and you can find it on the right hand side of the page, under mine.

“The world feels dusty when we stop to die; we want the dew then.” 
          —Emily Dickinson (who died at the age of 56, with ten of her poems published).

     Lately I’ve been reminded that time is short. How do I want to live my one wild and precious life?? My first choice would not have been to experience a deadly pandemic on a dangerously warming planet with the threat of oligarchy at our heels right here on US soil. But what choice do I have?
     I am no Pollyanna. I’m dismayed at the state of the world, and sometimes scared. My saving grace is savoring micro moments. Simple pleasures are all around us all the time, if we pay attention. Helping others—(trigger warning: virtue signaling ahead), which this week came in the form of coordinating a donation and delivery of furniture to two young Afghan men who’ve recently relocated nearly 6,000 miles away from home—helps me remember how lucky I am, and brings light to others. Warm baths, long walks, connecting with people, fresh air, stretching, resting, playing music that makes me happy, taking deep breaths, reading EGD to keep me laughing, and keeping a house full of plants helps too.
     One of the most delightful things that happened this past week was noticing that mushrooms had sprung up among the peppers I am growing from the seeds of a big red, orange, and yellow pepper I ate last year. I dried the seeds and did not follow propagation protocol the babies popped out of the rich dark soil anyway. When I noticed that fungi had voluntarily joined the party I did what anyone would do. I laughed and smiled and talked to them. Then I snapped some photos for others to enjoy.
     I’m not sure what prompted it, but I also ended up in a Facebook chat with a friend who lives on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Sir Sidney Poitier’s name came up, and my friend shared some thoughts that a Bahamian local, Leslie Vanderpool, had posted on Facebook about Sir Sidney. I quoted Leslie in last week’s piece, and then I had the true pleasure of a 90 minute Zoom conversation with her yesterday.
     Leslie is the founder and Executive Director of the Bahamas International Film Festival, which is entering its 18th year. Leslie was born in The Bahamas, where her father Dr. Cyril Osborne Vanderpool was the first government dentist in 1960, before starting his thriving private practice. Dr. Vanderpool played golf with Sir Sidney. The Doctor and the Sir were dear friends. “I was always hearing great stories,” the kind where “you wish you could live them out again. They were such gentlemen. They loved life. They loved to have fun. They lived as if life was going to be their one last day.” Leslie had the good fortune of having Sir Sidney in her life, and he became a lifelong mentor.  
  “He was loving and unguarded; one of the memorable," she said. "Because of Sir Sidney, I always knew I wanted to act— since the age of 10. Having him around when he was in town, my father referring to him, seeing this larger than life person” made an impression. 
      Through her studies in performance schools, and throughout stints of living in New York, LA and The Bahamas, Leslie experienced Sir Sidney’s comforting presence as a constant thread. “He was a gift who came into my family’s life that I will never forget. That shining light that never lets you go.” They may not have spoken often, but when they did Leslie felt “in my adult life I had somebody who knew my family, and had my best interests” in mind. “He was honest. He did not tell you things you wanted to hear. He was intuitive. His daughters Anika and Sydney always talked about how he’d never hurt a fly. Or an animal. Or an ant. He was always so present and conscious.”
     “I see Sir Sidney in his children. They all have unique personalities. Charm. Gentleness. Concision that Sir Sidney had. Conviction. Tenacity.” Their mother is “the classiest lady. They all exude love and kindness. My breath was taken away in his presence. I felt comfortable, loved. He instilled in himself and others a sense of wanting to do the best we can. He strove every day to be better than the last day."
     Leslie feels that “his generation really wanted to nurture and guide and mentor. They knew they had nothing to lose by giving. They always shared. I remember several conversations” where Sir Sidney said “'I am talking to you as though you are my child. I want the best for you.' He was a mammoth of a human being, this soul that had my back. And that was enough. I still make decisions based on what he told me, keeping those thoughts and discussions present. An actor of that magnitude, the intuitive ability he was gifted with, it was so strong."
     "He really respected himself and wanted to make sure people gave him that respect. Everything was serious, with light-hearted undertones. He was adamant about what he wanted to convey and how he wanted to deliver. What he wanted to see in The Bahamas. He constantly made sure arts were prevalent in The Bahamas. He made a video for me on our website" to help make sure people come to the film fest.
     “The last time I saw [Sir Sidney] was in 2017, in LA. I remember being in his home office. He was always curious, very curious. He was still wanting to learn and know what’s going on in The Bahamas."
     Leslie feels a strong calling to continue to bring arts to The Bahamas, and seeks to use film to "celebrate, entertain, and educate."
     “We need people who are mentors and see the vision we don’t see for ourselves. We have to continue to lift people up. There are people who believe in others. You are blessed to have Neil in your life.” 
     I am. The experience of writing for this blog has been one of the most fun and exciting things I’ve experienced. It also gave me a part of my purpose since the pandemic began, and I lost most of my livelihood. As Leslie said, mentors like Neil help people like me “continue that torch and flame” of talent within ourselves. Leslie shared a little ditty where "Muhammad Ali's wife used to ride my horse," and showed me a photo of Ali holding her in his arms, lifting her off of her horse. Another giant we all love.
     When I think of the fact that I write for THE Neil Steinberg, I do get a little bit starstruck here and there. He's the same guy I've read for much of my adult life, who my parents have read at the kitchen table for many years, and who they revere and respect. He's the guy whose signed book I read and re-read years ago. I am sure Neil will try to edit this out, but I'll try not to let him. Talking to Leslie was another delightful moment in my week. She reminded me that it's important to express gratitude. So thank you Neil. It's time we continue to knock this thing called life right out of the ring as we support, celebrate, and uplift each other.
     Over the last several days the ‘shrooms did some funny things. They morphed and turned gray. Some passed away. New ones keep sprouting. It’s quite the journey and I’m grateful to be here for all of this, drinking from the dew of life. Thank you, dear readers.


  1. Timely article as anyone who is paying attention is aware that the world seems to be crazier than ever. Reminding us to focus on what is good can’t be overemphasized.
    Regarding how twists and turns in our lives results in us discovering things, and things discovering us, I believe we can all relate.
    The twist that led me to read your columns was when our son moved to Chicago. I began reading Chicago papers and discovered Neil’s column. I told him he reminded me a lot of the syndicated Sydney J. Harris, not even knowing he too wrote for the Sun-Times.
    I am grateful for EGD. It’s one of the good things.

    1. Sydney Harris was born in London and grew up in Chicago. He began his newspaper career at 17, with the Chicago Herald and Examiner. He joined the staff of the Daily News in 1939, where he became a drama critic in 1941 and a columnist in 1944. He held those positions until the paper's demise, in 1978, and continued to write his column for the Sun-Times, until his death following heart surgery in 1986.

      Harris was a liberal, which earned him a place on Nixon's "enemies list" in the early 70s. His syndicated column appeared in over two hundred newspapers. I read them as a kid, in the Daily News. His collected columns were also published in a series of ten books. The Daily News was, unquestionably, Chicago's best newspaper.

    2. I was very young too when my mother suggested I read him. Although writing on a variety of subjects I always enjoyed his “Things I learned while looking up other things.”

    3. My mother did the same thing, but I didn't follow her advice until I got older. There are a number of lists of his more famous quotes that can be found online. One I clearly remember was: "The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers." He also wrote: "There is no bad weather--there are only different kinds of good weather." As a lifelong Midwesterner who hates the cold and snow of winter, I strongly disagree.


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