In His Own Voice

My word. It’s my Bond.

When I woke up Saturday morning to find that Sean Connery had slipped the Bonds of this world and turned in his licence to thrill, my writer brain refused to go anywhere else for a few minutes. It shouldn’t have been startling, I suppose, to find that a 90-year-old actor who hadn’t taken a movie role in 17 years had reached his time to leave. But it was.

After all, this was Sean Connery.

And Connery had a way of redefining any space he walked into.

Before Sean Connery, author Ian Fleming always saw James Bond as looking something like the musician Hoagie Carmichael. After the movie version of “Dr. No,” not only was the Carmichael description gone, but the literary Bond was forever half-Scots.

Before Sean Connery, anyone who thought of “The Untouchables” likely thought of either Eliot Ness or Al Capone. After the film version, an Irish cop who promised “he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue” was indelibly stamped on popular memory.

Before Sean Connery, who ever thought about Indiana Jones having a dad? (Or, for that matter, that a bewildered bookworm could still make the whip-toting adventurer call him “sir?”)

We watched him. We loved him. And in many a role, we chuckled at one indelible part of the Connery legend.

Because you see –  how do I put this kindly? – while his acting range encompassed a huge variety of characters, one thing always remained constant.

His voice was always Sean … same Sean.

When the English king Richard Lionheart returned from the Crusades in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” it was with a one-of-a-kind Scots burr.

When a Lithuanian sub commander fled the USSR for the United States in “The Hunt for Red October,” it was with a one-of-a-kind Scots burr.

When an Irish-American cop walked the streets of Prohibition-era Chicago in … well, you get the idea.

Sometimes it made sense. Sometimes it was written into the background. Sometimes it just was what it was – a rough, commanding burr with an ever-so-slight lisp that traveled across time and space.  Unlike many actors, Connery rarely, if ever, bothered styling his voice to fit the character.

And unlike many actors, he could get away with it, turning what could have been a distraction into a strength.

He was who he was. No compromises. No apologies.

And the audience loved it.

Critics sometimes lambast an actor for “only playing themselves.” Actors know that every actor plays themselves – it’s just that some actors have more “self” to play than others. If you dip from too shallow of a well, sooner or later interest will run dry.

But if you’ve got enough inside of you to pull from – enough experience, enough confidence, enough willingness to explore – the audience won’t care if they see you inside the mask you’ve built. In fact, it may well be part of the draw.

It certainly was for Connery.

And it’s not a bad lesson on or off the stage.

All of us are more than the glimpse that others may see (or even ourselves). All of us also have something that goes to the core of who we are. Examining, expanding and even transforming that self without compromising the heart – that’s a life’s work for an actor. Or for a self-aware human being.

Finding your voice is not easy. But it’s worth it. You not only discover an identity, but also a resonance – the pieces of yourself that echo in others, and vice-versa. And that’s the start of building a closer world.

In fact, you might even say it creates a Bond.

Change Of Course

At long last, Heather’s sleeping.

That sounds simple. It’s been anything but.

For a few weeks now, Heather’s bedtime routine has looked like a kung fu movie. Every few seconds, she kicks with a force that could shatter pine. Every few moments, her arms lash out with a speed that Bruce Lee would envy. Over and over, on and on for hours, long enough to clear even the largest army of unseen ninja.

All we’re missing is the bad voice dubbing.

As you’ve guessed, there’s no Hollywood contract involved. Heather’s multiple sclerosis sometimes unwraps surprise gifts for us, and this has been one of the most unwelcome to unwrap. Call it myoclonus. Call it restless leg syndrome amped up to warp factor 5. Call it whatever you want, but please call it from long distance – you don’t want it visiting the house.

Not unless you like getting about five hours of sleep a week, that is.

Nights can be endless when you’re trying to find something that helps for even a few minutes – distraction, massage, anything – and hope becomes hard to find. You start to wonder what the doctor can do, what tools still might be in the box, especially for the woman who’s allergic to almost everything.

And then. One day after the worst night of all. One change in medicine, so small we weren’t sure it could possibly work.



We’d both forgotten what that felt like.

Heather’s not completely motionless at night. But the big battle is over. What’s left is on mute – uncomfortable, sometimes even still painful, but not hopeless. She can sleep and rest and rebuild.

Just one change can make all the difference in the world.

That’s true for a family. For a state. For a nation.

Maybe it’s the small suggestion at the end of a hard day that makes everything brighter for a minute. (“Hey, Missy, how about we grab some ice cream?”)

Maybe it’s the promise of snow after weeks of fire, bringing the cold and the wet to where it’s most needed.

Maybe it’s the election year reminder, after too many commercials and too much junk mail, that we have the power to change things. To decide who we should keep and who should go, to vote against what weakens us and for what makes us stronger.

Whatever it is, it’s a reminder.

What was, doesn’t have to be.

I don’t want to just stop at Lincoln’s favorite lesson, “This too shall pass.” For me, that’s a little too …well, passive. In my mind, it’s clearer to say “This too shall change.”

Some changes we simply have to endure and make the best of. But some we can touch. Some even start with us. They may not be big changes, but small ones can propagate, whether it’s the crack that brings down a foundation or the seed that someday shades the entire yard.

That’s a cause for hope. That even our worst situations are unstable at their roots. That with work and effort and determination, something new can emerge. Probably not perfect. Almost certainly with problems of its own. But nonetheless, something we can build from.

The cast of Les Miserables once sung in hope that “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” They weren’t wrong. The light’s still there. Waiting.

That sounds simple. We know it’s anything but.

But difficult isn’t impossible.

And when the big battle is over – any of the big battles –  maybe we can even take a moment to rest.

Anyone up for a kung fu movie?

A “Feud”-ile Struggle?

The smoke has been so thick it’s felt like fog.

The wind has been barreling through like an invading army.

The national news has felt stranger every day, and the news from friends and family has had its own strains to bear.

The way this year is going … I swear I can hear the voice of Steve Harvey.

I promise, I haven’t lost my mind after too much homebound exposure to the Game Show Network. And yes, I know the reigning joke on the internet is that 2020 has been a real-life “Jumanji,” with each month revealing a new and more dangerous level to the living game.

But if this year hasn’t been “Family Feud” in action, then what is it?

I’m sure you remember the setup. You have families scrambling against each other for what often turns out to be an incredibly small reward. You have heat-of-the-moment guesses that often produce groans or contagious laughter. And most of all, you have The Board.

STEVE HARVEY: “100 people surveyed, top five answers on the board. Name the next disaster that’s coming down the pike in 2020.”

CONTESTANT: (Buzzer slam) “Invasion by killer clowns!”

STEVE HARVEY: “Send in the clowns!”

SURVEY BOARD: “Bing!!!” (Reveals no. 1 answer)

What’s made Family Feud stand out over the years is that it’s a game of anticipating trends. Being a master of trivia doesn’t help. You don’t have to be a good speller, or willing to take on a bizarre dare, or even be blindly lucky. All you have to do is predict what’s likely to be up there, even if it’s completely at odds with what you’d expect.

If you’re good at putting yourself into someone else’s shoes, it can be easy to score big. If you’re not, it can seem almost bizarrely random. And either way, the only way to survive is to try to guess what’s coming next.

Yeah, this is sounding more familiar by the minute.

We anticipate what our neighbors might need and try to help. We think about what our neighbors might do and plan accordingly. (“A restaurant on a holiday weekend? Maaaybe not.”) And as the answers get revealed one by one, we’re often guessing as best as we can to try to keep up, wondering “how many people expected this?”

Maybe that’s why it sometime feels a little hopeless – like we’re reacting to events instead of making choices.

And that’s why I’m encouraged by at least one turn of events in “2020: The Home Edition.”

Namely, the massive voter turnout we’ve started to see, this early in.

As of Friday, Colorado’s early voter turnout was 24 times what it had been in 2016. Twenty-four times! And we haven’t been unique – across the country, folks have been lining up to cast a ballot and make a choice.

That’s not the act of a hopeless population.

People can turn out to vote when they’re inspired. Or when they’re angry. Or when they see a job that needs to be done or a change that needs to be made. There are a hundred different motives you can ascribe to a large turnout, but not one of them is “despair.”

Because voting, by its nature, is a fundamentally hopeful act.

To vote is to say “I can change what’s on the board.”

For once, a piece of 2020 is in our own hands.

I know. It’s a small piece. But small pieces accumulate. And if enough of us have the confidence to make our voices heard – to be a part of the outcome instead of just waiting for it to happen – we can put our own answer up to the times we’re facing.

Together, we can make the game our own. For all of us.

Survey says?

Fighting for Indecision

On Friday came the news that I had been waiting for. Probably many of you, as well.

“Your Boulder County ballot has been mailed,” the email read. “Look for it in your mailbox soon!”

Finally. The last lap was in sight.

In recent years, most of us have had enough election fatigue to fill a book, and that volume is called “The Neverending Story.” No sooner does one campaign drag itself to an end than the next one sprints out of the starting blocks, demanding our attention. (And money. Never forget money.)

It’s not that we don’t care. If anything, the opposite has been true lately. People have gotten more passionate about their politics than ever – some from seeing just how much difference these choices can make to themselves and their loved ones, others from the sort of team loyalty that the Broncos used to excite when their roster was longer than their disabled list. We’re paying attention. We’re caring. We’re engaged.

We’re also very, very tired.

Some of it is doing all of this in the middle of Pandemic Land, of course. Captain America himself would be more than a little drained in his patriotic duties after dealing with the everyday realities of COVID-19 and its ripple effects. But there’s more to the picture than that.

And the biggest part of that picture is called certainty.

Colorado has had mail ballots for several years now. In most of those years, I have waited until the last possible day to fill out and hand-deliver my vote. Why? A desire for complete information – or, as I’ve always liked to put it, “I want to give the candidates the maximum opportunity to screw up before I make up my mind.”

There were always positions to be weighed, nuances to be studied, details to be considered. Even in the pre-mail ballot era, I could sometimes take a while – at my first-ever presidential election, in 1992, I wasn’t completely sure who my choice would be until three days before Election Day.

That’s not a problem this year.

I suspect that’s not a problem for a lot of us.

This year, my ballot’s likely to be returned within a day or so of getting it. And I know I’m not the only one. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found just 5 percent of voters were undecided – a five-point drop from the same moment in 2016. The lines are sharply drawn, the issues clearly demarked and for most of us, the choices were made long ago.

Which, of course, is one reason why the voices have been louder than ever. Why the stakes have felt so high. And why there’s been such a desire to just get on with it – and at the same time, an anxiety about what that might mean.

At its best, politics is the principle that “talking is better than fighting,” to quote an old professor of mine. It’s meant to be a way for people who don’t always agree to find common ground, or at least to work out how to move forward together.

But lately, it’s felt like just one step above war. And a short step at that.

I want my indecision back.

I want to be able to look at two candidates and say “Hm, I like what he said there but she’s got a point.”

I want to be able to consider a win or loss without dread. Trepidation, sure. That’s part of the game. But without a fear that either of the players is going to overturn the board.

I think we can get back to a place like that. Not quickly. Not easily. Not without work. But if enough of us want it, if enough of us choose it – both on the ballot and in how we live our everyday lives – we can get there.

We’re tired. We’re worried. But we can still make a difference.

Watch that mailbox.

Our next step comes now.

Seeing Through the Walls

Big Blake’s tail didn’t thump when we walked in the room.

His eyes were … there but not there.

Even the magic word “Food!” provoked only a little attention and some reluctant movement – maybe. For a dog who had always been ruled by his stomach, that was the scariest of all.

“I think we’d better call the vet again.”

It would be his second trip in two days. Yesterday he had been moving fine and eating fine, but with rather messy results out the other end. He’d been checked out and sent home with something for an upset stomach – but this seemed like a new ballgame.

There are moments in a crisis when all the walls turn transparent. You can see all the possibilities but you have no idea which one the path leads toward. Were we looking at an intestinal blockage? An injury, from a slip as he left the car the day before? Something more insidious that had been waiting until now to show its head?

All we could do was take him in, hope, and watch the clock.

Two hours later, the call came. Two minutes later, so did our reaction.

“It looks like what he’s having is an extreme arthritis flare-up . We’ve added some pain medicine to his NSAIDs for now ….”

I think our collective sigh of relief must have re-routed hurricanes in the Gulf.

We could see the path at last. And it actually led somewhere that we wanted to be.

Now, with our furry friend beside us, we get to watch another moment of clarity and uncertainty – this time on a national scale.

As I write this, the drama of COVID-19 entering the White House is still going on. So many questions are still hanging in the air. How many more names will we hear that we recognize? What does this mean for the country? Headlines about confirmations, debates, economies, elections, and yes, very real lives – those actually infected and those affected by them and their choices – continue to whirl and spin across the landscape like a Kansas tornado.

Once again, the walls are transparent and the path unclear. The nature of the virus almost guarantees it. Some get sick and get well and get on with things. Some require much more intensive medical care. Some recover, but with serious after-effects that can hang on for months.

And yes, some die. Too many have.

Again, you’re reading this later than I’m writing this. You may already know the next chapter of the story. But if we’re still watching the news, wondering what’s next and what it will mean – well, I suppose in 2020, it isn’t all that surprising.

Once again, we have to wait. And to keep doing what we need to do while we’re waiting. Because life doesn’t stop for the rest of us.

We still need to hold out hope for the future and caution for the present, looking to a day when things can be better while taking the careful steps needed to make it there.

We still need to look to each other as friends and neighbors, giving and accepting strength.

We still need to look to our own care, so that whatever the world sends us tomorrow, we’re ready to meet it.

Ready when the path starts to re-emerge.

For now, we’re once again walking the path with our dog. Big Blake’s tail is thumping. His eyes are bright. And his attention to food is as laser-sharp as ever.

It’s the moment we didn’t dare hope for.

And we couldn’t be happier.