I grew up in suburban Connecticut, with a sister, Stephanie, who was a year and a half younger than me. My favorite show as a kid was 'Lost In Space' and I think even at that early age I appreciated the theatrical flair of Jonathan Harris as the arch-villain Doctor Zachary Smith, the sinister stowaway aboard the Jupiter 2 spacecraft. I think somehow I understood, too, that Dr. Smith was the most important character on the show: because no matter how far we travel from home, we bring our problems and our conflicts with us, and we have to deal with them.
I won't bore you with tales of a dysfunctional family. Stephanie was insanely gifted as a writer, but she had a difficult relationship with our mother and inherited Mom's taste for vodka; she discovered heroin on her own, and left this world about three weeks after her 28th birthday.
I love science and I enjoy a good science fiction movie as much as anybody. But somehow it's drama that always stays with me. It's people and their stories you remember. And it's the actors who bring those stories to life.
I'm thinking of how I was fascinated by the young actor Tom Hughes as the Duke of Aumerle, a devoted courtier to the narcissistic King Richard II in the BBC production 'The Hollow Crown'. He has few speaking lines, but he's in almost every scene. You can see the wheels turning in his head as he watches his hero and king endure humiliation and defeat by the future King Henry IV.
I'm thinking of the film 'Stranger Inside', where the juvenile offender Treasure gets herself incarcerated in an adult prison - to seek out her mother who's an inmate there. Or the Israeli TV series 'Hatufim' - produced in America as 'Homeland' - where two POWs struggle to return to normal life after 17 years in captivity, while their comrade - Amiel ben-Horin - forms a friendship with the militant leader Jamal and becomes a father-figure to Jamal's son Ismail.
Balancing family life and the outside world has always eluded me; I've served in the military; I've been in relationships and I've co-parented two wonderful kids. (They live with their respective mothers in San Francisco and I miss them every day.) But somehow I could never make it all come together. So I live alone and I'm OK with that. And even at fifty-plus years of age, I don't feel like I really know very much about life. But here's what I think.
I think a family can be a prison or it can be a path to freedom. I think living alone can keep you sane or it can drive you crazy. I think art can bring enlightenment and wisdom, but it won't do you any good if you haven't got a life. I think it's important to stay in touch with your roots, but you can't keep living in the past because there's nothing for you there.
And I think that life is hard. It's easy to think about the other choice. "The jungle's dark, but it's full of diamonds!" That's the voice of Ben Loman - the departed brother of Willy Loman in 'Death of a Salesman', calling Willie to join him on the other side.
Don't listen. You have work to do here. Life in this world isn't dark like black velvet and studded with diamonds; it's grey and messy, like a pile of dirty laundry. But it's made for living.