College Admissions Scandal

People have been asking what I think of the latest college admissions scandal, because Yale (my alma mater) had a sports coach who was involved. Of course, I’m saddened (and appalled)  that someone in the Yale community devolved into this mess. During my four years in college, I lived and breathed an atmosphere created by faculty who loved to teach and students who loved to learn. My friends and I, together, travelled the path from “mature” adolescents to young adults and many of those friendships are ongoing today. I’m grateful for all of it.

However, I urge everyone to take a step back from the application feeding frenzy. I strongly suggest we plant our feet firmly and realign our perspectives. Yes, I loved my time at Yale and yes, the education was fantastic and yes, my peers inspired me every day. But as any of my fellow Yalies who have an ounce of integrity will tell you: while Yale gives its students many things, the Secret To Life isn’t one of them. Behaving as though a YES from the admissions committee is worth absolutely any cost, no holds barred, even a piece of your soul…well, it isn’t.

Although I take this scandal extremely seriously (as does the university), Yale isn’t my biggest concern here. One misguided person, who accepted a bribe and lied, doesn’t represent either the belief system or the core integrity of the university. My biggest concern is for the applicants who didn’t get a fair shake, for the families who worked (and struggled) to support, with decency and honor, their children’s efforts to go to college.

And I have another biggest concern. I’m worried about the adolescents taking their first steps into adulthood, whose families paid a crap-ton of money to set up lies, fake photos, dishonest test scores, illegal bribes. I wonder if these parents realized the message they conveyed to their young adult children. 

You’re not good enough. 

I’d rather cheat and lie and bribe than accept you as you are.

Nobody will ever want you unless you cheat on a test, or offer an obscene amount of money, or pretend to be someone you’re not. 

We’ve got money to burn and when we want something, we’re entitled to it, whatever the price. 

I wonder if these parents realized that in this case, the price was the emotional well-being of their children. 

___

Amy Kaufman Burk, Yale 1980, is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Jussie Smollett – True Fake News

What. A. Mess.

Quick Recap: Jussie Smollett — a black, gay actor — reported that he was a survivor of a hate crime. He claimed he was struck in the face, a rope put around his neck, while two assailants yelled a slur for a gay man, another slur for a black man, and shouted their allegiance to MAGA (Make America Great Again, Donald Trump’s slogan). An investigation was launched, a huge effort by law enforcement, each step carefully reported all over the news. As the evidence was uncovered, a series of twists and turns followed. Jussie Smollett now stands accused of faking his own attack.

Responding to the original report, people trusted Jussie Smollett’s account. Some of the details didn’t quite add up, but folks rightfully stepped forward to raise their voices against hate crimes. Since the story caved in on itself, I’ve heard the phrases “publicity stunt” and “wants attention” tossed around. I’ve also heard people express the opinion that Jussie Smollett must have serious mental issues on board, and I have to agree. I hope he seeks therapy, because my more-than-two-decades as a therapist showed me that the over-the-top level of his “publicity stunt” probably mirrors the over-the-top level of his pain. Still, no matter how chaotic he feels, no matter how angry, no matter how wronged, whatever mix of mental health and pathology he carries — I hold him accountable for his actions, words, choices.

The groundswell of resentment toward Jussie Smollett is understandable. People feel manipulated and betrayed. However, at this point, we enter a potential danger zone and I’m holding up a PROCEED WITH CAUTION sign. Humans have a nasty habit of stereotyping, and this is a perfect-storm opportunity. When a straight Caucasian male behaves badly, the masses tend to hold him, and only him, accountable. If an individual of any other gender, any other racial origin, any other sexuality behaves badly, the masses have a tendency to leap into generalizations, holding large groups accountable for the actions of one person. Jussie Smollett’s behavior means absolutely nothing about black people as a group, or gay people as a group, or survivors of hate crimes as a group. We can’t allow the misguided actions of one troubled individual to shape our views of anyone beyond Jussie Smollett himself. Please don’t give him the power to contaminate your respect and empathy for the soul crushing damage of bigotry and hate crimes. 

On my own social media platform, while Jussie Smollet’s fake news was still considered true news, I retweeted a supportive post by Emma Watson (actor, He For She, Time’s Up, strong voice for social justice). As the investigation turned inside out, I considered deleting the tweet from my platform. Thinking it over, I decided to keep it. I want anyone who follows my platform to know that I stand with survivors of hate crimes. I fully support due process, innocent until proven guilty, but I also know that most people who report hate crimes are acting in good faith. My view of Jussie Smollet has changed; my support for racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights, my commitment to raise my voice against hate crimes — all of that remains unchanged.

In Emma Watson’s tweet, she included a quote from Maya Angelou: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Now it’s on all of us — every racial heritage, anywhere on the sexual spectrum —  to make sure we don’t use Jussie Smollett as an excuse to perpetuate hate.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship.  Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

 

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Rewriting Valentine’s Day

Couples and roses and romance and candlelight and passion and…y’know, that’s enough. I’m rewriting Valentine’s Day.

At a recent reunion of friends, all of us in our 50s and 60s, we spent several hours each day, over a long weekend, catching up on our lives. Children and grandchildren. Second and third careers. Losses and gains. Triumphs and defeats. One woman had recently divorced her husband and was still finding her balance. Another had divorced years ago, remarried a wonderful man, and felt steady and strong. She was kind and empathic toward her newly divorced friend, and reassured her that another relationship, a better partner, might be around the next corner.

My reaction was different. When we go through a huge life-change — for good or for bad, for better or for worse — the ground shifts under our feet. We struggle to find a new equilibrium in all aspects of our lives, including relationships. In the aftermath of a divorce, we might not know how to relate to ourselves as single, how to define ourselves outside of a couple. The first relationship to reevaluate, rebuild, rewire, rediscover is your relationship to your own self.

If you have a partner and you choose to celebrate with roses and candlelight, then I wish you a wonderful day, every day, not just a command performance on Valentine’s Day. If you have a friend and you choose to celebrate your bond — again, I wish you well. If you have a family and you choose to celebrate your bone-deep connection — I hope your day is filled with wonder. If you’re remembering someone who has died, I hope you can feel the love you once shared, as well as the pain of your loss. If you feel alone on Valentine’s Day, then I encourage you to honor your relationship to your self. In my revision, Valentine’s Day is for everybody, for the many forms of healthy love.

Valentine’s Day lands in our lap every year, and the holiday has never made sense to me when it’s confined to romantic couples. Cupid — you’re a strange creature — zooming around, zapping unsuspecting folks, sending them tumbling ass over teakettle in love. You’ve got some disturbing relational issues on board, so I’m rewriting Valentine’s Day. Going forward, keep your arrows to yourself. Respect boundaries.  Don’t intrude into other people’s hearts. Instead, put down your bow, feel your own heartbeat, renew your vows to yourself. That’s the foundation for all healthy relationships.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Blackface: The Problem, The Deeper Problem, The Next Step

Costumes which include blackface have emerged as a national epidemic. Some people admit applying blackface years ago and then expect praise, as though their admission makes them less accountable, even admirable, entitled to a free pass. Some want their costumes dismissed as youthful indiscretions (far from anything they’d do now in their present state of enlightened maturity) — like smoking pot before meeting a friend’s parents, or eating five desserts. But blackface should never be dismissed as no big deal. Blackface is motivated by underlying racism, an active expression of bigotry, perpetuating racial inequality. 

Although we’re not born bigots, we are born into a culture of bigotry. It’s in our blood, in the air we breathe, overt and covert, glaring and subtle. Every gender, every religion, every racial heritage — nobody is granted exempt status from carrying bigoted assumptions. However (and it’s a big HOWEVER), Caucasians are granted privilege beyond any other racial heritage in the United States. This means that Caucasians need to be especially aware of the ways that we’ve been coached, from the cradle, to take for granted the privilege of our racial heritage. Each one of us needs to take a careful look in the mirror, an emotional-x-ray-selfie, and examine our assumptions with stark honesty.

The following paragraph is an excerpt from my novel Tightwire. The story follows a therapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. In Chapter 19, “Halloween,” Collier (the adult, male patient) describes to Caroline (the therapist) a Halloween pageant he attended with a couple, at the their children’s elementary school. Collier is caught off guard by the casual, thoughtless, pervasive bigotry of the costumes. 

“I counted three girls dressed as Asian people, with black wigs and Kimonos and one wore these fake rotting teeth. They spent the day screeching their heads off, flipping their R’s and L’s. Some parents wore the teeth alone, like their costume was someone who couldn’t afford an orthodontist. Two boys were dressed as gang members, with fake dreadlocks, black make-up and rubber knives. Two mothers dressed in leather and chains. They spiked their hair and walked around with their arms linked….and they said they were a lesbian couple….Four kids…dressed as fat people, and one girl whose father is a fashion photographer, dressed as a person with bad taste in clothes.”

Years ago, as I began to write this chapter, I paused and remembered the Halloween costumes at my children’s elementary school. I thought back to the costumes from my own childhood. Each “fictional” costume in this chapter was modeled after a “real” costume I had seen.

As you read this post, did you assume that the couple was straight, a cis man and a cis woman, parenting their two children? In fact, they’re two women, a lesbian couple. If you made that assumption, please pause. If you’re willing to grow and learn, then don’t rush away from the issue. Instead, hold still, try not to thrash, take a deep breath. Allow yourself to react to your own assumption. Ask yourself what it means about your mindset. Take as much time as you need. It’s okay to feel off-balance as you sort it out. Then you’ll be able to move forward, with a changed perspective. 

The first step toward change is awareness, and I’m committed to raising awareness. So I’ll finish writing this piece, edit my work from start to finish, and post it. Then I’ll pause, take a deep breath, and find a mirror.

____

Tightwire, by Amy Kaufman Burk

Click on the link to check out reviews, read the first few chapters, purchase the novel.

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Ninety Seconds

I was checking out at the market. The checker was extremely efficient — bagging my items with care while ringing them up at lightning speed. We exchanged pleasantries about the sprinkling of snow covering our ground — unusual for North Carolina and sending the good citizens into apoplexy. 

In line behind me were two men, mid-twenties, bragging about their “hot” girlfriends. Then they noticed the checker (around 6’2”, broad shouldered, styled hair, heavy make-up, nail polish, deep voice, short skirt, medium heels). The two men openly smirked and launched into a mocking floor show, imitating the checker’s gestures, an exaggerated burlesque. They said the word “tranny,” and my eyes locked with the checker’s. I glanced back and the two men grinned, a clear invitation for me to join their posse. 

I looked at the checker and asked quietly, “Want me to handle this?” The checker nodded, so I turned to the two men. Nobody was behind them in line, so I had all the time I needed. 

Hi.” 

They exchanged smug smiles.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Are you concerned this person is transgender?” (For a visual — I’m 5’4”, gray hair, small-boned, around 60, yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt. When I’m not cursing, my style of speaking is often courteous bordering on the absurd.)

The two men froze, no longer smiling.

“You’re much younger than I am, and I’m sure I can learn a lot from you about today’s world. But right here, in this moment, I know how to do this. May I show you?”

They remained frozen.

“Thanks. I’ll be very brief.” I put out my hand to each of them. “I’m Amy.” Reluctantly they shook my hand and muttered their names. 

“Now watch. It’s easy.” I turned to the checker. “Hi. I’m Amy. My pronouns are she and her.” I nodded and the checker picked up the slack. “I’m Cory. My pronouns are she and her.” We shook hands.

Again, I turned to the two men and shrugged. “That’s how it’s done. Have a good day.” 

I waited to make sure Cory was safe, but the two men paid for their items without looking at her, and practically ran out of the store.  

My 2019 Resolutions for the New Year:

When I have the opportunity to stand with someone being targeted — in this case a simple act, ninety seconds from start to finish — I’ll take it. 

When I’m dealt any form of privilege, I’ll use it with extreme care.

Step by step, one by one, I’ll try to help my country regain common sense.

I’ll own my mistakes and work to do better.

Happy New Year.

(All identifying information in this essay has been changed to respect “Cory’s” privacy.)

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon. 

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Purple Rain

Over the holidays, I knocked back my first shot. 

I’m not much of a drinker and the family gathered to join me in the inaugural (and probably only) shot of my life. They explained the situation to the bartender — that I drank maybe one glass of wine per week, that I didn’t want to feel drunk, that I was a sixty-year-old novice. He kindly mixed the weakest round of shots known to humankind — orange juice with a drop of vodka and a tiny splash of blue curaçao for color. He called it Purple Rain.

In the weeks surrounding my Purple Rain transformation, many changes took place. A majority of Democrats entered The House. A large tuft of hair in my 19-year-old cat’s left ear turned from black to gray. California welcomed a much-needed rainstorm and struggled with the resulting mudslides. But one crucial piece remained unchanged — the Government Shutdown.

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has remained blissfully and aggressively unbothered by the suffering he causes. Women he has grabbed —  families at the border. #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and #NeverAgain. He has turned his back on racial bigotry, Dreamers, gun violence, the entire LGBTQ+ community and the environment. He has declared an enormous group to be rapists, child traffickers and drug lords — based on the color of their skin. And now, unsurprisingly, he is turning against more of his own people with the Government Shutdown. Although quite bothered that he’s not getting his way with The Wall, he remains blissfully and aggressively unbothered by the folks he hurts.

I’ve heard a myriad of interviews with people who suggest various ways to end the shutdown. Some want Donald Trump’s opposition to make a deal. But our president doesn’t honor deals and doesn’t keep promises. Worse, he’s willing to use people — any age, any gender, any citizenship — as leverage. Which means he’s blissfully and aggressively holding human hostages as a negotiation tactic, which leads to a sickening place: President Donald Trump is acting like a terrorist. 

Pledging allegiance to his Government Shutdown, Donald Trump continues to approach the presidency with his characteristic cocktail of bliss and aggression. Here, we need a STOP sign, because this particular cocktail should display a skull-and-crossbones warning label. Aggression can be used for the greater good, but only with extreme care. Bliss should be equally rare, a moment of inner peace, a cleansing deep breath, fleetingly insulated from harsher realities. In thoughtful dosages, bliss and aggression can be healthy. However, they should not be mixed. A shot combining bliss and aggression is dangerous.

I recommend Purple Rain. 

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon. 

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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The Wall

Build the wall.

If they get a ladder, then we’ll build a higher wall.

Make them pay for it.

During the 2016 presidential election, I was living in Little Rock, Arkansas. Driving around the city, I saw several signs on front lawns, pledging allegiance to a wall which made no sense. I was at a complete loss, so I turned to my Little Rock community to help me understand. During these conversations, I didn’t trust myself to speak much, because my instinctive reaction was incredulous outrage. So I simply asked what they liked about The Wall. 

“The Wall is the best protection.”

“Keeps the bad people out.” 

“They’re dangerous.” 

I asked who They were. 

“Mexicans.” 

“Latinos.” 

“Spanish.” 

I asked what this person meant by “Spanish.” 

“Everyone who speaks Spanish.”

I didn’t argue because my goal was to understand their viewpoint. Still, my silent response rang out clearly inside my head: “Wow — that’s a lot of They!” 

Thinking it over, their answers reminded me of my grad school training on a locked inpatient psych ward, working toward my doctorate in mental health. Some patients hated being locked in, but I was surprised by the number who confided that the locked doors felt safe. When I asked why, one patient, Mr. X, summed it up beautifully. He was a middle-aged gentleman, always dressed immaculately in a 1920s suit and bow tie. He blinked at my apparent dim-wittedness, and answered with the weary patience of an elder educating a youngling: “My dear, those locked doors don’t keep me in; they keep bad people out.”  

If you think of a medical model — identifying and treating the disease — the intensity of the cure needs to match the intensity of the illness. A nail clipper can cure a hangnail and a bandaid can cure a paper cut — modest interventions for modest problems. In contrast, an aggressive form of cancer might need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation — an extreme treatment to match the urgency of the problem. If Mr. X needed the locked doors of an in-patient mental hospital in order to feel safe, then his level of fear must have been off the charts. 

Those locked doors were Mr. X’s version of Donald Trump’s border wall, but The Wall is more extreme — which means that our president’s level of fear is also more extreme. Fear is contagious, and our president spreads fear like fire — adding kindling, stoking the flames, stirring the embers, causing sparks to fly. As fear runs wild in our country, keep in mind that the problem isn’t Mexicans or Latinxs or folks the world over who speak Spanish. The problem is overwhelming, consuming, irrational fear. 

Like the locked ward of a mental institution, The Wall comes at a cost which goes far beyond money. Both create barriers, narrow our world, limit our view. But at this point the analogy falls apart. As people healed on the psych ward, they experienced the hospital as increasingly confining.  Over time, working to find the source of his own irrational fears, Mr. X grew mentally stronger. In time, he felt ready to reenter the world on the other side of the locked doors. If Donald Trump’s wall is built, unlike Mr. X, the Unites States of America will deprive itself of the opportunity to outgrow its own irrational fears. 

Our president holds immense power. Donald Trump can force his own government to shut down. He can damage individuals, families and communities. His misguided judgement can endanger the land he’s supposed to protect. But The Wall and The Land Of The Free will never belong together. He might force them together, but they’ll never belong. Nobody, not even our president, has that much power.

*All identifying information about “Mr. X” has been changed to protect confidentiality.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon. 

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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Chanukah

I grew up celebrating Christmas. As an adult, navigating my family’s first Chanukah, I found myself approaching medical exhaustion. The parents at our preschool were often haggard, juggling continuous diapers, multiple children, demanding careers. Still, one of the teachers, “Josh,”  noticed that I looked especially unbeautiful and inquired after my health. I explained that this was my first Chanukah and while I loved the Menorah and the fun, I could barely keep up with the gifts. 

“What are you giving them?” Josh, who was Jewish, looked puzzled.

I explained and he began to laugh. “Amy, you’re trying to do Christmas for eight days.  No wonder you’re overwhelmed. One night when I was a kid, my parents gave everybody a pencil in their favorite color. Mine was orange. I loved it.”

“So I don’t have to do a massive production every night?”

“It’s the Festival of Lights, not the Festival of Gifts. Happy Chanukah.” Josh hugged my shoulders and rushed to prevent a child from drinking a bowl of purple paint.

That night, my family lit our Menorah candles and we gave our kids three pencils: one red, one yellow, one pink. They were thrilled.

Chanukah will begin at sundown tonight. As I set out the same Menorah that my husband and I lit with our young children years ago, I think of the history of Jews. Yes, I see persecution. But I also I see resilience, perseverance, strength, hope. I see ordinary people stepping forward with extraordinary acts of courage and leadership. I see care and generosity, family and friendship, tradition and change. The Festival of Lights has lived through many eclipses of reason and decency. Light always returns.

Josh — decades after our conversation — thanks for your guidance. I get it. It’s about light, today and every day.

Happy Chanukah.

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

 

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Hamilton

“Stunning.” (Captivating from the opening second to the closing moment.)

“Innovative.” (Never seen anything like it.)

“Unique.” (A rap opera.)

“Amazing.” (Impeccable timing, unfailing precision.)

*Comments in italics were overheard as the audience exited the theater. Comments in parentheses are mine.

 

On Saturday after Thanksgiving, my family attended the play Hamilton at Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) in North Carolina. Beyond the raw talent saturating every aspect of this production, the quality that rockets Hamilton into uncharted greatness is its integrity. During this time of upheaval in the United States, Hamilton offers guidance, lighting our way back on track, challenging Build-The-Wall mentality.  How does Hamilton pull it off? Core values are difficult to articulate without sounding like a Hallmark card. But following the show’s advice, I’ll take my shot.

Hamilton has color. I don’t mean the lighting (Howell Binkley) or the scenic design (David Korins) or the costumes (Paul Tazewell) — all works of art. No, I mean the diverse skin-tones of the cast. I loved watching a production with the racial diversity that reflects the colors of my world. Equally important was the unspoken message that even though Caucasian men put their signatures on our Constitution, the fabric of our country is woven from many colors and genders, beyond white and male. 

The dancers are beautiful.  I mean their bodies — toned and strong, supple and healthy. They celebrate the human form as it’s meant to be: curves and bones and fat and muscle. This show, while exercising creative license from start to finish, keeps it real.

The choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) manages to highlight each individual and simultaneously the group as a whole. In many musicals, specific movements are often considered the sole property of one gender. But not in Hamilton. For instance, all genders throw their hips at times, and march tough and strong carrying guns at other moments. The nonverbal language of Hamilton’s choreography communicates equal respect, equal acceptance, equal opportunity.

Each character’s perspective is portrayed with empathy, although (like “real” people) each is both admirable and flawed. Alexander Hamilton (Joseph Morales) is “an Icarus” — flying too close to the sun and crashing when his wings burn. Eliza Hamilton (Shoba Narayan) is swept off her feet by Alexander’s charisma, and misses the warning signs that he’s a bottomless pit, always needing more, no potential for quiet or calm. Aaron Burr (Nik Walker) wrestles with envy of the cool crowd, which gradually swells into a consuming, murderous rage. Philip Hamilton (King David Jones), Alexander’s and Eliza’s son, is endearing, with an adolescent impulsivity which leads to his death. Thomas Jefferson (Kyle Scatliffe) and James Madison (Fergie L. Philippe) are adult versions of the popular kids, the clique everyone worships and hates and fears. These are our country’s forefathers and foremothers and foreparents. Gifted, tireless, genius, strong, rebellious, thoughtful, righteous, flawed. Our country’s 1700s Resistance. 

The exception is King George (Jon Patrick Walker), whose character is purposefully (and hilariously) unidimensional — petty and narcissistic to the nth power (not unlike a president familiar to us all). His numbers are parodies of love songs. He begins with the colonies, whose purpose is to adore him. He ends with the I-take-immense-pleasure-in-your-pain attitude of a spurned lover after a nasty break-up. He camps it up and hits it absolutely right, giving the audience the perfect comic relief from the layers of meaning in every other aspect of Hamilton.

After the finale, the entire cast stands in a line, holding hands, taking their bows. Nobody steps forward as more important than any other player. The message, again, is egalitarian. To borrow from another story, one for all and all for one. To borrow from Alexander Hamilton’s contemporaries: We The People.

Whether or not you see this production, take your shot — not to duel, but to shine. Create space for others to take their shots as well. Our country thrives when people shine individually and together. Case in point: Hamilton.

ADDITIONAL CREDITS

Book, Music, Lyrics: 

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by:

Ron Chernow

___

Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, NC. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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The Immigrant Within

During college, I was strolling down the street with a friend, both of us bundled against the winter cold. We walked past a pair huddled in a doorway, clutching a frayed blanket. I said I wished I knew a permanent solution, how to help homeless people get back on their feet. To my complete surprise, my friend turned livid. “My grandfather came to this country with nothing but two dollars in his shoe. Nobody helped him. Why should I help them!”  

I remember staring, speechless. I, too, was the grandchild of immigrants. To say their lives were harsh is a vast understatement — crossing the ocean in steerage, always frightened, often hungry, freezing in the winter, sweltering in the summer, illnesses terrifying, medicine not affordable, lonely and alone. But my reaction to my own heritage was diametrically opposed to my college classmate’s. I experienced my family’s history as connecting me to immigrants and to all who struggle; my classmate felt disconnected, even adversarial. 

Us and Them are much more complex than they appear at first glance. Like the vast majority in the United States, I’m a mixture of both. I’m an Us because I’m Caucasian and I’ve never had to worry about food, clothing, shelter or medical care. I’m a Them because I’m a woman and a Jew. Problems skyrocket when the Us and the Them within the individual aren’t friends. At that point, parts of the same person go to war, one part trying to disown the other, even obliterate the other. From a Build-The-Wall perspective, too many are trying to build an internal emotional wall between their present-day selves and their own immigrant history.

Walls come in many forms, shapes and sizes. Donald Trump wants to build a literal border wall. People who want to erase their immigrant heritage want to build a metaphorical wall, self vs. self. When individuals and families and children are met at our borders with tear gas, then we’re attacking not only potential new immigrants but also our own immigrant selves. Our administration doesn’t seem to realize that their policies cause deep wounds within our borders as well as beyond. 

What can we do, especially while our current administration holds so much power? Start by owning the Us and the Them within. Reach out. Clasp your own hand. That will guide you toward doing the same for others. It’s not a solve or a cure or a fix. It’s a beginning.

  

*I will be donating all of my book sale profits for the rest of 2018 to relief for the people suffering from the California fires. 

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor working to guide the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case.

Click on the link to check out reviews, buy Amy’s novels.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

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