Annie Hall Continued…

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Lisa Fliegel, Woody Allen, Ben Shahn  —

“Where there is a book there is no sword” — Ben Shahn 1950

Now that I think of it, there must have been 10 of us. The side seats were five to a row, and that’s where we were sitting because there hadn’t been 10 all together in the center aisle. Regardless, I always took the seat at the end of the row because I always had to pee, and because I was prone to fall on the ground laughing hysterically — whenever a line in a movie was not only funny, but hit the bulls-eye of my daily experience in which I felt so different from everyone else. The movie dialogue proved once and for all I wasn’t alone, that someone did understand, so I laughed. Not only because it was funny — but because I felt a big joyful burst of relief.

We were a heterogeneous bunch: Jewish, Japanese, Quaker, Unitarian, Catholic, cross-country-runners, Zionists, red-haired, blond-haired, blue-eyed, freckled, curly dark hair, straight, lovers of JR Tolkien, shaved legs, legs unshaved, mountain climbers, brown-eyed,…a different Newton-blend.

The knowing laugh didn’t come. I found myself meekly climbing back to my spring-open red theatre seat, dismayed. I realized: “Even a joke on a movie screen can be an inside joke.”

Years later it was Ben Shahn, who ultimately reconnected me to the cohort that got the joke. He wrote it in 1952; I read it in 1985, and I’m using it to the best of my ability right here and now in 2015. The Quote:

“Whoever can predict the course of art during the coming fifty years will be a valuable citizan, for he will be able to predict also the course of human affairs — whether we will have war or peace, whether we will live under civilian conditions or military, under dictatorship or democracy. He will be able to tell us whether the individual will be free and sovereign.

Yet if either art or society is to survive the coming half-century, it will be necessary  for us to re-assess our values. The time is past-due for us to decide whether we are a moral people or merely a comfortable people, whether we place our own convenience above the life struggle of backward nations. Whether we place the sanctity of enterprise above the debasement of our public. If it falls to the lot of artists and poets to ask these questions then the more honorable their role.

It is not the survival of art alone that is at issue, but the survival of the free individual and a civilized society.”

Yep — Ben Shahn does know how I feel. To tell you the truth though — I don’t need to be a left-wing snob; despite the class/race/society issues of the pedicure — we trauma therapists do need to practice self-care — as long as we leave a good tip!


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