Wanted, Dead or Alive: Ten People That Inspire You

I know the title is kind of weird. But I’m serious. I want you to write down ten people, living or dead, that have meant something to you. Even if you never met them. They blew your mind and made you think new thoughts. Or you know them intimately—or used to. Authors, colleagues, relatives, friends, spouses. Composers, chemists, mentors, astrophysicists. Although a lot of you think of your pets as being kind of human, I appeal to your gaming spirit and ask you to stick with bipedal mammals that speak English (or some other human language). Thank you for your cooperation.

This exercise is similar to a list of affirmations that keep me focused and inspired. Having an MS brain means I get easily scattered and forgetful. Too easily, that will allow me to fall into negative thoughts and helpless feelings. In a way, looking at my list reminds me of who I am and who I’ve been, where I came from, how I’ve changed and what inspires me now. Sixty years of living has a whole lot of moments, people, ups and downs, failures and triumphs—and lots of inspirational touch stones. I hope many more lie ahead. So here goes:

Music

Bill Evans, jazz pianist/composer: He was and always will be my aesthetic soul mate. Always played acoustic piano, never performed on electric instruments. He loved the Great American Songbook and stayed true to the composers’ intentions. No matter how far afield he got from the original melody and changes, his ideas were always beautiful, never outside. His own compositions intensely evoked pain, joy and longing in me. Being a musician myself, a jazz pianist gave me a book of Evans’s transcriptions and I learned to play his pieces including his improvisations.

Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter: Although his style changed as often as the seasons, I’m forever stuck in his 1950s sound. His BIRTH OF THE COOL album, recorded between 1948 and 1953, thrilled me to the point of obsession. Then I discovered KIND OF BLUE (1959) and that represents the 1950s-1960s cool jazz  style that is still my favorite subgenre.

Comedy

Martin Short: Whenever I need a guaranteed laugh, I go to youtube and pull up his Jiminy Glick celebrity interviews. I pee my pants every time. Short’s effortless improv gets my creative writing juices flowing.

Mickey Katz: Yiddish parody singer of old pop songs and father of actor Joel Gray. When I need a laugh set to music, I go to youtube for this special craziness. It’s impossible to maintain a dark mood hearing HOW MUCH IS THAT PICKLE IN THE WINDOW and SIXTEEN TONS (of latkes and knishes). What can I say. It opens a window.

Literature

Tobias Wolff: Literary short fiction writer/novelist. His spare, unobtrusive prose spurred me along in my early writing days. To this day I still try for the most precise, unadorned, and accurate word choices, allowing emotion to dominate. My fiction-writing style is still more spare than that of my essays.

Women’s rights

Rose McGowan: Actress and women’s anti-harassment activist. She validates my anger and rage with her own unique expressions of it. Her documentary CITIZEN ROSE is my newest well of inspiration.

#MeToo: Anti-harassment movement supporting women who have been sexually assaulted and harassed. Their stories help me keep my own on the surface and give me permission to live with memories, anger, and hope all at the same time.

Science

Watson/Crick/Franklin: They each contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Molecular biology grew out of this knowledge, which in turn is the basis for all of our multiple sclerosis disease-modifying drugs. Their work improved our lives.

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