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Dana Reeve Issue

An Interview with Dana Reeve
Q&A: Fibromyalgia
Running LAPs: Max Gail Telling His Story


Running LAPs - Max Gail Telling His Story


So there I was at a stoplight, pencil in hand and a pad of paper on the seat, clustering the key words in search of the name for this Great Idea that had, over time, coalesced out of the many experiences and lessons, the needs and aspirations of my life. The idea was a way that I might be creatively fulfilled and useful in the same effort. Something that could feed my family and feed my spirit. A path, a purpose, program, a process, a possibility that was pragmatic and principled and full of promise.

One source of inspiration for this vision came from my time with Native Americans, and in particular from the Intertribal Friendship Houses I visited in the seventies in various cities, such as Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, that had large Native American populations from numerous nations. Usually functioning on garage sale resources they always seemed to have a rich intercultural and intergenerational life. I believe this had to do with regard for future generations, the respect for different ways, the connection to place, and the recognition of the relationship of all life that "in-forms" Native American cultures as immensely varied as they are otherwise.

Another inspiration came from working with Free Arts for Abused Children, a Los Angeles based non-profit founded by actress Carolyn Sargent who transcended painful childhood experiences with deafness through the arts. Free Arts organizes volunteers under professional guidance, both therapeutic and artistic, to provide creative experiences for children caught up in the system. Their motto is, "Art heals." From toddlers to teenagers, across the whole range of disturbance to a healthy life, the value of an opportunity for creative expression and exploration is unmistakable. It raises the nagging question, "What happens for these kids when they are out of the system and back in the situation that got them in trouble to begin with."

It has been proven through many and varied evaluation methods that visual and performing arts improve performance across the whole spectrum of curriculum in addition to the richness they add to personal and community life. Yet we have diminished or dispensed with most creative programs in our schools nationwide as if they are frivolous and indulgent pastimes. Fact is there are many programs in existence, created by artists and others embodying the whole range of human giftedness, to meet this need. They struggle to find the resources so they can effectively share their gifts and talents. Mentoring is a two way need that is a part of human evolution and survival. It seems we frustrate this natural phenomenon rather that nurture it.

Still another inspiration for LAPs grew out of my experience with diversity, or "valuing differences," workshops. One day in the late eighties a large friendly man showed up at my home sent over by Elda Unger, the guiding force of Free Arts, when she learned that Jim sometimes brought executives on a cattle drive “retreat” on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This turned out to be only one of the ways Jim Lew brought people of different backgrounds together for mutually beneficial relationship. He has worked in community policing on both the community and police "sides," with prison populations and with corporate and civic organizations large and small. Three days later I was sitting with Andrew Young and twenty some other people from just as many backgrounds at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The purpose was to explore ways to get people looking to the year 2000, with its promises and problems, which at the time seemed a long way off to many.

Jim and I became good friends, and, when I told him one day that his work sounded more interesting than any script I had seen for some time, he offered me the opportunity to join him as a facilitator in training. "We need more diversity among the diversity trainers," was the way he put it. I participated with Jim and some of his wonderful associates in workshops with Polaroid, Northwest Airlines, the City of Ventura, the Tennessee Valley Authority and others. They used an array of exercises, videos and other processes to reveal the tendency in every one to prejudge others, and they nurtured the trust and humor necessary for good dialogue. Then they guided that dialogue beyond the race and gender issues to which notions of diversity are often limited, to the vast spectrum of visible and invisible human differences. They had exercises to demonstrate the many ways any group of people can be divided and others to coax out the pain and poetry in everyone's story that was otherwise unexpressed, undetected and unacknowledged.

That this was going on anywhere in the corporate world was, for me, a revelation. That there was a need for such processes in our schools and communities was as undeniable as was the value of the workshops to the participants. Like the Free Arts experience, when the masks come off and the guards come down, when the hearts and minds are opened there is an unmistakable unleashing of human creativity and possibility that does not appear in the adversarial context that dominates so much of life. But also like Free Arts workshops, there is the question of continuity. How could we make these good things, of which there are many examples, available and ongoing throughout our society?

This is not to suggest that the challenges of human relationships would disappear. As Peter Drucker points out in The New Realities, we have become a world of purpose and cause related pluralities. As citizens and consumers, as participants and providers we have sliced and diced ourselves into categories of race and religion, age and gender, politics and professions, abilities and affinities, each defining its boundaries and defending its positions. It seemed that many people were tired of this alienation and lack of connectedness, the polarization of every issue in the media and the fragmentation of community into market segments. Every time I saw an empty store in a mall or strip mall, or on the main street of some small town, I would envision one of these places: part Intertribal Friendship House, part Free Arts, part ongoing diversity program. A place where people could connect to the way in which their lives and interests overlapped.

I had another agenda in my Great Idea. For five years I had been relatively inactive as an actor due largely to my wife's struggle with cancer and the challenge/blessing of raising our young daughter after her mother died. During this time the landscape of television changed quite a bit. In particular most half hour comedies had become about young, single, white characters. There were a few all black shows produced primarily by the new networks. But none of the diversity of the seventies shows. By 1990 I had been blessed to be married and a father again. Nan is African American, as was my first wife, and our children are "mixed." Actually, most people are if you stop to think about it. Our circle of friends and relations is a diverse one, as is American society and the workplace more and more, and yet our national view of ourselves on television was becoming less and less so, largely because of market forces and business strategies.

I did a show staring Frank Zappa's two oldest kids, Moon and Dweezil, and inspired by the Zappa family. It was a great idea and the Zappas are great, but there was no writer with a vision like Danny Arnold who had created Barney Miller. Instead there was a network committee, which did not yield a good result. That left me pondering what I would like to do if I created a show. And the answer was a show in one of these places that existed in my mind's eye. Of course, they didn’t exist yet in the real world like a school or a bar or a police or radio station. Perhaps the show could model the concept. But how could it all work? How could all the stakeholders in a community become participants in a mutually beneficial enterprise? It seemed that there were two ends of an arch reaching toward each other and I was looking for that keystone that would provide the structural bridge between the on air reach of a broadcast program and the on land reach of grass roots community programs.