Tuesday, April 22, 2008

SS: Earth People

I was surprised by the responses to my post on "the committee." Here I was just trying to come up with a halfway decent metaphor to describe the experience of writer's block, and it looks like I touched a nerve with people, in a good way. As it turns out, most of us have some form of a committee or another, and it certainly is a relief to know I am not alone in this. I wish I knew how to keep my committee at bay, but all I can do is be aware of it when it is most active. I track it closely, learn all its patterns, all its little tricks. I separate it from the rest of my thoughts. Making it into a pathology of sorts -- something I can label and "diagnose" helps me make it feel less personal.

Sometimes I think the worst aspect of my committee is how much it can separate me from other people. Some of its most vocal members are very convincing when it comes to arguing that I am "not like other people" -- and they don't mean this as a compliment. I'm not "bohemian" or "eccentric" or even "cute." I'm strange. Unable to connect two and two in the social matrix. People are staring at me. Laughing at me behind my back. This is what they mean.

Truth be told, there are times when I feel like I'm just reading from a script on "how to be." I think we all do this to some degree, but sometimes I feel like I do it more than others, or in situations where "everyone else" is being genuine. It's like I missed some cue. And I hate myself for it because there is this part of me that thinks if only I could get that cue and feel those genuine feelings I'd be happy. I'd be able to share in some "universal" part of being human and all would be right. I'd be normal.

Well, I'm probably being a bit dramatic. But still, I do sometimes feel like I'm a Martian wandering among the Earth people. You know the Earth people, right? They have this way of being. In fact, it is THE way to be. If you are very perceptive, you can probably catch some of these ways, so as to blend in among them. The trick is to know that you are not what they are. If you are gay, they are straight. If you are fat, they are thin. If you are black, they are --- get my drift? Hello...it's the committee knocking. I almost forgot to lock my door.

RS: Happy Trails

They say you can't recapture your youth. Perhaps better to say you shouldn't try. Seems the universe felt so too. It was certainly sending messages. I've never had so much trouble getting off the ground. Flight canceled, the next delayed, gate moved to the other end of the terminal, delayed again, customer service counter closed, next counter abandoned. By the time I got to the third counter, I'd dragged my luggage two miles and wanted off United Airlines but now. Finally touched down in my home state and proceeded to the casino—not to join ciggie sucking seniors atrophying in front of the penny slots (hitting Max Bet aggravates my tennis elbow), it was the easiest commute—same priority on the road as at home.

My parents were coincidentally traveling through St. Louis and planned to share my room and then drive me home the next day. I finished my work and met up with them, no problem. A good night's sleep was just what I needed.

4:30 am, my bed shook. Not a thought one relishes when sharing a room with your parents. I bolted upright, annoyed, wondering why someone was kicking the shit out of my mattress. No one was there. I hadn't expected it to happen in my sleep, losing my mind. I had just assumed it would manifest in a naked, dead run through Times Square swatting at non-existant flies and screaming at the voices in my head in a foreign language I'd never studied. Like a thief in the night was better.

Turns out my sanity was in tact, the New Madres fault wasn't faring as well. I lived in San Francisco for 3 years waiting to feel the Earth move under my feet. My good friend, Ric, not the steadiest balance on a good day, was thrown off the toilet one morning in 1992. Across town, I got nary a jiggle. Gotta say, I wasn't that impressed with 5.4 magnitude. Whether it's penises or tectonic plates, size matters. People in Missouri make fun of those fools living out in California, serves 'em right if the whole damn thing just drops into the ocean. Meanwhile, we have the second most active fault line in North America (I think I heard) and we build a nuclear power plant right over the top. No fools we.

Plane delays and earthquakes? The universe seemed to whisper, "Turn back, oh man." Deftly and deafly, we set out for Ava, stopping first for breakfast. We stopped at Cracker Barrel. Now, normally I wouldn't patronize such an establishment—they're racist, homophobic, and the food's not that great—but I generally find it more of a vacation if I check my politics at the state line when I go home to visit my family. It's just easier.

Besides, my righteous indignation toward restaurants gets a little inconsistent. I'd eat my body weight in Domino's Pizza. And I feel guilty when I stand at the counter at Wendy's thinking about those wing nuts marching in front of abortion clinics. I can almost hear their chants when my stomach growls. Then I blurt out, "Number 6 plain with a Coke to go, NOW!" I pick it. They picket. I write a check to Planned Parenthood. I should. I will. I'm hungry. Where was I?

Oh, yes, sitting in the Cracker Barrrel giving my order to a 70 year-old waitress, sweet thing, couldn't remember her own name. She moved like she had a rough night in 1984 and never caught up on her sleep. Her bangs were processed to a color not available in nature (actually not available anywhere outside of Sherwin Williams), she wore more makeup than a Parisian prostitute, had laid too long in the tanning bed, had skin like an apple doll, and had her hair pulled up into two little Pippy Longstocking pig tails jutting out on either side of her neck. She forgot the water, the butter, the jelly, and part of my mother's breakfast. No wonder she was tired. She had to make 14 extra trips for each order.

Facing a four hour drive home, I snuck into the little boys' room before we took off. As I shook out the last three drops, I heard the lyrics to the song that serenaded overhead, "When Jesus comes to meet me, I will certainly be there." Just not right now, Jesus. My Sunday School teacher, Brenda Freeman, used to tell us, "Whenever you are wondering if you should be doing something or not, just ask yourself if you'd want to shake Jesus's hand while you're doing it." There have been times in my life when it would not only have been embarrassing to meet Jesus, it would have been logistically impossible. Well, to give him a proper greeting anyway. And I am not a big bathroom talker. I'm focused. I once had a man walk right up to me as I was standing at the urinal and introduce himself. Turns out I'd actually met him two weeks earlier, he was the President of the company where I worked. He thought I was a client. When he found out I was a mere minion, he stormed out sputtering and shaking his head. My upward mobility thwarted again.

We made two stops on the way home for gas—some we put in, some we let out. The first had a vending machine where one could get authentic Missouri rocks—available in 5 assorted colors. The second had free CDs of sermons from the Brushy Knob Church as you walked in the door. I picked up "Armageddon" and "4 Things Old Time Christians Believe", and a Powerball ticket just to piss them off. Gambling is a sin in the eyes of the Lord, but every one of them would cash in the ticket they keep hidden in their glove box should they hit it big. It isn't the height of hypocrisy, but the air gets a bit thin up there.

That night we had dinner at Rockbridge Trout Farm, down by my parent's ranch. We had to pick up a horse trailer in preparation for the trail ride I had foolishly volunteered to join my mother on the following day. Now, I have about as much interest in riding a horse as I do a prom queen. I've done both, and in each case, all I could think about was getting off—though in very different ways. I was seven when my sister did a cartwheel in front of the horse I had an already trepidatious seat on. It bolted. I screamed like a cheerleader in a slasher film. I hit the ground running and promised to keep my distance. It was a win-win that was working, so what was I thinking? Twenty-four hours prior to our departure, and I was already fighting that pre-diarrhea feeling that makes coughing an artillery sport. I wasn't sure how I would manage to eat dinner at Rockbridge. Apparently my righteous indignation is not the only thing that dissipates in the face of hunger.

The trout farm is right out of the 50's. A beautiful place with crystal streams and a grist mill, now turned into a bar. The restaurant/lodge was a vision to behold. There was a veritable zoo of taxidermied wildlife: a covey of stuffed pheasant, 2 bobcats, one wolf in mid howl, a half dozen deer heads, and enough trout to give the Gorton's Fisherman priapism. There was an entire display dedicated to nothing but Power Bait. Above the sink in the bathroom hung a picture of 7 dogs on their hind legs pissing on a wall. It was class, pure class, and available in the Gift Shop for $19.99. The owner is an incredibly nice woman with 2-toned hair that is a lesson in aerodynamic engineering. It sweeps up on one side like a bald man's comb-over and clings in gravity-defying pose by prayer and Aqua Net.

I went to bed queasy, possibly from dinner, possibly from the thought of climbing back on a horse. I woke up and dressed in my most sensible outfit: Michael Kors shirt, 7 for All Mankind jeans, my sporty and expensive crinkled leather jacket, and running shoes that had spent more time on the elliptical machine at the gym than on actual ground (and they are most assuredly horse shit naïve). I had also tucked in three strategically placed panty liners in case that pre-diarrhea went postal. I was walking bow-legged before I'd put a foot in a stirrup.

My mother took one look and offered a denim Carhaart shirt and Land's End jacket. Not sure if she wanted to protect my clothes from the horses or me from being beaten up by the locals. I had prayed for rain and God laughed. I prayed for a miracle and none came. One of my mother's horses had grass foundered and couldn't be ridden but before I could volunteer to sit this one out, they'd found a replacement horse. I changed my clothes and inspected my panty liners.

I didn't shave in hopes that any association to the Marlboro Man might either trick the pony or my inner voice that kept saying, "You'll break a hip, dumb ass, you'll break a hip." I also didn't shower. Horses are sensitive, they can smell timidity. I was hoping I might be able to mask the scent of fear with funk.

I had been offered two different horses, I could have my pick. Both were promised to be near comatose. One was named Babe (sounds encouraging), one was named Stormy (fuck that). I asked if they had one named Terry Schiavo. No? Babe it was.

I was a bit uneasy for the first few miles but I am happy to report that the journey was uneventful but memorable. The sky was an impossible blue, the fields a green that money would envy, the air—well it depended what horse you were behind. One testicle was slammed between the saddle and my pelvic bone like a pinball caught between two bumpers. Were I racking up points, I'd have free games for life. Instead, the left one looks like a soft grape, my back's tight to spasming, and the area under my sitz bones is throbbing like two stubbed toes stuck up my ass.

Turns out, my worrying was much ado, especially since I did. Eleanor Roosevelt (I think) said, "Face the fear and do it anyway." How ironic that she had teeth like a horse. I've never been one of those climb back on the horse when you fall off kind of people, literally or figuratively. Perhaps, that's because I never technically fell off to begin with. I've pursued a strategy of active avoidance of things that make you fall down. Maybe this symbolic mounting will translate into life. Maybe it was just a trail ride. Lord knows, both old mares, Babe and me, ain't what we used to be. One thing's for sure, if I fall down in the next few days, I'll just lie there and rest—my ass hurts too much to get back on my feet, much less the horse.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

WC: Don't Believe Everything You Read

From Salon.com: Obama and Clinton fizzle in Philly

Wednesday's debate was devoid of substance and rife with gotcha politics. In the end, Obama seemed to win simply by not losing.

By Walter Shapiro

April 17, 2008 | PHILADELPHIA -- This is the way it ends, not with a bang but a whimper. If Wednesday night's fizzle in Philly was indeed the last debate of the Democratic primary season between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it will be remembered for, well, not much of anything.

From the NY Times: Clinton Uses Sharp Attacks in Tense Debate

By Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny

PHILADELPHIA — Senator Barack Obama found himself consistently on the defensive as he and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton met Wednesday night in a tense debate that left him parrying questions and criticism on issues including values, patriotism and his association with onetime radicals from the 1960s.

WC: Out of the Mouths of Babes

From Broadsheet on Salon.com:

So my friend's friend's kid somehow overhears the term "blow job" on TV. (Cable, I'm guessing.) Cut to: Dad holding his breath, praying the the moment will pass. But no.

"Daddy?" Here it comes. "What's a blow job?"

An explanation is offered, in clear, forthright detail, just like the experts say. The child ponders, then shakes his head.

"That's a job?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

RS: Some days you should get out of bed

The car service would arrive on time at 6:00 am. It was 5:45. I hadn't packed or rinsed the stink of night from any location. I was fucked.

Things flew, curses chewed, clothes strewn, packing through. Closed the suitcase, zipped around uncertain contents. I could buy whatever I needed when I landed. On the way out the door, I reached for a book from an unsteady stack. Branding books were too close to work. Others had already lost my attention. The recommendations, the supposed-to-reads, held a weight of obligation. I was traveling light. On my bedside table I noticed Conversations With God.

By the time I settled into the car, I already regretted bringing the book. I had tried to read it before and was only able to digest about a page before I had to put it down. Too much to take in. Too much thought required. Weight of obligation, indeed.

I checked my Blackberry, both of them, then my itinerary—I have my priorities straight. Fucked again. I had ordered the car to come a good 45 minutes earlier than I needed. I reached for the book to beat myself about the head but decided to open it instead. I read 10 pages before it occurred to me I was supposed to have been overwhelmed 9 earlier. Was it just easier this time? Was the student simply ready? Was I still asleep?

Regardless, things made sense. I kept reading. As I approached the gate, still digesting, I read, "For each circumstance is a gift, and in each experience a hidden treasure." Poetic? Yes. New? No. Was this sow's ear of a day beginning to silken along with my attitude? Maybe.

The gift of the circumstance was a memory that I unwrapped as hastily as my sausage biscuit waiting at the Terminal C Food Court. I remembered how the book came into my life. It was mysterious, nearly miraculous.

Hours out of the Loony, I arrived home to take on my life. Under cover of thorazine-packing guards, I had picked myself up and dusted myself off. Without a care (or responsibility) in the world, it had been downright delightful. Until you've been propositioned by a 70 year old man wearing a crooked eczematic grin and plastic underpants, had to drag yourself away from the Nick at Night lineup in the "Entertainment Room" to search for a woman's missing upper denture while her roommate runs in circles screaming, "Daisy's teeth are gone! Daisy's teeth are gone!", or sat across from someone shaking so uncontrollably from being medicated that the pees kept flying off her fork, well, until then you may not have seen in a dark moment just how much light surrounds you, or at least how much darker it could have been—and thus found delight and comfort in a place that did little more than remind you what you were not. Trust me, I didn't want to stay a minute longer and wouldn't want to go back; but at the time, it was good medicine. On the outside, with no base of comparison, how was I to know how bright my light was shining? No offense to Nat King Cole, but this starting all over again was nothing to sing about. No offense to the song leader at Vacation Bible School, but hiding this little light of mine under a bushel wasn't my biggest challenge.

My doorman called to let me know there was a package for me. It was simply wrapped with no note. Conversations With God? I hadn't been home for more than 30 minutes. Only three people in the tri-state area even knew I was gone and two of them didn't believe in God. But I believe there are angels walking among us, doing nothing less than loving us when we feel least loveable, helping us when we don't know we need help, and shining their light to kindly show that ours has grown too dim. This was a gift from an angel. I've been lucky, I've had many of them. I mean, I am lucky, I have many of them.

This book, this reminder—why did I need to be reminded today?—melted away the pissedness into a reluctant (I am reluctant to do much of anything that early in the morning) gratitude. Now your talkin, God.

Actually, we haven't talked much at all God and me. My fault mostly. I rarely calmed down enough to listen. Didn't really know what I was listening for. And was too, something, to start the conversation. Getting on my knees to pray just felt a little foolish. Sitting quietly is not my gift. I've had conversations in my head. Problem was, I always felt I was talking to myself. And for some reason, every time something seemed important enough to elevate to a higher power, I always had the same question. . .why? I never got an answer, but mostly that is because I didn't really want to hear it. I wanted to engage in a mononag, not a dialog. But I go to church to feel connected, to hear God in the sermon or the songs.

In church this Sunday, the service was about women, the power of women, what women want. Seems March was Women's Month and that whole Jesus on the cross thing had prioritized the she out of the whole she-bang. I grew up in a place where I saw women being equals to men, doing equal work. Don't get me wrong, where I grew up, women have a place and are expected stay in it with their mouths shut—one of those places where there's nothing to say to a woman with 2 black eyes, she's already been told twice. But that place also produces some fine women who have found remarkable power in their place and vast voice in silence. There also happen to be fine men there who know they are head of the household in name only.

I grew up on a beef ranch. When there was a job to do, whoever was sitting closest to the pick up door was the one to jump out and do it. There was no time to stop and assign work based on gender. I did my level best not to end up next to the door. Besides, there wasn't a job they could throw at me that I would perform with an ounce of enthusiasm or expertise. My sister, Carla, spent most trips to the farm with her fingers twitching on the door handle, ready to go where needed. This is a girl who could catch mice in our barn on the run, while I wobbled around like a new-born foal not taking a chance at getting my hands on one of those mangey little boogers. My stepfather always said he preferred my mother to any man he ever worked with on the farm. My mother got the work done and did it smartly. More than once we had big old dopey men helping out who thought they could just man handle a herd. Took twice as long to get half as much done. And if anyone thinks the head of the household is actually in charge at my sister's, Jan, house, I'll take bets that about 10 seconds in her presence will disavow them of that notion.

I grew up among powerful women. I grew up thinking all women were Super Women. My mother got me up, ironed my clothes, fixed me a hot breakfast, packed my lunch, took me to school, went to work, went to the farm, came home, cleaned house, made dinner, did laundry, helped me study, watched the news, went to bed tired and started all over again the next morning. All Moms do that, right? I've learned over time that they don't. Moms who make the choices my mother did, don't have super powers. Every single thing on that list my mother did, she did for me and my sisters not because she had to. And because of her, my grandmother and my sisters, every day was about women, so March could be about March.

A lot of spiritual philosophies claim we choose our parents. If so, I did a pretty good job. Some of my friends, not so much. But do we get to choose those angels? Is it that we attract them into our lives based on what we need to learn? Or are they generous observers who, traveling their own journey, take the time to step off their road less traveled long enough to help us to our feet and back onto our own path? Is this the real conversation with God?

Have I been listening for a "voice" when God was already speaking in voices? I have to say, it all left me a bit curious. I wanted an answer. It left me a bit anxious. I needed an answer. It left me downright impatient. Give me an answer, Goddammit! My mind was in a spin, a virtual vomit of questions, stream of consciousness, all commas and alphabet soup.

As the plane pulled away from the gate, I leaned my head against the back of the seat. "Be still and know" I remembered. Again, not a skill of mine that being still. My head was pounding from the sheer volume and volume of the conversation. This was no way to have this plane take off, I had a fucking moment of gratitude and now it is being shot to shit because you won't talk to me, so why the hell did you give me this stupid symbolic epipha-fucking-ny at the crack of crack in the morning when you know I am tired and all I want to do is go to sleep and now you won't give me this simple little answer, why, why, why won't you just tell me something, give me a fucking clue, just tell me something, anything, just say something. . .

Then, in a still, quiet thought, I heard the words, "Shut the fuck up and go to sleep." Next thing I knew, my plane touched down in Tampa. Nice talkin to ya, God.

Monday, April 14, 2008

HC: Great quote, attributed to Lily Tomlin

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

DW: Der Gerichtshof

I refer to my committee as the tribunal, or as they say in Berlin, der Gerichtshof.

Between my insomnia and my tribunal, writing has not come easy for me lately. Aside from the fact that I don't feel like I have anything important to say, I'm just too pre-occupied with observing, reading, and processing---another set of excuses I'm sure for simply not writing.

It's 2:29 am at the moment, and I'm here typing and not in bed. I was so tired when I was reading about JayZ and Beyonce that I thought I'd be asleep in no time. Then I remembered that I forgot to take my Ambien, and bingo, I perked right up. I tossed and turned and tried to yucky thoughts for about 90 minutes, then realized my mounting anxiety of not sleeping would ensure that I didn't fall asleep. I tried focusing on my breath, and only became more awake.

I almost had a complete meltdown earlier today. I went upstairs to clean the cats' 13 x 20 litter box and just started crying. They are now relieving themselves outside of the litter box, which necessitates the purchase of wee-wee pads, and now Hannah likes to plant herself right outside of the litter boxes, apparently on top of a soaked wee-wee pad. It's making me crazy. The hope is to migrate them down to the basement and buy a Cat Genie, then tear up the urine drenched carpet on the third floor, Febreze the room to death and put in a new floor. We're also dealing with trying to renovate our kitchen in as simple a way as possible.

I did the whole Ikea template thing and before adding in the door handles and wire baskets, the cabinets came to $5,000. Add another $3,000 for installation and you realize that you can get really nice cabinets for not much more. On the other hand, I do like a lot of the Ikea stuff, I just don't want to have 100 boxes delivered to my house and wait for the Ikea installation team to arrive and tell me that they delivered several wrong panels and forgot the pantry cabinet.

We have a very small kitchen with not a lot of wall space, so it is particularly challenging. I think I want to speak with a professional since we're clearly too close to the situation to make the best decisions/recommendations.

So after cleaning the litter box, etc., I went to the one place that truly calms and centers me: my office. Darryl made us coffee and made me the most beautiful breakfast plate of blackberries, bananas, goat cheese and rosemary flavored crackers. We sat outside on our bistro table and essentially said grace. I ended up staying about 8 hours longer than I planned, but I did get a lot done, and later treated myself to a vanilla cupcake at Barnes & Noble where we went to pick up kitchen renovation magazines.

I love reading these posts and appreciate how forthcoming everyone is about their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. It also reinforces how singularly-focused my life has become when reading about everyone else's recreational pursuits. That's ok, it took me a long time to be able to have any focus at all. I'm finished reading "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth" and watch the weekly web casts. It's been wonderful to see how many people have been moved by Tolle's simple and direct perspective. It's actually helped me a great deal. I love what he says about emotion is the body's response to the mind, and we are not our minds, we are the observer of our minds or something like that. 

I'm glad I got out of bed to blog, it is a good thing to write, if only to remind ourselves that we can actually do it when we sit down and do it.

It's now 2:44...let's hope the Ambien kicks in soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

HC: Shut up, already!

First of all, thanks to SS and AV for starting/continuing such an interesting thread. I did write to SS personally to thank her for being willing to talk about something personal and painful out here for the world to see. I was thinking that if SS has "the committee" and I have my "internal editor" other people have 'em too. 

And it's time to tell them all to shut up.

One of the reasons I'm enjoying this blog is it gets me to write. It gets me to write, for me. I don't know how many readers, if any, we have. I don't know if all of us thewritebunchers always read what's up here. It matters, but it doesn't matter. I like to write my blog entries, and feel part of a group of smart people who have a blog. Even if my internal editor is a pain in the neck, I've managed to put words on virtual paper, and sorta, kinda, publish them. Are they brilliant? No. Do they need to be brilliant. No. Am I having a good time writing them? YES, and I'm starting to realize that's the most important thing.

My father is/was a writer. My sister is a writer. My husband is a writer. My neighbors are writers. My great friend Suzy is a writer. They've earned their livings writing, been published, praised, etc. So where did that leave little me? How can I be a writer when all the writing slots are filled? Also, what does it mean to be a writer? How many hours a day do you need to spend writing to be "a writer"? I'll never live up to Stephen King or Neil Simon's output, will I? My prose is weak and my adjective list limited. How much money do you have to earn to be considered "a real writer"? 

I don't know any more and I don't care.

I've cared far too much about what outside people think, but finally in middle age I'm learning that, if I'm enjoying myself, who cares what outside people think. It's/Life's all about getting enjoyment and satisfaction where/when you can, isn't it? RS's latest post was great, wasn't it, but--assuming he enjoyed writing it--would he have enjoyed it more if 100 people read it than if 10 people read it? Maybe only RS can answer that.

We have the comments area for replies to our posts. I do check to see if anyone has had anything to say about the main posts, because that's interesting to me. The whole controversy about the porno daughter was highly entertaining, and it was informative to see how other people viewed the situation. I like reading people's varying viewpoints. I love to see a movie, feel whatever I feel about it, and then run to rottentomatoes.com, to read reviewers who agree and disagree with me. Maybe I missed something in the film? Interesting!

I like the immediacy of the blog because I type faster than my internal editor can say "That stinks" or "Nobody cares, Holly." The beauty is, I'm starting to disagree with my internal editor. I don't care if this stinks or if nobody cares to read it. I've enjoyed the process of sitting and typing and letting my thoughts fall on the paper. It's cathartic, it's fun, it's our baby blog.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

RS: Curtains Up

I am so grateful that theatre exists, all theatre. It just isn’t all very theatrical. And sometimes, it’s just crap.

Cue orchestra for Cry Baby several weeks back. I don’t have to ask what they were thinking, I know. They were thinking that the producers of Hairspray made a bundle. There were so many insipid, short-sighted, bad choices that it could have been directed by the Bush Administration. The score didn't. The dancing was nice. Intermission couldn’t come too soon. The universe may have been conspiring against me. I sat next to a twitchy unfortunate who was at least a milligram short of a therapeutic dose. As the lights went down, he pulled out a cheese danish then proceeded to slap his leg throughout the show in time to music that wasn’t coming from the orchestra. I’m still not sure what concerned me more, getting a little contact crazy from seat B101 or getting a little of that shit oozing from the stage on me. Even at half price, it was an expensive way to sleep.

Since then, I haven’t seen a lot of theatre. Not a boycott, much more coincidental. Busy with life, less need for the escape, theatre less prioritized. Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to reinvigorate my love of theatre twice. Straight plays, off-Broadway, free. A triple threat, nothing to lose. The company was perfection. A working actor who, like me, loves and is enlivened, expanded by theatre. And he just happens to make me smile at the very mention of his name. How could the experience get any better? Well, the presence of an actual play might have helped. First, we saw The Four of Us. He liked it more than I did. Again, I am glad it exists and that writers are getting their work staged. But, why oh why, do writers, producers and directors allow the stage to be filled with moments that are merely dramatic, not theatrical? Theatre has long been infected with words like “real”, “true”, and “honest.” I don’t give a flying fuck in a rolling donut about any one of those words—be real, be honest, have a moment, be a con man, I don’t care how you do it, just make me believe it. And what happened to the word “entertain”? You don’t have to make me cry, you don’t have to make me laugh, but try to make me care. I’ll meet you half way, do my part, not just sit there like a bump on a pickle. Theatre is a shared experience, a new relationship that must go from first meeting through romance to at least one orgasm, or epiphany for you purists, to the ultimate amicable departure when the lights come up. What do I do when I realize I want to end the date early. More than once, I’ve walked out. First black out of The Girl in the Yellow Thunderbird comes to mind. A corner seat, MTC’s theatre set up, and no intermission trumped a hasty retreat. There was also the longing hope that something interesting would happen any minute now. It was a cock tease of expectation. I found it unnecessary, boring, and without voice or identity. Tough to watch a play about two writers when the playwright has nothing to say. Perhaps it was autobiographical. News Flash: life ain’t always good theatre. There were good lighting effects. Partial performances of promise. Little to respect and nothing to love. The thought went through my mind, “Wake up, this has to be the last scene.” The same thought went through my head for each of the last three scenes.

Next day, same theatre, same company, different show. Julie White had been thrilling in The Little Dog Laughed, even though it was a show that I found a bit sit-comish and much more relevant for the early 80’s. Perhaps I would have found it more significant had I seen Johnny Galecki’s purported huge talent instead of its understudy. She was wonderful, but I always had a nagging suspicion that it was one of those cosmic alignments of acting and writing styles. Loved, loved her on Six Feet Under and Grace Under Fire, so I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. No such alignment befell From Up Here. It was a classic example of every single pivotal, dare I say theatrical, moment happening off stage. The entire play was a commentary on what you didn’t see. My folded arms were commentary on the fact that I didn’t care. The writing wasn’t solid enough to cover, the talking not strong enough to replace action. The lead actor, a promising kid, was fascinating for about 5 minutes, until I figured out that his seemingly nuanced portrayal of a troubled teen was nothing more than the misguided assumption that tilting your head and wringing your hands telegraphs bi-polar disorder with likely scizophrenia. Perhaps he once sat next to B101 as well. Again, no intermission. Good thing, tough to end the date early and keep your date going simultaneously. My companion said he knew we were in trouble during the opening scene—on one side of the stage an actress gave a monologue hanging from a mountain climbing harness dictating postcards to our lower-lip biting hero holding a teddy bear stage left. When the symbolism is that subtle, you dare not blink or miss it. There was a discussion afterward. We were enthusiastic to learn about the process even if we were underjoyed by the product. I felt trepidatious when I saw but one chair, completely turned off when only the Assistant Director sat down. No doubt talented, I had hoped to understand the choices that had been made. Did they merely fail to translate? Were they off base entirely? Was I just an idiot who didn’t understand? The first question was from an older man who was about to burst to demonstrate his theatrical insight, “There were a lot of pauses, especially in that last scene, was that supposed to mean something?” My date and I reached for our coats simultaneously. As we walked out, the AD was spritzing some perfume on that pig of a question, desperately trying to convert the pause inquisition into something remotely meaningful. She rambled on about the aunt coming into this dysfunctional family and normalizing the conflicted lead. I saw the dysfunction. What I missed was the action, the conflict, or any role the aunt played other than as an understudy for Ambien. To be honest, there was conflict, plenty of conflict, everybody was conflicted, conflicted with themselves. It is just that no one or their conflict had anything to do with anyone else. Dysfunctional families on the fringes of acceptance are the meat and potatoes of the stage, I get that, I love that, creates a rich environment. Unsweetened chocolate is pretty rich and looks good on the surface too. I also tastes like shit. You have to do something with it, mix something in. Dysfunction and drama without purpose is just a family reunion. It is the difference between fractured and fragmented. Inspired and inert. Theatre and a turd.

From Up Here was all tangent no through line; but which tangent should I invest in? The one that gave me a glimmer of hope turned out to be a dead-end. Now there’s the real symbolism in the play.

The show had a lot going on. They both did. Neither was unpleasant. Both were dramatic. But they weren’t theatrical.

I’m still glad they exist. I am also glad my theatre companion exists.

We talked about those shows again over dinner the next evening. No candle light. No champagne. No drama. No theatrics. Just two blue plate specials at a crowded counter staring into each other’s eyes and talking about life and art. He asked if I thought our meeting might have been meant to be. I said I believed in the possibility. And I realized that that is what I love about theatre, the anticipation of possible. Unfortunately, the only thing I was anticipating at MTC was the possibility that both plays would end soon.

I’ve decided the antidote is more theatre not less. Those moments when anticipation meets action are magical, no matter how few and far between. As I sat there in the dark holding hands with my date anticipating possible this weekend, I was mighty grateful that theatre exists. And theater.

By the way, I have tickets to see Curtains on Thursday with a date. Oh, the possibilities.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

AV: The Collective Speaks

Ordinarily, I would have responded to SS in a comment, as most of us do when moved to it.

However, in a burst of non-conformity and outlandishness, I have decided to "cross-talk" in a post. Is that a "cross-talk-post"?

This is in response to the Committee post in which she so eloquently describes the awful characters we each carry around in us to a greater or lesser extent.

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite books, "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. No doubt you've heard of it. It's so important to me that I keep a copy in my office where, coincidentally, I am writing this post (on work time!! oh my!). I also have a copy at home. It makes me feel better just knowing that its fallible paperback-bound pages are orange-ing from the edges in to the middles on my bookshelves. Just does.

But I digress.

Here's something about the collective, or committee, or the general paranoia that besets so many of us when we decide maybe it's time to actually write something. BTW, for the copyright hounds out there, I didn't get permission, but I'm thinking she won't mind because I'm gonna highly recommend you go out and get a copy for yourself.

(writing about her writing students ...)
"... they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout -- the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.

"You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings, I tell them, or you can see the paranoia, for instance, as wonderful material. You can use it as the raw clay that you pull out of the river: surely one of your characters is riddled with it, and so in giving that person this particular quality, you get to use it, shape it into something true and funny or frightening. I read them a poem by Phillip Lopate that someone once sent me, that goes:

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
discontent and
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

SS: The Committee

I used to love to write.

Every time I gave myself or was given the opportunity to put words to print, I'd feel that slight intake of breath and that rise in the number of heartbeats that always came with the possibility of doing something creative -- pulling a fragment out of my mind and making it into something that had the power give someone else (even if it was just me) a glimpse into my own thinking and being. Humans live to communicate, it's how we survive, so I think sometimes the rush of an idea is almost elemental, a function of the most primitive parts of our brains.

I remember the first time I was given a creative writing assignment. It was ninth grade in high school, and within seconds of the teacher announcing it, I was already plotting the story in my head (the story of my life! would have gone my self-centered 14-year old thinking). The stakes seemed so high, but they thrilled me, and I know I didn't have any problem rushing home after the last bell rang to the computer, ready to get it all down.

I took a creative writing course in college, and it was there, under the tutelage of an aging hippie professor that I began to learn how to grab and control all the characters, plot themes, symbols and other literary effluvia swarming around my head. Control was already becoming the larger issue in my life, but this was all still a decade before control would unravel me. In that college class, writing was safe for me. It was what I did, who I was and the only way at the time I could love myself.

I took a job as an editorial assistant in a New York City medical marketing company, thinking it would give me the chance at that carousal ring every writer seeks, the job that actually pays you to write. I was dismayed to find this was not the case. I was judged much more on my ability to quickly secure permissions to use materials in marketing kits on various diseases, most of which, save for the literary delights of the mental disorders, I found completely lacking in any kind of creative merit. I knew the act of writing was actually happening somewhere in those offices, but it was an activity seldom shared with those in lowly administrative positions.

So I moved on, and found a job where I could actually write for a living. It was at a trade magazine devoted to television production, and while this was no Atlantic Monthly, it was a place where I could actually write entire articles with my byline, which was enough for me. Yes, I was being paid to write. I loved it. I stayed at this place for four years.

It's now been eight years since I first walked through the door at that trade magazine. And it's been at least three since I lost the ability to really get excited about writing. And somewhere within those three years, I've come to dread the act of writing. I cannot pinpoint where it all started. I know I have not really lost my passion for writing, it has just been dormant. I can't seem to draw it out completely. I'll have moments of pleasure when writing something for a client, and those moments remind me I still "have it in me." But now the dread is the dominant feeling.

Of course, there were seeds of this all throughout my twenties. It was during my early 20s that I began to truly hone my perfectionist tendencies, and as we all know, perfectionism stops creativity and passion in its tracks. There was a room in head, built sometime in high school. Perhaps the cornerstone was laid when a teacher first criticized me, or my first boyfriend dumped me or I first spotted my lonely, awkward teenage self in the mirror and thought, "How ugly." Then a table appeared in my head, at the front of this room, then several chairs, all lined up behind the table. Then one last chair, a more spindly-looking one, was placed in front of the table, facing the other chairs.

At some point, I took my place in this solitary chair, and people began filing into the room. These were professional types, wearing suits and fancy heels. As they clipped past me, the breeze they created would split open the two halves of their silk trench coats, and a half would slap me in the face.

This was the committee. They were here to catch me in all my actions, point out my slip ups, make sure I "understood" how to behave, to be. At first they'd remind me about little things: "Getting a little chubby, aren't we?" "He'd never go out with you!" "Don't ask for more money -- you're lucky they hired you in the first place!" Gradually, they became more strident, more esoteric: "You love the wrong people." "You don't want children because you're wicked." "You'll be alone forever." Finally: "You are not a writer. You're a wannabe." "You aren't a professional." "Nobody takes you seriously.""Go for this -- we won't say we 'told you so!' when you fail."

Of course, we all have our committees. It's just that some of us can better define who sits on these committees, knows where they've seen that person before, and maybe knows how to tell the person to shut up. I've only just learned there IS a committee. Well, as the saying goes, awareness is key. I know there is someone on that committee battling me over writing, laying out a detailed case for why I should have never have presumed myself a writer in the first place. At least I know that person is there, in my head. Now -- how do I get him or her out?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

RS: A Recipe for Success

I love cookbooks. I can read the same one over and over again. My mother taught me to cook early. She didn’t force me. Limp wrist born to whisk. Mama worked. I loved Mama. Mama cooked. Heaven in a mixing bowl.

We had only one real family recipe. Mama’s fried chicken. I’ve watched her do it a million times. I still can’t recreate it. Next to my family, it is the best part of going home. She makes the best German chocolate cake icing on the planet. Beyond that it was all about the comfort. I didn’t realize macaroni and cheese could come from anywhere but a box until I was in college. Two old maid Baptists (secret lesbians I am convinced) served it up, and I looked at them with a palpable pity. How sad. How wrong. How unclassy. Years later, I went to a friend's house, lesbian as well, attempting an apple pie. I entered her house as she was elbow deep in a crust like a shingle. I sent her out to change my oil while I converted pottery into pastry in about 30 seconds. Lesbians cooking. . .how cute.

Being persnickety, I had a discerning palate at an early age. No truffle compared to No Bake Cookies. Brown beans with ham hocks served on corn bread were fine dining. Biscuits and gravy were blood and body of Christ in one serving. (And don’t waste my time with no homemade biscuits. Upscale people use wop biscuits exclusively, so named because you wop ‘em against the counter top to open them.) I ate 97 forms of beef, all well done. Three types of vegetables, all well done. Every imaginable part of the squirrel, all fried. And my Aunt Dorothy—oh she of the Welfare and trailer park, she who begat three murderers, a gay son who married a man off the internet sight unseen, and a crazed Commando named Ivanhoe who misspent his youth attempting to master the art of castrating turtles—introduced me to a four-layer dessert made with instant pistachio pudding, cream cheese, powdered sugar, Dream Whip AND Cool Whip that, for an 11 year-old, completely redefined fancy.

I left home with the most refined tongue known to man, steel belted arteries, and a colon that could pass cement. I spent my 20’s consuming a diet that consisted of beef tortellini with Ragu, chicken fried steak, and the very international French Dip au jus. Pinky raised with indignation.

Unbeknownst to me, what I really left home with was a skill. Whether she intended it or not, Mama was teaching me more than how to cook, she was teaching me how to read. Recipes are reading comprehension. You end up with something that looks completely different than the individual ingredients with which you start. Each step is fundamental to the journey. Slight changes produce a completely different result. And baking is chemistry in action. All that learnin and Mama time too. I was one lucky kid.

It was later that I discovered other tastes. They began to expand in San Francisco. I fell in love with a stunning man. He was refined, rich, twice my age, and probably the love of my life. He took me to a Vietnamese restaurant. He ordered. I put things in my mouth I would never have considered had the blood to my brain not been redirected to more demanding locations. Oh, the doors he opened.

Even later, when I discovered corporate expense accounts and restaurants with star ratings, I discovered wines where the date mattered, sauces that didn’t come from a bottle, spices other than salt, cheeses other than Velveeta, and vegetables that still had shape and texture. To be fair, I still don’t like condiments, can’t even look at runny eggs, won’t go near salad or unmelted cheese, and vehemently and near violently object to pickles. Waiters fuck up and friends duck down. I may have grown but this old dog and trickin with a pickle, I don’t care how fine the vinegar.

Beyond my personal taste, I am fascinated with the possibilities in cookbooks. I secretly compose menus, creatively construct variations, and voraciously consume techniques. Sometimes I even put pan to wax paper and make something. I love event cooking, but there is a joy so satisfying in taking that journey my Mama taught me, traveling through a recipe, that sends me on veritable vacations without leaving my couch. It has opened up my palate without detriment of a single calorie. And I have seen savory sights in component combinations as beautiful as any scene in the world.

Mama taught me many things. She didn’t just teach me how to read, she taught me how to understand. She didn’t just teach me how to take risk, she taught me how to mix it up. And she didn’t just teach me how to enjoy life, she taught me how to relish. Oh, wait, that has pickles.

Yes, Mama taught me many things. All because she taught me how to cook.

AV: More Important Than You Know


SS: Flannery O'Connor would love this...

James and I have been looking at houses in upstate New York recently, and here's what we spotted on the deck of one of the places we saw. Yes, a beautiful male peacock! Many thanks to our fabulous real estate guru, Patricia Beattie, who snapped the shot!

HC: On my way to South Pacific

Tonight I am going to the theater. Some people go to the theater a lot. They live in Manhattan and have to travel a very short distance to see the wonders of New York City theater. I live approximately 35 miles away from the heart of Manhattan. Sometimes that drive is 45 minutes; sometimes it's an hour and 45 minutes. With gas, tolls, and parking, that's a lot of money, true  (and thank heavens I have the money) but it's also a small price to pay to get to see the cream of the crop of American and British (visiting) theater people.

Not just the performers, but also the musicians, set designers, costumers, lighting, etc. New York just has the best.

Tonight I'm going to see Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. It is in the same theater, has the same director, and two of the same stars as my second favorite musical of all time, The Light in the Piazza. Tonight I'll be sitting in the Vivian Beaumont watching Bartlett Sher's direction of Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Morrison. My excitement has been building practically since I got tickets months and months ago. I'm leaving in about an hour, and I have butterflies inside, almost as if I were going on stage myself.

The Beaumont has a huge, curtainless stage. For Piazza, the entire stage was skillfully, delicately, sparingly, and imaginatively turned into Florence and Rome. Tonight it will be, duh, the South Pacific. Even though I got good grades in elementary school for my shoe-box diorama of the flying car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang--complete with cotton ball clouds--I have no idea how set designers do what they do. If it were me, I, uh, guess I'd put a South Pacifician palm tree over there, right? And an army tent over here? Yeah, great! Boy, I have respect for theater people!

Of course the music in South Pacific is beautiful. And tonight I'll hear it live, something I've never experienced before. I know O'Hara and Morrison have great voices, and I'm sure by the time I leave the theater I'll have crush on Paul Szot, the handsome opera singer co-starring tonight.

It’s not just getting to see the show, either. It’s the drive into NYC with the husb, the browsing at Barnes & Nobles, eating dinner at Ollie’s Chinese restaurant with Wendy and Susan…and the whole time, the butterflies, like I have a little secret, a surprise birthday party waiting for me just after dinner. Walking to Lincoln Center passed all the rich people in their furs (yuck) and face-lifts, to the right and back to the Beaumont. In through the doors, down the steps, looking for famous people in the audience. Going to the bathroom—laugh if you will but the Beaumont bathroom is a destination in itself—then walking to the ticket-taker, finding our seats, getting ready for the lights to go down. Hearing the first three notes of the overture: Bal-i Hai!!!! Yes, I’M EXCITED.

I’ve been excited before many a show, and I’ve been disappointed (can you say JUNO?), but the one thing that never fails is the gift of watching these great talented people on stage. Surely the gift of song is greater than all others? I’d imagine it’s incredible to save someone’s life, or put out a fire, or throw or catch a touchdown (whichever it is greater to do) but opening your mouth and having lovely notes come out? Notes that blend with every instrument in an orchestra to form a whole, to wrap up and present Some Enchanted Evening as a gift to every single member of an audience? Amazing.

I’m not a church or synagogue goer. For me, the closest thing to a communal, religious experience happens when I go see a musical. Not necessarily on/off Broadway. I’ve seen great shows in Boston, DC, cities in Virginia and England, and at Nyack High School. There’s just a joy in the singing and playing of music, that I’m so honored, pleased, grateful, and just plain tickled to be a part of.

Now I’ll go fluff my hair, brush my teeth, get my Barnes & Noble gift certificate, and get in the car, trying not to crash in all my excitement.

Rodgers & Hammerstein, here I come!