Tuesday, November 30, 2010

last day of november

this is my 30th post this month.
as of the posting of this post, im technically done with my commitment. but im just now feeling like i have the time to deal with writing and posting things again, and ive gotten so in the habit of making this happen, that i think ill try to continue. i dont want to post just for posting's sake (like some of this last week's entries, due to the time and energy vortex that was tech week), nor do i want to keep myself from writing on the projects i have in production because i have to post something else, but i do want to keep the discipline of making this happen because its important. maybe ill try 5 substantial posts a week in december. some of them may very well be portions of what other things im working on. in fact, quite a few should be. but i will for sure continue putting things up for you to read.
today im going to talk about this idea of a firloy i mentioned on sunday. he her him, free fer frim is a zine my ex luka showed me a couple years ago about a kid, named han, who has decided to not be a boy or a girl but a firloy. and the protagonist gets teased cuz that doesnt make sense to anyone, until it makes sense to someone else cuz they are a firloy too. and han is so happy to have a friend who knows whats up. i will illustrate it in my life by giving you an exchange that my friend becky had with her daughter after my visit over labor day weekend:

Over dinner tonight- following Molly's question of "Where's Amtrak?" when Patrick discussed his bus ride home.

Me: "It's where we dropped Ray off."
Molly was pensive for a minute: "Is Ray a girl or a boy?"
Us: "Well........ what do you think?"
Molly: "I think she's a boy."
Me: "Yes, Ray likes being a boy."
Molly: "Ray IS a boy."

So, Molly has it all figured out, as usual. :-)

'i think she's a boy.' (yes, molly. you are exactly right. i love it.)
this statement, along with 'my mom, he...' (whatever, '...will pick us up at soccer practice,' i dont care how the sentence ends) are thoughts, statements and perceptions that im aiming for in life right now. (not that im trying to have a kid of my own to say these things) just that i want the younger generation that i participate in raising to be gender-savvy in this way. that this way of seeing things, which to us looks odd or wrong or something (or right in only a handful of communities) would make perfect sense to a child born now or in the near future as they grow up in the two thousand teens and deal with language and gender and such. that adults who hear things like this wouldnt correct the children saying them because they couldnt be the reflective of the truth, just a mistake. children dont make mistakes like that. they deal with what rules they have been given around the perception of people. they learn early that there are differences in people and what they are and how to see these differences and understand which side of the coin they have been given any one person falls on.
when i was a child i got asked all the time 'are you a boy or a girl' and i was so angry that i had to choose. i was annoyed that the other kids on the playground felt the need to classify me. but thats what their parents had taught them. i used to say anything to avoid answering one way or the other. i used to say 'cant you tell?' or 'why do you care?' sometimes id really wanna say, 'im not gonna tell you, if you cant figure it out.' or 'its none of your business.' a lot of times id do exactly what becky did and say 'what do you think?' but whatever they said in response made me angry, cuz it was at least half wrong. (none of them were as savvy as molly) but really, the question was so much more offensive than any answer.
back in early 2004 i was presenting quite femininely and had let my hair get kinda long, but decided i really needed to cut it all off if i was going to be wearing skirts and dresses (oh balance, a whole other post). so i did. i chopped the back of my hair really short (i kept it long in front for a few months, then buzzed the whole thing down to an inch long) and i went to work the day after in a skirt. at the time i was working as a TA in a montessori preschool classroom for 5 and 6 year olds. one of my students, who was a smart and likable kid, said to me, 'ms. rachel, you look like a boy.' and i said, 'but jack, im wearing a skirt.' and he said, 'oh? yeah...i guess. but you still look like a boy.' i queried, 'how come, if im dressed like a girl?' his answer, 'well, your hair is short like mine, and it makes you look like a boy.'
now, i had no problem with his perception, and part of me was excited by the possibility that his idea of what a boy looks like could encompass someone wearing a skirt. but really, it just seemed kinda absurd that this 5 year old had latched on to one indicator of gender (which isnt a very good one as indicators go), hair length, and decided that was it. didnt matter that i was wearing a kinda tight shirt that showed off my chest and a skirt that came to my knees and exposed my shaved legs (i know, hard to imagine, right?) these things didnt at that time factor into his rules as to what made a boy or a girl. just hair length. it really highlighted for me the ridiculous amount of time we spend trying to teach our kids the 'rules' of gender expression and identification that are somewhat arbitrary and have more exceptions to them that most of dominant culture wants to admit.
kids pick up on things that are more true that the random classification systems we create and try to make them learn. i think jack even joked to other students something to the effect of 'ms. rachel is a boy.' and they thought it was funny, but looked at me in a way that seemed to be putting that possibility into their own classification systems. and even if jack said that statement in jest, and even if its not on some levels factually correct, i do wish ardently that he never *ever* grew out of believing that it could be (at least somewhat) true.

Monday, November 29, 2010

mister bluebird on my shoulder

ive been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for a week now, especially this weekend trying to not sleep at the theatre and taking on props duties, lugging myself and tons of stuff back and forth from OP, and you have prolly noticed that i havent had time to write much at all during this time. i have, however, found moments to notice things i want to write about, and one of those moments was yesterday as i gathered my plethora of bags off the window seat in my parents dining room and looked up at the window for a second. and there on the windowpane was the bluebird. i quick took a picture of it so i wouldnt forget to tell you about it(so many things jumbled in my head these days i forget at least 5 of them at a time).
its not much, just a blue glass bird to sit in a windowsill and have the sun glint off of. but it used to live on the windowsill in my grandma's nursing home room, and tho mom doesnt remember its existence before that, i am almost positive grandma had it in the kitchen in the house on pine street in seymour, indiana. this is the house my grandma and grandpa fox had built when they got married and then raised my mother in. its the house that we went to visit grandma in where there were always cookies in the cookie jar and little bottles of coke in the fridge and all the other joys of being at grandma's. i could draw a floorplan of this house, i could reconstruct every room, the feeling of each one, why i loved being there. the skeleton key that locked the basement door, the chinese checkers board in the front hall closet, the marble hearth in front of the fireplace where we used to burn pine cones dipped in chemicals that would flare green and red and blue, the lamps, the tables, the pictures on the wall (one was my mom's first communion glam shot), the tall antique bed i slept in, the cut glass bowls in the dining room cabinet, the turquoise ceramic fixtures in the upstairs bathroom. i remember the games we played with the central heating ducts in our bedrooms, being taught how to sew in the living room, listening to bing crosby's christmas album on the record player in the attic bedroom, playing croquet on the big grassy lot next to the house, rollerskating in the concrete basement, thanksgiving dinner around her table which always had homemade noodles in broth and white gravy for the turkey and a birthday cake for her when nov 23rd fell on a thursday.
the oddest thing about grandmas house was the fact that she had a blue and green kitchen with blue and green carpet. yep. carpet in the kitchen. i never understood. they must have redone it in the 60's or something. the colors were loud and the patterns on the floor and walls were big and busy. there were owls on the walls as big as my head in royal blue and sea green. but then there was this beautiful little bluebird. i think he lived on the window above the sink, the one you look out of while doing the dishes. right near the little ceramic dish grandma put her rings in so she wouldnt lose them in the dishwater. i always loved this little bird who looked so sweet set against the green of summer, the gold of fall or the white of winter out the window. i have no idea where she got him originally, but he was always there watching over all of us as grandma made dinner or dessert or poured iced tea (just a little sweet) or opened cokes (coke was a big thing at grandmas house). and seeing him on a windowsill reminds me of all those wonderful times.

i still have a hard time with the fact that our family doesnt own that house anymore. grandma sold it when she moved into the nursing home in '91, but she took bluebird with her. i remember when we went to visit her in her new room, and i saw him on the window there too, so glad that at least one thing still felt like grandmas house in this sterile place she had moved. it ended up being a great thing for her, she had never learned to drive so she was so much closer to the action at the nursing home, having people to eat with all the time, just having to walk down the hall for the nightly cut-throat euchre game. but bluebird was a reminder of the old house, the happy times we shared there, and the love that my grandma steeped each brick and board and inch of space in during the 50+ years she lived there. now that my grandma has passed away bluebird lives on the dining room window at my parents house, next to the wall with the picture of grandma's house as it was back in the day. seeing him sitting there still brings back the feeling of well-being that always engulfed me in that house and being around grandma generally, the feeling of being loved so very much and that love being manifested in the food i was fed, made by her hands.
creating this feeling is something my mother is incredibly good at as well. admittedly, she had the best teacher ever. seeing that little window-sitting bluebird yesterday, knowing the little cub, alex fox vanek, was coming over for dinner with the family, and witnessing mom make tomato sauce and chocolate pie in preparation, i was made aware of how beautifully the tradition is being passed down. and even though i was too busy with the show to be there at the table with them, maybe alex saw mr. bluebird and had that same feeling of well-being which meant that both grandma fox and ray van fox were there in spirit.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

day off?

just finished a 'successful' preview weekend and am now moving into the week before we actually open (thursday night). tomorrow, we are dark. we dont have any rehearsal or work to do in the space. but its not a day off for me. ill be scoring tests for 6hrs tomorrow. gotta work the job that pays me a decent hourly wage too...
luckily, it will be tons easier and almost half as much time as ive been putting in on the show. but im not thinking about tomorrow yet.
right now im thinking about thursday night, thanksgiving night, when after i had dinner with my family i went over to a friends house where everyone was finished eating and should have been finished drinking since they had started at noon, but werent by a long shot and within a short time i had done three shots with everyone (a whiskey, a tequila, and a gin) and was on my way to the local bar. it was one of those experiences where the person i was with (my dear friend janet) either didnt use a pronoun or used a male one for me and the those meeting me saw me as a dude. we drank at the bar for a while, talking with the fellas that were there, one of whom is quite attractive. he (of course) is the married one, but the point is: these men referred to, and interacted with me as a man.
it might seem funny to you that i bring this up as something to blog about, given it seems to be the natural order of what i prefer in life. but im realizing it feels kinda weird when people use 'he' for me without the (what i feel as necessary) understanding of the subversion of the use of that word by referring to me with it. when people just say 'hey man,' cuz they think i am a man, i feel a little uncomfortable. cuz i dont really wanna have to act more like a dude in order to keep that moment from happening when i giggle or smile real big or whatever it is that shifts someone's view of me and they feel like they have to change their way of interacting and referring to me. its not that i want to 'pass' or dont want to 'pass' its that the idea of 'passing' is the whole problem, cuz there isnt a thing im trying to look like, except myself. i really dont want there to be a moment of 'this is a man' shifting into 'this is a woman' because the existence of the shift shows off the fact that 1) the person perceiving me doesnt see that there are more than two options and 2) that i dont really fit into either of the original perceptions. so here i am, a firloy just hanging out, being myself, and having people say things i would want them to say if they understood what they were saying, but because they dont seem to quite understand, i feel funny hearing them say these things. 'he' out of janet's mouth, and 'he' out of random good looking doorman's mouth, seem really different and only one is actually comfortable for me to hear.
i guess its cuz one has only love and understanding of me in it, and the other sets up expectations that i know i cant deliver on and have no desire to feel nervous around failing at.
my technical director said to me last week, 'can you help me with this sir, or ma'am, whichever it is today?' and i laughed and said, 'it changes all the time.' to which he replied, 'and i think thats totally fecking awesome. now come help.'
everyone in the production uses 'she', but sometimes anne says 'sir' or 'gentleman' or something else thats not a pronoun but somewhat gendered, but thats cuz she is awesome and one day just sat down next to me and asked if i was transitioning. if its on your radar, you are in. you are the kind of person i will feel good about being in conversation with. if not, i dont know how to interact with you until you pick a gender that you are comfortable with using to refer to me, which, no matter what you choose, will make me feel uncomfortable in my interactions with you.
and there isnt really anything i can do about this, its just how i feel right now. and it just so happens im around a lot of people right now who dont get the idea of life being multi-gendered and it gets pretty exhausting either trying to conform to their preconceived notions of me, or breaking them down.
and being in the place where i spent so much of my young life as feminine in gender, and running into people who knew me then and have them see me now, makes me kinda crazy. cuz unless i care about actually being in conversation with them, and might converse again in the future, im not gonna explain.
except here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

three hats, two heads

as of today i have added to my roles of stage manager and light tech/board op, the role of props 'mistress'. now i have 7,000 things to think of, remember, take care of and do before every rehearsal and show from now until forever, it seems, instead of just 5,000. i can do this, but only if i get enough sleep.
and blog, o'mine, you are my biggest reason for not getting to bed early. you and important emails and beautiful letters and story ideas and such...
thankfully first tech went well, tho i cant quite get a handle on running around to do all my plethora of tasks before we start yet. soon, ill have it in my body, like blocking on stage, but the cues havent been written yet and i flounder a bit still. thank god its only previews weekend. by thursday ill be golden.
if only i had one more head to deal with all the extra things i need to put in it...

[coming soon: stuff that isnt about the show, and much longer.]

ba-ruch solves everything.

today i had brunch with friends who are in for the weekend from nyc at handlebar (vegan biscuits and gravy!!!) and we ended up talking about writing most of the time. they both work for npr (well, one is actually bbc i think) and are both brilliant story-tellers. alex was talking about the books he has bouncing around in his head and i talked about this blog and jen, who is a masterful interviewer, was good enough to remind me of how important it is for me to use this space to talk about gender and how it manifests in my life and affects both me and those around me.
i promise i will get back in that mode soon, as well as writing actual interesting essay/posts again, hopefully starting this week. previews are tomorrow and sunday and then its just the last few rehearsals and tech tweaks before opening night on the 2nd. my brain will be less myopic and my energy levels will be higher than negative numbers.
till soon....

Friday, November 26, 2010


my thanksgiving was a string of different moments with lots of people i was glad to be celebrating with, and a couple moments of remembering all those who feel like family that i didnt get to celebrate with. as glad as i am to be with my nuclear family on that day (i used to be sad i was missing the time with them when i didnt live in town), i missed seattle a bunch yesterday. i missed my houses and our vegan potluck feasts, i missed playing celebrity in the living room at sunset house and then going back for seconds when the first plateful of food wore off. i missed my hard femmes dressed to the nines and my bois cooking and baking pies like mad. i missed the dance party in the living room of fraggle rock. i missed jess's leftover oyster stuffing. and it isnt nostalgia for those times past or wishing that houses which have broken up were still extant, its just the community of queerdos out there--my chosen family--that i was wishing i was participating in this year. cuz im so freaking thankful for them its sick.
my dear friend heather was adamant last night about how important it was to share her table with those who felt like family and i was honored to be considered part of that group, but i missed my queer family last night. i realize that those who fall into that definition at this point are spread across the country, so i feel funny trying to lump it into one group, but it sure would be fun to have everyone from every corner around one table someday. people i like cooking and/or eating with include folks in new hampshire, boston, nyc, philly, detroit, ann arbor, chicago, seattle, portand, berkeley, oakland, and nola. but really, all the people in this country that i have broken bread with in the past year and a half have been on my mind as people i am thankful for their existence as well as their love for me and im truly grateful that my homefree life has been such a blessing to be able to spend time with so many people that i wouldnt otherwise have gotten to visit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

magic sheet

oh dear god, have mercy on my soul and please tell me that when we shut off the light board with all 49 cues set but not saved onto disk that we didnt lose every one of them and wont have to write and record them all again tomorrow.
please please please.
i wanna make it home for thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

almost there

its almost wednesday. i mean, its after midnight. and wednesday is tech. another 14hr day and one where we will be actually doing the work on the light board computer that scares me so. but at least i wont be on my knees laying down flooring for hours on end. (i think i have bruises)
its getting down to the wire. open dress is friday night, first paying audience is saturday. i dont know how i will be able to shut my brain off for thanksgiving, thinking about all the stuff there is to do before we show an audience.
i know, i know. you are sick of me talking about the show. im sorry. i dont really have room in my brain for anything else. and my body aches so much i should be in bed right now. (bed being the loveseat--its not even a couch--that im gonna sleep on in the men's dressing room in the basement of the theatre)
but, you say, i like reading your pretty passages, your stories about interesting people and places, not your whining about having to actually do some work for a few days for once in your homeless 'writer' slack-off's existence.
word. me too. when i get my brain back, i will regale you with such like posts. until then, i can tell you about the fact that i spent hours upon hours of my last two days on my knees laying luan cut and stained to look like floor boards. it was a matter of fitting boards together by shape and color and wielding a 20lb hammer to sink 3/4" finishing nails, approximately 8 to a board, if not more, depending on whether the platforms underneath were shifty. all complaining about my legs and knees aside(now that im just shy of 32yo i can complain about my body not being what it used to), it was a really awesome experience and i really loved working on it. i got good and fast at it, had moments where i thought about how i could take this knowledge and use it towards redo-ing my house when i have one, i got into a groove while listening to the album 'revolver' that made me think of my post about papaspiros and the joy of watching someone who was good at something do the thing they are good at doing. not that i think i was born to be a floor-er, but that when you work on the dance moves enough to get past the choreography and into the feeling of your body thru the movements, when you can take a moment and revel in the motion without thinking, that moment always feels really good. its sorta what gets me thru the day. and not just these epic days, but a day in the life i live.
the only thing better is sharing that feeling with someone else, preferably when they are dancing the same dance you are and are feeling that same feeling of revelry in something done well. its a pretty gorgeous thing, the connection between two people, joyously feeling alive and embodied. and yes, its not far from the same sort of connection people can share while having sex. true. but what i like about this connection is that it rarely happens with the people in my life i have sex with. or i should phrase that differently: the number of these moments i have with the people i sleep with are a small percentage of the number of these moments i have in my life. and a lot of times these connections are shared with people i will never have the opportunity to have sex with, for whatever reason. thats not the point. intimacy isnt either. its a mutual understanding of how awesome it is when you can combine two jobs well done into one big connected synchronous whole.
(i guess ive worked my way back to that thought about the overtone...and god. or sex. or both.)

i am tech week

yesterday i arrived at the theatre at 8:30am, half an hour before load-in was gonna start, to meet with the fella who runs the rentals at chicago dramatists and get the building tour and the keys. we loaded in all the set pieces and platforms and started constructing and painting and laying down the floor. in the evening the piano was delivered and things are starting to look like we are getting somewhere. the production team left between 8pm and 9pm, and i sat in the theatre and wrote a short blog post. then i locked up everything and went down to the basement (where the dressing rooms are) and slept on the couch. i was up by 8am, stretched my muscles, sore from yesterday, ate a bite of breakfast and am now in the theatre lobby waiting upon the production team and my helpers for the day. we have to finish the floor, hang a window, hang and focus all the lights for the show, and hopefully still have time to enter all he cues into the computer before 11am tomorrow when tech starts. and goes for 12 hours. ill be sleeping here again tonight and finishing up whatever last minute stuff there is while hopefully getting enough sleep to be coherent enough to run tech.
this is it. i eat breath and dream this shit. im here for the duration, till we are performance ready because whether the show comes together or not rests largely on my shoulders. this is the stage managers job.
the only thing im worried about is the lights. one, cuz i only halfway remember what im doing, and two, because i will be the one running the board for the shows. ive done all of this before, its just been 10 years and i know ill get back into it as soon as i start working on it, but i dont want my learning curve to be the limiting reagent in getting shit done on time. thankfully, one of our helpers today is a lighting guy and should know the board well enough to get shit together quicker than doug (the lighting designer/technical director) or i could.
anyway, the point is, its my baby now, the director is handing the show over to me this week and by opening, her job is done. and then its my show.
and then you all have to come see it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

a total lie

i think this blog is going to say i posted it on sunday. i didnt. i didnt have a brain cell left for blogging yesterday. and i dont have a muscle left today. but ill get to that later.
sunday, the two things that i was thinking about were two lines from the show (local wonders, see widget to the right) they are actually both poems by ted kooser.

the first is an entire poem from his winter morning walks, but most importantly the last phrase:

sometimes, when things are going well,
the daredevil squirrel of worry
suddenly leaps from the back of my head
to the feeder, swings by his paws
and clambers up twitching his question mark tail.
and though i try the recommended baffles--
tine cone of meditation, greased pipe
of positive thought--every sunflower seed
in this life is his if he wants it.

[emphasis mine]
the second is a section from a song (paul made it into a song in the show) called this is nebraska and id sing it for you if i could cuz its really the combination of music and words that i love so much here, but it reads like this:

a pickup kicks its fenders off and
settles back to read the clouds.
you feel like that;
you feel like letting your tires go flat,
like letting the mice build a nest in your muffler,
like being no more than a truck in the weeds.

and i know the sentiments in these two pieces are vastly different from each other but i love them both so very much for the same reason--they are incredibly beautiful and vivid poetry that make my throat catch with their truth.
i used to say i didnt like poetry. i havent said that in a couple years cuz i think ive slowed down and have come to realize it is more worthwhile to appreciate well thought out language than to go for immediate (and possibly facile) comprehension. i think its because im getting more visual as i get older. (and from going to china where i couldnt get any kind of comprehension from reading or listening so i had to learn how to work with the visual sense, just watching people interact to figure out what they are talking about and such. reading the physical aspects of a place or situation because everything else was shut off to me. it was good practice. and i felt like i understand more now.)
cuz it took me until then, my 24th year, to learn to trust anything but written and spoken words. and i know thats what these poems are, but just like radio, poetry is an incredibly visual art from. its about creating images for readers to recreate in their heads. and sometimes the pieces of the puzzle that are used, the syntax and phrasing, are harder to fit together than others. but ted's language is able to ground ones emotions and thoughts in concrete images from nature. that is so valuable to me.

cuz sometimes you feel like that; you feel like letting your tires go flat...like being no more than a truck in the weeds.

and sometimes the daredevil squirrel of worry suddenly leaps from the back of my head to the feeder..and...every sunflower seed in this life is his if he wants it.

and sitting with those images is enough to understand the emotions of what is going on there. so...there isnt anything more to say.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


ever seen the movie wordplay? not surprised if you haven't, (but its really good). its about my mom's favorite person, will shortz, the editor of the new york times crossword puzzle. she has been doing the nyt crossword puzzle since since he was made the editor of it (1993) and it has been a standard part of my family life for years. she used to only do the sunday crossword and work on it all week on her commute to work, but now that she is retired, and my parents get the times daily, she has been doing each day's puzzle every week. actually, thats not even true anymore. since she has been in continual practice, she doesnt even deign to do the monday or tuesday--they are a waste of her time. cuz, unlike anyone who does these puzzles competitively, she likes to sit with the challenging ones that take her most of the day to accomplish. and then she goes on the crossword blog that she reads and checks her answers and learns about other crossword solvers opinions and hangups and such.
which means i get to do the easy ones. and having been taught by a true aficionado, i feel pretty good when i can get the monday done in a half hour. (of course, rex parker, king of the crossworld, gets it done in 2-3 minutes. for reals.)
but i would much rather work on the puzzle with my mom. since we have been in high school at least, she has given up on it for a time (always to come back to later) and thrown it across the table to one or the other of her children and said, 'see if you can get any of it.' and not in a challenging way, but in a i-give-up-and-maybe-a-pair-of-new-eyes-will-see-something-im-missing sort of way. also, sometimes there are pop culture references she doesnt know. (just like how i never know the more erudite old school film greats or 1960's hall-of-famers). i feel like will shortz edits the puzzle to include clues for trivia buffs as well as word play artists, scholars as well as sports fans, people of the younger generation as well as the older. put all those types together and you have my family. so between the 5 of us, we can usually get it done.
we kids learned at an early age that the first rule to being a part of this combined effort was that our usual sloppy handwriting was verboten in 'mom's crossword' (she is still the primary solver, the curator of the event of solving it, bringing in the experts on this or that at her whim), and the second was writing over the number in any of the boxes. man, all of us have caught hell for that at some point in our lives, and we didnt soon forget it. but, once following the rules, each of us has taken a bit of pride in knowing something mom hadnt gotten, or having a corner 'fall' (which means you get enough things filled in that the rest of the crosses are self evident, all of a sudden) when we were the one with pen in hand. (oh yes, it always has to be in pen. using pencil is not done in my family.) ive looked at finished crosswords lying around the house (usually the sunday) and can tell by the handwriting whose aid was enlisted when. except my dad's. he only works on a consulting basis. never have i seen him lift up a pen to enter a word, but he is the go-to guy for most sports and old movies clues. at least half of my knowledge of sports history has happened around the table with a crossword puzzle laid out in front of us. many a dad-answer is accompanied by a story of how he happened to know it.
the fun thing about staying at my parents house when i come thru chicago is that now, as an adult, i get to be a crossword puzzle 'artist in residence'. when mom leaves the puzzle lying around for a few hours before going back to it with fresh eyes, she not only allows me to have looked at it and fill in what i can, she expects and even encourages it. she will say, 'did you look at the puzzle today?' if she is stuck, and sometimes even when shes not. because on wednesdays she takes the puzzle with her to work, she has given me her login info for nytimes.com so i can do it myself online. then, when she gets home, we compare notes, tho she has always gotten more done than me. sometimes she will have already gotten a thursday puzzle done by the time i have a chance to look. then she will apologize for not waiting, but not as if she was really sorry. and i dont expect her to either wait for me to look at it or be sorry that she didnt. i know my place. its still 'mom's crossword' after all.
because i have a 'completionist' penchant in me i have a hard time honoring the last rule of 'mom's crossword', which is that she never looks anything up. unless, of course, she has admitted defeat and just wants to figure out the rest of the empty boxes for fun. however, there is a tacit agreement that if we are both really stuck and i cave and look something up, she wont ask where the answer came from. i dont get to this point until ive been in despair for quite some time, and usually i ask permission. its still 'mom's crossword after all. and i dont wanna be banned from working on it.
i guess i could always do the one in the trib, but, being my mothers child i have a bit of disdain for anything not nyt. puzzle snobbery runs deep in our family. none of us wants to admit to mom that we might do the odd redeye or reader puzzle, tho i know at least a couple of us do (me included). its just to keep our hand in, not for any kind of challenge, you see. ;) its like playing solitaire on the computer with the deck only flipping one card, just so you can have the feeling of accomplishment that comes from winning (im guilty of that too).

Friday, November 19, 2010

my version of haiku

one of my actors, anne hills, who is actually an amazing folk singer/songwriter, told us today that she has committed to writing a haiku poem everyday. she has been posting them on her facebook page and by now there are other people who write response haiku to hers. its pretty cool.
ive never been able to be that restrained in my prosody, prolly because i write nothing but prose. and im a bit too ebullient. and i use words that are almost the full syllable allotment for one line. (sheesh...)
ebullient leaves
speak prosody to my eyes
hands asking for light
okay, so i guess it still works. kinda. anyway, the point im trying to make isnt about scanning a line of poetry, its about the fact that my director, virginia smith, responded by calling a haiku a 'local wonder'.
ted kooser's definition of a local wonder, which is also a line in the title song of the play, is 'if you can awaken inside the familiar and discover it new, you need never leave home'.
and that, i believe, is a really important skill. to be able to see the everyday as something extraordinary takes a certain kind of perception, takes practice and patience and openness.
and despite the fact that my blog posts look nothing like haiku, or ted's daily poems, thats what im trying to accomplish here. i find myself sitting down to blog and thinking, 'i have nothing whatever to say' and then some little thought comes to my head and if i sit with it long enough the reason it stuck there comes clear and i can type my way into some sort of meaning behind a seemingly trivial event or thought process. its a way to imbue life with meaning.
i feel as tho my way is the antithesis of the haiku way, however. i tend to spend a long time teasing a thought out to its uber-analyzed end, instead of using just a taste of language to bring into focus, as if thru a keyhole, a single moment in ones life or in nature. i find and arrange all the pieces and try to put the whole puzzle together to get a full picture. haiku are one single piece of the puzzle contemplated fully.
and with that, ill leave you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

this thursday is for the birds.

still four days till tech week and already i feel like my brain is stolen away from me every waking hour. there *must* be time to write, but sleep is so important...sheesh.
i thought writing these blog posts would help me with my writing, and they have, in the way that i know i have to make time to do it everyday, but they havent on the level that im deeply missing the characters in my story and have no time to spend with them cuz the tiny bit of time i have late at night to write is devoted to these random posts. a lot of good writing practice has come out of these posts, but they dont feed me in the same way that getting to live in my story world and work with the people in my head does. (next year, nanowrimo)
so, i guess that means im now going to tell you something about my characters. there are five of them currently, tho i think i might have just found a sixth. all five of them are good friends and live in the same neighborhood. i dont use pronouns for anyone in the story, tho some of the characters gender presentations get referenced.
in order of appearance they are:
1) jacky (jackdaw) fox--the narrator. somewhat new to town/scene/west coast. doesnt mention preferences in gender or sexuality. family is from italy, but grew up in the midwest. goes by jack or fox. casual kid, short dark hair, brown eyes. medium--thin build. self employed writer who works from home. plays the guitar and sings. hasnt dated anyone in town yet.
2) jay--fox's best friend / roommate. raven's ex. a small town bird moved to the city 4 years ago. biz casual, slightly taller and thinner than fox, short sandy blonde hair, bordering on fauxhawk, light blue eyes. works for a newspaper, acts more profesh/older than fox, but isnt.
3) wren--the 'dykey' love interest and robin's ex. west coast city kid thru and thru. take-charge charming, just shy of bossy. slight build, but strong. a drummer (and a bicyclist) with a stellar voice. thrift-shop-punk-hip. brown hair, short in back and longer on top, chunky cut and spiked up, usually part of it is dyed a bright color. green eyes. is a barista. just broke up with robin after being together for 2 years.
4) raven--wrens flaming diva bff/lover. jay's ex. raven is how everyone knows each other, mostly cuz raven knows everyone in town and is a community organizer. has also been involved with most everyone in the scene at one time or another. tall, broad shouldered and narrow waisted, black hair long enough to show some curl, dark eyes. talks about sex a lot. works really hard, plays even harder. impeccable attire, good labels. also owns some flashy costumes for fun. used to be involved with both wren and robin, took wrens side in the breakup.
5) robin--the femmeboy love interest and wren's ex. from midwest but has been out west for 8 years. hates the name 'rob'. hipster-meets-PNW-diy. (lots of cozy sweaters) dark brown gets-in-your-eyes-and-tickles-your-neck-shaggy hair, bright blue eyse. is a stellar musician/songwriter. rides a bike. works at a record store to feed the habit and tries to make money off their recording studio in the back of the house. not very tall, very thin. not handling being broken up with very healthily.

all i really know about the 'love interest' part is that robin inspires a more masculine presentation from fox and wren creates a more feminine response from them.

if anyone has some good plot ideas for these kids, lemme know.

back up in my brain

its already thursday and i havent started my wednesday post cuz i just now finished my tuesday post and its close to one am. and i promised myself id work on editing that lobster essay to submit to a literay journal. so im just going to give you another short meditation on dreams affecting my writing life before going to dreamland myself.

two nights ago i had a dream about a friend of mine from seattle. well, friend is a strong word. we are friendly acquaintances. we were a part of the same scene a couple years ago and ended up at the same functions, but only had a few interactions that were beyond simple hellos. i had wanted us to get to know each other better, but it just never happened. yet for some reason, this person has captured my imagination and has now hijacked my dreams. and yes, hes good looking, and yes, i am attracted to him, but they arent those kind of dreams, really. and still he has popped up twice or maybe even three times in the past two months. why? i have no idea. I think I need to write him down into a character somehow. if i knew him better i would add someone like him into the robin story. I wonder if peoples pheromone sensors dont have memories and miss certain people that used to be around us and made us feel good...
and maybe he has just shown up in my facebook feed and my mind makes him into a character in my dreams cuz i dont know him that well. like when a song gets stuck in your head cuz you dont know all the words to it.
I always fall into the trap of trying to find more meaning than actually exists in things like this in my life. More connection than is actually possible, more things to pay attention to than a normal person could ever find. Ack. At least im aware that im doing it and can pull back from being totally insane around whatever (or whoever) it is so i can see it as something good for my art but not my emotional life. sorta like that post from october--put something in writing and be aware of its narrative draw to keep it from drawing everything inside me into an overly conscious vortex. Its at least a step in the right direction...
dreaming about someone is weird, tho. cuz i have in the past had two vivid dreams that stuck with me upon waking about a good friend of mine who ive known since i was six, and each of them has happened at a really important time in her life. i knew, before being told, that she had news right after she got engaged to be married. i also knew there was something in her life worth preparing for on the day she found out she was expecting her first child. and we had been living halfway across the world and a few states away, respectively, at the time. (i just realized the baby dream was set in a house with a very similar floor plan to the house she and her family live in right now--creepy)
however, i am aware that not every dream about someone i know has to portend something going on in their life. and there is a big difference between having a connection with someone i have known since i was small and have grown into adulthood with, and having a couple random dreams about a person that has caught my attention in the past.
still, dont be surprised if you ever hear from me and its something like, 'just had a dream about you, hope all is well in your life right now.' remember that most likely we did not have sex in my head, and im really hoping that whatever brought you to my subconscious attention is positive, but whether its good or bad id love to share in it in waking life too, cuz i love you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


(missed posting this last night due to... well, honestly, due to the consumption of about a bottle of roditis wine)
i just realized ive made it halfway thru the month. and some of the stuff ive written (not just posted from previous writing sessions) im kinda proud of. i know this blog is a bit all over the place, and since ive been working on a show, is often about theatre, but i hope those who read it frequently are enjoying it. please, feel free to comment on any of the posts, dialogue/feedback helps motivate me to write more and better.
today is tuesday, and almost every tuesday im in chi-town these days, i try to get together for at least a drink with my best friend from high school, kayt (kate, now that shes not a teenager she spells it normally--i still think of her as with the 'y' tho, i see it in my minds eye in her handwriting). anyway, she also was in theatre in high school, also went to college in iowa, also came back to OP/chicago after graduation and she also attempted teaching for a time before deciding it wasnt for her. we have been friends for 17 years this winter and have become family to the extent that every year i spend part of christmas night at her house, playing games around the dining room table with her family, all of whom i know and love.
now tonight, since we havent gotten to see each other in a while, we will go out to dinner to catch up. this is a standard thing as well. there was a time that started when we moved back from college and spanned (on and off) until i moved to seattle, that we prolly went out to dinner on average once a week. and always to the same place. our visits to this same restaurant have become such a habit that when we set up the dinner date for tonight we only had to decide on a time. there was no need to mention that the place will be, of course, papaspiros.
this restaurant has been our place for close to ten years at this point. the owner *loves* us and has proposed to each of us multiple times, his brother, the head waiter, is our buddy and confidant (and also comes on to us often), the busboy that was there for years and years was our best friend, and every single waiter that has worked there is 1) astonishingly attractive 2) a huge flirt and 3) incredibly good at tavli (a greek version of backgammon).
we would go to have dinner and share a bottle of wine and dish about our lives, as well as flirt shamelessly with the waiters. (you must be aware of the fact that this was the most girlie time of my life. ive had a friend describe me as 'boy crazy' during that period. tho it was a fallacy, i understood where they got the impression. i actually wore skirts back then) we were there so often that spiro, the owner, couldnt help but get to know us. (he had to cater to the regulars, especially when the regulars are two cute young women.) from that point on we would get at least one free round of drinks with our meal, and we would stay all evening. at some point we were close enough friends with everyone that we no longer counted as customers. we would stick around till closing and then go down into the bar with whoever was working that night and play tavli and drink till late. they taught us how to be good at backgammon, sort of all of them at once, crowding the board and giving advice, counting the dice and their moves in greek, keeping each other honest when they tried to cheat us...we got good enough for it not to be a teaching moment every time one of us played, they would actually have to concentrate so that we didnt end up beating one of them.
the time that we were really heavily involved there was when i was living a 'stumble home' from the restaurant and used it like my living room. this was also the time that kayt and i each made out with at least one of the waiters if not more (i think tasso might be the only boy we have ever both been involved with). and yes, they were pretty, but it was just a really fun group of guys to hang out with, and they were all really good at their jobs. the first time i noticed tasso it was because he opened a bottle of wine so beautifully. not in a showy way, in a very capable and adept way that was full of nonchalant, everyday brilliance. his were the kind of hands you enjoy watching, and they were good at a plethora of things. (not to mention they happened to be attached to a person with the most gorgeous face i have prolly ever seen in my life who actually made me shiver with desire and even just recently inspired kayt to use the phrase 'raw sex' in describing him). but aside from that, he was a fantastic waiter and just the opening and pouring of our wine that night made me wax eloquently on the simple pleasure of watching someone do something well. doesnt matter what it is, if yer good at it, i would love to watch you do it and if you enjoy doing it, that just makes it all the more fun to watch. this is more than partially why i loved going to spiro's place, because everyone there was remarkably good at what they did and most of the time very much enjoyed doing it.
it helped augment the enjoyment for them, and for us, that the waitstaff was such a close family. aside from the fact that half of them were related to at least one other person that worked there (i mentioned that spiro and yanni are brothers but also spiro's son sammy helped out, and their cousin's son georgie was there on and off. and tasso's brother pambo also worked there--he was our favorite), they really loved hanging out together. and we got to be a part of the crew for a while, getting to see all of them the way they were as people after they were done working for the night. yes, they were still our waiters (tho it came to feel like going over to a friends house for dinner), and yes they were very good at their jobs (which was fun to see and was like we were hanging out with our friends while they were at work), but no, that did not define them (to themselves or to us), because we got to see them for who they were as people. especially cuz almost all of them were from greece or nearby--albania, cyprus, turkey--and they would tell us about their lives there and how they felt about the differences they experienced here. it was really a great community to get a glimpse into, to have the honor of being a part of even, for the time that it existed.
cuz its a lot different now, only spiro and yanni are still there from the time we were regulars. i mean, we still walk in and get kisses and hugs and 'how are you, where have you been baby, i love you so much'-es and it feels like home to sit down at whatever table we want, order a bottle of the greek blush wine--roditis--that we always drink, spend a while ignoring the menus before ordering what we always get, and hanging around until just before closing when spiro will sit and gossip with us, buy us at least one more round of wine (if not three) and treat us like we arent customers. but its not quite the same, and not because there arent any beautiful boys left, but because the family that was the heart of the restaurant has scattered to the four winds, many of them going back to their homes on the mediterranean, some just moving on. its still a good restaurant with a good waitstaff and really good food, its just that for me it has lost a bit of that same joy of watching someone do something so well that its become the most natural thing in the word. that thing that makes it great.

Monday, November 15, 2010

stage managment stories pt 2

another story from yesterday starts with a moment that wasnt mine, but affected me very strongly. paul has a line in the show where he says "more and more frequently ive begun to see my fathers hands at the ends of my arms" which is a beautiful line, and it launches into a beautiful thought process about his character's father. today, when he said the line and looked down at his hands, some strong emotion came rushing up at him. he stopped and said 'whoa, sorry. i just had a moment with my own fathers hands.' and he had to take a minute to collect himself. then he started to laugh and we all said, no need to apologize. and as he recovered, virginia (the director) said 'that's great, really. as actors we are supposed to feel these things and then learn how to harness those feelings when playing those parts that call for them. its good you had that moment. each of the rest of us has had a moment with this show already' (which is true--myself, anne and virginia have all had to wipe our eyes at different points this week) 'so it was your turn.' it was pretty beautiful, actually.
it reminded me of a time in my junior year of high school when i was playing a character named eleanor (my only main role) in a play called 'the haunting of hill house' which is based on the shirley jackson novel of the same name. its a very creepy story and most of the creepy stuff happens to eleanor. there is a moment in the play when she alone is being haunted by the house and hears a baby crying. she knows there is no baby but the sound makes her upset to the point of frantic. in rehearsal one day, when we didnt have the sound cue, i used my imagination to conjure up this sound and pictured one of the kids i babysat for in acute distress. the emotion of 'hearing' this was so upsetting that i actually started to freak out a bit. when i opened my eyes everyone was looking at me very worriedly and i felt really exposed and a little bit unbalanced. id tapped into something no one was ready for, least of all me. i had a hard time being present for much of the rest of rehearsal that day, and never went anywhere near the same place emotionally during that show again.
which was a real pity. such a lost opportunity to actually explore the depth of emotion that i could use some level of in performance to make it feel very real for the audience. instead, i was so scared of falling all the way down into that place, that i refused to even look over the edge of the well again. i phoned in my performance from that day on, and im sure it affected the quality of the show. i was good at sounding and maybe even looking scared and creepy and weird, but i didnt let myself feel any of it. which, in a 100 seat black box theatre, is pretty important, cuz everyone is close enough to tell. the feeling that passes between the actors and the audience in a space that intimate is just that. intimate. and the idea of feeling really emotionally vulnerable in a space that small with so many people so close to you was incredibly intimidating. (also, my junior year was one where i felt really insecure socially and therefore emotionally, already. and the person i was in love with who was dating one of my friends was in that show with me.) it was not a situation where i was going to feel safe enough to freak out in front of all of my peers.
and besides, the director wanted the baby cry sound cue to actually exist. it would have been ten times creepier if no one in the room could hear it except me, instead of everyone hearing it and those with me on stage having to pretend like they couldnt. tho really, it was prolly better to play it safe and not let my imagination run away with me. who knows if i would have been able to handle doing that night after night while not jeopardizing my emotional stability. which is prolly why the director made the sound decision she did.
the point being, i never have figured out how to access emotion for a role and then learned how to utilize it in performance without it feeling really scary and bordering on unsafe to try. maybe it would require being in therapy while being in a show so that the hard self work could happen outside of rehearsal. cuz tho i truly believe learning to act is learning how to be a better human being, working on your issues is not working on your character, and therapy and rehearsal are not the same thing. and accessing that emotion and using it are also not the same thing. one is a tool for therapy, the other is a tool for acting. not all people who call themselves actors believe this, god help them. and those that do have their work cut out for them too. its not easy. and i love my actors in this show and all of my actor friends for their courage to work thru the difficulty and bring their truest selves to their performances. i strive to be as good at being a human being as they are.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

stage managment stories

today at rehearsal i realized that stage managing is so exhausting because its like conducting an orchestra without using your arms. cuz as the stage manager you know how every line sounds and in what order they go, and you know where every footstep and prop are to be placed, because you have them in your book. thats what you are there for, to record the score--to know the melodies and choreography and have an understanding of each movement of the piece, and then as everyone begins to learn it by heart, to start to keep an eye on the rhythm and pacing of it.
so you have all this information at your fingertips (and at some point in your own body), but you cant tell the actors ahead of time what to do. you just have to sit there and watch and hope they do it right and when they dont you correct them. and when they ask for guidance you give it to them. and you feel like a person standing in front of a half-memorized orchestra and trying, by nods and winks and making faces at them, to get them to understand that they are off beat or key, and, by the way you nudge your elbows, to correct themselves in the right direction. cuz you want more than anything for them to get it right. and so do they, but its not your place to say anything before the mistake, even tho you see it coming from a mile away because they didnt remember to move that one prop 4 pages ago and now they are gonna come across it in the exact wrong spot for this scene and there was nothing you could do but hold the knowledge of the way it was supposed to be done and hold your breath.
and this is why every show is going to keep me on tenterhooks. there are so many props to keep track of, and so many songs to have the guitars in the right place for, and so many anecdotes to convey, that i fear missteps at every turn, my heart in my throat for them to remember where that chair gets placed for this scene rather than that one. at some point they will be utilizing the dance memory part of their brain, where they will get all the movements and scene changes down in their bodies and turn them into muscle memory.
but until then, there is me. nodding and winking and nudging and making faces and stopping them mid sentence to place the manuscript on the table where they are supposed to come across it in a few pages. and praying we get it all straightened out by opening night.
[fingers crossed]

kitchen time

Every friday my parents babysit my nephew during my sister-in-law's school day. The other days of the week she has a childcare situation set up, but on fridays, its off to the grandparents house he goes. Which he loves. And which, staying at my parents house right now, I also love. I reap the benefits of seeing my bitty fox cub without the responsibility of having to feed and change him, make sure he takes naps when he gets fussy and keep him happy for 8 hrs straight. I just get to stop in the kitchen and make faces at him and pick him up and squeeze him for a bit and then head to work. Yesterday, I was free until noon and got to have most of the morning with 'lil toots' (pronounced with the short u of 'put') who loves to spend time on the floor of the kitchen playing with tupperware while gramma barb baked multiple cakes and other baked goods for different events this weekend. My mom is taking the role of gramma very seriously. I think alex wasnt more than a day old when she was already in the kitchen baking cookies. I reminded her it would be more than a year before he could eat them and she said, 'yes, but the parents of our little one will need to fortify themselves, wont they? They deserve gramma's cookies too...'
she comes by it honest, tho. My grandma fox was an amazing baker and I dont think there was a moment we spent in her house that the cookie jar was empty. It was always on a low shelf in the kitchen and we checked it the moment we arrived. I mean, after we hugged and kissed grandma, of course. Cookies, 6oz coke bottles and sugary cereal. That was how we were spoiled at grandma fox's house.
The cookies and coke will continue on to the next generation from my mom to our sweet pea (sugary cereal has always been off limits in my parents house and I will throw a fit if they loosen that prohibition for the grandchildren).
The thing about seeing alex play around on the floor of the kitchen (the same one I played on) while mom baked, was how strongly it brought back memories of cooking with my mom when I was little. Bigger than the peanut, but not by too much. I was 'mom's little helpers' in the kitchen early. She had a tiny apron I wore and the way the kitchen was set up at the time there was a little corner of counter with the fridge right up next to it so she could stand facing on side of the corner and work while I sat on the other side with cabinets to my right, the fridge to my left and mom's right hip directly in front of me. It was the perfect position from which to learn how to cook. And just to sit and babble at mom while she worked or ask a thousand questions and have her explain every single thing she was doing and why. It was from this position I learned by osmosis how to make cookies and pies and muffins and bread and watched her make dinner countless times. It was my alone time with mom. Being a middle child made it hard to feel like i was ever not one of a crowd, so the times I got to spend alone with either parent were really precious. And part of me knew that a lot of why I got to have this was that I was the only girl child. Not that the boys didnt take their turns in the little cooking alcove with mom, watching her every move, enjoying the time with her and tasting whatever she was making, but I think my tenure of having mom's cooking moments with me was akin to an apprenticeship more than my brothers'. It was somewhat apparent to me that because I was the female progeny, the family recipes needed to be passed down to me, and I was the one who would make the most use of the knowledge of how to make the perfect pie crust. Which im not denying, I use that recipe and technique often and am very grateful for it. But I feel bad the boys didnt get as much learning around the culinary things in life and in our family as I did. Im the one who knows how to make manicotti shells (and thats only because my mom sat her mother-in-law down and got the recipe out of her years ago so someone would know). There has been a time in my life where I resented this socialization, and then a time when I felt bad that the boys didnt get as much of this instilled in them, and now, I think, I am just really glad someone in the family knows these things. And if the boys wanna know later on when we are the oldest generation hanging around in the living world, they can ask. Or if their spouses or children wanna know, and didnt get the opportunity to learn it directly from gramma barb, (tho I hope to god they do, cuz there is nothing like it, I gotta tell you) at least one of us will know.
Maybe this is stupid, to think this way. To put a lot of emphasis on how the older generation did something. Cuz I dont cook like my mom at all. She says 'if you can read, you can cook,' which I think is mostly true, but I have never followed a recipe exactly in my life and feel the need for substitution and improvisation a lot in what I do. And I dont bake like her either cuz I am always (at least attempting to be) making vegan baked goods which turns a lot the rules she taught me on their heads. So why is it im so hung up on things like pie crust and kentucky colonels (the best candy out there, made at christmas time with a bourbon-soaked pecan a the center of a fondant coated in chocolate) needing to be done just like grandma and gramma? I dunno. Because it brings me back to a time I was so sure of grandmas love that I got so I didnt even have to look in the cookie jar to know it was full as well as a time I was so safe in the corner of the counter being trusted with the family secrets and surrounded by the smells that meant home and food and love, all of which has become the definition of mother to me. And if I can help transfer those feelings of love and trust and safety to my family's next generation, im all for it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

i need some space.

dear blog,
i love you. these past two weeks with you have been amazing. but i cant spend as much time with you each day as i have been. >1500 words a post is too intense for our relationship right now. i need to take it slower. i have a lot on my plate at the moment. my brain cant keep up with the amount of organization i need at my fingertips in order to be a stage manager right now. so when i get home, i just want to do the crossword puzzle and not have to engage in really cerebral, thought-provoking monologue. and i know you would like it if i just got up earlier and had more time with you in the morning, and i have progressively been getting up an hour earlier each day but still we get so involved that i lose track of time and have almost been late to rehearsal twice in a row now.
if you arent going to set any boundaries, i will have to. cuz you know i love our nights together. i have so much fun getting really deep into what we are doing that i forget to go to sleep. we have been up till 3 or 4 a few times since we started getting hot and heavy and tho that was great in october when i didnt have to get up for anything, now it means im losing sleep. and a sleep-deprived stage manager is worse than none at all. you know i have these other commitments that are really important to me, please dont make me feel bad when i choose to honor them.
you know how i feel about you. you know i love spending hours and hours with you. you know i would tell you anything. this isnt about you, or how i feel about you. this is about what i am physically capable of right now. and right this exact moment i have had two very stiff whiskey gingers and ate a bunch of vegan chili and am really sleepy and i still havent written the daily email to the production team about rehearsal today. and we have to move the table for the set tomorrow, bright and early...
oh no.
please dont do this to me, baby. i cant stand it when you are mad at me. we can still see each other everyday, i just need you to not have such high expectations of me right now. ill get there. i want this relationship to work. i want us to be a long-term thing. and this isnt me stepping away, just stepping back for a bit. till things get less intense with work. not long, i promise. and any free time i have, darlin, its yours. all yours.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

book lust

"i spend lots of winter days with books. i cant resist them. writers are writers because they love to read. if i read two or three books every week i couldnt live long enough to read thru all the books i own. but that doesnt keep me from buying more." --poet Ted Kooser from Local Wonders

the only schooling i have had since high school was four years of undergrad at a small liberal arts college in the middle of iowa where i became and english major with unofficial (or unfinished) concentrations in theatre and environmental studies. which means the highest degree i hold is a BA in english literature.
now, english majors become english majors because they love to read. it was a toss up for me my first year at grinnell when i looked thru the course catalog between english and biology, but when i noticed that all the bio classes were on the micro level (instead of a macro, environmental scale) and every english class had stuff i couldnt wait to dig into, i knew. ('i knew it like you know about a good melon...') so i spent my four years of college reading books. books that i would have picked up during vacations even if they hadnt been assigned. books that were all chock full of stories, not theories; fiction, not fact; books that would take me imaginative places, not wherever you go when you use critical thinking skills, like we were supposed to be taught at this school where they teach you to think (the new buzzword is 'inquiry-based' learning).
but yeah, i just read books. stories. i mean, some of them were hundreds of years old, and therefore i guess i got a little culture, and my hard-on for 'willy the shake' grew to epic proportions, so now i can be called a true snob. but really, i just read books. which is what i did my entire childhood and formative years too. bury your nose in a good dickens or bronte or faulkner even, and you can stop thinking about anything relevant to your life or your future. which is definitely what i was looking for in college. people would ask me what i was going to do with the degree and without fail they ended the question with 'so are you gonna teach?' which was never my plan. ever. i was gonna read and that was it. and maybe i could figure out how to get paid to write someday. that was as far as id thought. you see, i had a stick-fingers-in-your-ears-and-sing-loudly sort of approach to my life after graduation. i was happy to just sit and read until they wouldnt let me anymore. but then they made me graduate.
and what, pray tell, (you ask) are you now qualified for in the work force? well, let me tell you. without any training in education, let alone a teaching certificate, about all a BA in english is good for is becoming a bookseller. which is what i did. the summer after graduation i started as a sales assistant at a local bookshop and from there (with the small hiccup of moving to china for a school year and trying my hand at teaching, which i now have proof im not any good at) i moved from bookseller to book buyer (which is just the guy that stocks the store). so when i moved to seattle, the first place i walked into with my resume was a bookstore. and i was a pretty good employee cuz i was more than happy to learn everything i could about the stock.
cuz guess what is so awesome about being a bookseller? you have almost unlimited access to books! its amazing! its easier than the library. and your boss encourages you to take that new novel by your favorite author home for the weekend to read so that you can write a little shelf-talker review card and recommend it to your customers. cuz the other awesome thing about being a bookseller is practically every one of your customers is a person who loves to read too! its so great! i kind of hate capitalism and retail on principle and i had qualms about being the kind of person (in my job) that tried to get people to spend money, but if there is anything on this planet i could endorse spending money on, its books (the only other thing is travel, but thats not really a thing, its an experience). really, i would be better off as a librarian but you have to go to school for a while to be one of those. really, you have to be incredibly educated to work in a library. (which is awesome, if the government of your state can pay you what you deserve to work there, but that doesnt seem to be the case anymore. thanks, W, you non-book-reading buffoon. who on earth believed you could write one? sheesh). libraries were my bread and butter back when i was young. i have never owned as many books as ted kooser, even after years and years of working at bookstores. i only own the ones i know i need to re-read often enough that having them saves me a bit of hassle. cuz libraries are great. the smell and the quiet and the durable bindings and the shelves upon shelves...the fact that once you find an author you like you can usually just have at their entire oeuvre. i did that as a child with so many authors, memorizing the spot on the shelf where dr. seuss, john bellairs, hugh lofting, louisa may alcott and many others resided. and going back time after time, till i had exhausted the supply. i can still see those shelves in my local library where i grew up. i spent hours upon hours there in the summers as a kid, partially because our house didnt have air conditioning and the library did. on the really hot days in july and august my mom and brothers and i would ride our bikes to the library and spend the heat of the day immersed in faraway places and the incredibly hard task of choosing which ones we could bring home with us. my mom was a smart cookie. she knew we would develop a pavlovian response to the library as a comfortable place which i still to this day respond to. every new town i go to i first want to find the library and spend a day in there to get the feel of it on my skin. and my comfort level around books has obviously helped decide my half-hearted attempt at a career in my post college years.
cuz bookstores are just like really new libraries, with a fee to take out the book instead of for returning it late. i still to this day think there is something really luxurious and decadent about being around all the brand new books in a bookstore. the lush colors, the new bindings, the soft, unbent covers, its a sensual pleasure i never became immune to. maybe its because i had gotten so used to stiff library bindings and the cellophane jacket covers and forgot for a time how gorgeous books can be. there is a trend in the book making industry right now to make a paperback book so smooth and silky and pliable in the hands that it kinda makes me hot. im not quite joking. and the shelves upon shelves of stories at ones fingertips is such an amazing promise of one adventure after another (whether its from plot, thought, relationship or description, its all an adventure to me). someday, when i have a house, i will have a library. or at least a study/office lined with bookshelves so i can have that feeling of a thousand other worlds surrounding me, just waiting for me to dive into them. any time im in a room with bookshelves (which is only ever in other peoples houses these days) i my eye is drawn to them to see what kind of characters have populated my hosts brain. and what possibilities there might be to occupy my mind while im staying there, of course. cuz as a reader and a writer, i find getting inside a new characters head to be really one of the most pleasurable things i can think of. yum. maybe thats why i have a hard time actually finishing the stories i write, cuz i dont want my characters to leave me. there is always more to explore there, i just know it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

8 hours later, im at it again....

between now and the last post has been nothing but sleep. and sadly, i didnt have one of my epic dreams that tells a whole story as vividly and with the same narrative flow and depth of character as a movie. that would have been so convenient. the first time i had a dream like that i was in grade school and wrote it down in creative writing and felt a little guilty about it. cuz it really felt like writing down a movie i had seen and passing it off as my own. it was a story about a family of raccoons, and was, like many stories about animals, an origin story. it told how they got their masks and rings. spoiler alert: they were burglars and had done time in prison. i realize just now that i probably got that imagery from this disney robin hood scene (1:47 in).
anyway, thats not the story i will tell you today (tho i bet i could find it in my files in my parents basement and give you the original version on yellow lined paper).
today marks the first day of rehearsals for the play Local Wonders co-written by and starring my friend paul amandes (he wrote all the songs too). ive worked on multiple projects of his over the (9!?) years since college and i know two things about this show before we even start: 1) its going to be beautiful and true (in a sincere, down to earth sense, not in a broadway sense) and 2) its going to be a fun process. now, every stage management gig comes with frustrations and snafus and headaches and what feel like insurmountable obstacles that you find a way to get thru, and i know that going in. thats part of the allure. god help me, but i love a challenge (did you read the 'i wanna buy a run down old house and fix it up myself without knowing the first thing about how' post?). but, every gig also comes with the feeling of being utterly present to a collective project, the quality of attention that misses nothing, but nothing, about every detail of the show from the actor's barely flubbed line to the set of keys on the props list to the exact way of letting the director know that none of the production team thinks that one visionary idea is physically possible without derailing everything. if i think about it, in a lot of ways, i was born for this gig.
but it also scares the bejesus out of me. im not quite organized enough as a human being to do this job, prolly cuz it calls for a super-human level of organization. the systems you need to create to keep track of everything or appalling, and for me, they come up organically with the people involved. that only works well if you work well with your co-creators, and its been proved again and again that paul and i are of one mind on many things and work pretty seemlessly together. however, he is not directing this production. a friend of his who lives in nebraska is coming in. i have faith that we will be a good group, but the scary part (aside from tech week, which im not even allowing myself to think about for fear of hyperventilation) is that directly after opening night, the director will leave. and at that point, as she said in the phone interview we had, i will be the only responsible adult in the building. the designers fly the coop once their stuff is perfected, there is no run crew (its 3 people on a stage the whole time, no intermission, few props, one set) there arent even board ops for lighting and sound. i wont be calling the show, i will be running it. (which will make me feel like the evil genius pulling all the strings behind the scenes, the one with complete control...mwahaha) i know its a simple, small production, but this is still a huge responsibility. if something goes wrong during performance, its all me. the actors have to have trust, not in the workings of an entire production team, which, in a collective art form one has to have faith in generally, knowing everyone is committed to a good show and the combined efforts of all these people will make a net that is safe to fall into, but in me. just lil old me. i know each of the actors, im friends with two of them and friendly with the other, but these next 3 weeks will be an exercise, not just in being the directors right-hand man, thinking of things that need done before she even has to say them and the source of all info about who needs what when and how we are all going to come together the two days before thanksgiving and put all the components together, but in building an extreme level of trust with the actors that will outlive what they give the director and carry them thru the entire run which closes in january.
by december 3rd, it will be my show. and i will have to be present with it and take care of it and know exactly what it needs and be sweet to it for the next 5 weeks. it will be (in terms of the amount of work) my baby. but by then i will know every inch of it, every moment, every word, every note, every breath. 90 minutes, no intermission. it will be the kind of workout that conducting an orchestra is. on point every second, barely with time to breath, except you must breath thru everything, cuz you are the heart and lungs and brain. the actors are the face and voice. and you have to be synapse-fire-to-finger-wiggle connected to them. it will be grueling and exhausting and the most fun ive had in a while.
it will get me high, night after night. and it will feel so good. until it doesnt. until i come down. those of you who will see me this december, if its a weekend night, i will prolly crash before your eyes. if its sunday night, after a matinee and an evening show, you prolly wont see me. the part of this that takes me from anticipation to fear is knowing what happens in my body (and, if im not careful, can reverberate thru the show) when something goes wrong. when i miss or flub a cue, or someone else does (which is worse cuz i can fix my mistakes but have to watch and wait and pray they can fix their own) and i feel like i just shot battery acid into my veins and liquid hydrogen flows down my spine and the gas stove burner in my collar turns on and i have to keep the audience and actors from feeling the fire, ice and acid or my fear will infect everyone and the show will fall apart. just like that. sometimes you can get it back on its feet in a minute or two, sometimes quicker, but that falter which can lead to full-on failure is the stuff of my nightmares. (the fear of that failure spikes the high i get from the connection to the play already, bumping me to a rare peak, when near misses are avoided. god i sound like an addict.) but ive seen minor and major failures happen in real life and the threat of them is the only stress dream i have anymore.
in my dream its always the same: there is a huge production of some elaborate musical or erudite shakespeare play or something equally grand. its in a gargantuan opera house with what feels like hundreds of people a part of the productions scurrying around getting ready, trying to get me into costume and makeup and character, cuz its opening night, and hour before curtain (or 10 minutes depending on my level of stress) and im just this moment becoming acquainted with the script. sometimes im still hazy on what the play is and usually have only the cues from my costume and how people treat me to guess at my role. its always a lead, which means there is no way to minimize the failure of the production by virtue of being a minor part in it. its usually equivalent to trying to put on hamlet with someone who has never read it in the title role (80% of the lines in that show are his or depend on one of his). my standard reaction is full of fire and ice and battery acid and involves trying to read thru the play to get at least an idea of what my scenes are about, who my character is, who the other characters are to me, and what i am trying to accomplish, with the stage manager giving me 5 minutes till curtain. its an immanent disaster and its going to be all my fault. and my imagination invariably spins out of control over what havoc i will wreak on stage and what horrible reception i will get, not just from the audience, but from all the people involved in the show who trusted in me and are depending on me to make their efforts worthwhile.
such a nightmare. i always wake up breathless and sweating. i predict that i will have at least one such dream before opening, most likely not the night before, prolly leading up to first tech.
i did not, however, have it last night. which is a good sign. i have nothing to fear about this play. its a beauty and is made up of only the best people. and whatever comes, we can handle it. trust me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

blog fatigue

just over a week and ive hit a wall. trying to write a blog on a day im working is kind of ridiculous for my brain. also, i think i wrote and received enough emails to kill a horse, all with people speaking into my ear. makes me go a bit loopy. its nothing a couple of tv mysteries cant solve, tho. the new love of my tv life is the show sherlock. it really is a perfect adaptation/bringing up to date of my favorite mystery stories ever. if youve never gotten into sherlock holmes, now is the time. go here to watch the first (and only until next fall) three episodes. a study in pink is the first. you only have a month from sunday so hop to it, the game is on.
so here it is, almost midnight. but i dont want to pawn off another random something i wrote a while back on you all again today. (by the time i finish it will be tomorrow and ill have to start all over again...argh) enough.
since i cant get him out of my brain, ill just bring you folks into the conversation. less about holmes and more about his home: london. i love that town with a passion. i lived there for four months the fall of 1999. it was my 'study abroad' semester and while my friends were going to india and africa and latin america, i went to the city i had spent so much time in already, but only in my head. remember, i was an english major with a penchant for shakespeare and theatre. it took until i was out of college to really delve deeply into american literature because i had spent all my high school and college years reading brit lit. i had read so many books and plays set in england generally and london specifically in my life by the time i visited the city, a very many of them written before the turn of the last century, (including every sherlock holmes story ever published) that i felt i knew my way around before id even settled into my flat. which ended up being a fantastic delusion because a kid who grew up in chicago, (where there are arrow straight streets that run for miles and miles and its a perfect grid--thanks chicago fire--of north/south and east/west streets and has a numbering system radiating out in each cardinal direction from state and madison, every block a new hundred, every 8 blocks a mile) was going to by definition get horribly lost in the nest, the warren, the tangle, the maze of streets that makes up the city of london. it is disordered and chaotic, utterly random in its numbering, and completely baffling in its classification of streets, avenues, lanes, roads, places, squares, circles, circuses, terraces, gardens, vales, and mewses. i promise, each and every one of those names is attached to a roadway of a different size and shape than its fellow, on the map of london. there is no end to the dead ending, twist and turning, roundabouting, jogging, zig and zagging, and every shift of direction, no matter how slight, changes the name of the street. i could walk from my flat to school via two routes. one, was down edgware road to the main street, which was oxford street, head east, and then up tottenham court road. took about 35 minutes. or, i could go as directly east as i could from my flat (instead of the down/up part) and, if i didnt get lost, cut 5-10 minutes off my walk and traverse a roadway that changed names 6 times between edgware and tottenham court. this is not an exaggeration, look it up yourself. and this is why no resident of london is without a copy of the 'a to z' (pronounced a to zed) which is basically a map of london in book form with an index of streets in the back. (it figures prominently in the second of the new sherlock episodes, updated from the almanac used for a similar purpose in the original story.)
for those of you who have never run across a mews (pronounced, at least by the american tongue, like 'muse'), or havent read sir arthur conan doyle as deeply as i, i will attempt to explain what that particular kind of roadway, or passage, is. if a square is a small (1 block in length per side) fenced in, private park (see the movie notting hill for an illustration) with a road that goes around all four sides (all the sides of this square-shaped road have the same name, like grosvenor square) with houses facing this road all around it (with their numbers starting in one corner and working their way up around the square back to the start so the lowest and the highest are a the same corner), then a mews is the miniature, back alley version of that. it was originally the place behind the grand houses on the square where you pulled in the carriage and found the stables to leave the horses. so, like an alley with garages, except when carriages went out with the automobile, the stables got turned into apartments, and people moved in. so its like having an apartment that looks out onto a courtyard. its rare (as far as i know) for a mews to be a through street. i always saw them as dead ends. and, if you care about this sort of thing, its not a very prestigious address to have. there is a great scene in a sherlock holmes story called, i think, 'a scandal in bohemia' where he hangs around a mews disguised as a coachman and gets all the information he needs about a certain suspect from the grooms in the stables of her house. its the kind of 'street' you can see and immediately cast your mind back to a time when it made sense to have an alleyway only 6ft wide and with no real turnaround and no exit. one of the thousand things that remind you how very long london has been a center of civilization and culture. im so very glad i took a history of london class while i was there. did you know there are still places in the city where you can see the original roman wall? the one they built to enclose entire the city back in the 3rd century? (which is now just the small neighborhood called 'the city' east of the west end which is like the loop in chicago, the financial center of london.)
but i digress. london, for someone with plenty of time and a compass, is an exceedingly pleasurable city to walk in. especially if you are willing to get lost. i realized early on in my semester there, if i took the tube anywhere in the first two zones (the smallest of the concentric circles radiating out from the city center used for the pricing of fares) i was doing myself a great disservice of 1) disorienting myself and 2) not allowing myself to see how all the different areas fit together. if i walked from one place to the other i understood the shift from neighborhood to neighborhood and realized things like the fact that those two tube stops were actually just a long block from each other and not worth the trip underground. the street im thinking of, between the embankment stop and the charing cross stop, quickly became my favorite one to walk down in london (or the part of london i knew, chiefly the west end). its called villiers street and one end opens on to the strand right near charing cross station and st. martin in the fields church (the one whose steps were famously recorded by edward r. murrow during an air raid in the blitz, he held the mic down to the steps to get the sound of londoners walking (walking!) to the air raid shelter in the crypt below), the other end not quite entering onto embankment road. there is a bridge over the thames right there, only for the train into charing cross and foot traffic, which gives you a fantastic view of southwark and westminster and the millennium ferris wheel (now called the london eye and which at the time was still being built). the thing about getting on that bridge is you have to do it from the second floor. sounds funny to think of a street as having a second floor, and it really was built into the building of charing cross station, but it felt as much like a public thoroughfare as the street was, and looked out over this street in the best people-watching fashion. i used to take this route from school, which was right next to the british museum, to the national theatre just over the river (which i did every other week that semester, i lost track of how many theatre productions i saw around town in that time but would estimate around 20). id spend a couple hours walking down charing cross road and stopping in every bookshop i saw, then climb up to my perch on villiers street and watch the commuters coming home from work, passing by the inevitable statue-type street performer at the bottom of the street, until it was time to go to the theatre. thinking back, i dont know if i ever walked on the street-level part of that street. i only ever wanted to be there for the birds eye view of the masses and the quaint little shops. it felt like standing on the bridge over the expressway near my home growing up. like watching a river flow past you. meditative and yet interesting, cuz noticing how very similar yet slightly different the people were was a fun game, the subtle variations in london working professional garb, almost invariably black and complete with the standard issue satchels or briefcases and the long umbrellas, some with their commuting shoes on--vastly different from their office shoes, cuz they never match the outfit. then every once in a while a splash of color, catching one's eye just like an autumn leaf getting borne down a stream would.
hm. seems to be a pattern of thought for me to write about, the places i can be alone with my thoughts, watching movement. wonder if thats to do with the fact that writing is such a solitary art, its another place in which im good at being alone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

lesser of two evils...?

good lord this day has gotten away from me. i have done a ton of writing, just none of it is blog-worthy. lots of long emails. lots of thought about projects and ideas that arent mine. i dont have the wherewithal to come up with something this evening. seth and i stayed up till 3am talking about the house idea and making a timeframe of getting things done and then we were up at 9am having breakfast with the fam before work. and tonight im running lines with paul.

so ill give you a choice:
you can either read my friend j. hunt's blog from last week that has spurred some amazing discussion (some of which is mine) about experimental music and the place of art in entertainment *here*, which i have been thinking and talking and writing about a lot and i highly recommmend, or you can read an excerpt from something i was writing in october (part of which i put on facebook back then), below. (or both)

...i was excited to soon have time alone with her and I basked in the similarity of feeling coming from her in the way she drew me in--to confidences, to the couch, to her gaze. Oh, those eyes. The word hungry was never far from my mind when I looked into them. She seemed to want to satisfy some deep unquenchable hunger simply with looking. It seemed she could feed whatever part of herself was so needy by casting her eye upon anything, the city streets, the ministry buildings, the stellar graffiti, works of art, but it seemed people filled her up quickest and most satisfyingly. And i felt as tho it was increasingly at me, and into my own eyes that she wanted to look—to be fed upon. And it was at once both a pleasurable sensation, to have such a concentrated gaze turned your way, and a bit painful, as if she was able to search out and peer into the deep things inside me that one tends to hide from others' view. As if parts of your childhood you thought you'd outgrown showed up in the way you reached for the sugar to put in your tea. And she'd make an infinitesimal gesture or noise when she detected it, one of delight at the discovery, but smacking a bit of triumph, and one that made the subject immediately feel so very exposed. Ravaged, almost. Which, for me, was delightfully gratifying, as I hadnt truly been seen by another person in a very long time. Before traveling I had been living at my parents house in my own hometown, where every single person had known me from a tot and half of them saw my father when they looked at me, the other half saw my brother or mother. And diana and I have known each other for so long we dont even have to look to know what the other is thinking or feeling. And simply by virtue of being a tourist in many places in europe, certainly the ones you dont have language skills in, you are almost always made invisible. So, to be regarded with such fixity of purpose, even if that purpose was unknown and coming from a veritable stranger, was shockingly, and possibly dangerously, delicious. Like a well-mixed manhattan made from such smooth whiskey you might not even notice its power after a few.

I feel like I spent most of my time with her watching her struggle to figure out how to be so deep inside herself and yet to reach out to another person, and waiting to see how far she would then be able to let me in. it was like watching a young child learn to walk, but this wasnt her first time in courtship. I knew for a fact she had been with others before me. Nonetheless, like a child's first, each step was approached tentatively, but once the movement was made, the resolve to see it thru was firm. And once a step was taken it took a while to approach the next one. Which was fine with me, because it was fascinating to watch her work up to each one. I actually enjoyed it immensely, and the anticipation was great. The steps were just very small and I knew I could not make any of them for her, especially because I wasnt always sure exactly what they were going to be. The thing that kept me from being impatient was that she would never step backwards. Once we got to each level, she was happy to indulge in it with abandon. When we started holding hands, she couldnt be near me without doing so. Which was marvelous because she was an incredibly good hand-holder. That might sound odd, but even the simplest things can give one fabulously sensual pleasure. The thing that got me was when she would do it with two hands. She would come up next to me and slide, say, her left hand down my right wrist and along my palm so I would splay my fingers for hers to interweave themselves with mine, and then we would be quietly holding hands, at our sides, (her shoulders were shorter than mine so her hand was on the bottom) and this would be quite enjoyable in and of itself. but then she would shift herself slightly to stand just that much closer, and a fraction behind me, so our hands were bumping her left thigh, and then she would lean in just a bit and reach with her right hand around my arm, tracing the inside of my elbow, slipping her fingertips under my shirt sleeve, to cup my bicep with her palm, her long fingers reaching to the tender inside of my upper arm, her thumb gently rubbing my deltoid. (I am an extremely thin man, it is not as if these muscles were at all large or well defined. But she knew how to caress them to bring all of my attention to each one of them.) Sometimes she would do all this while resting her chin or temple on the very tip of my right shoulder. And all the while we would be standing in front of a work of art, or an exhibit case at a museum, thinking of nothing but each of the few and specific places our bodies were touching. It was exquisite.