Category Archives: Personal Nonsense

I Ain’t Shit

I read Questlove’s article about Trayvon Martin and how Black men are perceived in America (which also had the byproduct of teaching me who Questlove is) while it was making the rounds of twitfacetagram in July. I thought a lot about it, and what it means to walk around in a body that others perceive as threatening. I’ve been told stories in the past about hearing the sound of car doors locking as you walk by, of women clutching their purses a little tighter. I’ve wondered at that, at what it must feel like. When I read Questlove’s elevator story, it really hit me hard, as things do when privileged people suddenly become aware of a piece of their privilege previously invisible to them. It had never occurred to me that anyone would think that they had to be on their guard around me, fearing MY POSSIBLE FEAR OF THEM and its potential disastrous outcomes.

Soon after that, I went to Kaiser and parked on the 5th floor of the garage. I always park on the top floor of every garage ever because I can never remember where my car is. I stood alone and waited for the elevator to arrive. When it finally did, it was empty save one person: an older Black man with graying hair and a neatly-trimmed graying beard, in work coveralls, who had been cleaning the elevator. He was finishing a wipe as the door opened. We looked at each other and he instantly said, “I’ll leave the elevator to you,” holding the door as he stepped out. Time slowed. I knew he had no reason to leave that elevator since there wasn’t a damn thing on the top floor of that garage save a handful of parked cars: no office, no storage closet, no nothing. I knew he was doing it because he was nervous about frightening ME, about what I might say or do or accuse him of. Without thinking, I smiled and started teasing him, “You’re not riding with me? Is it me? I’m not good enough for you?” He smiled back and got back into the elevator, smiling and flirting with me the entire way down, calling me “good eye candy.” In one respect, it was one of the best elevator rides of my life (nothing will beat 33 floors with Malcolm McDowell), because who doesn’t want to be called “good eye candy” by an older gent? But I think about this man over and over and over, and I feel sick. I feel sick that he felt nervous around me. I feel sick that our culture has given him good reason to be on his guard around me. I feel sick that I had so much power in this exchange. HE’S the elder; HE should be the one deferred to, the one with the power. Who am I? I’m NO ONE. I have no power. But the racial dynamics in the US being what they are, I have power I do not deserve.

Whoever you are, elevator cleaning guy at Kaiser Richmond, you made my day with that “good eye candy” comment. You gave me the second best elevator ride of my life. And I’m so, so sorry.

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Hotel Discovery: A Photo Essay

My husband and I just got back from a little anniversary getaway. We went to our favorite B&B right on the beach. I’m not a “lay out in the sun” kind of person. I’m more of a “soak up the magic of a gorgeous, chilly, foggy day by the ocean” kind of person. Luckily, my Viking-descended husband is exactly the same way. So our spot is where we can listen to the crashing waves all night while the fog rolls in. It’s gorgeous.

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Oh hell no.
(photo cred: 123rf.com. In case you couldn’t sort that out from the watermark that is my Mark of Cheapness)

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Oh hell yes!
(photo cred: aphotoathought.blogspot.com)

We’ve been to this B&B many times, so I was surprised to discover something new this time: in a cabinet was a second, older TV and a set of four Shakespeare plays:

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The Tempest, Othello, King Lear, and The Tempest. I CALL PROSPERO.

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Husband with Shakespeare

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Ooh, King Lear! One of my favorite plays in the whole wide world!

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But wait . . .

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Wha . . . ?

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Hmmmmmmmm. Suspicion sets in.

ImageImageENTIRELY SHAKESPEARELESS.

Not only did we discover that someone has manufactured VHS cases that look like classic literature so you can hide your collection of cheesy movies and porn behind a veneer of CULTURE, but we also discovered that VHS tapes evidently STILL EXIST. Who knew?

(For the record, I’m not hating on movies at all. Shaun of the Dead is better than Comedy of Errors. SERIOUS FACE.)

Despite the crushing lack of Shakespeare, we still found plenty of stuff to do.

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Art by Brad Slavin

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The Parents from the Preschool Across the Street from My House Are the Worst People in the Whole Entire World

That may be a slight exaggeration. BUT ONLY SLIGHT.

For some reason, the people whose children attend the preschool across the street from my house think it is perfectly acceptable to block my driveway during pick-up and drop-off. At first, we were irked but took it relatively in stride. However, after being blocked either in or out of my driveway dozens and dozens and dozens of times, I’ve reached my wit’s end, then passed my wit’s end, then reached BLINDING RAGE.

hulksmash

One thing you might not know about me is that I’ve had four surgeries on my hips and pelvis, and I have a degenerative condition in my back. Walking can be extremely painful for me. I can’t just park around the corner, as I can’t walk up the hill, even on a good day, without the pain of a thousand flaming suns.  I need access to my driveway. But of course, for the parents of this children’s center, my ability to get into my house is insignificant compared to the CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE of them saving the 17 seconds it takes to drive one house down and around the corner, where there is always ample parking.

We’ve tried discussing it with the school director (repeatedly). We’ve tried talking nicely to parents. We’ve tried talking sternly to parents. We’ve tried yelling angrily at parents. We’ve tried calling the police to ticket the offending vehicles. We’ve contemplated taking sledgehammers to cars and/or laying down caltrops. (I still have not ruled these last two out.)

When confronted, they hand me one of two reactions:

EXCUSES. “It’s the very first time I’ve ever done this!” (Evidently 400 kids go to that one preschool.) “I was only there for a second!” (I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes waiting for you to get your ass out of the school, into your vehicle, and out of my life.)

BELLIGERENCE. “Fuck you, lady!” “Who do you think you are? I can park where I want!” or my absolute favorite, delivered to me by a man whose size and height dwarfs my own, “GET OUT OF THE CAR AND SAY THAT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” It takes a special kind of horrible man to physically threaten a mom in front of her own house while blocking her driveway, but it takes epic balls to do so while you’re driving a car with personalized plates, doesn’t it, Mr. Calhoun?

excellent

I’ve finally taken to blocking my own damn driveway, which prevents them from blocking me IN, but I do have to leave the house occasionally, and if I return during drop off or pick up hours, it’s almost a certainty my driveway will be blocked by one of these fine, fine citizens.

So this is my latest solution:

Every time I leave the house, I put up one of these signs. So far, it’s working! I’m SO glad, too, because I’m not entirely sure caltrops are legal.

drivewaysign.rancor

drivewaysign.cthulhu

drivewaysign.takei

drivewaysign.barf

drivewaysign.dex

drivewaysign.picard

drivewaysign.tardis

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Happy Mother’s Day

Me and Jonah, Halloween 2001

Me and Marian, Halloween 2001

I’m a mom, but I’m not one who gets all demandy and weird about Mother’s Day. I don’t need cards and flowers. My kids and my husband are wonderful, and that’s truly enough for me. Although I *do* appreciate the Xbox Live points I get from them from time to time, not gonna lie. Once my daughter spent her allowance on Xbox Live points as a gift to me. I basically exploded with joy.

My favorite picture of the boys. 2004.

My favorite picture of my kids. 2004.

My own mother was . . . difficult. She had a complicated childhood, and struggled with depression her entire life. She would veer recklessly from extravagant affection to vicious lashing out without warning. She refused treatment every time it was brought up. By the time we were teenagers, she was so deep into her depression she was barely functioning. She kept up appearances in public, and with the rest of the family, but at home, things were rough for all of us. We begged her to get help and she refused. When my brother landed his first big job and was making piles of money, he told her he would come pick her up, drive her to therapy, pay for it, and drive her home, and she refused. She wasn’t interested in stepping out of her depression. She believed that leaving it behind would mean she was no longer honoring the difficulty of her life experience.

My mother.

My mother.

She had stopped taking care of herself in every way that phrase has meaning, and would only take her blood pressure medication off and on. Eventually it caught up to her. Stroke, hospital, and a death that should have had the respect to come more quickly. She would have hated every second if she had known where she was.

Me and my parents

Me and my parents.

My father is a good man, in every way that phrase has meaning. He left my mother when I was 12 and I was devastated. My mother lavishly excoriated him in front of me, daily, and instructed me to hate him. I did my best to comply. I was too young to understand that my father was escaping an impossible situation. They were 34 and 35. Babies. My mother decided she was too old to start over and that her life had ended. She deteriorated from that day forward until her death at 62. SIXTY-TWO. At the time, a friend of mine was dating a man a year older than that (who would eventually become his husband). It’s a shockingly young age to die.

The tragedy is that my mother was brilliant and beautiful, with a razor-sharp, irreverent wit and a lavish warmth. The monster that was her depression took most of that away much of the time. She never fully disappeared– the monster could never conquer her completely– but she was clouded over far too often with the person who felt she was the victim of a world designed specifically to hurt her. And so it went.

My mother as a high school sophomore.

My mother as a high school sophomore.

My mother, Charlene, and my newborn niece, Bayley, 1994.

My mother, Charlene, and my newborn niece, Bayley, 1994.

My father went straight into a new life with a new woman. My mother instructed me to hate her, and I did. For years. And of all the selfish, horrible things I’ve ever done in my life (and there are plenty, I assure you), this one hurts the worst. I know I was a child under the influence of a strong but very troubled woman I adored, but I still feel that I should have somehow known better, and understood who this new woman was.

My father and Charlene at my niece's 8th grade graduation.

My father and Charlene at my niece Bayley’s 8th grade graduation, 2009.

My stepmother, Charlene, is– I’ve tried to type this sentence five times now, and I can’t get it out. I’m crying as I type this.

My stepmother, Charlene, is the best woman in the world, an enormous positive healing influence on me, a constant gift to my father, the linchpin of this entire family, and the most important woman in my life.

She sat patiently and waited until we figured it out on our own. She and my father never said a single negative word about my mother in my presence. My father to this day has not, and answers my direct questions evasively. Charlene is more forthcoming, but is still circumspect. But I know. Oh, man, I know.

Instead of giving up on us (a perfectly reasonable idea) and focusing on her own child (my awesome stepbrother who is awesome), she just . . . waited. She waited and she loved us. And that was all she did– loved us, and never stopped loving us, and waited for us to figure it out.

Me, my sister, my sister-in-law, and beautiful Charlene.

Me, my sister, my sister-in-law, and beautiful Charlene, 2006, goofing off in hats at high tea.

And we all did, eventually, one by one as we got into our 20s. As you do. My mother was wrong. She was trapped in a hellish fantasy of her own making. We had believed her. And we were WRONG.

The fact that it took me YEARS to figure this out is the worst thing I can say about myself. It feels like the worst kind of failure and stupidity. But I figured it out. It was like being struck by lightning. I remember the DAY, even, that it finally dawned on me as I sat, stretching out and talking to a friend before a dance class. Her mother was getting remarried, all three kids were flying out for the wedding, her parents had divorced when she was twelve, the new guy is such a sweetheart. And something about that conversation made everything finally click into place. It’s deeply humiliating to even talk about. I should have known years before, but the mythology I was taught at a young and vulnerable age was stronger than observation, stronger than logic. Still. I should have known.

My sister Becky and Charlene, 2013.

My sister Becky and Charlene, 2013.

There’s no way for me to enumerate all the things Charlene is to me, has done for me, and means to me in this blog without it becoming tedious, because it would take all damn day to list them. All you need to know is that whenever I reached my hand out for her, she was there. She’s one of the few people I know loves me unconditionally, because I was a SHIT to her as a teenager, and her response was to love me. I deserved a swift kick in the ass, and instead, she gave me everything she had to give.

Now that I’m a stepmother, I am overwhelmingly grateful that Charlene taught me how to be a good one. My stepson Jacob came into my life when he was 5, and I went through many of the same things Charlene did when she married my father. Charlene handheld me through it, without ONCE MENTIONING, “Well, at least your stepson isn’t a shit to you like you guys were to me.” She’d have every right. But that’s not who she is.

Charlene with my niece, Maddy. 2013. I love her smile.

Charlene with my niece, Maddy. 2013. I love her smile.

This is the paragraph where I should describe her in detail, right? And I can’t do her justice. She is wonderful. She is loving, and warm, and funny, and wise, and an AMAZING cook, and can fold a fitted sheet COMPLETELY FLAT (which is some kind of witchcraft, I think), and is everything I want to be. She can swear creatively and simultaneously make an elegant dinner party for 12 using nothing but an onion, a shoelace, and a Mr. Coffee. She was at Altamont, and my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, and the birth of my daughter. When my mother was dying, she and my father picked me up at the airport and shepherded me back and forth to the hospital, sitting for hours in that crappy hospital cafeteria waiting for me. Every single time I’ve ever reached out for her, she’s been there for me.

You learn how to love from your mother, I think. My mother taught me how to love lavishly, openly, and wholeheartedly. It’s a good way to love. But Charlene taught me how to love unconditionally, and what it means to love someone enough to know that sometimes you put their needs ahead of your own.

Hanging out at the pool with my dad, 2012.

Hanging out at the pool with my dad, 2012.

Not that she neglected herself– she made time for herself and time for my father. She gave us an excellent example of what it means to take care of yourself and your marriage while still taking care of your family. To have balance. I had never heard of such a thing. I didn’t know what it looked like until she showed me.

She taught me how to be a mother, how to be a stepmother, how to be a strong woman. I’m still trying to live up to her example, every day.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Charlene. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you. You came into my life and made EVERY SINGLE aspect of it better.

Another one with my niece, Maddy. 2012.

Another one with my niece, Maddy. 2012.

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My Birthday Was Far Too Eventful

Impact Theatre's production of Steve Yockey's The Fisherman's Wife. Pictured: Eliza Leoni. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. I think this accurately represents my day.

Impact Theatre’s production of Steve Yockey’s The Fisherman’s Wife. Pictured: Eliza Leoni and Maro Guevara. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs. I think this accurately represents my day.

OK, most of the people who read this blog are theatre people, so you already know that we don’t have birthdays. We have rehearsal. The most any theatre professional can hope for is a surprise cake at break before you get back to work blocking 21-36. WE KNOW THIS. It’s one of the hazards of the job, and that’s fine.

I decided to buck that hazard for one year out of my life (I started in theatre when I was 12) and have an actual birthday. I kept Monday, April 15 clear of rehearsals, meetings, coaching, auditions, readings, and performances. It was a challenge, but I did it. I was going to have a BIRTHDAY, DAMMIT. I was going to experience the magic of civilian life.

What I imagine happens to non-theatre people on their birthdays while we're all at rehearsal

What I imagine happens to non-theatre people on their birthdays while we’re all at rehearsal

There was already a wrench in the works when the sink started leaking on Sunday. The garbage disposal had a screw stuck in it (WHERE THE HELL DID A SCREW COME FROM AS I DID NOT HANDWASH A BATTLEMECH) and was therefore refusing to work and leaking water all over the place. We tried calling the plumber but it was Sunday and we were out of luck. So I knew going in that part of my CIVILIAN NON-THEATRE BIRTHDAY EXTRAVAGANZA on Monday would be meeting the plumber. So maybe the mani-pedi (one of the very few girly things I do) can wait until another day.

We go to bed Sunday. Tomorrow is going to be AWESOME. I’m going to play way too much xbox, wait for the plumber (slightly less awesome but working sink = AWESOME, so OK), blog, thank everyone for the birthday wishes as they roll in on facebook, maybe still squeeze in a pedicure, maybe do a little work on the script WAIT NO I MEAN some work on the dramaturgy for my summer class WAIT. OK, this is harder than I thought. MORE XBOX and then a no-kids dinner date with my husband, whom I had planned to ravish afterwards. A perfect day. I get a midnight birthday kiss and we go to sleep.

Just a quick picture I took of myself before I went to sleep.

Just a quick picture I took of myself before I went to sleep.

Fifteen minutes after the “go to sleep” commences, my husband sits up, yelling “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

This gets my attention.

I vault awake and ask him what’s going on. I’m fully into my “Calm In A Crisis” Mode, a mode I discovered I had during my mother’s many health odysseys. He tells me he’s having trouble breathing, he has a crushing pain in his chest, his left arm is tingling, and he feels like he’s going to faint. It’s 12:20 by now and I’m throwing my clothes on, ready to take him to the ER. I give him a choice: ambulance or car? By the time I have enough of my body covered to be able to make a public appearance, his symptoms are subsiding. He decides to call the Kaiser advice nurse first. I take nothing off, because I’m still certain we’re going to the hospital.

The advice nurse says to come in if any of the symptoms return, but otherwise come in the next day. He makes an appointment for my husband for 10:40AM. My husband gets up to file a lesson plan with his school and contact sub finder. I follow him and sit next to him the entire time he does this because I don’t want to let him out of my sight. My night owl Managing Director, the awesome Cheshire Isaacs, sees that I’m up and we chat for a bit on facebook. It’s a serendipitous moment of comfort while I’m in Handling It mode.

The next day, I get up early, pack a lunch for the son not on spring break, and check my email before we head off to Kaiser. Sitting in my inbox are two comments on this blog waiting for approval. One is from a dude mansplaining dramaturgy to me because my understanding of dramatic structure is ALL WRONG (I might approve his comment and just reply with a scan of my PhD diploma). The other is special, though: MY FIRST MRA TROLL! Every female blogger of note has them. I feel like I’ve arrived. He’s angry because I’ve used the word “dick” as a pejorative in the word “Dicklandia,” which he believes renders every comment I’ve ever made about sexism inoperable. He says it’s comparable to using “Pussylandia” or “Asianlandia.” I toy with approving his comment just to see what your responses would be, but I have bigger fish to fry. I leave my mansplainer and my MRA troll where they are.

hugo-understand

We spend five hours in Kaiser, most of it in the ER. My poor husband has two EKGs, a chest xray, a bunch of blood work, and an ultrasound (I have now seen my husband’s actual beating heart).  I read about Boston on my phone and my heart breaks. I put my phone down– I need to focus on the crisis in front of me. We wait for the test results to see if the doctor will let us go home or admit my husband.

Through it all, we are how we always are– joking with staff, not making a fuss, doing our best to ease their working day. We are Good Customers. When they wheel him out for the chest xray, I’m left in the room alone. For the five minutes I am unseen behind the closed door, I lose it. I cry and cry.

And then I realize, for the first time in two decades, I have left the house without a handkerchief. There are no tissues in this exam room. I tear off some 20-grit paper towels and attempt to wipe my face and blow my nose without scraping off half my face.

Not the look.

Not the look.

The tests are inconclusive and they send us home. The good news is that it wasn’t a heart attack; the bad news is they don’t know WHAT it was. He’s told to rest and follow up with his GP.

We go home, exhausted. We sleep for a bit. Too tired to put pants on, go out in public, or, you know, move more than 20 feet, I shuffle out to the kitchen and make popcorn for dinner (ON THE STOVETOP THE WAY GOD INTENDED). I always make too much popcorn, so I had leftover popcorn in the bowl, which I set near the tower of books by my bed. Ehhhhhhhhhhh. I’ll get it in the morning. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m afraid to go to sleep– I think if I’m not watching him nonstop something terrible will happen. Exhaustion finally wins out and I turn out the light around midnight.

AGAIN WITH THE 12:15. I hear suspicious sounds coming from the popcorn bowl. I grab my glasses, turn on the light, and

A FUCKING MOUSE leaps out of the bowl and makes a mad dash for the closet.

Tom-and-Jerry-0

Whatever I said (possibly “HOLY SHIT A MOUSE”) wakes up my husband who gets out of bed, semi-excavates the closet, and sets a mousetrap. I sit up for way too long listening to the mouse scurrying around until it hits the trap (or maybe cleverly disarms the trap and makes off with the peanut butter; we haven’t checked it yet), and quiets down so I can finally get to sleep.

And that was my birthday.

Lesson learned, universe. Theatre people: DO NOT EVEN TRY. Giving up birthdays and anniversaries are just part of the darksided deal we made.

Memorials, Narrative, and “Audience Engagement”

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My gorgeous grandparents on their 20th anniversary.

Diane Ragsdale’s spot-on post about coercive philanthropy today reminded me of this post I wrote for Theatre Bay Area’s blog in May.

While I applaud “audience engagement” pieces– works created alongside the audience or that incorporate the audience as performer in some way, I still believe, strongly, in the power of traditional storytelling. Here’s the post. You can also click on the link above to read it in its original posting.

I recently went to a memorial service for a remarkable woman, Jane Lind. To say that Jane was “remarkable” or even “unique” just doesn’t cover it—she was so much more than your garden-variety “unique.” She was magical, and that is not a word I use lightly. She left an indelible mark on everyone she knew. She was unforgettable.

I’ve been to far too many funerals and memorial services, for so many different kinds of people. Some were people whose lives and personalities were more conventional, and some were more like Jane: singular, magnetic, extraordinary. Yet every memorial had one thing in common: the most memorable, important aspect of each memorial were the stories people told. At Jane’s memorial, people got up and told story after story after story highlighting her exceptional presence, her magic, her humor, her nurturing. Yes, we all nodded. That was Jane. And every memorial I’ve ever been to has been the same.

What does this mean? I can string together descriptive adjectives all day, but they are, essentially, meaningless without the narratives that created the impulse to use them.

When we die—when our physical presence has evacuated—what is left, what lives on in the minds and hearts of others, are our narratives. Our memories of others are made of narratives. We are, to others, a collection of narratives, down to the bone.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be linear narrative, or complete narrative. I can walk into a building and tell instantly if someone is wearing the perfume my grandmother used to wear, and it will stop me dead in my tracks, even after all these years. Jane’s perfume will always be Jane to me. These are small narratives—I remember being in your physical presence, and how that made me feel. And then there are the more lengthy narratives—stories that we share, and laugh, and remember.

In all this talk of “audience engagement,” and the push toward incorporating audience participation into all kinds of theatre, I can’t help but wonder if this is a good direction. Yes, audience participation events can be amazing, life-changing, deeply satisfying, artistically profound. But I still think that we, as humans, need each other’s narratives. We need to tell stories, and, perhaps even more importantly, we need to hear each other’s stories. “Tell me another story about Grammy, Mommy,” my son asked as we sat next to my mother’s grave. And I told him story after story after story of my mother—irreverent, brilliant, hilarious. That was all I had of her to give him. It was the best I had of her. And he sat, five years old, rapt.

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My mother was head cheerleader at Washington High School in Fremont, CA in 1959.

We need to hear narrative, because we are all narrative-based creatures. Yes, we need to make stories together, but we also need to hear each other’s stories. That will never change. I applaud audience engagement events, but we need to leave room for, and continue to honor, traditional narrative events as well. Sometimes listening to someone else’s narrative is the only way to access that narrative, or someone who’s gone, or a unique, extraordinary moment we could never have imagined before. So perhaps we should push pause on this burgeoning idea that audience engagement as participation is the future for theatre. It is a future for theatre. But we will still, and always, need to tell stories and to hear them. That’s what humans are.

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Ew, Gross, GET A ROOM

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My handsome husband

Today is my husband’s birthday, and I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for him. Through all of my surgeries, my chronic pain, my massive neverending self-doubt, my layoff, my ten million rehearsals, he never once wavered in his rock-solid support, love, and encouragement. I am so lucky to have him.

We met as undergrads at Cal State East Bay and dated for a few months. We broke up (entirely my fault) and eventually married other people. We made the kind of predictably poor choices you make when you’re young, and both learned the hard way that when your closest friends and family think you shouldn’t marry someone, THEY ARE RIGHT.

We never completely lost touch. I would run into him from time to time when I was a grad student at Cal and he was working in the scene shop there. (He later told me that when he saw me walking his way on campus, his heart would skip a beat, a story that melts my heart all over again every time I think about it.) A few years later, when I was teaching at CSUEB, he would bring his high school students to our (now long gone) spring Shakespeare Festival. It was at one of these festivals that I asked him to play my Dukes in the CSUEB summer production of As You Like It. I was already crushing on him, of course.

It was during As You Like It performances that we finally got back together, 16 years after our first date. We were married August 15, 2006.

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He’s a wonderful man, sweet and supportive, impossibly attentive, beyond patient. We exacerbate and encourage each other’s nerdiness. He’s working the irresistible combination of tall, smart, funny theatre tech, which is my kryptonite. His faith in me makes me want to be a better person so I can deserve him. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without him. I hope I never have to.

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See that TIE fighter pilot? I’m hitting that.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart. I hope your day is wonderful apart from the fact that you’re working all day and that I scheduled you for rehearsal tonight.

Oh, the show? As You Like It.

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