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Archive for the ‘General Musings’ Category

Trick or Treat

Yesterday was election day here in the States, and in Minnesota we had some important ballot measures to deal with.

Election day is like Christmas and Halloween rolled into one for me. I grew up deeply politically aware because of my Dad’s work, and Northern Virginia is home to a lot of the people who make the federal government function. I went to school with the kids of lawyers, civil servants, teachers, FBI and CIA types, career military folks, and even a couple of congresspeople. People from the DC area (“inside the beltway”) eat, breathe, and sleep politics even when they’re not directly involved. We forget that things are very, very different outside the beltway, where the average citizen doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Game the way we do. I remember door-knocking for Dukakis as a nine-year-old, and kids at my school telling jokes like “I know how to spell Sununu, I just don’t know when to stop.”

These days, I’ve been gone from VA for almost as long as I was there, and my political feelings have matured (although they still lean pretty far to the left). I understand where the disgust for politics comes from, and the frustration people have with the system. I know what it’s like just to want the campaigning to STOP already. But when election day rolls around, I still get giddy. I can’t help myself. Every two years (and sometimes more often), we as a nation go to the polls to decide how we want to be governed. There are problems, sure – we still live largely under the tyranny of the majority, and we have a tendency to want to vote on things that aren’t any of our damned business. But WE GET TO MAKE IT HAPPEN! Every two years, we get a chance to change our minds, to decide that we don’t like what’s going on – or to say that we love it, we’re satisfied, we want to see more of the same. We get to tell our lawmakers what we think of what they’re doing.

This year, the nation has felt more polarized and extreme than ever. I actually stopped listening to the pundits and reading the blogs about a month ago because I couldn’t take the negativity anymore. Politics is and always will be personal, and the tone of the debate has largely moved away from civil and productive discourse to fear-mongering and thinly-veiled hate speech. We still live in a country deeply entrenched in a sense of entitlement, racism, and homophobia. Even those among us striving for equal rights for everyone have to constantly check our own assumptions and privileges. I admit that a lot of the rhetoric this season has been discouraging if not downright scary.

But this, folks? This gives me hope. Most of my friends and family are liberals, and we all breathed a deep sigh of relief late last night when it became clear that this man was going to get four more years to try to bring us a little further along, and to leave us better off than we were when he took office. I know that for the Romney supporters out there, this loss is devastating. We all care so much about this country and we only want what’s best for her. I know we don’t always agree on how to get there, or who has the best plan. I know we sometimes have different ideas of what “best” looks like. But I hope that having this election over with can bring some of the squabbling to heel, and we can finally get some stuff done.

Trick or treat? Definitely a treat day here for me.

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The Big Day

Ok, yeah, I know. I’ve been gone a long time. A REALLY long time. Like, 6 months long.

In my defense, I did throw a wedding. A really lovely wedding. And I worked 60 hours a week all summer long, right up until a week before said wedding. And then we went on a really well-deserved vacation.

And then I came back home and teched another show. I’m just now beginning to resurface.

 

There’s been so much happening this year that it’s been hard to have time to do it and write about it. I realize that not writing will never make me a Famous Blogger, and it’s not going to get me invited to fancy parties or to give motivational speeches. I’m hoping to get my groove back in the coming weeks. The husband (still getting used to that!) is a great inspiration – he’s now running a blog of his own. It’s a cool project based on a box of postcards we found in an antique shop in New Orleans – Postcards to Joe. R spends a lot of time wandering down the “Wikipedia hole,” exploring all kinds of topics and getting to know this Joe guy in the process.

Mostly what I’ve been doing is feeling completely overwhelmed. The house is a mess, the Halloween costumes are barely begun, I’m staring at another 60 hour week this coming week, my car needs work, and the repetitive motion injury in my hand has been acting up lately, leaving me in various amounts of pain. I dream of having a week off just to stay home and try to get my head around it all. I don’t know how people with kids do it – I can barely keep up with the messes my cats make.  (This morning, it was discovering that the wee gray one had knocked over a water glass and ruined an entire stack of knitting magazines. There is mold growing on my desk. Ugh.)

I spend more time than is strictly good for me surfing Pinterest during shows, and it seems like all the pictures link back to “Happy Housewife” blogs, where pretty women with very white teeth explain how you can clean your oven for three cents using baking soda and a toothbrush, all while home-schooling your five kids and cooking wholesome organic meals from the veggies you grew and canned yourself. Whilst I realized that this is a form of masochistic torture, I can’t look away. It’s captivating. It’s all Martha Stewart-y. Thank God for the Yarn Harlot, who adds a little much-needed perspective. It’s nice to know that there are other women on the internet who accidentally wear their underwear inside out and consider the dining room clean if at least one person can eat at the table. Of course, she’s a jet-setting Famous Blogger, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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It’s actually been these past two weeks in tech. Tonight is opening night, and I haven’t been this glad to be out of rehearsal in a while. Remarkably, it’s not because this process was particularly long or arduous, because it wasn’t. Things went smoothly, everyone did their job, and we didn’t work particularly strenuous weeks or anything – week one came in at under 60 hours, which is always nice. No, it’s just that everything else in my life feels like it’s behind the 8-ball.

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Our illustrious lighting designer (and my boss).

I shot these pictures toward the end of focus call two weeks ago, before the set was loaded up with props, furniture, etc. I love the starkness of a single light against the bare countertops and the wood floor. I think this show looks great; I can’t really publish full photos of anything for copyright reasons, but I’ll try to snap some detail shots to show you as this run gets underway. It’s set in the Brooklyn loft of a relatively well-to-do couple, and the livability of the space is great. Small, but great. I don’t think I could ever live in NYC; I have too much stuff and need too much space to be comfy in the kind of apartment I could afford. Hell, there would be nowhere to put all my yarn.

The show itself is remarkable. It was nominated for two Tonys when it was on Broadway, and it’s getting a lot of play around the country now that the rights have opened up to regional theaters. The subject is near and dear to my heart – ostensibly, it’s about the relationship changes that the central couple go through, but to me it’s all about journalism.

The play takes place in NY during the Iraq war. Sarah, a photo journalist, has just come home wounded by a roadside bomb. Her long-time partner James settles in to take care of her. He, too, was in Iraq, but came home weeks earlier after a mental breakdown due to PTSD. As the play unfolds, we watch the relationship between Sarah and James morph and change; they pull together and apart as they re-examine what they want out of their lives following Sarah’s brush with death. Despite the extraordinary context, their strains and heartaches are familiar – infidelity, depression, questions of identity, marriage, and children.

Anchoring all these interpersonal dramas is a question of journalistic ethics. A disclosure: my father is an editor and spent many years as a reporter in and around the halls of Washington. Although he was never a war correspondent, a lot of the questions asked in the play apply in broad strokes to everyone working in the news media. It asks what role a journalist is obliged to play – independent observer or activist.  When Sarah is confronted by a dying child, she takes his picture rather than giving first aid or trying to save his life. One of the other characters questions her decision – isn’t that a cruel and cynical way to behave in the face of human tragedy? Sarah argues that it is the job of relief workers to try to save the child; her job is to take the photo, to show the world evidence of what is happening, and to record truth for posterity. The scene leaves Sarah to justify herself to the audience, but neglects to mention what I feel is the most compelling argument in her favor.

I feel for Sarah; she has to believe in what she does in order to face it every day. She says it’s not up to the photographer “to step into the frame and fix things they don’t like,” and because she is a journalist, I think she’s right. We depend on reporters to be impartial, to look without judging, and to tell the facts as they are without analysis. The news media has become the target of so much vituperative criticism in the last decade – gone are the days when the family gathered around the 6 o’clock news after dinner and watched as the nation’s reporters read off the stories of the day. The right and left political machines have both pitted themselves against the fourth estate, accusing it of bias, manipulation, and stupidity. The public has come a long way from calling Walter Cronkite “the most trusted man in America.” There are still institutions doing their best to lay out the facts and let the people decide what they mean, but those are admittedly fewer and farther between. The play portrays Sarah as cold and detached, but I think she has a good handle on why she has put herself into a war zone – it is her duty to report the truth, not to alter it. She knows that if she gets involved, the picture changes.

If we as citizens cannot trust our media to be impartial and honest, we cannot make the decisions we need to make. We can’t elect officials, we can’t push for social justice, we can’t put pressure on the people who make wars to stop the fighting. Countries run by oppressive regimes often hold their power partly by abolishing the freedom of the press – in an open society they would be roundly condemned by other nations, but in secrecy they can commit atrocities. The current situation in Syria, where no journalists have been allowed,  is a perfect example of this – for over a year Bashar al-Assad has been killing his own people, and the response from outside the country has been slow in part because the situation has been unverifiable for so long. The good reporter takes this charge seriously; his is not merely a job but a responsibility.

Whew! If you’ve hung with me this long, thank you. I know this post didn’t really have anything to do with theater, other than the title. That’s how you know a play is good: when it riles up its audience, and asks them to think about things. Tonight is opening night, which means that I’ll be sitting through this one fifty or so more times. I’m looking forward to it. I’m pretty sure it will be unpacking itself for quite a while.

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Yesterday marked a year since the passage of one of the brightest lights in the American theatre community. Tom Proehl was one of the best mentors, friends, and lovers of the art and craft of theatre in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, and someone who I loved and admired in all my interactions with him. He was a brilliant manager, someone who everyone desperately wanted to please; indeed, the worst thing I can think of would be to disappoint him somehow. He listened to everyone and worked harder than anyone else. To him, there were no jobs less important than any others – in fact, he came up through the Box Office before reaching the administrative levels, and he never forgot what it was like to deal with patrons or the day-to-day mundanities of making a playhouse go.

Most of all, though, Tom shone. He loved people with his whole heart and made everyone feel special. He loved his field and genuinely loved theatre. He gave freely of his tremendous passion and energy, and also of his tremendous hugs. His eyes laughed all the time. He was beautiful and brilliant and I am so lucky to have known and worked with him. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already since we learned the shocking news. So rest in peace, Tom, and with love. Know that those of us you left behind are thinking of you and remembering you fondly.

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It’s just before 7 am here, and as I type this a gentle snow is falling. It’s that light, fluffy stuff that leaves the world looking like one of those miniature Dickensian dioramas, all Victorian cottages and white sparkle batting. We’ve seen the first proper snow all winter this week, although the temperature has been hovering around the freezing mark, making it hard to believe that winter is really happening.

In Minnesota, we’re known for our winters. When I tell people from back home where I live now, they give me that look usually reserved for people who frequently bathe with toasters. “Isn’t it cold there?” they ask me. Most of the time, I can say yes. I have seen air temps in the -30s (F), and wind chills down to -45 or so. I have walked out on a frozen lake on a day so cold that it hurt to breathe. I nearly caught hypothermia waiting for the bus once, and sometimes the weather reports say to stay inside if you don’t absolutely have to go anywhere, because it’s so cold that you can get frostbite with only five minutes of exposure. And that’s just here in the Twin Cities – it gets worse the further north you travel. I pity the people who live in Saskatchewan; that’s a cold so mighty that I think it would drive me south. R and I are beginning to understand about Snowbirds the older we get. The thought of going somewhere warm and skipping all this winter is really tempting.

THIS winter, though, has been more Virginia than Minnesota. We’ve barely had any night temps below 0, and no daily highs below. During the coldest months of December and January, we hovered around the mid- to upper-twenties, and flirted with 40 many days. The most snow we’ve gotten has been about two inches – compare that with last December, when we were digging out from snowfalls of two feet. Although it’s snowing today, we feel like we’re heading into spring having dodged a bullet. I’m starting to prepare seed containers and think about the garden. Nothing’s poked its head up yet, but I don’t doubt that in a couple of weeks we’ll have the first green things shooting their way up from the dirt. I may be able to put in parts of the garden in April this year – usually I wait until the end of May, so the frost doesn’t kill the young plants. The days are getting longer and the world around here knows that while winter may bluster a little more, it’s on its way for the year.

We Minnesotans have a keen sense of Spring. It’s coming – I can taste it.

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She walks in beauty, like the night

   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!
George Gordon, Lord Byron

This poem, dredged from old days as an English major, has been playing through my head for the last couple of days. The celebration of these two are always the most problematic for me, because I think they’re the least straightforward. Flowers, jewelry, dancing, even luxury are open to a certain amount of interpretation, but in the end pretty concrete. Love and beauty, however, are notoriously difficult to pin down. Every year these two lead to a great deal of introspection and a certain amount of navel gazing, and in the end I do them a little differently each time.

Today I thought about beauty all day long. It ranged from the simple – putting on a favorite shirt and my moonstone earrings – to complex thoughts about the nature of art (or Art) and finding beauty in the most mundane parts of our days. I set aside the never-ending parade of chores for a few hours (work that produces its own kind of beauty) and concentrated on some projects that often get neglected but are the essence of the person I think I am. That person is a Maker, a crafter of beautiful objects and ideas, a sculptor of light, and a fashioner of grace from old, unwanted, and broken things. My workroom has been piled under a combination of junk and treasures for the last few months and essentially unusable; I’ve been working hard to get it clean for the last few weeks and I’ve finally reached a point where it’s not clean, but it’s livable. Today I played with yarn, washing and blocking the swatch for the green sweater, winding off some skeins for my next project, and putting things away. I opened up one of the boxes of my Great-Grandmother’s linens and washed a few things, and looked at how to clean and use a lovely piece of woven wool tapestry that is damaged and fragile. And I read some Byron, and thought about the ideals of beauty that people have had and changed for the last umpteen thousand years.

Yesterday was my day of Love. In Vodou, there are many Erzuli and each has her own complicated relationship with the idea of love. Erzulie Freda wears three wedding rings, one for each of her husbands. Erzulie Dantor embodies mother love, and is a protector of women and children – and often associated with lesbians. Other Erzuli deal with hiding secrets, revenging wrongs, or helping women though childbirth. Some are fierce and some coquettish, some dangerous and some nurturing. All of them love passionately, though, and all of them weep tears of pain and sorrow for the heartbroken, the wronged, and the downtrodden. I think that for all the celebration, the central image of Erzulie is of a lover with a complicated relationship to the things she loves. The practitioners of Vodou recognize with their Spirits the realities of love that are sometimes overlooked in other religious or philosophical contexts.

Love can also be controversial. All we have to do is open a newspaper, turn on the radio or tv, or do a little web surfing to find people from all ideological camps arguing about who may love whom, and how, and whether or not it is up to God, society, or individuals to even make those decisions. I certainly have strong opinions on the subject, and I’m not shy about them.  R and I are planning a September wedding, and we think it is a travesty that many of our friends and family who will be in attendance cannot enjoy the same privilege in most of our country. The entire point of the American Dream is that we strive to be more free, not less – and we certainly shouldn’t try to make others less free. Yet in the US we have a long lineage of “moral” tyranny including slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow, miscegenation laws, disenfranchisement of the poor, the indigent, and the different… the list goes on and on. The United States isn’t alone in this history by any stretch of the imagination, but we may be the biggest hypocrites, since our nation was founded on the preservation of individual freedoms. In Minnesota, there is an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot in November that would codify institutional homophobia here. These so-called “Marriage Amendments” have been cropping up in states all over the country, and in every state to this point the people have decided to ban same-sex marriage. It’s hard to guess what will happen here. The Twin Cities are two of the most gay-friendly in the US, and yet they’re ringed by the suburbs that elected Michelle “Pray-The-Gay-Away” Bachmann to the US Senate. People in the Upper Midwest are conservative by nature, if not by politics; I fear that those are the people who will take their uncertainty and distrust to the polls with them this fall.

I’ll wrap up this already-too-long post with a lighter note: a Litany of What I Love. These are the things that were circulating around in my head yesterday as I mulled all this stuff over.

  • R, the idea of getting married, and the joy of having a partner in life
  • The Kitties, who are still trying to kill each other but getting better
  • My family who keep me honest and my friends who enable me
  • God, in the complicated way that you come to after many years of disagreement
  • Having a job where they pay me to play
  • Having space of my own and time in which to work
  • And last, myself, my journey, and the gratitude I have for life

Thanks for hanging through this whole thing with me. See you tomorrow for DANCING!

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R decided that today is flowers day all on his own, and came home from the store with this:

He’s so awesome. Plus, roses are WAY cheaper the day AFTER Valentine’s.

Now that the January FOAMs are out of the way, I’ve been plugging away at a couple of small projects, just to tide me over until I dive into this sweater full-time. Today I’ll show you the first of what will hopefully be nearly identical socks.

I hand painted this yarn in a sock blank at Shepherd’s Harvest last spring. I’ve been really compelled to keep knitting these, even though it’s a completely plain-jane sock — I can’t wait to see how the colors will play out! I’m almost done with the first, and if I can book it through the second these could be my February FOAM.

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