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Posts Tagged ‘life’

I’ve been trying for the last few weeks to find a way to talk about the death of an old friend from college. Every time I’ve sat down to write about him or the stroke which took his life after an agonizing 10 days in ICU, I’ve come up short. I think it’s a thing that happens to us when we grieve – the hurt and the memories take up so much space in our heads that our language centers become unavailable for a time. We say “words fail me,” but what we really mean is “I fail words” – the words to describe what we are going through exist, but we are unable to grasp them. Like a sound repeated too many times, they lose their genuine meanings, and we fall back on cliche and platitudes.

A little time has passed, and I’m ready now to talk about the regret I have of letting go of C, his wife E, and the loving family of friends we shared in college. I had seen him last on the 4th of July, at one of the two annual gatherings that R and I usually manage to make it to. In recent years I’ve felt necessarily outside the group. It’s that thing that happens so easily in our business – you work nights and weekends when most of your non-theater friends work a regular 9-5. Over the years, you turn down invitations to Saturday afternoon movies and Friday night poker games. People start to forget about you when they make plans, or they don’t forget but assume you’re not available – which is usually true. And you, because you don’t see them often, forget to include them in your activities on the rare nights that you ARE free. Suddenly, you wake up one morning to discover that your friend is in the hospital – someone you used to know well – and you haven’t seen him in six months. You spend every spare thought hoping and praying that he’ll wake up so you can tell him you’re so, so sorry, that you will do better, that you have learned. And then he doesn’t, and you’re stuck trying to put words together with a brain that can’t comprehend them anymore.

I write this in the quiet aftermath of a mass killing in Connecticut, where at last count 20 children and seven adults are dead. My Facebook feed has exploded with expressions of sadness, anger, horror. Many of my friends are like-minded and so the calls for stricter gun control laws and better mental health services are loud and clear. Each new shooting incident rips open the old wounds of the survivors of previous ones, and so the pain for people in Minneapolis and Red Lake must feel fresh and raw all over again. Someone today observed that there are no wrong expressions of grief; that each of us must do what we feel we must do to make sense of these things. Silence and screaming are both appropriate.

I guess my answer to the shock of the many is to mourn the one. Death isn’t fair, no matter how it comes, when the person it takes is so young. C was the first among us to go; E is the first to survive and feel what it is to have to live on after the loss of the person you love. I do not have a child of my own and cannot imagine what the parents of those children are feeling tonight, but I know how it feels to grieve. I miss C, and so I will feel that ache as my way to relate to the more general pain. I will let my regret for things unsaid and unshared shape my empathy for those who are feeling those regrets for their loved ones today. As time passes and we regain our ability to speak, I hope we can take these feelings and voice them in a way that produces change. For myself, the loss of C has taught me to say yes, to love deeply, to throw myself into the lives of others. As a nation, I hope we can learn similar lessons that lead to fundamental changes in the way we do things. Now, however, it is time to acknowledge that words are inadequate, and observe a moment of silence.

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During the show, I have a lot of time to kill. Most of the time, I knit. There are some days, however, where I’m falling asleep behind the board and I turn to the internets to keep me entertained and awake. I’m not a member of Reddit, but when I run out of blogs to read and Pins to pin, I sometimes turn to the site for cute videos of funny animals.

Today, a particular thread caught my eye. The question was “Lots of people talk about not being part of the ‘popular kids’ in high school. I think it’s time we heard the popular kids’ side of the story. So, if you were popular in school, what was that like and how has that experience affected the rest of your life?” Find the original thread here.

So I thought I’d answer it. Again, not a member of Reddit, so I don’t have posting privileges. But I have this space, and it seemed like an interesting jumping-off point.

I was desperately, painfully unpopular in Elementary and Junior High school. I got picked on mercilessly by the girls in my class from grades K-6, and the boys started to notice and joined in about then and helped through grade 8. In a class of GT (gifted and talented) nerds, I was one of the nerdiest. I got mocked for my second-hand clothes, for my know-it-all-ness, for my glasses and braces and red hair and crooked teeth. I was not pretty, and I was excruciatingly shy. Add to this a tendency always to have my nose in a book, and you have a recipe for Dweeb.

Things began to change in high school. I still wasn’t cool, and I was still too shy, but I managed to make a few friends that shared my interests and taught me some new things. I got involved in clubs and Drama and spent lots of time with people who loved the same things I did and cared as passionately about getting good grades and going to college as I did. I was always aware of being an outsider, but it began to matter less because I’d found somewhere else I could feel “inside.” It was around this time that I started to molt out of my Ugly Duckling phase as well, and I started having boyfriends. That’ll do wonders for a girl’s self-esteem, even if it’s not the healthiest. I began to figure out who I was, and having my own personality made it harder for other people to define me. So I wasn’t one of the “Cool Kids,” but I was popular enough – people liked me and I liked people, and I didn’t have to worry so much anymore about what might make me cool.

How has this affected the rest of my life? I learned not to worry so much about having the right friends, and concentrated on having friends in general. I learned that there is a difference between being liked and being popular, and it mostly has to do with things that don’t matter. And I learned that finding a space I was comfortable in did a lot to eliminate my anxiety over other people’s negative image of me. I was able to make a choice about what I cared about and what I thought was important, and then do my best to live up to those standards. If someone else thought that taking calculus was nerdy, or that it was lame that I didn’t want to skip class and go to the mall, that was fine with me. It was a club I didn’t want to belong to. That’s served me well as I’ve made decisions as an adult. I took a job I wanted to do, even though it was different. I married a man who I love and who loves me, even though he’s not a doctor or a lawyer or a supermodel. I have dear friends who were also not cool kids, and who have tremendous compassion as a result of that experience. And you’ll be glad to know that all that studying paid off – I got into a good college, and from there I did all the things that have evolved into a life I love and am proud of.

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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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Oy! There’s been so much to blog about in the last couple of weeks – an impending home repair project and lots of knitting and spinning developments. Instead of doing that, I’ve been sitting in a dark room for the last week, teching a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.

I feel a bit like Dante from “Clerks”: I’m not even supposed to be here today. This show is in the thrust theater, a venue I don’t normally spend much time in. It’s been good to spend some time re-acquainting myself with the room and how it works, and figuring out all the stuff that’s currently broken and what I’m supposed to do to work around it. I am, however, in tech three weeks earlier than I had originally planned on. Thankfully, if I’m going to do an extra tech this spring, this is the one to do. Last week was the big push week and it was, in the words of one of my co-workers, downright civilized. I think it worked out to about 55 hours, give or take, which is pretty light for tech. We quit early both of the nights we were scheduled until midnight, and none of the daily rehearsals this week have begun before 2 – practically unheard of. My lighting designer is a total sweetheart, and has already bought me coffee a couple of times. Yesterday, a package full of cookies arrived from his Mom. Everyone is pretty relaxed, and I couldn’t have asked for better circumstances. I’ll be back in tech for Time Stands Still in two weeks, and I know that one’s not going to be nearly so easy, so I’m glad this one has been smooth sailing.

Unfortunately, you can’t really tell how easy tech has been by the state of our house. I’m pretty sure the dirty dishes have been spontaneously multiplying when my back is turned, and every flat surface is covered with a thin grey film of cat hair. Adding to the state of things is the fact that the weather has been gorgeous, and so I want to spend every spare moment outside reveling in the fact that it’s March, 60 degrees, and there’s no snow on the ground. Speaking of which…

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I’ve been kicking this idea around for some time now, wondering what I could add to the blogosphere that isn’t already there. There are dozens of great knitting blogs (I know, I read a lot of them). There are industry-specific blogs and blogs about wedding planning and “here’s my life, look at how I run it really well” blogs. In other words, I’ve held back because I didn’t think I had anything to offer.

So why now? Perhaps because I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t journal the way I used to, but I still have the urge to write things down before I forget them. Maybe because the on-line format lends itself well to adding in the photos and video that punctuate the words I write, and make the ideas and memories all the more visceral. Maybe because all the cool kids are doing it. Maybe because I know there’s a community of like-minded, completely disorganized people JUST LIKE ME out there.

Last night in martial arts class, our Shifu was talking about training in deep internal arts, and asking us how it is that we know chi is moving, how we learn to trust what we feel and see when everything in Western culture tells us that invisible energy is stupid. After doing a couple of exercises trying to manifest an external representation of an internal process, we decided as a class that the answer to learning to believe in chi is to have others, outside of our own experience, witness and describe to us the same things that we’re feeling. Knowing that chi is there comes from the validation of our community. Perhaps this is a part of why the art of the blog has come so far in the last 10 years, and why I am taking back to the screen for the first time in a very long time. We seek to validate our existence, our choices, and our experience with the love, support, and commiseration of our community. It’s great to share our joys and sorrows and disappointments and triumphs with others.

So welcome, bienvenue, salut! It’s great to have you here tagging along with me as I figure this all out from one day to the next. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask questions or let me know if I get boring. I’m just going to be as honest as I can, and share the stuff that I think is fascinating.

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