On Speaking Up and Mass Shootings

What I wanted to write about this week: Birthdays and a tasty recipe for Italian Salad.

We’re going to have to circle back to that one.

Because 19 grade schoolers and 2 teachers were killed a couple days ago. In another school shooting. That I am even writing the word “another” is abhorrent.

I hate making waves. I hate confrontation. I won’t be a coward. Plus, I don’t think a single, solitary one of you was happy that little kids were murdered. Not one of you said, “Oh, well.” I’d imagine most of you can (too easily) imagine the horror, grief, and terror of being a parent rushing to the “reunification area,” not knowing if your child is alive or dead.

I know that when you heard the reporters say they could hear the screams of grief from the parking lot, as parents found out their child had been murdered; you felt it too. The tears welling, the stomach churning, the creeping dread.

Me too.

Repeated studies and polls show that 90% of Americans want common-sense gun laws. How is it that 50 senators are holding up what 90% of Americans want? Just yesterday they blocked a bill that already passed Congress, saying that it was “partisan and unnecessary.” They’ll say they are standing up for their constituency. I don’t believe that. Do you? They’re in the pocket of the NRA and are justifying the millions of dollars contributed to their campaigns.

So they’re just doing their job. They are human beings. I bet they truly are “broken hearted” and that they are, indeed, sending utterly useless “thoughts and prayers.” That won’t stop them from doing the work the lobbyists and their big donors have asked them to do, have paid them to do.

You know who could be the hero in this story? The NRA. They’re having their conference later this week. Maybe that body could make a stand FOR something, rather than continuing to fight AGAINST common sense gun laws. Maybe they could advocate for training and licensing folks who own or would like to own guns. They certainly have the politicians in place to make those laws lock into place rapidly. Maybe they could be a force for good.

The number of people killed in mass shootings (more than 4 people killed) in America so far this year is the equivalent of a 747 airliner fully loaded with passengers falling out of the sky every month in the first five months of this year.

I think if that were happening, we’d do something about it, don’t you? I’d imagine a lot of changes would happen really fast if planes were falling from the sky monthly.

If we’d make changes for air travelers, why not for our children? Or shoppers at a grocery store? Or people going to church?

Some ideas on how to make things better:

Cars don’t kill people either. We train people how to use them and regularly check to make sure drivers are up to snuff. Why not have the same criteria for guns? It seems pretty straightforward to me.

Or maybe make ammunition outrageously expensive… unless you can show a certificate from a gun training facility, then ammo is a normal price. Yes, I hear you. There are lots of ways around something like this. I’d also be for putting serial numbers on all bullets too, so they can be traced.

My husband came up with a good one. Use the National Guard. Make part of their required rotations standing guard at the entrances of schools.

This may sound dumb, but bring back longer recess and lunch periods, especially in grade school. I’d rather have mentally and physically healthy children than ones who can pass a standardized test.

Part of me would rather goggle at the Depp/Heard trial, or be sad that Ray Liotta died than address gun violence in America. I don’t want to think about my friends who are teachers putting their lives on the line every day they go to work. I don’t want to imagine the surviving children seeing their teacher’s or their friend’s blood and brains splattered on the floor of their classroom. I don’t want to imagine walking into a child’s bedroom, the one that still smells of them, see the bed with its sheets still rumpled by their little body, the shoes worn only yesterday, tossed sideways by the closet, see the toy on the floor that will never be played with again.

Walking into that room to pick out the clothes their nine-year-old child will be buried in.

No, I do not want to think about those things.

But we have to. We must.

We have to do better than this.

The little girl at the top of the post is Amerie Jo Garza. She was ten. She loved Play Doh and Girl Scouts. She had just received an award for making the A and B honor roll at school on Tuesday. The day she was killed.

Repost and photo from @girlscouts

On Doing Script Coverage for Cannes and Letting Go

I’m dragging.

It’s been a wonderful week of creativity, celebration, and healthy goodbyes, and I wouldn’t have traded a moment of it.

A play I directed ended its run, and as per usual, the cast and crew did the strike immediately after the last show. While it sounds callous to simply rip it down like that, the practice allows for catharsis.

For those not in the know about theatre lingo, a strike is when you tear the set down, taking the stage back down to expectant emptiness. You also put away costumes, props, and clean up dressing rooms and the green room. It takes a big truck, lots of charged electric screwdrivers, closed-toe shoes, the ability to pick up heavy things, and a willing bunch of hands.

We had all of that at the end of this last show. I always try to be one of the last out when I’m the director, giving the floor a final sweep before I go. I usually drop a few salty tears as I do so, and Sunday was no exception. It’s done now, for good.

I’ve already started working on the next one.

Our oldest and youngest children also set off on wonderful new adventures this past week. Our daughter has been out of our house for a while, but it was great to finally give her a party and send her and her fab husband off on a delayed honeymoon. They went to San Diego, and I’m jealous. It’s one of my favorite cities in the USA. It’s certainly one of my favorite climates, nice and cool nearly all year ‘round.

Our son has headed back to DC with his partner. I think DC is more of a home than anywhere else to him after he spent four years there at GWU as an undergrad. As I dropped him off at the airport at 4.30 in the morning, his cat in a carrier protesting the travel, I was emotional. It’s not like we haven’t said goodbye many times before. This one felt different, though, a true next step. A moment we’ve been headed to since meeting in the Glendale Adventist delivery room nearly 24 years ago.

Ooof.

The balance to the waves of emotion the last seven days was being busy. I like to stay busy, but whew howdy, this past week was an exercise in time management and taking things one thing at a time while also strategizing possible roadblocks. You can’t catch them all, of course, but I inevitably try.

I’ve had the pleasure of being a reader for many years for agencies, production studios and private clients. This past week I got to work for a distribution company that was at Cannes. Basically, my job is to read and then give my thoughts as well as a synopsis of scripts for completed or nearly completed films. I give it one of three ratings: Pass, Consider, and the rare Recommend. Then the distribution company decides if they want to take a meeting with the producers of the film. (On board yachts at Cannes, by the way. I’m glad that a bit of ooo-la-la still exists in this business.)

I’ve gone out on the limb with that Recommend for only about ten scripts in the past twenty-five years of doing this odd but fun job. I’ve read thousands of scripts and books. The key to being a good reader is to have a moment of excitement before you open the first page of a script. If you aren’t excited by the possibility in your hands, you shouldn’t do the job. In general, a good reader will know what they have in terms of a visual story in the first ten pages, but we always keep going, even when it becomes dreadful, as sadly, so many do.

I want to add something here: I don’t know how YOU can become a reader. The journey to become one is weird and different for everyone. For me, I always loved reading, had taken a script writing course, had one of my film scripts made, and the wife of one of the actors in that movie was a reader for a big talent agency, and asked me to fill in for her when she was on vacation, and I got hired from there. I quick ran out and took an extension course on being a reader (this was before YouTube or google) so that I felt confident.

It’s been a great gig over the years and allowed me to meet a lot of artists I truly admire.

Here are some things that indicate you might like the job: 1. You love to read. 2. You understand story, script structure, character arcs, what constitutes good dialogue. 3. You see things visually in your head/imagination. 4. You loved doing book reports in grade school. 5. You have excellent grammar and spelling. 6. You can read until your eyes bleed and then turn around and type up 2,500 cogent words to meet a deadline. 7. You have good time management skills and don’t tell people you’ll do something when you cannot. 8. You love movies and television and can give several examples of what a script is like/not like off the top of your head, as well as a good handle on who the current bankable stars and up-and-coming actors, directors, and writers are.

I can also tell you that reading and covering five scripts in a twenty-eight-hour period will absolutely take your mind off of anything else going on in your life. You get to write sentences like; “The snake was the best-developed character in the script.” I mean, come on.

And then you sleep like a rock, your mind completely drained of all thought.

Balance achieved.

On The Strip and Fried Pickles

This past weekend was a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas to celebrate our daughter’s wedding reception. We’d been at the actual chapel wedding back last summer (no, not done by Elvis), but this was the Covid-free mix and mingle of the families.

The Strip is a unique place, and it really is fun to visit. It’s not a place the locals go unless they have visitors in town. I’ve been in Vegas a lot over the years, often trapped in a single hotel for days on end during a conference and never stepping foot outside the MGM Grand. This trip, my husband and I took advantage of our position on the far end of the strip at Excalibur to take an early morning walk while it was still relatively cool — 80 degrees at 8am, but it’s a dry heat. Bonus points for those who get that movie reference (answer below*).

We started on the sunny side of the street first. Everything on the strip is further away and takes longer to walk to than you’d think it would, and involves a lot of up and down as pedestrians are routed over the streets on walkways. Most of the time, the escalators work, but if you want a serious workout, take the stairs. My quads were screaming by the end of our walk, but it was worth it. I also washed my hands multiple times, as I did have to grab the handrails. If Covid has done nothing else, it has made me a prompt hand-washer.

I was very impressed with the Aria and its adjacent high-end shopping mall. It’s exactly as if Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was transported indoors. The air conditioning was welcome, even after only fifteen minutes of walking.

We saw men working on the fountains at the Bellagio. There’s an odd job—fountain maintenance. It was fun to watch them don their scuba gear and hop off their boat, presumably to clear trash away from the fountains so they could do their thing unimpeded later in the day.

The inside of the Bellagio is lovely. Nice bathrooms too.

Caesars Palace is iconic and less tacky than you’d think. I can never see the outside of it without thinking about the cataclysmic end of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I remember a long time ago when it first opened, you could get into the place, but it was hard finding your way out. Now they have convenient signs helping you with arrows to point the way. I love the shops at the Forum. The ceilings here (and in the Venetian) are all painted in trompe l’oeil style, to fool you into not knowing what time it is. You could swear the clouds were moving.

We crossed the street to the shady side. It was 10am, and the strip was starting to bustle with tourists and the street pros had their hustle on. Girls in bikinis and big feathered headdresses coaxing to take a picture for a fee, men with placards proclaiming the end was near, costumed characters, and a crazy shell game guy that rooked someone out of $600 while we watched. We popped into the Venetian for some more coolness. It has marble floors for miles and a canal running through it, with gondoliers who can belt out an opera tune or two as they paddle. It also boasts a full replica of St. Mark’s square, and you can have a gelato there. We didn’t indulge, but you could.

Our son and his wife were meeting us at our hotel, so we had to dash back past the venerable Flamingo without going in, but I noted from the billboards that Wayne Newton was still headlining a show there. He is 80 years old, bless his heart. Bet he can still make ‘em swoon.

We ended up having lunch at an Irish pub in New York, New York. Maybe it was the 20,000 steps we’d walked, but the fried pickles there were the best we’ve eaten. Here’s a recipe to make your own at home: Fried Pickles – Sugar Spun Run

Afterwards, we checked out the Hershey’s store. I did not buy this item, but it caught my eye.

I’ve been curious for years about the Luxor, the Egyptian-themed hotel that has a light on the top of it that can be seen from space. It’s literally the brightest light in the world. (Side note: as you can see from this picture, our hotel window faced this light but thankfully the Excalibur had excellent black-out curtains.) It is accessible via moving walkway and tram from our hotel, so I dashed out on our last morning to take a gander

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The interior is pretty fun. It reminded me of those old Holiday Inns where all the rooms faced into an interior courtyard. This hotel, along with the Excalibur, is dated… but if you’re of the mindset that you just want a place to sleep at night, but still be on the strip they are good, economical choices. One thing though—even though these hotels have been renovated, the smell of old cigarette smoke lingers. And since pot is legal… prepare for contact high as you walk along. Good times!

*Aliens. Bill Paxton says this quite ironically in the movie and it’s become one of those quotes our family uses often. It’s always funny to us.

On Stargazer and Making Pots

Meet Stargazer.

She’s at best estimate around 5,000 years old, and from the area we currently know as Turkey. Thirty of them have been found over the years, artifacts from the Chalcolithic period, or Copper Age.

I saw her at the Cleveland Museum of Art several years ago and fell in love. It’s the way she’s looking upwards, see? Up at the stars, up at the gods. Just looking up. It’s hope and wonder all swirled together in a hand-sized figurine carved into translucent marble by someone 5,000 years ago. That I feel connected to this figure, to that artist ignites wonder and hope in me, too.

Like, maybe everything will turn out okay.

Now meet my Stargazer.

My wonderful husband knows how much this figurine resonates with me and commissioned this Stargazer from our friend Ruth, who is a potter. Ruth and I met several years ago open-water swimming across one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. Lake Watauga is situated in the upper reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the TVA plan to prevent flooding downriver. It’s a deep, clean lake with very large fish in it. And the old town of Butler at the bottom of it.

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She and I and some other intrepid women would swim a few miles across the lake and back once or twice a month when the water was warm enough to get in without a wetsuit. It’s a wild, untrammeled area. One time we had to tread water for fifteen minutes at the end of our swim waiting for the bear that was sitting on the little jetty where we’d left our towels to amble away. While there’s not much talking while swimming, you do chat before and after. At the time we met, Ruth was working in a health food store, and had set up a tiny potting area in her apartment.

That was what she wanted to do, you see. Shape clay into beautiful and useful things. Be an artist full-time. It seemed out of reach, but she opted to trust me, joined me doing Arbonne for a while and got enough financial flexibility to move to an artist colony up in Burnsville, NC. She met her husband, also a potter. Now she does what she loves. She’s happy, and those who are the beneficiaries of her work are also happy.

I love that story. It fills me with wonder and hope, all swirled together.

You can find Ruth’s beautiful pottery at: https://www.thevillagepotters.com or at https://www.RutkowskyPottery.com