On 43, 9/11, and Northpark Mall

My dear friend was in town this weekend to see my play. It was a quick but delightful trip, eating and talking and exploring a little bit of Dallas.

The normal places I like to take first-time visitors—White Rock Lake, the spot where JFK was assassinated, Clyde Warren Park, and Bishop’s Art District—were all off the table this time. It was just too hot outside for walking.

Instead, we visited the Bush Library and had lunch at Café 43 on the grounds of the SMU campus. I highly recommend the café, and you don’t have to go into the library to eat there. The service is lovely, the space elegant but welcoming, and the food was mighty tasty.*

My friend and I did opt to tour the museum/library. It’s extremely well laid-out, with a special exhibit on humor in the White House that was quite funny. I enjoyed talking to the docents in the replica of the oval office, and revisiting some of the history I remember from President Bush’s two terms in office.

That time includes, of course, 9/11.

It was not pleasant per se to revisit that morning when the towers fell. The memory is still crystal clear. I’d been at home with my boys, the oldest of whom was five at the time. My husband called me on his way to work and told me to turn on the television. I did so right as the second plane flew into the south tower. My little boy turned to me, his brown eyes so wide and earnest. He said, “That’s not special effects.” You should know that I worked in the film industry, so my son’s comment was based in solid knowledge. I sent him to go play with his brother and sat glued to the television, the images we were seeing seemingly impossible.

The Bush Library has created a respectful, solemn memorial to that day and the days that followed. The featured image on this blog is chilling to see in person, that twisted metal looking almost like modern art, but so terribly, horribly real. I realized I’d not “forgotten” any of it, that the memories of that time in our history is etched deep. I knew a couple of folks who died in the towers that day, and while the anniversary of the date always makes me think of them, this was an impressive, immersive, resonant section of the museum that gave a bigger picture.

Can you be glad you saw something, yet saddened by it too? Evidently.

We had a few hours before my friend needed to catch her plane, so I suggested we stay in air conditioning and took her over to the always visually interesting Northpark Mall. I used my turn signal aggressively in the interior covered parking lot to get one of the hotly contested spaces.

The mall itself is a big 2-level square surrounding a large inner courtyard. Inside are some 250+ mostly upscale shops and restaurants, along with a food court and movie theatre. What makes it unique is that it houses a fantastic collection of Modern Art that has been bequeathed to the place by Nasher family.

It also has beautiful planters inside and out that boast different flowers seasonally. The mall and its art are run by Nancy Nasher, the daughter of Ray Nasher, who refused to put the collection in a museum. Instead, he put it here, scattered throughout the mall. His reasoning? “Maybe 90 percent of people will never go to a museum, but maybe they’ll be inspired to learn more about art and study art, just by coming here.” I like that and hope he’s right.

After wandering the mall and browsing in my favorite store, Sundance, we stopped at Eataly for a beverage. It’s also a fun place to people watch and goggle over all the food choices there. Both the museum and the mall got high marks from my friend, so if you’re looking for something to do while its nine million degrees here in Dallas, you might give them a try.

*You should make reservations, and you have to pay for parking in the lot across from the Cafe. It’s $5 for the first hour and $2 every hour after that. Or maybe just cruise around and find street parking, if you’re not worried about melting before you get inside.

On Tech Week and Theatre as an Alternate Language

I had a few comments last week that the theatre jargon I toss around sounds… odd to my non-theatre friends and readers. I’m forced to agree. The terms for things in the theatre can sound like we live in an opposite world. Like to “strike” means to work really hard to tear down the set, not to refuse to go to work. To “block” something means learning how to move on the stage in a specific way, not to be an immovable lump preventing forward movement.

Tech week, or hell week as many dub it, falls closer to being what it sounds like. It’s the time when the lighting designer, sound designer, and props designer move to the front of the line in terms of priority. Hopefully, your set is already done, although usually it is not. I’ve been in many productions when the last bits of paint are still wet when the curtain goes up. (And yes, these days there are rarely actual curtains going up – it is more of a move of lights going down on the house (the audience) and then to a blue or black-out and then the lights up on the first moments of the play.)

Those lights are hung, gelled (colored film that changes the colors of the lights), focused, and refocused during tech week, and gosh I hope you like heights. If you are in a fancy theatre, much of this is done via computer and you get the fun LED lights that you can program to change colors. If you work in community theatre, someone’s going up on a very tall ladder to wrench things around so that the stage is lit properly. Sometimes there’s a big grid that floats way up above the stage, and you walk around on that to fix the lights. Lighting techs are among the bravest people I know.

The mp3 sounds and incidental music are programmed into the cues (not pool sticks, but alerts that a new sound or light change is about to happen, or someone’s line (not an actual drawn line, but a string of words you’d say… a sentence to anyone not in theatre)). Then the person running the board (not like a board of directors, but an actual board that is in most theatres programmed, but still needs a human hand to make sure things happen in the correct sequence) needs to find the flow. In my current production, I have scenes that float between various locations on the stage, and we use sound and light to direct the audience’s attention to the correct spots. It would be jarring if those transitions were sudden. The design will reflect the flow, and the board operator makes sure it happens on time and that way every performance.

As ladders are climbed, holes drilled for cords, and the music stops and starts, the props people are decorating the set and building odd things that are in the script.

In my current play, a stick model of the Eiffel Tower is called for. Writers, you just can’t trust ‘em… wait, I wrote it…. The play I am directing right now* also has a lot of food in it, so the props people cook that each night. Biscuits, green bean casserole with potato chips on top, chicken and gravy, apple crisp… all prepped and then the dishes washed afterwards. The cast tells me it is all delicious, so score one for our props team.

All of the above is going on while at the same time, backstage cords are being taped over so no one trips, special blue lights hung backstage so actors can see while dashing from place to place and changing costumes in a blackout (when all the stage lights go off, signaling a change in location or time or that it is intermission.) Prop tables are set up, as well as baskets on either side of the stage so that the actors can grab their hand-held props with ease, and the prop folks can set them back later.

The costumer is in on this we-open-in-less-than-five-days action too, as the clothing the actors wear gets pinned, hemmed, and switched out for different choices. They make sure the actors can move in the costumes, and that there is nothing that can get snagged during an argument or a fight sequence. (The fight choreographer has been in long before this point, but sometimes they come back for a visit to make sure the actors are doing all their moves safely.)

The production photographer will come in at some point in this process as well, and you just make space for them to get the snaps that will (hopefully) go into the posts, articles, and reviews of the show that have been set up.

There is an entire many-hours-long rehearsal devoted to just tech, with lots of starts and stops as all the moving pieces start to come together. At this point, there are maybe four or five more rehearsals before the show goes in front of actual paying people. If you have a good director, there is very little yelling in this phase and they or the producers will hopefully feed everyone a nice meal and have snacks and water available. If you have a bad director, or if the show is woefully under-rehearsed, tech week can, indeed, be a hellish experience with lots of yelling and perhaps the tearing of hair and rending of garments. In either case, it is at least two eight to twelve-hour days in a row and a lot of getting home at midnight or later the next few days after that. You learn to take your vitamin C and that sugar and caffeine are your friends.

Yet, at the end of it, in spite of all the last minute jammed-in corrections, awkward fixes and jury-rigging… you have a beautiful, magical, ephemeral show. Like a duck or a swan, there may be an awful lot of paddling going on underneath the water at this point, but for the audience… magic.

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The photos in this week’s blog are by Steven A. Bracey. This last pic is my pic of him taking a pic… He was our production photographer.

*Like Kissing Moonlight at the Mesquite Arts Theatre in Texas. Come see the show if you can, runs June 10-26th on the weekends. Tickets: https://mesquiteartstheatre.org/tickets

On Italian Salad and Birthday Resolutions

May is our month for multiple birthdays. My father, me, my husband, and one of my best friends all have birthdays within a week. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get kind of rolled up in the bunch too. My mother’s is the last day of April, so we often add it in. I like baking the pies and cakes we eat to celebrate.

I don’t mind birthdays some years, others I do. I really hated the year last year’s celebrated. And yes, I am fully aware there are many people who wish they could be so old. A ridiculous number of friends died this past year that will never hit 61. I try very hard to be grateful.

I just fall short sometimes.

The theme around many of my birthdays is the desire to make big changes for the year to come—or at least a small one—on my birthday. Last year’s pit of despair led to me taking a writing class and now it looks like writing books is my 3rd act in what I hope is a lengthy lifespan. I’m giving it ten years, and my goal is to have 40-60 books on the book/library shelves by the time I’m done. And be in at least 20 anthologies. So, as bitter-tasting as that birthday was, it yielded some good stuff.

So far I’m at 1 publishing company established, and 3 complete novel-length books, 1 long novella, and 1 anthology completed this past year. On target! The hard part hasn’t been writing the words, it’s been learning the publication side of things. Next mountain is getting a handle on advertising and growing my newsletter and IG account.

This year finds me focused on health. Like many of us, Covid helped me add pounds I didn’t need, and as an *ahem* older adult, it’s proving to be harder and harder to get the pounds off. Losing our dog last July didn’t help either. All those walks not taken. I really miss her. No, we’re not ready to get another dog.

I know advertising on both IG and FB works because I occasionally cave to one. There’s a walking app called “The Conqueror Challenges” that has been dangling their medals and postcards and intriguing copy in front of me for years.

Resistance was futile when they offered not a walk along Hadrian’s wall, or a Swim across the English Channel, but Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor.

My inner geek squealed. My finger punched more info. I caved and signed up. I am just now through South Farthing in the Shire, 28.5 miles of walking* in my first 6 days. The moment when Sam realizes if he takes one more step, he’ll be further from home than he’s ever been before.

So, I guess joining the “group” the app provides is working for me. Are you like me? Do you make “birthday resolutions?” If so, let me know some of yours.

Next up is regulating my food choices. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe I promised you last week for a most excellent Italian salad. Find someone who likes chopping or get some music going as you prep this.

The smaller the chop, the tastier the salad. I use Trader Joe’s Romano Italian dressing, just enough to coat. Any Italian dressing will do. If you’re a vegetarian, you can eat around the meat bits. Or just don’t add them. It’s an easygoing recipe.

You can make this big or little. The amount listed below fed 6 people for a main course with leftovers. We had a side of sourdough bread and rhubarb pie** for dessert.

ITALIAN SALAD

Chop:

5 Persian Cucumbers or 1 large English cucumber

1 red pepper

1 box cherry tomatoes

½ of a red onion

Half a can of black olives

Add: 10 oz cubed low-fat mozzarella cheese, half of a cubed summer sausage (I used turkey summer sausage), cubed cooked chicken breast and a can of garbanzo beans drained and rinsed. Toss lightly with dressing. You can also add baby spinach if you wish.

*the app also counts my swimming and converts it into steps.

** see my rhubarb pie post for recipe. It’s probably the best pie you’ll ever eat, and I CANNOT BELIEVE how many people don’t know what rhubarb is.

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