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On Wind Chimes and “Like Kissing Moonlight”

On Wind Chimes and “Like Kissing Moonlight”

A wind chime arrived unexpectedly in the mail yesterday. It has a smiling moon on the top, more on the significance of that later. Attached was a note that hoped this addition would make our apartment feel a little more like a home.  Now when the wind blows, I hear our friends’ cheery voices bouncing through the chimes. Lovely. 

As with many of the fortunate things in our lives in the past ten years, meeting these particular friends involved our rescue dog Keisha. This dog really is special.  She instinctively knows the good un’s from the bad un’s, as we used to say while living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee.  Walking Keisha in the park one day on a mile-long loop, we were caught by Teri, who could probably win anyone’s ‘fastest walker’ award. She had her rescue dog Scout with her, and Keisha let us know they were good un’s with a wag of her tail.  Scout is not the brightest dog on the planet but is excellent at playing with others.  While the dogs ran and played together we chatted with Teri and got a lot of good cardio in as we tried to keep up with her. This developed over a few years into a lovely friendship, which expanded to Teri’s whole family.

Her daughter Mandy, has become a friend and theatre colleague as well. Mandy is on her way to becoming a famous film producer.  Watch and see, I’m dead right on this one.  She was my assistant director for an updated version of “The Glass Menagerie” I directed.  Teri and her husband did the props for that play.  It’s quite the prop-ridden play, and they did a fantastic job, even making authentic Wrigley’s gum wrappers for the pivotal moment when Jim shares his gum with Laura.  Prior to that involvement, Mandy and Teri ushered for a play I wrote and directed called “Like Kissing Moonlight”, multiple times.  That’s the significance of the moon on the wind chime they sent.

Mandy fell in love with the theatre through that show, and I believe it sent her on a trajectory that is going to be marvelous for both herself and the rest of us. I continue to be the great beneficiary of the friendship of the entire extended family that play created. Like our heroic dog Keisha, “Like Kissing Moonlight” is special.

As a writer for some 25 years now, I can tell you when a play or a screenplay is very good, it takes on a life of its own. “Like Kissing Moonlight” continues to be read and performed at theatres (it’s a crowd pleaser), and its monologues used with great success for college auditions. I am inordinately proud of this play. It’s a mashup of Chekov’s “Three Sisters” and the “Cherry Orchard”, set in modern day Appalachia.  Like any good story about family, it’s funny, and warm and emotional with a good dose of regret, anger and family secrets.  Like any good story about Appalachia it has ghosts and superstitions and everyone enters through the kitchen’s back screen door. It even contains a joke that works every performance. I decided to turn it into a screenplay last year, and by another happy circumstance, have met and become friends with a film producer here in Dallas.  She in turn handed it to a rather famous and talented film director who also liked it and they are moving forward with the project.  While the term “moving forward with the project” often can take years in Hollywoodspeak, I am hopeful that the fall of this year or next will mark a return to Appalachia and my friend Teri and her family when we film it.  Maybe Mandy will work on it, wouldn’t that be something?

This week, I am grateful to be reminded with every puff of wind in the chimes that friendship endures, and that rescue dogs and art continue to bring value and happiness into this troubled world.  They are Good Things, as Martha Stewart used to say, and goodness knows we need all of those we can get.

** selfie photo is of my incredible cast right before the Premier performances of “Like Kissing Moonlight” at the Johnson City Community Theatre.  Dear friends all, they are from top: Larry Bunton, Hunter Hall, Karen Mabe, Emily Nagy, Joy Nagy, Dave Hutton, Melanie Yodkins Headen, Matt Quick and Paige Mengel.  Not pictured is the amazing crew: Emily Barnes my epic stage manager, Britney Fox, Veronica Roberson, Steven Bracey, Carolee Mabe, JJ Jeffers, Frank Mengel, Richard Lura, and CJ Ferguson.  We created a family with this one, one that endures.  “It’s the people you miss.”

Below is our official production shot, thank you Kallie Gay of Catch the Wind photography.

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On Gratitude and Shoes

On Gratitude and Shoes

It’s been a year and a day since The Fire.  That’s a magical time frame in all those books I grew up reading. A year and a day to start over, learn who you are anew, to reflect, to choose to rise again, to feel defeated, to be sad, to find hope. 

A year ago today, stunned and still smelling of smoke, we went to Kohls. We were wearing what we walked away from the fire in — our sweats and sleeping shirts. We no longer owned any socks. At first the cashier didn’t want to give us a Kohls credit card (I don’t blame her in hindsight), but a kind-hearted manager intervened.  She also went in the back and got us coffee from the employee lounge.  Angels in disguise work in the oddest places.

We bought the basics; underwear, socks, a pair of shoes, some pants and shirts.  Things to get us through the next bewildering, overwhelming days and nights. I got some cute earrings too, because, hey I’m a girl and needed that bit of bling. I cried when I found a pair of my favorite shoes that had been burned up. Just stood in the shoe section clutching them and weeping. The bewildered clerk wandered over to ask if I was okay, and was happy when I nodded yes, and made good his escape. He couldn’t understand what it meant to me to find something that I had so profoundly lost.  It was my first glimmer of hope on a long road of recovery.

In the week that followed losing everything, we felt your prayers and good thoughts. They were visceral, like getting air hugs all the time. Our amazing friends and the family we have chosen stepped in and carried us.  Sarah and Ritchie started GoFundMe pages.  It was embarrassing, overwhelming, and turns out every dime contributed was completely needed.  

Now, a year and a day later, I am sitting in an apartment that has pots and pans and utensils.  I’m  wearing fuzzy socks and have more than one pair of shoes in the closet.  We have a vacuum cleaner and a few books (all donated, we have not been able to bring ourselves to buy more). Our little rescue dog who woke us that night and saved our lives lies curled at my feet. Her nose and feet are twitching as she chases squirrels in her sleep. I am drinking peach tea in a coffee mug that my son Steven got me as I write this, a year and a day later. It says, “Create Change”, and I am trying to be brave and worthy of those words on a daily basis.

 I am overcome with gratitude. Thank you, Barracuda and SHHS Swim Moms Amy, Cathy, Jenny, Fran, Lindsey, Stacey, Sheila, SueAnne, Karen, and more for being there with clothes, swim T-shirts, photos of our boys and the kid’s yearbooks. Thank you, Red Cross for wise words and a gift card that bought us our first necessaries.  Thank you to our children who wanted to fly to us and help. Who understood that staying put and thriving was the best thing they could do. Thank you, Sarah and Ritchie for ignoring our bleats of embarrassment and starting GoFundMe pages when we said oh-gosh-no-we-couldn’t-don’t. Thank you Peg and Gary for offering to take us in. Thank you, Mom and Dad for giving us a place to stay and a car to use. Thank you, David Keilson at Sewell for getting us into a car with ease and becoming a friend in the process. Thank you to the Questers book club for sending books and a replacement Kindle and notes of encouragement and love. Thank you, Laura and Ken for love and hugs and an amazing Quilt. Thank you, Deb for props and hats and love. Thank you to my amazing Theatre Peeps, to my Arbonne family, to our dear friends in Johnson City, Tennessee, California, and Boston.  Thank you to all who donated to us. I have a list of all of you. I take it out when I am low, and get to remember I am loved.

Finally, thank you to all the new friends we have made this year as we slowly felt our way back to “normal”. Like blind men, we have stumbled, been ungraceful, and terribly churlish at times.  We have always been met with compassion, love, and above all been given reason to Hope.  We love you, and are so very grateful for you in our lives today, a year and a day later.

Of Stoppers and Finding “Yet”

Of Stoppers and Finding “Yet”

It’s nearly the one-year anniversary of The Fire, when our lives got upended.  We’ve moved into a new apartment (never again will I live above the 2nd floor), gotten furniture and cars.  No art though. It’s too painful to consider. We work and workout, the kids are launched on their individual paths. Our wonderful rescue dog who rescued us is stiff in the joints, but still game for a walk.  On the outside, we look pretty good, pulled together you might say, except if a fire alarm goes off.

The inside job is taking longer. First it was dealing with the suddenness and shock, then it was anger and resentment, and in the last few months a bleak existing with occasional fun moments. It’s been friends and family or nature that have provided the healing touches. It hasn’t helped that the world is increasingly incomprehensible to me. Just not the way I thought things should go.  Living bereft of trust is a bitch.

I realized a big picture goal might pull me out of The Pit of Despair* which (this surprised me also) was getting deeper.  If anything, I’m a fighter.  If I’m going to go down, it will happen swinging at those inner demons.  I let Christmas pass and tried setting a new goal or two in January as usual. Didn’t happen.  I haven’t been inspired, I’ve been comparing my insides to other’s glorious and happy outsides and it’s been hellish.  It’s always the worst when you know what SHOULD happen, and it isn’t coming to you. Something always stopped me from formulating a good goal, let alone a great one.

This week that effing stopper revealed itself.  It wasn’t graceful, this revelation. I was yelling at myself in the car as I drove to go take Mom to church. At the top of my lungs, furious that yet another week had passed, and I was still stuck in mendacity.  Being a Sunday, I refrained from beating my head and hands on the dashboard, but if you were in the next car over, you heard me.  Berating myself for not being able to apply brainpower and willpower and find a way out, damn it!  Sometimes being overly dramatic works. My AHA moment appeared with bell-like clarity between one curse and the next, the core principle that had replaced hope and the ability to dream:  I now expect everything will be taken away from me in a conflagration of loss, so why try?

That’s been the stopper. The Fire’s legacy.  The thing shaping my inaction. Everything will be taken away anyway, so why try. Wow. I pulled over and cried and was late to get Mom.

I can’t tell you what the sermon was this week, nor what Mom and I chatted about on our drive to church and back.  I was in the process of “Uncover, Discover, and Discard”.  Now that I have discovered the crux of the issue, there is confidence to add a ‘yet’ to the sentence, “I don’t know what I really want”.  It’s now changed to “I don’t YET know what I really want”.  And that one word makes all the difference. Within the YET are hopes, and a sense of purpose. “Yet” means I believe that its going to get better.  It’s taken me longer than I thought it would to turn this corner, a year seems an awfully long time to get a revelation.  But maybe that too has purpose, allowing me in the future to truly hear other folks who are having a rough go, who haven’t quite gotten to their “yet” yet. I hope so. I hope

*you know, from “Princess Bride”.  What a great movie.

On Death and Bullets for Valentines Day

On Death and Bullets for Valentines Day

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”. Powerful opening lines for a novel written in 1859.  I wish it didn’t also depict America 2018.  Yesterday, on what is usually a happy fun day, Valentine’s Day, 17 children lost their lives at the hands of a kid using a semi-automatic assault rifle.  The bullets for assault rifles are meant to pierce helmets at 500 yards.  What they do to an unprotected child’s body at much closer range is rip them into little bits of body parts. This is the same rifle used at Sandy Hook on 2nd graders.  And on concert goers in Las Vegas.  And on people having fun in a nightclub.  I loathe and detest the disgusting politicians tweeting their asinine “thoughts and prayers” while continuing to pocket money from that bloated gun club the NRA to do nothing to change it.  It’s blood money.  Body parts of kids who were just going to school on Valentine’s day money, and those who take that money are flat-out cowards and sycophants of the worst variety.

In 1929, in Chicago, 7 men were gunned down in another Valentines Day Massacre. It was horrific back then, and now?  Now it seems like we are getting used to it.  This is the 18th mass shooting in American THIS YEAR.  We’ve only had 44 days so far this year. Thompson machine guns were used to murder in Chicago 89 years ago.  Same principle, slay as many people as possible in a short time with big bullets. 89 years later we’ve just upgraded the hardware and downgraded the ages of the victims. If you are inclined to drag out an antiquated portion of the Constitution to justify this barbaric, preventable behavior, I recommend you first perhaps do a bit of research into what happens to people shot with these things, and secondly go look at all the other countries who have managed to regulate the sale and use of these weapons and have NO school shootings or mass shootings of any kind. It’s only us — the great US of A.  There is an argument that our schools would be safer if weaponize our teachers and give them tactical training.  Really? Do you want your kids and grandkids growing up in an environment of fear layered on top of fear and gun on top of gun to the extent that the United States of American devolves into a Totalitarian state?  Numb them even further into thinking that the current deathly reality is “normal”.  This is not normal!

As I talked with people at the swim meet I was volunteering at yesterday about this, I was struck that many of them had the attitude of “Well, can’t do anything about it, those weapons are out there now”.  Yes they are.  But doesn’t it make sense to at least stop the flow?  At least for semi-automatic and automatic weapons.  You can’t convince me that anyone needs that kind of weapon for personal use  unless you are in a war or a police officer. That would be the first step.  Sorry rifle manufacturers, yep its true, your job will disappear, just like the folks’ job it was to make buggy whips.  Secondly, require mandatory refresher courses for all gun owners (just like we have for driving a car) so they can keep the weapon and license.  If people don’t comply or pass, they then need to take a class or surrender their weapon. It seems pretty straightforward.  It actually creates jobs.  Why is this too hard, too big to manage?  I refuse to sit down, shut up and pretend nothing is wrong with our current gun ‘policies’.  I truly have nothing against hunting, or guns in general.  I have lots of friends who are responsible gun owners.  My husband and my boys both love shooting, and have learned to do so safely and sanely.  

I’d recommend the 3rd leg of a gradual shift to making this better is to get Mental Health programs provided in more places at more ages with adequate funding and staffing (more job creation!).  There are a lot of people in this world barely holding it together. On some days I feel the same way. If we’re being honest, I think most of us can use a bit of help at times in our life, and gather tools to help us out when the world feels hopelessly black and our inner pain seems unbearable.  Do I think these steps would stop all the crazy?  No, but I do think better is better.  And we can certainly do and be better.  We can.

If you, like me, are done with sitting and not doing anything as screaming parents realize their child is one of the ones ripped to shreds by an arsenal driven forward from an agenda by a bloated gun club looking for profits, here are 3 organizations that fight gun violence: 

https://giffords.org

https://everytown.org

https://www.sandyhookpromise.org

Thank you to my friend Sally Nemeth for those links.  From my friend Jodi Jones who posted my featured image on her page:  you can text READY to 64433 which helps out the Moms/Everytown organization. 

Of Rocket Ships and Turkey Meatballs

Of Rocket Ships and Turkey Meatballs

I grew up believing Tang was better than orange juice.  After all it was what the astronauts drank.  I remember being 8 years old, sitting on the floor watching a black and white television set as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.  It was so exciting. I wanted to be an astronaut myself and bounce around on the moon in big leaps and collect rocks – lunar sampling sounded so exotic.  Later, learning you had to do serious math – correctly – to be an astronaut, I had to let that dream go. But at that moment on July 20th, 1969, I was riveted, and I’ve been a space geek ever since.  I’ve always regretted not going to space camp. I  tried to talk my boys into it so I could live vicariously through them but they didn’t fall for it.  *sigh*

This week’s launching of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket was really something. And out of Kennedy in Cape Canaveral too!  That place has a special meaning to a whole generation of us, I think.  There it was again — the countdown, the cheering of the crowd, the amazing blast of light and heat, then the slow, slow upward movement as fierce firepower won over gravity. I held my breath as the rocket escaped Earth’s atmosphere, and then even better to my mind — the booster rockets came back down and LANDED in one piece. Delicately and in synchronicity.  It made me misty. Something about it just gives me hope. That was a lot of correct-the-first time math, and I’m proud that human beings were able to do that.   The Tesla in space is kind of fun too, nice to see a sense of humor.

I may not be able to do the kind of math needed to be an astronaut — or lets be honest – pass the physical exam, did you see “The Right Stuff”?  Boy Howdy.  However, my darling boys who stymied my hopes that THEY would be astronauts tell me I make an exceptional turkey meatball.  We sent our youngest jetting away to the other side of the world this week, and this was one of the requested “last meals”.  Here you go, in both original and gluten free substitutions:

TURKEY MEATBALLS

2 packages ground turkey (about 2 lbs)

Garlic, chopped, 1 T

Soy sauce or coconut aminos ¼ cup or so

Progresso Italian style bread crumbs, 1 cup

Mix together the above.  Swirl 2 T of olive oil in a frying pan on medium. Make your meatballs about the size of a large marble (I told you, I grew up in the 60’s) okay, the size of half a golf ball then.  Brown on all sides.  The soy sauce will caramelize as they cook.  Once you get one side browned, flip them over and then lower the heat and cover the pan for about 6 minutes.  Then take the lid off and finish the browning process letting the steam evaporate. That will get the insides cooked through.  We like this with mashed potatoes, or of course with pasta and red sauce.

GF subs:  No bread crumbs – finely chop until you have about ½ cup of spinach and onions. Add various Italian herbs to taste and add a well-beaten egg to make it all stick together. Cook as described.

On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

On Nietzsche and Negotiating a Different Mom Status

Our youngest son has a habit of starting deep conversations at the very end of the day.  You know that time.  You’ve done multiple meals, multiple drives, multiple errands, spoken with varying degrees of success to multiple people, listened politely or perhaps listened in seething anger to multiple opinions, and now what you really want to do is get into sweats and Go To Bed.  However, I love listening to what our son has to say, so I rustle up a spare pair of listening ears.  A few nights ago, he was sharing some Nietzsche philosophy about the morality of accountability.  Yep.  As Spencer says, its “incomprehensible, but not as incomprehensible as Hegel.” …Sure. I’ll roll with that.  I genuinely tried to listen and participate, but my head kept wanting to be horizontal.  Experiencing the past year, I should probably embrace Nietzsche.  After all we seem to be living and embodying his famous phrase, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.  Oh Joy.

The ideas and subsequent half-conversation of the other night (Spencer explaining, my husband asking smart, interesting questions and me “Mmmm”- ing occasionally to let them know I was still in the game) was above my intellectual pay grade, which is humbling.  I’d love to chalk it up to the late hour and that my brain had reached it’s automatic shut off point, but truth is, I wouldn’t have grasped the concepts even bright and chipper after 8 cups of coffee first thing in the morning.  In college I loved reading books by Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf, and could wrap my mind around complexity, symbolism and deep meaning. Not anymore. My mid-life brain is happiest in Nora Roberts land, or a good fantasy trilogy.  I don’t know if I just killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or if at the end of the day I just want something easy to do.

Speaking of easy, parenting is not.  Easy.  I rather liked the younger years of parenting our boys, there was a transactional quality to them – I feed you and dress you, you do what I say and our playdates are with kids whose Moms l like.  The middle years got harder, and I am profoundly grateful I never have to help with another science project ever again.  Future grandkids, you’ve been alerted.  Then there was the whole take-tests-await-results-apply-to-and-visit-colleges phase. I liked the visiting phase of that, but then I’m always up for a road trip. Now however, all our kids are either in college, or have graduated from it and a new negotiation has started.

Yes, I am still the Mom, but my influential, personhood-creating Mom-ing days are done.  I’m now in relationship with adults who have their own ideas and preferences.  And who are clearly reading and thinking in atmospheres my rocket ship can no longer reach, even with booster engines.  Its been painful for me, wending through this past holiday season and having our boys sometimes kindly, sometimes snippily letting me know that my services are no longer required – they’ve got it handled.  I am grateful on one hand that they are equipped for life and can do their own laundry, drive the car, and cook and think deeper thoughts than me.  But.  I miss the days of picking out their outfits and deciding what fun thing we will do today.  I miss feeding the ducks, going to see the trains and the fun of swings swishing through the air on a cool spring afternoon. Nietzsche discussions while impressive, just don’t fill my heart the same way.  There is a line at the very end of the Inge play “Picnic”, when the Mom of the play learns her daughter has run away to be with a wayward boy.  She pauses, and says: “But there was so much more I wanted to tell her”.

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

On Not Writing and Monarch Butterflies

I know. I broke faith with you.  Instead of pushing through the deep valley of Nothing Good To Say these past few weeks, and writing about it, I just… didn’t. I did TRY to write, but it was all so very whiny and complain-y and that is sooooo boring. I know this because I’ve lived through having 3 teenagers. Side note, my British cousins say “whingy”, for this same affliction.  I like that more.  Whiny is like a dog whimpering because you forgot to feed it, whereas whingy sounds like an old door that creaks every time you open it.  Annoying vs. something you might be moved to feel sorry for.  For everyone’s sake, backing away from this public journey, and keeping my bleak thoughts chained in a dark corner where they could brood and scratch epithets on the dungeon wall was a clear best choice.

Usually when I go “inner” like this, I have a writing project starting to swirl and form like a galaxy that is still far, far away.  Being quiet and letting fragments of ideas float up is an exercise in patience, but its part of the creativity deal.  That’s half the equation for my wading back into this weekly blog.  The other half was the realization, “Hey, maybe I’m not half bad at this,” which was prompted by the news that two theatres are looking to produce “Like Kissing Moonlight”.  That’s my wonderful laughter-through-tears mashup of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and “Cherry Orchard” set in modern-day Appalachia. My newest play, a fun murder mystery in the vein of “Death Trap” or “Sleuth” is also nearly done. I love the phase of writing I am in with that one. The hair-pulling, grinding agony part of creation is done and now I am in the delicious slashing of at least 10% of the sucker. I love cutting.  And! A screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago is getting serious attention from…  Someone Rather Important.  That’s all I will say on any of that, as excess talk can juju up good news when you’re a writer.  Call me superstitious, I don’t mind. I just know not to flap my gums overmuch. If anything happens in these next few months I will tell you. Scout’s Honor.

Speaking of a few months, we’re closing in on the 1st anniversary of The Fire. I chalk up some of my inner Quasimodo feelings to this pending event and have been looking for ways to mitigate it.  My Mom’s Garden Club** met yesterday, and a sheet was passed around to help plant milkweed in a Monarch Butterfly habitat at the local grade school on March 3rd, which is the exact date of The Fire.  I signed up immediately. It’s an antidote of sorts – doing something worthwhile to balance out the destruction of that night.  I can help the remaining 10% of Monarchs left in the world have a snacking place.  It’s a shocking statistic, isn’t it?  According to the etymologist who came to speak to the Garden Club, in the past 30 years, we’ve killed off 90% of the Monarchs.  That makes me sad. I hope they can make a comeback, like the Grizzly Bear or Przewalski’s Horse.  And no, I’d never heard of Przewalski’s Horse either, but came across it when I was looking up animals which are no longer on the endangered list. They’re adorable and extra furry and live in Asia.  They are the only true wild horse known in the world today. I love little facts like that.  Watch, it’ll swirl up in my next play.

** I felt quite out of place sitting with the perfectly coiffed and size zero bedecked women at the Garden Club.  Additionally, I was blindsided and informed that as a new member (and here I thought I was just bringing Mom), I am required to create a flower display for the “Mini Flower Show” that is coming up in March. I was given a large, detailed packet on how to do it correctly, so my initial thought to go to a florist and have them do it is out.