On Slag Glass Lamps and Community Theatre

On Slag Glass Lamps and Community Theatre

My jaw dropped when I saw it. My grandmother’s slag glass lamp standing on the corner of the  counter. Well, not the exact lamp of course, that one had perished in The Fire, but the same model. Its uniquely decorated shade is a swirl of browns, yellows and whites, highlighted by brass decorations of exotic palm trees and ornate bridges held up by an art deco brass stand. If you’re curious, slag glass is glass mixed with ore and heated. Mostly brown and white from iron, sometimes other types of metal ore are added to produced different colors of swirly slag. It’s incredibly heavy. If you were to bash a burglar over the head with this lamp, they wouldn’t survive it. My grandmother’s lamp had sat on a crocheted doily atop a massive black-and-white television unit that also housed a record player. It’d been passed on after her death in 1977 to my Aunt Helen who gave to me before she passed away.

My jaw dropped for two reasons. The first was shock that I’d forgotten it. While I remember lots of the items we lost in that fire with painful clarity, I’d not dwelled on losing this lamp. Even though I’d loved it as a child visiting my grandmother, and then later when it sat in our living room, my memory of it had vanished until it came rocketing back in the liquidation store I was browsing. The second reason was realizing how close I’d come to leaving the store without seeing it. I’d only turned back at the exit at the last minute to thank the proprietor for her time, and to let her know I’d be back to borrow some props for a show I’m directing. While waiting for the owner to finish a phone call in the back, I’d looked to the left, and there it was, nonchalantly sitting on the corner, waiting for me to take notice.

20200414_170527

I was embarrassed by the tears that sprang up. It’s just a lamp after all. After texting my husband what I’d found, being the good fella he is, he recommended I buy it. So I did. The owner of the store let me know she’d just put the lamp out an hour before. She’d been taken with it, and had placed it in her own home for a few weeks. Something had nagged at her though, she said, giving her the feeling that as much as she liked it, it didn’t belong to her.

That I was even in this particular liquidation store at all was another stretch of coincidence. While I do like a poke around an antique store, it’s doubtful I’d ever have found “Pickers Paradise” in Garland, TX on my own. I’d been guided to this great place by my Garland Civic Theatre producer to help dress our huge and gorgeous set for “You Can’t Take It With You.” The show is a delightful play with a large, boisterous, diverse cast that’s currently on hold until late May when hopefully we can all start going out again. It’s full of warmth, laughter, acceptance and some pretty timely ideas about the questionable wisdom of working 40 years for a $40 gold watch. My cast, crew and I had gotten all the way up to the last two tech rehearsals before opening weekend when we went into self-quarantine here in Texas. I’m glad everyone is doing their part to stay healthy and help others do the same and I remain hopeful that we get to do this show. If you’re local plan to come and see it – it’s so dear and funny. I am certain the laughs will feel very, very good.

I’ve been acting in and directing shows for a long time now, over 50 years. I love the collaboration of theatre, and there is something about the voluntary nature of community theatre in particular that appeals to me. We are all there because we love it. Ain’t nobody ever, anywhere, that’s gotten rich on community theatre wages. No one cares, either. We’re there to have fun, create some art, and bring joy or at least happy distraction to an audience. Doing community theatre, allows you to say things like, “Pickled pigs feet jar – empty or full?” or “Any luck finding red sparklers or Tom Cats? If we need to we can pop balloons but am hoping to use real fireworks on stage!” I mean, come on.

I dearly love the folks I get to work with in theatre. They are a diverse bunch, and range from pros to newbies trying on a new hobby. We laugh a lot, feel our feelings, and get to disappear into a different world for a few hours every night we rehearse and then put on a show. There’s something about live performance that is unlike anything else – the immediacy of it, the tightrope dance of doing the best you can, with no recourse except onward when a mistake is made, and that ineffable bonding that happens when like-minded people get to sit in the dark, suspend disbelief, and for a short while are transported to another place and another time. Much like the unlikely discovery of a 100-year-old lamp that’s travelled through time on an unknown journey to now sit in my living room, and heal a tiny piece of my heart… there is magic in it.

20200314_142059

Photos and Poetry from a College Senior

Photos and Poetry from a College Senior

I’m proud of my soon-to-be college graduate son, Spencer. He’s doing a great job navigating this odd spring of 2020. He’s currently living alone in his apartment finishing up his last semester at George Washington University without roomates, without celebration, his graduation ceremony cancelled. He’s travelled the globe these past four years as an International Business major and will be graduating summa cum laude. He’s passionate about philosophy (his minor), music and film. I think he’s a wonderful writer too.  Here are his images and reflections from the past two months in Washington DC.

**The featured image above is the Washington Monument taken from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Its usually packed with people. Below is outside Whole Foods on GWU campus — in the distance you can see the arch of the Foggy Bottom metro station.

IMG_0283

Days
Days,
Days like today
Where time slips like coins
Through cracks in the hours.
Ten minutes here, five there.
Never the hours,
No such thing as a sixty-cent coin.
No,
It’s nickels, dimes, quarters through a hole
In an old wooden porch.
Peeling white paint and rusted nails 
Too vivid for days like today.
There goes another
Little silver sliver,
I thought I was saving it for something.

Days,
Days like yesterday
Where it all makes sense.
A train on the tracks,
Going somewhere nice.
Hills roll by, 
Overgrown with the smell of summer.
Yeah,
Slowly pacing- chugging along.
And you, shoveling coal--
Firing the engine.
Getting where you’re going.
It makes it easier,
As it pieces together,
You roll along on your little adventure.

Days,
Who knows what the day is tomorrow. 
Coins through porches or coals in trains?
Maybe both, maybe neither.
Maybe the time won’t be fumbled.
Maybe not thrown to embers.
Maybe it won’t go anywhere at all.
Sitting in a field.
The day will be that:
Shining sun,
Green grass, and a breezy wind.
The day won’t have to be anything,
Except an old quilt and a turkey sandwich.
Ah,
Days like tomorrow.
2/21/20
IMG_0309

Attention
Due to recent
Coronavirus related worries
Your ambitions have been cancelled.

Please note,
This is a difficult situation
And the nervous center
Of your brain
Finds it hard to make this decision.

The administration believes
That due to the lack of restaurants
Open,
The absence of friends
Around,
The majority of rent
Due,

That it is totally ok
To just give up,
For like a few days.

We have laid out
Guidelines as follows
For acceptable behavior
During the course
Of this banal and slow
Moving car crash:

Sleeping until two is encouraged,
As is staying up until three.

Almost doing the dishes
But then sitting down and 
Inevitably staying there for hours
Instead is recommended.

Wandering aimlessly throughout
The rooms in your house.

Frequent and pointless facetimes,
Fun tip: this can be combined with any
Of the previous tips.

Ordering too much food

In other words,
Do what you normally do,
But feel more trapped doing it.

Thank you,
And we hope you have
A hazy and timeless day.

 03/23/20
IMG_0312
Your Hand-Held Hourglass

Today,
Time goes
Nowhere.

Moments are grains
Piled in the palm.

The wind
Will blow away
Your hand-held hourglass.

04.03.20

IMG_0256
IMG_0316

These last two photos are of the main square in the heart of GWU campus, and a street off Du Pont circle.

Poetry and photography by Spencer W. Bracey

Spencer and his friend Max at the Great Wall of China, BC (before Corona).

FB_IMG_1523449558572

On Acceptance and Pear Trees

On Acceptance and Pear Trees

For the past 33 years or so, I’ve been guided by the Serenity Prayer when baffled or confused. So, you know, daily. I often use the short version of the prayer when pressed. I’ll share it with you. It’s handy to have when someone’s been snippy, or if an asshat cuts you off in traffic. In those times of little patience or time to speed talk your way through:

God Grant me the Serenity to

Accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

You can use the short version, and just say “Oh, well.” And that covers it.

This week as we finally (finally!) stop being in the month of March and proceed into April (which surely won’t be as long, right?) I realized that during this pandemic I’ve been forcing myself to adhere to one part of that prayer, the changing things I can section. Granted, it’s my default position. Coming from a long line of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrappers whose mindset of “make it happen” is practically a religion, it’s hard not to try and muscle my way through things. The far side of that behavior is intense manipulation of others to get what you want, which isn’t pleasant for anyone. It also leads to never being good enough. A sticky wicket, in other words. (Have you also been watching way too much Brit Box during quarantine?)

Three weeks into this thing, and never once achieving all the things on the daily to-do list, I’ve realized that gripping onto the “changing things I can” portion of the serenity prayer isn’t working. It’s forced me into using my short version of the Serenity Prayer multiple times per day. I can’t change other people’s behavior; they will still congregate and have “quarantine parties.” Oh, well. My son’s college graduation will be postponed until next year. Oh, well. I can’t even get my 85 and 90-year-old parents to stay in their house. They’ve nicknamed me “The Warden,” and while they say it with a half-smile on their face, they resent the hell out of me, and sneak out and do inconsequential errands anyway. Oh, well. I can only change my own behavior.

Accepting things I cannot change feels unnatural, a lesser choice, the coward’s way out. The thought that if I tried harder something could be done gnaws like a rat behind the wall. It’s a struggle to accept things as they are and not try and fix them. It feels like losing. Yet its where peace is found. Accepting things is to see them clearly, and that’s when a path forward is revealed. It’s a gentler path than I’m used to walking. It includes fuzzy thinking, and naps in the afternoon, and not getting everything on my to-do list done. Very few of us currently alive on this planet have navigated a global pandemic before, so perhaps we can accept that and then move forward instead of making ourselves crazy with what could’ve been done, or what we should be doing.

I think that’s what is meant by giving yourself grace. Being in acceptance is understanding that going for strolls in your neighborhood is enough, I don’t need to jog the whole time. My dog loves those walks. No need to rearrange all the closets today. Maybe just the one shelf. Acceptance means I stop comparing myself to others, too. I love seeing clever people on Facebook making up new pandemic words to Disney songs and dressing up, so we all can laugh. It’s okay to just laugh and appreciate the gift of it, I don’t need to do one too. Besides, you for sure don’t want to hear me sing. I accepted that one back in 2nd grade.

On my long ambles through the neighborhood I see all sorts of gardens. There are apartments with cheery little window pots all the way up to huge 12,000 square foot homes that have immaculate gardens and clipped hedges formed into mazes. My personal garden consists of two small pear sprouts and another little plant on the floor of my living room. The baby pear trees have a good story behind them. They’re from a single pear produced by a long-suffering tree that sat in a pot for at least two years too long at our old rental house in Johnson City. It made a few hopeful green leaves each spring but no fruit. It endured the winters huddled against the side of the house. It’d lost most of its upper branches to some sort of black rot. But it was hanging in there, and as I’m sentimental about living things, we tossed it on the back of the truck last-minute when we moved to Dallas.

We dropped it off at my parent’s house before taking the rest of our things to the apartment, so it survived The Fire. They planted it in their yard. It sat in its new home doing very little for a year, not dejected exactly, just tired from the move and the strangeness of having its roots unencumbered by pot sides. Perhaps learning to accept its new place. Last year the little tree rallied and with a massive effort produced a single, perfect pear. My mom and I shared it when it got ripe, before the birds got it, and to the little tree’s credit, it was sweet and delicious.

I saved the two viable seeds from it, and stored them in a baggie filled with dirt in my fridge for four months like I saw on a YouTube video. The two seeds had just started sprouting when I planted them at the end of January in the pots in my living room and watered and sunned them regularly. Now we have two baby pear trees making leaves and growing very slowly. But growing they are. I talk to them daily and tell them they are the very best pear trees in my living room, and they seem to like that. Just having them there makes me happy, and reminds me one more time that we are indeed human beings, not human doings, and that accepting things I cannot change just might be okay for today.

 

On “Jogging” and Gold Stars

On “Jogging” and Gold Stars

March 3rd marked the third anniversary of a condo fire that burned up every last thing we ever owned. It was made worse because we’d just moved to Dallas ten days prior to The Fire and didn’t know where anything was or how to get there. Being upended was disconcerting and weird, and time was distorted into feeling endless (why is it still March?) and evaporative (how is it 4pm already?) at the same time. Most of us have this feeling in our current Coronavirus lockdown. I wrote a book about dealing with being upended and uncomfortable. It might help you, as it’s often funny, a guideline to getting to the other side of a bad bit. Plus yum comfort food recipes, so you really can’t go wrong.*

Being isolated and having people-oriented activities curtailed isn’t particularly hard for me yet, except for one thing which I’ll get to in a minute. I like being by myself. In fancy-shmancy terms, I’d raise my hand and qualify as an extroverted introvert. I like people on average, and can handle large crowds if necessary, but must return to solitude to recharge. Recharge in this example means that if I don’t get peace and quiet, I may rip your head off after first removing your arms and legs as you lie pinned like a hapless butterfly, thanks. I chalk these violent tendencies that crop up when too long in the company of others to being both an only child and cats-eye-glasses-wearing/teacher’s pet unpopular for my first 16 years or so on the planet.

The one thing I truly miss in these self-insulating times is swimming. It’s my exercise of choice, the one that helps my mind as much as my fitness level. All the pools I use are in public buildings, so that option is closed. Faced with becoming chronically cranky and doughy, I’m forced to take the only option open: “jogging.” It’s in parentheses because what I do barely qualifies as real jogging. It’s more like a shuffle where my feet barely clear the road, and involves a lot of heavy breathing. I haven’t “jogged” for a long time and was never very good at it. Plus I despise sweating. That’s probably why I like the pool, you can’t tell you’re sweating in there, you just feel all glow-y and happy when you’re done. Wet, but a different type of wet.

My first runs that weren’t part of some dumb gym class happened at the tail end of college. I worked as a server** at La Tour, a ritzy restaurant in the Park Hyatt hotel opposite the old Water Tower in Chicago. Every other Saturday we’d get a whippet-thin man in for breakfast who was a bit of an anomaly at the time – he was an ultra-distance marathoner. He’d order up sixteen large pancakes (4 regular orders), no syrup, just butter and steadily work his way through the entire stack, leaving nary a crumb. He was carb-loading, which a thing back then. I wouldn’t think it is now, but that’s what he was doing prior to the long 80 to 100-mile runs he did every other Sunday. He confided in me that he always just ate one meal a day, but at that meal he ate anything he wanted. Of course this idea inspired me. Not the running forever part, but the eat anything I want bit. I learned three core things after a steady running effort for a few months: a. 6 miles was far enough for me, b. clearly my body would never ever take on whippet-form, and c. that eating just once a day is no fun at all.

Since that time, I’ve periodically gone back to lacing up my sneakers and heading out to “jog.” It’s not pretty. While my efforts aren’t as awkward as that of a turtle upside down on its back, waving its little reptilian legs in a futile manner to right itself, hoping one of its turtle friends will hustle over and help it flip back over again, it’s close. I don’t like being sweaty either, and you have to do it early in the day, so three strikes against “jogging.” Luckily, there are more upsides to it than down.

I like being out in nature. I don’t wear headphones, so I can hear the birds singing, although there seem to be less of them than there were a few years ago. I also don’t wear my glasses, as they slip down my nose in a most annoying fashion because, you know, that sweating thing. With no glasses, everything is pleasantly indistinct, with blobs of color like an Impressionist painting. I wonder if all of them were nearsighted. It’s like having my own living blurry art gallery that I am moving ever-so-slowly through. I also like saying hello to everyone else out there slogging along, it gives me a sense of community, and I feel like I’m doing everyone a good deed being the worst one out there, and everyone can feel good about themselves in comparison.

The best bit as a recovering mean-to-myself critical person is that my self-talk through the process is unwaveringly positive. I don’t expect anything of myself other than finishing. I talk my way through each jog. “Okay now just get to the mailbox, now to that set of trees, you can do it. You can get to that crack in the sidewalk for sure! You did it! Whoo!  Okay now just to that curve in the road. You made the stop sign! Great job, I’m so proud of you.” It’s my verbal version of those gold and blue and red stars we used to get on our papers in grade school. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember these. They used to come in the licking version, and then later switched to self-sticking. I loved getting those gold stars as an affirmation of a job well done. Also the endorphin rush after you’re done lasts all day. There’s a sense of accomplishment in doing something hard, even if it was done ungracefully. I hope you’re finding ways to get yourself gold stars, perhaps trying something new or hard you’re willing to do awkwardly for a while. If you are, let me know, I find that so inspiring. Or if you need a little push to get yourself righted, I’m happy to come do that for you too.

*My book, “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” is available on Amazon in kindle or paperback form. Half of all proceeds go to support animal shelters and rescues.

**you know it’s a fancy restaurant when you’re termed a “server” instead of a plain old waitress, or hash-slinger.

on-rescue-dogs-front-1
My first book cover!