Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Art of Remembering Memoir Workshop

Join me on March 3rd for a one day "Art of Remembering" Workshop at Cuesta College.  The central coast is an inspiring location for writers. Isn't it time to tell your story? Let's get started! Go to this link to enroll.  Your life is your journey. Your journey is your story. Your story is your legacy.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Directorial Musings....Fun Home

"And yet...."
Two words that say there is something else. Something unsaid. Something unknown. I marvel at the power of a well conceived lyric.
In listening to the musical  FUN HOME I am even more impressed with the writing and the score by Lisa Kron and Jeanine TesoriFragments of memory are effectively woven and expressed through a musical motif that evokes yearning and remembering. Phrasing, unfinished sentences, thoughts only partially spoken out loud. A void, a space, a pause, an emptiness as deep as a cavern.  But we know what is unsayable and we wait and watch until the characters can finally say it.
This show continues to resonate with me. In listening to it I hear a stress, a tension, a self-consciousness that is palpable in the character of Bruce. He sounds like someone always on the brink of exploding. It is wrenching. This is material that the author Alison Bechdel knows so well. That may seem obvious, but plenty of families choose to pretend, ignore, and deny. It takes guts to look at the truth of one's family and Bechdel does it with honesty and humor.
Each character in FUN HOME is well developed and achingly restrained. A perfect blend of book, score, direction and writing.  I haven't been this captivated by a musical since I saw NEXT TO NORMAL. I am drawn to complex texts with layers of subtext and characters with complicated relationships. Denial, secrecy, choice, discovery, and revelation are powerful storylines. The skill with which the creators of FUN HOME tell the story is truly admirable. The narrative structure is clever without being contrived.  Clearly, this is a musical that will stand the test of time.  It instantly imprinted on my psyche the way Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS did.  Audience members will focus on different aspects of the storyline and be moved by each in their own way based on their own context.   There is plenty to mine in this story. The fact that I'm still thinking about it days after seeing it and am analyzing its structure, relationships, and characters, I know it has made a significant impact on me. For that, I am grateful and inspired.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Witness

The musical Fun Home is not my story. But fragments of it are so familiar, so recognizable and so achingly painful that I sat in the theatre alone, spellbound and speechless. People next to me, in front of me, sighing, subtly, audibly reacting to the utterly precise lines and lyrics - I felt conspicuous in my otherness, perhaps even a bit resentful that my story is hidden between the lines as is so often the case with bystanders. I am glad I went by myself because it gave me a chance to sit with my own memories, questions, grief, anger, revelation without needing to talk to anyone.  Fun Home helped me see how our lives are revealed to us over time by piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of experiences that fit in to place only with time and truth.  It also reminded me that it is impossible for children to know who their parents are and even when they think they do,  they don't.  No one can know without understanding the context of the times and the circumstances that motivated their choices, behaviors, and mistakes.

Weaving my way through the complexity of my family's story has left me story-less. It is as if my story is the story of piecing together their story like a reporter or a witness. Watching Fun Home made me ask myself, "What is my story?"

I am tired of being the narrator. I want to be the protagonist. But I've been overshadowed by the drama of stories much weightier than my own.  I've spent years unpacking my family's mythology.  I've seen first hand the ravages of repression and the tragedy of denial, silence, secrets, lies, loyalty and love. There is very little I've not thought about, journaled about, analyzed, and processed. Since I was twenty-two, I've been sifting through the rubble, looking for meaning and seeking understanding. My story is not my mother's. It is not my father's. It is not my brother's. My story is not about sexual identity. It is not about AIDS. It is not about running away at fifty. My story so far has been a reaction to those stories.  As the author, Deena Metzger says, "We must come to know our own story." For years,  I've been telling everyone else's. Fun Home made me see that I must find my own story, and tell it unflinchingly.

"I want to know what's true 
Dig deep into who 
And what and why and when 
Until now gives way to then."
(From Fun Home)

Friday, November 11, 2016

11/9/16 Nightmare


the map
oozes blood red
on the night of broken glass

 a harbinger of hatred
history repeating itself

lessons forgotten
        or worse

children fear going to sleep
a monster is loose


he is followed by a parade
of men in white robes and hoods
                   ripping away the head scarfs
                                             in the land of the free

a license to

           in the name of nationalism

families torn apart

a great white wall divides us

a different kind of star

as the world stands by
where this will all lead

haunting voices from history cry out
remember .....

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Can Take the City Out of the Girl

I always thought I was a  big city girl until now. Maybe it's my age. Maybe it's that my soul has simply withered under the frenetic pace of commutes and congestion. Whatever the reason, I am learning a new way of being. Here are just a few observations I've made while living in a small town for the first time in my life.

1. People are friendly.
I am learning to look people in the eye - at the hardware store, in the market, walking along the beach. People greet one another with a smile, a wave, or a nod.

2.  People still drop by for a visit.
There is an old adage, "back door guests are best." It is not unusual to find that door open and welcoming a neighbor with a batch of vegetables to share from the garden. What does it say about a community where respect and trust are so implicit that the stranger is a neighbor not the other way around?

3. The window of time one waits for a service call is an hour or less not half a day.  
When my dryer didn't work, I called the local appliance repair. They were closed for lunch between noon and one o'clock. I called back at one o'clock. A woman answered. I explained my dilemma. She assured me that it was a common problem and that Roger would be over to fix it between two and three. At two sharp, Roger drove up.  The same thing happened with the cable guy. Imagine that!

4. Business deals are still done on a handshake and a good word.
They say contracts are really designed for protection - rooted in suspicion and anticipation of somebody doing something bad to somebody else. Not in this small town. The local realtor rented us our home based on the good word of my friend.  And she gave us the garage door opener so we could store some stuff before we took possession of the house.
That kind of good will engenders responsible action,  character, and old fashioned values of honesty and integrity based on relationships.

5. There is no traffic. 
This fact is slowly making an impact on me. A drive on a rural country road is actually calming not stress inducing.

6. You can see the stars at night.
My evening walk transports me into a dark vast cosmos of silence, stillness, and peace. I sleep better.

7. There really is a main street.
One street.  One straight shot to the market, the pharmacy, the tavern, the surf shop, the restaurants.
No GPS needed.

8.  No Street Sweeping Day.
Having lived the urban nightmare of dashing to move my car as the roar of the street sweeper gets closer and closer,  I only just came to realize the the lack of no parking signs along the curb!

9. The beaches are not crowded in the summer.
Now grant you, I have lived in Southern California my entire life where the beaches are packed with visitors on a hot, sunny afternoon. But here, where the temperature reaches a high of 68 most days, the unspoiled stretch of sandy beach and surf are wide open.  Given that my sun bathing days are long gone, I have found that I enjoy a stroll in my sweatshirt, along the shore dotted with sand dollars and sea glass.

10. There is plenty to do. 
My biggest fear moving to a small town was that I would be bored but quite the opposite has been true. The arts and culture scene admittedly has a local yokel feel but I find it comforting, reassuring, and inspiring that wherever human beings live, artistic expression exists. Festivals, concerts, theatre, and galleries are in abundance. I look forward to delving into the local writing scene.  The food and wine are superb and the landscape is reminiscent of Tuscany.

In this turbulent time of divisiveness, hatred, and fear, I am grateful to have landed in a place where  life is simpler and where basic goodness still exists. I think I've found heaven.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Food for the Soul

The tradition of family recipes and methods of food preparation often tell the story of  a family. Grandparents,  mothers, daughters, fathers and sons of every culture have apprenticed  through the years in kitchens of every size and style from the very modest to the most elaborate.
From cookies to tamales, the story of a family is very often told through the particularities of secret ingredients passed on with an intimacy that spans generations.  Identity resides in the flavorful results - timeless and certain. Like all traditions, the familiar provides a sense of comfort and security.

I remember the smell of date nut loaf and chocolate chip cookies wafting through my childhood friend's house. My mother didn't bake so the treat of gooey, warm cookies straight out of the oven was something extra special if I timed my visits down the street just right.

I do remember the aroma of turkey roasting in my mother's oven. It fills my home each year as
I prepare my mother's Thanksgiving dinner with boxes of Mrs. Cubbison's cornbread stuffing drenched in artery -clogging butter out of a Good House Keeping cook book that is falling apart. I have the recipe memorized but still pull the tattered and broken book out each year. There I stand in my kitchen, chopping the onion and celery with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade playing on the TV in the background, each turn of the cookbook page a connection to my mother.

Far from a "foodie," my mother was of the post World War II convenience generation. Fast food was a novelty. Nutrition nary a thought.  Pudding cups, coke, and white bread filled her fridge.  As children, my friends and I snacked on potato chips, hot dogs, and Chips Ahoy. My mother was all practical and the convenience foods were made to order for her!

It was my father who dove into the art of cooking. Sunday breakfast with cream cheese omelettes or sheared eggs, English muffins, bacon, sausage and coffee cake on our patio by the pool were a regular occurrence.  Elaborate dinners included caesar salad with anchovies or wilted spinach salad tossed with flair table -side and cherries jubilee set a flame on a rolling cart fit for the most lavish restaurant.  My father's enthusiasm for cooking came later in his life and became a hobby that fit his personality.
He referred to his caesar salad as "an artistic chore."

But the most enduring of all family recipes passed on by my mother is actually not a recipe at all. It is simply, egg on toast.
My daughter, who is an egg on toast aficionado, has explored the many nuances of making this delectable of all breakfasts from the exact timing of the boiled egg to the method of cracking it and cutting the toast.  Recently, I became aware of one additional requirement for the perfect egg on toast:
a one quart copper bottom Revere Ware pot.

Solid, heavy, and the ideal size for two boiled eggs, the copper bottom pot is the perfect container for this comfort-inducing meal.
I recently rescued one of these from a box bound for rummage as a friend helped clear the garage of an elderly woman preparing to rent her home.  Drawn to it  because it sparked a memory of my  mother having one just like it,  I tucked the pot into the back of my car.

This morning,  I reflected on its pleasing weight, shape, and the black handle with its comfortable grip and handy hook on the end for hanging.
Far from sexy, this pot is a practical wonder.
As I explored its features I turned it over to discover that it is a patented brand. Handsomely engraved on the bottom is the Revere Ware insignia in a beautiful font encircled like a monogram, stamped with the words - Copper Clad Stainless Steel in Riverside, Cal.
Who knew?  I fixed egg on toast this morning and delighted in the reclamation of this tiny pot to a useful purpose.

The lid to the pot is equally pleasing with a solid fit and sturdy round black nob for a handle. This little treasure is now one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It, like egg on toast, like butter drenched muffins and roast turkey, connect me to my family.   Perhaps not as richly steeped in tradition as the authentic masa in Christmas tamales, the story of my family is a combination of my mother's practicality and my father's flair for the dramatic both in and out of the kitchen.
As basic as a copper bottom pot, the stamp of quality stands the test of time.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Quilt

There is no panel in the great AIDS quilt with your name on it.
Your life did not fit neatly into a 3-by-6 foot shape.
When you took your last breath on June 10th, 1994, I did not believe  then and do not believe now that you would have wanted your legacy forever stitched with the 48,000.
It would have been a forced, symbolic gesture incompatible with how you lived your life.
I could not bring myself to weave your story into the fabric of the AIDS pandemic.
Instead, I have pieced  your life together for my own comfort
working backwards from a diagnosis you were unable to name.
The massive memorial to victims of AIDS does not include you because I could not pretend that you saw yourself as one of them.
That would have been my own invention.
A sister seeking an imagined brother to fill her own needs.
Twenty-two years later, I do not regret the decision.
I believe I honored you by embracing the truth of your life.
To have done otherwise would have been to deny your denial.
 I do not  even visit the cemetery where you and our parents are buried.
You are not there.
You are alive to me each time I listen to the opera,
recall your laugh,
remember your grace,
or look at one of your six grandchildren.
That  is your legacy.
The Names Project is a beautiful and significant memorial.
But your name is not a part of it by choice.
Your name,  Bob,  is forever on the tip of my tongue
and in the ache of my heart.
I wrap myself in your memory, warmed by the history of our family
and the complexity of its pattern.