Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Memoir Workshop

The Art of Remembering Memoir Workshop resumes on January 5th at St. Paul Lutheran Church from 3:30 - 5:30. Open enrollment. Your Life is your journey. Your journey is your story. Your story is your legacy. It's time to tell your story.


When the new millennium began, we still lived on Pine Street in Anaheim in a little house at 408 where a family took root and children were raised. While a lot of our friends moved up and out of their "starter" homes, we clung to Pine Street, two blocks from my mother, one block from Pearson Park and a few short blocks from St. Boniface Church for twenty years.

The the decade of the 80's included our courtship, marriage and the birth of our two children. It brought the death of my father and the accompanying onslaught of grown up realities. We moved to Pine Street in the midst of this in 1983.

We saw the decade of the 80's come and go as our children grew from infants to pre-school and early elementary school students at Zion Lutheran School across town in east Anaheim. Straight down Sycamore Street, my mother picked them up from school every day of their school-aged lives, first in her beloved Buick station wagon, and later in her Buick Century. Mother tended to drive Buicks. She also tended to drive like she owned the road. Gunning it, she would have to be described as a lead foot. Arriving in the parking lot of Zion Lutheran nearly an hour before dismissal so that she could get "her" parking space - a ritual observed not only by our children, but by the teachers and staff at Zion.

Mother picked them up every day because I could not. I spent every afternoon at the Servite Theatre where my Tri-School Theatre Program began at 3:30 rehearsing the musicals of my youth - driven by boundless energy and an unquenchable thirst for excellence. While my children grew up on Pine Street, I grew up on La Palma Avenue, honing my skills and pushing the limits not only of myself but of my students.

Mother was not the only surrogate for my children. We had Marlin. In our little house on Pine Street, Marlin" lived in" - sleeping on the fold -out couch that was a wedding present from Steve's parents. Marlin cooked and cleaned, did laundry and kept our lives in order despite the chaos that engulfed us. A true success story, Marlin worked as hard as anyone I've ever known, loved my two children like her own - two boys- still in Guatemala with Marlin's mother. Tousling the blond heads of her blue eyed charges, the dark pools that were the eyes of her sons wept for their mother for nearly two years.

Despite Marlin's loneliness, it was a good arrangement for all of us. Marlin became a part of our family and Marlin's family, an extension of ours. On a work visa, Marlin eventually earned her green card. The day her boys arrived at our home on Pine Street after a harrowing journey, was one of profound celebration. The bond between our families was solidified, along with a history that included a neighborhood and town that was growing increasingly Hispanic. The multi-cultural influence on our children was one of their greatest gifts - a by product of having stayed on Pine Street.

While we did not recognize it at the time, our son played little league on a team on which he was the only non-Hispanic player. Our children grew up grounded without the glitz of south orange county or the suburban sensibilities of more affluent north orange county developments. Theirs was a privileged life compared to the largely lower income, working class families of the little league team and stood in sharp contrast to the one bedroom, immaculate apartment in gang-infested Anaheim in which Marlin raised her sons. A Christmas eve visit for Guatemalan tamales was part of our routine. It would only be when our son began playing water polo in high school, that we would come to realize that his upbringing had been absent club sports and private coaches. It had included something deeper that would stay with him for life.

The decade of the 90's wrought havoc in our lives and was the reason we clung to the security of our little home. A life boat in a raging sea, its walls sheltered us from the ravages of a business in ruins, near foreclosure, my clinical depression and profound grief. AIDS showed up at our doorstep in the 90's along with the terrifying realities of unemployment. It brought Cayucos and a tradition of family vacations with my life-long friend Mugs and her family. It brought awareness of self-care, massage, therapy and journaling.

Despite the wolves at our door, our children grew up secure in our little home. My prayer answered. "Please God, do not let all of this negatively affect my children, our marriage or our spirits." While our spirits had their ups and downs, we virtually came through the nineties a bit battle weary, no doubt scarred, but in tact. I remember thinking, "Good riddance to the 90's". But new stability and renewal was just around the corner. This decade brought significant change to our lives including an entree into the world of media giants like the Los Angeles Times, and more first hand experience in the ongoing decline of print media. From yellow pages to newspapers, the story of our family will be inextricably tied up with the collision of old and new media. This tension would eventually be our daughter's launching pad into the world of digital publishing in the new millennium. In the last year of the 1990's , our daughter began her high school career and I attempted to end mine. Unsuccessfully.

As we rang in 2000 at my childhood home on Resh Place around a bar that was the centerpiece of the house, a decade of great change awaited us. We bought a boat. Sailed a boat. And discovered recreation in our lives. Our son began high school and water polo in 2002. Our daughter graduated from Rosary in 2003 and moved to Seattle for her university and travel abroad experience at UW. With her move, came ours - in a two step process from Pine Street, sold at top dollar in a housing market that had exploded - to Resh Place with my mother, whose memory was fading - to the long desired "big" house of our dreams in a new development in Fullerton. From 2200 square feet to 3500 square feet, owed in great measure to the size of my new bathtub, at long last we said goodbye to our family home on Pine Street and my childhood home on Resh Place that had been my mother's home for fifty years.

With this move came heart ache and struggle. Mother's condition was worsening and so was her temperament. As feisty as she always was, her dementia made for unreasonable battles, and temperature settings of over 80 degrees. The physical and emotional toll of our cohabitation eventually reached a boiling point. She gave up driving the Buick, a painful turning point that I manipulated, feeling villanous and heart broken as I watched her perplexed face through the glass of the testing room at the DMV. I knew she'd fail. I prayed she'd fail. It was without a doubt one of the saddest days of both our lives. My mother loved to drive her Buick.

With the thrill of a new home, new appliances, a kitchen the size of Chicago and an address that announced renewal, a crushing blow befell us within months, when the Los Angeles Times began its seemingly endless series of layoffs which included Steve's. It was a devastating afternoon when I took his call in my spacious bedroom, only 3 months after moving in and weeks after I had finally walked out of the stage door of Tri-School Theatre to pursue other creative ambitions. I remember we all cried.

Instead of the life boat of our little house on Pine Street, we were cast adrift with a hefty mortgage, unemployment and Alzheimer's. Our son's clever, water polo- inspired email address seemed to echo our situation, "barely buoyant". With fear tightening its noose it seemed as if fate was dealing us a repeat of the 90's in this decade of the 2000's.

But with the years, comes seasoning. We had developed skills and had already survived a down turn. While this one was frightening because the stakes seemed so much higher, it was less devastating on virtually every level. We sold our boat, now a luxury we couldn't afford. But this was balanced by the successes of our children, the joys of our daughter's study abroad and the resilience and know- how of Steve's experience in the world of "new media". We barely missed a beat. He was nearly instantly contracted as a consultant and while this period included a several month stint in Philly, it also provided exposure and opportunity. It contributed to our son's decision to go east for college to Villanova. A decision that would be reversed in only a year, but which contributed to the achievement of his dream to attend USC. Eventually, it brought a wonderful chapter in Steve's career with Freedom Communicatons and the eventual move to Media Span where all of his entrepreneurial and corporate know how have come together in fulfilling, challenging and creative work.

The first decade of the new millennium took me on a journey through the world of elder care, caregivers, and once again, hospice. It took my mother first to Brighton Gardens Assisted Living and then to the Alzheimer's residence at Avalon. It took her to her ninetieth birthday and me to the side of her death bed serenading her gently with "The Irish Blessing" as she drifted toward her eternal home reunited once again with my father and two brothers in 2007. With her passing, came the reality that I was the only survivor of my family of origin and the keeper of the family history. It is one of the reasons I believe in the importance of story telling and my mantra: Your life is your journey. Your journey is your story. Your story is your legacy.

The first decade of the new millennium brought our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, a trip to France, our daughter's graduation from college, and the beginning of an economic down turn that is ushering us into this next decade. But with the passing of my mother, came another move in May of 2007. This time to our dream home near the water on Naples in Long Beach. Back to a little house much like our home on Pine Street, this move felt like coming home. No fancy bathrooms or kitchens but welcoming, friendly neighbors, walks along the canals, and kayaking Sunday mornings.

It brought our grown daughter back home for 2 1/2 years and with her came gourmet cooking and animated dinner table conversations during the primaries and election focused around Hillary and Obama, Palin and McCain. It took us on the inauguration trip to DC and her to DPL for the beginning of her professional career. It brought me to a full time teaching position at my Alma mater and a commute from Long Beach to Fullerton in my mother's Buick.

And it has brought me once again, blocks away from family. This decade has been riddled with cancer - from Linda's multiple myloma to Peggy's breast cancer - it has been a decade of illness, courage, and survival.

It has been a decade of travel to Prague, Italy, Paris, Provence, the San Juan Islands, New York, Hawaii and a Christmas cruise to the Caribbean with Steve's family to celebrate his parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary.

It has been a decade of new life - the birth of great nieces and nephews, Matt's PhD and moves from Eugene to Seattle to Alameda to Pittsburgh.

It has been a decade of terrorism in the post 9/11 era.

It has been the decade in which our children became adults and we entered our fifties. It has been a decade of writing, memoir and creativity for me.

As we ring in the new decade with 2010, our daughter prepares to leave the nest once more - to pursue her studies in a masters program in publishing at NYU. Our son is one semester from graduating from USC. My creative urges continue to bubble to the surface. Another decade awaits. We mark time with their passage but we live our lives in the days between the dropping ball at midnight.

I choose not to imagine what lies ahead as with the passage of time, comes an understanding that every decade contains joy and sorrow, loss and victory, ups and downs. Whatever may be ahead in this coming decade, I have five decades from which to draw my strength, gratitude in my heart and recognition that it is all transitory. As St. Teresa of Avila said,
Let nothing upset you, Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing; God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing; God alone fills all needs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Self Reliance

I have been told that I am my father's daughter. As the holidays descend, a familiar feeling washes over me. It is a hollow ache deep within the core of me. A distant yearning.

I am young. I am in my bedroom on Resh Place in Anaheim. It is night. The wall of windows along the west side of my room creates a reflective prism of dancing images on my ceiling from the swimming pool light. The sounds of laughter echo down the hallway - grown ups at play - around a bar that is the center piece of my home. Laughter, loud and strong and fun. I see my father behind the bar. A grin on his face, relishing in what must have been a sense of a life fulfilled. A self-made man from impoverished conditions in Kentucky, he made his way to California selling for RL Polk and Company City Directories, ultimately establishing his own business and an affluent suburban life on a cul de sac in Anaheim. It was in this safe, comfortable and secure world that I grew up. The script of my life included two oft repeated lines usually spoken with intensity - one by my father - "Always go for the top" and the other by my mother, "You are Lee Luskey's daughter."

The subtext of my life was success. It was that you could accomplish anything you set your mind to doing. The example was my father, who, now that I look back through my own adult lens, was indeed extraordinary. I grew up on the receiving end of his accomplished life. By the time I was born, the chapters of struggle, hardship and sacrifice had already been written. I entered the story of my father's life in its final third. I lived in the midst of the results of his labor and missed out on what got him there. One could say, I lived my childhood in a bubble.

The bubble burst after the sudden death of my father at sixty-four. I was twenty-two. It took our family less than eight years to unravel the business he had built. My brother's fifty-three year-old- life came to a tragic end only thirteen years after my father's. The story of my adult life has been the reconstruction of a life out of the collapse of our family business and the deaths of my father and brother. It has been about the deconstruction of a family myth, a sifting through the ashes of memory, the analysis of personality characteristics, character flaws, and the sorting through the psychological ramifications of failure and the driving forces behind success.

For nearly half my life, I have been in recovery.

The other night, I had a dream from which I awoke feeling a warmth and comfort I had not felt for a long time. My father and my brother were both in the dream but the details were foggy. It was a visitation of sorts and the messages were clear. The first had to do with my daughter - who is ready to embark on the great adventure of her life in New York City. The message came from my brother who loved New York - and who loved his little niece - my brother who wore a pink dress shirt the day he first laid eyes on her and who lavished her with clothing from New York's Bloomingdale's baby department -
the message was that he would look after her.

The other message was the oft repeated line from which my life trajectory was propelled. "You are Lee Luskey's daughter." It is time again for risk. The fears, the failures, the sting of shaken confidence and timidity born out of insecurity are hard won lessons providing me with wisdom and seasoning.

My father was a self-made man whose grinning, positive demeanor celebrated the possibilities of life. It was not a life without sorrow, pain, or tragedy. It was a life built in spite of those things.

My children are grown. My son is ready to graduate from college and my daughter is ready to begin her career. My husband has provided us with all the opportunities through his own toil and hard work. A dream-maker in his own right - self made and fulfilled. He is my daughter's example of success. But, like Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, I moved from my father's house to my husband's. My life, dependent on their accomplishments.

As this decade comes to a close, along with my fiftieth year, I realize that this is my life and it's up to me to make it what I will.
The distant yearning is not for my father or for a past life. It is a yearning for my self.
It is time for me to write the next chapter.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Avocado Tree

The avocado tree was firmly rooted in the center of Peggy’s back yard. Like Peggy, herself, it provided shelter for me in times of fear, despair, and confusion. While not a particularly athletic child, I climbed the tree with a sure-footed confidence that I lacked on the ground at twelve.

No one could climb the tree for me. I had to reach for the limb, pull myself to the next branch and place my foot in just the right position to hoist myself up up further up so that I became a part of the tree.

Like the Swiss Family Robinson, I imagined parts of the tree being different rooms in my house. I loved climbing that tree. Peggy allowed me the freedom to climb the tree without the overbearing worries of my mother. In fact, I don’t think Mother ever knew how much time I spent in the tree. It was my world.

Until I fell out.

It was a summer night. I was babysitting my two nephews and at twelve years of age, I had every kid in the neighborhood over. We were playing a game of some sort. I perched myself in the tree, when, showing off – I jumped to grab a lower limb intending to swing like Tarzan.
Instead, my hands slipped like the gymnast on the uneven bars, and I fell, slamming my arm on the ground below – breaking it.

My summer trips to the beach for bodysurfing ended.

And so did my climbing of trees.

Now I am fifty. It has been a very long time since I’ve gone out on a limb.
Perhaps it is time again to risk the fall.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Memoir Workshop

New class begins Tuesday, December 8th at St. Paul Lutheran in Fullerton. 3:30 - 5:30 p.m.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mother this Thanksgiving

Yesterday, I spent the day with Mother. Polishing her silver. Wiping her crystal. We went to the grocery store as always. I pushed the cart. I bought the Mrs. Cubbison's bread crumbs for the stuffing, the Jimmy Dean sausage and the yams. I decided to hit Costco for the pies this year, deviating from tradition. We spent the day together as I pushed the grocery cart and remembered hundreds of trips to Von's, Albertson's, Ralph's or Alpha Beta, (depending on the year.)

I talked to Mother while I set the table. This morning, I put the green beans in the red pot with the ham hocks and sprinkled minced onion, salt and pepper into the mix. Chopped the onion and celery and sauteed them with the sausage. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade played on the TV in the background and I dreamed as I do every year of being there. Maybe next year.

Mother is fading - she is becoming a memory - distant - I reach out for her and pull her back into my consciousness like a child stretching into the heavens for an escaping balloon. I don't want to lose her.

Right now the turkey is in the oven. The aroma just beginning to permeate the house. Soon, my home will be filled with my family just as it was once upon a time - when Bob would bring the wine and Mother would stay to the bitter end, washing up my dishes and cleaning my kitchen like a scullery maid. This year it will be his grandchildren and her great grandchildren gathered round the table.

And we will remember them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Shattering Quest

Recently I attended a production of The Man of La Mancha at Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont, California. I went with my daughter to see a former student and talented actor, Frankie Marrone, newly returned from New York, who was appearing in the ensemble. Honestly, I went without much anticipation. I had, only the week before, seen a sorely disappointing community theatre production of White Christmas, and mistakenly assumed I was in for another evening of mediocre musical theatre.
I could not have been more wrong.

The Candlelight production was stellar with its tightly honed ensemble led by John Lalonde as Cervantes and Jackie Lorenzo Cox as Aldonza. The prison in which Miguel Cervantes and his manservant, Sancho, impeccably played by Tony Pinzzotto, find themselves acting out the idealist, Don Quixote's quest, felt like an intense cauldron in which every glance, move and gesture by the ensemble was fierce, hot, and committed. Beautifully nuanced performances by the cast, seamlessly directed by George Stratton, in a dungeon prison made all the more effective by its serviceable and creative set design by Chuck Ketter and Greg Hinrichsen, and light design by Jean Yves Tessier, provided a surprisingly fulfilling evening's entertainment. The excellent sound design, uncredited in the program, was made possible only by Candlelight's owner, Ben D. Bollinger's obvious investment in quality equipment, something, as a director myself, I especially appreciated.

While the Candlelight production was nothing short of stunning, it was ultimately, the book itself, written by Dale Wasserman and its lyrics, by Joe Darion, that I found myself running over and over in my mind. I realized that, while I was intimately familiar with the score, I had only the faintest recollection of the story from a high school production I'd seen years earlier at a thespian festival. It was the intricacies of the plot, the thematic layers and heart wrenching characters that have continued to haunt me.

The poignant madness of Cervante's character, Alonzo Quijana, who, after having read too many books on chivalry, believes himself to be the errant knight Don Quixote, resonated with me. Always fascinated by the line between denial and reality, sanity and insanity, Quixote's view of his world that transforms a windmill into his enemy, the enchanter, and the wench, Aldonza into Dulcinea struck me not so much as psychological break down, but as a tender, uncynical embrace of beauty. It is how Don Quixote sees the world that makes his world real. It is how Quixote treats Aldonza that transforms her into Dulcinea and begs the question, who is hurt by such a transformation? In the name of sanity, is Aldonza actually better off in the cruel world in which she is beaten and abused for her station or, as she seems to realize at Alonzo's death bed, by begging to remain, Dulcinea?

The climactic scene in which Don Quixote is forced by the Enchanter/Dr. Carrasco, played by Christopher Van Etten, to look into the shields of mirrors tore at my heart. What a brilliant device - the metaphor of the mirror as shields - the tangible symbol of protection transforming into the weapon that shatters the idealist's illusion of himself by stripping away the mask of Quixote that we, at the beginning of the play, have watched author, Miguel Cervantes, don through the application of makeup - the mask of the theatre. I was left breathless by the stunning clarity of such a complex plot and characterization.

It was refreshing for me, whose own life experience includes a Don Quixote-like brother who left a family drowning in the consequences of his denial, to reflect on the potential upside of such idealism. While I stand in my conviction that we are all far better off owning the reality of our lives, I somehow found myself, through this story, wondering if my brother, hadn't in some way gotten it right? Am I really better off facing the painful truths of my existence? Am I more noble by having held up the shattering shield of mirrors? Or is there more grace in the fictional life- story- construct, that allows Aldonza to become Dulcinea? Which is real? Is the "either or" I have fiercely defended the only way? Or might it be more merciful to say, it is indeed "both and". At the death bed, who will be better off? My brother, who refused the mirror and was known to say that "truth is overrated?" Or me, who has suffered from a relentless quest, not to dream the impossible dream, but rather to speak the unspeakable truth?

Only a superbly interpreted production as Candlelight's, Man of La Mancha could have led me to such poignant self-discovery. This is theatre at its best and an example of its power to transform.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Man in the Moon

Sorrowful eyes cast up to the moon
Sorrowful boy in blue

A winter sky
streams of light
swirling clouds
starlit night
Sorrowful boy in blue

Searching for answers
a moment beneath the moon

Secrets dark
haunting and hidden
pain burns in his soul
Reminders, pieces, parts of his past
scattered in the velvet night

Sorrowful eyes
cast up to the moon
Sorrowful boy in blue

The mourning
that evening
the depth of his being
the torture of becoming
a shape in the chrysalis
of grief's tight grip
the gentleness of its embrace

Rest easy
Rest easy
the moon shines its light
on heart's hibernation
sorrow surrounds you now
and wait for the dawn
in your winter's moonlit sky

Sorrowful eyes cast up to the moon
Sorrowful boy in blue.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saints and Poets

A few weeks ago I watched the movie Titanic on an airplane coming home from New York. Rather incongruous, this gigantic story on a tiny screen 35,000 feet in the air. Never a big fan of the film, but, too tired to read, I opted for the three hour distraction.

The proximity of my seat to the screen brought the epic tragedy into tighter focus. I found myself thinking about the desperation of the poor souls whose lives came to an ironic end that fateful night. I grew up with this story, frequently recounted by my mother, whose distant relative gave up her seat in a lifeboat for her maid in order to remain aboard to die with her husband. But that story was always told in conjunction with the one about the courageous musicians who continued to play until just before the ship sank.

I watched the James Cameron film and thought about this act of bravery and love. What else was there to do? With their own watery grave beneath their feet, these musicians performed a transcendent final act of beauty and mercy, serenading the passengers to their death. One witness reported that their final song was "Nearer my God to Thee."

In the Catholic church, there is the tradition of canonization - the elevation of an ordinary individual to the level of sainthood. Among the criteria for this recognition is proof that the person being considered for sainthood performed a miraculous act. As I watched the depiction in Cameron's film of these musicians aboard the sinking Titanic, I couldn't help but think that what those musicians did was nothing short of miraculous. Generous with their gifts and talents to their hopeless end, they kept playing.

Art and music as a transcendent force in the face of human suffering has always interested me. No story so clearly exemplifies this as the story of Theresenstadt (Terezin) - the town outside of Prague in the Czeck Republic, that was converted by the Nazi's to a Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. Music and art thrived there in spite of inhumane conditions and near certain death. Children were encouraged by teachers to write poems and draw pictures of their experiences in order that they not be forgotten. They buried the poems and pictures throughout the town only to be discovered by survivors after the liberation. Theresenstadt housed many artists and musicians before their transport to Auschwitz. While hopelessness engulfed the ghetto, music brought a sense of humanity and joy. In the face of death, beauty.

Our capacity as human beings to create in the face of the greatest horror and tragic circumstances is one of our greatest gifts. These two extreme examples should provide us with an important lesson. Artistic expression should be nurtured, encouraged and valued. As the German playwright, Bertolt Brecht said, "In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times."
Or, as Emily in Our Town asks of the Stage Manager, "Do any human beings ever realize life as they live it every, every minute?"
"No. Saints and Poets, maybe. They do some."
The musicians aboard the Titanic. The teachers in Terezin. The writers. The artists.
Saints and Poets all. Their stories live on.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dancing with the Demons

In the Saturday, October 17th edition of the Wall Street Journal, an article by writer Jeanette Winterson entitled "In Praise of the Crack-Up" caught my eye. Next to the text appeared a semi psychedelic graphic imbedded with sketches of writers' faces - the usual suspects - whenever the topic of mental illness and creativity is explored. Silvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemmingway and others - whose artistic brilliance is matched only by their tragic deaths brought on by manic-depression.

I've read a lot on this topic. Among the most notable books on my shelf is Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire which explores the seemingly indisputable evidence that a touch of madness produces good art. Of course her book goes far deeper than this over simplification in exploring the psychological causes for both depression and mania but the essence of at least part of the message is clearly that artistic expression is often born out of pain.

Jeanette Winterson illuminates the French origin of the word blessing.
"The French verb "blesser" means "to wound." Original etymologies from both Hebrew and Anglo-Saxon bind "bless" with a bloodying of some kind - the daubing of the lintel at Passover, the blood smear on the forehead or thigh of a new warrior..."
Winterson continues,
" Wounding - real or symbolic - is both mark and marker. It is an opening in the self painful but transformative."

This definition resonated deeply with me. One of my favorite quotes of all times is from St. Augustine, "In my deepest wound, I saw your glory, and it dazzled me." Woundedness, blessing, pain, creativity, transformation, healing - this is the vocabulary of my life. The rich composte of my being - from which my artistic self has grown.

My struggle with depression surfaced in the early nineties after a siege of losses that stripped away my very identity - the death of my brother to AIDS, the loss of our forty-nine year-old family business and near total financial collapse.

Jeanette Winterson, in her Wall Street Journal article writes,
"Longing is painful. Every work of art is an attempt to bring into being the object of loss. The pictures, the music, the poems and the performances are an intense engagement with loss. While one is in the act of making, one is not in loss and one has meaning.... "

This has most definitely been true for me. Winterson admits that creativity takes its toll - that it often does leave the artist "ravaged." Though I wonder, is it the act of creating that leaves one ravaged, or is it the circumstances and the response to the circumstances based on one's personality that causes the suffering? Might it be that the creative act is in fact, the salvation rather than the damnation?

Ultimately, my creative passion has been the source of my healing. The act of creating has been transformative. And, now, fifteen years after dancing with the demons that defined and re-defined me, I have emerged with greater self-awareness, compassion for those who suffer from depression and grief, and a belief that it is all a continuum.

The artist is the one who feels it all, expresses it all, and yes, suffers it all. Passion. And this, I believe is true blessing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ode to Pine Street

I like an old neighborhood.
Its long and narrow sidewalks. Its trees and porches.

In an old neighborhood, you walk down a path to pick up the newspaper.
Mailboxes are in the door.

In an old neighborhood, you wave to people who live across the street.
You walk around the block.

An old neighborhood is a good place to live.
Pine Street is one.

On Pine Street, the steeple of St. Boniface casts a shadow.
The Church bells ring at noon.
The sound of the marching band filters through the air from St. Catherine's Military School.
Taps is played at sun down.

Kids play hopskotch, ride big wheels, and skateboards on uneven sidewalks.

The street sweeper is a common enemy. With few driveways, the neighbors on Pine Street become acquainted in robes and curlers as they dash to move the cars out of the way of the city's monster machine with its roaring engine.

On Pine Street, there are people who've lived there a long time
and remember when.

There are young families with new babies. Toddlers who are told not to run in the street.

There are roof lines and people choose the color of their stucco or wood framed houses.

There are front yards with grass and shrubs and Magnolia trees and Lilies of the Nile that bloom once a year.

People come and go.
Wave and walk.
Skip and run.

People grow up, grow old, get sick and die.

I prefer a neighborhood like Pine Street to a planned development or a gated community.
I prefer weeds in the yard to perfectly manicured beds with automatic sprinklers.
I prefer grit .
I prefer a lawn mower pushed by short-clad dads on Saturday morning to a blower wielded by hired hands.

I like the sound of children playing and babies crying.

Pine Street.
A Street to grow up on. I'm glad my kids did.
Pine Street.
A neighborhood to live in. I'm glad we did.
Pine Street.
For twenty years we called it home.

Anaheim Born and Razed

Small town memories stir each daylight savings. When darkness falls at five, I am again, Anaheim's child waiting anxiously for my turn to walk amidst cheering crowds down Center Street on Halloween. The Kiddie Parade! I remember the year I was a gypsy. I remember the year I was chosen to hold one end of the banner proudly displaying my school's name, St. Boniface.
You could taste the holiday spirit in the air. A carnival atmosphere in a city with a down town. Local shopkeeper festively decorated their windows with bright orange pumpkins and spooky goblins. Banks transformed into haunted houses and fully costumed tellers distributed candy to children making the rounds - marching between home grown businesses like Mitchell's Gift Store, Weisser's Sporting Goods, Hurst Jewelers, Jackson Drug's, Leo's Coffee Shop and the SQR Store.

I didn't know it at the time, but my childhood may have been among the last whose memories include the Kiddie Parade, the SQR Store and a down town Anaheim. You see, I'm Anaheim - born and raised. I made my debut on February 10th, 1959 in Anaheim Memorial Hospital at about nine o'clock at night. I grew up right over on Resh Place, beneath the steeple of St. Boniface Church. Harbor Boulevard to the east, Citron Street to the west, Wilhelmina to the north and St. Catherine's Military School boardering the south. I grew up going to Elvis Presley movies at the Fox Anaheim. Stopped at Center Drug first to buy a nickel's worth of candy to eat while sitting in the front row watching "Girl Crazy" and "Speedway."
Mother bought my saddle shoes from George in the shoe department at the SQR.

I'm fifty now and so are my classmates of '73 from St. Boniface School. A school that no longer exists. I left Anaheim to go to college, I got married and moved back home to raise my children in a city with no down town.

My kids never got to march down Center Street in the Kiddie Parade on Halloween. Robbed of that magic in the name of progress, my kids never had the chance to stand fascinated at the counter of the SQR as the sales slip was tucked into a tube and sent through exposed brass pipes up to the mezzanine. They never knew the little old lady with the thin red hair who cranked the elevator up to that mezzanine where she also wrapped the presents.Their memories do not include the pungent odor of shoe polish at Hoffman's nor the deer antlers that hung from its walls over the shoe-shine stands.
No. Those memories went out with the wrecking ball. As daylight savings descends - buried in the rubble - childhood dreams, a small town spirit, the Kiddie Parade and down town Anaheim.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I've just returned from a Kairos retreat with a group of forty-seven students. Kairos means "in God's time." It is the opposite of Chronos which refers to sequential time. Surrendering to a belief that there is such a thing as God's time creates a completely different perspective on one's life.

Perspective is something that cannot be hurried. One simply cannot gain perspective without time. It is one of the gifts of a long life. Perspective helps us to make sense of the events in our lives. It helps us to derive meaning, to connect the dots, to see the continuum.

Perspective gives us a lens through which to take stock of the choices in our lives. Choices that define who we are and what matters to us. Choices that we make out of opportunity, or the lack there of. Choices made out of pain, fear, obedience, self preservation or self loathing. Choices made from a desire for acceptance, a yearning for change or a need for control.

There are consequences for every choice we make. It is perspective that allows us to reconcile ourselves with the consequences. Perspective gives us clarity.

It is clarity I gained this week. Clarity allows for forgiveness, understanding, and purpose.

One of the ways we gain clarity is through the telling of our story. Our shared stories help us to see that we are not alone. That our pain, though unique to our particular journey, is not unique. It is part of the experience of being human.
And when we share our stories, we help others to gain perspective.

A perspective that there is a purpose to every single thing that occurs in our messy, complicated, complex, confusing lives. Everything. As Rilke says,
"Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist:in understanding as in creating. In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernably silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything."

Jean Pierre Medaille, SJ, wrote in his Maxims of Perfection in 1657
"Never go ahead of grace
through imprudent eagerness
but await its moment in peace
and when it comes to you,
follow it with great gentleness and courage.
Once you have obeyed,
take care
lest complacency
rob you of the fruit of your obedience."

In order to live like this, we have to trust that as the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich says,
"All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things will be well."

Trust. Even if we don't live to see the purpose in the event. Even if we don't gain perspective. In God's time, it all has meaning.
I am grateful to have been reminded of this. I feel reconnected with a renewed sense of purpose. Because of the clarity I have gained, I can embrace the "is-ness" of my life. I trust in Kairos.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Mother's House Coat

I dreamed last night that I was wearing my mother's house coat. White with little flowers of yellow, red and blue printed all over it. Snaps down the front. Mother wore a house coat like that every afternoon for as long as I can remember. Not a great fashion statement, perhaps, but it was what she put on after work to relax.

I can see my mother, lying on the couch in the living room. Every afternoon she took a little nap for as long as I can remember. Her feet were crippled with arthritis. Amazingly twisted toes that once were straight. She had taken pride in her spike heels once upon a time. And the "Reid" legs. Mother's calves were nicely shaped and she gloried in them. Dancing with my father in her high heels, he would often say that it was how she kicked her foot up when she danced that had caught his eye at the Eagle Dance Hall in Cincinnati. He said he knew then that he was going to marry that girl.

It was an indignation to my mother when she had to start wearing practical shoes - a progression from pumps to loafers to something akin to a nurse's shoe.
But on the couch, she was barefoot and her gnarled toes would twitch a little. I marveled how she squeezed them into a shoe at all.

Mother would lie flat on her back, her legs, crossed at the ankle, her hand usually up at her neck sort of playing with the loose skin that fell into wrinkles beneath her chin. Her face looked as if she was thinking or dreaming - relaxed and peaceful. "I'm just going to close my eyes for a few minutes," she would say.

She would work in the yard. Clipping her camellia bushes, skimming the swimming pool, and washing down the patio. Mother was always busy with chores. Except in those moments when she would close her eyes for a few minutes.

Mother was a fastidious house keeper. When I was growing up, I would no sooner get out of bed in the morning, when she would have the bed all made up. She took pride in how she made a bed. Never did she fold the top of the bedspread down and set the pillows on top of it. She would pull the bedspread up over the pillows and then with a karate chop movement create a straight crease. I never tried to flip a quarter on the bed, but if I had, I'm certain it would have passed the military standard for bed-making. Yes, Mother made my bed. She did my laundry. She cooked me breakfast every morning and we sat down to a hot dinner every night. An "Irish washer woman" she would sometimes call herself. The washing machine seemed always to be going. Her kitchen tile gleamed a shiny yellow. She loved a broom and dust pan and used them daily on the kitchen floor.

I knew she was slipping when the kitchen began to look grimy. It got sticky actually. And the dirt grew over an inch thick in the louvers of the service porch door. She still managed to do the laundry but making her king size bed was a chore. Sometimes there was no crease under the pillows at all.
The phone calls in the early morning became more frequent. Panic in her voice, she would ask, "What do I do now?" And I would give her instructions about her next step. Eventually the phone calls stopped. She couldn't remember how to use the phone. And so it went.

But Mother wore a house coat until the end. She took her last breath in one that was lavender with small flowers printed on it. My sorority sister, Camie Lee had bought it for her at Mervyns hours before. We had run out of clean clothes.

I'd not done the laundry.

She was cremated in it. There seemed no reason to change her outfit for the occasion.
She lay on her back, relaxed, peaceful.
Her hands crossed on her chest where I placed a camellia.
Her work was done.
No more chores.
Now she could once again kick her heel up while dancing in heaven with my father.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Once Upon a Time

In The Spirituality of Imperfection Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham make a compelling argument for the power of storytelling.

"What can we do in order to be? Listen! Listen to the stories! For what stories do, above all else, is hold up a mirror so that we can see ourselves. Stories are mirrors of human be-ing, reflecting back our very essences. In a story we come to know precisely the both/and, mixed-up-ed-ness of our very being. In the mirror of another's story, we can discover our tragegy and our comedy - and therefore our very human-ness."

This is precisely why being a part of a writer's group is such a powerful experience. The generosity of spirit within the trusted circle allows each person to hold a mirror up for one another. We find our own stories because of another's. And in finding our story, we find ourselves. Where we came from. What influenced us. What changed us. We no longer hide from ourselves, but rather, stare ourselves in the face - and see ourselves for the first time.

Our stories reveal truths that can only be discovered through their telling.
No small talk here.
The writer's group is a sacred trust.
At times, a container for the pain.
At times, a vessel from which the courage pours.

It's good to be back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Memoir Workshop

The Art of Remembering Memoir Workshop will resume again on Tuesdays beginning September 29th. This workshop is for all levels of writers interested in getting in touch with their story. Offered through the North Orange County Community College District Older Adult Program free of charge. Bring a notebook and pen. Remember, your life is your journey, your journey is your story, your story is your legacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Old Drama Teachers Never Die

Old drama teachers never die. They live on in the memories of their students. Every role. Every show. Every tech. Today I attended the memorial service for John Blankenchip at USC. As I sat in the Bing Theatre, I might just as well have been that nineteen year old girl who sang "If I Loved You" from Carousel. The stage was smaller than I remembered....but I remembered how big it felt when I stood on it. I remembered it all. I remembered the auditions. I remembered the rehearsals. And most of all, I remembered John. Described today as a titan of theatre, I realized how lucky I was. Lucky to have been in the theatre program at USC with John. Luckier to have spent a summer in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Fringe Festival in 1979 with John. But luckiest to have chosen the path of the drama teacher like John. Correction. Lucky that the path of the drama teacher chose me. But I don't believe it was an accident. As I sat in the Bing today, I identified with John as a fellow teacher and director. And I wondered how much his influence on me subconsciously affected my choices. Today, someone said that John " forced you to do things you never thought you could do. " I believe this was true. Especially in Edinburgh where we produced thirteen shows in rep over three weeks. Someone said, "if you survived Edinburgh, you could survive anything." I wondered today, how much that apprenticeship gave me the confidence to start Tri-School Theatre. Today I sat in the Bing Theatre grateful. Grateful for the opportunities John gave me. Grateful for my parents who sent me to USC. And grateful that I used my theatre education to teach. John's legacy indeed lives through his students. John lives in me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The tumor was a three plus. Her cancer stage two. Eighteen weeks of chemo. She will lose her hair. That hair. That thick hair. The hair I used to brush when I was a little girl. That hair that was tied in a pony tail during the "Love Story" stage. She resembled Ali MacGraw. That hair that she pulled back during the scarf and big earring stage. That was when I would babysit and would read her MS. Magazines and talk about politics, spirituality, and the meaning of life. I think I was about twelve. Always a good listener, she was my refuge, my sanctuary, and my trusted confidante through every stage of life.

Now, this is her cancer stage. At sixty-seven, she is the same age her mother was during her cancer stage.
She has lost her breast and now will lose her hair and I keep shaking my head saying, "I can't believe this."

I guess I am in the denial stage.

I look back over our history BC. Now, there will always be a before. Funny how before always looks so much better when there is an after. That time when we moved through life unsuspecting. Unaware of what lay ahead. As soon as there is a before, we are forced to look back to see before through the lens of after.

I look back at a lifetime of everything with her and don't want it to be after. I want it to be before. But it isn't.
It's now. And she will lose her hair.
And I must accept it.
A new stage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thirtysomething Revisited

In 1987, I sat on my bed nursing my baby son while I watching a new television show called Thirtysomething. I was not yet there but my life was. I had been out of college for six years, married for five. We had two children and lived in a broken down, charming old house on Pine Street. My husband was going to grad school at night, our family business was on the skids, and we were close to broke. Most of our friends from college were married but had not yet begun having children. Remember, this was the eighties. The era of "Yuppies", " Dinks" and Baby on Board signs. While my friends traveled the globe and bought expensive new houses, I was feeling isolated, struggling to forge my identity and to keep the romance alive. My life freakishly mirrored the plot lines of Thirtysomething . So much so, that at times I thought to myself, "this isn't entertainment - this is my life." It was a hard show to watch. On the one hand, I was comforted by the struggles of the characters of Hope, Michael, Elliot and Nancy as they, too, wrestled with the same issues that faced me every day. On the other hand, they depressed me. It was too real. Too close. Too right on. The show lasted four seasons and tracked the demise of Elliot and Michael's advertising business at the very same time that we lost ours. It was, life imitating art imitating life - it blew my mind. Never had a television show entered my very psyche. Torturous as it was at times, when Thirtysomething went off the air in 1991 I missed it and I missed the characters as if they had actually been my friends.

Last weekend, my husband, to whom I have now been married twenty-seven years, came home and told me to close my eyes and to hold out my hands. When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at the newly released DVD set of the first season of Thirtysomething. Instantly, I began to cry. There were the faces of my long-lost friends. I looked at my husband and it was as if he had found a keepsake, a treasure from our past - that had been locked away deep in my memory. I was ecstatic. And I was terrified. It was then I realized that this television show that had paralleled our lives nearly twenty years ago had the potential to unleash painful memories that I had either long since left behind or spent hours processing in therapy. But my curiosity about how the show would hold up by today's standards and shear nostalgia won out. With trepidation, I began to watch.

From the first twangs of the theme song, I was instantly transported back in time. Like watching an old home movie, I found myself pointing out the Fisher Price high chair, the Volvo wagon, the mobile over the crib, the playpen, the swing, and the Little People farm house- all of which we had. Sesame Street, Mister Rogers Neighborhood and Raffi played in the background. I groaned over the home repairs, the shoulder pads,and the big hair. At Elliot and Michael's office I laughed at seeing the IBM Selectric typewriter and the green bar computer printouts from some main frame computer the size of my living room- remnants from long before the days of cell phones, laptops, Google and Facebook. That was the fun part.

Then I began to moan and wince at some of the self-indulgent, seemingly trivial concerns that plagued these young marrieds. Conflicts that seemed utterly inconsequential dominated their day to day lives. I wanted to slap the character of Hope for being so rude and moody to her mother. And I recognized in that moment, that over twenty years had passed since those days of nursing my baby son. I am closer in age to Hope's mother than I am to Hope. And while the issues I faced in my early married life were challenging, at times devastating, and often overwhelming, unlike the characters in Thirtysomething, I now have the benefit of both hindsight and perspective. The show is still as true as it was twenty years ago. A brilliant script - painfully honest and full of genuine angst. It wasn't easy to watch back then and it's still not. The difference is, I am now fiftysomething.

There is a poignancy to revisiting this chapter in my life. But it is a chapter that feels like a distant memory. The show did mirror my life back then. But it doesn't now. Time does indeed march on. My son is twenty-two years old and will graduate from college this June. My daughter is nearly twenty-five, the age I was when she was born. No doubt, they will have their own thirtysomething journey. And some day, they too will look back and sigh.

In one particularly moving scene, the cast is gathered in Hope and Michael's living room and in the background, Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" is playing - eerily echoing the ache that filled my heart as I watched the youthful moment unfolding before me.

"And the seasons, they go 'round and 'round. And the painted ponies go up and down. We're captive on a carousel of time. We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came and go 'round and 'round and 'round in the circle game."

And so it goes.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Remembering Ronnie

"Be Bold. Be Courageous. Serve Others." Ronnie wrote those words. I remember telling him, "those should be on a poster!" And what did Ronnie do? He made me a poster with those words on it. This is just one of his legacies. Ronnie faced numerous health challenges, but they never deterred him from persevering. Sometimes, he would arrive to class with an oxygen tank. He walked slowly but with a determination unmatched by most. As his health deteriorated, he sometimes used a motorized cart to get to and from the car. Whenever he could, Ronnie came to class despite the obstacles. He was forthright, honest, opinionated, direct. In one of his last outspoken moments in class, Ronnie railed against his church spending money on a bell tower. The money, he said, could have been used for more important things. His sense of social justice and care for those in need was evident in the things he wrote about.

Breath is life. For as long as I knew Ronnie, he was running out of both. But he never wasted either. He wrote stories about his life, his recovery, his camping trips, his family, his beliefs, and his struggles. Writing is hard work. Ronnie worked hard at it.
It was a labor of love.
Our life is our journey. Our journey is our story. Our story is our legacy.
There will be an empty chair at our table - but Ronnie's legacy and indomitable spirit will continue to inspire.
Be Bold. Be Courageous. Serve Others.
Like Ronnie.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mi Ma and Me

The date, stamped on the scalloped edge of the black and white photograph, says April 59. I am less than three months old. The woman holding me up to the camera is my grandmother, known as Mi Ma. She has a slight smile on her face as she looks down at me in her arms. She is somewhat familiar. I recognize the ears - large. I inherited them. She wears round, button, earrings. The kind my mother used to wear. I stare into the camera. I am bald. My eyes are wide open. My lips are pursed. We are in front of a mantel. There is an Easter basket, a bunny, and a card behind us. The picture might just as well be of strangers. I will never know her.

I was born to my mother and father out of grief. My brother, Jamie, had died at age three of a tonsillectomy in November of 1956. I was born two and a half years later when my parents were forty-two. Mi Ma was in her mid-seventies. Over seventy years between us that day in April 59.

As I look at the photograph, I feel an ache. But it is not for the grandmother I never knew. I ache for my mother. I miss her. And now as I look at the photo, I realize I will never know my grandmother because whatever I might have known, died with my mother. I can't ask her anymore questions like whose mantel are we standing in front of and is the Easter basket mine? I wonder who took the picture. Probably my father. He took most of the pictures in our family.

Yesterday would have been his ninety-third birthday. I can't imagine him old. He died at sixty-four jogging to the office. My children will never find a photograph of him holding them. They never knew him.
Nor did I know my grandfathers. My mother's father died in the influenza of 1918. I don't know what year my father's father died. There are no pictures of me with them, either.

I have no sense of what it feels like to have been grand parented. The black and white photograph is as close as I'll get. On the back, written in slightly smudged, red ink, in my mother's perfect palmer-method handwriting is, "Amy and Mi Ma 2 1/2 mos." Maybe that's why I can't stop looking at the photograph. It is the caption on the back that says it all. In a moment in time, I did have a grandmother. And she held me in her arms. And it mattered to my mother.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Story Lives On

I hung the flag today in honor of Teddy. I did not grow up in a family of Kennedy lovers. Despite her Irish Catholic heritage, my mother quite adamantly despised them. As a child, I struggled with the incongruity of the portrait of this iconic family and the feelings of my mother. I was confused by the heart breaking images of the fallen JFK, his children and widow standing at attention and my mother's demonization of this heroic figure in American history. I remember being doubly confused by her tears on the night Sirhan Sirhan's bullet took the life of Robert Kennedy. Then came Chappaquiddick, the story that only seemed to reinforce my mother's contention of the moral failings of the Kennedy family. According to my mother, Edward was just another in the line of corrupt, privileged and moral-less playboys. Mary Jo one more victim of their avarice. Mother seemed hard hearted when it came to the tragedies that befell the Kennedy family. Except on that night in 1968, when Bobby was assassinated. It confused me. Especially since, having grown up in Catholic School, I was surrounded by other Catholic families on whose walls hung a portrait of JFK and for whom the words, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country" were not fodder for political satire as they were in my household, but a serious call to service. Out of this tension, this contradiction, this argument, I was forced to form my own opinions. Born in 1959, the Kennedy name has been woven into the fabric of the America in which I grew up. Their ideals, their eloquence, their indisputable record of service conflicted with my mother's venomous scorn. What resonated the most with me as I pieced together my own view of this complex family, was the incredible burden that fell on to the shoulders of Teddy Kennedy as he rose to assume the mantel of patriarch due to his family's series of tragic losses. Never was this more evident to me than when John F. Kennedy, Jr. was killed in a plane crash in 1999. Broken hearted I watched as Caroline was dealt another cruel blow - the only living member of her famously tragic family of origin. Her pain, I could only imagine. It seemed that in her time of despair, her uncle, Ted, stepped into the moment with strength and compassion. A father-figure whose weighty responsibility only seemed to grow heavier with time. I was two years old when JFK was killed. Nine when I puzzled over my mother's tears in 1968. But at forty, as I watched Caroline and Ted on the boat, saying goodbye to Jackie's only son, I was an adult woman, whose own story included the relatively premature deaths of my father and brother. For me, the grief I felt and observed, melted my mother's cold hearted opinions and the story of the Kennedy's became one of loss and survival. I believe, were she able to admit it, my mother's tears on that night in 1968, were born out of her own understanding of loss and the grief that Rose must have felt as a mother, burying yet another son. Mother, too, buried her own sons. Our views are shaped by our experiences. This morning, as I watched the funeral Mass for Senator Edward Kennedy, I was inspired not only by his achievements as a legislator and his Democratic ideals, but by his imperfections as a human being. I saw a man whose life reflected not only his successes but his failures. And I heard his sons speak of a man, who urged them to never give up despite set backs and tragedies. And I saw all of this, against the backdrop of the Catholic church, itself an imperfect institution in which redemption is possible and forgiveness is guaranteed. And I felt proud and grateful to have lived at this remarkable time in our nation's history. I was proud of my Catholic heritage and moved by the familiar and comforting ritual of the Mass of the Resurrection that has been balm for my own aching heart in my times of loss. We are all imperfect human beings. Mother, Teddy, me. But in the end, the story of our lives - messy, complicated, contradictory, courageous, heroic - the story - of how we survive unspeakable losses and transform them into gifts of compassion, wisdom and understanding - is the legacy we leave behind. This is Teddy's legacy. It too, is my mother's. At fifty, this is the opinion and belief I have forged out of the confusing, mixed messages of my childhood - our life is our journey, our journey is our story and our story is our legacy. The story lives on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

By Your Pupils You'll Be Taught

This past weekend I flew to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to attend the wedding of one of my beloved former students, Zack and his partner, Kevin. The wedding, symbolic in its meaning, was an intimate affair. Fewer than fifty people. A selective group made up primarily of two loving families, a few supportive friends from college - and two drama teachers. This detail did not elude me. As I sat over looking the beautiful panoramic view of the Rockie Mountains, I couldn't help but reflect on what I would now call the "fruits" of my labor. In my over twenty years of teaching and directing, I have worked with thousands of students. Some I have not seen since their final show or their graduation from high school. But there are those few gems who have stayed connected as they have moved on in their lives. I have known Zack since he was fourteen years old. Half of his life. Someone asked me, "Have you ever heard Zack sing?" I smiled and said, "Yes. I was there when Zack began singing." That is the joy of the drama teacher's journey. You get to be there - at the beginning. Discovering, uncovering and nurturing a student's talent is part of the journey. Being invited to his wedding fourteen years later is one of the payoffs.

Earlier in the year, another former student of mine, Ben, asked me to officiate his wedding. I did. A first for me. As his teacher, Ben always stretched me into new territory because of his immense talent. Our relationship deepened when, only two weeks after starting college as a theatre major, Ben's father committed suicide. I was the first person he called when he got the news. Thirteen years later, I stood before he and his bride, as they exchanged their wedding vows. One of the greatest honors of my life.

I believe both of these stories are a testimony to the kind of deep, lasting relationships that are forged in high school drama programs.

Theatre on Purpose is not about fame and fortune. It's not about Broadway or American Idol. It's about knowing who you are. It's about authenticity. It's about courage. It's about relationships. It's about life. And as for this drama teacher, the lessons have been abundant.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Word

I remember the song, "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone."

Webster's Dictionary defines the word clear as: bright; cloudless; luminnous; easily seen through; free from mist or haze; free from ambiguity.

The doctor's clarion call, like the bell tone of an angel, announced to us in the waiting room of Long Beach Memorial Hospital, "The lymph nodes are clear."

With that one word, the haze of fear that had descended with the diagnoses of breast cancer was lifted.

Never has a word carried such light.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No One is Alone

Twenty-eight years ago my life shattered when I was twenty-two years old. My cousin, Jimmy, told me later that "everyone's life shatters." No one prepared me for this. Maybe that is because no one really can. The good news is that twenty-eight years later, I'm put back together. Certainly not the same person I was then but I did pick up the pieces. Mental health is a continuum. Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders are often triggered by events over which we have no control. Part of the picking up of one's self often includes some very dark, difficult passages - "dark nights of the soul" as they are often referred to. One of the books I read during that time, was called When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. This book helped me to understand that during a depression, transformation is taking place. Kidd uses the metaphor of the caterpillar and the cocoon. One cannot rush the process of becoming a butterfly. The cocoon cannot be opened prematurely. She likens a depression to being in a cocoon. I think looking at these dark times in our lives through a spiritual context can be helpful. We are where we need to be - always. I can only speak for myself of course, but it has been my experience that everything works to the good. Even the hardest things we face in life - the most unimaginable pain we might experience - contains gift. But sometimes, we feel very alone. It's important to remember that we need not be. Humbling as it may be, it is important to seek help when we need it. Ask. The Beatles said it best, "I get by with a little help from my friends." Other books that have been helpful to me include Henri Nouwen's, CS Lewis' A Grief Observed. As the song from my favorite musical, Into the Woods says, "No one is alone." It's important to remember that.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Yesterday I met with my writing teacher, Cecilia Woloch She was consulting with me on the manuscript of a memoir I have been crafting for fifteen years. Two intense hours of page by page, line by line critique that have given me a focus for the next revision. I was reminded yet again, that creating an artistic work takes time, patience and commitment. Writing is only part inspiration. The rest of it is hard work. It isn't easy. It is a process. I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and begin. I love fine tuning. It is the same way with theatre. Rehearsing a play is akin to the writing process in that the director may begin with a vision - an idea, a hook, a theme, an insight - and then over six weeks or so, has to work to shape the play to communicate this vision as clearly as possible. Clarity for a reader or for an audience is important. That's not to say that a final product is not subject to varying interpretations. Of course a reader or member of an audience comes to the work from his or her point of view and life experience. The artist, be he a writer or theatre director cannot be worried about what might happen to the work once it is made public. All the artist can do is craft the clearest articulation of his vision possible. The rest is out of his or her hands. The artist must love the process - messy as it is. It is a labor of love. Rushing it, may lead to a premature birth. In rehearsal, I often tell my actors that this is the time to risk, to try new things and to fail. Fear of failing inhibits the growth and discovery process necessary in rehearsal. This same idea may be applied to the writing process. One of the most inhibiting factors to a writer is fear of failure. Every artist must define for himself what this means and face this fear with great courage. Committing to a writing practice is essential to overcoming this fear. Exercising those muscles, staying in shape, and practicing the craft help to develop self confidence. This is why being in a writing group is so helpful. It is why actors continue to study their craft in acting class. Practice. There is no replacement for it. Loving the process makes this commitment a joy rather than a chore. I believe loving the process is the key ingredient to being an artist. I came away from my meeting yesterday knowing that I probably have a year's worth of work to do on my memoir before it will be ready. What a great feeling.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ribbons of Life

Count down. Another Friday unlike any other Friday. Surgery on Tuesday. All of a sudden pink is the color of the day. I really don't like pink. Never have. And I don't like what it has come to symbolize. I don't want a pink ribbon. I don't want to race for the cure. I didn't want the red ribbon either. I didn't want to walk. I didn't want to quilt. I don't want to be a member of this club any more than I wanted to be a member of that one. This color combination is close to the heart - pink and red - Valentine's Day - love - passion - heart ache - pain - anger. The truth is, you can never really know what it is to experience something until you've been through it.

When AIDS showed up at the door, I had no choice but to sit down with him and to get acquainted. We became quite intimate and he changed my life. Odd bed-fellows. After his work was done, he became my muse. My creative partner. For fifteen years, he and I have collaborated. Solemn Brother. We have come a long way together. We are on solid ground.

I wasn't prepared for breast cancer to come in. She was sneakier. Less obvious. When I first met AIDS he looked gaunt, grey and he shuffled. BC hid inside - disguised in strength and beauty. She walked briskly three miles a day. Until one day in the garden, she made her presence known. Sneaky sister. Ferocious female. Enemy of woman. She is a liar of sorts. AIDS at least came out of the closet. BC, was stealth in her attack. She snuck in through the back door.

I suppose I will befriend her at some point. What choice do I have? But it's too soon for me to open up to her. I am guarded. Reserved. She is unfamiliar. I do not trust her. She, too, will likely work her way into my being. There will be new knowing. Deepening. I may even see her as gift. Tied in a pink ribbon instead of red. But not today. I'm not ready to take on this relationship.

BC, Forgive my rudeness - but you can leave now. And take your ribbon with you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Appreciation

While responding to an invitation to attend a memorial celebration for my old theatre professor at USC, John Edward Blankenchip, I gazed upon his picture and my heart ached a little bit. My throat got tight and tears sprang to my eyes. There was an opportunity missed. I'm not sure I ever said "Thanks, John." I was young back then and didn't exactly fit the typical drama student image of the late 70's. I came from a very sheltered, Catholic school environment where I had performed the leading roles in the annual musical throughout high school. While not entirely straight laced, I fit in at the sorority house much more readily than the wild world of the USC drama department in 1977. It was John Blankenchip who first "discovered" my talents at USC and cast me frequently in his shows. I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to perform in the Fringe Festival with USC in 1979 where my love/hate relationship with the theatre really took root as we ran a full rep of plays while crewing the shows we weren't in. It was hard work. My parents came to visit once we opened and stayed to see me play Linda in "Pal Joey" eighteen times. They never missed one of my performances. Ever. John observed this and recognized the love of my parent's reflected in the person I was. I know this because of a conversation we had after we returned from Edinburgh. John and I drove down to San Diego to see "Dames at Sea" in which a fellow classmate, Kirby Ward, was performing. I was a senior at the time and only a few months away from graduation and becoming engaged to be married. While neither of us knew it at the time, I was also only a few months away from losing my father. Daddy had always championed my acting. He was my coach and biggest fan. But he was also old fashioned and made it known that what he wanted most was for me to marry and to start a family. This mixed message was one that caused a great deal of inner conflict as I approached graduation. On our drive to San Diego, John began to ask me about my plans. As we talked about my future, he shared with me his thoughts on my chances of "making it." He told me he though I had what it takes...if I wanted it. But, if, what I wanted was to settle down with a family, then, that is what I should do. He told me honestly that he didn't think I was "cut throat" enough for the entertainment industry. His words were prophetic.
On August 17, 1981, my father dropped dead at 64 jogging to the office. John attended the funeral. On May 1st, 1982, I married. John attended the wedding. While I have many memories of John from my days at USC, it is this for which I remember him most: A teacher, who cared enough to affirm me for who I was and to take the time to show it. My life has been a complete blend of these two aspects of myself - the theatre and family. Thanks, John. You were right.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Little Poem

You can only become what you are
by allowing yourself the time
to find who you were
from the beginning
but lost
you got so busy
that you forgot
to take time
to recognize the person
you forgot
you are.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Living the Questions

Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything.

From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Patience has never been one of my strong points. It seems I was born in a hurry and haven’t stopped racing since that day a half century ago. I have lived my life with a sense of urgency and intensity. Lately though, something has been happening slowly from within. My full throttled outward productivity level is downshifting. I am learning about containment. I am learning about restraint. I am learning about silence. I am learning about listening. I am learning about selectivity. I am learning about patience. I have spent twenty-six years - over 40% of my life, focused on producing and directing other artist’s work. My contribution to the artistic world has amounted to interpretation, analysis, and attempts at communication of a playwright’s intent. The stage, my canvas, the materials borrowed. The required energy is focused outward, driven by the demands of production. The ephemeral nature of theatre leaves but a memory, an imprint of an experience. A moment here or there. Transcendent moments perhaps – even transformative experiences - but lasting only in the minds of an audience.

Recently, I walked the festival grounds in Laguna Beach, taking in the artwork created by local painters, photographers and sculptors. I read the artists’ statements next to their work. Their work. Physically present for me to look at. I was struck by the uniqueness and individuality of each artist’s style and their attempt at saying something through their art. Only patience could create such art. I found myself genuinely inspired. And I began to ask myself what it is that I have to say? What is it that is uniquely my own? What do I need to do in what Sara Lawrence- Lightfoot calls, “The third chapter?” It is not an answer I seek. It is a new question. In her essay, Coming to Writing, Helen Cixous says, “what misfortune if the question should happen to meet its answer. It’s the end!”

With each answer, a little death - stagnation. With each question, a new birth - vision. Is this what Rilke means by “ripening?”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Sunday

I had grown accustomed to the scene. Mealtime. Wheel chairs in place. Vacant stares. I dreaded going but couldn’t stand the thought of Mother eating all her meals there on her own. Barely. Eating I mean. Getting the fork to her mouth had become a great struggle. And forget the soup. It utterly baffled me why the dietician did not provide finger food instead of relying on utensils that had long since lost their usefulness. The fingers still worked and were the preferred method for most of the residents. Politeness? Table manners? I understand wanting to hold on to every shred of dignity one can for the elderly and infirmed, but for some, including my mother, the coordination of getting the spoon up from the table, into the cup, scooping the liquid and then expecting that spoon to make it into the mouth with anything left in it was an unrealistic expectation. Her inability to accomplish this task concerned me because of its domino affect on her nutrition. So I showed up for meals most days. Good thing I did that Sunday. Mother had been placed at the special table with about eight other residents where extra staffing was available. The caregiver would circle the table and assist with each bite throughout the meal. This had been a relief to me. Help with meals. On this particular Sunday, I was late for lunch. I walked through the door and immediately noticed that mother looked strange. Her eyes were “popping” and she was slumped more than usual in her wheel chair. I looked down at her plate and saw part of a peanut butter sandwich. My mind began to race – peanut butter to a woman who can barely swallow? I looked at Mother. She was silently choking. And then, just as I had been taught to do with my toddlers, my finger formed into a hook and I whisked it into her mouth and throat. Out came an enormous, mushy glob of peanut butter and bread. The caregiver saw my alarm and joined me by slapping Mother’s back until she finally coughed up the remaining bites. In the circling, feeding routine, apparently the caregiver had forgotten to look to see whether my mother had actually swallowed the previous bites. Who knows how many times another piece of that sandwich had been shoved into her mouth? I held a glass of water to her lips so that she could sip. I hugged her and she whispered a very faint “thank you.” Flashes of lucidity would occasionally cause me to question the Alzheimer's diagnosis. I wheeled her from the table and took her into her room where I sat in her yellow armchair, holding her hand, looking deeply into her eyes, yearning for a conversation with my mother. And then, very, very slowly, Mother began to lean forward in her wheel chair. With each lean, I leaned closer to her – she kept leaning in, so I kept leaning in until we were practically nose to nose. And then, very gently, she kissed my lips. It was a little wet and very soft. The sweetest kiss I had ever felt. And I knew right then and there that she was saying goodbye to me. She died ten days later after taking to her bed. The peanut butter sandwich had been her last meal. And that kiss, was the last I ever received from my mother. But it lingers still.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Unsinkable Legacy

Why must the captain go down with the ship?

I come from a family of survivors.

Though the Titanic sank, I grew up with that story about my




Aunt Ida Strauss

Mother told the story of how Ida loved her husband so much

she refused to get into the life boat.

A love as deep as the ocean that became her grave.

Is this heroics?

Or stupidity?

Where is the line that separates one from the other?

Loyalty from lies?

Denial from hope?

Why must the show go on?

What if Ida had gotten off?

I might have been spared this legacy.

And what about my grandmother who sailed bravely from Panama thrice widowed

with two little girls

one of them my mother

who told the story of how, once settled safely with family in Cincinnati,

she was put into boarding school

but no she did not feel abandoned by three dead fathers and her

courageous mother.

When does denial become pathological?

When does strength become suppression?

Why do it the company way?

Why tow the party line?

Don’t air your dirty laundry.

Don’t tell our family business -

speaking of which

It might have survived after daddy dropped, had Mother been less sentimental and my brother more realistic.


But into the drink it went right along with the ship

and so did we

And what about that unopened video tape, “AIDS, What Is It and How Do You Get It?” I found on the floor of my brother’s closet when boxing up his life?

Another iceberg.

Denial disguised as secrets.

Lies clocked in nobility.

Silence mistaken as loyalty

brings down countries, companies, families and ships.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Elements of Life

Air Meets Water:

The warm, tropical, humid Hawaiian breeze stirred in the palm trees. Blissfully ignorant, I sat gazing at the pounding surf. Little did I know how quickly this calm would escape me. Swimming with sea turtles, lounging on rafts, snorkeling over coral reefs and kicking with fins through the green waves brought a renewed patience within myself. I was slowing down and just being. Ruah, the breath of life, moved through me. I was grateful for the gift. Would I be able to bring this feeling full circle after flying back to my real life?

Water Meets Earth:

The ocean has always been my solace. I return again and again and she, like an old friend who has waited patiently for my return, welcomes me. Her primordial waters encircle me like the womb of my mother. At the end of the earth, I swim to her, buouyant and weightless. This ocean, with its tumultuous moods, peaceful calm and pounding surf will be my grave. The earth erodes into the sea. And I will swim eternally in her embrace.

Earth Meets Fire:

It was the flatness of her voice and the silence that preceded it that struck fear in my heart. Something was wrong. I know her too well not to detect the nuance of unspoken dread. And then the grave report: "I had a bad biopsy." My heart thumped and the fire of rage consumed me. Her voice, crackled with forced optimism. "We are thinking positively." All I could see was the brown dirt of grief, again. The ashes of a life, again. Only this time, it was Peggy. Life is relentless, I thought. It has only been two years since I stood by as the jagged flames of the oven consumed Mother's body in its fiery cremation. Fifteen since Bob's ashes were placed into the earth next to Jamie's tiny coffin. And twenty-seven since Daddy led the way that August morning in 1981. This time, I fear, I will not have the strength to walk across the red hot coals. No. Not this time. This time I will fight. You will not take her from me. This time you will lose. Not me. The white sands of Hawaii seemed a distant memory and my old friend grief welcomed me home.

Fire Meets Air:

It had been a day of dread. Mother's cremation. As I awoke that morning, I knew I had to go. I called the funeral home. They advised against it. I insisted. I wept. How could I not be there? I had been born from my mother's body. Hers was the first touch I had known. She had cradled me, stroked me, caressed me, protected me until it was I who protected her. Wiping her. Washing her. Even brushing her dentures, something I never thought I could do. On this day, that body would burn to ashes. Dissolved in grief I searched for a sign. A lone pink camellia beckoned me. Mother's favorite flower. I clipped it from the stem, wrapped a wet paper towel and foil around the bottom and left the house. I drove through my tears along the tree-lined street alone in my mother's Buick. And then just ahead there appeared two large birds with wide wingspans. They may have been hawks. They flew just in front of my car, soaring through the air. And I knew I had a sign. There were my parents, reunited, dancing, soaring freely after twenty-five years of separation - together, leading me to the crematorium. I placed the camellia on my mother’s chest and kissed her forehead. They closed the cardboard coffin and slid it into the oven. They waited for me to give the o.k. to push the button. I nodded. It would take four hours for her tiny body to be turned to dust. But I knew, her spirit soared.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Lump

Don’t tell me not to wait for the other shoe to drop.

In my life it always does.

And it has


I don’t want nor need this lesson


Don’t tell me to look on the positive side.

I don’t need coaching.

I know the drill.

I’ve withstood plenty

earned my stripes

so don’t tell me it’s all going to be o.k.

o.k. would be that it not to have happened at all.

In my story

life doles out snippets of respite

moments to come up for air


not for too long


yet again

the other shoe.

I stand in the middle of the room

with no one to call


I would call her

but can’t


this is happening to her.



life comes into sharp focus.


I don’t need this lens

I’ve looked through it plenty.

The waves of the North Shore that come only in winter

wash over me this summer’s day.



The Veil

I suppose we are always haunted by our past in some way. Buried deep within us are the consequences of our choices and the risks not taken. The words not said. The thoughts unexpressed. I have been present at the bedside of a dying person two times in my life witnessing the last breath of my brother and my mother. I missed Daddy's. My father dropped dead at sixty-four, jogging to the office one morning. They said he was dead before he hit the floor. He’d made it to 608 East Broadway and was flat on his back inside the doorway. With each death I have thought to myself, “well there it was.” There was their life with all its experiences, failings, accomplishments, relationships, loves, joys and losses. I don’t know what comes after we take our last breath, but I believe there is something more. I was shown this early one January morning at highway marker 41 just across the Oregon boarder. The road was icy. As we made the turn around a bend, the car skated across the lanes out of control down an embankment. I was in the passenger seat and as we began to roll, my friend, who was driving said, “I’m so sorry, Amy.” And we rolled. One. Two. Three. Four times. And I waited, thinking, “Well there it was. My life.” And I felt no fear. Only a knowing – not a thought, not a feeling. A knowing. It was, “Oh…I see. We just move from one dimension to the next.” And I waited to die. The car came to a stop on its side. All the windows were out. Glass was everywhere. I hung by my seatbelt, somewhat suspended over my friend. I checked my teeth. They were still there. I checked for blood. There was none. I checked my friend. He was brushing the glass from his face. We were both alive and in one piece. After carefully extracting ourselves from the car – through one of the broken windows, my friend hiked up to the street to flag someone for help. It was freezing. I gathered some of our things from the car. A trucker stopped. I got into the cab and drove back with him to a gas station – about twenty miles from highway marker 41. As we came to a stop, numbly, I asked him, “what is your name?” And he said, “Bob Lees.” I gasped. Nearly hysterical, I cried out, “Oh my God. You are an angel.” You see, my brother’s name was Bob and my father’s name was Lee.” To this day, I believe that we survived this accident because my brother and father protected us. And they sent Bob Lees so that I would know. I've never done anything with this "knowing". But today, I decided to put it out there - as it may bring comfort because there is so little we can really ever do....

Monday, July 20, 2009

No Thoughts in Paradise

Some vacations are thinking vacations where one contemplates the meaning of life amidst baroque architecture, while immersed in the art and history of the region. Vacations like my trip to Prague where I had the epiphany about being an artist and re-committed myself to writing and creativity. This has not been one of those vacations.  This has been a non-thinking, certifiably non-intellectual, vegging-type of vacation where I have been stretched to think one single deep thought. In fact, the deepest thought I’ve had all week is whether or not to have another Mai Tai. I’ve stared at the aqua-green- blue ocean while planted in a chair I bought at Cosco before hitting the beach. I’ve snorkeled coral reefs and watched a sea turtle nibble from the rocks occasionally popping his head out of the water to peruse the tourists flapping around the water in rented fins and masks. The one historical site I visited was Pearl Harbor. I was deeply moved by the Arizona Memorial and the seemingly endless list of names of those on “eternal patrol”. 

But mostly, I have stared at the ocean and tanned my skin beneath the intense Hawaiian sun.  Writing has been a challenge. Empty headed, lacking a vocabulary and a single original thought, all that swims in my head are palm trees and the Waikiki skyline.  This has been a ridiculously relaxing vacation.  Arguably undeserved.  Definitely a gift that fell into my lap thanks to my friend’s impromptu invitation. Tomorrow I head for home and I can’t wait to be with my family. But for today, my last in paradise, I’m headed for a Lomi Lomi massage  at the Kahala and maybe I’ll think about having one last Mai Tai.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conversations in Paradise

Waiting for a story in Hawaii.  Having now committed to a regular writing practice I am finding that I am looking and listening for stories everywhere I go. The weather, the rainbow, the coarse sand and rocks on my tender feet, have the potential for story. The tropical air with its touch of humidity and occasional rain shower are all potential stories. Conversations with strangers have the potential for story.

 Last night we had an animated conversation about baseball and the challenges for kids who might want to pursue a career in professional sports. The story there for me was how similar the parental concerns are for athletes as they are for actors.  Applause, the lights, the status in youth can leave an intoxicating and unquenchable mark on the impressionable, talented, rising star. Parents, coaches, and teachers all have to help keep a young person’s feet on the ground and provide the balanced guidance required to navigate the treacherous line between false hopes and youthful dreams.

 This morning we had coffee on the beach at 6:30 in the morning with a group of people who live here part time in the summer. Here is Kahala Beach on Oahu. The Emperor and Empress of Japan are staying next door at the Kahala Beach Hotel.  Needless to say, I think we landed in some nice digs. Talk turned this morning to the real estate bust and the underlying greed that got us to where we are.  One person remarked that the problem went back to the 1970’s, another said it goes back to post World War II and the GI Bill that allowed vets to buy homes for no down. I disagreed. I know this is how my parents got into their first home. I cannot equate in any way, the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” with the greedy Wall Street tycoons of 2009. What is missing today is the moral compass that guided our parents and grandparents. There was not an expectation of wealth and privilege – there was no sense of entitlement among those returning from Europe and the Pacific. There was a work ethic and appreciation for the potential they had to make their own way. Nothing was handed to them as it has been to this current generation.  I sipped my coffee, gazed out at the shimmering ocean through coconut palms, thought of my parents and smiled. 

 Perhaps subconsciously I’ve made a connection between World War II, the Japanese Emperor next door and our upcoming visit to Pearl Harbor. Funny the things we think about when on vacation, far from home and family. It is one of the great benefits of travel… My parents and brother were at Virginia Beach on December 7, 1941. There is a picture of my father, handsome in a fedora, holding baby Robin as he was called then, with my mother looking tailored in a suit on that fateful day. A black and white photo that tells a story of the beginning of a defining moment in our history.  I remember the stories of my parents moving the crib away from the window and the black outs at night, the fear of attack or invasion.  It would be eighteen years until my birth – at the tale end of the Baby Boom generation and sixty-eight years until my visit today to Pearl Harbor on July 15, 2009.  And the story continues.