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.