Friday, December 31, 2010

The Christmas Ladder

Remember how I said December 26th was my favorite day of the year?
Remember how much I enjoyed the pause - sitting in the midst of wrapping paper and toys, cookies, fudge, and left over turkey?

How is it that a mere four days later things could be so different? December 30th hits hard.

I am on olfactory overload thanks to the once yearned for scent of the tree, mulling spices, and cinnamon that have permeated my house for weeks.
Forgive the unpoetic phrase, but the house looks like it threw up.
The charm of the nicknacks, nativity scene, and stockings has worn off.
I feel like a pack rat. I am being buried alive in stuff.
I walk into my closet and am instantly claustrophobic.
Away you embroidered Christmas sweaters and holly- patterned scarves.

The tree is turning brown and looks as if it would erupt into flames if I switched the lights on one more time.
It begs to be hauled out having served its purpose as the centerpiece of our living room for a month.

The candles are melted down to nubs.
The wax has dripped all over the mantle.
The wreath, once bearing fresh fruit and nuts, is now rotting on my front door having baked in the intermittent sun of this holiday season.

We are almost out of firewood.

I'm sick of the Spode and am ready to return to any color palette other than red and green.

The uneaten cookies are stale. The once melt-in-your-mouth fudge is hard as a rock.

My recycle bin is overflowing with empty boxes, tissue paper, ribbon and wine bottles - visible signs of overindulgence.

Once a four bedroom house, the guest room appears to have been swallowed whole. Where once there was a floor, only the frantic remnants of last minute wrapping remain - empty shopping bags and receipts strewn hither and yon.

The task before me is immense.
The attic ladder beacons leading the way to a hidden, hot space above my ceiling full of the boxes packed full of the stuff I had to take down to make room for Christmas. The pine needles will carpet the living room as I drag the dry Douglas Fir through the front door knocking the nutcracker over and breaking its little wooden drum. I will be numb to this. Semi-relieved that there will be one less decoration to box up.
"What else can I break?" I will think.

The fake greenery is unwrapped from the banister. The bows neatly rolled. I bubble wrap the bells, bowls, and butter dish.

I turn my attention to the dining room.
Suddenly, my task turns nostalgic.

Mother's slightly tarnished silver needs putting away. I pull out the heavy, monogrammed chest and piece by piece fit the knives, forks, and spoons into their slots. I see Mother's arthritic fingers setting our dining room table on Resh Place. An inheritance of riches - not the silver. The memories of meals and conversation around the very dining room table I set this year.

I move to the coffee table, where one of Mother's favorite decorations awaits re-boxing. The box still bears her Palmer Method hand written label - "Sugar Plum Tree" in felt marker.

I begin to dismantle the Christmas tree. I carefully wrap the ornaments from my childhood -all their names neatly written in white script . Elsie. Lee. Bob. Jamie. Luskey. And mine. It doesn't seem nearly as precious.

I remember Mother on the ladder in my bedroom handing down the boxes of Christmas decorations to my father. Mother had a certain way of decorating the tree - the size of the ornaments mattered...a rule I disobey. I remember the red, battery operated Santa Clause that went "Ho Ho Ho", and the plastic holly wreaths that encircled Bayberry candles until they caught fire one year and burned our yellow, laminate, 1950's vintage kidney-shaped coffee table in the den. I remember Frank Sinatra on the stereo loving his J I N G L E Bells ...oh.
I remember Daddy at the bar. Herring on New Year's eve. Party hats and noise makers.

I do not feel melancholy per se. I am simply aware of the passage of time - Decades of Decembers marking my life.
I am now Mother on the ladder.
My own children, grown, the magic of their own childhood Decembers moving to a place of nostalgia.
One day, they, too will hold the ornaments of their lives inscribed with my name and theirs and the memory of their own mother decorated house will come to mind. The time will come when they will climb the ladder and pass the boxes down to create memories for their own children.
And come December 30th,
they will sit amidst the chaos, wade through the mess, and recall the peace of December 26th as they box up another Christmas memory, and reach for the ibuprofen to relieve the back ache from too many trips up and down the ladder. A December 30th physical pain that gives way to something else.
A pain passed on through the years.
A pain I feel each December 31st.
A pain no ibuprofin can dull.

It is the sweet pain of Auld Lang Syne.

My Heart is ravisht with delight,
when thee I think upon;
All Grief and Sorrow takes the flight,
and speedily is gone;
The bright resemblance of thy Face,
so fills this, Heart of mine;
That Force nor Fate can me displease,
for Auld Lang Syne.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Through the Years We All Will Be Together

There is laughter in the air this morning. December 26th is my favorite day of the year. It's the day to wade through wrapping paper still strewn on the living room floor. It's a day to stack the opened gift boxes brimming with sweaters and tissue paper under the tree, pine needles, brittle, dry and ready to go, falling aimlessly on top of them. It's a day to play with your toys, listen to your new CD's or read the opening chapters of your new books. It's a day to eat left overs, burn a fire in the fireplace, and watch "It's a Wonderful Life" because on December 26th you remember that it is.

My children, nestled snug in their beds till 11:00 a.m. when I call out that breakfast is ready. Coffeecake, bacon, eggs, and toast with marmalade. I want this morning to last because there are so few of them like this. No place to go. Nothing to do but be home. Together.

I light candles, put the Christmas music on the stereo and we talk of the night before. The meal. The present opening. The wine. We are happy. Home is cozy. It feels like a big pot of hearty soup. It feels like a warm bath. It feels like the lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
No tasks. No work. No to do list. No running around. December 26th is a day to recover from the rat race of the holiday season and to bask in the joy of our little family at the beginning of the last week of the year.

I pick up the bag full of wrappings and decide to move it from here to there. Enough work for today. Time for a nap.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


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.
Joni Mitchell

I grew up as an only child even though I wasn't.
My first friend was Susie who showed up at our front door one day with her little dog.
"Can your little girl come out and play?" She asked my mother.
My mother's over protective response -
"She's not allowed to play with dogs."
So Susie went home, dropped off her little dog and rang our bell again.
"Now can your little girl play?"
Susie had long, dark, thick, chestnut brown, curly hair.
As it turned out, she, too, was growing up as an only child even though she wasn't.
Susie was a year older than me and the sister of a friend of my brother's.
Both Susie and I had siblings eighteen or so years older than us.
Mother let Susie in and from that day on, I had a sister. I was three and she was four.

My father called her "Sue Sue". I never knew why.
Her mother called her Susan and My Angel.
Susie's house was only 8 houses down from mine on Resh Street.
I lived on the cul de sac across Sycamore - a busy street that, like not being allowed to play with dogs, I was not allowed to cross alone.
Susie taught me how to roller skate, ice skate, and ride a bike.
My father taught Susie how to swim.

We would trade off spending the night at each other's houses.
It seemed every time I ate over for dinner, Susie's mother fixed liver.
I hated liver.
My favorite thing she fixed was date nut loaf.
Susie had plum trees and a tether ball in her back yard. I loved the plums but I was always afraid of getting hit in the face by the tether ball. Susie would hit it so hard it would wrap around the pole. I mostly ducked.

Susie's father would sit outside the back door of their house and listen to the ball game on his transistor radio.

I was always scared of Susie's dog. Sometimes I would climb up on top of their couch and the dog would chase me.
Susie's bedroom furniture was antique. She had twin beds high off the ground. I like sleeping on them.
Susie's father would give us Dentine gum and red licorice when we rode in the back of my parent's station wagon down to San Clemente where we had a mobile home on the beach.
On the weekends we'd drive down to Capistrano Shores on Friday nights. We arrived in time for Get Smart and the Jackie Gleason show. My mother would fix us hot cocoa in plastic mugs and we'd sit at the kitchen table drinking it before bed.

Susie didn't like the dip. Right out from the edge of the sand was a ditch you'd have to cross when going into the ocean before reaching the sandbar.

Growing up, Susie and I had many adventures in our neighborhood. We wore cords and wallabies, parted our hair down the middle and wore frosted lipstick, a pointy comb tucked into the back pocket of our cords.
We played tennis at Anaheim High School and rode our bikes down town where we got in trouble because we visited the elevator boy at the SQR store. We must have been gone too long because my mother walked into the SQR store and yelled my name at the top of her lungs right through the store.

Susie & I got in trouble a fair amount. We broke our neighbor's window throwing rocks over the fence.
We played ding dong ditch and Mrs. Crog yelled at us.
And we destroyed my plastic playhouse in the back yard piling rocks on its roof.
We got sent home from the Bruce's house because I spelled the "F-word" and Robert's mother over heard me.

We were surrounded by tough girls on Resh. Cindy lived next door to Susie. She was older than us. A pretty blonde, Cindy's father owned a local market where we'd go to buy candy. Cindy told us where baby's came from, that there was no Santa and what marijuana was.
Cindy ended up pregnant.

Susie and I walked the alleys in the neighborhood looking for what we thought were marijuana butts. I don't know why.
Peggy Lamarenel lived for a while on my cul de sac. A red head, she came from an alcoholic family. She was the meanest girl I'd ever met.
And Theresa Francis beat me up.
Susie rescued me.
I was walking home one day from St. Boniface and Theresa decided to bully me and then kicked me very hard in the thigh.
Theresa was adopted. So were her 2 siblings. Her mother looked emaciated all the time and her older sister taught me how to play the guitar.
Eventually Theresa and I became friends.
I don't know why she kicked me that day.

One Christmas, Susie and I both got guitars. I have a picture of us in front of our Christmas tree with them strapped across our bodies. A few minutes after that picture was taken, Susie and I went to her house with the guitars and we smashed into each other on her porch and put a hole in the side of one of them. I think mine but I can't remember.

One time I was babysitting my nephews who lived across the street from Susie and all the kids in the neighborhood were over playing hide and seek. I climbed up into the avocado tree and fell out, breaking my arm. My parents were dancing at The Palms Restaurant so I ended up calling Theresa Francis' mother who determined that my arm was broken.
Eventually my parents came home and I ended up with a cast on my arm for the whole summer.

On Susie's side of the street from Sycamore lived Mrs. Shea, Mrs. Beltz, Mrs. Rickle, The Caracozzes and the Beninatas - I don't know how to spell their names - and Mr. and Mrs. Davis. Their house was always dark inside. On the other side of Susie lived Mrs. Drennin. On our cul de sac lived the Crogs, and the Mrs. Coney. Mr. Croney died from hitting his head on the freezer door.
Mother often repeated that story when yelling at me to close the freezer.
She also would yell at me if I kept a drawer open. Did I want to end up on crutches "like Sue Frenzil who was crippled from having fallen over an open drawer?"

Susie liked Mark Brunet. Joe Waldman like me. Joe would ride his bike over to my house and hit the white brick side with his tire and my mother would yell at him.

Mother was always yelling at somebody.

Susie was a year ahead of me at St. Boniface. All the boys were crazy about Susie.

We traveled to Europe one time with my parents and the Kavanaghs. Susie's suitcase exploded.
She carried my father's Polaroid camera everywhere.
We both had a crush on a cute elevator boy in Biarritz. He liked Susie.

In Las Vegas, Susie always won more tokens than me at Circus Circus.
I would get mad.

Susie's mother loved Las Vegas. We went with her on several trips. We'd lay out by the pool and rub baby oil on our bodies.

Susie's mother pierced her ears with a potato in her kitchen. She always soaked her earrings in alcohol.

Susie loved Elvis Presley. We would go to the Fox Anaheim every Saturday and see a new Elvis movie.

Susie's sister lived way out in Yorba Linda. In the country. One time, we rode our bikes all the way down La Palma Avenue to her house. Whenever we spent the night, we slept in the blue room "out at Kathy's."

Susie rode horses and drove a Gremlin.
She worked at Del Taco and went to Connelly. We got drunk, snuck cigarettes, and had boyfriends. We came of age in the 70's and somehow made it through unscathed.
We grew up, got married, and had children. Susie was pregnant with her eldest daughter, Briana, at my wedding.

Where does the time go? It seems only yesterday we were kids riding our bikes, helmetless, wind in our hair, around the streets of Anaheim .
Wasn't it just yesterday
my mother was serving us cokes and processed smoked turkey sandwiches on white bread by the pool at 509,
her unmistakeable voice yelling my name down the street or down the hallway of our house?
Wasn't it just yesterday Susie's mother was baking in her kitchen, the aroma and the sound of her father's transistor wafting from 323?

And now, Susie is a grandmother!

And the seasons, they go 'round and 'round.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Box

The box arrived and I let it sit there.

I knew what it contained.

Something hard earned.
Something wrought.
Something personal.
Something lasting.

It sat there waiting for me to open it.

in the upper left corner of the square box,
oversized, I thought for its contents,
but befitting its sender,
was the return address sticker.
His name simply printed.
Mine, scrawled in black felt marker.
An artist's hand.

I didn't want to open it
because I knew
that with one slice of the knife I would unseal emotion I had
boxed up in order to begin a new chapter in my own life.

I didn't want to open it
because I wanted to hold on
to the moment
to the memory
to him.

But there it was beckoning to me
through its corrugated exterior
to be relished
something to be cherished.
I slid the knife along the taped edges until it neatly opened.
A knowing anticipation.
A tiny, monumental, private moment between the two of us.

The box within the box,
a highly polished, lacquered piece of art itself
shining amidst tissue paper and bubble wrap
bespoke the treasure within.

The story of a life
and the author's signature
laying claim to it.
An effort spanning over eighty years.

In my hands
I held
the gift of a lifetime.

Jim's autobiography.
Volume 1.
Its title,
A Song of My Years.

For me.

His story, a reminder of the unfinished chapters of my own life.
The files of starts, nearly dones,
pages of then
waiting to be opened.

A Song of My Years
reminds me
it's never too late
to begin

Jim's song
a sweet symphony of inspiration
I will savor for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Attention to Details

Awoke with that familiar rush.
That surge of adrenaline.
Mind racing full of details.
Do I wrestle the monster to the ground?
Do I embrace it?
Or do I surrender to it?

And so it goes - my love- hate relationship with the theatre.

This sweater or that one?
These handcuffs or those?
That badge or the other one?

Update the stats on exoneration for the power point.
Make the sound effect for clanging jail cell doors.
Purchase the lumber.
Find the steel case metal chairs.
Borrow a Priest's collar.
Get the tummy padding for the kid playing the lawyer.

Make Believe.

Five hours of pulling costumes in the attic of the local civic light opera.
My students amazed at how much work it all is.
Labor intensive.
Schlepp Schlepp Schlepp.
"You'll need a big vehicle to schlepp stuff," I said loading armloads of costumes, a 1940's style microphone and an army cot into the back of my Ford Explorer.

The guard hat was black.
"It needs to be blue," I said.
"I don't care anymore," my student responded.
"Oh no," I said. " You must care. You always care. If you don't care then you shouldn't be doing this."

This is why I love the theatre. It matters what color the hat is.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanks. Yes.

For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.
Dag Hammarskjold

I wonder if this will last?
This enthusiasm.
This sense of purpose.
This joy.
This gratitude.
It feels so different.
This time.
I wonder why?
Is this what it feels like to be an elder?
To not be rocked by the little ups and downs of the day in day out?
To see a bigger picture?
To know that it will work out. One way or the other?
To not roll over.
To be persistent.
To not feel like you've anything more to prove.
To see it for what it is.
To see your place in it?
Is this what Erik Erikson meant by generativity?
Is this what if feels like to have chosen?
Really chosen?
Nothing accidental about this time.
Everything intentional.
Is this what it feels like to embrace one's limitations?
Is this what Rilke meant by seasoning?
Living your way into the answer?
Is this what Shaw meant when he said
I want to be all used up when I die?
Is this what a second chance feels like?
Is this what Maurice Chevalier meant when he sang,
I'm so glad that I'm not young anymore?
Whatever it is

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Buttons Popping

When I was a junior in high school, my ship came in and when we set sail, my life was forever changed. My father, who was my coach, sent out to all of his employees an invitation to see his daughter perform the title role in Meredith Willson's musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The top of the invitation read, "My buttons are popping."

I remember auditioning for the role, and the musical director, Eugene Ober, asking me if I played the piano. I told him, "No." Then added, "But I can learn."
And learn I did. One song. Well, 36 bars of one song - Chopin's Minute Waltz - My father saw to it that I had piano lessons and when the show opened, I indeed sat at the piano, rented for the production by my father, and played the 36 bars live on stage only to find out from Meredith Willson himself, who in the latter years of his life made a practice of attending high school performances of his musicals, that I was the first actress he'd ever seen actually play it!

My senior year in high school brought to an end an era that had begun when I was eleven in the gym of Servite High School as Brigitta in The Sound of Music with the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
On closing night of the show, my father, brother, and entire family walked into the gym wearing sailor hats with the words, Once in Love With Amy, appliqued on them.
"Low Key" was not my family's style.
That was over thirty years ago.
The memory is as fresh as if it were yesterday, brought home to me only the other day by a phone call I received from my beloved nieces, Hannah and her sisters. They had called to deliver the news that Hannah had been cast in the role of Anna in Rodger's and Hammerstein's The King & I. My two other nieces, Mckenzie and Elise, both were cast as well. There was much celebrating going on in that arm of the Luskey family.

I have cast hundreds of students in countless roles over my twenty plus year career as a high school theatre director. I've watched families bursting with pride as they walked through the lobby doors of the theatre. I've read the heartfelt messages from parents in my programs and seen the families swarm their children after performances with armloads of flowers.
And now, it's my turn.
Aunt Amy's button's are popping!
And I imagine my father and my brother, both beaming with pride as the Luskey family musical theatre legacy lives on through their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
But don't worry, Hannah.
We'll leave the sailor hats at home on closing night.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nine Eleven

We have met the enemy and he is us. Walt Kelly

This is a 911 emergency call.
I'm frightened.

My world is a world of words.
Text is important.
Words matter.
We are speaking a language of hate.

Hate seems to be everywhere.
Intolerance is on the rise.
Extremists of all kind dominate the news.

Many years ago in the eighties I was a part of movement called
Beyond War.
The principles of Beyond War were:
We are one.
I will resolve conflict.
I will not use violence.
I will not preoccupy myself with an enemy.
I will maintain a spirit of goodwill.
I will work with others to build a world
beyond war.

Beyond War principles changed my way of thinking.
I began to recognize that violence comes in many different forms - including our thoughts and our words.

The notion that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" is simply wrong.

The level of intolerance on display on this this ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks deeply disturbed me. Like so many Americans, I was relieved that the threat of the Koran burning was averted. This act would have been tantamount to the book burnings of the 1930's during the rise of Nazism in Germany.

A few years ago I participated in a program called
Bearing Witness.
Sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, this educational program is designed to promote
Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
It teaches educators about the history of anti-semitism and how the Holocaust emerged out of centuries of anti-Judaism.
One dive into the anti-Jewish propaganda, cartoons and artwork of the most hideous example of man's inhumanity to man provides a disturbing lesson for we Americans who cling to our 1st Amendment spouting justice for all, the land of the free and "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free."

The image of the ugly American is not limited to travelers abroad, refusing to speak a foreign language.
The ugly American is right here on our own soil.
It is time for us to rise to loftier ideals.
It is time to embrace nuance.
It is time to reject outright the hate mongering.
It is time to look in the mirror.

On this anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I hung my American flag.
I also hung a flag of the planet earth.

I refuse to allow narrow minded, hateful bigots to speak for me.
As Santayana wrote
Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

Dachau Concentration Camp was twenty minutes outside of Munich.

What are we refusing to see in our own backyards?

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I am thinking about the death of mothers today.

I am thinking about how long they go on
their men.

The old women
who once wore heels.
with cocktails and the occasional cigarette
who remember
for more years
than they can remember
what it was like
back then.

And their men
who escaped
the frailty
of old age
who live on
youthful and vigorous
as the day they dropped.
I am thinking about the death of mothers today.
And the love affair that lasts well beyond till death do you part.

I am thinking about the death of mothers today.
How their minds go.
And their looks.
And their heels.
And their control.

And how the daughters
are there when the morphine drip
and the breath slows
and the hand grows cold
and the head falls to the side.

How the daughters
usher them out
hold the memory
preserve the dignity
honor the legacy
remember the love affair
tell the story.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ode to a Koosh Ball

This Monday classes finally start. On Monday, twenty-four students will file into my new classroom and my twenty-first year of teaching drama will begin. Whether the class is called Introduction to Drama - as it once was - Fundamentals of Theatre - which it became when the class was changed from a semester-long to a year-long class to meet UC requirements - or Theatre One, which is the title of the current class I will be teaching - one thing has never changed. I have begun my classes standing in a circle, tossing a Koosh Ball.

I have, for twenty-one years, used the same Koosh Ball. Every single student I have ever taught has held that ball, tossed it from hand to hand while pondering what plays they've seen or what their dream role is. They've pulled on the soft rubber-band like spines and squeezed it in their palms. They've tossed it, dropped it, thrown it and held it.

And now, I've lost it.

I can't find my Koosh Ball anywhere. I feel a little like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he lost Wilson. I am mourning my Koosh Ball and thinking about how much we've been through together.

He was with me on my very fist day of being a drama teacher in the auditorium of Cornelia Connelly High School.
He was with me on the first day we started the worskshop on the stage of the Servite Theatre.
He was with me when we started the Friday Tri-School Theatre Conservatory.
He was with me in classrooms, on stages, outside on the grass, and under the stage in the pit.
He rode in the car with me when I traveled from school to school - teaching Drama Class at Rosary, Connelly and Servite all on rotating schedules. Sometimes he rode in the trunk in a crate and sometimes he was stuffed in a back pack. He was faithfully atop my clip board as I began every rehearsal warm up for every play I ever directed.
He even lived in the Muckenthaler Cultural Center Gallery for a while.

I'm not sure I even know how to begin without my Koosh Ball. I'm not sure the words will come out of my mouth or the thoughts will come into my head. I'm not sure I can teach Drama without him.

All things must come to an end. Somewhere a long the way in my most recent move, my greenish, purplish, soiled old Koosh Ball must have fallen out of a box or was mistakenly sent to the rummage.

If a Koosh Ball's life were counted in dog years - then my Koosh Ball served me for 120 years. Not a bad run.

I will miss you, old pal. Once I finally accepted the fact that you were gone - after countless prayers to St. Anthony - I ran to Toys R Us to buy a new one. They didn't have any. I bought something rubbery - it's actually kind of gooey feeling. I tossed it in my hands and thought, well what they don't know won't hurt them.
My students won't know that the ball they will be holding is a poor imitation of the real thing.

Goodbye, old friend. Wherever you are, I hope your landing was soft.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


On this hot August night
as I walked along the moonlit canals of Naples
I remembered
for the first time today
that Monday morning in August
twenty-nine years ago
when I walked down the hallway of my home in Anaheim
to hushed voices
the end of my childhood.

Apply Yourself

I juggle the four remotes in my hands staring blankly at the stack of electronic equipment in front of me. Pointing. Clicking. First one. Then another. A message appears on the screen. Press menu. I look down at the remotes. They all have a menu button. I push one. Nothing. First the Onkyo Box. Nothing. Then the Sony TV. Nothing. Then the Sony DVD Player. Ditto.
Determined I start again. I Point the DVD remote at the DVD player and now thrust it forward as if to send some invisible ray of "on" through the air. I do this several times. Nothing.

All I want to do is listen to a CD while I cook dinner.

In frustration I call out to my son. "Brendan! Can you please turn on the CD player?"

He comes downstairs and in a firm and steady voice says to me, "Mom! Apply yourself!"

Apply yourself. Those words have now become part of my inner dialogue every time I encounter a new technological challenge.

Just yesterday at the "new teacher" orientation, I sat in the computer lab, staring at a computer screen - attempting to reset my password multiple times while four I T Specialists pointed out how to log on the the intranet, how to use the O Drive, N Drive, T Drive, P Drive, C Drive and how to set up our grade books. I just wanted to get on to the darned computer. But I did not panic. I applied myself.
Eventually the locked screen opened in front of me. By that point, of course, the I T Specialists had moved on to taking attendance.

No worries, I told myself. I will simply apply myself and figure out all those things I missed while I was typing the upper case letter, number, and special figure that now make up my secure complex password. There is, after all, a manual.

Back to my office, I sit down at my computer and enter the password. No access. I try again. Still locked. I breathe. Apply yourself, Amy. But how many times can a person type the same 9 letters, numbers and special figures before deciding that no amount of applying one's self will unlock this particular computer? So, I turn it off. Reboot, I say. That often solves everything.

And you know what? It didn't.

I decided it was time to go home.

All night long I toss and turn thinking of how much I need to learn before school begins. If I could have applied myself at 3:00 a.m. I would have, but I can't access any of this stuff from home. So after dreaming about flailing around in an enormous high tide, I wake up and drive back to school, determined to get on to my computer.
I sit in traffic on the 405 freeway for over an hour because four lanes are shut down. I vow to ask Brendan how to check the traffic report on my iphone before I leave next time.

My commute takes nearly two hours. Once at school, I attempt to open the electronic door with the large, three pronged electronic key to go into the building where my office is located. I insert the key. A red flashing message appears: Key failed. Key failed. Key failed.

Of course it did, I think. Because I'm caught in the vortex of hell where all electronic and computerized equipment fails.

I find the charger and plug it in to reactivate the key. Once in my office, I sit down at my computer and push the power button. I type my secure complex password. I wait.

Eureka! I am on the intranet.

Rewarded at last. It only took me 24 hours of applying myself!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Plan

Last night a neighbor strolled up to our house for a "stop and chat" (for all you Curb Your Enthusiasm watchers). It was a perfect evening - the Moon, Venus, Mars and Saturn were in alignment - an astronomical rarity and I was beating my husband at ping pong - a marital rarity. Dinner was on the stove waiting for both of our "children" to return home for a family meal around the dining room table. Our cats slumbered, intermittently stirring to chase an errant ping pong ball.

The waning days of summer. Come Monday morning, my alarm will go off at 5:00 a.m. and I will begin a new commute to a new job where I will work with new people, teach new students in a new school, learn a new bell schedule, a new grading program, a new computer, and how to use a new photocopy machine.
It's called transition.

My daughter, Gillian, will leave on the red eye Sunday night to return to New York where she will move in to her new apartment and start a new semester at NYU.

No back to school for my son, Brendan, this year. Driving the 405 freeway to his job in down town LA will be as close as he comes to USC except on game days.
Perhaps the most painful transition of all....

Coping with change and new circumstances is stressful. Big changes. Little changes. Each requires energy, resilience, patience, and organization. Relying on our past coping mechanisms in order to move through a transition is important. Remembering "how we did it" can put things in perspective and serve as reinforcement of our capabilities.
"I've been through a lot harder stuff than this" can be one of the most calming inner thoughts one can have. After all, the very fact that you are thinking that means you survived whatever that harder stuff was!

I'm a planner. Order calms me. My closet is now organized for the 5:00 a.m. dressing - a new approach this year. All outfits are hung together. Jewelry included. Earrings will be strategically placed the night before to avoid the hunt for the matching earring back. I learned this as a young mother getting my two children out the door for school in the morning. The simple task of putting the shoes out the night before saved me from a frantic search in the morning. Menus are planned for the crock pot. Sunday will be soup preparation day. Lunches will be packed the night before. All of this preparation frees me from anxiety and makes the grind of early mornings and late nights just a bit more tolerable.

Time and space are the casualties of the back to school routine. The pace quickens and the responsibilities multiply. When life begins to feel unwieldy, I invoke Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Live in Quadrant II - Not urgent but important. Stay out of Quadrant IV- Not urgent and not important.

My weekly syllabi are done. My rehearsal schedule is nearly completed. My file folders are in order. Road maps for the ten month journey ahead. A plan gives me the illusion of control - not that things don't come along to upset the plan. Flexibility is also an essential ingredient. But controlling my time, conserving my energy, and striking a balance are all important to my ability to sustain good mental, emotional, and physical health.

Does this sound like a pep talk?

Yep. You bet it is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

To Sleep Perchance to Dream

As a teacher, every summer about this time, I stand on the threshold of a new school year, partly filled with anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and a tinge of dread. Every school year is different. Every school year presents a new set of challenges and a new combination of students. The line between the nervous anticipation of beginning and the desperate desire to cling to my summer freedom becomes increasingly visceral. A controlled panic begins to set in.

There on my desk sit two scripts of plays I will be directing; Dead Man Walking and Children of Eden. These scripts represent a significant chunk of my life for the next ten months. Once I open those texts and dive into their all consuming depths I know that that they will dominate my creative energies, set my heart a blaze and my mind to restless sleeplessness.

The sleeplessness is not actually insomnia. It is a creative space in which a magic alchemy of ideas and inspiration occur. It is as if my very being merges with the creative process and becomes one with it.
In this dream-like state, my subconscious has been known to stage entire production numbers.

Yesterday, I spent my entire day in what will shortly be my new artistic home at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. Within the four walls of the black box theatre, I sorted and organized costumes and props. I separated shirts from blouses and skirts from dresses, matched shoes, and boxed boas. All the while the black walls of this room were silently penetrating me. I was passively becoming familiar with the theatre. A lectio-divina-like experience -only rather than with scripture - with a performance space. The process of savoring, meditating, and developing a relationship with scripture is similar to the process a director goes through with a theatre space. I will spend countless hours in this dark, black, dream-like universe where the imagination alone will transform and transcend. It is mysterious. It is spiritual. It brings me closer to God.

It is Peter Brooke's Empty Space. It is Robert Edmund Jones' Dramatic Imagination. It is infinite. It is where my self and my creative energies will merge and the alchemy will begin. It is my gift.

Without cracking the script, last night as I slept, in my subconscious, those black walls breathed. They spoke to me and I saw and heard the opening of my fall production, Dead Man Walking. As I awoke, this morning, I knew that those hours spent yesterday were more valuable than merely accomplishing an organizational task. It was sacred time. The artist, the self, the work, and the space have merged. We are one.

My dread and anxiety over beginning has transformed into creative energy. The script on my desk, no longer a dreaded, lifeless project, passionately calls to me. The blessed unrest that Martha Graham speaks of has begun. It is Theatre on Purpose.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not to be Re Peted

What is it about human nature or maybe American nature that people seem to relish "the fall" from grace? I am fascinated by this phenomenon. Sure everyone loves the underdog. And yes, everyone loves a comeback. Noble reflections of our "better angels." But what about the dark side of human nature that emerges in the form of gleeful trashing, bashing, and criticizing someone everybody cheered while he was at the pinnacle of success? What is that about?

O.K. This is not a spiritually oriented blog post. Not a grief post. Not an educational theatre post. No. This is a

"I am a USC alum, spouse, and parent who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on four USC degrees, season tickets and Cardinal and Gold and a Pete Carroll fan who is mad as hell that people are trashing him" blog post.

Bruin fans, holier than thou Irish fans and all of you USC haters out there who are celebrating this chapter in the Trojan story can sign off now. I'm not talking to you.

I'm talking to my Trojan family.

Yes. You.

What are you thinking? Pete Carroll brought something special to USC - not just to USC football - to the spirit of the school. Doesn't anybody remember the Ted Tollner days? No offense meant to someone who is no doubt a nice guy - but take a moment and remember what it was like before Pete. Pete is not without flaws. He is human and I was bummed to hear that he is rumored to have been through two divorces - but I'm not talking about Pete's private life. I am talking about the public one. The one that created "A Better LA." The one that found him after midnight walking the streets of South Central inspiring at risk youth and giving them his cell phone number. The Pete whose grin on and off the field made every Trojan swell with pride and whose enthusiasm was transmitted from the field all the way up to the top of the colosseum.
Pete Carroll's motto "Do it better than it has ever been done before" inspired me in my own work!

O.K. The athletic department of USC deserves to be punished for....something. Non-compliance. Even though I think the NCAA is over reaching in its penalties and is out and out wrong to demand that USC sever all ties with Reggie Bush - as if he never attended the school. If we are going to remove Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy then would somebody tell the folks at Heritage Hall to take out OJ Simpson's? O.K. He wasn't "convicted" in a criminal murder trial - but he did lose the civil trial. Why is his Heisman and Jersey still prominently displayed while we have to pretend Reggie Bush never even went to USC? Come on folks. This is nuts. Yes, I am mad at Bush and think he should have paid back the money. I am mad at Garrett for being arrogant. I am mad at the system - but how exactly do you expect to police those sports agents whose greed is really at the bottom of the whole mess? Somebody figure that one out. Shouldn't we be going after them?

Replacing Garrett with Haden is a stroke of genius. We all know that. A return to another glorious period in USC history -The Haden to McKay years. Who doesn't like Pat Haden? The article this morning in the Los Angeles Times Sports section has a great article about how Haden is motivated by "the dash." Anyone who knows me, knows that I believe that thinking about dying is not morbid. It is the ultimate motivator by which to navigate one's choices in life. Good boy, Pat.
But as far as I could ever tell, Pete lived by this rule too. How many lives has he touched? How many lives did he change?
I don't blame Pete Carroll for leaving USC and pursuing his dream of being an NFL coach. I am not a cynic. I do not believe he skipped town to avoid the "fall." There is no avoiding it in this 24-7 media age. Seattle ain't that far away. And Sark is just over there in Husky Stadium. Pete didn't run away. He just made a change in his life - just like Pat Haden is doing.

Pete Carroll deserves more from the Trojan Family. By diminishing his legacy, we are diminishing more than a football record. It reveals the darker side of human nature. Everybody loves a winner. And everybody loves to kick 'em when their down.

As for me, I remain a Trojan fan. And I am now a Seahawks fan. You go show 'em, Pete. Fight On!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gidget at Fifty

I am a summer person. I am a beach person. I am a boat person. I am a sun person. I am a sand person. I am a water person. I am a ping pong playing person. I am a kayak person. I am beach chair on my back person. I am a I don't really care if sand gets in my car person. I am a dump all the beach toys at the front door and go into the house and take a hot shower after spending hours soaking in the sun and then barbecue burgers person. I am a salt on the face person. I am a sand in the shoes person. I am a sand on the floor person. I am a sand in the shower person.

It must go back to my childhood in San Clemente.

I remember the euphoric feeling of waking up in the top bunk of my little bedroom in the trailer in Capistrano Shores and seeing the sun through the louvered windows. The trailer sat perched on a seawall that was mere yards away from the ocean. The pounding surf would at times crash up over the top of the trailer. The salt spray coated the windbreak. When I was a child, my father, who also was a beach person, loved to dig his feet into the sand. I remember seeing him wiggle his toes as he sat in a beach chair talking.

The happiest days of my childhood were spent at the trailer in San Clemente. Hands down.
I was always happy there.
It was home.

I loved standing by the ocean's edge as the waves whooshed up over my feet. My feet sinking deeper into the muddy sand. I loved the sound of the receding wave as it rushed back to the sea over the smooth, glistening rocks that sometimes would line the shore.
I loved the sand crabs we would dig up and watch try to burrow their way back into the wet sand - making tiny round air holes as the buried themselves.
My father told me stories of the sand crabs. There was Johnny. Amos. Sandy. I seem to recall that Amos lived in Transilvania. Johnny had a crush on me. My father regaled me for hours with these stories and the sand crabs seemed like playmates to me.

My father taught me to surf fish in San Clemente. He taught me how to thread a worm on a hook, cast the line and watch for the little shudder at the end of the pole while I reeled in a fish attached to the other end.
He taught me to scale a fish and clean it.

I remember my parents sitting around the round, redwood umbrella table with gin and tonics laughing with the Kavanaghs or our next door neighbors, the Muirs.
I remember the sound of the the shuffle board discs being pushed from one end of the yard to the other. I remember my mother painting the numbers on the cement into the triangular shaped squares.

Sandcastles as a child evolved into body surfing, bikinis, and orange Ban de Soleil sun tan oil at sixteen. Tan skin. Blonde streaked hair. There was nothing to equal it.

It was in San Clemente where I learned to play ping pong.
The sound of the little hollow ball on a table and against a paddle was like music to my ears. Still is.

Eventually, the beach in front of the trailer eroded so that enormous boulders had to be brought in. It changed the landscape of the place and the access to the water. It became a bit threatening especially for children.
Our single-wide turquoise trailer eventually looked a bit run down and out dated compared to the palatial double wides. The furniture began to disintegrated from the salt air and the paint peeled.
All this after my father dropped dead after his last weekend at the trailer in August of 1981. Mother lost interest. I never did.

Everything changes.
Erosion is a natural course of nature.
But the sand and the salt still make me happy. My bikini has been replaced by the one piece hide all "miracle suit" which feels like a girdle when I pull it on and isn't miraculous enough to hide my thighs. I wear a visor to control the glare. I had to buy sunglass readers and I rarely dip into the water any more. Gidget is in her fifties.
But I still live for summer and feel sixteen when I plop myself down into my beach chair to soak in the rays. I don't feel sixteen when I try to get back up. But I play a pretty good game of ping pong if I do say so myself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Road Trip

We set out for a ten day road trip to the far reaches of the state of Wyoming to visit our friend, Randy Hills, who moved there from civilization to live out his dream of a cowboy life on a ranch. I had some trepidation. First of all, we were traveling in a Volvo with California license plates through the least populated state in the country. A state best known to me for being red in more ways than one. Dick Cheney and Matthew Shepherd were the names most notoriously associated with Wyoming. But I set aside my uneasiness about our destination and focused on the anticipation of seeing our friend.

My history with road trips is a mixed bag. As I packed my suit case - obediently down sizing from the giant red one to the small red one, I recalled my childhood in the back seat of various vehicles. At ten, I took a trip in an Olds Mobile Tornado up through Zion, Bryce, Glacier, and eventually into Canada where we stayed in Banff and Jasper. I recall being bored out of my mind most of the time and I'm quite certain I was a pest to my parents. My father attempted to play games with me to pass the time. The scenery, while no doubt magnificent, was lost on me. This was in the days before cell phones, DVD players and ipods of course. That trip was the first and only trip my parents took me on without a friend. Perhaps an indication that while I was bored, they were driven crazy by my boredom.

As I prepared for our drive to Wyoming, I loaded up the little Playmate ice chest with drinks and snacks. I brought Dijon mustard, salami, and baguettes for making sandwiches on the road - a trick I learned from my mother during our driving trips through Europe. We jammed in folding beach chairs, two fishing poles, my water color paints, a backpack bulging with my laptop computer, books, and writing projects and a paddle ball set. We had the shoe bag, the toiletry bag, the overflow bag that contained beach towels and an NYU sweatshirt that was too thick for the smaller red suitcase and two pillows. Since we were going to be gone over the 4th of July, I brought my flag purse and a cute red, white, and blue outfit for the small town celebration we were to attend.

As we set out to pack the car, the first of my childhood road trip memories flooded me. Now I have been married twenty-eight years so I have learned that only one person can pack the car - and that is my husband. But I actually learned this lesson as a kid. It was the same in my family growing up. My father was the packer.

As we jammed the overflow bag into the trunk for our trip to Wyoming, I flashed on my father, bent over the trunks of countless cars, the vein in his forehead throbbing as he cursed and sighed. This was the case every day we packed the trunk through Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Six week driving trips with my parents, my friend Susie, and our friends, the Kavanaghs. Dad would get mad. Mom would sit silent in the front seat. Mad. And I would crawl into the back seat, a privileged child touring Europe for hours on end listening to my mother gasp as my father passed a car on a narrow sheep-filled road, or veered dangerously onto the right side in England, or furiously missed exiting the round - about while exasperatingly barking out instructions to my mother to "orientate the map." No Tom Tom GPS devices in those days.

As we drove off from our home in Long Beach to Lusk, Wyoming, memories of those driving trips flooded my mind. Mother refusing to get out of the car once we'd arrived at our long sought destination - a practice I never understood. It seemed the ultimate "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face." Her adamant refusal to go over the Alps - the only way to get from where we were in Switzerland to Italy. I don't know how she thought we were going to get there - I just remember my father and Jack Kavanagh joking, "Frau Elsie Schhteeaming." Frau Elsie was always "Schhteeaming." And my father's vein was always pulsing.

Our own road trips with our children faired somewhat better...but not much. Two come to mind - both having left their respective scars on our children. The fifteen hour drive from the San Juan Islands on our son Brendan's 12th birthday with him scowling in the back seat of the car with promises from us of a "special dinner" once we reached 120 degree Redding.

The other, a drive down Highway 1 from the Rogue River in Oregon - after Steve slipped crossing a suspension bridge with a wagon full of suitcases that hit his head leaving him with a lump on his noggin, in a fowl mood, and silent all the way down the winding, scenic road, through the redwoods and through every town along the route with flashing "no vacancy" signs until we hit Oakland at 2:00 a.m.
Is it any wonder why I had some trepidation about this trip to Wyoming?

Our trip actually was very peaceful. Once the car was packed and we headed out - we began listening to Ted Kennedy's memoir, "True Compass." The seventeen CD audio book did not promote conversation but it proved most interesting and entertaining. As we drove through the desert to Vegas, I recalled my many childhood stays on the strip as my father worked the Vegas Directory. I remembered seeing my father, with his arm around Jack Benny, walking along the strip arranging a stage side table for the dinner show later that evening. I remembered Don Knotts refusing my request for an autograph. I remembered being wedged between Tiny Tim and Miss Vickie for a photograph with Susie. I remembered Susie always winning more tokens at Circus Circus than me and I remembered jumping off the high dive at the Riviera, the Tropicana, and the Sahara. I recalled a trip to the MGM Grand as a teenager and going to see Diana Ross with Mugs.

As we passed through the red rock between Vegas and St. George, and on through Salt Lake City and across the border into Wyoming, I marveled at the variations in the landscape. Lusk is prairie land. Wide open spaces. Brilliant blue sky, white clouds and purple wild flowers. After arriving at Randy's ranch, where we met his animals- Darrel Bob the dog, Lavinia Rose the cat, three horses - one a Palomino named Cotton, and one remaining chicken that produced two eggs daily, I realized I'd brought the wrong clothes. It was cool and began to rain. In fact the rain wiped out the plan for the Independence Day community celebration. My cute red, white, and blue outfit on the 4th was replaced with jeans. The shoe bag proved to be unnecessary as I only needed my close toed athletic shoes - and could have left all the flip flops and sandals in Long Beach. And my computer never made it out of the back pack since we had no and I mean no connectivity. My iphone was completely worthless. AT&T deserves its bad reputation for reception. But, I soon let go of everything that seemed necessary to my existence and began to lose myself in the vastness of the place.

We visited South Dakota - Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, a monument in progress that honors the legacy of Native Americans. Caught up in the moment, I bought numerous hand-made scarves, purses, and jewelry from an Indian woman who seemed quite pleased we'd come along. We drove the Needles Highway where spires of granite rock tower over head like a cathedral. We drove to a town called Thermopolis where there are natural mineral hot springs. After adjusting to the rotten egg smell of sulfar, we soaked in the pools and playfully slid down a water slide several times.
Steve attempted fly fishing along the river as I sat and wrote in my journal. We drove on to Cody, Wyoming - a seven hour drive from Lusk, where the landscape became even more breathtaking. The Tetons looming against the green meadows, lakes and red rock - we wound our way along the lower loop of Yellowstone National Park. We joined the throngs at Old Faithful and watched it erupt with steam - a site that I nearly missed as I headed off to the bathroom. We sat on the road as a herd of buffalo slowly crossed. We jumped out of the car to take a picture of a Grizzly Bear and marveled at the antler-adorned elk. Antlers seemed to be the decorative choice in these parts. Again, caught up in the moment, I pondered antler hooks for our closet - Steve refused. He said he would not hang antler hooks in our beach house any more than he would decorate a ranch with seashells. I got mad.

We spent a day at the Bill Cody Ranch where Steve, after dutifully buying a $54.00 can of bear spray, set off to fish and I set off to paint. Randy joined me after a run, reading in the sunny meadow where I attempted to paint the towering red rock, green pine trees, and golden field in front of me. I hadn't taken up a brush for eight years. Never trained as an artist, the very act of looking and trying to see color, line, texture, and shape I find to be a meditative process. While my finished product remains in a sketch book and the various water color smudges remain on my white shirt, the peaceful relaxation of the day remains in my memory.

Steve returned to the ranch after fishing all day having caught one trout, his can of bear spray still happily unused. The cook at the ranch prepared the trout for us along with delicious beef steaks and buffalo burgers. All in all, it was a perfect day. Randy and I played paddle ball where we broke our previous record of 100 and discovered a ping pong table in the game room where we took up the only "sport" I am actually good at.

The road trip flew by - and the scenery impressed itself upon my mind. Like the ocean, the wide, open spaces of Wyoming provide an openness of spirit. I emptied myself into it and felt the peace it brings. The people, rugged individualists who must contend with extreme weather conditions - are part of the landscape. They are authentic folk who wear cowboy boots and hats not for fashion but as a matter of practicality. They lasso cattle, tip their hats and say "Howdy, Ma'am." The wranglers all look like they are out of some Western movie - handsome and tanned with dirt and manure on their spurs. This still is the "wild west."

Once back at Randy's ranch, I used his land line to call our daughter, Gillian in New York City. She'd been chasing us for days needing a notarized lease application for an apartment she is moving to in the east village. "Boy, you and Dad really pulled the disappearing act," she exclaimed when we finally made contact.

Yup. Yippee -Yi-Ay. We sure did.

As we headed back to Long Beach, Steve, nursing the blisters on his heels from the cowboy boots he'd bought at a boot store in Cody and worn on a walk down Silver Springs Road to break them in - and his cowboy hat perched on top of the pile of stuff in our back seat, now haphazardly thrown in for the ride home, we listened to the rest of "True Compass." I finally began to get reception on my iphone and the landscape became full of signs, cement, and outlets.

Wyoming may be a red state but it most certainly is a beautiful one. Our road trip had the flavor of true "Americana" - vacationers of every shape and size on their own road trips - making their own memories - nursing their own blisters and packing their own trunks. I thought back to the road trips of my childhood and those of our children's and smiled. Those stories become part of family lore. They are the stories we tell over and over and with each telling, the memories grow fonder and fonder. As we unpacked the car I looked at the few treasures we'd brought home as souvenirs. The Bill Cody coffee mugs. The Wyoming picture book that will no doubt end up on the bookshelf along with countless others. The barbecue sauce and buffalo sausage sticks and the woven scarves I'd bought from the Indian woman. They do look a tad out of place in our beach house. But it doesn't matter. Each thing carries a piece of the memory from our road trip.

My only regret - I just wish I had those antler hooks for my closet.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An All Consuming Life

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.” George Bernard Shaw

Someone once told me (I think it was my therapist) that I have a fear of being consumed by my passions.

I think this is true.

I have just returned from a week-long training sponsored by ISTA - the International Schools Theatre Association - on teaching the two- year International Baccalaureate Theatre Diploma Curriculum. Dangerous stuff. As I sat at El Torito last night with my husband, I looked him in the eye and said, "I think I may have done it again. This new job has the potential to completely consume me." And he said, " Yes, I know." And then he added, "It is what you were put on this earth to do."

I think this is true.

I have little evidence to support a counter argument considering my history. Anyone who knows me would see right through my protestations. I am at times, bursting at the gills with creative energy. The thing about a program like the IB Theatre is that it is challenging, demanding, creative, rigorously assessed at an international level - and completely open-ended. Therein lies the danger.

It would seem that my life as a theatre educator includes having a constant battle with myself to set limits and boundaries. I remember my therapist once asking me, "What would happen if you just allowed yourself the freedom to completely immerse yourself?" She said she thought I was afraid I would dive in so deeply that I might not come back up.

I think this is true.

But this time, I'm fifty-one. My kids are launched. My husband, frankly, prefers it when I am creatively engaged - the balance in our relationship is right when it's like that. My boredom is his curse. Not that I've often been bored. But it is a fact that when I am creatively inspired and my mind is pressed against something intellectually and artistically stimulating, I thrive. When I thrive, I am happy. When I'm happy, he is happy.

I think this is true.

So here I am. My heart quickens. My mind races. Ideas surge through me like an electrical current. Yes. Each class has its creative demands - but the truth is I love designing courses. I love putting together a syllabus. I love mapping out a plan. I love scheduling. I love sticking to a schedule when the schedule is planned right. It is evidence of my experience. I can look at a script and know almost to the hour how long it will take me to rehearse. I love it when I follow my instincts and I especially love it when my instincts are right.

I love my doubts. Doubt is a familiar companion with each new production and each new class. Each has its own set of personalities and challenges. But now, at fifty-one, I know that each problem will be solved one way or the other.

I know this is true.

How much luckier can a person be? I get to work in my craft - I get to play in the messy, unformed world of creativity every single day - I get to bring my artistic vision to life for an audience- I get to nurture and mold young lives - I get to think and work hard at something that is unquestionably fulfilling and worth my time and effort - I get to build - I get to risk - I get to collaborate - I get to grow - I get to contextualize - I get to learn - I get to begin again. And I get paid to do it.

People speak of something called "retirement." Here's my problem. Every time I "retire" from the theatre, I am lured back. I have had a love-hate relationship with it my entire life from the time I first stepped on to the stage at eleven-years-old. It is the dragon that must be slayed. The beast that must be tamed. It is, what Jungians call the tension. Now, after forty years in the theatre, I am choosing it. Up till now, it has always felt like it chose me - and thus, had the power to consume me. Maybe this time, we can at last be at peace with each other.

I hope this is true.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Creative Overload

How did it get this way? To even get my fingers onto the keyboard of my laptop computer, I had to pile up paper, mail, calendars, cards, and CD's and then shove the pile to one side of my desk in order to create a small enough space on which to set my laptop. In the pile are two wedding invitations, an order form for my son's graduation pictures, a health insurance re-enrollment form, a photo copy of an article on early parent loss, three school calendars, my personal calendar, and an empty gift bag with red and yellow tissue paper. To the left of my desk, perched on a wooden TV tray I set up in desperation to catch some of the creative overflow - is a stack ( over one foot high) of drafts of that play I was attempting to write, five journals and notebooks. At my feet, there are three canvas bags. One is full of my memoir class materials. The other full of my theatre class materials for my new job, and another is crammed full of stuff from the desk of my classroom from the job I just finished. On the floor, there is a Nordstrom bag full of VHS tapes of all my past productions, three crates full of books and files and a backpack that frankly I'm afraid to look in.
On the counter to the right of my desk is a pile of six binders - each with vital information about various classes I have taught or will be teaching. A red binder contains the script of the musical I plan to direct next spring. And then there is the stack of manila file folders for every hand out I've ever created for every drama class I've ever taught. Twenty-one years worth of hand outs.
Not to mention the dividers designed to keep me organized, stuffed with unopened mail, bills that are calling out for my attention, expired coupons, a roll of ribbon from an abandoned wrapping job and two inspirational CD's on leadership.

And let's not even talk about the garage. Well o.k. let's. White file boxes transferred from my classroom, to the trunk of my car and then neatly stacked in front of the freezer so that I can't open it, filled with - yes you guessed it - more teaching files.
And the giant box of Tri-School Theatre show sweatshirtsI have preserved and took out of storage so that someone could make a quilt sits in the middle of the garage floor. Unopened.
I've gone bloowey.

SOS. I'm officially drowning in my creative endeavors. "Uncle." I'm hollering "uncle!"

This morning in the OC Register there is an article about a service that "de-clutters" and helps home owners get organized. I almost picked up the phone but it was 6:30 on Saturday morning.

Unfortunately I don't have time to dig into any of it because I leave Monday for the IB Training in Florida where I will no doubt begin filling more notebooks and files for my IB Theatre classes starting in the fall.

I have to be "o.k." with living with stacks right now because there is a domino affect. Before I can move the stacks from my desk area and garage at home, somebody has to clean out the office I'm moving into at my new school. I just finished doing this in my former classroom. Labeled all the filing cabinets, made sure there was a departmental handbook and a monthly "at a glance" task document so that things could run smoothly next year.
The irony is that I am actually an extremely organized person. But too much is just too much.

The playwriting class put me on tilt. I will admit it. Draft after draft after draft ....and I haven't yet gotten the opening right. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, I have to start over.
I have lost some appetite for the project and have even questioned its value. Clearly I need a break from that project for a while. Maybe after I get back from Florida and have some down time, I will have a clearer head and will be re-inspired.
For now, the stack of scenes will just have to stay put.

My email has gone unanswered. My daughter's two boxes of summer clothes sit waiting to be shipped to NYC. I've dropped more than a few balls in my personal life. At some point I have to take time to get my life back together. Today, I have to remember pick up my dry cleaning and do my laundry for this trip.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Egg on Toast

The other morning, I had a head ache. There was only one thing I wanted. Egg on toast. I went downstairs to the kitchen, dug through my pots and pans and found the small sauce pan. I filled it with water and put two eggs in it. I turned on the fire and waited until the water just began to boil. Then I set the timer for three minutes and thought of Mother.

Egg on toast was my mother's remedy for anything. Egg on toast. Not soft boiled egg on toast. Just egg on toast. As I stood in the kitchen waiting for my eggs to boil, I put two pieces of wheat bread into the toaster. I could see my mother's arthritic hands. I could see her open the bread bag. I could see the plate - always a small one sitting waiting to be of service. Egg on toast doesn't take up a lot of space on the plate so a large, dinner size is just too big. Egg on toast served on a dinner plate does not taste as good as on a little plate. Egg on toast is best, frankly, with white toast. That's what I grew up with - but I fix mine on wheat toast. The texture isn't quite right, but it's my bow to healthy eating.

Once the timer went off, my mother would pour the water out of the pot and then she would scoop the egg out with a large spoon and run cold water over it to cool it. Then she took a knife, and with a clean, sharp hit to the side would crack the egg and scoop out the somewhat runny yoke and white with the knife onto a buttered piece of toast. She repeated this move with the second egg. Then she would kind of chop up the egg - so that it spread over the entire piece of toast. But here is what made the meal so delectable.

After both eggs were dumped onto their respective pieces of toast, she salt and peppered them liberally. Then with the knife and a fork would lift one of the pieces of toast onto the other to make it a double decker. Then, she cut the two pieces into bite sized squares. This is the only way I can eat egg on toast. Cut up.

Now my daughter, to whom I passed this family breakfast recipe, eats her egg on toast differently. A rebel, she does not stack the toast, nor does she cut them into bite size pieces. She cuts one bite at a time from a whole piece of toast. I think she is missing out but you know how the younger generation is.

I'm heading down now to fix egg on toast for breakfast.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Three Questions

I've heard a lot of graduation speeches in my life. I can't remember a word of any of them, though I could probably sum up their content by inserting a few platitudes, jokes, and lofty words of wisdom. I can't remember ever thinking, "I'd like to hear that graduation speech again!" until Friday, when I sat in a sea of cardinal and gold, listening to the president of USC, Steven B. Sample speak to the class of 2010.

His speech was short. His words were simple. His message profound. His lesson lasting. He asked three direct questions. How do you feel about money? How do you feel about children? How do you feel about God?

As he spoke, it was impossible not to reflect on my own set of beliefs. I'd never made the connection between these questions and the choices I have made in my life.

Sample did not offer any pat answer to the questions. He did not preach any self righteous judgement about how one should answer the questions. He simply suggested that if one is able to answer for one's self each of these questions, they will lead to greater self knowledge. Like a compass, these questions have the power to lead one in a direction that can truly benefit human kind. At the same time, if one is able to answer these questions, it is likely they will feel more fulfilled in the choices they make in their lives.

It was especially surprising to hear the president of secular institution address the question of God. Whether one is a believer, agnostic, or atheist, it makes complete sense to know what one believes rather than to avoid the question altogether. And that, in my estimation, was the brilliance of his speech.

Any one who knows me, knows that Rilke is my favorite sage. Many of my students have received from me copies of Letters to a Young Poet for a graduation present, book marked at the page where Rilke says, "Live the questions."

In his speech, Steven B. Sample, imprinted on the memories of thousands of people sitting and standing outside Doheny Library on the grounds of the University of Southern California three simple questions that when asked force each person to confront the choices they have made and will make in the future.

I have only begun to examine my own answers to these questions. Three questions that will for the rest of my life, serve as my compass. I am grateful that my son will never forget the words of the speech delivered on the occasion of his commencement. Those words proved that his education was worth every cent we paid. Fight On!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy Talk

There is a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter that goes,
Sometimes you're the windshield; Sometimes your the bug. Sometimes your the Louisville Slugger; Sometimes your the ball. Sometimes it all comes together; Sometimes you're gonna lose it all.

Over the years, this has become our family song. No matter which lyric fits the moment, it always makes me smile. It always puts things in perspective. Because life is just like that. There are lots of ways to say it. Win some. Lose some.
For some reason, though, I find it easier to accept that I'm the bug when things aren't going my way than it is to accept being the windshield. Or the Louisville Slugger.
Right now, things are good.
There's been a dry spell for a while.
But everything seems to opening up to new possibilities. Lovely Felicitous Providence as Gerard Manley Hopkins says.
Why is it so hard to admit that I feel happy? I can say I feel blessed because I have been greatly blessed. I need look no further than my family for contentment and fulfillment. The greatest blessing in my life.
But happy? That's a little scary. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it. I feel happy. And grateful. But I'm always grateful even when I'm the ball. I can always find the gift in the pain. What I seem to have a harder time doing is saying, yes, in spite of everything - in spite of the absolute horrendous suffering in the world. In spite of the uphill climb. In spite of the uncertainty. In spite of the fact that I keep trying to write the opening of my play and have yet to figure out how to do it. I am in this moment....happy. Not just fulfilled or content. Not just grateful or blessed. Happy.
I know happiness is fleeting but feeling it as I do today makes me realize how I've either denied myself this emotion or I've been without it for a long time. I frequently feel joy. I feel joy every time I connect with a dear friend or see the light bulb go on in the eyes of a student. I feel joy regularly in my memoir class. But happiness?
My son graduates from USC in about three weeks. I am proud of him. But this makes me happy. My daughter is slugging her way through the end of the semester at NYU. I know she is where she is supposed to be. And that makes me happy. Peggy has a new red car after chemo and losing her hair. That makes me happy. And I finally can admit that the theatre makes me happy.
Yes. I'm not tempting fate by admitting it. I'm not going to jinx it by saying it. I'm going to just relish in the moment. As they sing in the musical, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," Happiness is anyone and anything at all that's loved by you. I went to the grocery store this afternoon and chickens were buy one get one free. That made me happy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Birthing of a Playwright

After a long apprenticeship
with myself
And a long absence
from myself
I arrive
at the stage door
This time
I pass through the fourth wall
Into the realm of imagination
In the darkness
I push through
into words
into action
into story
a labor
where theatre
is born.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Be Prepared Prepared Prepared (The motto of a true scout)

My mother always had a load of laundry going while accomplishing other house hold chores at the same time. Dishes were never left in the sink. Beds were always made to quarter- flipping military standards. The laundry was always done, folded and put away - never left in a pile in a laundry basket.

Her cupboards in the kitchen were always crammed full of canned goods and extra paper products. Her gas tank was always full. She always had cash in her wallet. "You never know when we might be invaded," she would warn. My mother was always prepared.

This week, after three seven plus earthquakes in a row, we decided it was time to prepare for the big one. Off to Smart & Final we went with an article about earthquake preparedness I had cut out of the newspaper. Earnestly calculating how many gallons of water we would need, how many days of Hormel Chile or Dinty Moore Beef Stew we might consume in the event that we were cut off from any source of food, we piled our cart with emergency rations of protein bars, a giant jar of peanut butter, the biggest container of sanitized hand wipes I've ever seen, and a case of chicken flavored Cup 'O Noodles. We hit Target for batteries and propane. We even bought charcoal in the event that we needed to cook in our old Weber. "Should the big one hit in winter," we speculated, "the coals could keep us warm."

When we got home, we dug into our camping gear and pulled out the propane stove, tent, and air mattresses. For the first time, I unzipped the Red Cross emergency back packs I'd given everyone for their car trunks as Christmas presents years ago, and took an audit of their contents. I was quite impressed. Freeze dried rations, packets of water, a flashlight, a thermal blanket, and a toothbrush all neatly packaged in pouches. I supplemented with the power bars and single cans of chile. I gathered an old pair of athletic shoes, socks, jeans, and a sweat shirt to throw into the trunk in case I had to walk home from work.

Where to put the supplies at home became a topic of serious debate. If the house were to collapse, we wouldn't want the stuff in the garage. Just looking at all the junk piled in our garage, accessing that lantern would be pretty daunting even if the house didn't collapse. We decided to stack the stuff on the side of the house in a small woodshed. That would work fine so long as the brick house next door doesn't come crashing down on top of it. This gave us pause.

The news recently has been full of dire warnings about the seawalls along Naples canals. According to a local city councilman and the Naples Island Improvement Association, the seawalls are in imminent danger of collapse which would lead to houses falling into the water and massive flooding on the island. We pondered this as we stacked the tent and gallon water jugs into the shed. Maybe we should put this stuff in the second floor closet instead to keep it safe from flooding. Then again, what if there was a fire?

Floods, fires, earthquakes. At home, at work, in a car. There simply is no way to prepare for every eventuality.

One thing I did decide, though. I'm putting some Pepto-Bismol in the first aid kit. All that Hormel Chile is sure to bring on an upset stomach.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Visible in the World

Selves-goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

My blogging has taken a hiatus lately, bowing to the powers of the muse. All of my creative energies of late have been channeled into my playwriting. This past week, I spent hours in solitude as I descended into memory and surrendered to the all consuming story that has been my artistic companion for over fifteen years.

How many ways are there to tell a story? If the past two weeks are any indication, I have found no fewer than six.

Six attempts at an opening of a story I want to get right.

A story that has moved from scrawling, raw journal entries, to memoir, to the form I know best. Drama.

Why it has taken me so long to get here is either a question for my therapist - or an admission that, as the poet, David Whyte says, is rooted in a writer's most terrifying question "what if I am not equal to the job?"

What if I can't do it? Then who would I be for having spent fifteen years wrestling with the story that has come to define me? At least in my own mind. This interior world, the carving out of who I am, is so closely connected to the process of writing this story that I stand now on the precipice of my very being. David Whyte describes this as making ourselves visible in the world.

For anyone who knows me, the notion that I am only now making myself visible in the world might come as a surprise. But that is what this feels like. It is a process of getting to the essence of who I am.

That I lived the story I am forging into art is fact. Indisputable.
Why I have had the need to transform it into anything, is mystery.

Over the past few weeks, I've come to ask myself if I haven't in some way been hiding behind this story. That by never finishing it, I have been able to hold on to something certain. In some ways, my grieving has been something to cling to maybe as security, and maybe as shield against the terrifying unknown. Maybe.

Or it could be as simple as this.
David Whyte, says in his poem, Coleman's Bed
Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.

I've been in this place for over fifteen years. An alchemy of ideas deep within the realm of my imagination -

I come again, my brother, to find you.
I seek again to know you
I rise to the task of telling you.
My brother
My muse
whose life was silenced in a purple haze
like a siren call
urging me on
pushing me forward
to sing you

Maybe now the current really is strong enough.
Or maybe, I am.
But I want to get it right.

Because, brother, I love you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Facing It

Melt down. Too much input. Too much output. Too many ways to communicate. Can't keep up. Twitter. Email. Texting. Blogging. And here's a confession. I don't even do Facebook! Remember when you looked a person in the eye? Now you look at the top of their head. People walk around, eyes cast down, not watching where they are going. Not looking at the surroundings. Last night we went to a restaurant and people were texting at the dinner table. Kids text each other from the front seat to the back seat of the car.

Where is all this leading?

We need an Emily Post for social media etiquette!

At my age, to remain relevant, I feel it is really important to keep up with the new media. If I don't, it would be very easy to become a dinosaur. But at the pace that things change these days, I could become extinct over night!

My husband found out that the daughter of my oldest friend is pregnant...because he read it on his "wall" on Facebook!

He sent me a text.

I emailed her.

Remember letters?

Remember phone calls?

Remember talking?

I just want to stay in the conversation.
It's just that there are so many conversations going on, it's a little overwhelming.

Friday, March 12, 2010


There they were - like old friends. There I was, sitting on the bed just like I'd done twenty years ago, watching a story unfold on television that eerily paralleled our own on Thirtysomething. Only this time, I knew the ending.

There were Michael and Elliot, struggling entrepreneurial partners in an advertising business facing the hard, cold realities of having to make payroll, pay the mortgage, make the lease on their office space, and generate sales in an unfriendly business climate. There they were, hitting up the bank for a loan. There they were, swallowing hard, stricken looks on their faces, as they announced lay offs to their employees. There they were, ashamed, swallowing their pride, facing financial failure as they desperately looked for a way out that included potential deals with a competitor.

I wanted to reach out to them through the television and tell them, "I know this feels like the end of the world." It did to us too.
They looked so young. They were. So were we. In en effort to buoy our spirits, friends would remind us of that - "You're young. You will rebound from this."

We did. Absolutely we did. "So," I thought, "will Michael and Elliot. They just don't know it yet."

But it still felt like the end of the world.

Money hell is one of the worst because we live in a world of dollars and cents. There is little mercy when you can't pay the mortgage. I stopped answering the phone. The mail made my stomach churn and my palms sweat. I let it pile up. Unopened.

There are few life boats for financial disasters. When the ship begins to sink, it's every man for himself. Predators await with promises of rescue. We bought a car that ended up costing us three times its value because of the high interest payments offered to high credit risk people like us.

There is the occasional helping hand to take the pressure off. A payment here. A debt forgiven there. An anonymous envelope with a hundred dollar bill in it to buy Christmas presents for the children. And we were blessed to have the solid support of family and friends, just like Michael and Elliott. We were young together and while our ship foundered early in our married lives, because of the loving community around us, our marriage did not. In spite of our circumstances, our children thrived. That was my one and only prayer. It was answered.

On the upside, I learned new skills. Like before it was sheik to bag one's own groceries, I bagged mine at the warehouse store, Food 4 Less. I learned to stretch a buck - buying cantaloupe because it is high in vitamins and could be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. School supplies were purchased every year with the proceeds from summer yard sales. And pennies were rolled and kept in a coffee can, sent with the children on "hot lunch" day to buy their hot dog and chile. Much to their chagrin I've since been told. Many a gift came from Pic 'n Save.

But you know what? I'm glad my kids bought their hot lunch with rolled pennies. Because a "penny saved is a penny earned." In our case, it put food in their mouths. They may need to remember that lesson one day.

Yes, the business tanked. We barely held on to the house by our finger nails. It wasn't pretty. It was the ugliest thing I've ever been through.

I'm like somebody who lived through the depression. I don't believe in stock. In fact, stock is a joke as far as I'm concerned. We've been on the losing end of stock four times. My cousin is a stock broker and he encourages me to invest - in the latest down turn, so- called "blue chip" stocks plummeted and so he thought I should "buy low." The problem is, I've never had the good fortune of "selling high." From my shares in our privately held family yellow page business to the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and the OC Register, there hasn't exactly been much to show for those promised "stock options."

I'm like the elderly grandmother who believes in one thing and one thing only when it comes to money. Cold hard cash. And with the banks as unstable as they've been, I'm doing some serious thinking about my mattress!

It's Season Two of Thirtysomething. Michael and Elliott have a long road ahead. They'll lose their business and go to work for their competitor just like we did. Michael's wife, Hope, will have another baby and they will struggle to pay the bills and to make their way.

The series will end long before our happy ending.

But I could write that script.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Starving Artist

A perfect day. Rain. A fire in the fireplace. Seventeen bean soup simmering on the stove. A new play in the works. Time to write it.

In my flannel nightgown.

Why have I denied myself this indulgence for so long? I love being holed up. Not having to go anywhere. Full absorption. Immersion into the creative process. Deeper. Deeper I go. Emerging only when absolutely necessary.

To stir the soup.

At fifty-one I am finally giving myself permission to be about my art. Not that I haven't been engaged in the creative process for all of my adult years. I have. But it has been about someone else's art. My job was to make my student's dreams come true. My job was to interpret and produce plays that someone else had written. My job was to critique other playwright's ideas on paper and give them voice on stage in developmental readings. At last, it's my turn. And I'm dead serious about it.

I don't remember ever being this hungry.

These last few years have been like an artistic fast. I've been bound to work other than my art. Devoid of creative fulfillment. I have been like fruit withering on a vine. Clinging too long to the branch. Over ripened. The season for picking seemingly long past.

It is only in my memoir workshop with some writers well into their eighties that I find genuine satisfaction. Not just because of the writing that comes out of it, but because I realize when I am with them, that withering is a choice. A choice they have not made. Ripened to perfection, they feed my creative soul and inspire me.

Hungry, I devour theatre like a starving refugee. I can't seem to get enough of it. But my focus now is on how the story of the play or musical is being told. I am putting myself through an intentional tutorial on dramatic story telling.

For so many years I've functioned as a director. Analyzing plays backwards and forwards. Striving for clarity. Moment to moment interpretation of the playwright's intent.

I am now thinking like a playwright. But all the years of directing and analyzing plays is working in me as I attempt to write my own. It feels like the most natural thing in the world.

I stand on fertile ground. There is a choice. The season for picking has come. No, I say, my pen, like sword warding off a dangerous dragon. No. I will not wither.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Process Observed

I've been thinking a lot about my brother lately. What he loved. His relationships. His occupation. His hobby. His choices. Why he did and did not do certain things. What motivated him. What he might have thought about. His secrets. His regrets. His pain. His fears.

In other words, my brother has at last become a character to me.

This is a good thing.

I've been writing about my brother since 1994. First, in my journal as I recorded the unfolding real-life drama that resulted in his death-bed, our vigil, and the aftermath of grief turned depression that engulfed me for several years after.
The raw, emotional entries are contained in various styles of journals. Some with lines. Some without. Some with inspirational quotes on the cover, others plain black. Some bound. Some spiral. I was not consistent in my choice of journal like some people are. It has made for an uneven mishmash on my bookshelf.

Yes, on my bookshelf.

I've kept them all. I've not counted how many there are. And I've not burned them.

I have re-read some of them occasionally wincing along the way. They are a chronicle, a real-time record of my experience during a time of despair and descent into a health care system when AIDS was still relatively young.

In case of a fire, I would grab my journals before other precious keepsakes, they are that important to me.

As the years went on, my writing transformed itself into a collection of poems and essays. Some good. Some bad. What began in my wild scrawl in the journal as a synthesis of my experience ended up typed on a page with titles.

A first step in distancing myself. A first step toward transforming the pain into art. A first step toward clarity and meaning.

This went on for years. In workshops. On the beach. In my bed. At my desk. The typed pages tucked into a sunflower folder. Depending on my circumstances or emotional state, the folder would either sit on top of the desk - a priority. Or be stuck in a drawer for up to a year at a time. When we moved, the folder and journals lived in file boxes in the garage. I published a few individual pieces. My musician friend even wrote music for a few of the poems for a dramatic reading during Lent.

Over the past two years, I began to weave the individual pieces into a narrative - a memoir of sorts. I spent most of last summer on this project at my desk. I turned the memoir over to my writing teacher, Cecilia Woloch, who made comments on it and returned the manuscript to me

Fifteen years, and I was finally able to edit the most important story of my life. Phrases, lines, images, metaphors that I'd clung to were with one stroke of the key deleted.

Distance was serving my art.

My writing was no longer therapy. It had become craft. New questions began to emerge. What story am I telling? Whose story is it? How do I tell the story? What genre? Memoir? Opera? Oratorio?

Years have passed. The AIDS journey has changed. My story is now a period piece. A new distance.

I've spent my entire career in the theatre as an actress, director, and teacher. Two weeks ago, I sat down with my memoir and a stack of journals and I began writing it all over again.
This time as a play.

Only something incredible has happened. The characters have had the impulse to sing.

My brother is once again, my muse.

Only this time, our collaboration is on a musical.

C.S. Lewis published "A Grief Observed" a year after the death of his wife.

Mine has taken over fifteen years and I'm starting over.

Or am I?

Maybe these characters are singing because I have at last found my voice.