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.