Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tech Savvy...Not!

I don't want to sound like one of those old fogies who spends her time lamenting the way it used to be as if the way it used to be was so much better than the way it is now. I'm trying really hard not to do that. After all my daughter and son are entering their adulthood now just as I entered mine thirty years ago. The world is as it is now not as it was then and I have to come to grips with that. I don't know if it is because I'm over fifty. I don't know if it is because I get winded walking up the stairs or my joints ache every morning when I slip my feet into my slippers or that I am noticing some dark spots on my face (big surprise for one who worshipped the sun most of her life). The inevitability of aging during a time of unprecedented rapid change is overwhelming. I'm struggling to keep up, aware that any day I could wake up a full fledged dinosaur. I'll give you an example.

Apparently, there is little reason any more to buy CD's. Forget "album art" or liner notes. Apparently between itunes and pandora, why would anyone clutter their shelves with compact discs? Now you have to understand that storage of CD's in my house has always been an issue and I've been thinking for years about buying a couple of those cool CD racks from Best Buy. My stumbling block has been whether to alphabetize according to artist or categorize according to genre. Apparently, this is a non issue. My procrastination has rendered this debate irrelevant. I missed the window. I might find a used CD rack at a garage sale. Everybody else has loaded their music onto their ipods and computers or downloaded the music from itunes.
Now I realize this is nothing new. I mourned Tower Records and marveled that Borders "books and music" held on as long as they did. But that CD player I tote around with me to my classes? I must look like an idiot!

Truth is, I don't listen to an ipod. Those little ear buds are the wrong shape for my ears. They fall out. I don't understand why they are round when our ear canal is more kidney shaped. At least mine is. What I want are those great big, padded headphones that look like something an airline pilot wears. I think I missed that stage too. I believe those went the way of the Easter Bonnet.

What I find disconcerting is not simply change. It is that I can't keep up with all the things that have and are changing. I find myself asking different questions - like "why would I want an ipad" not "do I want an ipad?" The operative word is "why." I can't even keep up with the application of the new technology.

So while I am facing the realities of my physical aging and continue to look for ways to stay fit, healthy, and hold on to my youthful energy, I am finding the hardest thing is a rather constant feeling of inadequacy and sometimes, stupidity. Who needs a watch when you have a cell phone? Who needs an alarm clock? Who needs a map? Who needs a book? Who needs a TV? Who needs a pad of paper? Who needs a calendar? Who needs a camera? Who needs a pencil? Relics all.

It unnerves me.

I tried to have a conversation about this the other night at a family gathering and found myself so frustrated that I walked away from the table. Something I never do.
I felt misunderstood and lectured to as if I was some stubborn, old school teacher who was hell bent on holding on to outdated modes of teaching. I flashed on my 7th grade grammar teacher, Miss Joseph, who used to march us up to the front of the classroom to recite the rules of grammar and diagram sentences while holding a threatening ruler in her hands.
She was like something out of a one room school house. While her methods were from another era, they were effective. I still know my prepositions.

The other night, I felt unheard, judged, and condescended to as I groped for the right way to express my discomfort and concern about staying relevant. I don't need anyone to tell me all the advantages of Wikipedia and the power of the democratization of the information over the internet. I do not need anyone to tell me again how the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings couldn't have happened without social media. Once and for all let it be known that I do not dispute these things!
That is not what I am saying.

I do not believe in the adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." It is the speed with which the new tricks need to be learned by this old dog that I find daunting. I have no choice but to continue to swim in this sea of technological change or I will drown. But, I resent that my time needs to be spent in this way. I feel like I've been taken hostage by Apple, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. (And as you know from my previous rant, I don't even do Facebook.)

Years ago when I was getting my Masters, we studied personality disorders and memorized codes in the DSM. I recently diagnosed myself. Adjustment Disorder. I am having a really hard time adjusting to the new technology. I am not resisting it. I am not rejecting it. I am trying to embrace it. But just like it takes me longer to hobble my way downstairs in the morning until my joints warm up, it takes me longer to learn. I need every twenty-something in the glaring, white, glass- walled Apple store to understand this. Don't tell me to look at the icon. I can't even see the damned thing let alone interpret it.

As a teacher, I now have new responsibility. To teach my students manners and common courtesies like looking me in the eye when I am speaking to them and not texting during a theatre performance. I'm not slapping them with a "splintered ruler" - just reminding them that old fashioned interpersonal communication is done with the face not the top of the head. If this makes me sound like Anne Landers, then so be it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

If Not This What?

I am standing in JoAnn Fabrics watching women leisurely poking around the bolts of seasonal patterns of pastel Easter eggs and bunnies. They ask for two or three yards of this or that. The woman at the cutting table asks what they are making. Various projects are described for grandchildren and so forth. A yearning comes over me. Why was I not born one of them?

I wander through the aisles of cotton, jersey knit, satin, and taffeta looking for muslin. Twenty-four yards of it to be exact. Twenty-four yards of muslin one hundred eight inches wide. When I finally find it and arrive at the cutting table, the kind- faced grandmotherly looking woman behind the counter is slightly surprised by the amount of fabric I ask her to cut.
She begins to unroll the bolt with authority flipping it over and over and over unwrapping the muslin to be measured by the metal yard stick attached to the counter. "So, what are you making?" She asks with an amazed curiosity.

"An arc," I reply.

Story of my life. Hunting for oddities - alice frames from the army-navy store to which we will attach the tree of knowledge. Glittery balls made from styrofoam for apples. Some copper wire. An old rusty tin for the cider cup. A Biblical looking mallet - what would Noah have used to hammer in that final peg?

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The shadow effect didn't. Two panels of tan fabric hung as a tent for Adam and Eve in the wasteland. The fabric was too narrow - only forty-five inches. Overlap the seam. Maybe weight it with some washers. Try a magnet. No go. I rip it off the scaffold and grab the left over one hundred eight inch wide muslin I bought for the arc and tell a techie to attach velcro to the top. Barking orders - get the scissors. Cut the bottom - not too short - it needs to hit the floor.

The show comes together in pieces. Ragged and fragile. Both. Everyone with their share of the responsibility. Actors remember to pre-set your props, take the tags off your costumes. We need a different leotard for the dove. What is that shadow on the Father's robe? It has too big a hem in it. Noah's beard is overwhelming him. Father's mustache is too shiny. Where do we stash the mini flashlights? Someone comes up with an idea to attach a big safety pin to each costume. Brilliant. Problem solved.

Glow tape the stairs, mop the floor, rotate the scaffold, face the bottom step on of the stage, attach hooks to the rainbow, hang masking. Spin the flowers on this song. Don't on that one. Tell the story. Don't look at the floor.

Cling to each other. More passion. You are desperate. You have been spared. None of this works. I resort to technicalities. Put your hand to her cheek then gently bring her face into yours. Touch your lips. Kiss. Hold. Hold. Hold. Done.

They are just kids after all.
What do they really know about passion, clinging to one another for their lives as they sing the lyrics, "In whatever time we have for as long as we are living...." waiting for the great flood? I try references to Japan's Tsunami.

One more light cue for the end of act one before the black out. The cast stands and waits as the cue is programmed into the board. We run a test. Call the cue as the music modulates. No. Go back. Call the cue as Adam and Eve hug. Call the next cue as they reach for father. It's a visual. Watch the stage. Try it again. The stage manager sweats the sequence.

Microphone passing schedule. Costume check out sheets. Makeup stations. Hair extensions. The orchestra is too loud. Hang some blacks. What happened to the percussion? Where is the Didgeridoo sound? We make one out of a piece of PVC.

Not for the faint of heart.

I stagger out to my car at the end of dress rehearsal. In less than a week, it all comes down. Strike. What took months to put together, will disappear in a few hours. An ephemeral art - theatre.

Have I been too harsh? Have I pushed them too hard? Am I too demanding? These questions reverberate through me. I am reminded of Terrence McNally's play, Master Class. At the end of the play, Maria Callas delivers a monologue that runs through my head.

If I have seemed harsh, it is because I have been harsh with myself. I'm not good with words, but I have tried to reach you. To communicate something of what I feel about what we do as artists, as musicians, as human beings. The sun will not fall down from the sky if there are no more Traviatas. The world can and will go on without us but I have to think we have made this world a better place. That we have left it richer, wiser than had we not chosen the way of art. The older I get, the less I know, but I am certain that what we do matters. If I didn't believe that.

A line ending with a period not an ellipses - beginning with the preposition "if".

A line that sums up my life.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New York Musings

Meandering the city this week was like being on retreat. I spent the majority of my time in solitude among the throngs. A glimpse into myself. A new way of seeing me. It is hard not to feel like you are in a movie. The images of New York are so familiar. Yesterday in particular, it felt like that. I kicked around the East Village after walking from A to Houston and down to the movie theatre to see Of Gods and Men for a noon matinee. I sat with three strangers and watched one of the most moving films I've ever seen -

I left the theatre in a daze and wandered to the local organic market called Gracefully to buy two carrots,a box of lentils, a clove of garlic, and a can of diced tomatoes for some lentil soup I had decided to make. I felt my shopping excursion wouldn't be complete unless I also bought a loaf of bread and a bouquet of flowers - because after all that's what they do in the movies, right? Think You've Got Mail. So there I was walking with my shopping bag and flowers to my daughter's 5th floor walk up when I passed a jewelry store that really caught my eye. I decided I would stop back by - which I did.
Turns out, the shop has been on 7th Street in the East Village for over thirty years. It's called The Shape of Lies. The shopkeeper had a thick French accent and her name was Sophie. I noticed a picture of Meryl Streep and turns out she wore Sophie's jewelry in the movie It's Complicated. I figured I was in a good shop.
I bought a pair of earrings and a broach.

Gillian had fallen in love with a lamp in a little boutique around the corner from her apartment. I had decided to buy it for her as a gift since we had no time to go shopping together this trip. The lamp was essentially a glass cylander. The night before, I'd presented it to her and she was thrilled. Two minutes later, the lamp was broken. As she attempted to attach the hanging device to it, the glass shattered in her hands. It was the closest thing we came to a melt down.

So my next errand was to haul the lamp back to the boutique to convince the shop manager to exchange it for a new one. I had told him when I bought it that it was gift for my daughter. My first trip back to the store was fruitless. Only the assistant was in the shop and he couldn't do an exchange on broken merchandise. Back up five flights with the lamp I went. I decided to fix the lentil soup.

An hour later, back down the five flights with the broken lamp to the shop I went - prepared for battle. I had everything I was going to say planned out - certainly any glass used for a lamp should not be so fragile! I was going to throw myself at his mercy. I entered the shop. The manager looked up from behind the counter and said, "Do you want the one in the window?" I hadn't said a word.
"Yes!" I said. Two seconds. Done.

Back up the five flights of stairs I went grinning with the lamp.

On her way home, Gillian passes the shop every day. It was on her daily walk that she had fallen in love with the lamp hanging in the window. Last night, as she walked home, she noticed the lamp was gone. She laughed out loud.

This has been a great escape. Going to see Arcadia and not understanding it. Wandering around Lincoln Center. Watching the inventive WarHorse and loving it. Pretending to be a local until my timid cab hailing gave me away.

My other great adventure was to go with a former student and friend of mine, Gillian's first roommate in Brooklyn, Jen Hyde, to a writing workshop she heads for NYU at Goldwater State Hospital on Roosevelt Island.
Just like other writing groups I've been part of, we sat in a circle, writing and sharing. Only these writers were all in wheel chairs with varying disabilities. It was inspiring and moving to see creativity so alive in such a dismal setting. Suffice it to say, Goldwater is some place you wouldn't want to end up. The writing program was started by Sharon Olds, one of my favorite poets - and there was Jen, leading the session with other NYU students tending to their patients helping them to find their words and to share their stories. We did an exercise called The Exquisite Corpse. This was the poem I cobbled together from our collective creativity:

How many Hail Mary's will this take
Again and Again
at the hour of death
It always ends the same way
Leaving with a sad permanence
like bugs who sink into the mud
our lives forever deepen still
unitl a fully opened door
brings us into the open
He was not invisible
No he was not invisible
The monster is gone.

Walking out of Goldwater to the Roosevelt tramway, I felt so grateful for the day. For the sun. For my legs. For my freedom. For the air.
And now back to California. Back to my real life. The movie is over for now.