Thursday, August 08, 2019

Two Kizzes Walk Into A Theatre

I had this written and ready to go, everything but the photos, in plenty of time to post before the end of July. It didn't happen. And I get why it didn't and that's ok because things are really hard now. I'm fortunate to have great friends and work and kids around me just like the ones in this story. So here's the story, a little late.


Years ago I lived with a guy and I taught dance to kids and I worked in a restaurant to make money and I was going to be an actress and the world was my oyster. I was under 25 and under 110lbs and, at least one year, made under $15,000 and still lived in New York City without starving.

Now I live with a guy who has 4 legs. I teach dog behavior to people of all ages. I work in an office for health insurance. I have no idea what I'm going to be next or what the world will do next, and I'm under nothing but the gun, if you hear what I'm saying.

Back in that day I also had a friend who danced with The Royal Ballet. Our parents were better friends than we were but I was proud to know her and I was teaching dance so when she came to The Met on tour I wanted to see her.

That guy, JAM, and I splurged for nosebleed seats for ourselves to see Manon. It was a ballet I didn't even know the story of, which was intriguing and fun. Then we splurged some more to take 3 of my students, women I remain friends with to this day, to see Swan Lake.

I have never had a refined fashion sense. I don't seem to have a feel for what I both like and what will look good on me. On anyone, really. It confuses me. There are rules about color and line and fit and form but you're supposed to flaunt them more than you follow them. You can only flaunt them within a whole other set of rules that no one can quite define. At least that's what it seems like to me. Back in the day I was experimenting a bit and finding a style that made me feel like New York and me and someone anyone would want to meet.

The night we saw Manon I wore my favorite outfit. It was a short, black, swing dress in a jersey fabric with a mock turtleneck and no sleeves. I had these wildly patterned tights in bright colors and a pair of black, high heeled pseudo booties with elastic "laces" that I still miss. They were commanding and comfortable and I wore them straight into the ground. I rolled my shockingly permed hair in a tightly rolled style that was one part Howard's End, one part East Village retro, and several parts desperation (it was a terrible perm and I could not see it at the time).

At the end of the night we climbed our stoop and I saw myself reflected in the window glass of the big wooden door. I looked exactly the same as I had when I left. Maybe a little more flushed. I was worldly and in control and ready for what came next. In that outfit, with all I'd learned, I could take all comers and look forward to it.

A few nights later we boldly set out to bring 3 girls between the ages of 4 & 8 to their first ballet performance. We gathered at B's house to set off. I wore an emerald green silk tea length dress with puffy 1950s crinoline and cheap silver shoes that were all the rage at the time. The same hairstyle now felt like something out of Leave It to Beaver (same number of parts desperation, though, it really was the worst perm and all my fault). B brought out some of her jewelry to complete my look.

She clipped 2 earrings to the top of my shoes as embellishment and the girls looked on in awe. J, B's youngest asked, "Are they real diamonds?" I was quick to tell her no no no but B cut me off, "If anyone ever asks you that you simply reply, 'Every other one!'" Then she taught us all how to fold our sweaters and carry them over one arm and waved us off toward the subway.

Fellow passengers complimented us on our beautiful, well-behaved girls as we rode the 2 train north. We still had nosebleed seats but with kids the trip all the way up to the top of the sky was part of the joy.

At the end of the first act J told me she was tired. For 5 seconds I had an epic internal battle with myself about what to say to a child for whom I had bought a ticket I couldn't really afford and then I took a deep breath and said, "Do you want to sit in my lap?" She did. And slept soundly until it was time to go home.

I am someone who is afraid at my core about "wasting" money and to this day I am grateful that I realized that the real waste would have been to force a child to stay awake for a whole performance and have that cause her to dislike it. She loved the first act and she loved being included in the outing and she loved sitting in my lap and she loved being carried to the cab by JAM. Not a thing was wasted there.

By the time JAM and I were climbing the steps to our own apartment in Brooklyn I felt proud but also like I'd been pecked to death by a thousand swans in matching tutus. There was a plastic bag trailing out of my purse for the 7 year old who got pukey on car rides and my cheap sparkly shoes were filleting my ankles at every step. I saw my reflection in the door's window and if I'd had the energy I would have laughed.

The shiny green dress would have been less wrinkled if I'd slept in it, one whole side of my hairdo was unraveled and pointing in several directions, I had mascara smeared down one cheek, and my glasses were askew. I looked nothing like I had when we'd left the house. I might have been worldly but I was not in control of anything and certainly not ready for whatever was coming next. On the other hand I had still learned things that night and I had already taken all comers and I knew how I'd tackle the opportunity again next time it was offered.

The difference between Elegant Swing Dress Me and Wrinkled Donna Reed On A Bender Me was that Wrinkled Donna Reed had already accomplished something. I gave three young friends their first experience at the ballet. I, with JAM's full and vital participation, got all three of them to  and from Lincoln Center safely and calmly. We talked about the performance and the theatre and probably a bunch of other things we've since forgotten the importance of.  We didn't give them tickets to the ballet, we gave them an experience at the ballet and with their friends and with us. We put them first and we let them lead (mostly) and we learned from them. I couldn't enumerate the things they taught us that night but I'd bet money that those lessons crop up frequently when I'm interacting with kids even now.

While elegance is fine for starting out toward a goal, if you're actually going to get anything done you have to be ok with getting your hands dirty. Or in my case your cleavage drooled on by a sleeping pre-schooler. The wrinkles and the lost bobby pins and the heel blisters were signs of a job I had committed to, I didn't do that night halfway.

I couldn't figure out what kept bringing these memories up recently. I'm still not 100% sure but I think there's something about the woman I see reflected back at me in windows these days. She looks a little rough. Big scar, rounder cheeks, deeper wrinkles, way better hair style. I miss the elegant me, I think. I haven't seen her in a while.

Perhaps I had forgotten that it wasn't elegant me who's done all the things I'm proud of in my life so if I had to misplace one of them she's the one to pick.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Brooklyn, Brooklyn Take Me In

It has been a month.

All the bad things feel like they're going to go on forever and all the good ones I couldn't remember them at all.

I considered quitting. Oh yes, I did. Quitting everything. Taking my ball and going home. Curling up in a ball and waiting until the world passed me by.

Tonight I stopped writing this (look how [not] far I'd gotten when I stopped!) to support a friend's Concert Window show. Carolann is doing them the last Sunday of every month and it's fun. Join us next month!

I don't listen to enough live music. It will likely come as no surprise to you that while listening to live music I remembered some things.

This month I finished a re-write on a play about Amelia Earhart that I wrote for a friend. I did the first draft in 2015 and delivered it into her capable hands. She asked for a brave educational re-write soon after. I went in and made it possible for students to be assigned small roles. Seems so scary to trust student participants like that but, wow! She's a working dancer and choreographer and teacher. We work on it when we're able.

Last month she came back with a plan. She's going to produce it in a professional theatre. So she'd started looking at it again and she had questions. She came to meet me and she told me what those questions were. It's hard enough to listen to questions about your work when you feel strong. When you're not feeling strong...

I did the thing that, apparently, Bradley Whitford says we all do when we get criticism. In your head you go through these stages:

"Fuck you!"

"I suck."

"What was that again?"

Fortunately drama school taught me to go through those stages silently.

Honestly I thought I had to try to work through what she asked for on the page/screen. Took me a few weeks but I got it. (15 minutes a day. I swear by doing hard stuff 15 minutes a day and getting it done.) I like it. Some of what I did I fear is a director's work and not a writer's but I put it in there to see what she thought. She liked it!

We're going to meet soon to read through some parts. We could have met last week but see above re: nearly quitting.

It's the scheduling that's laying me low. I'm the scheduler for a lot of things. The job that gives me my health insurance, for instance, is very heavy on scheduling, especially right now. So I didn't schedule that meeting. I did mange to get the once a month rehearsal for my Chekhov play locked in, though.

Last summer we got lost and missed about 3 months. So far this summer we've nailed it, though. We even have something on the books for July.

In this month's rehearsal as I stomped and slammed around the stage (it's for the character, totally legal) I got glimmers of the real play. I dropped in for 3-4 whole moments at a time and was really there. It's nowhere near ready but I can see a time when it will be. My first thought?

"How am I going to get all these props to a rehearsal space? Fuck!"

The more significant thing that happened started in our May rehearsal. We were working on the end of the play and the director asked me to do something that was in direct conflict with what I'd written. Actor Me did what she said.

Writer Me stewed until the following month's rehearsal.

Of course I did.

The nice thing about that, though, is that I got through the Whitford Stages all by myself and was prepared. Writer Me waited until the end of rehearsal and told the director I didn't love it. Our conversation went something like this.

Me: I thought about it and this doesn't fit with what I wrote.

Her: Say more?

Me: Because I wrote A and you asked for B.

Her: I see that. What about A.5?

Me: Sure.

Her: Cool.

Me: Cool cool. Should we order food?

Her: Yeah, sure.

So, you see, despite the fact that right here today I'm as easily frustrated as a toddler after a day at the zoo, good things have been happening right, left, and center this month. These are only two examples. There were more. Trust me on this.

I need to trust me on this. It's a good thing I have a blog to write things down so I can look them up later when I need a boost.

That's what blogs are for, right?

Friday, May 31, 2019

Rope Ends

It's 2 minutes before my bedtime and I still need to walk the dog before I go to bed and wake up in the morning to do it all again and I just realized I haven't posted anything for May.

This is perhaps all that needs to be said about the month. It's a microcosm of what it's all been like.

I have a post half written that I started earlier this week. I've had time off this month. Yet, my brain is still full and my soul is still tired. I don't feel as though I'm doing anyone much good these days.

In June I plan to finish that post I started this week. Beyond that I have no fucking idea what's going to happen.

In the mean time, here's an old picture and a new wish for choice and control in June.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

There's Always Something To Be Grateful For

Alternatively titled, "There's Always Something For Which To Be Grateful."

It's the last half of the last day of the month and I haven't even opened this blog since last I wrote. I'm exhausted and demoralized and downright angry. I'm also getting up and putting one foot in front of the other because it's all I know how to do.

Rather than bemoan the bad I'm going to bang out a quick gratitude list (typo - LUST) and be proud of the accomplishment.

I am grateful for...

  • Good books
  • My freaking awesome dog
  • Friends who love and care for my dog
  • Friends who love and care for the plays I write
  • The opportunity to act
  • Plenty of clients
  • Decent health insurance
  • Good TV shows
  • Delicious chocolate
  • Weird theatre
  • Having laundry facilities in my building
  • New York freaking City!
  • The barista who smiled at me SO HARD today that I couldn't fail to respond
  • Modern allergy medication
  • Modern pain medication
  • Modern dentistry
  • Friends who have a sense of humor
  • The entire concept of the podcast
  • The internet and its ability to keep me close to people I would otherwise not be so close to
  • Clients who keep coming back
  • Clients who "get it"
  • Penelope Brackett and all her techniques
  • That one day we got to drink in the sunshine and watch the clouds
  • My mattress
  • My eyesight
  • My ability to multi-task
  • My memory
  • Warm clothing
  • An apartment of my own
  • Whatever sense of self-control I still possess
  • Probably, hopefully, a million other things that I've forgotten right now but will remember as they pop up in everyday life.

What are you grateful for?

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Patch that Is Rough

Honestly, I have the best friends. You should get friends like mine. They can't be beat.

S is a children's librarian. I've known her since pre-school. We stayed in touch when she went to private high school, we drifted, I got invited to her wedding anyway, and now we've settled into a relationship that I'm not entirely sure how to categorize.

We don't speak every day. We have people in our lives that we connect about. She's the person who traveled with me to see our 5th Grade Teacher last summer. We have traditions. On our birthdays the other person calls up a local independent bookstore and buys books to have waiting there for the birthday celebrant. We're not picky about the timing of "birthday" either. The real joy is in finding a gem that the other person, an avid reader, won't have read before and will feel, after they've read the book, as though they've been waiting for it all their lives.

S gave me two books this year and this morning I sat down to read one of them, The Rough Patch. It looked so good and S's choices are always amazing and I had a few minutes before I had to walk the dog and head to work so I sat down and read it. I don't want to spoil it for you but I broke down in tears. It's a beautiful book about a hard subject with universal themes and now I want to buy a copy for each and every one of you.

You see, this year has been a bit of a rough patch. Not just for me, a lot of people are having it rough. It's all hitting a little close to home.

In December I started taking this cancer risk reduction drug and my cat, Anna, was diagnosed with a tumor on her intestinal wall. In January my father and his dog were hit by a car. His dog did not survive the injuries. Dad did and is healing very well now but it's been a long road. At the end of January my uncle died. The day after that Anna died. Two weeks ago a different childhood friend with whom I connect similarly but on different subjects than S wrote to let me know that her father was going into hospice. Last week he died.

It's been an especially rough patch for dads.

I put all these things into one paragraph and it feels very special and heavy. Then I realize that I'm celebrating my 50th birthday (all fucking year, what's to stop me?) so it's, in fact, normal that so many funerals and accidents and life events occur in succession.

Good things are happening, too. When I went to my uncle's funeral I stayed with a friend and we got to hang out and it was lovely. One of my cousins had her first baby. I spent 4 days in Florida with a group of friends and my mom as part of my year long birthday-ing. The other book that S gave me is by a writer who I love. S gave me the next book before I even knew it was out! A couple of weeks ago a friend invited me to come by and pick up a gift for having hung out with her dog while her husband was sitting with his mom in the hospital (didn't even mention that one, did I?) and she wound up inviting me to stay for dinner and it was delicious and nothing I would have made for myself and I was so grateful for just being able to eat and not think about it. I'm knitting something new. I have several new clients. We hired an administrator for the school where I teach dog classes. I'm going to get Reiki done for the first time as part of a friend's training in that discipline. There are a lot of exciting things going on!

It's a bit of a rough patch, though, and I find myself falling into the trap of thinking that every rumbly strip of road is a step on the path downward. Every time it gets dark out I have trouble remembering that doesn't mean that we live in the dark now and forever.

Floating in a pool every day for four days helped a lot. Remembering that floating in a pool, napping in the middle of the day, sitting in a hot tub, laughing with friends is possible helps me to remember that those things are probable. They are, in fact, much more probable than a life of drudgery and darkness because I have good friends. I have great friends. They make great drinks and tell funny jokes and buy me amazing books and do math when I can't, and a million other wonderful things.

I highly recommend getting friends as cool as mine. They make even the rough patches smoother.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

I Can See the Groove

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this here but we're still working on a production of my play, Like the Moon. A few friends got together and did a reading of it about a year and a half ago. Then sometime last year we decided that we'd meet once a month for rehearsal until we feel like it's time to rent a venue and show a fuller version to the world.

Last year was busy. This year is proving a bit of a challenge, too. We're getting our rehearsals in but there isn't much other time available for working on lines or writing out back story or whatever character work I might want to do.

The other day we met up and I couldn't see a scenario in which I wasn't going to let everyone down. Surely I wouldn't be the weakest link in this chain. Thankfully the director started us slowly. We read the whole first act before we got on our feet. Then we did get on those feet and got through the first scene that way.

At that point she took a poll of the room to see if we wanted to keep going or go back and I said, "I'd like to go back and do that again. I don't want to oversell it. It's like I'm not in the groove but I can see it from here. I think if we do it again I might get there at least a couple of times."

Dear Reader, I think I did, too.

It feels a bit the same way with everything right now.
  • If I just hadn't gotten sick I could have a cleaner apartment.
  • If I sit down for just 15 minutes a day and work on the application I can finish the writing for this new certification.
  • If we can just get the new admin trained in I'll be able to work on the syllabus.
  • If, again, I hadn't gotten sick I could have written all these condolence cards and sent these baby gifts and be a better supporter and have my taxes finished.
To be honest, I'm doing ok. Just like in that rehearsal I am not dropping the ball for anyone. At least I don't think I am. I am not, however, in anything resembling a groove. I am just to the left of the groove and occasionally stumbling into it by accident.

If that's going to be the theme for the year then lord help me because this jerky, whiplash rhythm might break me.

No it won't.

I don't have time for that. I don't want to have time for that.

What I want to have time for is tripping along next to this proverbial groove and appreciating the fuck out of my friends and colleagues and neighbors who continue to want to do what I want to do. They want to  get my words out into the world. They want to do complex administrative work so that we can hire the right person not just any warm body. They want to celebrate my birthday all year long. They're happy to hear from me whenever that happens and they know that if they truly need me they can say so and I'll trip right off the groove and try to help.

A lot of sad things have happened already this year. All signs point to several more sad things happening, too. If I wasn't surrounded by such stellar people this would all seem overwhelming. But I am. Oh, I am. My people are so very stellar.

Years ago a friend's kid was in the tooth losing stage. My friend was in the sleeping through the night stage. Which meant that a few times she forgot to get up and perform the duties of the Tooth Fairy. So she'd email me and ask me to call her kid as the Tooth Fairy and apologize . So I did. It was certainly one of the greatest acting jobs I've ever had. I went with an accent. My character was always super busy so my message was rushed and bubbly and apologetic. I was always terrified that I'd screw it up. I even wrote myself little scripts. I had only one audience member to please so the stakes were pretty high. The kid has yet to ask me about it, thank goodness, but all reports say that he took me, I mean her, seriously.

The same kid is a tween now. Over the years he has fallen in deep love with my dog. They, seriously, have the most lovely relationship. A relationship based largely on cheese and affection. Sometimes "my dog" sends presents to the kid.

I came home the other day to find a #10 envelope in the mail that was thick and...puffy. Weird.

Inside was a pair of socks and a note from the tween. The note told me that Eddie wanted me to have the socks. The socks said, "My dog is cool as fuck."

I'm warmed from the top of my head to the tips of my toes by the whole interaction. I needed that. I needed to be reminded that it's not so much the huge gestures we make and the big goals we reach as it's the regular tiny efforts and expressions that make our lives something to be proud of. My relationship with this kid is built on stolen moments of dog training, one big knitting project, one game of Exploding Kittens, a couple of Broadway shows, a trip to the M&M store, and several phone calls he doesn't even know I made. I didn't even really know what I was building but I managed to build it anyway.

So I guess I'm going to put on my new socks and understand that, no matter how off the groove this year feels, I'm building a life I can be proud of. I'll be building it until I die but that's probably a long time from now so I may as well get comfortable with the process and not worry so much about the product.

As the old movie tells us, if you build it they will come. And, hey, if you need someone to cover for the Tooth Fairy's mistakes I'm your girl.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Anna September 7, 2000 - January 27, 2019

Best cat I've ever had.

End of obituary.

The best cat I've ever had deserves a little more, though. A lot more, to be honest, but a few words are all I have to give now.

Anna was born under my bed in a studio apartment to a dangerously bipolar mother. She and her three brothers and one sister lived there with me and Emily until we decided who should live where. Anna was the smallest. Max was the biggest. Pinto was the smartest. Much later we learned that Elvis was the sickest. Mariah, well, she got to be sort of normal...for a cat who lived all her life with her mom.

I named her Anna because I had Emily and when I adopted a cat I thought I should try to be a grown up and have a theme to my pets. I went with the Brontes and named that cat Charlotte. So when the initial plan was to keep Charlotte with me I chose one of the girls from the litter and named her Anna to round out my trio.

Charlotte was better suited to country living so one of the boys stayed with us and Anna wound up paired for life with a brother whose physical illnesses contributed to mental illnesses that made him unpredictable and fearful and not exactly dangerous but never truly calm. That should have been the first tip off that she was tough.

The story I always tell about her is probably the only story anyone needs to know.

My friend, Pony Express, got a job on a dance company tour when the kittens were around 2 years old. She had adopted Max (big) and Pinto (smart). We decided that with her gone for 4 months the cats should come and live with me. They'd lived together as babies and again for a few months at her home when I was between apartments so we were confident that it would work out. My one misgiving was that Anna was small and quiet and reserved. I worried that she'd be pushed around by the three boys but it was the best solution we had so on we forged.

As a woman I realize that I essentially underestimated Anna's strength and skill in much the same way people have underestimated mine for much of my life.

One morning not long after we'd integrated the feline households I was getting ready for work and I was in the bathroom. I suddenly heard a tremendous banging. It was staccato and rhythmic and so fucking loud! At first I stopped to listen because it had to be coming from outside my apartment, but where?



It was coming from inside the apartment.

I rushed into the living room expecting to see Anna being terrorized by one or more of the others and poor Emily looking on helplessly.

As I emerged from the hall I saw it:


I had a trunk under my living room window, a makeshift window seat. On the trunk, back to the window, hunkered down protectively was Pinto. Pinto was the kind of smart that makes you think about evolution. He picked items up and examined them. He controlled Max's behavior and movements. He stole things from humans. His brothers were justifiably terrified of him.

Anna was on her back legs in front of the trunk. She was using one front paw to smack the trunk with all her might. The trunk, mind you, not Pinto. She was hitting the trunk about a quarter inch in front of Pinto and every time he moved back she advanced just enough to do it again. Always advancing, never touching, she backed him across the trunk, onto the window sill and into a corner. Then she waited a moment in stillness and, in a move reminiscent of her mother's most dangerous moments, walked slowly away.

I went back to the bathroom and got ready for work.

I never worried about her with the boys again.

Later I believe she was the first to understand that Emily was having seizures. She may have been the only one to witness them. Her behavior changed toward Emily, she stayed closer, not for comfort probably but to monitor an increasingly unpredictable situation.

She endured endless veterinary indignities when I couldn't be sure if it was Elvis or her who was ailing.

She nearly killed at least 3 computer trackpads with her drooling. She nearly licked me and Pony Express bald. She loved to knead her paws but only on bare flesh, the moment you protected yourself with cloth it was no fun anymore.

On Sunday night she fought the sedation just barely at the moment the full dose went through the needle. After the next shot her breathing, which had been labored, stopped almost immediately but her heart kept beating for several minutes while I pet her.

She died as she lived, fucking badass.

Best cat I've ever had.