Professional theatre production in my bedroom…really

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My daughter was in her bedroom, my husband in his office, and I in my bedroom, when we made our individual calls and were connected to a robot who managed our individual hour-long theatre experiences with another theatre patron. It seems correct to refer to this event as avant garde since it was off the charts as far as any theatre performance I’ve even been to. Providing excitement in a safe environment, this production called “A Phone Call” offered theatre and the requisite intrigue.

It was not a “get to know you” call, and it was not a conversation. It was a tennis match of questions asked and answered alternately between each of us and our partners. I learned a bit about what another random theatre-attending human is like. We had to describe what we were sitting on. I had to say what year I was born and in turn she was asked if she was alive at that time. She had to describe a photo of herself as a child. I had to hum a song I knew. She had to say what was missing from her life. And then to recite something from memory, anything at all. In my daughter’s case this ended up being the Preamble to the Constitution which she’d been required to learn in middle school. I was asked if I had any tattoos, and when I said “no” I was asked why not.

It’s difficult to do this experience justice here, but as a theatre patron I liked the creative effort that went into devising questions that by virtue of the need to provide answers, skewed one’s understanding of the other person.

It all seemed to revolve around the idea that it takes more than just words to know someone. The answers to questions illicited intrigue as we each got a fleeting peek into someone else’s world. When asked what we’d remember most about the other person I said it would be how my partner got choked up when asked to describe something no longer with her. She’d remember the scene I described of my father hard at work at a desk late at night.

It was fascinating and ingenious and thought-provoking and emotional. It could trick someone uncomfortable with revealing themself or looking inward into doing just that.

Trying not to expect too much

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You cannot will yourself to have a happy birthday, especially if there’s a pandemic limiting your life. Typically my husband and I would hop a train to NYC and see a Broadway show, then walk around town and get some great dinner before heading back home.

This year was different, and somehow, even better than all that. My husband prepared a gorgeous breakfast of eggs Benedict, then entertained me by using a silly gif that substituted my face for Dolly Parton’s or Jack Sparrow’s. For lunch we a fish fry delivered to our car from the local fish market, then took a dear walk around our county seat where we ate Eclat chocolates and then Dia Doce cupcakes. We had to hurry home, though, for the best part of the day.

It was the Frick Museum’s Friday at 5:00pm Cocktails with a Curator via live stream. My husband made the complimentary cocktail for the piece of art the curator had selected to discuss, and then we set ourselves outside in the January air on our front porch to enjoy it all. There we sat on fluffy blankets and sipped our drinks while we learned about Boucher’s “Four Seasons.” This has become our mandatory start to the weekend. But besides relaxing with a cocktail, the study of art signals a departure from the week’s work to a focus on the spirit and matters of culture.

To make this outdoor experience even more lovely, a young lady stopped by, a neighbor home from virtual college, and talked to us on the porch for twenty minutes or more, an in-person surprise that further bolstered my happy day. And, as if that were not enough, my daughter and husband agreed to take the hour-long drive to the dairybar of my choice at 6:30pm, to finish off my day with a hot fudge sundae.

The rest of the weekend was just as thrilling. We went ice skating in center city Philadelphia, played hilarious games with my sons and daughter-in-law via zoom, then met up with a friend, live, for a two-hour walk around a cute little town where we shared bonbons and stories. I even indulged in a midday movie via zoom with cannolis which my son arranged to have delivered, to wrap things up. Friends dropped by with gifts, and texts and phone calls came in.

A trip to NYC is wonderful, but this year I was reminded how these simple acts of love, the smaller, sweeter experiences, and my relationships with others renew my spirit and allow me to stop for a moment to appreciate all that I have in the world right now.

Almost like normal

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This almost felt normal! The lively annual wreathing party was scaled down to just three of us and outside, despite the cold!

Usually there is a luncheon, lots of women, scones and pie and tea to go around. And we make a mess inside the house on the farmtable in the kitchen.

This time it was all outside, on the porch, but no less wonderful for carrying on the tradition, making a beautiful holiday decoration, and spending time with friends. In person.

The pandemic continues to show us that it is not what you have but who you have, that matters.

Japanese fans

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In anticipation of a cold winter, we cleaned out the attic to make room for a long overdue upgrade to our insulation. Over the years I’d thrown a lot of stuff up there including kid’s toys and clothes, interesting looking housewares and furniture from my various deceased relatives troves, and sentimental junk I couldn’t figure out what to do with. Now, I am discovering such interesting objects as these Japanese fans including one that came wrapped in a sheath complete with a ribbon strap. These were probably either purchases or gifts to my grandmother during her many trips to Japan. There’s a lovely Japanese tea set, a silk kimono, and ornamental Geisha fans I’m hanging on to also.

There was a lot up there in the attic we didn’t want, but hidden among the cobwebs I found these delights.

Cotton dresses

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Outfitting your daughters in cotton dresses that must be ironed after washing, to go fishing, is by today’s standards a bit crazy. Fabrics now are magically suited for outdoor living. But my mother had five kids, baskets of dirty laundry and a farm lifestyle that included such tasks.

This picture reminds me of all that my mother did to support our family. I’d claim that she did this tirelessly, but really, she was exhausted. She cooked three meals a day for seven people and managed the household in our big Victorian place for decades, with only minimal help from the rest of us. Yes, I set the table regularly, and swept the three sets of steps in the house every Saturday, but otherwise I was off the hook.  For a farmgirl, I did not have many chores.

It’s easy to forget what our mothers did to get us to where we are today, but this photo reminds always me.

Lucky stars

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Draconid Meteor Shower 2019: How to see shooting stars from the UK ...

What great good luck do I have that I may go to the state park, late, and lay down in the bed of the truck to watch the Perseids meteor shower? We had pillows and warm breezes and barely any light in our eyes, and so the stars came into focus as we settled ourselves in.

Every August, when our grown daughter inspires us to step into the dark late at night, it reminds me of walking out to the end of the lane in Arden on a starry evening and happening upon a meteor shower. Back then we were just kids killing time in a lonely place, steeped in nature, free to wander. The end of the lane promised a show as my older sister, who knew the constellations, pointed with authority upwards into our own personal sky. Sometimes while debating which particular stars she wanted me to see, we’d be charmed by a spark that painted a fleeting arc across the scene.  Before you knew it we spotted another and then several more. It made it clear that the world is large and we are just specks. Shooting stars, any stars, are just part of the landscape. Yet, at the same time they are so special that I imagined them bestowing us with sparkling good luck.

And they did. Since I left Arden, a place that I loved, my life has only improved, no doubt aided by the power bestowed on me by the energy inherent in that happenstance dust.

Unlike in Arden though, this week our trip to the state park is deliberate and we are impatient as we wait and hope for the next shooting star, aware now that meteor showers are predictable. We were not disappointed when all three of us saw a fireball cross the sky in a long screaming streak that seemed to never end. 

Some kind of good luck is on the way, I think to myself.

Friendship isn’t easy on a good day

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5 Things I Want to Tell My White Friends

Having close contact with young people, like my three grown children, has helped me take steps to educate myself about systemic racism in America. With their current interest in the injustices around us, I have been inspired to also learn. Robin DeAngelo’s White Fragility taught me much, opening my eyes to issues that have been right in front of me my entire life but to which I have been blind. Movies like Selma, Fruitvale Station, Do the Right Thing, I’m Not Your Negro, Who’s Streets, 13th, and Malcolm X, gripped me and illustrated themes that drive home what I have learned recently by listening better.

I am trying to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem and so I welcome articles like this one above that focuses on cross-racial friendship. It’s a heartfelt and generous letter from author, Christine Pride, to her white friends.

BOOK TRAILER: You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen

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After months of working on a book trailer for my memoir, You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen, my team of three high school students and I, finished the project. We previewed it in May at a discussion group of my readers that a fellow writer’s club member had already organized.

Those in attendance gave overall positive reviews to our visuals but pointed out issues with tone, pace and messaging. It was a “back-to-the-drawing-board” moment which had me loading more furniture into the truck and heading back into the woods with fresh ideas a few days later. What we have ended up with is vastly different from our earlier version yet strikingly similar as well.

You might wonder, like I did, why a discussion group would gather for an unpublished manuscript and book trailer viewing. The lively, heartfelt #MeToo debate that unfolded would not have been on my radar ahead of time since my story is primarily about isolation and loneliness, but I get it and I loved it. Many thanks to all who were there and all who have helped make this manuscript and this trailer satisfying representations of a story I have been eager to tell.

My book trailer is on the way – almost done!

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This is my Author’s Team, three high school students, myself and my not-yet-putrid Putrid Doll.

Just in time, back in February our team went out into the creek to film these beautiful scenes. Since then we have worked remotely to put together the two-minute trailer featuring a tea party on a rock in the middle of this raging creek. It hopefully will entice the viewer to want to read You’ll Get Over It, Jane Ellen. A discussion group organized by readers of the manuscript will get to preview our masterpiece this Thursday.

American Idol Magic

 

Last night, my favorite TV show, American Idol, came through. All the behind-the-scenes issues were exposed in fascinating detail. Yes, I love singers, and I loved seeing brave crooners stepping up, but for me, last night’s episode was all about the logistical challenges. Belting it out on your front porch in suburbia trying to imagine you are actually an exceptional singer destined to leave small-town America is far more difficult than standing under the glitzy lights of Hollywood.

The coolest part was the costumes. Of course they had measurements, a selected color palette, style ideas and a potential wardrobe assembled for each contestant before the quarantine. Maybe each person consulted remotely with a stylist who then sent them custom made clothing options. That’s how they managed to have great looking, well-fitting outfits as Julia’ shoulderless peach dress, perfectly suited for playing to America from her living room.

Maybe they had hair and makeup consults too. I kept looking at the eye make-up and hair on the women and feeling grateful my daughter wasn’t one of the contestants. I can’t do hair!

I heard the panel say that everone had the same ring light, the same microphone, the same set of equipment supplied by the producers, and the same access to the professionals for consultation, and that it was up to each contestant to create their own scene. As difficult as this must have been, I love this necessity for creativity. One girl used red lighting and what looked like a dozen floor lamps to set a mood in her suburban garage. It was gorgeous. Did they have to unload all the grass clippings and garbage cans to set that up?

If it were me, after failing the hair and make-up challenge, the lack of an audience would be the biggest stumbling block. Pretending that a glowing ring light positioned in front of the stairs heading to the bedrooms that I have been staring at for six weeks, is actually millions of potential fans, requires heroic acting skills or an unshakable belief in self. The most successful contestants had a song to sing that our present reality could not hold back.

To me, this experiment of producing a talent contest of would-be singer stars from their homes, is a fascinating look behind the scenes of glamour and stardom. It was all a bit more human. I loved it.

And it was destracting and entertaining, and I needed that.