Monday, June 28, 2021

The Homes of Objects

I can't find the three hole punch, and that is unusual. It's one of the many thousands of objects I have in my visual memory as living inside a filing cabinet, resting on a shelf, or on the dining room table near the paper cutter. It is in none of those places, and I need it for my "Teaching Clown" chapters which are printed out, and for which I found a three ring binder, which was in precisely the place I remembered -- a box filled with three ring binders up in the Crow's Nest.

In the Crow's Nest, inside of the zippered front pocket of a suitcase, is a rhinestone applicator. There are two plastic squeaky pig toys on the bottom shelf of the cabinet in my writing room. If you want the grapefruit spoon, it's either in the slot with the regular spoons in the cutlery drawer, or with the sporks just below it. One of two 30 gallon rubbermaid containers lives under the stairs of the greenhouse. If you need a stick for your marshmallow roasting it's in the cabinet with all the collanders ("bowls with holes"). There are a few notes from Helen to me when she was eight years old in with the loose buttons inside the ceramic bowl with lid that she made when she took pottery classes. That bowl is on the upper right shelf in my writing room next to a stack of books that are resting on their backs in a jenga-like stack.

Writing about this has brought no order to my house, which is expanding with items both large and small, just like the map inside my brain which I rather pride myself on, not for the accrual of "stuff of a life," but for my ability to recall exactly where it is located. And on that map, somewhere deep in the Swamps of Lostness, is my missing three hold punch.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Backstage

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

    casually. 

                - Issa

Yesterday, while eating a quick lunch of ramen soup "shooshed up" with garden vegetables and a dash of chili oil, a gentle knock came to the kitchen door. Helen looked at me, and we shared a mild panic. "Who is that?" Dan stood up and opened the door a crack, and partway up the steps stood two women. "We're here to pick up an order of cinnamon buns."

Dan laughed and said, "Ah! How did you get past my camera alerts? We usually get a notice when someone is here." He abandoned his soup, thrust feet into boots and was out the door helping them in no time. Lunch is almost always, without fail, interrupted by a customer.

Helen and I stayed to slurp up noodles. It was rainy, and we'd already been out in it a number of times, getting thwacked in the face by the sodden mulberry, or slipping in duck goo. It was unseasonably chilly. The soup was just right.

"How did they even find their way to the kitchen entrance?" I wondered. Helen posited that they walked through the barn. We'd left the door open to the path, which means they went through the disaster of a prop room, where art supplies and theatre props are piled. Then they had to walk up the mangled path, where jutting bricks make a challenge even for the surest of feet. The fig and mulberry meet to combine a low soggy arch on rainy days, which if you aren't paying attention, will lick you in the face and leave your hair all combed with leafy bits. They worked through obstacles to get to our porch.

What was the prize for making it all that way? They saw all our coffee cans filled with rotting scraps for the compost heap, a muddy array of boots and shoes, an entire closet of plaid coats, pants, and rain gear hanging on hooks, a filthy rag dangling on the banister to dry (not working well on this day). Then, a few surprised faces sitting around a kitchen table.

While we are used to visitors to the farm stand and the barn theatre, we are not accustomed to people knocking on our kitchen door. I felt exposed.

All the coffee cans filled with banana peels and eggshells, loose boards, undusted surfaces, were seen by the audience. Not to mention the cast of maladroit insects we're too lazy to kick out.

 


 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Puppet Characters in Third Grade Classrooms

It's the end of the teaching season for me, and as usual, things are just getting good. For one of the programs I work in I've been with the students each week or two over the course of the full school year. We've done many projects, and the third graders are finishing up with lessons in puppetry. We built puppets with found objects, and this week we began exploring the characters they created. I conducted some improvised interviews with their puppets this week to get the character development underway, and these are a few gems:

Joe Joeington, a "regular Joe", 28, worked in business eight years, willing to work for $20 per day (even with extra hours, loads of paperwork, and weekend hours). He's bringing his best friend, "Hungry Bear" to the company picnic. Can't wait!

Shelly, a Miss American pageant queen, who makes her own casual rainbow belts, has an agent (Tom) who insists she wear her fancy costume everywhere. She wishes she could just wear her casual clothes. She donated her winnings to the homeless, and bought some groceries.

Dr. Joe, a robot doctor/dentist/game console. He treats everyone who programs him well, but sometimes he gets confused. He once tried to pull a tooth from a patient who just wanted to play a game, and the patient jumped out a window. Don't worry, it was just the first floor.

Kelly, a librarian who runs storytime in the Kids Zone part of the library. She's had a love of books her whole life, and got into the library business through a friend who lost a job.

The Clown Monster lives in her garden with her bee friends and all her flowers, who are also her friends.

Frank, friend of Anthony the accordion dog, lives in a party house. He likes to read, and parties are constant. His favorite thing to do is swing on the swing outside, and it somehow makes him angry when parties stop, even though he likes to read and it's hard to read with the parties going on all the time.

McClaren, British rock star who never travels. His largest audience was two million puppets, where he sang that famous song of his. I asked McClaren to sing it for us, and he hummed a few bars. It was catchy, so I joined in.


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

For a Young Writer

Today I received an email from a high school student who had some questions about the writing life.

How do you gain inspiration and motivation to write?

My motivation and inspiration are directly connected to discipline. I get up very early to write, and write every single day. Even if what is coming from me that day is pure drek, I write. I write with no particular expectations, and if it turns out to be good, well then so much the better. If it's not, then I hope I get the chance to wake up again tomorrow and try again.

Do you enjoy this profession?

Yes. What fascinates me about it the most is the play of language. I enjoy playing with words the same way a musician plays with rhythm, or a welder "plays" with heat. The right words, in the right order can connect people through shared feeling and experience, create change, make someone fall in love, or out of love. Words have power. I'm not particularly power hungry, but I know words are meaningful, and they matter.

What are some challenges to expect in this career?

Doubt. Fear. I'm a poet, and a playwright, and I can say that the challenges in this field are that of most creative careers. Watch out for egos getting in the way of your work (your own, and those of others). Getting work published can be like trying to win the lottery. Be persistent, and have a tough outer shell. It's ok for work to come back rejected. It happens to all writers. Send it out again when you're ready. Edits are necessary for you to grow as a writer. Pay is abysmal for poetry and plays, so if you're wanting to make your living at creative writing, write in many forms and be prepared to send work out a lot. Write all of the time, and learn from everyone you possibly can. Go to readings, classes, support your fellow writers.

Would I recommend becoming a professional creative writer?

We have to start with what "professional creative writer" means here. Does it mean published? Paid by the word? Article? I suspect it's a combination, as our culture appreciates and recognizes those things as marks of success. I recommend following what fascinates you, learning as much about it as you possibly can, paying attention to those who went ahead of you on that path, and helping those who are trying to get to where you are. Be curious, supportive, encouraging, and say yes to opportunities when they arise. See where that curiosity, determination, and dedication leads you.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Brevity

The editorial scythe is brisk today, smile-slicing through words before I even write them. "Believe that you have something to say that is worthwhile," is a handwritten note I keep above my desk. To the right of that one is another note on a smaller piece of paper: "When it doubt, kick something over."

That is my process, for the most part.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Self-Portrait at 52

Hex of snow I pluck,
lattice of lines I live with,
and this body, Saturnalian,
still rises at 5 a.m.
A quick jerk, upright
each minute the last minute
in this hollow hour.
Bees spark inside me,
and stones moss over,
the entrance shaded.
There’s less to say now.
I see.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Romayne's Game

 My grandmother fans a deck of cards across the table and back again. She plays with the standard Hoyle Pinochle deck. The back of each card is printed in red ink with images of Neptune emerging from a shell. She cuts the deck in half, taps it against the table, then brings each stack to touch at the corners, her thumbs guiding the flipping cards to sift together. Cobalt veins bulge in my grandmother’s hands, map up the length of her bare forearm. After sliding all of the cards back in line, she taps a perfect, frosted fingernail of pointer finger on the top of the deck.

It is summer. A small glass of pale beer waits for my grandmother’s sip. The door to the apartment is open to the shouts of the landlords kids who are playing a lazy game of two-kid football on the lawn outside. Their little dog, Tannie, yips, leashed to her doghouse in the wooded grove by the salon. It is warm and humid. I can feel my hair expand. The waistband of my shorts cuts into my belly as I peel off the top layer of a licorice Allsort with my bottom teeth.

I am finally learning how to play pinochle. Romayne’s game. This is it. I’ll be an adult. No longer relegated to games of Uno or Go Fish, or simply watching from my spot on the floor as cold cuts are passed, and laughter fills the room above me.

Romayne cuts the deck, snaps the edges down hard, sifts them together. She lights a Parliament, dragging deeply through pursed lips, then on the exhale begins to explain the two-player rules.

I hear a lot of words that are new to me: trump, meld, trick. There are classes of suits, and assignations of points for certain cards. I don’t write anything down. If my grandmother gets this, so will I. We are soulmates.

I suck the nonpareil off of a jellied Allsort as she deals. The cards brush onto the table like waves against sand. My grandmother has become Neptune, welding her trident of cigarette, describing “melding the dix” and “declaring out.” My brain buzzes with sugar. Numbers blur with hearts, and I mistake a club for a spade.

It’s not time yet. I’m still too young, but she doesn’t say so. She simply rises out of the waters of the game and we shift to Uno, or Skip-Bo, or Go Fish. Games where I live for the giddy power of Reverse.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Take Off Your Glasses Game

I took off my glasses and invited Dan to a sexy, middle aged game, "What do you see when you take off your glasses?" When mine come off, the world is coated in a film. All lines blur. Definition disappears. 

"I can still read that Farms and Food sticker on the fridge, and I know that says Fridgedaire," he said. 

For me, the sticker is a green rectangle. Words erase. Dan's face becomes a thief in a pantyhose mask.

I'm not sure who gets the most points. Do you win for being able to read and discern detail, or gain points for impressionism?

If survival were key here, Dan would win. I'd be eaten by the skulking leopard I mistook for an ottoman.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Fingers Raked Across the Chalkboard

Outside my window, branches touching the surface of the glass, is a quince tree. When the wind blows, it rakes back and forth like a bow against strings. The resulting screeches are those of a beginner violinist. It's a reminder of the elementary school spring concert and all its excitement and enthusiasms.

The other day I was out in the barn, hooping all my steroid angst out, when a friend texted me the phrase, "when the pandemic is over," and I wrote back, "That's the title of my collection of essays, written in invisible ink on the inside of my ribcage."

That afternoon, grey and rainy, I retreated under a blanket to read Dario Fo's Mysterio Buffo. I laughed, and sort of felt sad at the same time. How am I almost 52 and I never knew of this play? My father would have loved it. I've been watching clips of Fo's performances on YouTube, in Italian, and then reading the English translation of the play, much in the same way I read poetry by my favorite Spanish poets, a delighted flipping back and forth between the original language and the translation.

I'm glad to be off of steroids now. My energy level was high at first, and then that tapered into a sweet, sweet rage for absolutely everything. The other night as I watched Dan put seasoning salt on his food I yelled, "Enjoy your early death!" What patience I have normally (which isn't much, I have to say) was whittled to a shard of a toothpick that I'd be inclined to stab into someone's eye if given the chance. It was ugly.

I feel ugly, all around. This would have been the perfect time to take that Bouffon class I had scheduled that was canceled. I'm ready to work with my rage, to sing out the tones of what is written in invisible ink on the inside of my ribcage.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Kind Regards for the Banana

I'm trying to befriend the banana, a portable and amicable fruit. I've spent my life disdaining their texture, the little stringy pieces, the black spots, their rubbery skins, the banana-y flavor. I described them to Dan the other day as "the person you don't really like, but you know they are smart and funny and you'll learn from them, so you stick around."

So every morning, I eat half a banana for the easy source of potassium. Dan showed me how to peel a banana the way monkeys do, from the bottom, rather than the stem. And he explained the other marvelous way you can split it into its three natural sections. 

Baking it into things like bread or cake seems like asking it to wear a mask. The theatrics are tempting, but I'm trying to love it for its very nature.  For now, we're at least respectful acquaintances.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Delight in Clearing

It's been a delight to be outside again, uncovering what's been quietly growing all around us these past few months. Including, of course, our favorite pal, Toxicodenron Radicans, poison ivy. Helen and I got a good case of our systemic rash a little over a week ago when we went wild by the Beatrix Garden and the fence by the road, which has some vines.  I call it the Beatrix Garden for Helen Beatrix Potter, and the Helen who lived here before us, and our Helen who lives here with us now on a part-time basis. 

I have seedlings in the greenhouse to plant in that garden, and I'm excited to see what takes there with all the other beautiful perennials that bloom. Seedlings that are sprouting are Foxglove, Forget-Me-Nots, Delphinium, Stock, and a quiet, cold loving bunch of seeds of English Lavender that rest in the fridge by Dan's beer.

Rashes and rounds of steroids aside, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in clearing. A couple of weeks ago, Helen and I put our focus on the kitchen garden by the farmstand, which will be a family-friendly "Pick Your Own," space this summer. We broadforked, hoed, and fed the goats what was left of beets.




We stirred up the contents of the compost bin like it was a cauldron, and pulled the nutrient rich dirt out from the bottom layer to add to the soil. I stored away a lot of the tools, posts, and items that flotsammed their way by the fence. Dan and I put away every coil of old fencing that had come to rest there too, and it is much improved.

Dan cleared the space between the trees by the driveway, which opened up the view to the fields, and now there's a lovely tree to take shade under in the summer. There will also be much less poison ivy, since we can mow there.

Yesterday after doing some performance work (filming myself, a nightmare), I suited up to join Dan outside. He was clearing away the fencing that used to be a dog kennel between the barn and the greenhouses. I swept the birdseed and last bits of firewood from the kitchen porch, then raked my way around the path past my writing room (the quince is budding!), and toward the front of the house by the Secret Garden Path. It's not that secret, really. I just call it that because it is cozy and enveloping, the kind of space you want to stoop in so you can hear the ants.

It wasn't long before I was on my hands and knees, pulling up whole "carpet rolls" of grass, revealing new-to-me stones in the path. I had chosen the perfect day for this task. The shade of the space and rain we had the other day made all conditions right for path clearing.



 

What a delight to find the artifacts of the family who lived here before us. Their handprints, snail icons, dog prints, and a footprint with a hand. I slid my hand into the largest handprint, was surprised that it fit, and felt connected to those who took care of this land before us.

When I stood up, I heard the bees working in the Leatherleaf Mahonia. Its spires of tiny yellow blooms are opening (the bees do good work),  releasing a honeysuckle scent when the breeze is just right. A thrill.





Wednesday, March 10, 2021

First Bees of the Season

At my feet the star-shot hum —
drunken reveling, intrigue.
Focused in crocus, wild aplomb —
at my feet the star-shot hum
as tiny legs build income.
Honeyed soon, prestige!
At my feet the star-shot hum —
drunken reveling, intrigue.

--

A triolet.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Clowning and Goat Muck

While mucking out the goat shed, and peeling the fence out of its deep blanket of ice and snow today I thought:

The purpose of clowning is to make others feel. Like a good poem, clowning shows us what connects us as humans, what makes us human. That includes sadness, anger, boredom, belligerence, fear, weariness, humor, joy, lightness, disgust, judgement ...

 


 


Monday, March 08, 2021

Motivation, Play, and the Role of the Inner Critic

Sit down. Stop wriggling around. All of your ideas are nothing unless they are written down. It's useless for them to float around out there, or just live in your head. Stop moving. Sit down! Get it on paper. Who do you think you are, a dancer? Sit. Write. Sit and write it. It's up in your head, but that's not enough. Write. It. Down.

Words from my inner critic surprised me yesterday, and I want to give them some credence, because as harsh as the inner critics (mine are a consortium) can be, their words come from a place of caring. They are the great protectors. They are, in their own warped way, making sure I don't screw up. They want some say in my creative life. I'm learning to listen to them. To hear their side(s).

The inner critic who showed up yesterday during a clown exercise really wanted me to sit, and stop "juking about," and really believes strongly about the power of print. So do I. I love words. I'm here, sitting, writing some at the end of a busy day. I wrote several pages this morning, by hand, while it was still dark outside. I sat for that, too. I'm not all wriggly, all of the time. See? I write!

Something highlighted for me during this year of staying at home is that I have no motivation for anything at all unless I move. I need to move early in the day, and then and only then do I feel enough lightness to move forward with what needs to be done, or even what I want to do. It's been difficult to drum up enthusiasm lately, but playful movement helps me to keep going. It isn't "juking about." It's serious business. It generates energy, and gets my neurons connecting. I get some of my best ideas during my  movement practice. Functional movement outdoors, like stacking firewood or taking care of livestock also makes me feel lighter, unless the goats escape and then I swear a lot.

I'm listening to this inner critic, and considering some projects, and reflecting on what needs to be written. It's making me powerfully antsy, to be honest, sitting here and writing about it all, to essentially no one other than myself. Am I trying to just shine this inner critic on, and convince them I'm doing something when I'm not? I'm tired of sitting and thinking about it, and feeling like I need to justify my need to move everyday to feel motivation, even if it's true.

Am I losing my mind? Perhaps. This seems like a perfectly fine segue into a broken vacuum cleaner being used as a puppet.

A few weeks ago our vacuum broke. Instead of throwing away the broken part, I hung onto it. A found puppet was born, and Helen and I took it around the house for some experimenting. We did a lot of laughing. It felt good just to play without any intention of a finished product. It was energizing. It made me feel lighter. Play first, write later.

 If you can't view the video below, please click on "web view" from your phone to view it.



Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Jumblies

The wind is pushing us through March's runcible early days, thrashing our hair, frisking the chimes, knocking the branches from dead trees. It is waking us up out of a long winter sluggery.

Helen and I spent a jovial afternoon pushing a wheelbarrow full of moldy, decaying fruit through the snow to the Rot Spot, an area of ground we are filling in and enriching with compost. In the fall I chucked pumpkins there, our neighbors dumped their chicken coop compost into it, we buried a dead and quite frozen feral cat nearby a couple months ago, the giant sunflowers we harvested in the fall were piled on, and ecetera. It's an area of ground making swift work of what is shared there. The earth is quiet and efficient.

We had to share pushing the wheelbarrow, each of us taking one handle and forging ahead, avoiding (not quite) frozen footprints from previous walks. There were many near misses of toppling over, sending our icky fruit basket rolling onto the snow. We made it, laughing the whole way.

While out there, in the lower fields, we tackled the mess of dried out cosmos, and plants yielded easily from the soft ground. It was good timing. I was hot in my three sweaters, and robot gloves. Hints of summer, memories of flop sweat while weeding, played through my mind.

Our neighbors toy goat was on the outside of her fence. I told Dan to text her. Their goats are the tiny, demure version of our big, meaty dunderheads. They sound like dog toys, and are about half the size of Boer goats. Pygmys, I think? The sweet escapee was happy to just be on the other side of the fence, and didn't wander at all. 

After several trips to the Rot Spot with the cosmos plants, we pushed the wheelbarrow back up the hill together, and went inside for tea and seaweed.

Then it was time to move the goats from the barn to the outside paddock, which required a good hour or more with rearranging the fence while being whipped in the face with thorny underbrush. We made the mistake of leaving the stanchion inside the paddock, so while the fence was charged and all was well, they figured out they could leap from the stanchion over the fence, clearing it without shock. 

When I went outside to put the ducks in for the night, the goats were at the duck run, and then they followed me to the kitchen porch where I called for Dan's help.

Later, I read a poem by Edward Lear aloud to Helen, who was working on memorizing Latin plant names. I'd never read this poem before, and I really love the playfulness, the nonsense words that make some sense, and the rhyme and meter. The title. "The Jumblies," made me think of the day we'd had, and how many of my days now seem like I'm riding a sieve out to sea.

Monday, March 01, 2021

The Sunday Morning Variety Show on Kutztown Road

Yesterday morning before getting dressed I decided to clean out the duck run, since the thaw of snow was revealing an archeological treasure of sludge-filled containers. The coop needed some fresh shavings, too. I was trying to beat a forecast of rain. A bright green front loomed on the radar.

I refreshed the coop with shavings, then dug into the mess exposed by the thaw. I keep the duck feeder on top of a snow shovel head. It works as a tray to keep the feed from getting all over the ground. This needed cleaning, and there was a second feeder, a red plastic one, from the early days of the new ducks being introduced to the group. I'd forgotten about an egg carton filled with corn, which resurfaced. The water container needed a cleaning. Ducks are adorable, but very messy creatures.

The sludge filled items I carried over to the compost heap in the kitchen garden, where I began to scrape the fetid gunk off with the end of a leek. I'm never prepared with a tool, even though I know I'm doing this work, so I just use whatever is handy from the heap. The uppermost layer of the compost heap right now is an array of onions and deflated, moldy oranges, useless tools for scraping, so the leek was a sign of good fortune. I began the work of cleaning the shovel head, and the plastic feeder, as the propane delivery guy was parked on the road, blocking the lane. 

A sporty car from the 90s, something white and sleek with tinted windows, pulled up behind the truck, and paused there with a full view of my plaid-clad, scrunchie ponytailed, pajama-pantsed self, holding a leek in one hand, and a broken shovel head in the other. I waved with the leek end.

Littleface, seeing an opportunity to add to the show since he had an audience on both sides of the paddock, leapt from the barn stall. He sailed through the split in the tree, and caught his leg on a poison ivy vine, which trailed behind him like a fuzzy shooting star (good goat!). Not one for curtain calls, he walked a few steps on the rock pile and munched on a thorny rose. 

An applause of quacks issued from the pond.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Face Full of Something

A week or so ago, I reconnected with a photographer friend to set up an appointment for a new headshot. It's been years, and it's time for an update. "I definitely can't use the one you took of me in 2011, as much as I love it. I've changed," I told her. Eyeglasses are now a permanent feature of my face, as are laughlines, and a WiFi signal of wrinkles on my forehead (good connectivity up there!).  I got off the phone, smiling after catching up on each other's lives, then thought about my self-care routine, and my face, which would be the front-and-center subject for her camera.

That's all it took for me to start thinking that maybe my real face wasn't quite right. In the early morning hours, I succumbed to an Instagram ad for a foundation that got unrealistically great reviews. It seemed to work for all types of skin. The deal was appealing -- a "try before you buy." I could send it all back if I didn't like it. I took the bait.

Two sleek, black bubble wrapped packages arrived within what seemed like hours. It was as if I'd tapped into some secret service agency dedicated to my self-improvement. My face was an emergency. One of the packages bore a sticker that read, "MORE IS MORE." The other, "YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH." I already hated it. And yet, I was willing to give it a try. I've worn makeup and it really can make me feel good. I don't wear it too often now, unless I'm performing. I keep a favorite tube of lipstick on my desk so I can swipe it on before Zoom meetings. It's a shade of red called, "No Cry."

Shiny, industrial sized, glittering, and almost architectural containers were nestled inside a box filled with black shredded paper. It was like a Gothic Easter basket. The offering here was layers of assistance, and I scored a "free mystery gift" of eyeliner, which I never use, even for stage makeup.

I spent some time applying everything, and began with the concealer, then realized I was doing it wrong, I forgot to put on the underlayer that spackles and primes the pores. Whoops. Well, whatever. I continued on with spackle, then the foundation, and dabbed a little more concealer on here and there and blended. I have a small palette of rosy blush/lip/whatever that I added so I didn't look dead.

Much improved? In an iPhone photo, I guess a smoother, more even toned version of myself shows. But with the closeup inspection of my 10x mirror (required for makeup now that I have old eyeballs), all I saw was the mask that makeup actually is.  I thought I'd wear it for the day, and returned to my desk to answer some emails. Then I felt itchy. Were my pores breathing? Was this stuff soaking into my bloodstream? Am I allergic? Suddenly I was wearing a face full of anxiety.

It was on 15 minutes before I ran back upstairs and took it all off. Magic! Human again.





Thursday, February 25, 2021

People Who Come and Go

J.  disrupted my quiet, careful ways of making sure I wasn't noticed in college. She made sure I didn't disappear into the background. Then our life paths forked. I got married, had a child, divorced. Then she married (I missed the wedding because our house was being flea bombed), we shared a few phone calls, and then that was it. Poof.

J. was the student who showed up to the three hour art history survey course wearing a hat she made out of aluminum foil. A slinky ferret, her beloved pet, often accompanied her to class in the pocket of an oversized coat. She had comments and questions after everything the professor said. Her hand was always up in the air, or not, and she was just blurting her ideas out. I was simultaneously in awe of her and fearful, so we became friends. She probably reached out to me first, since I was really using up all my free brain cycles in my efforts at avoidance.

Soon we were seen campus-wide: the movie theatre in town, the diner with the airplane in it, combing the shelves of a thrift store, flopping around on the trampoline in her parent's backyard. That was the first time I ever experienced a trampoline for any extended period of time, and I remember well the feeling that I was still bouncing on it after landing on solid ground.

Then there was the time we went out to a bar that was tended by a guy she was interested in, and she decided on the way we should try on a couple of bad English accents for the evening. We renamed ourselves. I was Audrey. I forget the name she took for the evening. The rest of the night I spent with a cramped stomach, feeling like I was lying to everyone around me, and when I attracted the attention of a local barfly who was well over twice my age, I felt so sick I had to hide in the bathroom. Of course we had to stay until closing so J. could have time with the bartender.  The barfly lingered, hoping he'd take me home. We wriggled out of that by getting into the bartender's car with his friend, and off we went on a unscheduled, unplanned double date. The other guy was mine, I guess.

They took us on a long, nightmarish adventure drive through "haunted woods," where my cramped stomach turned into the shakes. The narrative had something to do with a murder. Did we know these two guys, at all? No. They could be the murderers. I remember putting my head in J's lap in the backseat while she stroked my hair told me it would all be ok. I was still a child.

That night ended in a diner. I'm alive now to write this. I had an omelette. I was very careful about accepting last minute invitations to bars from J. from then on. In fact, I think that was my last visit to a bar for a very long time.

She got us kicked out of a Rite-Aid when she spent time pretending to steal. She held the best parties by inviting everyone, even people she didn't know. We made a whirlwind trip to the beach with two guys (one she was interested in after the Renaissance Fair visited campus) where we had no money (of course) and ended up waking in a restaurant parking lot in my car with the windows all steamed up. I was not romantically interested in the guy I was blindly paired with, but she was in the backseat with her guy all night. I was relieved to have a breakfast of pancakes and drive home. Our dates wore capes everywhere and juggled. We went out once more together, for a hike in the woods, and I was dazzled by the juggling skills of, what was his Faire name ... Poncho? Boon? Sir Dudley?

Being around J. was disorienting and exhilarating. She was fearless, and taught me not to fear so much, to not panic at every new experience, but approach with it wonder. She also taught me the value of personal boundaries.

Then she disappeared from my life, leaving me wondering if I taught her anything, or if just our time together in that part of our lives was gift enough. I hope it was.






Monday, February 22, 2021

Emoting Into the Void

 

On Friday evening I joined in the Creative Works f Lancaster's production of The 24 Hr. Plays, as actors, directors, and playwrights took on the challenges of creating a full scale online production -- from script to finished performance, in just a day. I participated a few years ago as a playwright. It was more than challenging. I wrote a physical theatre piece about memory, and it was lauded as the "weirdest" in the lineup. For a piece about memory loss, it was memorable. I  remember I drank too much coffee, watched a blinking cursor on a blank Word doc for several hours, and shared a physical space, a cozy writing room, with other writers who tapped away at their keyboards. "No big deal!" their flowing typing seemed to say. I felt supported by their shared presence in the space though, warm, convivial, and enlivened by the omnipresent deadline.

This year, everything was online, obviously, and The Creative Works team really did an excellent job of orchestrating a very complex production from start to finish. Generous in spirit, and organized, they tackled the tasks of technical details, making sure actors, directors, and playwrights had what they needed in place to work, and followed through "backstage" on what was probably a very long list of last minute surprises that no one even noticed. Backstage work often goes under-appreciated. It's the spinal column of the body that is theatre.

The playwrights had an extra layer of challenge in writing for the Google Meet platform. Directors had the extra layer of directing actors who were in different locations. Actors (this one, at least), were challenged by having to learn lines without the luxury of being in the same physical space as the other actors, with no set other than the imagined, or green screened. 

 

Introductions on Friday night scratched the surface (we had two minutes or less to share) of talents, interests, and ability. What was most interesting was how everyone revealed anxieties, vulnerabilities, emptiness, grief, and the realities of living in a pandemic. The ache for human connection was present. Many of the props people shared were weapons of some sort or another, or they were totems of security and comfort. I shared an antler.

I really enjoyed the full day immersed in rehearsing, of getting to the intentions behind certain aspects of the play with a group of actors and a director, and working out ideas together. I've missed that kind of artistic collaboration. Each play was rehearsed in separate Google Meet spaces, with members of the Creative Works team popping in from time to time to check on progress and see if there were any needs among the group.

Blocking was minimal. I touched a wall no one else saw, I dashed offscreen when an alarm sounded, I reappeared during another character's rant, I reached for and "took" a key from another character -- a trick of timing, props, and camera. 

The director gave me the suggestion of taking on a "cross between a Siri and a Hal like voice," for a couple of scenes, and I really enjoyed doing that disembodied voice a lot, experimenting with it, feeling the rise and punctual fall of the diaphragm as I said the lines.

The shows were broadcast live through YouTube, and connected by an emcee who rose to the challenge of delivering cheerful energy to an unresponsive camera. 

After my show was over, I watched the others from the TV in our living room, then when it was time for curtain call, I returned to my galley theatre space alone.

Curtain call was a separate Google Meet room, a muted green room full of searching faces. There was a moment where we all waved. A few kindnesses were shared in the chat. Then it was all over.

I took a few steps from the theatre and into the kitchen to find dinner.

During the Friday evening introductions, several actors said something like, "It's so strange not being able to see myself here." In Spotlight mode with Google Meet, you don't see yourself at all as you speak. You deliver into the void. I wondered if we've all become so accustomed to having a mirror of a screen in front of us (Zoom shows you your face unless you tell it otherwise) that it was now a novelty to not have the reflection of our own faces as a focal point.

I think what everyone was really saying was, "It's so strange not seeing anyone else out there,  responding to what I am doing." An expression of longing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Two Questions Considered

 


I offer these two questions to consider:

What is making you feel connected and purposeful right now?

What are you missing in your life right now?

 I ask them because I am considering them myself. Deeply. Introspectively. Not always delightfully.

Here are my answers to the two questions I posed above, in list form. And a little bit of how I came to ask myself these questions this morning.

What is making you feel connected and purposeful now?

Taking care of animals. Even escapee goats.

Giving up sugar.

Opening up the window right after I've showered to feel the cold shut every pore.

Daily practice in writing and movement.

As much as we all malign the time spent on it, Zoom. I love playing in it, learning, and finding the opportunities for closeness and sharing.

Clowning projects.

Watching trees bud.

Hearing the snow melt.

The NYT Spelling Bee game where I hover in ranking between "Amazing" and "Genius."

Real letters received. Real letters sent.

Having a role in a play this weekend, and the play hasn't been written yet.

Doodling after teaching. 

Planning for outdoor events at the Wunderbarn.

The anticipation of a Bouffon class with Eric Davis. 

Nearly everything my students say and create. 

Zoom glitches that lead to creative moments.

Puppetry.

Jointing cardboard together. Making something move that didn't before.

 Piano music.

Talking with a mentor.

Reading poetry and children's literature.

Salads for lunch from greens we grew. Mustard!

Dan and I sharing "Genius" level in the NYT Spelling bee.

The hope in a schedule that has outdoor events, and an upcoming spring performance.

Writing this.

 

What are you missing in your life right now?

Hugs.

The coughs, mutters, and settling in sounds of an audience.

The house lights going down, and then something magical happening.

Seeing eyes without ring light reflections in them.

Actual eye contact.

Being able to make a date with a friend to collaborate, and be in the same space together.

Dance classes.

Crowded green rooms full of strangers and friends.

Eating a meal I didn't make.

Travel. Even packing.

Being in the same physical space with students.

Seeing/hearing a playground packed with kids.

Sharing a snack with someone. Or a drink.

Scent of others, even the less than good scents. Bad breath, unwashed hair, body odor.

Conversations with strangers encountered in public places. There's much less of that.

Seeing a person's whole face. 

Emoting with my whole face. My eyes get tired of trying to say/show it all.

My sister.

Hours in the library, or a bookstore.

Being able to buy a coffee out somewhere without thinking whether or not the indulgence will be the thing that kills me.

This morning I was writing when I began to daydream about a classroom moment years ago. It was a middle school classroom where I was teaching poetry to 8th graders, and it was near the end of my classroom visits. A student who was just on the brink of summoning the courage to read his poem to the class needed some support. He stood trembling in front of his classmates. I walked over to him and just stood nearby, right at his side. I didn't say anything. I was just present for him. He began to read.

The physical closeness of teaching moments is gone right now for me, and might be for a long while still. I mourned this loss, sobbing, for about twenty minutes this morning. I took my glasses off, and let myself get hit with a tidal wave of grief, balling up tissue after tissue. I was somehow surprised by this.

Monday, February 15, 2021

You're On Mute

Two goats eating ivy.

Days of grey light here, the kind of color you might see as you wring out a used dishrag. This is February this year, each day a new shade of blah. At least it isn't a long month. 

Two feet of lingering snow has left us with challenges to overcome, problems to solve. No door to the barn opens easily, as each one is banked up with snow. Icy sheets periodically hang off the barn roof, then slide off (thankfully none on our heads), to bury what path we've shoveled out, and unfortunately, the shovel as well. We have one shovel, still. We didn't solve that problem yet.

The snow dampens sound and obliterates detail. The first few days of it are magical and playful, everything a new, sparkling whiteness. A celestial landscape. I marveled over the path of animals on our property, all their prints revealed, or one feather gentled on top of the crust of snow, something I'd never notice without the blankness.

It's been cold for days and none of it has melted. One day it melted a bit, then refroze, and turned the landscape into  a torturous board game for middle-agers: Luge of Potential Broken Bones, Slopes of Trudge, Overhang of Conked Noggin, Ice Shard of Bruised Shins, Icicle Fangs of Avoidance, Rocky, Frozen Underworld of Nope-That-Fencpost-Won't-Go-In.

The goats are in a new paddock against the barn, about the size of a one car garage, with a tree in the center. The door to their stall is open and they can come and go freely, but they don't. They are restless in their new winter space, thankless. Imagine! After all the work we put into it the other day, sledgehammering fence posts into rocky, frozen ground, carrying 16 foot cattle fence sections across the tundra, and zip-tying those sections to posts while ornery goats prodded our butts. The nerve. 

They are sensitive creatures. This is the first they've experienced snow in their lifetimes. They live for detail. Bright foliage to munch is the unmuffled, unmuted life they love. We've been taking them for walks and in some places the snow comes up almost to their bellies. They find a nibble of chocolate vine here and there, and get to sniff the hoofprints of deer, but it's not the spring or summer or fall landscape on which they thrive.

Spring, you're on mute. Please turn your mic on.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Couple of Idiomatic Hearts

 Broken

Sometimes you don’t have the heart
to cross your heart and hope to die,
stick a needle in your eye —
Feint of heart
is the heart of your matter,
you feel the skipped beats.
Sometimes to know one’s heart
is to lose heart,
to steal another heart,
then cross it,
make it bleed, and harden.
It’s a craft that for some
means you’re alive
in affairs of the heart.
You’ve crafted a heart of stone,
a heavy, sinking heart,
that strikes fear
into the hearts
of others.


Idiot Valentine

Follow me, yes me,
your heart, hello! Gladdened.
I’m doing you good, baring all,
hanging out on your sleeve
for all to see.
Warming the cockles, that’s me,
reminding you that you are young
forever in my eyes, but not
necessarily young anywhere else.

I’m always in the right and wrong places,
leaping, melting, speaking.
I have all your best interests!
I’ll find a way to be near
or into, at, by, or from (I love a preposition).
After all, I am after myself, or is it you?
I am your desires, the thumping, pumping center
of your days. There’s a song in me, etched.
Pull on my strings and I’ll pour it out,
sing it out, sob it out.
I’m full, content, weeping.
I go out to you,
full of potential for failure, 

angling for the win.

Friday, February 05, 2021

One Shovel for Two Feet of Snow

Two hats

I imagine our neighbors observe us with an air of detached bemusement since we first appeared here. It's obvious we are learning as we go. One of our first challenges was poison ivy, so we "solved" that problem with goats. We adopted two brothers, wethers, so there'd be no musky territorialism. A shed was built, and electric fencing purchased so we could move their paddock around the property with relative ease as they performed their landscape management magic. Goats eat poison ivy, among other unwanted scrub, and they keep the land well fertilized. They are also sweet dunderheads, both stubborn and gentle. They follow me everywhere, love to be petted, are addicted to saltines, and want only to play and eat. Two toddlers with hooves and reptile eyes, with the combined spirits of dogs and horses.

This week we had the heaviest snowfall in several years, with two feet spreading out over the land like a weighted blanket. It was lovely, ah, a fire in the fireplace, soup burbling on the stove. But wait, the water buckets are frozen, I can't get to the paddock easily, the duck run roof is sagging ...

We made a trip out the day before the storm to pick up a few needed groceries, and livestock feed. Dan fixed the problem of the icy water buckets with the purchase of a heated bucket and a long extension cord we could run from the barn.

But we forgot an extra shovel, and found ourselves taking turns with the one shovel we have for snow, digging our way out to the cars, around the house, to the duck run and pond, and I finally made my way to the goat paddock. 

Littleface and Brick watched as I shoveled my way towards them. They stood at the edge of the electric fencing, chewing their cuds like two men at a gas station might stand around with their coffees, observing the customers at the pumps. I imagined them thinking the phrase "humans and their constant toil," as I took breaks.

When I arrived, I took some time to play with them, since the day and a half of snowfall kept us from our usual playtime. We trudged to the rock by the road and the Rainbow Tomatoes sign, and they hopped up to get petted, pushed into my chest with their stubborn heads for a hug, and hopped off sideways like springy circus artists. 

The snow buried the ground lines of the fencing. The battery was brought inside to recharge, but to no avail. The goats wanted to play, and now that I had a cleared path to the house for them, and there was no working fence to stop them, my afternoon went like this:

  1. Put goats back in paddock after plying with Saltines.
  2. Go inside.
  3. Take off several layers of outdoorsy clothing.
  4. Put on tea kettle, finally. Relax time.
  5. Go to living room window to check.
  6. See goat standing in the path like a dopey ceramic figurine.
  7. Put outdoorsy layers back on.
  8. Get crackers.
  9. Put goats back in paddock.

Rinse and repeat, three times. I never did have the tea. The kettle just kept brewing. But when dusk arrived, they appeared to be over the escape acts.

The next morning, yesterday, as I went through the usual rounds of breaking the ice on the pond for the ducks, I was joined by the goats, who had no reason to stay inside their useless toy fence. 

They followed me to the kitchen porch where they lingered, expecting to be let in for some scones, cocking their heads with curiosity as the windchimes were frisked by a breeze. It was charming, but we had a problem. That fence does not work in the winter.

Solutions were tossed around. I missed an important meeting with a mentor, and hastily texted her my wild excuse with a photo of a goat at the kitchen door.

By the afternoon, both goats were in the side stall of the barn, the one with three windows they could easily break through, a thin wall they could easily break through, and probably a skunk living underneath. (This morning the air is awfully fragrant.)

I've never seen Dan look so wild-eyed as after the last round of getting those goats into their new place for the next few days while we wait for a fence tester. 

What do we think we're doing here? Poison ivy - goats - bad fence - elephants next? I don't know what's next. Probably building a permanent paddock space for the winter months. 

One shovel. Two tired backs. Several chuckling neighbors.