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.


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?


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


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.