Way back in 1992 it was considered deviant to have a tattoo.

People with tattoos fell into categories like punk, artist, biker and the formerly incarcerated. This meant that I wore a watch over my wrist tattoo until roughly 2015 when it had became de rigueur for women to celebrate their 50th birthday by getting a lower back tattoo.

In a world filled with sleeve tattoos my tiny wrist bracelet doesn’t even register.

With our current 24/7 social media access it now seems nearly impossible for anyone to separate the “personal” from the “professional”, let alone hide a tattoo that probably hits Insta while its still raw.

We caution students from the moment they own a phone that everything online is permanent. So savvy students and adults alike learn to block photo tags, or try to scrub all evidence of red solo cups, vape pens or too much skin from their various accounts. But as we see in the news every day a screen shot by a friend (or enemy), a comment on a post, a snarky retweet – nothing ever gets completely deleted.

This is one reason I’ve never made any attempt to hide my blog. My rants and ramblings range wide and far: from my work with clients, to my family relationships, to politics, my childhood and all sorts of general frustrations & irritations.

Folks don’t need to dig too deep to find out about me. I want them to know up front the kind of person I am. The flaws I have (that I’m currently aware of), and the feelings that I am not interested in hiding. That way everyone knows what to expect when they hire me – enthusiasm, strong opinions, living out loud and living in color.

Those folks out there who engage in doxxing can unveil and excerpt and drive all kinds of outrage both online and in real life. I’m not sure what the desired outcome really is for the doxxers when they “out” someone, I just know when I see one of these incidents play out it always seems like a perfect opportunity for conversation.

But conversation often becomes irrelevant in the face of the outrage machine where everything is right or wrong, you’re either with us or against us. Nuance has become elitist, changing your mind is selling out and every hill is the hill to die on.

This is another of those rambly posts that may or may not enhance my reputation, but writing serves its purpose as I mull over whistle blowers and folks being asked to resign over a tweet, and those who humbly apologize when their “blackface photo” is revealed, and those retreat into their white fragility.

Way back in 1992 – the same year I got that tattoo & wore my hair in braids for a while – I used this song as an anthem to open (and close) a show I directed. The question “What’s Going On?” is just as relevant today even if the fashion now look quaint.

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dressed to MC a Battle of the Bands

A friend I met when I was 12 is now in critical condition in the ICU.

A friendship that started in middle school covers a lot of history. Successes and set-backs, bad boyfriends and good husbands, the exciting and the mundane. And all the messy, contradictory and unimportant bits in between that aren’t milestones or “life events.”

She is an attorney with a mind for details and a memory like a steel trap. I’m more of a sieve. I know this fact about myself  so if something feels important I always write it down so I don’t forget. Everything else I can ask her.

A question like “What was the name of the club where we saw …?” will get me the club, the date we were there, who opened and who we were with. It’s a great skill and probably made me more lazy about remembering the details over the years.

I stand by her bed in the ICU and talk to her about this and that because the nurses say she hears even when she doesn’t respond. I monologue about getting my daughter ready to leave for college, what I’m working on, how the garden is doing this year, and running into a mutual acquaintance at a coffee shop.

I tell her if her nurse that day is attractive (most have been male), how the parking is free when you are visiting the ICU, and how she is a VIP with 24 hour service like a fine hotel.

What I don’t tell her is how important she is to me. I don’t tell her how devastating her illness actually is or how ridiculously slim her chance for recovery.  I don’t say I love you. That would surely signal to her that the end is near and it’s not my job to do that.

When she passes, whenever that may be, I will no longer have that one friend “who knew me when.” No one else will ever again so precisely understand the ways in which who and what we both are now is grounded in what we were then.

The past shapes the present but what we decide to focus on in our memories is a choice. It’s hard for most folks to focus on the good memories because we’re  wired to learn from mistakes in order to survive. So we easily dredge up the slight, the hurtful comment, the embarrassment, or the questionable choice.

So while I ruminate on the choices and chance that got us to this place today, I am also remembering the raucous, reckless fun and the countless ways we supported each other through the years.

It strikes me that how we remember is part of what’s driving the turmoil around Charlottesville and the removal of confederate monuments across the country. A line from George Orwell’s 1984 keeps running through my head  – “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls that past.”

Of course I have a lot to say on that topic. But not now.

Now is for remembering how lucky I am to still have my childhood friend.

Feeling a bit like a tumbleweed tossed around by life at the moment. Family and friends, a wedding and a funeral, rituals and milestones that mark time.

Being equal parts over committed (my own fault), and under participating (+ feeling guilty), makes it hard to stay present.

The other day I said to a frantic faculty member “surely you can gift yourself 30 minutes to start writing your white paper. Set a timer.” She took the suggestion and churned out a page of writing.

So today I gift myself with 10 minutes to write a blog post.

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it always makes me think of Norman, my husbands grandfather. I only knew him for about 6 years before he died, but very much loved him and his forceful personality. A raconteur of the first water, equally kind and caustic, friendly and demanding, I was new enough to the family to enjoy his flaws and find his quirks charming.

My husband and I went to dinner with Norman at least once a month and then more often after his wife died. Eventually I started cooking meals for him at our house or his. I made him meat dishes that he loved, even though we are vegetarian and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, and of course sweets.

My favorite was the Crowned Apple Cake that I made him for Rosh Hashanah. It looked so dramatic and was so dense with apples, it made for a sweet New Year and a happy memory.

L’shanah tovah to those who celebrate.

10 minutes is up! (not my cake below, but same recipe)

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The people who produce the William-Sonoma catalog are diabolical. Dinner plates in soft pastels, serving dishes with whimsical bunnies, botanical linens all scattered with charming alabaster eggs. It arrives in the middle of the grey, mucky winter and makes me want to whip out my Am Ex card and I don’t even set an Easter table.

The Easter catalog always reminds me of my Aunt Bev, my mother’s best friend, Aunt of my heart. For several years before she died I sent her a shipment of mini butter croissants from William-Sonoma as an Easter present. She adored the indulgence of the fancy bread, but would never buy such a thing for herself.

My mother, were she alive, I would never insult by gifting her with food. Ceramic bunnies & chicks for the table, of which she already had a profusion, would have been more welcome.

I always think of my mom and her friend – Big Alice & Bev – during Women’s History month. They weren’t feminists or activists. No accomplishments or achievements of note. They were too busy raising kids and trying to make ends meet to be political. They didn’t agitate for higher wages, they took overtime, or a part-time job, to make more money.

There are millions of women like them the world over.

Thinking about International Women’s Day, and the truth of our society requiring official reminders like these to counter pervasive inequities, I noticed how easy it is get trapped in the accomplishment loop. Celebrating people for doing the extraordinary, the unusual, the brave. Firsts. Ground-breakers. Onlys.

I decided there are some women around me who could use an “official celebration” of their achievements. So, in no particular order, you know who you are, I send my love and admiration:

  • L., with her lions heart doing the right thing because she knows its right. When I need compassion, truth and strength I know you are there.
  • S., living through some terrible, awful. You are so strong, smart and cool I can’t wait to see what you do when you are on the other side of this mess.
  • B.R., who has more energy, heart and ambition than anyone I know.  I think of you when I need to remember the world of endless possibilities.
  • J., who always reminds me what happens when you let fear rule.
  • S.C., who is compassionate and kind and an example of being brave about your dreams. I want to be more like you when I grow up.
  • A.J.A., who takes a chance on people and is willing to change. I can only follow your example.
  • M.S., who has lived long enough to do nearly everything, know nearly everyone, and still be out there having fun. I can only hope.
  • I.J., whose feminist, socialist heart is as tender as it is fierce. Who says the pursuit of social justice can’t be paved with kindness and cookies.

So many women doing what needs done – friends, neighbors, cousins, coworkers – too many name and count. Every day. I acknowledge your achievements and look to the day when we do not need International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, or Black History month to know the sum of who we are.

Until then, have a croissant and sing along.

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Buttery goodness from William-Sonoma

My sister and niece were over the house to celebrate my daughters 16th birthday yesterday and, as usual, a bizarre bit of our childhood folklore floated to the surface of the conversation.

My daughter loves these glimpses into our past. Of course it never seems odd when you are living it, but it sure can sound that way thirty years later.

My sister and I were talking about my Dad’s various hobbies and I mentioned the Gee Haw Whammy Diddle.

Yes its an actual thing. A small propeller nailed to a stick with some notches cut into it. A second stick for making the propeller go right (Gee) and left (Haw). And there you have yourself one country boy, homemade toy.

It’s not like we were so poor we played with rocks and sticks, it’s just that my dad liked to make stuff. And he liked colonial era, boy scout, do-it-yourself from raw materials (possibly with the help of an expensive lathe) kind of projects most especially.

For a good stretch of my childhood he dabbled in leather goods (he had an account at the Tandy Leather Factory), and then he made candy dispensers out of mason jars (I still have one), and for a while he enjoyed working on wood-turning projects which meant everyone received wooden vases as gifts.

My all time favorite project of his was empty tuna cans with both lids cut off, spray painted gold and soldered together into a Christmas tree shape. He then attached a gold Christmas ornament inside each tuna can. That creation decorated the front door each Christmas for a couple of years and clanked impressively each time the door was opened.

Hard to beat the Gee Haw Whammy Diddle for sheer fun though. The name never fails to get a laugh followed by a  “Wait. What?”

Here is a link to the plans for how you too can make your very own Whammy Diddle. Impress your friends.

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The neighborhood I grew up in appears desolate and broken. Ten miles from where I live, its at least ten years since I’ve driven down those streets.

I made the long trip back recently for a very specific reason. To participate in a protest for Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy shot by police outside of Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland’s westside.

The rec center next to my elementary school, two blocks from my childhood home. The rec center where my friends and I spent countless summers swimming, playing tennis and goofing around by the clock tower.

The protest was attended by people who had traveled by bus from Ferguson, Missouri to stand in solidarity with the Cleveland protestors. I thought if they could ride a bus all night I could at least drive 25 minutes across town.

It was a hard thing to witness in a place so familiar that now no longer belongs to me.

Afterward, on the way home, I drove past my mother’s house, and was struck by how very tiny it was. (Eight people in 900 sq. feet & one bathroom – no kidding.)  I was unprepared for the unrelenting poverty.

Used to be lots of homes like my moms with overly groomed miniscule yards, flower beds and American flags flying. Now there is very little evidence of that kind of effort.

Looking the past in the face makes me pay attention to what I’m doing in the present to make a better future. How am I acting in my daily life, what am I contributing in my community, what is in my head and coming out my mouth that reduces racial injustice? Some days probably not so much.

Tomorrow I am participating in a facilitator training for the YWCA “It’s Time To Talk: Forums on Race” series. If they choose to use me as a facilitator I can help myself and other people have safe, meaningful discussions about race. Even if they choose not to use me I call spending six hours in social justice training “checking my head” a good day.

How do you check your head?

Mavis will see you out.

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Cudell Rec Center has a beautiful glass wall on the front and a sliding glass wall on the pool patio. I loved to swim in the winter and watch it snow through the steamy windows.

 

 

 

 

Every once in a while I wake up with a migraine so bad it gives me black eyes. Like my nose caught a softball. Or a fist.

That’s today.

Pain killers, dark rooms, sleeping it off – the only thing that actually works is waiting it out. The migraine either goes away or retreats to a point I where I can function until it does.

A while back, before I discovered it was connected to my migraines, I wrote about this experience. In light of the discussion around the violence suffered by Janay Rice by her husband Ray, I am re-posting what happened to me when I had a black eye.

Does the current awareness of how to empathize and assist battered women translate into action? I’ll let you know if anyone comments on my shiner or looks askance at my explanation.

I haven’t watched the video of Rice knocking Janay unconscious. I have seen men hit women, and each other, in person and it’s horrifying enough to stick in my memory without a video refresher.


BLACK EYE March 12, 2012
I have a black eye.

I woke up the other morning with a shiner like I caught a softball with my nose. No trauma, no injury, no logical explanation. I went to see an internist who had no idea what it was, who sent me to an ophthalmologist who had no idea what it was.

After extensive questioning they could tell me what it wasn’t – it wasn’t a sinus infection, an “allergy shiner”, or related to vision, optic nerve or glaucoma. Nor was it related to any vitamins or medicine I take. They also asked if there was any domestic violence in my home. There is no violence in my home and I told them so, but I also said I appreciated that they asked.

This has been an odd experience for me, to say the least. It has also been hard on my husband to know that strangers think he hit me. Even though he doesn’t know them and isn’t with me every moment, he knows the world has judged him.

The eye looks nasty, and even after careful application of makeup, it is clearly visible. Reactions have been interesting. Some glance at my face and look away. Some stare fixedly. Some see the black eye and then give me a once over. What people are clearly doing is creating a story about how I got a black eye. Yet no one looked me in the eye or asked me how I got it.

Why wouldn’t anyone say anything? I am sure the majority of look-away-quickly people assumed my husband hit me. Some of the long stares were probably looking to see if I had work done. Some of the once-over folks were clearly judging me as someone who “allows themselves to be hit”.

While I would have been appalled at the assumption I would also have been pleased if any stranger (or the mild acquaintances like the women at my gym) had asked about my eye or even said “I hope you are OK.” But so far there has been four days of silence.

I remember when my sister was living with her (physically and mentally) abusive husband. Knowing how he treated her, and being profoundly upset by it, I once talked to people at the local domestic violence shelter and found out what to say and how to say it.

“You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. He does not have the right to hurt you or make you feel bad. I will help you if you chose to leave.”

It took almost fifteen years for her to separate from him. She left and went back to him a dozen times, and I have no idea what her situation is now.

I started to wonder what I would say if I saw someone with a black eye. Now. In my current crunchy, suburban life where things like that are not supposed to happen. But they do. We know women (and some men) are physically and emotionally abused everyday. The statistics are awful – One in four women and one in nine men are physically abused by an intimate partner during their lives.

We need to ask ourselves tough questions. ‘What would I say and how would I say it?’ And ‘When is it my responsibility to say something?’ Or more importantly, why isn’t it everyone’s business to end domestic violence?

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The street where I grew up boasted a soft serve ice cream stand on the corner called Gigi’s.

At Gigi’s you could get vanilla, chocolate or, my favorite, a twist cone (why choose when you can have both?) with dip coating, which was extra and a rare splurge.

I never really liked the glassy hard coating that made eating your ice cream difficult and drippy, but I always wanted it. It seemed so fancy to have something “extra” on your cone. You could also get your ice cream rolled in chopped peanuts but that seemed like something invented by adults just to ruin a good time.

My mom didn’t eat ice cream from Gigi’s because she said it was “dirty” and she thought they had cockroaches. I don’t know why she thought that or if she had proof, but begging for money to get a cone always included her unsolicited opinion that “That place is dirty”.

Maybe it was, but what did we care.

The guy who owned it, and named it after his daughter who preened about the fact, converted his garage into a tiny stand with one window and a ledge to lean on while you waited to be served.

The most satisfying way to enjoy a cone from Gigi’s was on the way home from the public pool, exhausted from sun and chlorine and six straight hours of “horse-play” and diving for pennies. Countless summer days my mother sent us to the pool when it opened at noon and we stayed until they kicked all the kids out at 6pm.

Gigi’s was between the pool and home which meant the cone that was sure to ruin your dinner had to be eaten sitting on the downed telephone pole in the empty lot just off the corner. The house next to the lot had bushes so no one (my mom and her neighbor cronies specifically) could see you sitting on the telephone pole eating a pre-dinner ice cream.

I stopped going to Gigi’s as I got older after a few creepy encounters with the men outside Danny’s beverage. You had to pass through the beverage store parking lot on the corner to get to Gigi’s. It was a low-tech drive up place where young guys sitting on beer crates would hop up and bring your order to you while you waited in the car.

The guys on crates, and the old men in lawn chairs who ran the place, sat out front smoking all day. Once I hit puberty they started to make cracks about my body and all the ice cream in the world wouldn’t persuade me to cross that lot anymore.

Now, at least once a year, I take my daughter to get a soft serve ice cream. The stand I found is on the way home from the beach, is not at all “dirty”, and is run by teenagers just like a good ice cream stand should be.

The selections are many.

No longer is there just chocolate, butterscotch and cherry dip coating, (god bless you Red Dye #40) but now you can also have strawberry, blue raspberry and peanut butter. It’s still extra. And I still get it even though I don’t really like it.

Its tradition.

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When I stepped away from actively doing any theater I also stopped attending the kinds of plays I had liked to perform in and direct. I had a hard time listening to people talk about “the craft” and I even stopped reading very much about new work, especially experimental or political theater.

I had good reasons for stepping away from 20 years of work.

Now I haven’t directed for 10 years, and I haven’t performed for more than 12. I officially no longer have the chops to do either. I realized I missed acting three or four years ago when I was casually noticing auditions, and actively reviewing the seasons of all the local theaters to see if there was anything so compelling that I might…

I have a list floating around in my head of roles I’ve always wanted to perform in that I think I am old enough (even if no longer skilled enough) to handle:

  • Dan in Aunt Dan & Lemon
  • Elinor in The Lion in Winter
  • Aurelia in Madwoman of Chaillot
  • Masha in Three Sisters

And plays that make me want to direct again:

  • Bent – I think its past time this play makes a comeback
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Everyman
  • Chimerica or Tinderbox
  • Rapture, Blister, Burn
  • What the Butler Saw
  • Adapting “This is 40” for the stage…

One thing that occurred to me as I was mulling what is making me consider trying to inch my way into theater again is the realization that I never played an ingenue. Not even when I was technically the correct age. There are two reasons for this: First, I have a strong presence and didn’t learn for many years how to temper it, and second, the ingenue never seemed as interesting to me as other characters.

I still am not sure why I am thinking about theater, or performing, or what I would even do to make motions in that direction. Nor have I completely resolved the question “was I ever any good anyway”?, that lurks around the edges.

Questions without answers, blog posts without a point – they go hand in hand don’t they?

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I came very late to the habit of going to the salon. For 30 years I wore my hair very long (and usually pinned up in a bun). For 15 of those years I dyed my hair various shades of bottle blonde.

The color started as a poorly controlled impulse. Once when one sister was dying the other sister’s hair blonde in the kitchen, I scooped some of the left over goop from bowl and pulled it through my hair in a streak. It wasn’t long before my whole head was blonde.

Because it was so long, and I was dying it myself over the bathtub, it wasn’t long before multiple shades were apparent. At the time it was vaguely Madonna-esque, now I think now they call it ombre. Looks a lot different when its deliberate.

Ten years ago I decided to cut my hair. I can’t remember the reason why, now but something must have prompted it. Now I go to an “Aveda Experience Salon” for cut, curl, color and whatever else my stylist thinks is a good idea. Who am I to argue?

Sitting in the salon chair with my eyes closed the other day, listening to the sounds of high heels clacking and dozens of voices rising and falling, I thought about the difference between this and the sounds of my mother’s beauty parlor.

Until I was an adult my mom went to the beauty parlor once a week to get her hair washed and “done”. This was a Saturday ritual that started with a 7 am trip to the West Side Market, a stop at Zannoni’s Italian Imports for whatever, and Mazonne & Sons for bread. And then Patsy’s Beauty Parlor.

Patsy’s was a store front shop with two chairs, 4 drying chairs and lots of hairspray. Instead of the thumping bass of my Aveda experience, Patsy’s sound scape consisted of WGAR Country radio, the whine of dryer hoods and middle-aged women, smoking and bitching about their good-for-nuthin, kids/husbands/neighbor. The smell was Benson & Hedges diluted only by industrial strength Aqua Net.

I’m sure those Beauty Parlor sounds and smells still exist somewhere, along with the pink foam sleep bonnet my mother wore at night to protect her complicated basket weave of a hairdo.

Often when I think of my mother – it is mother’s day after all – I fall into a rambly comparison of her life to mine. Middle class daily life versus childhood memories of her poverty class daily life at my same age. An attempt I guess to further understand who I am by trying to understand who she was.

Sometime after I was out of high school my mom stopped going to Patsy and switched to the JC Penny salon at the mall. The basket weave was replaced by a layered bob that took a bit of work with a curling iron to fluff it up.

She never told me why she decided to change her style. Lost to time like my own reason to cut my hair. Another twisty thread for me to pick at when I turn my kaleidoscope on memories of my mother.

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I re-post this as a salute to my friend who is brave, kind and more than just a pretty-good Mom.


A Mother’s Day Essay

A Pretty Good Mom

An ugly third-degree burn scar covers most of my left outer thigh. This is one legacy my mother left me. I was two years old and, the story goes, I climbed on top of our stove, turned it on, and sat down on the red-hot electrical burner while my mother vacuumed upstairs, unable to hear my screams. Neglect? An accident?  It’s a strange story, but it’s possible. I also knocked out my front teeth around the same age, falling down the stairs. Again, it’s possible. Nothing strange or unusual about a toddler falling down the stairs, especially in the late 60s before baby proofing was common.

Another legacy my mother left me was her voice, first in my ears, later in my head, telling me I was a mistake, an accident, that I was not loved but tolerated, and that I was capable of ruining lives (well, hers at least) by merely existing. I wasn’t even supposed to be alive, so I’d better watch it. It throws the accidents into a different light, this admission from her that I was not loved, was not wanted. It puts a small, scratching doubt in my head, enough to make me wonder what really happened.

It’s hard not to think about these things around Mother’s Day. All the stories in social media, newspapers and magazines that idealize and praise mothers and mothering, stories of bonds between mothers and daughters, are powerful triggers.

It’s also hard not to think about these things because I am a mother.

I like to say that my mother helped me become a good mother by demonstrating what NOT to do. I don’t yell, I don’t belittle, I don’t insult,  I don’t shame, I don’t slam things, I don’t break things. I’m not saying good mothers don’t lose their tempers and do these things sometimes. They do. But good mothers who do those things make up for the mistakes with love and affection, even apologies, that hopefully balance it all out.

Looking back, though, I think what was worse than what she did do was what she didn’t do. She did not cuddle, she did not praise, she did not thank, she did not protect, she did not apologize, she did not love. She fed, she clothed, she cleaned, she tolerated, grudgingly. When she wasn’t angrily doing housework, slamming cupboards and drawers, she was smoking and drinking coffee in the kitchen, one eye pinched against the smoke curling from the cigarette clamped in one side of her mouth, the other fixed on the pages of a Harlequin Romance.  I knew better than to seek attention from her, and usually just watched her from the kitchen doorway, trying to gauge her mood.

My most vivid memories of her from my childhood are saturated with feelings of fear and guilt. One afternoon she tried to show me how to clean my room. I know I was very young because I remember the vacuum cleaner was too heavy for me—try as I might I could not push it under the bed where I had been told to sweep. When she returned to find it unswept, she raged at me. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.

Another dim memory, playing Candyland, the only memory I have of her playing with me. I must have cheated, as very young children do–maybe trying to move my piece ahead without her noticing? Who knows. The game was put away very dramatically, with huffing and puffing and scolding and slamming and indignation. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.

That was our pattern.

And so it went. The fear and guilt morphed into loathing and guilt when I was a teen, and eventually pity and guilt when I was an adult and finally had a child of my own.

Oh, the waste of love. Until I had my own, I had no idea how eager children are to love and be loved, how easily it happens. It would have taken so little for her to have it, to give it. But for a variety of reasons (the subject of a future essay, perhaps), she could not. And as much as I tried to love her, I could not overcome my fear enough to do it.

I cried when she died, not because she was gone but for the life she had wasted. I do not miss her, and I am, if not exactly happier, at least relieved that she is gone.

Her voice is still with me, but it gets quieter as the years pass, crowded out of my head more and more by thoughts of my son, my husband, my friends, my work, my world. In spite of her, I give and receive love easily, even fiercely, especially with my son.  And I am grateful for that every day, but especially today.

Happy mother’s day.

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There is a years long construction project near where I work. It has been fascinating to watch the process, passing by in the morning thinking ‘I wonder what that crane is for?’ and returning in the evening to see a new skeleton. Every once in a while one of the construction workers strikes up a conversation with me. This morning an older guy taking a smoke break started talking about how he needed to quit smoking. He quit for 15 months and then started up again.

I told him I smoked for 17 years and had been quit for 20 years now. He said “And you don’t miss it do you?”.  I coulda lied but I didn’t.

I told him that it still smelled good, and I still wanted to smoke sometimes, but when I did it tasted and felt awful. The craving is there but the enjoyment is gone.

I’m sure if I powered through and kept smoking the nicotine would start to compensate and I would once again think it tasted & felt good. But I would have to work at it.

The will power to quit has to do with mastering associations, for me at least. It took years for me to stop wanting to light a cigarette when I started the car or had a drink in a bar. The first time I directed a show after I quit was harrowing. My habit was to smoke all through rehearsals – going to a pack a day during tech week – so that was a tough change to make.

Since smoke was in my cells since my conception, I’ll always consider myself a “former smoker” rather than a non-smoker. My last smoking trigger seems to be emergency rooms or hospital visits. Very high stress associations that produce an almost overwhelming urge to go outside for a cigarette. A soothing escape that puts you one step closer to the hospital yourself. Addiction logic.

I told the construction guy that if he could start again, he could quit again. He said maybe. For his birthday. He flicked the butt, told me to have a good day, and wandered back to the site.

The construction is almost finished now, they are working furiously rolling out grass and touching up painting. I will miss my random conversations with construction workers when they leave. I don’t miss my Newports.

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Been thinking a lot about obligations lately. What you owe to colleagues, family, friends, society – why and how the calculations are made. Fortunately, when I get caught in a very sticky problem I have a hierarchy of defense mechanisms that kick in:

  • Invariably I start by talking it out. Haven’t met a problem yet I couldn’t talk to death.
  • If/when rigor mortis fails to set in (some problems are zombies),  I start researching. Surely someone somewhere has done a meta analysis of all the research and possible solutions. Which I can then adopt.
  • If the problem refuses to yield to the sheer weight of expert opinion, I then try to translate it into a formula in the hopes of discovering rules. The formula stage is usually evidence that the problem is either long-term or I truly have no clue.

Currently, I’m working on a formula for “Obligations”.

Everyone has some version of the “me & mine” mindset that would kick in during times of natural disaster, revolution, or Armageddon, but other assorted obligations shift and change over time.

Some of these obligations are steel cables from the past, subterranean and invisible until some event pulls them taut. And that is the formula I can’t quite work out. How much does the past obligate me in the present?

I have managed to climb very far from where I started in life. Some family & friends who were there with me have not. Calls from that past come more infrequently now but the steel cable of obligation reels me in so quickly its staggering.

Some twisted sense of survivors guilt, plus my mother’s catholic (guilt) training, makes saying no almost an impossibility.  Someone else always has it worse. Your success means you share and help.

Thankfully my long-suffering and understanding husband has a more realistic perspective that keeps me from going into debt to float people as I have in the past.

It’s hard to be on either end of that cable.

I usually have an image  or song at the end of my posts, and I was tempted to put a photo of Richard Harris from his famous scene in “A Man Called Horse”, but that’s a bit dark even for me. So instead I leave you with 3 minutes and 30 seconds bittersweet by an under appreciated and brilliant artist you should check out if this is the only song of his you are familiar with.

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As bittersweet vines grow, they will tend to strangle whatever they are climbing on. It is extremely aggressive, often growing sixty feet or more in a single season, and spreads rapidly from any bit of root or stem severed from the plant so removal by pulling is nearly impossible. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

 

Searching desperately through 99,000 emails for one that I know I saved, I discovered something a friend sent after we left a particularly long strategic planning session, several strategic plans ago.

I really need to delete some emails if for nothing else than to avoid being reminded that I sometimes find myself in a hamster wheel. The author was not included so let call them “Internet” rather than “Anon”.

From the Book of Corporate Life, Chapter 11, Verses 1-15: 

1. In the beginning was the Plan.

2. And then came the Assumptions.

3. And the Assumptions were without form.

4. And the Plan was without Substance.

5. And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.

6. And Workers spoke among themselves saying, “It is a crock of shit and it stinks.”

7. And Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, “It is a crock of dung and we cannot live with the smell.”

8. And Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, “It is a container of organic waste, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it.”

9. And Managers went unto their Directors, saying, “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength.”

10. And Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another; “It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong.”

11. And Directors went to Vice-Presidents, saying unto them, “It promotes growth, and it is very powerful.”

12. And Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him “It has very powerful effects.”

13. And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.

14. And the Plan became Policy.

15. And that is how shit happens.

I grew up reading – and still own –  the “Little Wide Awake: An Anthology of Victorian Children’s Books and Periodicals in the Collection of Anne and Fernand G. Reiner Selected by Leonard De Vries.” The Corporate Verse above would fit perfectly with the severe moral lessons in the book.

This page doesn’t really capture the effect of woodcut images of children being whipped by school masters or starving to death in the streets, but you get the idea.

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The word Queer is one I have not used in a very long time. When I was in middle and high school we (meaning the girls) used it as a pejorative for anything “odd”. In hindsight the “oddness” was easily translatable to outside the heterosexual norm. Haven’t thought about that in years.

The association I have with Queer now, which only came to the surface because I was taking a SafeZone training at work, has to do with AIDS activism from the 1980’s and 90’s. HIV/AIDS was a new and ugly scourge. A death sentence.

In those days I was in the midst of activists and performance artists raising awareness, fighting against stigma and ignorance. I wore a Silence = Death pin, marched at PRIDE and knew people flying to France for experimental drugs they could not get here. And they are no longer here.

Now I know HIV positive people who are continuing to live their lives and Queer means something different. Far from the NEA Four days, the word Queer is being reclaimed in Queer Theory and Queer Studies.

I wonder how much the early activism is forgotten in the face of progress? I hope it remains part of the narrative as we continue to fight for legal rights in the face of counter legislation advocating discrimination.

I would love to direct a staged reading of the play Bent somewhere locally. I think its time to remember.

So we don’t forget.

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