Daily Prompt: Time Capsule

2012 is drawing to a close (3 weeks left!). What would you put in this year’s time capsule?

collage for UMCOR
collage for UMCOR

I would put:

  • My collage art to promote UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Am so proud! This was an early version.
  • My bike. Oh, my bike. I love my bike. Biking in NYC makes me happy.

    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
  • My first (ever!) unemployment direct deposit check. Definitely mixed feelings, but overall grateful.
  • My new business cards.
  • Masks that the girls made at Art Students League. We all play roles, wear masks, make art.
  • Chris’s SAG movie pass. Going to the movies together has been a great way to connect. Due to Chris’s illness and our busy-ness, I feel we are ships passing in the night. But we’ve sat together at such amazing movies this year! Yesterday we saw Amour. Formidable! (my favorite French word!) Today we are going to see The Guilt Trip.
  • Abeach handful of sand from Siesta Key beach. The kids and I had such a restorative time hanging out at the prettiest beach in the world last spring. Great times, too, with my bro, Nicole, dad, and Marty.
  • A mosquito from the kids and my ill-fated camping trip to Fire Island.
  • Yoga mat. Because my mom still practices yoga and stands on her head.
  • Shake Shack fries. After teaching a semester of middle school creative writing, I take my kids to Shake Shack to celebrate.
  • School Swimming Pool and Van Cortlandt Park. I watch my kids play basketball, soccer, and baseball, but I spend most of my spectator time on the sidelines of the long benches of the pool or on the edges of the Van Corltandt Park track.
  • all the cousins
    all the cousins

    All of the cousins. Being with my four siblings and their kids for Thanksgiving was definitely the highlight of 2012.

  • President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Just in case anyone, in the future, has any questions. The man is an American, all right already. Forward.

2012 was a very good year.

The Best

“Pssst, here’s the office dish: we’re in a charming play set in the 1950s,” whispers Alicia Sable (April Morrison) to Sas Goldberg (Brenda Kapinski). (photo courtesy of The Best of Everything)

Friday night I was downtown at Here to see The Best of Everything.

The space at Here means a lot to me because 20 years ago my comedy partner, Jay, and I spotted a Ferris wheel in the middle of a cobblestone street. We had stumbled upon an art opening for this performance space at Here.

That night, we shot funny interviews on Hi-8 with downtown artists and called the 30-minute documentary The Big Apple Jam. It aired several times on Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

So there I was the other night at Here. Again I happened upon something magical.

New York City lends itself to synchronicity. You can wander downtown streets and happen upon a gem of a play like The Best of Everything.

I learned about the show from a tweet or email sent by Holly Rosen Fink who’d auditioned me for the Listen to Your Mother Mother’s Day performance (which I didn’t get). Fink was the associate producer of the play, based on the novel with the same name by Rona Jaffe, written by Julie Kramer and directed by Amy Wilson, who also plays my favorite character, Miss Farrow.

The play’s about the twisting fates of secretaries for a publishing house in the 1950s. Each of the secretaries could have a whole sitcom created for her. So funny. I laughed a lot but then I cried a little too.

And why I cried surprised me. It wasn’t the tragic outcome of one of the secretary’s obsession with a no-good man. I kind of saw that coming. Or another character’s discussion of her necessary abortion at this time of illegal abortions.

I cried when the only woman editor, Miss Farrow, played by Amy Wilson, quit her job to get married. She gave her stable of authors to Caroline, played by Sarah Wilson, a smart new secretary working her way up. The other secretaries marveled at and subtly insulted Caroline for her belief  that life was about more than marriage. (!)

I got choked up because I love authors and I love editors and I love that the editor cared about her authors. In some screwed-up way, the older woman, Miss Farrow, wanted to mentor the younger woman. Deep down, the women all wanted each other to succeed. Beneath Miss Farrow’s bitchiness seemed to be her genuine affection for her mentee.

I have felt that too:  while women can be competitive and enemies in the workplace, they can also be one another’s sponsors and help each other move ahead. Beneath Caroline’s insecurity was her quiet confidence; she asked Miss Farrow to help her achieve decent pay. I like that.

The play left me thinking, beyond the colliding worlds of wives at home and women in the office, how can women be sexual human beings? The men who philander land on bar stools while the women fall down stairs or require back-alley abortions.

It’d be fun to discuss how women’s sexuality and society’s moralizing drove behavior in the 1950s workplace and how that compares with today.

In any case, the show moves at a clip. The costumes and the music are delicious. When I walked out of the theater into the downtown scene, I thought, Thank God I wasn’t a working gal in the 1950s.

Although, some things never change, like the magic of Off Off Broadway. And that happens Here.

Check it out at Best of Everything or find out what’s next at Here Arts Center.


pages from my art journal

I love the creative process. I love the brilliant idea as bright as a candle flame. The revision process? Not so sexy.

I wish I could fall in love with rewriting. These tips for writers as they revise at Necessary Fiction really got me thinking. Here are a few useful ideas from the post:

  • write the plot on sticky notes then organize in columns
  • retype the whole thing
  • change fonts
  • make sure what your character wants is an impediment to what others want
  • raise the stakes
  • get rid of introductory clauses

I am in love with the short form. I love blogging. I sit down. Write for 20 minutes. Add a photo or two. Hit publish. Done! Go about life.

For me revising is endless. There’s no Done!

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now have two half-baked novels written during the months of November (2011 and 2009). Due to their unwieldy length, slightly more than 50,000 words, I can’t bear to open the first chapter. Just maybe if I set out the plot on colorful sticky notes or cut up my scenes with scissors, the story could emerge more like a work of art, a collage, than a mess of incomplete plot points.

collage – perhaps upside-down?

I have been crazy making collages lately. I get into a Zen mode and throw paint and color and images down on paper or on discarded library books.

Done! I love the haphazard process and the chaotic result. Maybe I could see the process of revising my writing as a visual art project.

As the blogger Matthew Salesses says, “a lot of these thoughts are about seeing. Remember: re-vision.”

I, too, can repurpose, rewrite, rethink, rewind, rework, and revise. Re-vision.

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Healthy Camping

When we returned home from camping Saturday night, I cut up a watermelon, made a big salad, put out a bowl of cherries, and cooked a Pesto Pizza (Trader Joe’s) for the fam.

our campsite on Fire Island

One thing I don’t like about camping is the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe someone more clever or more prepared than I would’ve come up with a way to pack watermelons or grapefruits. But the fresh fruit I packed, bananas, got mushy and brown before we even hit the campsite.

Any time I travel, I try to eat healthy, yet making hot dogs and S’Mores just seems easier and more fun at the campfire. I’ve got to work on this.

The other downside in terms of my health in the summer is that I don’t mean to get a tan and with my history of Basal Cell Carcinoma, I definitely shouldn’t. But I do.

I apply sunscreen early in the day and then fail to reapply. I’m just too lazy or uninterested. At the beach, inertia sets in.

Yesterday I bought a long-sleeved SPF waterproof shirt. I hope that helps. It was expensive ($50), but then, so is skin cancer.

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Camping on Fire Island

Why can’t life be more like camping?

I took the darlings camping to Fire Island this weekend. We got there via subway, commuter rail, a ferry ride and a long walk.

We left NYC on a crowded, rush-hour Long Island

finding shade

Railroad. Four hours later, we were sitting around a picnic table near our tents, listening to singing birds in a bush and roasting S’mores.

As I pushed our canvas cart through Penn Station, (Deliver me not into Penn Station!) balancing backpack and toppling cooler , one of my darlings said, “You look like a homeless woman.” Knowing Lorenza Andrade Smith who is beautiful, kind and homeless, I took this remark to be a badge of honor.

In my own defense, we used or ate every single thing we brought. Admittedly, the journey to the campsite was not as much fun as the experience at the campsite.

Once there, the best parts were:

  • the empty early morning beach
  • watching my son go for a run on the beach
  • diving into the frigid Atlantic on a steamy day. And once in the wave, having that momentary panic of not knowing which way was up!
  • a cold shower in the communal bathhouse
  • seeing the antlers of a deer emerge under the boardwalk
  • in the shine of our flashlight, catching a glimpse of a fox running from our site
  • on the middle-of-the-night bathroom run, meeting a father and son with lanterns who followed a toad wherever it led
The worst parts were:
  • mosquitoes
  • mosquitoes
  • mosquitoes
My take-aways:
  • Nature is incredible
  • Find shade
  • You don’t need your iPhone to be happy (the kids left their phones at home!)
  • My kids are awesome
  • We need each other
  • We can lean on each other

The whole camping experience had an Outward-Bound bonding experience for the four of us. We were resourceful. Of course, the kids bickered, which usually drives me crazy, but they also engaged in long conversations and activities, such as counting one another’s mosquito bites, which I think, numbered 72. Seriously. (And we were using strong insect repellent!)

As usal, we couldn’t have done it without our friends.

  • The aforementioned Lorenza Andrade Smith who inspired us to camp
  • Our church’s Boy Scout troop and the Scout Mistress Louisa Anderson who lent us the three tents
  • Joanna Parson who encouraged us and was going to join us but instead got theater work and gave us her campsite (So we had bedrooms and a dining room/kitchen)

Maybe life is like camping — a lot of work, a lot of fun, and too much sun.

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I learned a lot from this movie in which many Victorian women have pleasure at their doctor’s hand. Here are my take-aways:

1. Female pleasure cures many ailments.

2. While many Victorian women sought help from doctors, it is likely that their husbands were not able, willing or interested in doing their duty. So, alas, women turned to Hugh Dancy.

3. The doctor needed a little relief as well. Hugh’s vulvic massage technique became a hardship, causing his cramped hand and overwork! Poor dear!

4. The doctor, while doing his duty, asked the female patient things like, “Is that all right?” Sweet! (The expressions on the women’s faces were priceless!)

5. Settlement Houses for the poor did (and do!) a lot of good. Especially when a headstrong woman like Charlotte, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, was in charge.

6. In running the Settlement House, Charlotte had a secret agenda — to empower women. Love that! (Also, she refused to put down socialism — the French would agree!)

As you probably know, Hysteria is about the invention of the vibrator. This is the first movie I can think of in which female pleasure is seen as a cure-all. But even in this movie, the women are seen as slightly silly or “hysterical” if they want or need sexual enjoyment. (For example, Charlotte is too busy tending to her flock at the Settlement House to need this middle-class luxury of sexual release! “She’s a tough case.”)

In most mainstream movies, it is a given that men must seek pleasure — usually from flawless, scantily clad woman wearing black lace. In this movie, there’s a bit of lace but it is found in a high collar or a long skirt. When the women are pleasured by the doctors, they are fully dressed, and their lower bodies are hidden behind a velvet curtain (which resembles a puppet theater).

This delicious movie opens in a week. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about another feel-good English movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which senior citizens discover that they are still entitled to pleasure. First, senior citizens and now women! Such radical notions coming from England — all adults are entitled to pleasure! We’ve come a long way, baby.

Happy-Go-Lucky? Good enough!

In the face of worry, I stay perky and productive. Chris does too. We continue to make a contribution — at work and at home. I want, need, and hope that we all stay as positive and productive for as long as possible.

Chris’s work is very meaningful. On the heels of his success translating The Cherry Orchard Off-Broadway and directing Picasso at Lapin Agile in Florida, he is performing in a fabulous production of Taming of the Shrew. He is also making a documentary with his friend Dan about having Parkinson’s as they rehearse for one performance of Beckett’s Endgame. (Checkout The Endgame Project.) We’re going to see the trailer for the documentary on Monday night.

So when people ask me, How is Chris doing? I usually say, “He’s doing great. He’s productive and he’s positive.”

As a family, we are doing great. Or, at least, good enough. And good enough is good enough. Lots of times, we are perky and happy-go-lucky! As I’ve said before, “We get by with a little help from our friends.” And family!

And when we feel sad about having to just get by, that’s okay. We’re human after all.

Driving with Parkinson’s Disease

On the first day of vacay, just come back from the beach, sandy and relaxed, I got Chris’s phone call with the bad news.

After I drove myself and the kids to our flight out of JFK, Chris took the driver’s seat. About five minutes later, he rear-ended a car. It was on the ramp from the airport to the highway (the Long Island Expressway?). He had been fiddling with the radio and didn’t see the car stopped at the red light in front of him.

The airbags inflated. No one was hurt. Our car was totaled. Chris told me, “My driving days may be limited.”

That night after I got that call, I didn’t sleep well. It didn’t ruin my vacation. It just felt like a signpost on the unhappy road of the progress of Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease. (He’s had PD nine years now.) Parkinson’s is a steady decline.

I have not enjoyed driving with Chris for years. Lately, he could hardly drive a city block without me clutching the dashboard or pressing my foot on a phantom break. I tried to bite my tongue, but often blurted out, “Look out!”

So, when we were together in the car, I always drove, especially with the kids in the car.

This is tough stuff. But I’m glad I didn’t have to tell him, point-blank, “I think your driving sucks.” How do tell someone that? It feels terrible. Yet, it would feel even worse if there had been a serious accident and I’d have to apologize to some stranger, knowing as I did, that his driving sucked. Maybe a small fender-bender is a blessing in disguise.

When you live with someone who is chronically ill, you have to pick your battles. You have to witness a decline. And you often don’t want to speak your truth.

You have to take over the driving. Sometimes it’d be nice to doze in the passenger seat and trust that the driver’s doing just fine. That doesn’t happen when you’re married to someone with Parkinson’s. At least, it doesn’t happen for me.

He can drive other things, but he can’t drive the family car. For that matter, neither can I. Because we don’t have one any more.

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