Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It's my birthday tomorrow, and as I've mentioned in this space before, I'm always a little shocked when other people don't know it's a national holiday. You'd think I'd grow out of this inconvenient world view by my advanced age, but it hasn't happened. For instance, Jarrah's school is having a fundraiser tomorrow where you're supposed to shop at a particular grocery store and the school will make a percentage of the sales. And I'm all like, "Great idea, guys, but the date? I mean, isn't that a little unglamorous for the occasion? Will they be handing out slices of cake?"

And yet there has been some amusing evidence that the public is starting to catch on. The other night I was giving instructions to our babysitter and she interjected "It's your birthday on Thursday, right? Happy Birthday." I stared at her. "How do you know that?" "It's the password for the Tivo. I've known it forever." (That was not my doing, by the way. Point the finger at my dear husband.) Yesterday when I dropped Jarrah at school, a friend's husband (whom I've barely exchanged ten words with previously) said "Hey, have a great birthday on Thursday." "Um, thanks!" I said, totally taken aback. Then I remembered that it's his son's sixth birthday the same day. (When I told this story to a friend, she said "Um, I still find it totally bizarre that he knew.")

Today I'm prepared for everyone to start wishing me many happy returns. Supermarket checkers, cleverly noting my personal stats as they scan my frequent-shopper card. The guy collecting signatures in front of Target. It's going to pop up in the gas pump window instead of "Want a car wash?" I'll be ready, and unsurprised. But I'll still be thrilled.

The birthday has already begun very promisingly. Yesterday my friend Synthia (whom I met in 1984!) took me out for a fancy-shmancey "ladies who lunch." Well, first we had a long walk at Spanish Landing down by the harbor, so the ladies were lunching in workout clothes, but never mind. She chose a place I've never been called Avenue 5, and I'm not sure which was more delectable: the food or getting to spend nearly two hours catching up with my dear friend. By the time we were dipping our spoons into the salted butterscotch pot de creme (oooohh mmmmm) and sipping extra-foamy cappuccino with flower-shaped butter cookies on the side, I was feeling hugged from the inside out. (Don't think too hard about that.)

When I perk up and pay attention, I'm ridiculously blessed with some of the sweetest loved ones in the world. And you know how I know? Not one of them scowls or sighs or rolls their eyes when evidence of my unhealthy birthday fixation emerges. On the contrary: they treat me like the fragile newborn lamb I am, bleating that the world is cold and I need to be fluffed and wrapped in a blanket until I toughen up and stop wobbling.

If the newborn lamb had a tiara, that is. Queen Lamb. That's me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Not Our Usual Haunts

Weekend of major events. First, the annual Friday night visit to Haunted Birch Aquarium, which has become a tradition with Mary, Paul and Joy. Always a lot of fun, starting with "Dark Picnic" in the courtyard and culminating in glow-in-the-dark squid. This year, we were joined by my friend Re from Seattle, plus her husband, Brian, and their daughter, Cadence. It was great to have them along.

Saturday night was the Black Tie Gala for the San Diego Asian Film Festival. It's not typical for us to be hobnobbing at an event that's $200 a head, but David's company, CineForm, is a sponsor of SDAFF this year (not to mention that David is working his ass off trying to prevent the overheated films from blowing up at the screenings.)

Readers, here's my assessment of the gala, and probably all galas: they are crapcake. I don't see what there is to recommend them, unless maybe I was getting a Golden Globe, or my date was, or I'd had a lot of Xanax. Here is a partial list of the ways it made me cranky:

1. I spent two hours getting ready. TWO HOURS. This was not the Oscars. I needed a stretcher to get to the car afterward. Plus, my dress, which was a bit of a commitment to start with (floor-length, several pounds of voluminous taffeta) was freakishly, horribly TIGHT in one spot around my ribs and had me wanting to claw it off in shreds an hour later.

2. Our tickets were free, but we had to pay eight dollars to park the car. Without a valet. Or stretcher.

3. The "passed hors-d'ouevres" meant one very wet chicken quesadilla bite for each person, impossible to eat with one's fingers and not gloop all over one's aforementioned taffeta dress. Luckily, the complimentary Side Cars were useful for swilling it down.

4. We were at Table 57. Doesn't mean anything to you? Hint: there were 57 tables. So guess where ours was? Sandwiched between two emergency exits in the nether regions of the ballroom. Someone was trying to send us a message, and I think that message was "You didn't donate anything, did you?" David and I were seated with Grace and Julianna, and also joined by two KPBS personalities (they were nice, but spent most of their time texting) and the rest of the table was alternately empty or occupied by random passerby. One woman stood in the corner murmuring into her phone until everyone was eating--I'm fairly certain she just happened to pass the room and was feeling peckish. None of these people acknowledged us, so it was like being at a wedding where the bride has really blown it on the seating chart.

5. The video screens displayed the events at the same ratio they appeared on the distant stage, several miles away. Ergo, there were now three opportunities for us to not be able to see what was happening. I think there were some nonlinear video clips, some muffled patter, and some symphonic Lady Gaga medleys. Couldn't tell you much more.

6. We watched about 500 people get their dinner before us, and when we were served, around 9 p.m. the choice was chicken with Balsamic Jello molded on top, or a huge, tough steak accompanied by a butter knife. Grace sawed and sawed for several minutes without results, finally giving up. I was less decorous and eventually just gripped the fork in my fist like a caveman. "Did they surgically extract the flavor from these carrots?" I wondered aloud.

7. Since we couldn't see anyway, I suggested we retreat early to the "after-party" in the courtyard, which featured two roaring fire pits and the cutest set-up for "make your own s'mores." We got a nice table to ourselves and speared some marshmallows, not realizing the pokers had antenna-like action until we'd already singed our bangs. We held those marshmallows in the fire for a half-hour, and while they were happy to grow black and shriveled, their core temperature never dropped below cool and chewy. We decided they were left-over rations from the war, in storage until this event. And the graham crackers had a peculiar smell, like "Eau de Olde Cosco Box." It began to rain as we were gnawing on our treats. "I think the theme of the evening is 'Gelatinous Foods,' announced Julianna. A band called "Crunchy Sandwich" started up right around the time we were ready to bail.

8. Oh, we did catch glimpses of Daniel Dae Kim from Lost (who seemed to be getting an award for his abs), Danny Pudi (from Community) and John Cho (from Star Trek) though Julianna's heart was ready to break that we missed Harry Shum, Jr. from Glee because of my clever s'mores idea.

Sunday we spent the day at Sea World with Re and her family. The weather was perfect and there was trick-or-treating for the kids at various "stations" around the park. The last time David and I were at Sea World we had a stroller and a diaper bag, so it's been a while. We did have a really nice day, though a bit too short since Re and Co. had to catch a plane.

Because Jarrah was too small the last time, David and I had never been on any of the rides that Sea World has added in recent years, and this time we did them all. Now we've learned the theme of all Sea World rides: YOU WILL GET WET. Not splish-splashed like you do at Knotts and D-land, but SOAKED TO THE SKIN. See video below, which really is rather funny (and amazing video quality, I think!) On Shipwreck Rapids, a wave sloshed over my lap and I had a sopping wet bum for the rest of the day. Later, Journey to Atlantis took care of any remaining dry parts, adding a brisk chlorine facial that drenched my hair and removed all my makeup. Jarrah and I got hit so hard we were both spluttering for air. Lesson for future: wear a bathing suit and flip-flops on those rides, and maybe a cover-up of insta-dry camping fabric. But were they fun? Shipwrecked: yes. Loved it. Atlantis: no. Too steep for me. I like wind-y rollercoasters--ones that go straight down make me feel very, very weird. Not sick-weird. Just unpleasant weird.

Got to see the latest incarnations of the Shamu show (which I was skeevy about due to the recent fatal accident in Florida) and the Dolphin show, which had changed for the first time in like 25 years. And I ask you: whither the shlocky Catskills tummeling of my youth? I miss the bad puns, the fake "tourists" who fall in the water, the repetitive jokes about what Shamu really thinks of you. Now it's all soaring, inspirational strings, and perplexing videos where little boys grow up to be Seaworld trainers. The Dolphin show no longer seems to have dolphins, though I did really enjoy the aerobatic Cirque de Soleil performers dressed as parrots. "So, why is the parrot eating the dolphin?" David asked, when a colorful winged creature hauled a gray-clad swimmer out of the pool. "It's symbolic of the connection between heaven and sea," I rhapsodized. Maybe I can help write their brochures.

Untitled from David Newman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"...the center of all beauty..."

Yesterday afternoon it rained. Jarrah was watching Dora and I was spacing out in front of the computer. Just like everyday. And I suddenly realized that Jarrah and I don't talk much after school. She watches TV, reads, draws or plays with toys. I space out in front of the computer, as I already mentioned. We don't ignore each other. Occasionally, she'll ask for a snack, and I'll make it. Occasionally, I'll ask her how she's doing. She's always fine.

And it occurred to me that we haven't talked much after school in years.

Oh, don't get me wrong. If we have a playdate, then we talk on the way there, and on the way back. If she has a class or an appointment, we do the same. But on the days we are home in the afternoon, it's like we are in our own little bubbles, and clearly that's the way I like it. Her, I don't know. Until yesterday, I'd never much thought about it.

I had a hard year starting when Jarrah was one. Which is when I met her. I found her mind-bogglingly hard to keep up with. She was never still. She dragged her own diaper bag to the front door and pointed. She ate around the clock. She went through the garbage. Her idea of "playing" was demanding I provide voices for a never-ending cast of plastic characters while she giggled and said "Again!" Sometimes, as I dragged my sleep-deprived, unshowered bones around on the cold hardwood floor, I had the distinct sensation that I was trying to talk through a hearty dose of Valium. So. Hard. To. Form. Words. So. Hard. To. Have. Thoughts. When she started getting interested in TV (took a while) and imaginary friends, I encouraged it, and anything that gave me five minutes alone in my own head. I was a graduate student for 11 years. I am used to having a LOT of time alone in my own head.

Now, though, so much time has passed that she doesn't question it. She is perfectly content to amuse herself until dinner because that's what we do, and she is used to it. Kids get used to anything, I'm told.

So I had this thought: What am I doing? Right now she likes me, she really likes me. She has no complicated feelings about me, no ambivalence whatsoever. If I could peek into her brain, one whole track would be dedicated to "I Like Mommy, And Mommy Likes Me." And this will not last. I've been warned. And I've lived it. One day--it will feel like tomorrow--she won't want to be caught dead with boring, old, uncool, unreasonable, bossy me. She is almost six, and I have no idea how that happened. So this will definitely be tomorrow. Before tomorrow comes, I should spend some time with my daughter while she thinks I'm the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas. Because that time may be almost over.

I walked into the TV room and said "Wanna do a puzzle?" That got her attention.

"What kind of puzzle?" she said warily. But she was already turning off the TV, without being asked.

"Any kind you like. Pick one out." The second sentence was delivered to her retreating back as she galloped towards her puzzle cupboard. Well, then. She still likes me.

We got out her wild animal safari puzzle, and spread out the hundred pieces. Somehow I knew, even though we hadn't done this in ages, that she would be very good at puzzles. Sure enough, she was fast. She had strategies. "Everything orange is part of the water, and goes near the bottom." I recalled the endless hours of watching her drool and mouth-breathe while I repeated, testily, "Edge. EDGE. That's an EDGE." Not now. Now she had a tendency to delicately swipe a piece right out of my hand if I hesitated too long. I had to speak to her about that.

"Jarrah, it's not polite to take the piece I was working on. That's taking away my fun."

"Sorry. We haven't learned about that yet in school." Smart ass.

"Well, you're learning about it right now, from ME." I retorted.

When the puzzle was done, she suggested another, and then a third. David came home in the middle of that one. I asked her to put the puzzles pieces away and left the room. She called to me a few moments later.

"Can you help me?"

"Sure." I saw that two of the puzzles were back in their boxes, and I got down to help with the third. As we were sweeping the pieces into a pile, she smiled and said:

"When you asked if I wanted to do a puzzle, I thought: 'What's going on? THAT doesn't happen!'" She laughed happily.

My heart felt stabbed a little. I'm a terrible mother. I shock my child when I offer to play with her. It's such a freakish occurrence.

"You mean because we usually don't do puzzles?" I asked, smiling too, but in a different way.


"Well..." I groped. "It was a rainy day, and just seemed like good puzzle weather."

"I think we should do puzzles every time it rains."

"It's a deal."

"And maybe on other days. How about Fridays?"

"Fridays will be puzzle days."

This afternoon it rained.

"Can we do a puzzle, Mommy?"

This time I didn't hesitate. "Sure we can."

We did two.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Crybaby Cheers Up

Ahhhh. I'm in my pajamas, filled up with Thai food (it's soft! it's tasty!) looking forward to The Vampire Diaries. Tomorrow's monologue is learned, and I think the last vestiges of Xanax are warding off early-onset stage terror.

Today was not a laugh riot (well, amend that: there was one moment that threatened to send me into one of my hour-long giggle fits--a new cast member erroneously sang that a certain tabloid-staple starlet has had a sex change) but I got through it all with much less trembling and sweating than expected. Also I sternly reminded myself that I am not a Chilean miner who just spent 69 days underground, that I'm just being a big ol' baby, and to suck it up.

First there was a 3.5 hour rehearsal, most of which was simply hard work, and I enjoyed both the work and the distraction. Then there was the last 45 minutes, in which I cringed with embarrassment while repeatedly blowing my lines on a solo I was supposed to have memorized. That was...avoidably humiliating. The avoidable kind is the worst, wouldn't you agree? There was also the disconcerting "meeting" at the beginning where we all got told off for various things and also learned that two cast members, the director's assistant and the stage manager have all resigned or been "released" in the past week, and no one really wants to hear stuff like that. It does not inspire confidence, or warm fuzzies.

Then there was time for a quick lunch before popping my little pink pill, and an hour later I didn't so much mind being driven to the dentist. In fact, I was looking forward to a little rest while watching Couples Retreat (I ask you, why was this movie even made? To give all those people jobs? There wasn't even a story--just a series of sketches in which they humiliated themselves doing yoga with a guy in a speedo.) I made the dentist and her assistant giggle when I went on and on (oooh, this is just coming back to me, not so good) shouting "DAMN! I see myself in the TV and this is NOT a good look for me! DAMN! Not at all!" I vaguely remember wondering what they were laughing about.

Anyway, the thing was long (90 minutes, just like she said) but she did three fillings instead of two. I watched most of the bad movie and the only thing I minded was the occasional glimpse of myself with my mouth prized open in some metal contraption and swathed in pink shiny plastic. That is just not right. And my jaw is incredibly sore because of it. Not even my teeth--just my jaw. "I have a really teeny mouth," I told her after. "It's true, you do," she said. "I can't really open it too much." Clearly, she didn't agree.

D and J picked me up and got me a slushie, and I read magazines in my new Private Reading Nook at home (no one is allowed in without the magic password) while holding an ice pack to my face. Not sure if it was the cold or what, but all the numbness was gone in less than three hours, while last time it took six and a half (!) for one teeny filling. I will have to investigate. In the mean time, I'm grateful I didn't starve.

Tomorrow I'll be able to say "What fresh hell is this?" But tonight, I must confess I'm relieved.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fear Itself

Good heavens, I haven't blogged since Saturday? What is this world coming to?

Had our first Daisies meeting. I seem to have elected myself "Craft Helper." We'll see about that. I do have a weirdly compulsive love of Michaels and JoAnns, so maybe this is the perfect job for me. One of the moms from Jarrah's class was in there, and we recognized each other, vaguely. When I pointed out Jarrah, she swiveled her head toward her and right back around to say "She's adopted?" It was so abrupt I actually laughed. I don't get that much when David's not around--people just assume my husband is Asian. But since this gal was Chinese herself, I guess there was no foolin' her.

Haven't been to rehearsal all week. Feeling a bit out of the loop since I was there every night last week. I'm back on Saturday. In the mean time, I've decided there's not enough fraught, naked emotion in my life, and I've scheduled an audition for another show, at a different theater. I promised myself I'd get out there, and I'm keeping that promise. (This one doesn't rehearse until February.) There's no way I'll get it--I'm too old for the part, for one thing, and the gig actually pays--but I'm chalking it up to "good experience." Because, you know, everyone needs experiences where you feel like vomiting as you spew some words you've only just barely mastered and try to shake some feeling into your numb hands in front of a room full of strangers whose only task is to judge you, then be tossed out into the cold with an echoing "thank you" and a pounding heart, self-loathing and alone. Yup, everyone should do it.

Lots of news on the tooth front. Jarrah has lost two (count 'em!) teeth since my last post, leaving a gaping void in the bottom half of her mouth and creating a slight difficulty with "esssses." The first night, we forgot all about the tooth fairy, and after that, we said she was coming from Australia, a very long trip, and also has an exceedingly busy schedule. Fair enough, except that four nights later I was ignoring her in favor of Facebook while she nattered on regardless in the nearest ear, ending with "And the tooth fairy is coming, someday, although she's very busy right now" which was like a stake through my terrible heart. Later that night, I suggested we pony up a cool five spot as appeasement, but David thought better of it: "Wait. Isn't that other tooth about to fall out? This could get expensive." He suggested one, and I pushed for two. Now we're out four dollars--and this is just the beginning.

She also had to go to the dentist a couple days ago, no biggie, just a chipped filling, but after 16 cavities she is understandably wary and one look at the swab covered with gooey, orange "sleepy gel" that precedes the massive shot and she clamped her hands over her mouth (no dummy!) for the next twenty minutes of wheedling, cajoling, bargaining and (almost) threats. She finally gave in, and screamed lustily (though did not move!) through the endless minutes of shot-giving while I clutched her hands and hoped I didn't have heart failure. I sat there clutching those hands for an entire hour, though the actual minutes of the procedure numbered about five, or would have without an instant replay of the hand-clamping every time a new instrument was plucked from the tray.

Readers, this was super-relaxing for me, since I myself am so afraid of the dentist that I can barely be lowered in the chair before a massive panic attack sets in. So to sit there gazing directly into my tiny child's mouth while it was shot and drilled was my idea of a spa-like afternoon. Don't get me wrong--I feel for her. But knowing I have to do the same and much, more worse this coming weekend almost had me swooning. On our way out, I summoned (without much effort) the courage to ask: "Can you give me a Rx for Xanax?" I was relieved that she simply said "Sure!" and handed it over. How many of those can I safely take, I wonder? I would prefer not to remember the afternoon at all, since she said I may have to be in the chair (horrors) for 90 minutes.

So, it's sure to be a special weekend. Stage fright and drilling. Wish me luck.

Saturday, October 09, 2010


What a weird world it is.

I was with my friend Jessica, looking through books of monologues. She has some really good ones, recent ones, with stuff that people haven't heard a million times already. She said "Oh, this one's perfect!" and started reading it to me. I really liked it. It started out wry and sarcastic, which was good, because we were looking for funny. But then it got very serious. Too serious.

"Let me see it," I said. "Maybe we can cut it down to the funny bits." I started reading it over. I was pondering the situation when I saw something:

The author was a friend I've known for 26 years.

I mean, it could have been a coincidence. But my friend has a really distinctive name. And happens to be a playwright. It's just that she's never mentioned she was a published playwright.

I started laughing. I couldn't stop laughing for a while, so Jessica probably thought I was crazy. I made a mental note to call my friend later.

But the day went on and I forgot about it. Until I started telling David the story over dinner. He asked if I'd called her. I said "No, but I'm going to!" "Just not now," he said. "It's already late on the East Coast."

But I can text her, right? I scrolled through my phone for her number. It was there. I wrote:

Hey you. Are you up? I want to tell you something. :)

She texted right back.

Who's this?

Oh, right. I'm always forgetting that the whole world doesn't have me in their phone. I texted back instantly:

Sorry! It's _______. (I used my full name, including middle. Our full names have been sort of a joke between the two of us since the day we met. You just have to trust me on this.)

Now there was a really, really long lag time. It started to freak me out. I asked David about it. He said it was late, and she was probably tired.

"I don't buy it," I told him. "Because she was up for the first one. And it's ME. If she got a message from me saying 'I want to tell you something' she'd respond in a second, no matter how late. I mean, what if something was really wrong? It's ME."

David said he would never have considered this logic, but now that I presented it to him, he was convinced. At that moment, my phone beeped again.

Hmmm....I don't seem to know you.

Readers, could anything more gorgeously encapsulate the state of communication at this particular moment in history? I sent a message to a friend I've known most of my life. I typed that message on my own little smudgy device with my hot little fingers and sent it out into the air. It arrived. But where did it arrive? A real person received it. I don't know where, or who. And that person was probably Googling me wondering who the heck is this?

I just know they had good grammar ("who's!") and seemed reasonably polite. Two things they share with my friend.

I texted back:

I am soooooo sorry. Old number. Have a good evening. That seemed sort of too formal and too intimate, but somehow right.

The response was immediate:

That's okay. U 2.

Then I deleted the number. I realized that my face was burning hot, and my fingers were sort of trembling. What was bothering me so much? That I corresponded with a stranger? Who could have been mean and troll-y and horrible but luckily wasn't? Was I just embarrassed? I wasn't sure.

But the next day I was still thinking about it. And I'd changed my mind about what was so disconcerting.

Because the correspondence could have been with my friend. Don't misunderstand me. I love her. I know I will always know her and love her. When we see each other, even though it's not often, it couldn't be more natural. But she lives 3,000 miles away and has now for 17 years. We are both married with kid. We don't talk on the phone very often (that much is surely obvious.) We don't see each other much.

And I didn't know she was a published author. That's pretty huge. I have always known she was a writer. And been proud of her. Turns out I had even more reason to be proud, but somehow it never came up. When I wanted to tell her, it turned out I don't even have her most recent number.

See, when I got that message, Who's this? it never entered my mind that it wasn't her, just that I wasn't in her phone. And when I got Hmmm....I don't seem to know you it was like a slap in the face. I don't seem to know you. I don't seem to know you. Why don't I know you, better than I do? Why don't you know me? Why are you having to tell me this "funny" story in the middle of the night when you should already KNOW ME? It was like a gentle reproach. You don't seem to know me. Or you'd know this already. And we are kind to each other, glossing over this gaffe because we do care even though we have drifted. Have a nice evening. U 2.

I still need to call her.

The Pleasure of Pumpkins

We took an after-school field trip with Robyn, Josh and Jared last Wednesday to the booming metropolis of Valley Center, more specifically to that temple of all things autumnal: Bates Nut Farm.

Yes, yes, I've heard the "clever" transposition of this name. I find this one to be a bit like all the people who went around calling it "Tar-JAY" and waiting for my reaction. Meaning, if you've heard it, everyone else has, too. Moving on, then.

Robyn offered to drive us all in her red Lone Star caravan, and we were not a bit put off by the torrential rains that had greeted us in the dark, dark day to which we'd awakened. In fact, I was even more encouraged, as our objective in choosing a Wednesday had been to avoid crowds. Water falling from the sky (all the San Diegans say EEK! WHAT'S THAT WETNESS?) would be double insurance against the pushy pumpkin-seekers.

And look what those gray skies did for our photos! Aren't they lovely? And Readers, not a drop troubled our breezy brows that afternoon. It was a luscious day.

Now, it turns out that part of the crowding at Bates on weekends is due to a whole carnival of concessions that is not, strictly speaking, Bates itself. So all the blow-up slides and pony rides and tri-tip sandwiches I remembered from when Jarrah was two were absent. Never mind. The rest was delish, and all ours.

We began with a peek into the General Store, for which we were rewarded with fudge samples and the kids got to choose candy from the barrels. Oh, I got some yummy-looking Cherry Butter. And maybe a very large package of those Halloween-style candy corn with the chocolate part. (Sshhhh. I'm not sharing.)

Then there was a brief visit to the goats, geese and their friends at the petting zoo before we climbed aboard the tractor for our own private (just us!) tour of the grounds, which I found relaxing despite my prickly straw bale perch.

The real highlight was the maze, which David correctly deduced I would want to do "all myself" with no help from the kids. The kids (including me) had orange cards that we had to get stamped in eight places from corn-husk-covered mailboxes hidden in the corners. Something about starting and completing something always fills me with satisfaction (I'm the same about vacuuming and ironing) so I enjoyed every bit of searching and back-tracking.

And then there was the pumpkin-choosing. It was never quite clear if the kids preferred the pumpkins or the wheelbarrows, but both had their charms. And two residents of the patch came home with us.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Finally met one of the men in the cast. I'll call him C. I rehearsed with him last night at the library, in a soundproof room. I know it's soundproof because I got there a little early and he was wildly emoting in there with D, and she gestured that I should wait outside. I couldn't hear them at all. From outside, he looked very young. Like, college-young. Plus, he was all kitted out b-boy style, with the baggy shorts and the chains and the tattoos. Finally, D opened the door and told me to go in and meet C while she took a little break. So I did. Here is our first conversation:

Me: Hi.
C: Hi. Are you a southern lady?
Me: No.
C: You're not? I thought you were.
Me: No. Why?
C: So, why are you here?
Me: To rehearse this scene with you.
C: So you are a southern lady.
Me: No. Do you mean, do I play southern in this scene? Then yes.
C: (exploding) Of course that's what I meant! What else would I mean? Like, if I just said "Are you a southern lady?" for no reason? That would be pretty ODD, wouldn't it?
Me: Sure.
C: So why would I do that???
Me: How should I know? Maybe you're odd. I just met you. Lots of people are odd. Actors are odd. I wasn't making any assumptions.
C: So you are southern.
Me: I can do a southern accent.
C: What did you just say about Cinemax?
D: I'm back!
Me: Oh, good!
D: You two getting acquainted?
Me: Sort of. He's been provoking me.

C was making horrible snorfling sounds, and said I shouldn't get too near him because he was sick. "I have no intention of getting near you," I assured him. "But thanks for warning me." He also said that when he got better, he planned to play the part of the judge "Kennedy-like." I wasn't sure what that meant so I just nodded agreeably.

It was pretty fun, rehearsing the scene. D gives really specific direction, which I like. And it was the first time we've rehearsed a spoken scene. I really get to play to the audience in this bit, so I'm loving that.

I had been screwing up the courage to correct D's grammar on a particular line, and finally brought it up. She considered what I said for a moment, then said it sounded wrong. I assured her I'd looked it up. She said we'd discuss it another time and we should keep saying it the old way. I found that...interesting.

There was also a moment when she leaped up and started trying to close the blinds, which wouldn't close. The room was entirely glass. Then she came up next to my ear and murmured, "I need you to pull your pants up." I guess my jeans had been sliding down my behind in all the excitement, and she didn't want me giving the library patrons a show. I found it more adorable than embarrassing, because I kept imagining my last couple of directors ever doing such a thing as commenting on my ass crack, and knew they wouldn't in a million years.

C was excused before I was, and as he was leaving he said he had also taught English, for ten years. I was pretty surprised by this, since I thought he was 22. Guess not. Guess everyone is looking young to me these days, compared to me. Anyway, he better start minding his p's and q's around me, or I'm gonna get cranky.

D asked me to sing one of my songs for her, and to "work the audience" while I did it. I said that was going to be hard, since I don't know the words, and in fact barely remember the song, having only rehearsed it once. She said I should do it anyway. And she made me try it without my script. About 34 times. I was sweating by the time the lights suddenly went out, which made me yelp. D didn't even blink. That's just what they do when the library closes, evidently.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

In Which I Am Humbled

What is it they say? Pride goeth before a fall? Yeah, that one. Readers, I've been knocked down a peg. As they say.

Last night's rehearsal was, of course, also an audition. For the first hour and a half, we revisited a number I'm already in, practicing the dance along with the song. I am definitely getting the dance on that one, no problem. But I was quite surprised to find that when it came to my solo, I was totally out of breath. It's a long solo (several sentences) and I need to find a way to breathe before I get there, since I'm both singing and dancing just seconds before. I mean, so is everyone else, but this was the first time I sang and danced it straight through. Did NOT sound fabulous.

Then new actresses showed up, and we auditioned for three more sketches before the end of the night. Can I just say, it was the most exhausting rehearsal I've ever had? Three hours, no breaks, in a tiny, windowless room, either singing or dancing or both the entire time. I have to remember to wear less clothing, too.

Two of the songs we auditioned were singing-only, and I thought I sang them both very well. Shored up by my recent good feedback, I'm feeling pretty confident about my voice. However, D did stop me after the first one and say "Can you try it again? Without that long trilling thing you're doing on the end?" By which I guess she means vibrato. I could feel my cheeks burning when I sang it again, feeling ridiculous that I had been so "singer-ly" in such an obvious way. Not sure how I sounded the second time.

The third song made me giggle with delight, because the themes and language were so unlike anything from my life. The lyrics are all about schooling some woman to get her hands off my man, with lots of snapping, finger-pointing and strutting to accompany the t00-fabulous lyrics that I wish I could reproduce for you here. Let's just say if you've ever heard Vanity Six's "If A Girl Answers (Don't Hang Up)" you get the gist:

Hello, this is Vanity
Is Jimmy home?
Yes, but he's taking a shower
Oh, I see
Did he just take out the trash?
No, that's somethin' he used 2 do
Now he's taking out me

We didn't practice the song much, and D said "We're going to settle this on the dance floor" and I laughed and said "What is this, a Michael Jackson video?" Bit by bit, I'm getting less timid and more like myself--I had Alicia (who I think of as the grande dame of our group) in stitches with my between-scenes booty-shaking.

Readers, here is where the mighty are fallen. Every cast member of this sketch will do the same dance, and I can't do it. Oh, I mean, I can follow the steps. But there's this confounded strut-shuffle-walk thing that has to be performed in double-time and while theoretically I can DO IT, I apparently look pathetic and lame when I do, because D scrunches up her nose, shakes her head and tries not to laugh afterward and I try desperately not to scream in frustration. She was pulling for me, I could tell. She wanted me to get there. But I never did. She even had us do it one by one at the end of the night, and she mouthed "SORRY" to me after I finished. I had to avert my eyes and immediately cross the room on the pretense of gathering my stuff to avoid bursting into tears. She also made a portentous speech about how we don't have that much rehearsal time and she needs people to pick things up instantly, and if we don't we might not be in that many sketches and please don't be mad at me.

Ugh. I was so wrecked when I left there. It didn't escape my notice that Bri and G were the best at the stupid shuffle-walk thing, and both of them are like six feet tall and 90 pounds. Maybe it just looks better on those kind of girls. Yeah, I know, that's sour grapes. But I certainly felt like an ass after Bri tried to help me about 10 times and sympathetically reassured me how hard it was and then said "And what do you do, Sam?" and I had to say "I teach dance." I'm sure she would have swallowed her gum, if she had any.

Driving home, I felt exhausted and deflated. Now I won't get to be in my favorite number so far (that much I feel certain about) but maybe D won't put me in any more numbers since she hates my dancing. And it's so ironic. Because I really can dance. Just...not in five minutes. And without music. I just hope I can keep my cool when she breaks the news. I have to remember that everyone else has been gracious in the face of criticism and now it's just my turn.

What is it they say? The higher you climb, the harder you fall? Something like that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kindergarten Gals Go Around The Outside

Some of you might be curious how kindergarten is going these days. I think it's fine.

Jarrah has learned the names of all her classmates, which doesn't surprise me because she's great with names. I'm not sure who-all she hangs out with; for a while I heard a lot about Kayla, but on the way home the other day Jarrah told me that Kayla always races to be line-leader which is not "making fair," concluding with a sigh, " we broke up." I hid my smile and asked if she was sure about that, and she said, alas, yes. She also shakes her head sadly every now and then and says she can't be friends with Sammy because "he doesn't make good choices." This language is so classically pedagogical that I have to use every sad thought in my repertoire to avoid laughing when I hear it. I mean, what could be a more perfect reason not to hang with someone? "He doesn't make good choices." Isn't this valuable advice for us all? When you know that, as Mama told me, you better shop around.

At home, Jarrah has begun reading simple "I can read" books to me and her daddy. You can't imagine what a huge, huge development this is. She has been in school four weeks. Before September 7, she didn't even know the sounds of words (and didn't recognize many of the letters.) This didn't concern me in the least, because she had never been taught such things, either in school or by me. Now that someone is actively teaching her, she is having what I believe they call "a reading explosion." And it warms the frozen cockles of my heart. Seeing her sitting on the couch, brow furrowed, sounding out the sentence "Big Pig takes a good nap" can transport me to a magical, happy place for hours. Harry Potter, here we come!

Don't judge me until I'm done judging myself (and I'm not even sure what for yet) but we will be attending our first Daisies meeting next week. Though such a thing didn't exist in my girlhood, Daisies are apparently the legitimate offspring of Brownies and Girl Scouts, and they collect badges that look like little petals. I got roped into a meeting because I happened to be chatting with the woman who is going to be the troop leader at the time. I sat there sort of transfixed with horror, because I may have mentioned in this space that I was a less than ideal Girl Scout, often beaten by my peers, and teased incessantly for my weird, naked sash where the badges should have been (it's a long story.) But Jarrah isn't me, and her friends are doing it, and...we'll see. Never fear, there are no cookie sales for the next two years. Because? I do not sell things.

This morning I went to my first official PTF meeting, where I proceeded to raise holy hell for being left off the e-mail list (in between yawns that I feared might crack my skull.) When I got home, there was the e-mail, plain as day. Um...sorry? Whoops? There was a great deal of banter about fundraisers and most of me wanted to stand up and run very far and very fast. But I think I should stick with it and maybe it will be get more diverting. I was chatting with Cheri (who has already been elected Treasurer) after and she asked me which fundraisers I was interested in. "All of them." I said. "All of them?" she asked, a hint of incredulity creeping in. "Well, except the ones that involve jogging," I amended. "Because I don't believe in that. I have my principles. But anything else--bazaars, pledges, flings, ice cream socials--I'm down for those."

Hot lunch is still a raving success, with Tuesdays and Thursdays preferred for being Bean Burrito Day and Chicken Nugget Day respectively. Again, don't hate me because I allow my child to eat institutionalized Chicken Nuggets. Do I win any cred back if I tell you she's never had fast food? We have our mornings more or less down to a science, a complicated dance of you-go-here-and-do this-while-I-find-your-socks.

And the greatest triumph of all? I'm no longer tumbling catatonic back into bed mid-morning, not even sometimes. Sure, I often fall asleep at red lights in the mid-afternoon, but that's normal, isn't it? I mean, everyone does that. It's all good.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The First Rehearsal

This is Part #2 in a two-part series of posts about my recent audition/rehearsals. So if you haven't read Part #1, you may want to scroll down and do that first.

I received an e-mail from D asking if I was free to rehearse on Saturday morning, which is one of the regular rehearsal times for the show. I said I was. We were at a new location this time, the Malcolm X public library. It was new to me, so I Google-mapped it. I am learning all about new neighborhoods in this process. And one nice thing about my kindergarten lifestyle is that 9:30 on a Saturday no longer sounds ridiculously early to me.

I arrived at the library--rising orange and pueblo-like from the landscape--just before 9:30, and saw there was a crowd outside (something I found heartening for the future of civilization.) D herself was at the front, nose practically against the glass. She greeted me and whispered that the rehearsal room was "first-come-first serve" and that she'd be sprinting to the sign-up desk once the door opened. I giggled and said I'd hold down the fort. She then whispered that the woman directly behind us in the giant head-scarf was our main competition, and I said I'd keep an eye on her. We were joined by Brianna just before the doors opened. I was very glad to see her again. She's really nice, and we have some stuff in common. She went to UCSD, and is also married to an engineer (though doesn't seem much older than 22.) Brianna already knew the drill with the room, so when the doors opened, I just jogged after her.

We made it, but Head-Scarf Lady knocked immediately after and said the room was hers at 11:30 so "we should prepare ourselves." This elicited some giggles from Bri and me, but D was cool and serene. I'm beginning to see that she is usually like that. The room had a table with four chairs, and D invited us to sit. She frowned at her watch, because another cast member whom I'll call G was a bit late. While we waited, D explained that she's an up-front kind of person, and that I'll always know where I stand with her. She said she wanted me to know this, because she was on the fence about me in this particular sketch (it was the same one I auditioned with the first time, about the (as Aunt Lolo so eloquently put it) "wee willies." She said she wasn't pleased how slow I was to pick up choreography the last time, and she'd be watching me today. I nodded and said I understood. Then she smiled and said I could ask Bri for help, since she is very quick to learn choreography. Bri smiled and said she'd be happy to help.

G showed up soon after, looking like a million bucks. She's about six feet tall with giraffe-like legs, shown to great advantage in a teeny-tiny skirt, long hair, and lips like fuschia pillows. I remembered her from my first audition (she was the one observing us in the second half) but this time she was gussied up. We gathered around the table and D sang us through the song a couple times. It was much longer than the piece I first saw, and was preceded by a spoken scene that makes it even funnier. It quickly became clear that G was the main singer and that Bri and I would be backing her up.

G was struggling a bit to find the downbeat. She had my full sympathy. Trying to learn a song with irregular beats without instrumentation is incredibly hard. We sang it through a few times and Bri and I were mostly on cue with the back-up vocals. I thought we sounded nice. But D was getting a bit impatient. She doesn't yell, but she is clear in her feedback. She will stop you without hesitation, saying "NO. THAT IS WRONG." It's nerve-wracking. After a while, there was a short silence. Then D said:

"Here's what we're going to do. (she pointed at me) I'm going to let you try this part, about three times. If you don't get it, I'm going to let Bri try it three times" (Bri grinned and called out cheerfully, "I'm a last resort, trust me!" I kind of love that girl--she has such a great attitude.) But we're going to start with you. You get three tries. (pause) But no pressure."

Readers, I wish I could tell you that I opened my mouth and nailed it. Not even close. The first couple of times, I couldn't get past the first line without totally blowing it. She told me to watch her hands, and something about rising on the second word, yada yada, but I was getting more and more nervous and agonized and sweaty-palmed and dry-mouthed. I kept apologizing and laughing and lets just say she gave me a bunch more than three tries.

What finally turned things around was Brianna. She suggested I get up and walk through the choreography (which I did sort of remember) to help with the beats. It's true that I think in dance language, and something about moving around also put my voice at ease. Suddenly, I was kind of getting it. She let me sing it through, the whole four verses, without stopping me. I looked up. D was smiling. "That," she said, "was pretty good. Not great. But pretty good considering you've never done it before."

I felt awesome. But what happened next still surprised me. There was another long pause, and then D asked if I could do accents. "Sure," I said. "How about a southern accent?" "Um, yeah," I said. Later I sort of kicked myself that I didn't just say something in a southern accent. She asked me to turn to the dialogue part of the scene and try it. G, who was supposed to be playing this character, helpfully offered to read the male part. I was sort of squinting at her, wondering if this was bothering her at all, but she seemed perfectly agreeable. Hmmm. I read the part, which lead into a sort of slow, ramped-up bit of singing that became the song. That part was particularly fun for me--so dramatic.

Next thing I know, D is briskly noting that it's time for me to go, and that there's just enough time to work on choreography with the other two. "This is good," she explained. "You'll be the singer, and that way you don't have to learn any choreography. Since you're slow at that. The other two will be dancing while you sing and work the audience." I nodded eagerly, even though a tiny part of me was thinking hey, I'm not THAT slow. I teach dance, after all. But when I reflected later, I thought maybe I could re-see the situation in one of two ways. One, I had plenty of time to prove her wrong about my ability to learn choreography, in other numbers. And two, it's possible that her statement was a bit of spin to make it seem that all the pieces fell where they were supposed to, even though I had somehow just snatched G's part out from right under her nose.

Before I left, she had me sign a contract. That's right, I'm actually getting paid for this show, so there are rules. One of them is that I won't show or discuss the script, which is why I'm being a bit circumspect about the details here. But mostly it seemed like a friendly contract, and it's sort of exciting to have one.

Last night I got my schedule for this week, and I am definitely rehearsing Tuesday and Thursday, and just heard I'm on for Wednesday, too. It's also clear I'll be auditioning again, probably more than once. Luckily, I'm an old hand at that now.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Callback

So, it looks like I am in a show! I wanted to write a bit about the two "rehearsals" I've had so far (I put those in scare quotes because both of them have also been auditions.)

Last Thursday evening I had a callback. I knew that all other "Adult Actresses" would be present because it said so on the schedule. That was scary, but I was looking forward to seeing who else was in the show.

When I pushed open the door, the little room (same as last time) was already filled with women in tiny, rickety chairs, perusing notebooks. The director greeted me warmly and introduced me to the others, a racially and chronologically diverse mix of seven. There are men in the show, and a couple tweens, but I don't know them yet. "Was there a lot of traffic?" the director asked, sweetly but meaningfully. I inferred that I was somehow late, though I'd arrived on the dot of the time I'd been e-mailed. Turns out the time had been changed and I hadn't heard about it. Oh well. I tried not to let this increase my nerves.

Everyone was in shorts or jeans and flip-flops, but I was once again dolled up in a dress, tights and heels because I figured I was still being scrutinized. I was even introduced to the group as a "possible" cast member. The director (I'll call her "D") passed out a sheet of lyrics. I was beginning to get the idea that we would be doing a lot of a cappella in these rehearsals. She took us through the song a few times and we sang it together. We sounded quite good like that, I thought.

Then she asked people to sing part of it on their own, and started at the other end of the line from me. As we went along, I started noticing that while everyone's voice was nice, no one seemed to be a belter like I am. When she got to me, I sang as loud and clear as I could, trusting that I remembered the melody. When I finished, there was a noticeable difference in the molecular structure of the air. Everyone kind of leaned back, gasped, laughed or murmured something. That was nice. But even nicer was the next thing that happened. D called on the gal next to me to solo.

"Me?" she said. "No," said D. "The man behind you." "I mean," said the girl. "You want me to follow THAT?" Everyone laughed, me the most, probably. I can't adequately describe the feelings I was having.

Is this entire room of people liking my voice? I mean, enough to be surprised by it? I mean, ME? The same me who blew it royally when I had to sing "Happy Birthday" at the Diversionary and completely forgot to breathe (and in fact almost fainted) when I auditioned for Chess? Is my voice actually SURPRISING? Readers, this is no false modesty. I couldn't get my mind around it. It's like in one moment every painful stab of inadequacy that has dogged me for the past two years of grudging, minimal or totally absent praise was enveloped by a big, juicy wave of love, and I was left standing there, astonished, dripping, smiling so big it hurt.

Now I was ready for anything. Soon we were asked to rise and move chairs so we could learn the choreography. "Singers in the back row," D announced. "Non-singers in front, where they will have most of the choreography." I was standing in the front row, and I stayed there. I hadn't been told differently. Suddenly, one of the gals said "What are you doing in the front row?" "Me?" I asked. Everyone looked at me, including D. "Well, I'm not a singer. I mean, I haven't been asked to be a singer. I didn't want to presume."

"PRESUME, girl!" said D. "Get in the back row!" Everyone laughed, me the most, and I moved. Well, I thought. Seems like maybe I am getting cast.

Compared to last week, I felt I was picking up the dance quickly. I was much less nervous, and I had the whole front row to watch. As it happened, I was able to practice a lot, because the main dancer in the middle was struggling and we did it over and over. I didn't mind a bit, since it gave me time to learn. But I didn't end up having to perform on my own. A very cute tween-ager showed up (her mom brought her) and D didn't want to keep her waiting. We wrapped up for the night about 90 minutes after I had arrived.

As I was gathering my stuff, I was approached by Brianna, who told me she had just seen me in Twelfth Night. "No way!" I crowed. How cool is that? Turns out she was interested in PLAW, and a phone call to Dave yielded a suggestion to check us out. Brianna said it was a blast. She also said she was looking forward to auditioning for Steel Magnolias, which she'd heard was coming up soon. "Don't hold your breath," I said ruefully, turning away. "The show is already cast. They have their table read in a couple days." She was surprised, and a bit sad, I think. I can certainly relate to that.

D approached us, and told Bri "this is your cashier." By which I gather I will have some lines--the same ones I read at my first audition--in another scene with Bri. By which I also gathered that I was almost definitely cast. But as I was leaving, D looked at me meaningfully and said "I'll e-mail you." She added, "I really meant to do some more auditions tonight, but I just didn't have time."

I was a bit crestfallen at that, thinking she meant a new group of prospects, but as I was driving home, I remembered the cashier comment and deduced that she was actually talking about auditioning for other sketches in the show. I felt hopeful that I'll progressively have more to do as the weeks go by.

When I got home, there was an e-mail from D saying she'd love to have me in the show. I wrote back, "Yes, thank you! I had a blast tonight!" And so it begins.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Better Living Through Architecture

"Mommy, I got a library book today. See?" (She shows me. It's called Nibble Nibble Mousekin.) "I'm going to pretend it's a book about building things, like houses."

She begins to read:

How To Build A House

(as told by Jarrah, verbatim)

Step #1: Gather things together, like tools.

Step #2: Screw in your house.

Step #3: Put up walls.

Step #4: Put on your roof.

Step #5: Look out for wolfs. Wait. I mean, decorate your house. That's all. What's so funny?