Friday, March 25, 2011

We Were Worried About Vaginas

I haven't been blogging much, reading blogs, or doing much of anything that I usually do. The fact is, I'm sort of a mess. I'm not sleeping and I feel like a zombie most afternoons. I'm snappish with Jarrah, who has certainly noticed ("You're so grumpy, Mommy.") I forget things that people told me 10 minutes ago.

The show is two weeks from yesterday. I am freaking out. It's suddenly become clear to me how many people are depending on me, and I can't think about anything else. I try to focus on my class, or my other show where (so relaxing!) all I'm expected to do is ACT, or taking care of my home and family, but it's all pretty slipshod at the moment. I've been wanting to rant and rave in this space about every development, but it wouldn't be right. Here's a sampling of what went down just yesterday:

1. Prepared and sent a guideline on stage make-up to my cast.
2. Composed a stirring yet firm "pep talk" about rehearsal conduct in these last few rehearsals.
3. About 20 e-mails and one phone call with my production manager, Kari, about such key details as the "show flow" (spread sheet with all our cues and blocking) tonight's schedule, ticket sales, post-show protocol, etc. etc. etc.
4. Phone rehearsal with the wonderful Dr. Jenn, who is tearing it up with her English accent after some coaching from a new British friend of mine.
5. Several phone calls with music director Sasha regarding the @#$%&* situation with finding a guitarist for our opening number.
6. Several texts back and forth with my stage manager, Cynthia, regarding said @#$%&* situation (and proposed follow-up.)
7. More calls to Sasha once my friend Marie miraculously came through with a recorded .mp3 tailored to our song. Hooray!

And that, my friends, was just YESTERDAY.

You might be thinking "Oh, buck up, little camper! Less than two weeks and you can breathe a sigh of relief and take a good, long rest." But in the spirit of my typical push-pull personality, I am feeling melancholy about that, too.

The fact is, right now I'm v. important, as Bridget Jones would say. V., v., important. After April 7th, I won't be. Right now, every e-mail that I'm copied on says something like "after review by Sam" or "with approval from Sam" or "whatever Sam decides." I mean, let's face it--when has that ever been true before? It's a double-edged sword: everyone depends on me, which keeps me up at night, but everyone depends on me, which feels...pretty awesome. If I wave my hand and say "The stage picture will have the cast arranged at various heights on pink tapestried Victorian-style chaises, settees and love seats" (oh yes I did go there) no one laughs or stares or roll their eyes. They all say "Okay, let's make that happen--if we have any difficulty with the load-out meal penalty for the union, do you have a Plan B?"

I love that. In my real life, I often don't get to say what's for dinner, or if I do, a certain someone goes "AWWWW! I don't WANT that!" Right now I just get instant compliance with no back-talk. That's going to be hard to give up.

And I love my gals. I love that they respect me. (At least I think most of them do.) I love that they text me stuff like "Just wanted to say thanks for kicking vag gently!" I love that THEY COUNT ON ME. It thrills me to the core to be counted on. Twenty-two women, all leaders in their own lives, trusting that I will make them look good on that big, cavernous stage, even to the folks in the back row. I strive every day to be worthy of that trust.

One of my cast members e-mailed me today that she's a stylist and would like to give me the gift of styling me for the big night. "I'm tickled pink!" I responded, without irony. But privately, I almost burst into tears. What an honor to be treated like this. When it is over, I want so fiercely to be able to say, not that I TRIED, but that I had a vision--and with the help of my cast and crew--I made it happen.

The show is on Thursday, April 7th at 7:30 at the Birch Theater. Every cent of the ticket sales goes to non-profit organizations dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

I didn't sleep much this week. Sure, I've been worrying about my director job, and forgetting lines (though I killed my scene on Thursday) but there was another reason. I stayed up too late reading.

I've done that a lot recently, because I've been devouring the three books of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. For the uninitiated, this trilogy has a bit of cult status in the manner of the Twilight books, with a distinct difference: these books don't suck. They're well-written. And they don't shy away from anything difficult, horrible or messy. Like Twilight, they have a teenage protagonist involved in a love triangle. But the similarities end there.

These books, beginning with the first (and arguably best) have everything I've always thought I hated in literature. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Suspense. Unimaginable horror. Mayhem, gore and grisly death. People who know me know that my book of choice tends to include a lot of philosophical discussion, some last-minute epiphanies, a ramble upon the heath, and perhaps a layered torte or two. So the fact that I was totally riveted from the get-go was the first surprise.

And I stayed that way, through all three books. Now, I will admit I liked the first one, The Hunger Games, the best. But while I whipped through it in a couple of days, I read Catching Fire slower, and by Mockingjay I was really dragging my feet--and not because I was bored. I just didn't want it all to end. The books' narrator, Katniss Everdeen, sixteen when the first one starts, is the bravest, most capable, determined, clever 16-year-old you can imagine. Her journey is triggered when her 12-year-old sister, Primrose, is picked in the annual lottery for the Games, and without hesitation, Katniss steps up to take her place.

What are the Hunger Games, you ask? Well, I'm glad you did. In the dystopian land of Panem, a rebellion has led to a virtual police state of 12 districts each responsible for providing resources to the wealthy Capitol. But the districts provide another resource, too--entertainment--in the form of an annual Games in which a teenage boy and girl from each district are "reaped" as "tributes" to represent their district in an arena battle which will have only one winner. And why will it have one winner? Because the others will all be killed, by each other or by hazards in the arena. And all of this will be televised, in graphic detail, to the rest of the country, so that viewers can root for their favorites to stay alive, and be viscerally reminded of the Capitol's power.

Could anything be more horrible? I wouldn't have thought so, but what takes it to the next level of can't-look-away incredulity is the dispassionate narration of our heroine and the people in her life. They have never known a world without the Hunger Games, never known a world without "Peacemakers" who execute the non-compliant without hesitation, never known a world where everyone isn't perpetually hungry unless they illegally shoot their meals in the woods. Katniss and the other tribute from District 12, Peeta the baker's son, head stoically to their fates as if going off to war, but without the kind of anguish one might feel knowing it's a war they definitely won't survive.

Throughout the fascinating details of Book 1, one senses that the Games are simply a microcosm of this entire society, and that the larger conflict is going to have to be addressed--and hopefully resolved--before the trilogy ends. I don't want to spoil any plot developments for you, but it's all wonderfully satisfying, and throughout Katniss is such an awesome heroine to hang a series on, because she never feels sorry for herself, and in fact, rarely considers her feelings at all. This is quite refreshing after Twilight, where everyone is totally about their feelings every second of every day and night, to the exclusion of any sense whatsoever. Katniss is so busy nimbly surviving and scheming for the survival of her family, that she misses the love triangle blooming right under her nose until the entire country knows about it. Which is a big part of the fun, because both her suitors are totally worthy of her, and she really has no clue why she can't choose.

I've heard the books described as "young adult fiction," and I guess that's because the main character is a teenager. But that's one of the reasons the book is so enjoyable to adults, or at least to this one. I want to say Katniss is a feminist role model, but there is virtually no acknowledgment of gender in Panem, so Katniss's badass-ness is not remarkable because she's a girl, but rather just because she is so young. In fact, she often protects the men in her life, and they are grateful, too. In that sense, this post-apocalyptic world is refreshing, and makes for an unwaveringly fascinating place to set a coming-of-age tale.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"I am arriving as I am beginning to leave..."

Just noticed that it's the Ides of March. Maybe that's why I sucked so badly in my acting class today. Doing a scene from King Lear. Ironic, much? I mean, I sucked like I have never sucked before. Couldn't remember ANY of my lines. Couldn't remember them even when I stood there and thought really hard. In fact, that made it worse, since somehow I immediately went to a tropical island in my mind. Which is not where the lines were. Surprise!

I am tired and distracted. I have a little bit of a good reason, but I'm not one to chalk bad behavior up to reasons. But check it out: my niece was born Sunday evening. Her name is Lilah Grace and she was 6 lbs, 10 oz. (exactly what I was!) Her tiny pink head was swathed in curly, black hair and she immediately wriggled her giant hand out of her swaddle, stuffed it in her mouth, and started making sucking sounds that would do a five-year-old thumb-sucking lifer proud. (More with the sucking theme. Only it was freakin' adorable when she did it.)

I was supposed to be in the delivery room, and made it there on time, but it was not to be. My sister ended up having a C-section, and I won't share the harrowing details since that's not my story. But I was just a couple doors down for the whole thing, so I'm calling that being there.

It made me very happy to hold brand-new Lilah, all solid and pink. Dopey, lopsided-smile happy. I hadn't expected to feel so crazy about her so quickly. Later, I watched her sleeping in her little plastic box next to her exhausted, passed-out mama and felt a lot of twinges. Twinges of "where the heck did this person, this hungry, sleepy, sucky determined PERSON, come from?" I mean, I've read a few books, so I know for reals where she came from, but still! It just seemed demented that she was suddenly here, in all her glory, and so very obviously a PERSON, not just a baby. A small version, ramping up for the big stuff, but very much her own distinct girl nonetheless.

And then the twinges were a little sad, too. Trying to picture Jarrah that size, and failing. She was 27 lbs when I met her, and man, there was no gray area about her distinct personage. She didn't just have needs; she had DESIRES, and by gum, she was going to attain them. Sometimes we clashed because we were both so determined, and not always in the same direction.

And I tried to imagine being instrumental in bringing Jarrah into this world. Oh, I'm not talking about the pregnancy thing; I've lamented that one to death. And in a weird way, I've always thought about pregnancy abstractly, as if it were a condition or state without outcome, and more about walking around with your hands on your belly-shelf and getting people to offer you seats.

What I felt looking at Lilah was more specific to MY child, and the twinges were about not having been there when she was a this-sized person. Not being able to feed her with my body, or hold her against my skin and say "that was a little rough there for a minute--glad you're out here now with room to stretch your legs." Not even being on the same continent. Not knowing about her at all, or what she went through for a freakin' YEAR before I met her. Considering how tenderly (mostly) I try to meet her needs now, it seemed suddenly absurd that she had all these urgent needs for which I was nowhere to be found. How could I love her and yet that be true?

At some point during the outrageous and wondrous development of the day, my sister said "But I didn't plan for this!" I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. Isn't that a great description of parenthood? I didn't plan for this. I can't control anything. I don't know what's going on, but whatever it is, I have to do it anyway.

When I think about how I came to motherhood, I have the same cry. I didn't build my baby with my body, carry her for the better part of a year, feel her kick me, brave the pain of bringing her into the air. I didn't hear her first cry and hold her in the minute she was born. I didn't plan for this. I didn't plan for this. I didn't plan for this!

But that's how it happened. And the way it happened was how the plan had to be, even if it took me a long time to know that.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

He Was Smallish

Sam: Who were those two little boys you were playing with at the park?

Jarrah: I don't know. I think they were, like, three.

Sam: Did you get their names?

Jarrah: The one in brown was really hard to say. It was something like...Eli.

Sam: Eli? That's a nice name.

Jarrah: Yeah. This is kind of embarrassing, but I think I...I might have told him I love him.

Sam: You did??

Jarrah: Yeah. He was so cute, and he has a style I like. I just had to say it. I love him! (giggles crazily)

Sam: Dear lord. What about the other one?

Jarrah: The other one? He was smallish.

Sam: I mean, what was his name?

Jarrah: Oh, his name was Ewi.

Sam: Ewi???

Jarrah: Yeah.

Sam: That's strange.

Jarrah: Why?

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Sticking Place

Recently, I had to memorize and perform a monologue from Macbeth for my acting class. I have to admit, it was rather fun to act all castrating and crazy. But apparently I wasn't fully embracing the spirit of the thing, as evidenced by my trial run for David and Jarrah.

Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?
From this time such I account thy love.
Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire?
Wouldst thou have that which thou esteemst the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat in the adage?
What beast was't, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man,
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. If we fail?
Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we'll not fail.

I delivered the last few lines in an evil hiss while miming something akin to throwing the baby across the room. Then I narrowed my eyes and spit out those last couple of lines.

As I finished, I had the fleeting thought that this was not really appropriate material for children, Shakespeare or not. Whoops. Too late now. Jarrah was nodding her head thoughtfully, and then she began to speak:

"Okay, Mommy. That's pretty good. But I have a suggestion."

"Um, okay."

"When you take the baby and dash its brains out, you need to look scarier."


"Also... (she stood up to demonstrate)...when you screw your courage to the sticking place, try this (she contorted her face like she was sucking a lemon) and do this (she twisted her hands in front of her face like she was squeezing out a particularly recalcitrant dish towel). I think he'll like that a lot."

"Okay, I'll give that a try."

"Otherwise, very good."

He did like it a lot. Oh, sure, my own ideas he had some questions about, but Jarrah's were spot on. Directing in her future?

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I'm back. Did you miss me?

This is the longest blog hiatus I've ever taken. Now that I've actually had THREE separate complaints about it from unrelated parties, I promise never to do it again. You like me; you really like me!

I was telling my friend Stephanie that I could use the ol' "I'm so BUSY and v. important!" excuse, since I do have three brand-new things in my life since January. But I actually hate when other people do that (it seems to imply that everyone else's schedule is chopped liver) so I won't. And the real reason is that, now that I'm deep into those three things, I want to do what comes naturally and bitch about all of them. And that's not (What, did you think I was going to say "nice?")

So I won't do that. But feel free to drop me an e-mail and you'll get an earful. I do take requests.

On a happier, less-bitchy note, (and really, the bitchy stuff is happy, too--after all, when am I more in my element than when I'm kvetching with great relish and gusto, on pumpernickel?) we had a Super-Sized Fun weekend last weekend, so much fun that we're spending this weekend recovering. Oh, we've had a little fun this weekend, too. Rango, we saw your movie. Very impressed with your Method. And today we took a BIG risk and took Jarrah to see my favorite play, The Importance of Being Earnest--a really amazing production and let's just say I was massively grateful for the Phineas and Ferb comic book in my purse. Much more grateful than the woman next to us who got two hours of seat-swinging and wall-kicking and "Why are they YELLING at each other if they're FRIENDS?"

So, last weekend we had four events (not counting the rehearsal I led until 10:30 p.m. Friday night!): the annual Chinese New Year banquet, the preschool auction dinner, my friend Jane's baby shower, and...the Oscars! (I'm tired just listing all that.)

There is very little photographic evidence of the first three events, but we did get a couple food porn photos of the aforementioned national holiday at our place. Each year, we have over a couple people who are willing to abide by the rules: no coming late, no leaving early, and no talking during the good bits. Most people chafe at these requirements--can you imagine? So it works for us to keep it teeny-tiny. In addition to The Social Network Appletinis you see pictured, there were Black Swan Martinis (white chocolate with black sugar rims) and Toy Story Lots o' Huggin Gummy Bears, The King's Speech cucumber and walnut tea sandwiches, True Grit BBQ, and cupcakes for...well, because we like cupcakes, okay? It didn't seem quite right to have a Winter's Bone Home Meth Lab or 127 Hours Trail Mix, but there was an attempt at The Kids Are All Right No-Nuts Brownies that didn't quite pan out.

It was a beautiful evening, chock-full o' laughter and frivolity. The rest of the weekend rocked, too. It was the best-ever CNY banquet--great friends, great food, a totally rad kung fu demo, beautiful music, thrilling lion dancers, and we even won some Hornblower cruises in the raffle! My friend Melissa, who helms this occasion, laughs at me, but I even adore the post-event clean-up--there is something so soothing about sweeping an entire banquet hall.

There was just time to get home and pretty up for the auction--our first (and perhaps only?) since Jarrah graduated from our beloved preschool. This was also the first year I wasn't working (or, like last year, MC-ing with laryngitis) and I did it up: a couple of Cosmos, repeat trips to the dessert bar, gabbing with everyone in sight (we seemed to know everyone!), and lots of "winning," including swim lessons, theater tickets, a restaurant gift card, wine tasting and a visit to the Carlsbad Flower Fields.

A moment of gratitude before I sign off, since I'm feeling maudlin tonight: all joking aside, I am humbled by my role as director of The Vagina Monologues. I am getting to know the most incredible women--funny, bawdy, smart, dedicated and so willing to put themselves out there for whatever I suggest. I only wish we had more than one night to experience that powerful stage magic together. I hope some of you will make it to the show so you won't have to take my word for how awesome they are, and how lucky I am!