call and response: To Stay Alive

I’ve been reading Denise Levertov throughout the past year, a patron saint. I think (bold statement) that she’s my favorite poet. (Though Jane Kenyon sits quietly on the same “favorite poet” train, looking at the hills out the window.) My mom got me her Collected Poems for my birthday, all 1063 pages of them. Her work is expansive, it spreads out far. So many poems. It would take a book or a series of books to really talk about her work, and I’ve read hardly a fraction of her poems so far, but I’m thinking about something in particular, something I keep thinking about Denise, something about her work that I can’t put out of my mind.

At a certain point, Denise’s poems became deeply political, like a light switched on and it shone on everything she saw. I’ve been reading To Stay Alive, written in 1971, which settles, decidedly, in resistance to the Vietnam War. It’s a thick and painful theme, the poems are heavy with war, with guilt, with anger. To read it, it feels like Denise can’t write anything else, just war, the sick of it, war, the terror.

the disasters numb within us
caught in the chest, rolling
in the brain like pebbles. The feeling
resembles a lumps of raw dough

weighing down a child’s stomach on baking day.
Or Rilke said it, ‘My heart. . .
Could I say of it, it overflows
with bitterness. . . but no, as though

its contents were simply balled into
formless lumps, thus
do I carry it about.’
The same war

continues.

These words from a poem called “Life at War.” The poems go on and on and on like this, one after another, luminous with unhealth, with sickness, nausea, fear and disgust.

Heavy, heavy, heavy, hand and heart.
We are at war,
bitterly, bitterly at war.

And the buying and selling
buzzes at our heads, a swarm
of busy flies, a kind of innocence.

Gowns of gold sequins are fitted,
sharp-glinting. What harsh rustlings
of silver moire there are,
to remind me of shrapnel splinters.

This from “Tenebrae,” a famous poem from the volume. But the most heavy poem of all is the anchor of the book, “Staying Alive.” In the Collected Poems, it spans pages 345-396. It’s an epic poem, an epic of war, of fear, of living in America. It’s quiet, it weeps. I haven’t even read all of it yet because I have to go very slowly, in little sips. It’s confusing. It includes roman numeral’ed “parts” and “entr’actes.”

In looking to the Introduction of the Collected Poems for some sort of interpretive guidance, I read this:

“A volume like To Stay Alive, published in 1971, shows a deepening attachment to “total involvement.” There is no doubt that, with such commitments, Levertov took risks with here subject matter which translated into risks with her audience. She was unswerving and even unapologetic in her purpose: ‘My didactic poetry,’ she wrote, ‘should be judged by the same criteria as my lyric poetry; in my opinion it won’t be found wanting.’ And yet, inevitably, some of these books, some of these poems remain a controversial part of her achievement… But for some readers–especially as they tracked the anti-war activist–there was a keen disappointment at the loss of their earlier lyric witness: that glowing poet who had written down their visionary dawns, their attitudes to marriage, their twilight winters in Central Park. Who now seemed focused on a different kind of experience, just no longer theirs.”

Levertov disappointed her readers with these poems. That feels so important to this work, that it isn’t what people were looking for from her. She surprised them. And they were still excellent poems. The introduction goes on to say:

“Even the reader who disagrees with the politics can be excited by this throwaway, heraldic stylist, writing as freely of ‘the gray filth’ or ‘the gas-fog’ of an antiwar march as of taking down clothes from the line in ‘on the roof’: gathering the washing as if it were flowers. The beautiful, thrifty lines from ‘A Cloak’ in Relearning the Alphabet still hold true:

‘breathing in
my life
breathing out
poems.’ “

I could write about this forever, I could go on researching about this forever, but I’ll save that for the 1063 page crazy book I’ll write someday (whether anyone ever reads it). The point my own mind is getting to as it churns through all of this *information*: I want to be like Denise. I want to carry something, not put it down. I want to remind everyone of something they’re trying not think about. I want to do so with everything I have. I want to be disappointing. Who will write about the kids at the border and keep on writing about them after everyone else forgets? Who will write it as a poem, in a poem that weaves in and out of our own daily life, so we can all hear it fresh, see the strangeness of the fabric we live in. I don’t know if it’s me, but I’m so happy that it was Denise, in another time and place. I am learning so much from these bold and sickening poems. I am remembering something I never experienced, I am seeing my own world with new eyes. I want to hear the news, I want to remember if not to remind. Poetry is part of resistance, and maybe it’s also a way of welcoming the stranger. We always need new songs to sing, or the same song, funeral dirge, just with new lyrics for a new day’s particularities.

To breathe in /  my life  and to breathe out / poems has to include the world’s thick pain, its politics, its war that goes on and on and on. To exclude it is to not write poetry at all.

In “Staying Alive,” Denise describes anti-war activities, recounts news stories of resistance, thinks about her own friends and family and her own life as it is. She imagines horrors, real and projected, she remembers over and over again explosions and dust. It’s long and thick, it carries everything in it, and ultimately, it’s still about experience, about herself. This is what draws me in, the intimacy of her working it out. If only we all could work out the pain of the world with such tenderness, immediacy, care, and self-hood. To take the world’s pain into yourself is such a Christ-like thing to do, only possible, I think, because of the poetry as a way to exhale. I don’t know how she did it, I’m not sure what it felt like or why she felt like she was able. I am so often numb, so often curled in toward just myself. But I want to be a political poet. Our days demand it. We need new songs. We need to stay alive.

I’ll leave you with this fragment as I go on reading and thinking.

I lug home

the ham for Christmas Eve, life
whirls its diamond sparklers before me.
Yes, I want
revolution, not death: but I don’t
care about survival, I refuse
to be provident, to learn automechanics,
karate,
soybean cookery,
or how to shoot.

O gray desert,
I inhabit your mirages,
palace after palace. . .
pineforest. . .
palmgrove. . .

 from “Daily Life,” from “Staying Alive”

Death of the Movie Star

While traveling two weekends ago, I reveled, per usual, at my in-flight movie options.  There are few luxuries akin to that of watching a subpar movie at 30,000 feet, a complementary ginger ale with lime at hand.  This time I settled upon The Spy Who Dumped Me, a film my roommate and I had planned to see last summer but never got around to.  While watching, I mostly kept wishing I was watching Spy, that movie with Melissa McCarthy, but this one certainly did the trick.  I was entertained, I felt relaxed, and I more or less knew what would happen and that my aim in watching this particular movie choice would be met by the end.

This particular brand of movie is easy to come by, on planes or elsewhere.  Every week there’s a new okayish movie produced on Netflix, every summer there’s a forgettable romcom or action movie or Marvel film, every Christmas there’s an opportunity to zone out to The Santa Claus 5.  A good portion of that is lazy writing, greed, and mysteriously sharp deadlines, but I think the greatest culprit of all is a lack of good old fashioned movie stars.

Think of the two golden eras of moviemaking (read: the 70’s and the 90’s).  The first gave us The Godfather, Chinatown, Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, Rocky, the second Titanic, Shawshank Redemption, most Sandra Bullock movies, all Meg Ryan movies, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Forrest Gump, Fight Club, Good Will Hunting.  Knockout movie after knockout movie, at least one every year, keeping expectations high and attention spans limber.  What almost all of them have in common is an incredibly compelling lead actor(s) – star quality.  When you think of Pulp Fiction, you think of Uma Thurman, dead gaze, slowly dragging on a cigarette.  When you think of The Godfather, you think of Marlon Brando, heavy jowled and taking the air out of the room.  When you think of great movie stars, seminal, iconic, hard to replace, you think of Robert de Niro, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Al Pacino.  As the old adage goes, people so good you can’t ignore them.

In the era of streaming platforms and social media, this is no longer the case.  You’d be incredibly hard pressed to find a bona fide movie star in the past decade, with the exception of perhaps Jennifer Lawrence.  You’ve got actors who are held in high regard, like Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet, and you’ve got box office stalwarts, like Chris Hemsworth and Melissa McCarthy, but there is something that has disappeared in the past two decades that lit up the years before.  I’ve, of course, shown my hand in the first sentence of this paragraph: there’s a major component to the allure of filmmaking that has died on the altar of immediate access that social media and streaming create.

Think back to Elvis.  All those videos and pictures of people lined up outside of Sun King Studios, fainting due to the heat or the sheer power of the King’s presence.  He was for more accessible than the manufactured immediacy Instagram creates, yet he felt untouchable even ten feet away.  Star quality.  Now, you can follow Chris Pratt on Twitter or tag Taylor Swift in your Instagram post as though they’re an acquaintance you met at a friend’s birthday party.  The majesty and mystery of the Internet is that it makes friends of strangers without any meaningful contact – the entire connection is based on your interpretation and consumption of someone else’s projected image.  Movie stars, and the attraction that cloaks them, thrive on the very reality of their removed, heightened nature.  Tom Hanks seems like an everyman, but his many convincing disguises show that he is anything but, and therefore unknowable.

For what it’s worth, I really have no idea what to do with the idea of fame.  People have been famous since always, because comparison is inherent to creating value, so it’s no use trying to get rid of it – people can’t help admiration and envy.  I tend to think the attraction that surrounds it is one of heightened reality, proof that there really is more possible here on earth than insurance and dayjobs and mortgages.  A desire to be adored is less indulged in by some than others, but the desire to be liked is confronted in almost every human interaction. There’s a sort of two-step of adoration and jealousy surrounding the handful of people that the majority has allowed to rise to the top, which can be traced back to any well-liked person in your high school or student body president.  Talent is always involved, but there is some groupmind approval that goes into anyone’s rise to the top.  What makes a person liked? Adored, even? I think it almost always involves jealousy.

I love listening to people talk about movies, especially when I’m eavesdropping.  More often than not, people rate or react to movies dependent on how much they feel it mirrors their own selves or experiences.  I cannot count the amount of rooms I have been in where young women are watching the latest Netflix original movie and say, “Oh my God, that’s me,” regardless of how broad a brush the film – or female lead – is painted with.  A second, equally important quality is that of exhilaration.  There’s a reason there have been 22 Marvel movies made over the course of a decade.  You cannot help but watch those movies and feel a sense of buoyancy, a larger-than-life surge naturally imbibing you with a sense of purpose and heroism in your own life.  The combination of the two is startling: people either want to watch a movie that seemingly mirrors their daily life, or something so far outside the realm of possibility of their life that it allows them to escape.  And yet, these same Netflix movies that so identify the #youth of today are so culturally timed and executed that they have no seemingly lasting value or commentary on the human experience.

Last weekend, I went to a double feature of films made in 1974, both featuring an actress nominated for the Oscar for her performance.  I obviously think the 70’s are the golden age of cinema, the sort of incomparable time to be alive and making movies, so my expectations and willingness to love them were admittedly high.  The films at hand were Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and A Woman Under the Influence, with a neat little panel moderated by Jodie Foster as a palate cleanser between the two.  While watching these movies, l felt I genuinely knew these women.  They reminded me of my mother, my grandmother, myself, my acting classmates.  While Ellen Burstyn is really exceptional, it’s Gena Rowlands whose performance I can’t get out of my head.  It’s not exactly a #chill movie to watch, but if you’ve got 3 hours and a healthy emotional life, A Woman Under the Influence is unmissable.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a screen performance that felt so much like found footage.  This woman (and her family) are so inarticulate, often resorting to the same hand gestures and phrases over and over again desperately trying to communicate something to the people around them, more often than not to no avail.  It was actually sort of uncomfortable to watch, being so on the nose about what it is to be unwell but very much in love with life.  Gena Rowlands has made many films over the course of her career (the most recognizable as the older Allie in The Notebook), most often in collaboration with her husband, John Cassavetes.  As a team and individually, they were well regarded in Hollywood among critics, but neither name is one you hear in your run of the mill conversation about movies.  But the star power exists undeniably.  It’s an other quality, an unmistakable charisma, that makes watching a movie an active experience, not a way to pass time en route from Chicago.  Criticism and opinion feel sort of out of place.  It’s something larger, fuller – something that made you want to go to the movies in the first place.

There are no movie stars anymore.  There is a much larger pool of talented, committed people, but the movies being made are forgettable, constant, and often unoriginal.  Yes, most stories are more or less based one 1 of 5 formulas, Oedipus Rex is the OG, blah blah blah – you know what I mean.  There’s no need for a revamp of Spiderman every 4 years, although someone did give me an incredibly satisfying explanation for this the other day – Sony owns the rights to Spiderman, and the only way to hold on to them is to literally make a Spiderman movie at least every 4 years.  Go figure.  But also, this is exactly what I’m talking about!!! A remake purely for the sake of obtaining a million dollar contract, not because there’s something new to say!!!  I’m thrilled so many actors are getting work, thrilled that streaming platforms have made shows like Big Little Lies and Dead to Me and Fleabag and True Detective possible (many of which are populated by stars of the previous era), but I wonder if there isn’t something lost in abandoning mystery.  Perhaps there isn’t.  Perhaps golden ages are meant to rust.  Or perhaps 2020 will usher in the next crop of the unmissable.  Or maybe fame will taper out the more that it becomes possible to become well-known for wearing a Chewbacca mask in your minivan.

 

26

I turn twenty-six on Tuesday. It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting and sort of watching while Isaiah watches Fleabag Season 2 for the first time, me for the third. I just read this essay about it, which is quite good. It’s a revelation, over and over. This is all beside the point. Maybe, maybe not.

IMG_1013 (2).JPG
I use this photo every year, but it’s the right one. Will I ever wear a better jumpsuit than this one? 

I’ve spent a whole year being twenty-five now. What a milestone age, and I filled it with a lot of growing up, mostly. I filled it with spending a lot of time having no idea what to say. I spent it working very hard, maybe the hardest in my life. Many hours writing, sewing, dancing, walking back and forth on sidewalks. Probably a hundred cappuccinos! Maybe more like fifty!

I bought a house (with Isaiah)! I got a puppy! I made TWO sewing patterns (with help)! I wrote an essay every single week on this little blog! I wrote poems for the first time in my life, really. I sewed so many things. I wept many times, a few times while doing the dishes. I worried. I feared. I angrily threw things. I walked in the cold winter wind. I danced to Sufjan Stevens. I learned every word of the new Mountain Man album. I missed a lot of people, I felt very lonely. I made new friends, or began to at least. I asked for help, asked to be listened to. I found kindred spirits. I said what I meant to say, I wore what I meant to wear. I felt very beautiful a handful of times. I ate how many pounds of pizza?! I drank so much sparkling water, but it was worth every penny (especially because most of it was bought at Aldi). I went to the same restaurants over and over because I found a few I liked. Most of them are pizza places. I made and wore some fabulous clothes. I have plans for clothes that are even more fabulous. I have so many plans. There’s a puppy with his head on my thigh. He is keeping me warm.

I read only a few books because reading has felt quite hard lately. I scrolled on my phone far too much. I worked really hard to grow a small business. I started paying myself for my work. I watched some excellent television. I watched Baby Boom with Diane Keaton like probably a dozen times. Many podcasts on car rides and dog walks. So many bowls of cornflakes and cups of coffee, inevitably rewarmed in the microwave. Oatmeal, but only for part of the year. Peppermint tea. Roasted tomatoes. I bought a new stove. I carried my groceries up forty stairs, repeatedly, every week.

I looked very closely at flowers, astonished. I watched the tree outside our front window, the movement of the leaves in whatever wind’s around. I burned incense and candles. I wiped the surfaces down, swept the floors, did the dishes over and over again. I made my bed, I folded the clothes. I worried a lot. I washed my hands too much, so much that they were terribly dry all the time. I watched a puppy grow from very small to very big very quickly. I travelled across states and across the country. I drove a car, I flew on a plane, I rode a bicycle, I walked. I read so many poems, a few of which I suddenly wanted to memorize, so many of which that I forgot about immediately.

I cooked dinners, I pulled weeds out of the garden, I sat on the fire escape and the front porch. I told some secrets, I kept many more, I was floored by a few things and bored by most things. I often didn’t know what to say.  I went to church, I sat in the pew, I took part in the Eucharist again and again and again. I asked questions, I didn’t always get the answers I wanted to get. I held my husband’s hand. I sat in the passenger seat while he drove. I looked out the window. We slept side by side.

I made a quilt, I made so much clothing, I changed the thread on my sewing machine and oiled it, kept it running. I made something out of nothing, two whole sewing patterns that used to not exist. I felt wildly confused. I taught kids art, operated a glue gun, put markers in baskets, opened and closed the closet door. I slept when I was tired, too often on the couch.

My goals for this year are astonishingly simple, have come to mind when I’m most dissatisfied with myself. Wake early, go to bed deliberately instead of falling asleep on the couch watching television. Read a poem everyday. Eat food three times a day, try to vary it. Don’t be so afraid all of the time. Put the phone away. Move, dance, take walks. Be quiet, really quiet. Leave space in the day. Do less things. Write more, it saves my heart. What is the work? I keep asking myself. It’s art. That’s the truth. The thing you are called to is always the hardest thing. The thing you can’t live without.

My puppy is beside me on the couch, and he’s a living thing keeping me warm. I have no idea who I’ve been before, but I know who I am right this second. I’m a woman, covered in quilts, with a puppy beside her. I’m a poet, my fingers are writing words. I made the clothes I’m wearing, I’m drinking coffee I brewed myself. I’m in my house, the one that is my home. I know who I am, at least in this moment. I feel myself growing up.

( I write about my birthday every year. Here’s 24, and here’s 25)

(PS: if you’d like to give me a birthday gift, you can send me a memory. I have a terrible memory, so your remembrances of me matter quite a bit. They’re almost certainly lost in my mind, and I grieve the loss of memories. If you remember a specific thing we did together, something specific we did or said, send it my way at amybornman@gmail.com and I will be so happy to remember with you. It can be very short. If I have known you in life, thank you for your friendship on the way. If I don’t know you in real life, thank you, thank you, for reading what I write. It matters immensely to me.)

Laps, June 11

7a – Wake.  Hardly slept, as I had anxiety about waking up on time after going to bed at almost 1 in new house, as I am housesitting.  Arrived from Chicago last night just in time to borrow roommate’s car, come to said house, check on chicken in coop in backyard, and be greeted by howling dog who does not trust my midnight intrusion.  Shared bed with two very fat cats, which is bonus material.  Also hardly slept because they kept crawling on my head, which was honestly not that annoying.

7:05a – Raid fridge.  Instructions left by homeowners said I could truly make myself at home, which I am taking at face value having zero ideas about when grocery shopping can occur.  Grab yogurt and coldbrew, snarf down at alarming speed.  While I’m here, decide to feed cats wet food even though instructions said dry would suffice, because they’ve been alone and also I want them to love me.

7:11a – Shuffle back to bedroom.  Throw on dress, anticipating great heat throughout long day ahead.  Slap on BB cream and mascara, throw hair on top of head as it has mysteriously gnarled in my sleep.

7:22a – Check on chicken in back.  Would normally allow her to roam backyard, but don’t want to risk potential death by coyote since I’m not sure when I’ll return, so instead just make sure she has food and water and dash back inside.  Backyard looks significantly less sinister in light of day.

7:29a – Pack up backpack, again trying to work through my sleep-deprived-travel brain what will be necessary to bring. Grab computer, planner, sunglasses, pen.  Doublecheck instructions to make sure animals won’t die while I’m gone. Run back into room, close suitcase so carelessly thrown open last night so as to not have clothes destroyed.

7:37a – Hop into roommate’s car, after making sure I have correct 2 out of 4 sets of keys in purse.  Make mental note to call body shop to see if they’ve even started repairs on my car after dubious fender bender with criminal in second week of living in Los Angeles.  Open GoogleMaps – will be late to class despite doublechecking how long it would take to get there from housesitting house last night.  Breathe real deep before starting car, as there is literally no amount of speeding I can do that will get me there on time, and that’s without adding in time to look for parking.  Text teacher somewhere along way to let her know.

8:06a – Find free parking, 2 blocks from theater.  As I am parallel parking in foreign vehicle, my best friend calls from Nashville.  Have been playing phone tag for over week; guess I’m It again. Doublecheck that I actually lock car, then run as quick as my sandaled feet will carry me.

8:12a – Arrive to class.  They haven’t really started yet, as one other girl is also late.  I hate to be late, so I don’t bother explaining why I’m late, and instead just greet everyone and open my computer to signal I am here and ready to go.

8:16a – Classmate begins.  We go around circle and describe what we’ve been doing to move career forward, while asking questions and attempting to clarify various mystifying roadblocks to Becoming A Professional Actor That is Paid and Universally Adored. When my teacher gets to me, I stumble through an elevator pitch, then clarify that I’ve been out of town since our last class and so not much has changed since our last meeting, which somehow bleeds into why I was late.  She reminds me that that is perfectly fine, and that life is allowed to happen and affect our best laid plans.  While I explain various Plans of Action I have for week ahead, she looks at me with guileless encouraging eyes and says, “You’ve got fire, girl.  This is gonna happen for you, stop worrying.” Go through motions of accepting compliment, save quite heart tears of joy for later.  My turn ends and my next two classmates go.

9:12a – See that Mother is FaceTiming me, which I obviously cannot answer.  While silencing call, see that I have received text from booking service asking if I am available to work tomorrow.  Quickly text roommate and see if I can borrow her car to drive to Santa Clarita, without time restrictions.  She graciously says yes, and lets me know her flight has left on time so she will be arriving at LAX as planned.  Quickly text booking service back, say “YES.” Hate texting during class, but also need money bad.

9:23a – Received confirmation that I have in fact been booked and will in fact make money tomorrow.  Doublecheck project on IMDb, see that it is directed by Oscar-nominated director.  Attempt to turn brain off that I might be engaged in what I am actually doing.  Am mostly successful.

10:04a – Class ends.  Teacher closes by asking if she can try something “airy-fairy” with us, since we’re actors after all.  We stand in circle as she recites various intentions, breathing deeply and holding hands. Welcome respite of my own thoughts and also any opportunity to pause.

10:12a – Call mother back; of course, she does not answer.  Call sister instead as I walk to car; she does answer. We chat about approximately one million things as I quickly drive back to my apartment to pick up menagerie of forgotten items.  Wait a while before heading inside, because it is nice to chat without interruption.  Agree to talk more once I return to housesitting house.  Head inside.

10:31a – Walk into sweaty humid abyss that is my apartment.  Am gleefully greeted by our dog, who spins in circle and kicks out her leg.  Run into room while hollering hello to my roommates, grab pair of shorts and whatever I may need for set tomorrow.  Pack some groceries into freezer bag, so as to avoid eating literally everything in housesitting fridge.  Grab laundry, as I have whole machine to myself for week.  Run back out door.  Attempt to call sister back, but she is on phone with someone else, so decide to listen to Katy Perry instead.  Her new single sounds exactly like Dagny, which makes sense since she wrote it.  Still slaps tho.

11:08a – Back at housesitting house.  Do bare-bones check of animals to make sure they are all alive.  See that they have still somehow managed to get into my clothes, as random items are scattered throughout living room.  Call sister back, chat while I eat some toast.  Am reminded that I have to call auto shop – we whinily say goodbye, as usual.

11:44a – Call auto shop.  Am alerted that insurance company has come by and approved repairs, and they can begin repairs as soon as they send over paperwork.  Am reminded that in voicemail they told me they would call me when this happened; am reminded that YOU CAN TRUST NO ONE BUT YOURSELF to do anything in life, love, and car insurance.  She sends over paperwork, which I immediately sign and send back in to ensure I can actually rent car tomorrow once paperwork has processed.  Consider attempting to obtain rental now, but decide it would be legitimate waste of time to pretend it will be possible.

12:12p – Doublecheck how long it will take me to get to LAX.  Determine I have enough time to attempt to begin tackling inbox.  While doing so, receive email from Boss #1 that surely contains next missive.  Decide to read this one later, as there is zero chance it will get done today and therefore not worth adding to brain pile.

1:37p – Make chicken nuggets, check on actual chicken again.  Love the way she clucks.

2:15p – As I am grabbing purse to get into car, receive text that roommate has gotten into LAX, almost an hour early.  She assures me there is no rush, and yet.  Simultaneously receive email from Boss #2, with very full task list that can hopefully be accomplished by tomorrow.  Am thrilled at prospect of making money, am filled with vague dread at what that will do to already limited hours for sleep this evening.  Text her and let her know I am about to head to airport but will take actual look at it tonight and begin working.

2:24p – Once on freeway, attempt to call best friend back, to no avail.  Attempt mother again, also to no avail.  Decide to listen to My Favorite Murder, Conan O’ Brien edition.  Is less fun than I thought it would be, but is nice to have chance to listen to podcast at all.  Ignore GoogleMaps as it continually tells me traffic is growing and my ETA grows later.  Crank up Conan as he describes my personal favorite true crime saga, the John List murders, a serendipitous commute surprise.

Keep reading…

What I did for Love III: The Tony Awards 2019

It’s now a tradition for me to write a blog post as I watch The Tony Awards. I’m not going to give a very long intro this time, as I’ve written copious amounts in the previous two years’ posts, and my feelings have not changed. For reference: two years ago, one year ago.

In short, I love broadway. I’ll always love broadway. I can’t help it. I feel gleeful as this begins. It’s like coming home, the old cliche. This was the obsession of my teen years, which, as I’m sure you know based on whatever you were obsessed with as a teen, really sticks with you. My encyclopedic knowledge of these people and their careers and interconnections, who wrote what, who was in what original broadway cast, who directed who, is still in my mind all these years later, jumps to the front on this night. This is in me. I will ALWAYS love broadway.

THOUGHTS WHILE WATCHING THE TONY AWARDS: (at my childhood home with my mom and dad and sister)

{This time in the form of an outline.}

  • “There’s a visceral bliss.”
  • I smile every time I see Kelli O’Hara.
  • I also smile every time I see Audra McDonald
  • Feeling all weepy. James Cordon in a pink suit singing on tv.
  • “You’re in the moment and totally present”
  • Impressed by the lady dancers’ face choreography in this opening number. They’re SHARP.
  • Calling it now. Hadestown will get Best Musical. Oklahoma will get Best Revival.
  • Kristin Chenoweth, spotted you in the audience, how are you doing?
  • “I think James Cordon is the best possible host!” – My mom.
  • Tina’s face after Jake Gyllenhaal called her “my fiance”
  • So many Bryan Cranston jokes and jabs!
  • These are some of the hardest working people in the world.
  • I want to see Aaron Sorkin’s To Kill a Mockingbird
  • CELIA KEENAN-BOLGER, Scout Finch, “the greatest literary heroine of all time”
    • Can I see this?
  • Jill’s in love with the fake Temptations.
    • One of the fake Temptations makes her squeal.
    • I’m bored by jukebox musicals.
  • Possible unpopular opinion: Jukebox musicals are kind of just a concert?
  • Googling The Ferryman
  • Re: Kristen Chenoweth
    • “Wow, she finally looks old” – Jill
  • Need to know more about The Boys in the Band, they’re the hottest guys in the room
    • Need more Andrew Rannells always
      • WHIZZER!
  • Robin De Jesus, I remember you from In the Heights OBC!
  • “Ugh, I just want to see a good play” – Jill
  • a Kenneth Lonergan play, a woman winning her first acting nomination late in her career, I’m hooked. The Waverly Gallery.
  • I’m way more interested in the plays this year than usual. Probably means I’m growing up.
  • My first thought as Tootsie takes the stage — is that Santino Fontana???
    • First got into him when he was the prince opposite Laura Osnes’ Cinderella in Cinderalla on Broadway and they did all these backstage vlogs for broadway.com and I followed them CLOSELY.
    • My thoughts as the number unfolds: this is extremely non-descript.
    • “It’s like Hannah Montana!” – Jill
    • I could see his quick-change zipper pull.
  • “So many musicals are about enneagram threes” – Jill
  • “A lot of people are watching the hockey playoffs tonight” – Mom
  • Really into Hadestown.
  • “not enough minutes to name all the people, who in 73 years on the earth plane have loved me into consciousness.” –what/wow?!?
  • We sing along to all the transitional orchestrations
    • “If I Loved You” this time
  • “That guy looks miserable” – Jill
  • OKLAHOMA OK
    • omg do they have a cast album please?
    • omg omg omg
    • Circle in the Square is by far my favorite broadway venue
    • very small cast
    • I’m so excited about this.
    • This is the sort of way to imagine musicals I love.
  • Chris Jackson, everyday please.
    • I also remember YOU from the In the Heights obc, man that was good broadway, front of mind tonight.
  • Re: Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown director
    • SHE WON.
    • I’m jealous.
    • SHE ALSO DIRECTED GREAT COMET
    • I want to be a director.
    • “life is a team sport, and so is walking out of hell”
    • “THIS IS WHY I WISH I WEREN’T THE ONLY WOMAN DIRECTING A MUSICAL ON BROADWAY THIS SEASON.”
    • THIS IS NOT A PIPELINE ISSUE, IT’S A FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
    • WOW WOW WOW
    • New Patron Saint.
  • I WANT TO BE A DIRECTOR.
  • Re: Beetlejuice
    • This seems like they were sad that The Addams Family wasn’t on broadway anymore so they did it again.
    • Jill is texting
  • Mary Testa!!!
  • Ali Stroker Tony Award, wonderful
    • PURE JOY
    • incredible dress!
    • Remember you from the glee reality tv show!!!
    • First actor using a wheelchair for mobility to win a tony award EVER
  • I want to be in the Kristen Chenoweth broadway bootcamp!!!
    • LOL love you!
    • laughing a lot with her.
    • She’s pretty crazy, in a good way.
  • The Prom looks a little like a disney channel tv show, aesthetic-wise
    • “Boys don’t look like that at prom” – Jill
    • Least fave. Sorry fam!
  • “Was that woman’s jacket made of buttons???” – Me.
  • James Corden + Dad <3 <3 <3
  • Adam Driver was in Burn This???
  • Re: The Boys in the Band — what a cast!
  • I love hearing the playwrights speak and say exactly what they’d like to say.
  • Okay so is The Choir Boy going to have cast album?
    • WOW
    • WOW
    • WOW
    • WOW
    • WOW
      • musical, play with music, same thing, maybe even better?
    • Best performance of the night.
  • “Now I’m just James in the bathroom.” — SMILING
    • Laurie Metcalf IS such a treasure!
    • Neil Patrick Harris’ mustache!
  • So happy every time I see Rachel Brosnahan.
  • I was completely frozen for the entirety of the hadestown performance, stopped in my tracks, oh my goodness
    • haven’t felt that way in a long time
    • THOSE SWINGING LIGHTS
    • taking me a while to bounce back, honestly!
  • Cute peony on James’ lapel! That blue velvet suit. Would wear that, tbh!
    • Need to make a jaunty blue velvet outfit for myself probably.
  • LOVING this beef sesh
    • Andrew Rannells + Darren Criss
    • EVERYONE’S TOO NICE!
    • Audra!!! Be mean!
      • Laura Linney flipping her the bird during a show!
      • “Yeah, that was me!”
      • WHAT?
      • Audra taking her earrings out!
  • BILLY!
  • I love the Tony Awards!
  • I WANT TO BE A DIRECTOR.
  • ADAM GUETTEL TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I NEED THAT SCORE!!!!!!!
  • Thank you for giving Hadestown the best original score tony!
    • Three things learned from making a musical:
      • 1. Nobody does it alone
      • 2. It takes a long time.
      • 3. It is worth it.
  • Will always love Kelli O’Hara
  • Kiss Me Kate
    • dancin’ boys
    • “there’s so many musicals about people who do musicals” – jill
  • “Sutton Foster and Andrew Rannells look like twins!” – Jill
  • OKLAHOMA!!!!!!!! Best Revival of a Musical!
    • “Does that man have a huge face compared to her?” – Mom
  • STEPHANIE J BLOCK AS CHER, I BELIEVE!!!!!
    • It’s always weird in shows about stars where they have three actors playing three different ages and they have them all come out and sing together.
    • These Bob Mackie costumes are pretty incredible.
  • I miss Karen Olivo!
    • More In The Heights obc vibes.
  • SIX TIME tony winner Audra? Wow.
  • Proud of u, Stephanie J!!!!!!
    • Is this her first tony????
    • WOW
    • “If you ever leave me I’m going with you” most dramatic declaration of love, I love sjb
  • OF COURSE, hadestown!!!
    • To all of us!

 

Radio

My first two cars only had CD players, no MP3 plugins.  iPhones (and iPods for that matter) were still very much up-and-coming, and I was still very much renting CD’s from the library to first burn into my iTunes library and then onto my iPod.  I would spend hours watching the slow progress of transmission, as The Killers and Billy Joel and too many soundtrack albums from Glee made their way onto my black and far too large iPod, transforming my morning bus rides to school into time to reflect on my feelings and get that much-needed moody start to my high school morns.

When I got my first car, a black station wagon, I was disappointed to find out that because it was an older model it didn’t have AUX cord capabilities, and therefore my precious hours of burning CD’s were all for naught now that I could drive myself to school.  Decidedly unperturbed, I took the necessary step back to burning my own CD’s, beginning what would become a lifelong delight in making playlists.  I learned the skill from my older sisters, both of whom had only ever had this option in their first driving days.  They had taught me the importance of including a variety of artists and sounds within the same set, to pull influence from as many genres I enjoyed as possible and intuitively throw them together in such a way that I would never want to press the skip button.  I also had to take into account that each of my burnable CD’s could only contain 80 minutes of music, thus making every choice count.  I couldn’t include a song I thought I was supposed to like; I literally only had time for the music I already did like.

I would listen to the same mix for however many months in a row, each morning looking forward to the ritual of it, each afternoon itching to get to my car so I could sing along to the song that had been in my head since sixth period.  I would switch them out occasionally, returning to old mixes and delighting in not having noticed I missed them.  No matter what had happened during my day, no matter what I would inevitably be doing in the evening, I had those delicious 15 minutes of really good music every single day.

And even though I enjoy each of my mixes even to this day, there were inevitably days when I just needed to hear something else.  My only other option, re: no AUX cord, was the radio.  Choosing my presets had been at the top of my list upon obtaining the car; after a lifetime spent in the backseat, I was itching to control the dials and pick which order they were scanned in.  No matter that there were only 5 radio stations worth listening to in the town I grew up in – the choice was mine.  Once, one of my best friends wrote a song that got played on one of the biggest stations in town.  I stayed in my car past my first class bell to listen all the way through, only to find out they had broadcasted it through the PA system in school.  But I’m sure it sounded better in my car.

Any time I’m on a road trip, I always scan the radio stations when I arrive in a new city.  A quick trip through the airwaves reveals an awful lot about the population it’s reaching, and it’s ceaselessly interesting to notice how delayed certain places are in receiving otherwise current music.  It’s one of the last mediums of entertainment that’s free and despite The Buggles’ warning, radio personalities are still very much at large in most towns across America. There’s no shortage of call-in’s of people desperate to win $1000 or a trip to a cherished concert, across age groups and station type.  It is every tired traveler’s last resort, and a reliable respite from your own taste.  You know that scene in Sleepless in Seattle, when Annie is driving to Walter’s parents’ house and desperate to keep herself awake with the horses, horses, horses, horses, and a simple switch of the station leads her to the voice of the man who will change her life?  There is something downright magical about sound you didn’t choose being transmitted to you from far away that you can only receive by a random flick of your wrist.  And it’s still around, despite so many other options, despite a world growing ever more visual; we can’t quite rid ourselves of hoping for our own secret message across the waves.  And while I’m sure there’s no feeling quite like writing a song and having it reach platinum, I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than scanning through the radio and hearing your own voice playing, at random and unchosen by you.  Nothing could compare to that, especially because every singer begins by singing along to the radio – imagine singing along to yourself.

These days, especially, I turn to the radio for a surprising relief from choosing.  Despite the nearly hundred carefully crafted playlists I have on Spotify, the countless podcasts I download to feast on, and the endless list of people I love that I ought to call in the hours of traffic, I find myself more often than not merely turning on the radio and switching through the channels, preset or otherwise, waiting to be surprised.  I’d love to take a class on radio algorithm, or make one up myself – I can’t begin to remember all the times I’ve been surprised by a song I completely forgot about, or begin to understand why I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For always seems to come on at precisely the right time.  How do the songs travel from the radio station? Do agencies pay broadcasting companies to pump their clients out, or are their choices strictly mandated by public demand? And how incredible is it to think about listening to the exact same song at the exact same time as thousands of other people in their cars inching through traffic too? The longer I live in California, I am convinced there are few things more enjoyable than cruising down the highway as the sun warms you through the window, listening to music hand-picked for the geography around you by someone you’ll never meet.  And if they pick the wrong song, well, just change the channel.

 

Laps, June 3

Alarm goes off at 6, then 6:05, then 6:10, all the way till 6:30. Strange dreams. First night back in my bed after a week in Lancaster for Isaiah’s brother’s wedding. It’s oddly cold for June.

Walk through the quiet house to to Bobo’s crate. The house is most beautiful first thing in the morning, the light is just right. If I’m up right at 6:30, it’s golden hour and everything glitters. I’m a little too late. Pull up the quilt keeping out the light, and Bobo’s eyes are open. I undo the latches and he makes a loud squeaky yawn and stretches a little bit. It takes him a while to come out of his crate. I have to push his butt toward the door to make him go out to pee, then as soon as he’s done he makes a beeline straight for our bed to cuddle with Isaiah. He hops up and settles in and falls asleep immediately.

I go to the couch, write some meager morning pages (more like morning sentences, but the hopefulness is still there), and read the daily office. Joshua 1, be strong and courageous. I write a very mediocre midrash. No poetry in me today. I don’t share this one, I just keep it in the google doc with the others. I’m comforted by the mediocre ones. The good ones freak me out a little. If they’re even good, it’s so hard to tell.

Put water on for coffee, Isaiah comes out and says hello. Bobo is still asleep on the bed. We chat and make breakfast. I pour myself some cornflakes with 2% milk. Work is already on my mind. I open my computer and start looking at emails, and I’m immediately stressed out. I remember worrying about this very moment before falling asleep last night. Press in. Start somewhere. I send a reply to two mentors about a big reunion for our college theater later this summer. I open an email asking me to find my clearances (fingerprints, background check, etc.) for a teaching artist gig later this summer, so I pull out my important papers file and they’re not in there. Of course. My brain flashes to the notion that I’ll have to get fingerprinted again which is the very definition of a hassle. I resolve to find them, they’ve gotta be somewhere.

Kiss Isaiah goodbye. Walk around to the side of the garden where the very poisonous vine is trying to grow down the fence into our yard. I push it back with a garden trowel. It has such gorgeous green berries — if Bobo ate even one or two of them he would be violently ill and maybe die. My worst nightmare. I coax it back over to the other side of the fence, and fastidiously wash my hands inside. My latest anxiety is poisonous plants of all sorts, part of a larger and more omnipresent anxiety that I will accidentally kill my dog or myself. I recently thought there was a poison sumac growing in the neighbor’s yard quite near the poison vine, but it turned out to be a tree of heaven. The poison vine is very real though, I’ve done my stress-research. Jill has woken up and come out (she’s living with us until she finds the right longer-term living situation in Pittsburgh). I warn her about the poison vine. She seems confused. Bobo is all hyper after his morning nap. I try to find things to entertain him. Look, a ball! I dip one of his bones in peanut butter and he starts on it.

I open some bills that I’ve been avoiding for a while. Up first a multi-hundred dollar bill from the Ophthalmologist, with a note that says, loudly, FINAL NOTICE PAY WITHIN TEN DAYS OR FURTHER ACTION WILL BE TAKEN. It’s been more than ten days since the date listed on the letter. Briefly consider mailing a check, but that would take way too long. There must be a more modern way to go about this. I go to the ophthalmologist website which is very unhelpful. No way to pay a bill online. I call the office. For billing questions press 5. I press 5 and a very kind woman answers. I apologize profusely for my payment being late and the kind woman is very nonplussed. I ask if I can pay over the phone, and she says “of course!” I feel hugged. Bobo chooses this exact moment to attack the sheepskin draped over a chair in the living room, which Jill notices and tries to deal with, though she and Bobo are still quite unsure of each other. Bobo barks loudly, and I tell the kind woman, “that’s my puppy barking, so sorry!” and laugh while trying to find my credit card and keep my dog from damaging my belongings, somehow both at once. Jill sort of subdues the dog while I read my credit card number to the woman. Bobo tries to fit my entire bicep in his mouth. The call is soon over. I was terribly distracted the entire time, I hope I said all the numbers correctly. I scold Bobo (“you’ve been so naughty!” really fun to have a non-weird reason to use the word “naughty” these days) and make him go outside, hoping he won’t eat any poison plants and die.

It is now only 8:45 am and I’m already exhausted. I know I need to run errands and I feel like I won’t get any meaningful computer work done now without some sort of break, so I put Bobo in his crate, luring him with salmon-flavored treats, and say goodbye to Jill and head to Target, ten minutes away. There are always so many people at this Target. I buy water filters and toothpaste and dark chocolate and coffee. It’s a really nicely mindless task but I wish it were already over. Head down the street to Aldi, but I pop my head into the Goodwill next door first. Nothing of note. Wish I had time to really shop, try things on. At Aldi, I do my usual shopping. Aldi is perfect for me because I’m the sort of grocery shopper who buys the same things over and over anyway and it’s very straightforward at Aldi. They have everything I need. It’s very comforting. I buy some little individual guacamole cups as a treat. I buy some ice cream for Isaiah.

Head home listening to Renascence. So many groceries to carry up 40 steps, I have to take two trips. I let Bobo out of his crate and he sniffs around the shopping bags. I pour myself some water and sit down to read feedback from the test-sewing group from my latest sewing pattern. Having trouble focusing. I work on various pieces of prep for the pattern launch coming up next week. So much to do, I’m very overwhelmed. Looking forward to facetiming my collaborator Amelia later today, she’s so good at making a plan for how to move forward. I work for a while but don’t feel like I got anything done. No idea when I’ll write my blog post for Sync Swim. Pour more water.

Decide to take Bobo for a walk before it’s too late and I cut it too close for my facetime with Amelia. Put on The Liturgists podcast and start out. Bobo’s happy. I throw a stick and Bobo chases it down the alley. I throw the stick again and it lands on the side of the road. When Bobo goes to get it, I notice that the stick was right in the middle of a sizable patch of poison ivy, and he’s just run through it. OF COURSE. I’ve been vigilant on all our walks, scanning the roadside for poison ivy, and the one minute I put my guard down it shows up and touches my dog. Of course. I know from my poison plant research that poison ivy often doesn’t affect dogs, but if the oils get on their fur (very likely) it can easily spread to humans (very likely). I call Isaiah as Bobo and I keep walking and he tells me to google it. I google “dog ran into poison ivy” as we walk, and it tells me to give him a bath asap. We shorten our typical walk. I listen to The Liturgists halfheartedly as we fast-walk home.

I get Bobo into our fenced-in backyard and quickly change into different clothes and grab latex gloves and a handful of dish soap. I turn on the hose and grab Bobo’s leash and hold him steady as I spray him down with the hose. He hates it of course, and struggles, tries to get away. I lather him up with the dish soap and spray and rub him some more. Eventually he relaxes and lets the hose spray him without struggle. I finish and he shakes off and rolls around in the grass. He’s very clearly agitated and confused about what has just happened. To be honest, I am too. I do various clean-up tasks, annoyed at how much extra time this whole ordeal has taken. I feed Bobo his lunch outside, rub him down with a spare towel. Finally, I clean everything up and let him back inside. The first thing he does is BOLT straight to our bedroom, hop onto the bed and sit square on my pillow. NO! I shout. NO NO NO! Bo just looks at me. POISON IVY DOG! I grab his collar and yank him off the bed. I wash my hands fastidiously. I strip the bed and throw everything in the washer. I wash my hands again. Even more time lost. Bo is now very sleepy, sitting near my computer. I sit down just in time for my facetime with Amelia. “What a past thirty minutes I’ve had!” I tell her.

We talk for over an hour, planning out the next intense week of work before our pattern launches. I feel less stressed about it while talking with her. While we talk, Bobo slowly destroys a baseball in the backyard. Amelia and I agree that this is an appropriate dog activity. We hang up. I finally eat lunch, more like a snack, a bowl of tortilla chips (the last bag of Donkey chips brought home from Chicago) and the treat guacamole from Aldi. It tastes so good. It also feels good to have a plan for finishing this huge project after a week out of town where I intended to get some work done and, in reality, neglected many of my responsibilities. I lose all my work ethic when I’m out of my normal environment.

I work awhile longer and, again, get very little done. Soon it’s time to leave for my production meeting for Romeo and Juliet at the same non-profit I worked for last summer, a big ministry for Pittsburgh kids with tons of programs all year and all summer. I’m the costume designer, a gig I probably should not have taken on since it’s truly one-too-many commitments, but I like the people and the kids so I wanted to stay involved. I lure Bobo back into his crate using the same salmon treats and head down the hill.

I’m late to meet with Nancy, the woman in charge of payroll. She talks with me in much the same way as the kind woman from the ophthalmologist office, like a hug. I ask if they still have all my clearances on file from last summer, and THANK GOODNESS, they do! I make copies and scan them on the spot with my phone so I’ll never lose them again. Into google drive they go! I head up a few minutes late to the production meeting. In the hour and a half meeting, we talk about things that pertain to me for approximately seven minutes. I didn’t think to bring my computer to work on other things, so I send some emails from my phone and make a handwritten list of the costumes I still need to source. I can’t bear to waste this much time while so thoroughly stressed out. After the official meeting, I meet with the director and the costume assistant for another hour beyond when the meeting was supposed to end. By the time it’s over I’m so done, like done done. I wander out of the building in a daze. More stressful things to do this week, now on my list. Find shoes for Sampson and Gregory, we need to rework Mercutio’s costume and Benvolio’s, find another size of the same denim jacket for Romeo. A full page of tasks like this. I decide I’ll deal with it Thursday or Friday — all the costumes need to be ready for a big photoshoot on Sunday. Later in the week, later in the week, don’t worry about it now.

I stop at my favorite pizza shop on the way home. While I wait for my slices I call Jill to see if she want’s anything. She’s already had dinner. I get Isaiah a pepperoni slice because I’d hate to come home with nothing for him. His phone is dead. At home, I eat my pizza standing up in the kitchen and talk with Isaiah about Bobo. I’m so tired. I know I still have to write a blog post. Jill is in the tv room playing a video game I love and told her she should play, Night in the Woods. I like hearing the music from the game. I take a shower, long and hot. I dry off. I mean to get a glass of water and then forget to. I sit down on the couch to write and Bobo sits down beside me, warm with sleep. I write what happened in my day.

 

Time Tips

When time and consequently spirits are low, I find myself looking for tiny outlets that do not take time but provide small but significant comfort.  They work best when all are possible, but sometimes you only need one to completely turn your day around.  I have about 500 problems with the whole “self care” movement, but I am 100% behind efficiency and balance, and I think that often the best away around the poor-me’s is good time management.  If you, like me, enjoy doing many things and therefore commit to them, you may find your head spinning trying to orient itself to what requires what of you when, especially when also considering every day life tasks that are important to functioning and flourishing – laundry, dinner, exercise, conversation.  Feeling that way in this very moment, I am choosing to list some of my strategies for getting out of the ambient muck known as I’m Not Doing Enough How Do I Do Everything.

  1.  Give yourself five minutes to drink your coffee in the morning, uninterrupted.  Just you and that sweet warm mug and a moment to yourself before everyone else tries to get something from you.  A prayer, a poem from memory.
  2. Take a 15 minute walk around your neighborhood during whatever section of the day you can.  Don’t think about how you ought to be at the gym – think about how nice it is to feel the sun on your skin, to recognize that your body can and is presently moving.
  3. Watch 10 or so minutes of a favorite TV show while eating dinner.  You have to eat, so you’re not wasting time by allowing yourself a bit of comfort while you do what you can’t avoid.  (My personal faves: The West Wing and Friends, though I often end up watching the same-ish 10 minutes of West Wing because Aaron Sorkin knows his plots)
  4. Apply a face mask.  Can put it on while you do whatever else you’re doing, so it wastes no time and makes you feel cared for.
  5. Turn off your phone for 30 minutes (time increment flexible).  Even though people are trying to contact you and get stuff from you, it is very rare that getting back to them 30 minutes later will have any eternal value.
  6. Say no, especially when you often don’t and have the impulse to do so!
  7. Take the evening off Instagram, Twitter, Yik Yak – whatever plagues you into thinking you’re missing an opportunity.  You’re not missing anything! And anything that won’t keep overnight isn’t a real opportunity, anyway.
  8. Check Postmates, find what’s on their party option for free delivery.  Allow a stranger to bring food to your door and banish worry that you are non-functioning if you can’t make a satisfying dinner on top of everything else.
  9. Take 5 minutes to clearly prioritize what actually needs to be accomplished before your eyes close for the day – it will remove head-spinning from the equation and remind you that you’ve got a whole new wave of energy coming at you in the morning.  If you need to split time for a task between today and tomorrow, give yourself a clear time window, aka, I will work on this task for 45 minutes and at the end of that time I will let myself stop and finish it tomorrow and trust that tomorrow will have 24 hours.
  10. Have a talk with God.  Not kidding.  He likes your headshots and created the universe.
  11. Take 5 minutes to put your feet above your head while pushing your legs and butt against the wall before you go to sleep.  It will give you a better night’s sleep, and creates a sweet symmetry with your 5 minutes of coffee.

two things

I totally forgot to write a post today until right this second, so this is decidedly un-spectacular. Long weekends and bank holidays tend to give my brain a sort of timelessness and all my routines go out the window, plus tomorrow night we’re leaving town for Isaiah’s brother’s wedding! Good things, big things, lots of things, but for now two small things that knocked me off my feet this weekend.

  1. Fleabag, Season TwoOh. My. Goodness. I don’t think I have anything articulate or helpful to say about this yet because I’m still feeling it so deeply. It’s like this season of fleabag ran me over like a train. I watched the entire series , seasons one AND two, while sewing this morning and for all of season two I couldn’t believe the beauty of what I was watching. At so many points I could have been so disappointed. I was steeled to be, I was ready. But again and again, it proved my doubt wrong with more tenderness and more thoughtfulness around conversations and tropes that are so often fetishized or short-cutted. If you don’t know already, in Season Two, Fleabag falls in love with a Catholic priest — and not chill-in-love, like deep real love. That isn’t really a spoiler since everyone is talking about #hotpriest. But, friends, watch it unfold for yourself. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a more nuanced portrayal of a priest in any sort of media. I can’t get it out of my head. And, as a person of faith, I left the show feeling like I had learned something new about what it is I’ve committed to and why, how beautiful and wild it is — learning these things right alongside all the characters in the show. Never preachy, always wondering, hoping, practicing love. I don’t know what to say about it yet except that I was floored by it and so thankful that people are making television with this much care. Plus I laughed SO F-ING MUCH. Like loud weird laughing. And then wide-eyed wonder. And then tears. It was all of it. Please watch, and then let’s talk about it. Maybe I’ll have more to say about it then, for now I’m just plain emotional about it. And thinking anew about love and hope, both. (It’s on amazon prime, go watch it right now.) Note: I would characterize season one as enjoyable and very worth watching, but not exceptional. I would characterize season two as exceptional with a capital E. I think it’s worth watching the whole series, but there’s also a recap of season one at the beginning of season two if you just want to go for the gold. Then you’ll probably want to go back to season one because you won’t want it to end. So maybe just watch season one knowing that something really wonderful is coming just around the bend.
  2. Renascense, a new musical. I’ve been listening to this literally all weekend. It’s a new musical — the kind I really like. A chamber piece, no thrills, mostly vocals. Small cast, small room, small idea made big with song. This musical in particular is extremely up my alley — maybe too much even. The songs are entirely made up of the text of Edna St. Vincent Millay poems. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about her poetry before — you can only read so many poems! But I have had her words in my ears all weekend and it’s settling into me so wonderfully, in the way that music helps you memorize and feel a poem differently. It almost makes me wish there could be an accompanying chamber musical for all the poets I love, whose words I’d like to carry around with me with a tune attached, for convenience and poignance sake. I don’t know a lot about the plot of the musical or the staging. I read this review from the New York times (nicknaming it “portrait of the artist as a young hottie”!!) that was only mildly helpful in helping me imagine it (apparently they talk a lot in between the songs and the book of the musical isn’t very good?). The music holds its own though, so as an album it’s really quite something. You don’t really need to know who is who or why they’re singing what they’re singing. Think of it as a poetic song cycle, it really needn’t be more than that. The musical culminates in the writing of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s most famous poem, the one that put her on the map. “Renascence.” Ironically this is the song that is most difficult to listen to on the album, it’s much too long and I lose the train of thought. My very favorites are “Recuerdo” (haven’t been able to get it out of my head! — actually feels like a companion to the fleabag season in a way) and “Time Does Not Bring Relief”. The orchestrations are wonderful, and it’s beautifully sung straight through — their casting of “Vincent” as a wild beltress accompanied by lyrical singers was fitting.) Even if you’re not super into musicals, this might just feel like a special treat. Some poems in your ears, some bits to remember. I’ll be carrying them around with me.

The Enneagram

If you are a millennial or in any kind of relationship with one, you have more than certainly heard of the Enneagram.  Amy and I have fleetingly mentioned it here, with much self-deprecation, as we are both type 4s which is maybe the easiest type to make fun of.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

The Enneagram, for those who don’t know, is an ancient personality tool that exists to reveal your own motivations to yourself while simultaneously explaining why other people are motivated by different things.  It’s an incredibly active approach to understanding yourself and the people you love (or want to figure out how to love). There have been dozens of fads centered around self-revelation for as long as people have communicated, of which the Enneagram is actually the oldest.  I’ve heard many people dismiss it as an online quiz, a personality test, a semi-satanic looking symbol, or “way more limiting than Meyers Briggs – how can there only be 9 types of people?”

To which I say, I am confident there really are only 9 types of people.  Yes, people are unique, yes every person is comprised of inherently specific experiences that inform every minor and major decision they make, blah blah blah, people aren’t that different from each other and yes they really all are motivated by either fearing corruption, unlovability, failure, mediocrity, inadequacy, change, pain, control, or loss.

You may read that list and noticed that you fear more than one of those things (maybe all of them!), which makes sense.  Another major facet of the Enneagram is that while most people are able to classify themselves into one type (or, as Chris Heuertz says in The Sacred Enneagram, are “dominant” in one type), you move towards other numbers in growth and decay, and all 9 numbers are present in each person – the one you are dominant is your essence, or the thing that most drives you.  I truly loathe the “speak your truth” movement (truth is objective! that is the point!), but if its main aim is to value your own experience and recognize the inherent meaning and motivation in it, I can’t think of a better tool than the Enneagram for its discovery.

I’m not here to really break down the Enneagram; there are much more knowledgeable people who have slogged long and hard through the quagmire who can do that for you (if you’re lost, by the by, hit up The Enneagram Institute, which breaks it down real simple), and I am functioning under the assumption that most people reading this are more or less familiar with their Enneagram type than say, the zodiac.  But I am here to talk about how after the Enneagram helps you identify why you do what you do, it then gives you some invaluable tools on how to not do those things.  And while the Bible and poetry constantly force me to reckon with my own human nature, it’s the Enneagram that helps me get out of it.  There’s a famous passage in the Bible for people obsessed with self-improvement like myself: “I do what I do not want to do.” This passage always encouraged but frustrated me, because I wanted someone to tell me why I did the same particularly dumb things over and over again. I have lately loathed some of my own behaviors, and noticed myself dipping into some old habits that have historically proven to be both useless and not grounded in reality or experience.  At risk of my own embarrassment, I will divulge one such here: I have a knee-jerk habit of sometimes withholding myself from people as a means of being sought out.  It can come out in cosmetic ways, like at a party where you willfully remain aloof, or in painfully interpersonal ways, where a close friend tells you there’s a brick wall set firmly in place and they have no way of getting around it.

Enter the Enneagram.  Literally in the second sentence of the description, it mentions that 4’s withhold themselves due to excessive vulnerability.  Words for behaviors I’ve mysteriously indulged in my whole life, proof that I’m neither crazy nor alone – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, baby.  There is a never-ending rabbit hole of revelation and description, but the best facet of the whole enterprise is it breaks down the various stages of health each number is in at any given time, and very candidly shares your blind spots with you.  It gives you a little peephole into the future for how you will most likely end up if you don’t actively pursue healing in the areas that are most likely to trip you up, and shows you how healthy you can be if you learn how to embrace what’s good and swerve what’s bad (or, at the very least, split the difference).

When I first came across the Enneagram in college, I mostly camped out in the “I’m a 4 so that’s why I’m this way,” almost like a badge of moody honor (it didn’t help that I was in a theater full of the same number).  I think this is why those who want to dismiss it are able to so easily – it can very quickly devolve into an excuse for bad behavior.  But I can attest to how useful it has proved in my own life, particularly in my minute-by-minute reactions to events and feelings in my day and most importantly, in my relationships.  Instead of repeatedly getting disappointed in myself for having big feelings all the time, I am now able to coo to myself, “It’s okay, you have a lot of feelings, they’re not necessarily what’s real” (even though maybe they are, will we ever know, not sure).  And it helps you celebrate what you’re good at! Balance! Hope for betterness! I wanna get better!

As for relationships, I can’t think of a better way to get inside the heads and hearts of people you love.  I have a friend who recently found out he’s a 4 after having spent a long time being mistyped, and he sends me screenshots of different paragraphs he’s reading about said revelation, answers to questions he’s had his whole life without any answers for them.  Another friend is constantly oscillating back and forth between which type she thinks she is, and we have a never ending conversation about why she thinks she could be one or the other.  Like I said, it’s so active! And so exciting! It doesn’t demand that you stay in one place, and no one else can tell you which type you are, and creates an endless font of conversation and discovery with people you love and have perhaps known forever but never understood why the heck they act the way they do. It’s a fast track to clear, open communication.

I recognize that this is all over the place and only scratching the smallest of surfaces, so here are some ~helpful~ resources to more succinctly explain why this is worth your time:

The Road Back to You – both the book and the podcast offer perspectives from people of all different types, who generously explain and explore together

Unpopular opinion: I don’t care for the OG Enneagram book by Richard Rohr because it straight up hurt my feelings but a lot of people find it helpful and also he’s a True Pioneer so why not include it

The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz – this is my fave book I’ve read on the topic thus far even though it can get real mystic and heady.  Very easy to dive into different sections and eat the corn, toss the cob.

Sleeping at Last podcast/songs – I would be remiss if I did not include this sweet sweet man’s project to write a song from the perspective of all 9 types and then do a deep dive of each type with Chris Heuertz.  Was not personally crazy about the 4 song, but I genuinely love the idea and have greatly enjoyed some of the others.

Beatrice Chestnut – this is a gal whose book you should read if you really wanna #get #into #it.  She goes into stacking, wings, the diagram, everything.  Good supplemental reading once you’ve gotten hooked.

Enneathought – this is through the Enneagram Institute website! They send you a lil something to chew on every morning in your inbox, which has more than once saved my ass before I even got out of bed.