Every Day is Saturday

The joy and heartache of working for myself from home

Of Fear, Love and Writing

WritingI have never considered myself to be a creative person.  I have been a singer, but not a musician.  I have acted, but never ever thought of myself as an actor.  I inherited none of my father’s ability to draw and paint.  I’m a good cook, a competent (but not brilliant) photographer, and at a very young age I knew I could have been a decent dancer if I had kept at it, but I did not.  Even with all of these pursuits I never thought of myself as an artist of any stripe.  In my mind, artists were the ones whose gift was obvious, their talent undeniable.  When I compared myself to people I thought of as artists, I believed I was not one of them.

In college I discovered stage management as a discipline, and the first time I heard the term “theatrical technician” I knew I’d found myself.  What a perfect description of me – the practical one who kept the creative types’ feet on the ground.  I could stay connected to the world I loved, but I never had to reveal myself.  I could hide in plain sight, no one the wiser – except for one professor who saw right through me, and who I knew I’d disappointed.  I managed to push the shame of that aside and soldier on, convinced I had finally found my calling.

I was always a good writer, but not of stories or poems.  I strongly believed that I had no gift for creative writing; any attempts I made to write stories in high school were, in my opinion (and that of my English teacher) unsuccessful.  And being the person that I have always been, if I couldn’t be great at something I just wasn’t interested in doing it at all.  I was used to things I wanted coming easily to me.  If I perceived my goal to be too far away I would abandon it in favor of something more easily achieved.   Struggling for my art was not something I wanted to do, which is why I ultimately abandoned all creative pursuits one by one.  Eventually I even stopped stage managing, and for years and years I’ve done nothing creative at all outside of the kitchen.  Which explains a lot.

Writing became a tool that I used to become successful at my non-creative pursuits.  It wasn’t a friend helping me find my way, it was a slave I bent to my will.  It was this way until my cozy life fell apart and writing became my counselor, my support and my confessor.  I wrote the words of my heart in the ink of my grief.  I wrote to catch hold of the pain and put it someplace outside of myself.  But the time came that I didn’t have to do that anymore to survive, so I stopped.

Now I find myself writing again, and for the first time in a very long time it is for the primary purpose of creating.  But even as I’ve taken the first few steps into this new world I find myself up to my old tricks – trying to find the easy way, allowing myself to be content with the early attempts, not stopping to dig too deeply.  Fortunately I’ve recognized this tendency before I’ve sabotaged myself, but the realization has forced the question: do I move ahead, knowing the difficulties that I will encounter, the time it will take, and the statistical probability that I will never make a comfortable living as a writer, or do I do what I’ve done so many times and give up before I even really get started?

I have been at this decision point before, and I have always chosen the path of least resistance.  Sometimes I was aware of the choice I was making, other times the opportunity to choose differently came and went so fast I didn’t see it until it was gone.  Most of the time I convinced myself I was making the “right” choice, even as I ignored that soft, gentle voice that said I was making a mistake.  This time, though, there don’t seem to be as many alternatives available.  It’s as if I’ve used up all of my excuses, and a stronger will is pulling me in, like being caught in a whirlpool or a tractor beam.

And I can feel myself changing.  Thoughts I haven’t had in years about who I am are appearing in my mind.  A sudden thirst for poetry has taken hold of me out of nowhere.  Ideas for stories I could write, ways of making the new memoir meaningful (not just entertaining), and fragments of poems I want to attempt are all jumping around inside my head, dying to get out.  I haven’t felt this energized in decades.  Not since I became afraid of making myself vulnerable, of showing the world who I am and who I was meant to be.  I’m falling in love again, with words and their beauty and mystery and power.  I’m still afraid; I’m not sure if that will ever change.  I’m just tired of letting it stop me.

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photo credit: Writing via photopin (license)

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Man Friends, Part 2

Venus & Mars b&w

It does take a certain amount of courage to be just friends with someone of the opposite sex (or someone you “shouldn’t” be friends with). People often don’t understand how it’s possible. I know that it is possible, but it can be tricky, and you have to adhere to the rules. What rules you ask? Why, the rules I made up for myself. I’m not a relationship counselor and I don’t pretend to be one, but I’ve honed these rules over time and they have served me well. Here they are:

Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship

Rule #1 – If you find that you are physically attracted to your friend, take two giant steps back. This is the most important rule, and one that causes trouble for people trying to maintain a friendship with someone who is not available for a romantic relationship (or who themselves are unavailable). The thing to remember here is that attraction is spontaneous and mostly outside of our control. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, but you can certainly control how you react to it. If you value your friendship and don’t want to lose it, be careful how you interact with a person you find yourself attracted to. Don’t allow the attraction to take hold. You may have to step away from the friendship for a while; that’s ok. It’s more important that you don’t do something stupid that you can’t take back.

One other thought about this topic. Yes, sometimes attraction is inevitable and unavoidable, and it can add an element of fun to your friendship, as long as you don’t feed it. I can’t stress this enough – if left unacted on, physical attraction will usually diminish over time, so let it. If your friendship is truly important to you, you will protect it by staying as physically and emotionally far away from the person you are attracted to as possible until the attraction, starved for attention, dies off. I’ve been through it, and I promise you it works.

Rule #2 – Talk openly about your spouse or partner. Unless your friend comes to you for relationship advice there’s a temptation to not discuss your significant other with them. Don’t fall into that trap. Your spouse or partner is an important part of your life; they are part of who you are, and you have to bring all of that to the table to truly be friends with someone. It can feel awkward, but make a point of doing it.

However, DON’T compare spouses or talk about them in a derogatory way thinking to amuse each other! That’s the height of tacky, and I don’t do it or put up with it. I am NOT here for you to complain about your spouse. If you are honestly seeking advice in order to improve your relationship that’s ok, but DO NOT call me up bitching about your wife. I will tell you to get a grip and hang up on you. Also, if I see you behaving in a way that I think is disrespectful to your wife, I WILL call you up and yell at you (yes, I’m talking about YOU – you know who you are!).

Rule #3 – If you’ve had a romantic relationship with your friend in the past, don’t dwell on it. I’m a fan of closure, so if you’re trying to have a friendship with a former flame, deal with whatever you need to deal with and move on. Your friendship exists in the present, not the past. If you find that all you ever talk about with that person is your old relationship, they are not truly a friend. They are a Movie of the Week, endlessly repeating. Get over it. There’s a reason your relationship didn’t work out in the first place, so be glad that you’re both in happy relationships. Find those things that formed the basis of your friendship in the first place and go from there.

An important point here – if your former flame is reaching out and wants to be friends but they are not in a happy, committed relationship be very careful. I would actually advise that you keep your distance from that person. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be their friend – they may need a good friend – but be extremely careful how you manage your interaction. They may be looking for more than just friendship, and they don’t have anything to lose. You do. Watch your step.

Rule #4 – Don’t expect too much. If your friend is in a committed relationship (or, you know, has a life), don’t expect that friend to be interested or available to you all the time. Actually, if one of you seems to be constantly chasing the other one down it can signal trouble in the primary relationship that should be dealt with. For me, I’m happy if I hear from my man friends every couple of months. We may have short exchanges on Facebook, or I may reach out if I see something involving a mutual interest, or if I hear something that causes me concern. Sometimes we’ll meet up for a beer or a meal if we happen to cross paths. But I have no expectation or desire to be in constant communication with my man friends. It would be creepy, and a bad idea.

Rule #5 – Don’t overdo it.  This relates to #4; don’t send your man friends messages on a weekly basis. That’s stalking. These kinds of friendships need space and distance to survive. The trick is finding that balance between keeping the friendship alive and getting too involved in your friend’s life. There’s a limit to how much communication you should have to keep your relationship in the “friend only” zone. Again, like the attraction thing, you have to be very conscious about how you manage the communication with your man friends. I find the key is to have lots of them so I don’t have time to only focus on one (but maybe that’s just me).

Rule #6 (This is for the women only) – Don’t expect your man friend to understand you. This is actually good advice for any relationship, but it definitely applies here.

Women, if you want understanding and empathy, go to your female friends. A man will never, ever understand you, and it is extremely unfair to expect them to do so.

What you can and should expect from a man, be it your husband or your boyfriend or your man friend, is for them to respect and honor you, and to enjoy your relationship in an honest and open way. You should be confident that your man friends like you just for being yourself – otherwise, what’s the point?

A friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship. It provides a source of comfort, joy, and companionship. All relationships are different because everyone is different. I get different things from every friend I have, male or female. From some I get sympathy for and identification with my struggles. From others, comradery. From some, wisdom. From others, simple affection. From some, laughter. From others, moral support. From some, the connection of shared passions.  From others, deep and abiding love.

I give my love to my friends freely, without reservation. My friends, men and women, sustain me, they hold me up when I need holding, they give me a place to focus my caring and concern. I am impossibly blessed with the most wonderful friendships of every kind. Some of them may seem unconventional. I really don’t care – they’re mine, and I cherish each and every one.

One last thought. To the spouses of my man friends:  I am not a threat to you. If anything, I’m your greatest ally. I have no desire whatsoever to take your husband from you. I have my own husband; I don’t need yours. Unlike other women who may be interested in pursuing a relationship with your man, I know where the lines are and I will not cross them. But I do ask that you have enough confidence in your marriage to acknowledge that your husband’s friendship with me could make your relationship stronger. If you can give your man the room to be a friend to me, and for me to be a friend to him, I promise you that he will respect you more than he already does.

But, and this is really important, you can’t make him not like me. You can forbid him to speak to me or you can punish him if you think he’s getting too friendly, but that won’t make your marriage any stronger. I’ve lost friends to jealous wives, and I let them go; the last thing I want to do to someone I care about is make their life harder. Friends don’t do that. But what I hope is that you can give him the freedom to maintain his friendship with me, even if you don’t like it. Just so we’re clear, I’ve done that for my husband, and he has done it for me.

So there you have it. This is what I’ve learned over the years of having lots of man friends. I care about them, and I want them to be happy. I hope they feel the same way about me. I think they do.

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Man Friends, Part 1

Venus & Mars b&w

I have a lot of male friends – maybe more than is the norm (or, let’s face it, strictly necessary) for a married woman in her 40’s. I’ve thought a lot over the years about why this is and how I’ve managed to maintain these friendships, and I’ve decided to tell you all my secrets for keeping man friends. Guys, this is for you, too – if you want to know how to be friends with a woman – just friends – this is what you need to know.

First let me say that my husband is the best man friend I’ve ever had. When we met we hit it off right away with a combination of similar interests and a sense of humor. The other stuff came along in time – shared values and goals, trust, commitment – but the friendship has remained. To this day he’s the person I most enjoy being with. We still find ways to make each other laugh, we adore traveling together, and we look forward to going out on dates. We love each other, of course, but we LIKE each other, too. I still see him as a distinct person, someone who has a life and thoughts and concerns and history that is completely separate from mine. You may think that’s an unusual way to view one’s spouse, but I believe it’s the key to a happy marriage. I’m with my husband because I choose him, out of all others, to share my life with – not to become my life. It’s a conscious choice I make every day, and every day I am thankful to have this amazing man as my husband.

Please also understand that my closest, dearest friends are all women. There’s a bond that women have based on shared understanding that is much stronger than any of my relationships with men except for the one I have with my husband.

So, now that you understand those two things, I want to tell you about the other men in my life – my man friends.

I’ve always gotten on well with men. I’m not entirely sure why (I suppose some of my man friends would have to tell you that), but I’ve always had friends who are boys. I do know that sometime in my early teenage years I figured out that being friends with boys was much easier than being friends with girls, in a general way. Boys were unlikely to say mean things just to hurt your feelings, or to purposefully exclude you from group activities, or to take pleasure in publicly humiliating you. I experienced all of this behavior from girls I knew. As a young adolescent I was overweight (which was unusual in my day) and I wore glasses, which made me a prime target for bullying. I found a respite from that social nightmare by hanging out with the guys.

I’ve also noticed that even though we’re all “grown up” now, some women still behave this way; if I’ve had problems with a boss, it’s always been a woman boss. That’s not to say I haven’t had some good women bosses – I have. The best boss I ever had was a woman. But so was the worst. I’d rather deal with men in that capacity because most of the time they’re really only interested in your work. Yes, personalities do come into play, but again, it’s unlikely that a man will try to embarrass you publicly for the fun of it. Throw you under the bus, yes. Take credit for your work, yes. Blame you for their mistakes, yes. But at least they won’t get all personal about it.

So, here it is – my big secret.

I like men.

I realize this won’t be a shock to anyone who knows me, but hear me out. The secret to being friends with a man is to like him for who he is and to have no expectations about what your relationship is or can be.

It’s that simple. And that complicated.

I love all my man friends – straight or gay, married or single – just the way they are. I don’t need or want anything from them. For my married or committed friends I am a huge fan of their partnerships, and for my single man friends I live in hope that they will find someone who will love them. I am here to listen to their problems if they choose to share them with me. I will go to the grave with their secrets. If they want my opinion about something I am happy to give it. The same goes for my advice – and I don’t care if they take it or not. I’m here to celebrate their victories and commiserate their setbacks. I’m someone they can turn to who will always be there, never judging, never demanding anything. The only think I ask is that my man friends respect the friendship as I do, and that they want the same things for me that I want for them – happiness, success, and fulfillment. And that they have the courage to be my friend in the face of occasional disapproval.

Ok, that’s enough for now! Next week I’ll share my Rules for Maintaining a Healthy Platonic Friendship.

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Only Human

Forgiveness

Sometimes something happens to remind me that no matter how hard I try, I am human after all. That’s not to say I don’t make mistakes – I make mistakes all the time. I’m pretty good about admitting my mistakes when they happen and doing my best to make up for them. I also don’t hold other people’s mistakes over their heads, because, hey, nobody’s perfect.

The thing that I have the hardest time letting go of is when I do or say something in a fit of anger that hurts someone else, usually someone I care about. That happened this weekend, and I’m having trouble forgiving myself.

I told you last week about what was coming – the pressure, the deadlines, the stress – but that I love the theatre “more than breathing” (to borrow a line from one of the plays we presented this weekend). The time we had to pull the whole production together was tight to say the least, but we did it. It was a huge team effort, and I am so proud of the work we did and how it was received. It was entirely successful on every level. A triumph!

But my feelings of joy about it are tainted with the knowledge that I let my feelings of insecurity and stress and fatigue lead me to lash out at a friend.

I know I’m only human, but I keep thinking I’ve grown up, that I’ve moved beyond needing to be reassured that I’m good at what I do, that I’m valued, that I’m respected. Obviously that’s not the case. My friend was only doing what he felt was right, and in my fear of being wrong I got hugely defensive and took a (metaphorical) swing at him. I immediately apologized, and we hugged it out, but I’m still chewing on it. I know he forgives me, but I can’t seem to forgive myself.

I’ve always had impossible standards for myself when it comes to how I behave. I should NEVER get angry. I should NEVER say mean things. I should NEVER raise my voice to someone. Of course I DO get angry at people, but I almost never, ever lash out. Yes, I was tired. Yes, I was stressed out. Yes, I was terrified that I might be so rusty as a stage manager that I would screw up the cues I was responsible for executing (I didn’t). But none of that matters. There is no excuse for what I did – none. And I don’t want to let myself off the hook, or find some excuse that makes it okay, because I don’t ever want to do it again.

I realize I’m probably overreacting, but I can’t help but compare this episode with one that happened over twenty years ago, when in a very similar situation I lashed out at someone I care for. It makes me very sad to think that in all this time I haven’t learned a damn thing.

If someone had said to me what I said to my friend, I could find it in my heart to forgive them, easily. I wish I could forgive myself as quickly. Maybe that’s the lesson here – not to learn how to never have an honest (although inappropriate) emotional reaction, but how to accept the forgiveness offered and move on.

I guess I still have some work to do.

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Tech Week

Amanda Stage Manager

Tomorrow is the first day of tech for the fundraiser (a festival of short plays) we’re producing for the theatre company of which I am a board member. I can’t wait.

For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’ll try to briefly explain. For this production, before the actors arrive in the theatre on Thursday evening to rehearse, the designers and technicians have to come in to prepare. The lighting designer has to hang and focus the lighting instruments, the sound designer has to bring in the necessary equipment, and the directors must work with these people and the stage manager to create the “look” of each scene of their play. The directors will go through all of the recorded sounds, music and effects, and will tell the stage manager when those sounds are to begin and end. The stage manager will also write down when the lights change, so that during the play, the transitions between scenes happen flawlessly and become part of the magic of the theatre.

For these shows I am the stage manager.

The fundraiser is a presentation of four short plays, so the task of preparing is made more complicated by having four directors and four completely different settings and stories. We don’t have much time to get ready, and there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how this is all going to happen. I will probably be at the theatre every day from early to late until we open on Saturday. I will probably drink gallons of coffee and I will have to solve unexpected problems and tempers will probably run high. We will undoubtedly deviate from the schedule I have worked very hard to create because things always take longer than planned.  I will rake my fingers through my hair and rub my eyes but I will always keep calm because that’s my job.

I love it more than I can possibly tell you.

I love the pressure and the work. I love collaborating with other people who are just as dedicated and passionate as I am. I love being part of bringing a work of art to life. I love sharing what we’ve created with an audience and seeing them respond.

If a leprechaun knocked at my back door and offered to grant my heart’s desire, it would be that I could make a decent living doing this work that I love.

I have very good reasons why I left the theatre all those years ago. I did it mostly because it’s almost impossible to make a living as a stage manager (or any kind of theatre artist) in Atlanta. It requires you to have other jobs, which I did, but I was getting older and it was getting harder to work all those hours and days and weeks without a break. I also got married, and I wanted to spend time with my husband – something that is very difficult to do when you’re working during the day at your job and nights and weekends at the theatre. And I wanted to travel, and have a home, and all that stuff. I had by then reached a point in my theatrical career that I thought I didn’t have anything left to prove. I felt like I’d done it all, and done it well, and I could walk away with my head held high. I could do a show now and then (which I did for a while), so I could have the best of both worlds. That was the plan, and, as plans go, it made sense.

It still does, actually. I’m still stubbornly pursuing self-employment, and I enjoy my work and the people I work with. It’s not a lucrative as I need it to be, but I have hope that it will be soon, and I am dedicated to its success.

But I miss my life in the theatre.

So tomorrow morning I’ll meet the lighting designer and the sound designer and we’ll hang and focus and set levels and do as much as we can do before the directors come in that evening. I’ll feel that soul-deep hush of a theatre on the edge of waking, where the only sound is the soft buzzing of the lights and the creaking of the lighting instruments on the grid as they are loosened, adjusted, and tightened once more. Our voices will break the silence from time to time and echo through the empty room as we work to bring light to the worlds we are creating.

“Up a bit, I think – yeah, that looks better.”

“Can you trim that? It’s bleeding on the curtain.”

“This is outdoors – do we have any gel that looks like sunlight?”

When the directors come, each in turn, we’ll show them what we’ve done, and we’ll go through the scripts and we’ll paint each scene in light and sound. I will capture what we’ve done in my book, and when the casts come in on Thursday, we’ll put it all together for the first time. Then we’ll rehearse as much as we can through Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday we’ll open the doors and share our work with the people who have come to see it.

And then it will be over and just a memory. But along the way we will have forged bonds with new people and strengthened ties to old friends and colleagues. We will have created something to be proud of, something we can tell people “It was wonderful – I’m so sorry you missed it”, or “I’m so glad you came!” This is the life and the joy of the theatre; by its nature it is impermanent, but the love we share and the memories we make last forever.

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photo by Charlotte Coleman.

If you want to know more about this show or our theatre, go to Aris.

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And the Oscar goes to . . . .

Oscars

Like millions of people all over the world I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, and at some point during the overlong broadcast that they seemingly tried, and failed, to shorten, I realized a few things.

My first realization is that I really don’t give a damn who wins “Best Actor” or “Best Director” or whatever they’re calling it now because they don’t want to say “Best” anymore. I used to care. I used to get caught up in the drama of it all, and I would root for my favorites and be happy and/or disappointed for them, depending on the outcome. I used to look forward to the pageantry and the red carpet interviews and the endless commentary about dresses and designers and hairstyles and all that stuff.

Now it leaves me cold. I don’t give a rat’s ass which designer so-and-so is wearing, and I feel badly for these women that they have to answer the same stupid questions over and over as they run the required gauntlet of press before they are allowed to go inside. As I watched, I imagined that they made the carpet red to hide the bloodstains in case some Oscar-nominated actress suddenly snapped and ripped Lara Spencer’s throat out. God knows I wanted to.

And the men. Jammed into tuxedos, smiling and trying to be gracious to the throng of giggling entertainment correspondents making fools of themselves in their tight dresses and bleached smiles. Bless the actors who do something a little different with their ensembles. They may come off looking like a ’70s prom date, but at least they tried.

The program itself is also more and more of a mystery to me. Why do they insist on trying to make this thing entertaining? It would be so much better if they just admitted that it’s incredibly boring for people to sit for hours in an uncomfortable seat in uncomfortable clothes, afraid to blow their noses or adjust their strapless bras for fear that a momentary human gesture will wind up going viral on Twitter. It’s torture for them, and not much better for us, having to endure the parade of stiff celebrities reading that horrible, trite, demeaning copy from teleprompters which sometimes don’t even work (Terrance Howard, I think you’re a terrific actor, but if you ever get into a situation where your teleprompter goes dead and you haven’t memorized your lines, just wait for the techs to fix it – don’t try to improv your way out. It was painful, for all of us).

And then there’s the host. I’m going on record to say that I love Neil Patrick Harris; unlike most of the people he shared the stage with, he is a performer – in every sense of the word. The times he’s hosted the Tony Awards have resulted in some very memorable moments (“Go, Neil, Go!”). But even he can’t save this godforsaken show. I’m surprised he didn’t figure that out before appearing on stage in his tightey-whiteys. No, Neil, even that stunt can’t save this thing.

Which made me wonder why? Why is this all SO WRONG?

Quite apart from the rampant misogyny and racism (which is a whole other conversation that’s happening right now), the weight of the thing has gotten completely out of hand. It’s this huge machine now, and has lost all contact with its original humanity. It has its own trajectory, and, like the Titanic, is difficult to turn, and almost impossible to stop.

I also think that the fundamental premise of the award is deeply flawed. More than one of the recipients said the same thing – how can you compare one film or one performance to another? The answer is, you can’t. It’s impossible. There is no objective measure for how “good” or “bad” a work of art is. It is an entirely subjective determination. How can anyone possibly say, for sure and certain, that Patricia Arquette gave a better performance than Meryl Streep? Is that even possible? How can you say one movie is better than another? Yes, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is not as good a movie as “Citizen Kane” – but you know, I bet there’s more than one person who would disagree with me about that.

But that’s the point. It’s all about what we agree is good and bad. And, in the case of award shows, the award is given to the person that the majority of the members of the voting group feels did the “best” job. Or maybe they give it to the person they felt was most deserving that year. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, they really felt like Meryl gave the better performance, but for goodness sake, can they give them ALL to her? Maybe they thought, “We’ll give it to Patricia. She was really good, and she’s probably never going to get another shot.” Or some other deep, unsaid motivation that threw the vote her way. Who knows?

The point is, there’s no stopwatch and no scorecard. The “best” is in the eye (and the preconceived notions) of the beholder.

So why do we give these awards? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it that we want to honor excellence in film making? What if we did that instead of giving away these made-up awards?

Think about it. What if we just had a big celebration of the bygone year in film and invited everyone who had been involved in the making of the films to get together? And not just in Hollywood. There would be gatherings in Atlanta and New York and Austin and Chicago. Everyone would mix and mingle and be on an equal footing – the actors, the cinematographers, the writers, the directors, the sound designers, the editors, the makeup artists, the costume designers, the producers, the grips, the assistants – everyone. There could be a program, and some of the really memorable (not just financially successful) work would be honored. The teams that put their blood,sweat and tears into these films would be recognized, and the reality that it takes a lot of very committed people – people who will never, ever get invited to walk that red carpet, but who are just as responsible for the making of that film as Matthew McConaughey  – is celebrated. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I bet you Keira Knightly’s Oscar goodie bag that there isn’t a single one of those celebrities that would miss this annual obscenity of excess in favor of a non-televised, un-publicized, designer-free evening of getting together with friends and colleagues to recognize the greatness of the work and not of themselves. Because that’s what’s getting lost here – there’s actually some good, deep, honest work being done, even by those too-perfect, too-rich, too-tightly-coiffed-fake-looking people that walk slowly past our collective eyeballs every February. Our obsession with looking at them is robbing us, and them, of what’s real. That makes me sad.
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photo credit: 34.366: Shiny, Pretty Oscars via photopin (license)

 

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What Day is It?

Calendar

I find myself, more and more, having no idea what day of the week it is. I have to stop and think about it, sometimes for several moments. “What was I doing yesterday?” “Was Downton Abbey on TV last night?” These are the clues I follow to locate myself on the calendar.

In my old job I used to get confused about what month it was. My work, then and now, involves planning for events that are many months in the future. I remember often having to correct myself when I would write at date as “June 17” when it was actually “February 17”. I still do that, but now it’s gotten even more complicated because I can’t seem to remember whether today is Tuesday or Wednesday or Friday. It’s gotten beyond the amusing phase to the downright annoying. I’m afraid it will get to the inconvenient, when I start showing up for things on the wrong day. “You’re telling me that my doctor’s appointment that it took me three months to get is tomorrow and not today, when I have rearranged two meetings so I could come today? And I re-arranged them for this time tomorrow? Really?” It hasn’t come to that, but I’m waiting.

I wonder what’s gotten into me. I think it may be the hormones – I’ve been warned about “Menopause Brain.” It’s very early days for me, but my symptoms (if that is indeed what they are) seem to manifest themselves in an overwhelming desire to disengage with the days of the week.

To be fair, I’ve always had to work at keeping track of what day it is. For a certain period of my life when I was living alone and working in an office, I had a fool-proof method. Every morning I would get up, go get my coffee, and bring it back to my bedroom to drink while I was getting dressed. Inevitably I would leave my empty coffee cup on my dresser, which at first felt unsanitary until I noticed that I was using the coffee cup count to tell me what day it was. One coffee cup – it was Tuesday! I would wake up every morning and groggily inspect the number of mugs so I would know what lay ahead. Four mugs meant only one day to go until the weekend! On Saturdays I’d clear them all away in preparation for the new week. Don’t judge – it worked for me.

Now I just seem to walk around in a constant state of confusion about what day it is. I had almost convinced myself that today was Wednesday (it is Tuesday), and that I had missed my regular blog post day – again. I work from home, and most days are pretty much the same, unless I have a meeting outside the house or something. Even that won’t necessarily tell me what day we’re on unless I put it on my calendar, and even then, I catch myself staring blankly at the little squares with numbers in them thinking “Wait – tomorrow is Thursday? I thought today was Tuesday!”

Today is Tuesday, right?
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photo credit: Menonite calendar via photopin (license)

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For Eric

Trevi Fountain 2008

20 years ago this week, I got a phone call at the office. The guy on the other end was an actor I had worked with on a play some months before – I was the stage manager. He was calling to ask me out on a date. I’ll never forget how nervous he sounded, and how the invitation came out in a rush. It sounded like “Wouldyouliketogoouttodinnerwithmesometime?” And when I said “Yes” he said “You would?” It was sweet.

When I got off the phone I went straight to my friend Karen’s desk and told her I’d been asked out. “It’s not a big deal, you know, it’s just a date,” is what I said, or something like it. My words were nonchalant, but I was excited. It had been a long time since I’d been asked out on a proper date.

But at the same time I was on my guard. I had been unlucky in love, as the saying goes, and I had decided that I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. I wasn’t going to give my heart away only to have it carelessly tossed back to me – again. I approached the whole idea of dating from an aggressively casual posture; there was no way I was going to be out-cooled. I could be just as disinterested as any guy; just wait, you’ll see.

As I said, I had known him for a few months. I had had a little crush on him during the show, and I tried to let him know that I liked him, but he never asked me out. I figured he wasn’t interested.

But we had been running into each other a lot after the show closed. We were on the same Christmas and New Year’s party circuit, so for a few weeks over the holidays we saw each other pretty much every weekend. And then, finally, a few days before Valentine’s Day, he called and asked me out.

We didn’t go out ON Valentine’s Day. I thought at the time that he thought it would be way too awkward for a first date, a sentiment with which I agreed. Now I know that it was because he took someone else out that night! Yes, he was a player – for the first couple of months he and I dated, he was also dating at least two other women. To be clear, he never tried to hide these relationships – I always knew about his “other girlfriends”. It bothered me, but after a while he gave them up.

Just sayin’.

We dated on and off for two years. When I say “off” I mean OFF – we broke up a few times. The last time I didn’t see him for months, and I really thought it was over. It turns out that we were both miserable being apart, and eventually we worked things out and got back together. Not long after that he proposed, and I said “Yes” to him again.

It wasn’t supposed to last. I can’t tell you how many people expressed their surprise that I would consider marrying this man, or who told me to my face that it was a mistake. Why? Well, my darling husband is 29 years my senior.

He’d lived a life before I was even born and much more until he met me, and what a life it had been already! He’d traveled around the world; he’d been married and divorced. He had discovered his passion for acting. When I met him he was 56 and I was 27. It thought he was funny and sexy and talented. He thought I was too young for him.

I tease him that it took me ages to convince him that I was serious about our relationship, and that’s true as far as it goes. What I never told him is how hard it was to convince myself that I could let myself love him.

Yes, love is largely outside of our control – it is chemical, and spiritual, and elemental. You can’t choose who you love, and once you love someone you never don’t love them, so unless you spend your life with the only person you ever fell in love with, all of us wind up dragging a lot of broken relationship baggage around. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, and I mean well and truly shattered, you know how hard it can be to risk it again after you’d finally put the pieces back together. My darling and I both had a lot of mistrust and hurt to work through – me as much as him.

But one by one he put my misgivings to rest, just by being himself. And the wondrous thing is that a large part of being himself is tied up in the fact that he is so much older than me. Our age difference does matter, just not the way most people thought it would when we got together. It has been a huge bonus being married to someone who has lived more than I have, seen more than I have. His perspective is so much different because of it, and I benefit from his longer life experience.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the greatest guy ever. I’ve never met anyone as completely without artifice as him. When we started dating, he didn’t know how to play the games, and I had to learn how to relate to a man in a whole new way. With him, I know exactly where I stand, all the time. When he’s mad, he’s mad – about the thing he says he’s mad about, not about some other thing. It took some getting used to, but its one of the things about him that I value the most.

And he loves me. I can’t believe sometimes how much he loves me. He shows me he loves me in everything he does. He is thoughtful, and generous, and kind. He spoils me. He takes care of me, which is not an easy thing to do. He forgives my early-morning crankiness and my episodic bad moods and my self-absorption. He reads this blog EVERY WEEK, and not just glances at it – we have conversations about it. He is my biggest fan, and my firm foundation. I have never been loved as much or as well, and I am so grateful for him. I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve him. He’s the best husband anyone could want. And he’s mine, so hands off!

Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I’m looking forward to our curry dinner, and cuddling up with you and the cats on the couch to watch TV. That’s all the romance I’ll ever need.

Unless you want to go back to Rome and kiss me in front of the Trevi Fountain again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Long Game

long game

Sometimes I like to look back to see how far I’ve come. The other day I scrolled through my old posts, and the distance I’ve traveled from the time I started writing this blog to today seems like a very long way. There are a few major differences between where I am now and where I was back in June of 2013:

  • My work outlook has significantly improved;
  • My financial situation, although still uncertain, is less precarious;
  • I have accepted that I am indeed a writer, albeit a nervous one;
  • I have returned to my first and truest love – the theatre;
  • I have learned to by happy with my life the way it IS, not the way I want it to be.

The last point is the most important change. For the majority of my life I’ve looked forward to a time when everything would be great.

When I get my driver’s license, life will be great. 

When I go to college, life will be great.

When so-and-so asks me out, life will be great.

When I graduate from college, life will be great.

When I get that job I want, life will be great.

When I make $$$, life will be great.

I enjoyed all of those things when they happened, but they didn’t magically transform my life into the fairy tale I envisioned they would when I was dreaming about them. Because when the longed-for event happened, it happened to ME – who I was at that moment – so as long as the ME it was happening to wasn’t happy or satisfied, no huge transformation was possible. I was the same old ME, just with a driver’s license, or a college degree, or a new boyfriend.

The greatest gift these years since I was laid off have given me has been my perspective on what it means to be happy. I have been forced to look at my life in a way I have never had to before. For years prior, I was so busy running around acting like I ruled the world that it was easy not to ask myself “Are you fulfilled? Are you satisfied with your life the way it is?” If I had asked the question back then, it would have surprised me to hear that the answer was “No, I’m not satisfied.”

What a thing to say! I had a great job, a job I loved. I got to travel to amazing places. I met interesting people. I learned new things all the time. People looked up to me, admired me, sought me out. But even in the middle of all of that I found myself searching for something to look forward to. Most of the time all I looked forward to was the next trip to Europe, or Asia, or Australia. But I knew, even then, that something wasn’t right. I was always anxious and stressed out. I was so wrapped up in my own life I barely had time for my family and friends. I was turning into a soulless, career-driven caricature of myself; a person who I now know isn’t someone I want to be.

And now? I’m glad you asked. Now, I’ve figured out that the way to win at life is to play the long game. I’ve stopped expecting transformational change to happen in an instant. I’ve stopped believing that something has to happen before I can be happy. Do I want to be outrageously successful in my chosen career? You bet I do. Do I want to make lots of money and travel the world with my husband? Oh yeah – that’s at the top of the list. Do I need these things to happen before I can be happy?

No. Not anymore.

The long game means that I don’t look at my life in terms of what I don’t have now. It means seeing where I am in terms of the journey I’m on; I’m not where I was, and I’m not where I’m going. This perspective has given me the freedom to be happy right now. I wake up in the morning and look forward to each day, because it is absolutely chock full of possibilities! What amazing thing can I do today? What fun can I have? What can I do to show a loved one I care for them? What work can I do to take me the next step forward? What can I do just because I enjoy it? What stranger’s life can I brighten with a smile and a kind word?

I have never seen my life this way before now, and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years of learning to stop struggling and striving against the forces I felt were conspiring against me. I have tried and failed many times in my quest for success, and each time I’ve become more patient. Life is a long song; sometimes it’s marching bands, sometimes it’s love songs, and sometimes you just hum along between choruses. It’s up to you to enjoy the music.

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Photo (c) 2015 Amanda Taylor Brooks

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Things To Do

Larger to do list

Last week I was too busy to write my blog. This week I decided I’d write a blog about being busy.

I like being busy. I like having a list of things, tangible things, to accomplish. I find it truly satisfying to go through a list like that and cross things off as I’ve done them. It makes me feel like I have purpose, like the air I breathe isn’t being wasted on someone who doesn’t do anything. I can say to the world “Look at what I’ve DONE” and feel like I’ve justified my existence. Or something like that. I’ve always felt this way, ever since I was old enough to understand what a sense of accomplishment was; the habit of making “to do” lists is one of a lifetime.

As a self-employed person who hasn’t had enough to do at times, in an effort to fill my hours with productive activities my “to do” lists have said things like “Read up on new meeting technology” or “Look for clients”. Yes, these are tasks that can show results, but they don’t provide the immediate gratification of “Send audition invitations” or “Book meeting space”.

Of course there are the regular, day-to-day lists; those things we all have to do on a regular basis. “Go to the grocery store” is a relentless demand that I sometimes ignore in favor of “Call husband and ask him to bring something home for dinner.” “Do the laundry”, “Clean the bathrooms”, “Empty the dishwasher” – I can derive some pleasure from accomplishing these things, but they’re almost the price of admission to life, the bare minimum you have to do. And you have to do them anyway, regardless of what else is going on, so I might as well add “Have blue eyes” or “Be grumpy in the morning” to my “to dos” because they are as constant as “Pay the bills”.

Then there are the fun “to dos”: “Get dressed for the party” is one of my favorites. “Meet sister for lunch” is always a good one. “Bake cookies for the housewarming” and “Go to conference” happen occasionally and are a real treat when they appear on my list.

Then there are the “to dos” that I long to write down. “Go to the spa”. “Pack for trip to London”. I’m hoping to be able to cross both of these off my list this year.

In the meantime, my “to dos” are getting both more concrete and more enjoyable. “Go to writing group” is something I’ve recently returned to. “Run short play festival auditions” is coming up this weekend. “Create Fundraising program” is an ongoing task that is both fun and challenging.

I have my list of things I need to do today, and I’m happy to say that I can now cross off “Write blog post.” It’s a great feeling!

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photo credit: blue_j via photopin cc

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