Saturday, January 30, 2010


Today the LA TIMES' front page told us that the Pasadena Playhouse will be closing on Feb. 7 after a final performance of "Camelot." There is hope that a benefactor will step forward, as happened with the Museum of Contemporary Art, and pull them back from oblivion; they are looking into the advisability of filing for bankruptcy. The theater opened in 1917 and has been at its present location on South El Molino since 1925. Its school trained some of Hollywood's great actors; following World War II, the GI Bill paid tuition there for scores of servicemen. It is an institution in my home town, a claim to international note along with the Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech and the Tournament of Roses and a place where one of my early dreams was spun.

As a young teenager, I attended every Main Stage opening night with my mother, my dad's newspaper column having the family name on a permanent list for aisle seats no further back than the third row. He preferred staying home. Some of the titles we saw stay with me; for years I kept every playbill but so many moves and transitions and shifting winds sent them...out of my life. I can remember plays of wide-ranging vintage - "The Girls in 509," "The Desperate Hours," "Richard III," "Of Thee I Sing." I suppose the quality of each production depended on the skill of its actors, though I cannot remember ever leaving the building's front courtyard with anything less than a sense of magic witnessed, participated in almost like being called on stage to take part in an illusion. Such a familiar and intimate space - and the simple matter of it being live theater - created a connection between cast and audience that lingered; it rode home in the car with us and could be conjured repeatedly by paging through the program.

Those Friday nights, the raising of the curtain, enticed the part of me that fashioned cards and puppets and shadowboxes with paper, that meticulously cut out paper doll clothes and attemped to put on money-raising productions with my next-door neighbor when we were both in elementary school. When Career Day was announced and we had to chose an expert in our chosen vocation to interview and follow, I was nervous and giddy to spend my day with the Playhouse's principle set designer.

At the time it seemed so possible, viewing his miniature preliminary samples; I had painted backdrops for the junior high talent show; I knew I had what seemed adequate skill and I knew I could learn. Just those hours of being backstage, in the prop and costume storage rooms, of being treated with attention and respect, made me even more certain this would be my future. I've long forgotten the name of my guide/teacher/host that day but back in school and comparing experiences with friends, I knew my day was vastly more rich than most of theirs. I'd completely ignored how recently my destiny had been tied, also to Broadway, but as a dancer, the product of years studying ballet, auditioning for and being accepted to the city's dance troupe. The musical stage seemed within reach. Fickle was not a notion that I entertained.

I not so much know people who were clear about their lives and careers from a young age as I know OF them. One reads of unwavering paths that led to an existence seemingly pre-ordained, of focus and determination, doors flying open, no wishy-washy thoughts or feelings, an early and enduring knowing of direction. Such is not exactly my story. By high school I had chosen journalism over art, no longer had time for dance lessons and, by what can only be called a divine hand following a very early marriage and a scant, single semester of junior college which made me glad I'd become a good typist so I could find work, I was one day hired by a daily newspaper. It was in the era of hot type, copy paper and pencils, Underwood upright typewriters and proofreading in the composing room with the smell of lead and ink replacing visions of cityscape backdrops or painted English countrysides.

Life continues to present us with opportunities to change our minds, change our hearts. It also removes the tangible and replaces it with memories. We have the choice to mourn the losses, either short or long-term, or take our grief over countless passings and accept it as the lens through which we may once again see ourselves and our dreams in the light of those long-ago moments, with affection, gratitude and relief at confusion resolved.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Today, it seems, we wiil speak of reading

Good fortune is what I would call the diverse, textured, possibly unmatched segments of my life. While in the living of them they more or less flowed into one another, there is also an element of separate chapters, compartments, with few threads connecting them. Still those sturdy fibers endure.

It was not my intention, this sampler of costume changes, mobile scenery. And by many standards with which I am familiar, my story likely seems rooted and static. I have never lived in another country, have only flown across one ocean, have seen my name in print but never in lights, have yet to visit anything but a few of the edges of America and have mostly lived within a two-hour drive of where I was born. Yet even those limitations provided opportunity for what feels like an existence in which boredom was never an option.

My belief is that if we love to read, we will never be bored; we will never feel time weighing upon us as something to be gotten through but rather something of which there is too little. As they used to tell it, my parents - mad readers - had begun to doubt that I would ever be their TRUE child and take up the book as best friend. Their deliverance was Miss MacPherson, third grade teacher and tide-turner who, though she wouldn't permit Nancy Drew stories for book reports - and our library didn't stock them (think pulp fiction) - she didn't discourage her students from reading anything that called to them and it was the same in my home.

So we have reading as one of the threads, mysteries as genre of choice though nothing was ever rejected without inspection. I still haven't found my way into, let alone through, Proust and the list of haven't-gotten-to-yet...well, back to that notion of too little time. In my most hopeless moments - and years - it wasn't difficult to read a book a day. Not much else was achieved but the list of titles consumed grew longer. In a period of compulsive spending, bookstores were always my destination. At that time I worked in Burbank and had the luxury of two of the now-vanished Dutton's stores within lunch-hour distance. Then it was poetry and contemporary fiction. I still can think of no greater indulgence than a bag of new books.

Once I fell under the influence of Miss MacPherson, and Carolyn Keene's spunky characters, a stack of Nancy Drews, individually wrapped, was the hoped-for sight on birthdays. It is easy to picture my Aunt Dot walking up our long driveway with such a gift in her arms. My mother had been a follower of the girl detective and in second-hand shops we'd find editions from the twenties and thirties, more exotic and enigmatic than the fifties versions with their "modern" dust jackets. Not so long ago I read some of the newest incarnations and was shocked, not like Claude Raines in CASABLANCA, but truly stunned, to find murder in a Nancy Drew plot. Some things are just not done.

As I write this and realize it is determined to be what it wants to be, not anything close to what I'd had in mind, I feel the stability of what remains consistent. I thought I would be writing about a range of disparate experiences over the past six decades and end up, instead, celebrating word on printed page, a phrase for which I feel much affection, recalled from Van Morrison's song, "Rave On John Donne." It would not be a hardship to have every entry here, at the very least, reference reading, authors and titles and, at most, having that be the main theme. When I read reviewers whom I think find their way to the heart of things and use language that lets us know what is true, I acknowledge that I am not destined to write reviews for all the things I love, for I would be dragging in vague references (oh, she asks, are you not doing that already?) and being entirely consumed by what I like and unable to speak with any intelligence or impartiality about something I don't.

Maybe it would be wise to permit myself to praise books that stay in my mind and simply say why. But that would mean having to go back and read them again, fresh information and not slightly foggy memories. Darn. In my experience, we are nudged or frequently shoved into a direction other than the one we intended. What a gift, what an adventure. No, you didn't take the wrong bus, you just didn't know it was the right one until now.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thank you, Followers

Today you may notice a "Followers" gadget added to this blog. By including it, I hope to express appreciation for regular readers and invite others to join this group. I realize there are also frequent visitors who let me know of their presence by leaving meaningful comments, words which encourage and affirm. I admit to learning by tiny increments the ways of the blogging world and have made this change, which I trust is for the better, to make it easier for those who return to this page to know when a new posting appears...if that is what the Follower gadget does. We will find out together. My thanks to all who stop here, with or without commenting. Please know that your messages are welcomed, as are your unannounced arrivals.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Forecast: sunshine (oh please, oh please)

We turn a corner and there we are, confronting some lint-sprinkled pocket of ourselves. It could be the shady curve in the road that disguises the patch of black ice, the unexpected diagnosis that runs counter to every speck of intuition or the quantum shift in which we find out that we don't love rainy, cloudy days the way we once did.

For most of my life, rain has made me peaceful, even driving in it I could find a state close to bliss. With a winter birthday, I've always taken it as a blessing if it rained that day and there has been something so sweet about shopping for Valentines - or supplies with which to make them - in the midst of stormy weather.

This past week Southern California had an El Nino episode. It was wet by standards of recent low-rainfall years, yet not the fearful deluge we have seen in seasons past, in spite of concerns, freakish winds and water in places where it didn't belong. What it mostly brought was clouds, dark, chilling (again, by California measures) and, here comes the discovery, completely erasing the sun. Clouds have been friends to me, protective and covering, shrinking the vast beyond to something not quite so infinite. A ceiling, the blanket tent in the living room when we had to play inside.

Instead of the expected comfort, not to mention the natural relief of anything that might keep drought out of the equation, I became dormant. Had I been a bear or other hibernating creature, it would have been straight to the cave. All the oomph and focus and vitality I'd recently experienced vanished with the sun. I just shut down. This had never happened before. I would have been the one doing the rain dance, hiring Starbuck to come and seed the clouds, not minding being drenched and shivering, wanting it to last and last.

Today the sun returned, it shone in my bedroom and sat in bright patches on my bed, warming the shivers even though it was 43 degrees at 8:30 a.m. For Los Angeles, that's a tad cool. It may be that something astrological has transited, that the sun now exerts a greater influence on me than it did for those other 6+ decades. I'm as good as certain that the horrid days of late summer will be no more welcome than before. But they WILL bring the sun, who feels like my new best friend. My hope is that more will be revealed. Is this a lasting state? Will I have to learn adaptive measures to keep myself motivated when my solar panels cease to function?

Where this has left me is, once again, counting my blessings...that I DO live in California, that we do have more days that are sunny than not and that before my battery flat-lined, the sun showed up to save the day. Words like wuss and sissy speak themselves in my head and I have no defense against them. This is a sad state...having to go for 5 or 6 days without sunshine and coming unstuck. I may claim possession or the influence of dark forces. I just know that, with clear skies and warming light, I, too, was back. With much to learn.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Night before last, that would have been the day following the new moon, I was awake at 2 a.m. with the feeling that I'd stuck my finger in the electrical socket. The racing mind, not the awfulizing one, rather the one so filled with ideas they can hardly be written fast enough, if one wants to be able to decipher them later.

Interior movies, or stills, of future projects...some using computer and scanner, some requiring fabric, paint and glaze, new interpretations of previous methods and entirely unknown terrain...were demanding that I pay attention and take notes. That aspect of self which grows impatient at dawdling must have been biting on a stick to keep from screaming as I looked through - and tested - my fine-line pens to find, you know, the right one. I had started a new, small journal of thoughts and ideas after the holidays and I wanted to record these moon-lit pieces of what I hoped would be brilliance by the light of day in a style that matched what was already on the pages. Consistency has value.

For years, anyway a decade and a half, I have been leaving myself messages about future undertakings, either stories or art, and I find them when I search through spiral-bound notebooks looking for something else. They were not written in the wee hours but were usually the product of intention, of trying to come up with whatever might be the new thing. Some are enduringly valid and I can surprise myself, mostly because there they continue to reside, waiting to become something wider than a notion. The suggestions that chose to visit at a not altogether welcome time, telemarketers and political fund-raisers who always phone during dinner may be related though decidedly odious, were different. They came close to assuming form, could, perhaps, have glued themselves to the pages (that would have been great, like snapshots of the finished product) and were zinging with energy.

Two of the pages in the new journal already mentioned "increase," a word that can partner with so many of our wants and wishes. The snappy wake-up call way before dawn and the directions in which it sent me could only be listed under that heading. We have times, at least I do, when inspirations couldn't be dislodged with tweezers and an X-acto. And then, as though delivered by Harry Potter's owl, good and viable stuff is dropped on the table in front of me. I really don't understand what makes the difference, only that the opening of doors allows a thin, wintry illumination to reach dusty corners from which misplaced excitement may be retrieved. Thank you. I will do my best to give it life.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Fooled" follow-up

Upon one listening to my "vitality" CD yesterday, I DID have greater energy. More lingering tasks were accomplished and others, yet undone, seen in a different light, as though with planning they might be achieved.

One of the good/less-good things about my mind is its ability to throw a great big lasso of wishfulness around everything I want to, or believe I ought to, do and, as you can imagine, the magnitude of the effort is beyond human capacity. Until it can be broken down into workable steps, I sit in an overwhelmed daze and do nothing. While I think I know that I will never completely escape that innundation leaning, I sensed, like a lingering fragrance, the possibility that I might learn to be incremental. One of the biggest surprises of growing older is discovering how much longer it takes to do anything. What used to be a 45 minute job now requires 3 hours and I cannot tell you why. Before Christmas I began a project, so clear in my internal vision, and after 8 hours of focused steps, realized it would require days, the Priority Mail deadline was not going to be met, an envelope of parts set aside for another time.

How well the music can energize me long-term is still unknown. The booklet indicates that the third phase (out of 3) will be like rocket fuel. My guess is that some among us will simply fry our circuts and return to napping, though I don't intend to be one of them. If there is progress, you'll receive periodic updates. As one of the other instructional programs in the catalog urges, "To manifest what you want, you must dwell upon these wishes." I have taken up residence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

May get fooled again

Anticipation. Checking each day's mail for the CD I ordered last week from the Sounds True catalog. It is music - classical pieces as they describe it - which promotes vitality, strength, robust health. As I am in the early days of self-rehabilitation to return myself to greater mobility, and the CD was on sale, I made the leap.

This Friday, January 15, is expected by some to bring positive changes through the convergence of a new moon, a solar exlipse and the planet Mercury, my unnamed co-conspirator in matters of communication, which is due to go, as they call it, direct. I'm unclear (ah, poor communication!) how long it has been retrograde and even with that in force, much information HAS reached me, although the outgoing messages may have been garbled or lost.

While healing and change truly are interior processes, they have allies on the outside. Depending on your belief system, these may be anything from herbs or self-help lectures to Divine or astral influences, helping hands that lift us to the next plateau. The other night I was singing - to the best of my ability - "Mr Tambourine Man" while doing the dishes and HAD to hear it before I went to sleep. Among my blessings is my son who now has on CDs much of what I once had on vinyl. He found for me a Dylan compilation and I not only got to " beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea..." but select other tracks and envision building that "...ladder to the stars" where I could "... step on every rung."

Which bring me back to what must be January's (or this century's) theme, Dream Big. Or just Dream, all sizes available. In my hometown there was what we used to call a character (one of many...they seemed to feel safe in their unusualness in Pasadena of a certain era). This gentleman always carried a briefcase, walked with a foreward slant as thought heading into a gale and inhabited a Queen Anne Victorian, through the windows of which could be seen newspapers and magazine piled, we assumed, to the ceilings.

Upon his passing, documents came to light - such as what he always carried in the briefcase - that indicated he had come from great wealth, elsewhere, and his family supported him in comfort with the understanding that he never return home. My parents said such persons were called remittance men. We found that his most treasured, protected papers, far from being any correspondence with relatives or bankers, were blueprints, plans, as they were labeled, for a Yacht for his Personal Use. It could be that, at one time, the money was there for such a grandiose undertaking, but at my house we thought it more likely that he had spent what money there was to have the drawings made, to take the first step in the direction of that particularly ambitious and unlikely dream.

I have been fooled (deluded by self and by others) before and likely will again, no matter what The Who have to say about it. Yet I sense that seedling which may grow into enhanced vigor, stamina, freedom from ills and aches and why would music not be the vehicle for its sprouting? I have half-wished throughout my life for a cow that I could trade for magic beans as Jack did, free then to climb the stalk - toward the stars - and take my chances on what I might find.

Among the pebbles of wisdom I have gathered - my pockets rattle with them - is the absolute knowledge that I will survive being disappointed. It brings with it an unmatchable freedom, the luxury to dream, to imagine, to anticipate, to risk, to not mind being a fool who sometimes blurts out her truth when its impact will be indelible. In our days here on Earth we have survived much greater traumas; take a chance and always hope for the good outcome.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The backsliding side of the street

The Puritan Ethic has a lot to answer for. Its framework seems too narrow to accommodate normal human experience yet on a subliminal - or conscious - level it is our yardstick and I know that I have shrunk from too many washings, too much real life, to measure up. If I had continued to accept an unmeetable expectation of ever-perfect as my goal and purpose, I would not be here to write today.

Among my most beloved family and friends (and my own character) there is backsliding, procrastination, less-than-wonderful credit, avoidance, faith that sometimes feels thin as onionskin, and a lot of laughing. We are liable to read rather than do the chores NOW, fall into a nap that replenishes better than prescription pain medication while reading, some (no names, please) have been known to spray heaps of Redi-Whip onto low-fat cookies and slip into the intoxication of moderate excess. Many of these innocent moments have been followed by guilt and the mental equivalent of a self-Inquisition, and not the Python's kind...the comfy chair, the soft cushions...more along the lines of the truncheon.

In talking some stink about the Puritan Ethic, what I oppose is a sweeping notion of rigid behavioral rules, the ones pertaining to small, personal shortcomings, not large and felonious transgressions. And the ease with which American children of a certain age and circumstance fell for it all. Among the hundreds of bits of knowledge collected from 12-step programs, one of my favorites is the simple explanation that all of us in those rooms were not bad people becoming good but ill people becoming well...or as I might rewrite it for palatability today, stubborn people becoming willing...willing to forgive, willing to let go, willing to make room for our common human experiences and what they do to us.

Growing up human but with Puritan expectations buzzing just off-stage, it is easy to become hypercritical and unloving of ourselves and others. I am coming to a place of peace with my backsliding, napping, forgetful, yet compassionate, encouraging and hopeful self. I have become an adherent and advocate of the non-ordinary standards by which a real life must be measured.

The world is filled with focused, intentional and hard-working souls who will always do it, whatever IT is, much better than I, based on those clearly understood restrictions. You will find me, with my friend, Ferdinand the Bull, in the field, appreciating the flowers. And somehow what HAS to be done will be. There is always a way.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Small pleasures

Winter mornings bring joy in the form of sun all across the south-facing windows of our long apartment. Well before the sun rises, we are treated to - or bombarded by - the flock of wild parrots (see documentary film, THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL for reference, although I don't believe ours have ever been tamed) who consider the trees and skies of South Pasadena home. I would describe their cries as shrieks and they seem to have perfected the ability to make their signature noise in unison. What a racket. By the time I have prepared breakfast they are settled in the leafless tree across the street or are rehearsing for their circus acts by swinging upside down on the dried fronds of palms which line our block.

The same sun warming my bedroom and the chair in front of the computer hits the greener fronds with a gloss almost metallic in its sheen. While I have a lifelong friend who truly resides in paradise on the island of Molokai, I feel amply blessed by our version of suburban heaven on a continent held fiercely by winter. I spent one winter away from California in an East Coast city not all-that cold - except for the morning I was apartment hunting and the temperature was 3. My face, even with scarf swathing, was immobilized. What I know of myself is that, despite those DAR roots and several generations which migrated from Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts and Finland, I am a California girl. By now I KNOW I'm past the point of adapting to icy sidewalks and windshield scraping, though I remember the first snowfall in my wintery home, the way it took a few minutes to notice that every sound had been hushed while we heated turnovers and filled the kitchen with the scent of apples and cinnamon.

Today there is a mild breeze, the fronds sway but any rustling is overpowered by traffic several blocks away. Squirrels sprint up and down the trunks and venture across the utility lines for unseen prizes. Beyond the rooftops and through the trees I see inbound jets on the landing path for the Los Angeles airport. Depending on wind direction, even flights from the west pass within our view as they turn around to make a final approach from the east.

As the sun rises and sets, frequent high-level clouds grow pink and orange, then vanish leaving the sky its clear winter blue or impenetrable shade of night. The nearby high school athletic field is well-lit for runners, walkers or any team sport in season. One film shoot at the school brought a glowing orb that hovered over the neighborhood creating night-for-day. On the Fourth of July we have fireworks outside our windows, Wednesdays bring band practice and random mornings present the drum line and what we take to be the marimba...or could it be a xylophone? In football season we learn what has been chosen as THE tune of the year...and I'm happy to report it is no longer "Eye of the Tiger."

Warmth, wildlife, commerce and music, just beyond the window. It is a good day.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Snits, feuds, huffs and sulks

This isn't a New Year's resolution. Those have never worked to my satisfaction. Quite the opposite, as they gave me something else to feel was left uncompleted. This is more of a - until I think of something else to call it - grown-up realization. How much of our lives have we wasted having hurt feelings?

With a commitment to painful self-monitoring, I have set the intention of letting go of the inadvertent (or intentional) perceived slights that we all encounter regularly. I don't want to be a baby. Feuds baffle me, snits and silences - and huffs - don't factor into my life view. Time is short. Energy is very likely finite. Our wits may be gone at any moment, and so may we. Let's say there are only two choices: harmony or disharmony. One nourishes the spirit, keeps the heart younger and healthier and the other puts stress on all our organs and systems and kicks our auto-immune response around the block. Not to say messes with our sleep and digestion.

But more importantly, choosing to live disharmoniously through small-mindedness, self-involvement, the false notion that we are somehow the center of the known universe, unmet childish needs or the simple greed of always wanting more than anyone else, creates a ripple of unhappiness that spreads among the people we know, people we care about. It takes us away from living in contentment, not so very easily found to begin with and something to be protected and treasured. Two sources in my life introduced me to the phrase "butt-hurt" within the past 12 months. I swear I'd never heard it before but look around and you'll notice that it has reached epidemic proportions. And I get to talk about this because I'm telling on myself here as one who desires to end unattractive behavior. If someone doesn't call me back, I trust they have a reason. A disparaging remark about something I feel is important is not worth a confrontation and not worth the energy it takes to mope around feeling out of sorts. We each see from our own perspective but are capable of a generosity of spirit which honors another point of view. It isn't necessary to agree; it is greatly helpful to make room for other ways of being, doing, thinking or saying.

In my first job I worked with a woman who was born in the Netherlands and who had a phrase much like our "make a mountain out of a molehill" but to my imagination, much more vivid. It was, as she said it, "To make from a fly an elephant." I wish for myself and for everyone I know that we let the small stuff go, that we let go of any need for an extra helping of attention, the creepy-feeling need to make someone else feel less-than by making our response to distruptive and so big. We all get it wrong, oh, pretty much every day, say things we wish we hadn't to people we love and just trip over ourselves like in those nightmares about a junior high dance. Not everyone is going to love us, there may be some who cannot even tolerate us. We will survive it.

I may call this posting back, edit it into oblivion, find a better way of saying what I mean since I believe we all possess the desire to be understood. As universal as the feeling may be, the realization of it is illusive. Some people will undersand us somewhat, a few, perhaps, a bit more, many, not at all and what does it matter? I assume that mostly we do our best...if we had better we would have brought that to the picnic and tomorrow we just may HAVE better, but for now, this is it, for me and for you. Even though it makes me go "ewwww," it really is time to grow up. There are some things that just don't look good after about the age of 14.