Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Drama

I used to think depression around the holidays was a newer struggle for me, until a quick tour through old journals last December showed that it's one of my oldest traditions. This year I began strategizing early to head off, or at least minimize, the holiday blues. Back in September, I auditioned for my second community theater show this year, and to my surprise, I got a part!

Hurrah for intensive DRAMA THERAPY!

If you haven't seen the classic film Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, well, you probably should. In keeping with my "Living Backwards" motto, I am playing a twenty-something single girl: Myrtle Mae. A stay-at-home-daughter, if you will! Myrtle Mae and her widowed mother have been cast on the generosity of her uncle (and his imaginary friend).

This 40's hairdo has been too much fun.
Harvey was the farcical creation of Mary Chase, a journalist from Denver who kept on writing stories of all kinds as she raised three sons with her news editor husband, and the play won her a Pulitzer during World War II. I love being part of plays written and directed by women. This one also happens to include relevant themes like mental illness, feeling trapped, loneliness, and male doctors not believing women. Not to mention the complexities of living with someone who has a "relationship" with an unseen entity!

"Play-acting" as the Puritans in The Witch of Blackbird Pond called it, has been a fun challenge and a very welcome distraction. Memorize lines? But, of course! Didn't I memorize entire chapters of the Bible once upon a time, to recite with my siblings, sometimes with coordinated motions? Every night I get to have angry outbursts and tearful meltdowns, speak sarcastically to my stage "mother", curse the invisible being who makes my life miserable, and despair of ever being found by a man who will be my ticket to a wider world.

Myrtle Mae with Aunt Ethel!
It's been strangely therapeutic to work with a team of no-longer-strangers to create two hours of living, breathing art that will no longer exist after today. Each performance is a dance as together we weave a tapestry of words and movements for our audience--painfully attuned to their sighs and their giggles, their gasps and their coughs; their guffaws energize us. Gently, subtly rescuing each other when one of us stumbles over a sentence or misplaced prop, we own our mistakes and do all in our power not to repeat them as moments of intensity under the lights alternate with stretches of backstage boredom.

The camaraderie of the cast conjures memories from my cultic past. The intimacy of sharing darkness, close spaces, eye contact (remember that one?), dressing rooms, inside jokes, script books, snacks, even bobby pins, with people one may only have known a few weeks is uniquely exhilarating...and exhausting.

Seeing how people look after each other has reminded me how each individual's success (or distress) directly affects that of the whole. Each person's contribution is valued, and supported. The show is an organism made of many individuals filling unique roles--each one vital and, at this theater, each one is a volunteer effort.

Tomorrow night, I will miss these friends. I will miss their kindness, their quirks, and their silly banter. I will miss the anxiety of stepping into a new scene and the sense of accomplishment of stepping out of one. I will miss the countdowns, the cues, these phrases that have finally begun to roll off my tongue when they are supposed to. Perhaps what I will most miss is having a professional coax my hair into victory rolls!

And you may catch me wearing white gloves and 1940's makeup at the Kroger from time to time, just for the fun of it.

In my PJs, learning my lines.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Patriarchs, Purity, and Virginity Tests

Some art is constructed out of pure rage.

Did you know girls are jailed in Afghanistan for failing "virginity tests"? That tests for so-called "virginity" are used all over the world to determine whether a woman qualifies for employment, or education, or even marriage? Even here, a woman's sexual activity can diminish her worth in the eyes of her community, or even the laws that are supposed to protect her.

I'm not surprised, of course. If there was one message that came to me from all directions with surprising agreement, it was that the best gift I could possibly offer my future husband was an untouched vagina. Tampons were viewed with suspicion not merely as a health hazard, but because they posed the risk of "prematurely" stretching a hymen, which could mean no bleeding on one's wedding night. Horrors!

Deuteronomy 22, which I had read more than a dozen times before my own wedding night, assumed that a bride's parents would hang onto the bloodied honeymoon sheets (euphemistically called "the tokens of the damsel's virginity") to produce as evidence should her husband later try to worm out of the marriage by accusing her of having had premarital intercourse.

And in this Old Testament gem, Moses himself orders the Israelite army to use virginity tests as an act of war. It's rather horrifying in any translation, including the Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh (1917):
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones,
and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children,
that have not known man by lying with him,
keep alive for yourselves.    Numbers 31:17-18

The Good Book, indeed.

Even Jesus, in the story supposed to illustrate his compassion and respect for the woman he met at the well, quickly brings up her sexual history ("you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband"), establishing her unworthy position in the patriarchal hierarchy with a single sentence.

It was a revelation to me to realize (not that many years ago) that a woman's value is not, in fact, tied to her sexual experience, OR to her lack thereof. That my sexual history is my own, not a gift I present to a partner. And a woman's sexual experiences, consensual or otherwise, ought certainly never influence society's interest in her safety or well-being. 

Fuck you, Moses.

Friday, October 26, 2018


I spent a significant part of the summer trying not to be swallowed up by a black cloud of depression. 

It wasn't terribly obvious. I was still doing all the things a mom does: grilling, shopping, laundry, planning activities, taking the kids to the movies, baking pies, teaching my oldest to drive, swimming, walking, ice skating, making birthday cakes--plus painting, and writing. All while trying not to drown in a pool of my own tears.

This piece was going to be monochromatic, but then I couldn't keep the colors out of it. Which is why I called the result High-Functioning


My youngest had asked for a tree on her wall, and I couldn't think of a cheerier project to keep me moving in spite of my what-is-even-the-point-of-anything funk.

Painting together made for some great mother-daughter bonding. Especially when she insisted on a squirrel, and we had to figure out together how to achieve it.

The clouds have thinned considerably since then, and our tree is a pleasant reminder that happy things can still grow in dark times. 

Autumn Leaves

As satisfying as it is to watch my novel take shape, I can only spend so long in that toxic world-inside-my-head before I need fresh air. When the words get to be too much, I'll take a day (or a week) off from writing. Sometimes I spend all day in the kitchen, sometimes I visit the botanical gardens or see a movie, sometimes I meet a friend for lunch, and sometimes I take my paints out to the porch and play with the colors until the blank canvas turns into something new. 

I picked leaves from my backyard for this one, painted them with gold paint, and pressed them onto the canvas. I hadn't expected to stay with the blue palette that day, but it fit my mood, while also improving it. 

This one is 9" x 12" and I haven't settled on a title, but it is hanging over my couch for now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


I'm finding that art is one of the very best ways to rid myself of "demons" from the past. I painted the flowers for my mother, in front of the curtains that hung in her room when she would beat us with a wooden spoon.

Last Thanksgiving I again found myself trying to hack up the expectations of a multi-generational Normal Rockwell holiday dinner with the women in aprons serving platters on a spotless white tablecloth. We had just watched the second season of Stranger Things, so the turkey became my toothed monster.

I remember when my friend had to give up her rainbow stickers because rainbows had supposedly been co-opted as a "New Age" symbol. Decades ago, my mom and I cross-stitched more than our share of Bible verse mottoes. They hung in the kitchen, the living room, over the toilet... This line from Genesis doesn't get enough play, in my opinion, and encapsulates why I'm glad not to be in a relationship with the god of the Bible anymore.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Violated by Violence

Let's face it, this year has been tough.

I hate the violence in our world.


I hate school shootings.
I hate that my kids have to practice for school shootings.
I hate when the teachers aren't allowed to tell my kids that it's just a drill.


I want America to be a safe place for kids.
All kids. Everybody's kids. Kids from anywhere.
Bored kids, bilingual kids, hungry kids, scared kids.
Kids in dresses, kids in leggings, kids in hoodies, kids in scarves.
Kids with blue hair, red hair, braids, dreads.
Kids with dreams, kids with bruises, kids with kids.
Pregnant kids, lonely kids, tired kids.

And when kids aren't safe here, I feel shattered.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Hung Out to Dry

The tiny clothespins caught my eye at a craft store.
They were real, with working springs.
I bought them on a whim and an image began to take shape.

I sketched it quickly with pastels on cardboard from the recycling bin.

Later I got out the sewing machine.
The skirt and jumper are cut from outgrown jeans.
There is eyelet lace on the Mom-size bloomers.

And several months after I hung it on the wall, this very familiar scene from my younger life became the opening scene for my novel.