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Apr. 15th, 2012

Music to Do Taxes by

Dave White at About.com has a top ten for classic rock songs to do taxes by, but my taxes are so painful this year I don't even want to pay .99 apiece for the mp3's where available...and not all of them are. Perhaps you are in the same boat. (Or if you're with the Kinks, in the same yacht.) Here's the frugal YouTube-MySpace version of his list, with the relevant lyrics attach. Enjoy. To the extent that's possible.

Taxman - The Beatles

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street;
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat;
If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat;
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.


Money - Pink Floyd

Money, it's a gas.
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.


Movin' Out - Billy Joel (Anthony's Song)

You can pay Uncle Sam with overtime
Is that all you get for your money?


I'd Rather Be Rich - Chicago

I'd rather be rich, the truth of cash is tragic,
The system's a bitch, but money works like magic.


Sunny Afternoon - The Kinks

The tax man's taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can't sail my yacht,
He's taken everything I've got,
All I've got's this sunny afternoon.


Low Budget - The Kinks (for the rest of us)
I'm on a low budget
I'm not cheap, you understand
I'm just a cut price person in a low budget land
Excuse my shoes they don't quite fit
They're a special offer and they hurt me a bit
Even my trousers are giving me pain
They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn't complain.


Success Story - The Who

Away for the weekend
I've gotta play some one-night stands
Six for the tax man, and one for the band.


Lap of Luxury - Jethro Tull

The money won't last forever.
Rent man called twice today.
I hope some day you'll find me
In the lap of luxury.

I need money, now, to soothe my heart!

Buy me a Datsun or Toyota ---
get the tax man to agree
all expenses I can muster
from the lap of luxury.


Carnival World - Jimmy Buffett

But talk is cheap
It takes money to buy your freedom
And the tax man's knockin' on your door

Spend it while you can, money's contraband
You can't take it with you when you go.
Spend it while you can, before it's taken from your hand,
There's no free ride in this carnival world.

Money Money Money - Abba
I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad...


And now that you've saved on the music, go enjoy  an Income Tax Cocktail.

Jun. 13th, 2011

Feng Shui Nazi

I have been living these last few weeks with a Feng Shui Nazi. Our association garage sale was this Saturday, and my daughter, boarding with me between her stint teaching English in Korea and her upcoming first year at the University of Chicago Divinity School, was adamant that we were going to do the garage sale this year, so we could Get Rid of Stuff and Make Money. 

Yes, it costs money to go to the University of Chicago Divinity School.  Quite a lot of money, actually, even with scholarships. And living in a townhome whose value has decreased by a third since the mortgage was financed costs money too. So we empty the closets, clean out the basement, scour the shelves. Or mainly, she does.  And drags me along, kicking and screaming. 

Well…  that’s an exaggeration. The level of inertia I have felt in response to her enthusiasm does not admit of kicking and screaming. Moaning and groaning is a more accurate description. And balking, like a mule. If it were up to me I would give All this Crap (I mean, Stuff) to Good Will and let them sort it out. Take the tax deduction. If, of course, I got around to it. Which for the last two years, I have not.

"What are all these bags of clothes on the basement floor?” she asks.  “Mom, it LEAKS over here. These are NASTY.” Still, she puts everything through the laundry – which is difficult, because my washer is on the fritz, and does not drain properly.  I have to go down and manipulate the broken knob, reset the tripped circuit breaker, try not to blow a fuse myself every time I discover a washer full of Clothes Soup. Maybe we wil make enough at the garage sale to pay for a call to Sears. But I doubt it.

The daughter tags each piece of clothing with a colored dot – green means fifty cents, pink a dollar, yellow two dollars. 

“You really think a down jacket with a broken zipper is going to get $2.00?” I ask. 

“It’s down,” she says. “People fix zippers.”  And yet one of the boxes full of clothes we put tags on is full of my neglected mending. Who are these mysterious women of thrift and industry, I wonder, who comb garage sales in June, buy down jackets with broken zippers, and fix them? I guess I am going to find out.

I have not used my sewing machine since I moved into this house in 2005.  And soon I will be moving out.  Sooner, probably, rather than later.  The trip to Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin County for “Pre-Foreclosure Counseling” has hammered that point in pretty hard.

I try to advertise the sale on Twitter, looking for appropriate hashtags like #garagesales. Most people are instead talking about what they found at garage sales - instead of who is having them and where - and how little they paid for what they bought. I try #garagesale instead, but find this is the hashtag for a Mac software program used to facilitate eBay auctions. Occasionally it is used for something else. “2 many #Mexicans on my street 2day.  Must be #garagesale weekend.”

Mexican women come – early in the morning, before work -  but they do not buy the down jacket with the broken zipper.  One does buy the gold cross I am selling for fifty cents, though - a gift from my ex-husband on our wedding day. Fifty cents cleans it of memories. I have so many crosses I cannot sell them all.  

Russian men come, too, picking things up, putting things down.  “You have computer hardware? I buy for chips.” Retired couples, shuffling, peering into bins. They love the Matchbox cars for 25 cents each – for when their grandsons visit. “Nothing in the house for boys,” one complains. “Nothing with wheels.”

I never intended to live here as long as I have. The location was convenient to where my kids were still going to school, close enough for the joint custody arrangement to work. We made enough on the sale of the house we had lived in together – the only home we bought in twenty years of marriage, because most of the time we were in clergy housing – to afford two downpayments on two separate townhomes.  I have lived in this one for five and a half years – not a long time, by many measures, but the longest period I have lived in one place since I left home myself for graduate school, when I was younger than Maggie is now.

In many ways it is not a perfect home. The basement leaks. The kitchen is an ergonomic nightmare - impossible to work in, and even more difficult to share. The furnace is outside the house, to save space - one of those units you usually find on the roofs of commercial buildings. It get plugged up with ice at least once every Minnesota winter, the house goes down to 54 degrees, and we wait till someone who is not afraid to work on a commercial furnace installed in a residential unit comes to fix it.  But it is my home. I painted the walls. I have perennials.

And Stuff.  Lots of Stuff.

During the time we owned our split entry home in Eden Prairie, from 1999-2004, its value went from $199,500 to $265,000. From 2005 to 2011, if the assessors are right, the value of my townhome went from $150,000 to $100,000. If they are right. Down the street, a three bedroom which sold for $185,000 in 2005 is on the market now for $61,000. And it doesn’t have a basement.

There is a foreclosure on the left of me, and a foreclosure on the right; the foreclosure across the way was purchased recently by a couple for their daughter to live in. They took advantage of a good deal to get her started out in life. Who could blame them.

My daughter, on the other hand, is making me go into the dark corners of closets, under the basement stairs, and pull things into the light of day. A four poster bed frame, given to me by the woman who rented me the basement of her townhome when their dad and I first separated. “That was such a depressing place, Mom.  The walls were so white.” A set of fireplace implements for a fireplace I do not have. A closet organizer we intended to install in Aidan’s room when we lived in Nashville, more than a decade ago, that never got out of the box.

And, popping up everywhere, as if waiting to be found, the inevitable Parish Directory shots. Family pictures of a smiling foursome – father, mother, daughter, son – blissfully ignorant of the fact that they no longer exist.

But a We exists. A different We.

A West African woman parks her car, walks casually around the card tables, glances at Maggie’s cocktail dress, the one her dad dropped $100 on for her senior prom.  She examines a vase, roots through the cars, comes back to the dress, touches it, pulls the skirt forward, spreads it out. “It would look nice on my daughter,” she says. Her accent is heavy. “How much?”

Maggie tells her ten dollars. 

“Three,” the woman says. 

“It’s a special dress,” says Maggie, “I cannot take three.  Eight.” Maggie spent a semester in Ghana, and I notice her own accent has slipped, subtly, into the West African lilt.

“I do not even know if it will fit my daughter,” the woman says. “Five.”  They haggle another ten minutes or so. Eventually Maggie accepts five.

After the money is exchanged, Maggie asks the question, in the same form it was asked of her, first in Africa, then Korea, then India:  “What country?”

“Ghana,” says the woman. 

“Oh, yes?” she says. “I went to university there. In Accra.”

The woman breaks into a big smile, full of crooked teeth. “The University of Legon?”

“Yes-yes.” They begin comparing professors, laughing. Maggie gets out two words of bad Twi. The woman lives two streets down, in the same complex. They exchange addresses, hug before she leaves. Both are careful not to wrinkle the dress.

There are other garage sales in the neighborhood, but the only one we can see from ours is directly up the street. Two young boys, one on a bicycle, the other on a scooter board, circle around on their driveway, occasionally come down to visit ours. By this time my son has arrived, biking from his Seward apartment.  He helps us get the microfridge out of the basement, the one I thought would be more sensible to buy instead of rent while Maggie was at school, that was instead a nightmare to move, year after year.  There are reasons to rent, I find.

The boys’ names are Fernando and Oscar.  Oscar, the elder, challenges his brother over and over to a race between their driveway and ours. Fernando never gets the fact that a bike with big wheels will beat a scooter with small wheels no matter how nimble and fast he feels on it. He buys Maggie’s wooden kung fu practice sword, which draws forth a demonstration with the paraphrenalia not being sold:  Maggie with her metal sword, drawing it out of its black enamel sheath (yes, it literally sings); Aidan with the bamboo pole, blocking each parry. The boys look on in wonder. I do, too.

On the first day the books sell poorly, and we pack them up, six boxes full, and take them to Half Price Books, where we get about three dollars a box. The next day an old guy wanders over with a list in his hand. He had wanted the John Grisham, but could not remember which ones he had already read.  “Sometimes I’m three quarters of the way through, you know, and I realize – hey. I know how this one ends.” I agree that this is annoying. “Oh well.” He wishes us Sunday luck, and leaves.

The clothes do not sell on the whole, which I rather expected. It is surprising, however, what does sell, and how many times people ask if we have a full length mirror.  I am already making notes for next time. A woman my age buys Maggie’s old Hot Topic blazer, black lace, with hooks and eyes and a lace-up back. “It’s from my Goth days,” she tells the woman, who has no clue what this means. “What do you think?” she asks the boyfriend. She cannot button it in front, but he nods. “Nice,” he says. I cross out the note about having the mirror.

After three p.m. on Sunday, a pair of spinster ladies – there is no other adequate description – from the apartments across the street spend 45 minutes pawing through boxes of clothes.  They buy socks that were ten cents a pair and are now five cents a pair. One of the women, however, is convinced that they were five cents a pair and are now two and a half cents a pair. Maggie does not argue. They leave with $1.45 worth of clothing, are almost to 11th Ave. before Maggie sees that one of the women has left her sweater on a chair. She chases her down.

There are a lot of last minute purchases. A man whose brakes literally screech to a halt when he sees my weight bench. “I have been looking for one of these!” he cries. He buys it for three dollars, then insists on buying his girlfriend a purse for five.  “I like it, but I don’t neeeed it,” she says, a little scowl on her face.  “Oh baby, buy it. You deserve it.” She rolls her eyes.

And then we hit the jackpot. A woman and a young boy pull up.  They buy Maggie’s upholstered chair - for their “man cave,” she says – stuff it into the back, and then come back – halleluia – for the microfridge. It perches precariously in the trunk. “I’m just going down to Wagon Wheel,” she says.  “I used to live in Minnetonka, but I just took custody of two more boys, and a two bedroom wouldn’t cut it.” They must have a home with a basement, I thought. Just like ours. Probably bought it for $61,000. Probably needed to.

We don’t sell everything, by any means. Maggie is a little disappointed at what’s left. But we clear a couple hundred. I decide I will try it again – in the fall, or pairing up later in the summer with a friend, who is also getting ready to move.  I pack the clothes for Good Will, and the rest in clearly labelled banker boxes.

Everyone should have a garage sale once a year, I decide. Especially those who must be dragged into it kicking and screaming. It is important to know how hard it is to get rid of Stuff. And how easy it is to Connect.

At the end of the day, after soaking my stiff joints in the tub – we moved a lot of Stuff this weekend – and checking my social media, I realize what day it is.  Pentecost Sunday. It is a measure of how my life is changed that I learn this from my recovering Catholic friend Ann. On Facebook.

I have gotten to know more neighbors in the two days of this sale than I have in the five years I have lived here. I may leave in disgrace with the bank, like a third of them already have. But Fernando will have a wooden sword, a Ghanaian girl will go to the prom in Lord and Taylor, and a woman caring for four boys from eight to twenty will have a well-furnished man-cave.

For my daughter, world traveler and divinity student, has brought it on home. Come, Holy Spirit, Come.

 

May. 29th, 2011

Why Hashtags Are Not Like Underwear

When I was a girl, my mother bought me a package of seven colored panties with the days of the week embroidered on them. It was a bit  precious, but something about the orderliness of this – as well as the possibility for disruption - appealed to me. Once I tried to create a rip in the space-time continuum by wearing Friday on Wednesday. Sadly, nothing happened. Not even a long weekend.

My strategy for conquering the chaos that is Twitter was similar, gleaned from someone who published an E-zine article a long time ago on how Days of the Week hashtags worked. I unfortunately no longer have the reference. But it felt very sane to me, rather like DOTW household chores - you know, Monday is washday, Tuesday is ironing, etc.  Sane, and manageable.   
 

This week I took advantage of the service I use to schedule my tweets, SocialOomph, to actually download my stats and see which tweets were most often clicked on.  In doing that, I learned something - not just about a subject area I was interested, but about me. 

My current hashtags reflect my own rather wide-ranging personal interests.  I am a development professional by day, a writer and storyteller in my spare time. Christian by culture, Buddhist by practice. I went to Twitter looking for like-minded people, not to grow a business. So on those terms I set out my DOTW bait.
 

#MindfulMonday I set aside for links to articles on mindfulness, particularly as it relates to the creative process. I soon found that Malika Chopra’s @Intentdotcom already used this hashtag, but it was a compatible arrangement. #TechTuesday usually concentrated on social media – there was so much interesting stuff out there! #WriterWednesday, like #techTuesday, was invented by others; I tend to use it to as a catch all for writing tips from people I like, though many use it to recommend writers to follow.  

The arts organization I work with, Northstar Storytelling League (referenced in my last blog post), obtained a grant recently to create a series of workshops for teaching artists, and while I wrote the grant, I am still learning a lot about that world. #TAThursday reflects that interest, and is usually combined with the #teachingartists hashtag.  Saturday, which has been #storytellerSaturday for me, is is a story in itself, and worthy of a separate post. 
 


#FundingFriday is the day I tweet content relevant to my day job. I am a freelance development professional living in Minnesota. I started off with something completely different - #foodieFriday. I didn’t really want to use Twitter for work; I wanted to find fun stuff to read by neat people who knew things I didn’t. And I like food. But within a week or two I saw the value of bringing my own expertise to the table. Or at least my grunt work.


At first I tried to use Twitter to find new grant opportunities - and I still do find these, on occasion. But what I quickly discovered was that no one was tweeting the Minnesota grant opportunities and deadlines that I already knew were out there. Even the Minnesota Council on Foundations, @FollowMCF on Twitter, which keeps an excellent list of grant deadlines on its website, does not tweet them. Nor do they link to the actual websites of funders on their list – though they used to. Instead they want you to subscribe to their online funder database.  But times are tough for nonprofits, and many can't afford another monthly subscription fee. The information is out there:  why put it behind a paywall?  I decided that as long as I had to gather it for myself, I could tweet what I found for others.
 


I can't say that researching grant prospects is the most creative or fulfilling thing I do.  But apparently it is one of the most useful things I do. When I looked at my statistics, almost uniformly, the highest clicks I received were on #fundingFriday - for exactly the content I added that was of value and had not been there before. Had this happened last week, I might have concluded that my funding links received greater clicks because they are synced with my LinkedIn profile, which is currently my only professional presence on the web; however, for some reason that sync was not working on Friday. 
 

At any rate, it’s clear I need to buy more Friday panties - though they usually come one to a pack. It wouldn't give me a long weekend, but it could give me more disposable income.  Which would come in handy right about now. 

Have any of you found Twitter provided a similar revelation - surprising or otherwise - of where your niche was, and where you gave value?

May. 26th, 2011

55 Makes Stories Thrive. With Your Help.

And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?

And have you changed your life?

Mary Oliver’s poem is about a swan. Some of us feel that way about story. It changes lives.

I support the creative power of storytelling through the organization that has given me the most access to that power, Northstar Storytelling League - a Minnesota nonprofit whose mission is to promote storytelling and develop and support storytellers. I’m asking my family, friends and colleagues, in honor of my Double Nickels birthday - I turn 55 on May 28 - to help me do this.

For nearly a decade now I have - along with many other remarkable people - given of my personal time, talent, and treasure to what has been, until the last few years, a small membership organization with a very small budget. Sixty or so members, $30 memberships – you do the math. For much of that time I have served on the Board of Directors, doing the nuts and bolts work that an organization with no paid staff relies on its volunteer board to coordinate.

I do not do this because I find board work empowering. I do this because I find storytelling empowering. Because I have a need to pay attention. The oral work of telling a good story, and the aural work of listening to one, compels that attention. I have a need to find the thread. The one that pulls it all together. The one that unravels everything. Often they are the same thread. Storytellers get this.

The creative connections I have made through Northstar, and the creative opportunities Northstar has made available to me, have transformed my life. And I’ve seen them make a difference in the lives of others as well.

  • On a stage made of milk crates in the basement of JavaJack’s, where Dave Schaal once brought me into a maximum security prison where he was performing a wedding;
  • In being told by Loren Niemi that my first showcase story at the Minnesota Fringe Festival was better without the moral at the end – and discovering he was right;
  • At another adult “Open Tell,” where I first heard Ann Reay tell the story that would become the title piece in our show together, Saving Pagan Babies;
  • At the Tellabration! evening concert at Open Book, where Nancy Donoval let me tell a story about cold mashed potatoes; Kevin Kling  sliced into the dark underbelly of Goofus and Gallant; and Khary Jackson pushed the genre envelope with “An Open Letter from the Brothers Grimm to Walt Disney;”
  • At the Coffee Grounds in Falcon Heights, where Pam Schweitzer has been coordinating PJ Stories, Northstar’s longest running monthly event, for five years.

Many of you reading this appeal do not know these people. Some of them are well known practicing artists in my community. (Though the only one with a YouTube presence, to my knowledge, is Khary.) Some are simply artists. Some are simply practicing. All are my colleagues, and my friends.

The hard work it takes to make storytelling performance and workshop opportunities available for anyone is part of what makes the Twin Cities the vibrant, creative and generous community it is, and I am glad to be part of that. I want these opportunities to grow.

In the last couple of years, working in a volunteer capacity, I have been able to obtain grant support for Northstar for one or two key projects – primarily our annual storytelling festival, Tellabration, but also for a series of workshops that will debut this summer on being a teaching artist. These grant funds have increased Northstar’s budget by a factor of ten over three years – though our dreams and ideas for how the organization can grow in its ability to pursue its mission continue to grow faster than our funding.

And while project-based funding allows substantially more capacity than relying on membership fees, what it does not provide is the day to day support for the infrastructure that needs to develop to consistently support those projects.

What Northstar needs – what any nonprofit needs to be stable – is a diverse revenue stream. Not only project grants, but general operating support. Not only foundation support, but corporate support. Not only institutional donors, but individuals willing to give their own time, talent – and yes, treasure.

Whether you are a storyteller, or you just love stories - whether you have benefited from Northstar, or the time I and others have given to it, or not - won’t you help me make that happen? 

Clicking on the link below will bring you to a GiveMn.org page where I have told this story, and where you can make a donation to wish me a Happy Birthday.  And to support Northstar.

In Honor of My Double Nickels Birthday

May. 14th, 2011

10 Facts About My Mom

  1. In first grade, I painstakingly lettered her name, Dorisanne, beneath a crayon portrait. I spelled it as I heard it:  D-o-or S-a-n-d.  I do not remember thinking this odd.

2.     Her own nickname as a kid, Captain Midnight, came from the Slovak unibrow.  She’s still a tweezer fiend.

3.     One Christmas she asked for a watch. All of her friends were getting watches. Her parents couldn’t afford a real watch, so they bought her a play one.She had to wear it.

4.     In college there was a boy named Bob.   He was not a good Catholic. That’s all I know.

5.     She is the eldest of three sisters and two brothers.  Both sisters died of cancer within a year of each other. My grandmother, cushioned in the fog of Alzheimer’s, outlived them both. My mother became both for her, as well as her own aunts. It was easier than explaining where there were.

6.     She went to the same beehive hairdresser every Thursday for 30 years, though for the last ten she hated how her hair was styled. We lived in a small town, and if she went somewhere else, Marlene would know.

7.     The day I changed my clothes at a boyfriend’s apartment so that I could go to the County Fair after work (it was 1976, and I was 19) "gave her more pain than 9 hrs of labor."

8.     At first, she said, she thought one of the surprise benefits of growing older was that she didn’t have to shave her legs so often. Then she discovered she needed bifocals.

9.     According to my father, the secret of their marital happiness is that they are equally matched in Scrabble.

10.   My mother’s most often repeated bit of marital advice: “All I can say is, it doesn’t get easier.” I think she lets him win.

 

 

 

Mar. 26th, 2011

Resurrection

On the Christian liturgical calendar, it is still Lent. I am, nevertheless, taking this opportunity to resurrect my blog. It's been two years since I burned myself out posting "reviews" - perhaps we should call them "ornate appreciations" - of my friends' performances at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Last year I didn't even go to the Fringe Festival, partly because of overwhelm in other areas of my life, and partly because I had set such high expectations for myself where the aforementioned "ornate appreciations" were concerned. Perhaps I had unrealistic and unclear expectations for blogging too. Most people do.

I began this blog shortly after my 50th birthday, naming it after a column I wrote for a couple of church newsletters in my past life as The Rector’s Wife. (How many of you remember the book by Joanna Trollope, who followed in her 19th century forbearer’s footsteps writing novels about clergy family life? What is she up to now, anyway?) Ordinary Time is what the church calls the period after Pentecost and before Advent. This year I'm approaching another milestone: double nickels, as my friend and fellow storyteller Loren Niemi likes to say. So maybe it is time to reassess. 

I'm taking my creativity much more seriously these days, and trying to actually generate income from it. I’ve been the Producer and Artistic Director for what is currently the largest storytelling festival in Minnesota, Northstar Storytelling’s Tellabration! ™ at Open Book. I'm writing more, and performing more. I've applied for a Bush Fellowship to study best practices in arts membership organizations - particularly storytelling organizations. I've applied for my first individual artist grant - my second, if you include the Work of Art scholarship I received to attend Springboard for the Arts workshop series on Business Skills for Artists. I have a one woman show myself coming up – with a preview at the Northlands Storytelling Conference in April, and a full fledged Minnesota Fringe Festival performance in August, dates and times TBA.

So in that evolving context, what is my blog FOR? Is it a way of writing chatty, interesting letters for friends and family who have come to enjoy them - and have had precious few in the last couple of years? Is it a way of trying out written material or a place to publish finished stories I have performed? Is it (God forbid) a soapbox? Is it a form of self-expression, or a business-marketing tool? And what business am I in these days, anyway? Am I a writer? A storyteller? A freelance development geek? A producer and artistic director?

Umm. Yeah. It's a garbage plate.   

I know this unfocused, patchwork quilt approach to blogging is one that has to go. The sporadic posts, the long periods in absentia – the lack of motivation is as much about focus and strategy as anything else. At some point I will need to wipe this out or close it down and start fresh, with an integrated, clearly branded approach to the work I do. And no, fellow creative types, I do not believe I am "selling out" by understanding the essential principles of good marketing. In fact, since I am not in the position to hire someone to do this for me at this point, I pretty much better understand them. 

In the meantime, however, I see no reason not to continue using the tools that I have. It is a good antidote to perfectionism. Therefore, over the next few months I will be examining – I hope on a weekly basis - how freelance writers use their blogs – and in particular, how they focus and brand them without painting themselves into corners that become boring to read – and boring to write.   

Twitter is helping me some with this kind of discipline, particularly the hashtags that set aside days of the week for particular topics. My current three are #mindfulMonday, #writerWednesday (also #ww) and #foodieFriday. The fact that I preferred to institute #foodieFriday over #fundingFriday may tell you something about the amount of energy I have been devoting to marketing my grant writing these days. That’s going to have to change. (But seriously. What would you rather think about on Friday?)

One of the main issues I recognize with my blog as I have used it so far is that it has been little more than electronic paper – one dimensional, and not very interactive. The more fluent I become in social media (and I do not ever expect to be smarter than a fifth grader – at least not in this lifetime), the more of a missed opportunity this seems. So I will throw the question – okay, questions - out right now – and back this up with requests later in the week on my Facebook page and on my Twitter feed: What is your blog for? How do you use it? What do you enjoy about it? Are you pleased with the level of interactivity? And what could you use help with?

 

 

Aug. 9th, 2009

Altered Arthur


The Rise of General Arthur
phillip andrew bennett low
Augsburg Mainstage
2211 Riverside, Minneapolis

Sat., Aug. 1 @ 5:30 p.m., Sun., Aug. 2 @ 10:00 p.m. Tue., Aug. 4 @ 7:00 p.m. Wed., Aug. 5 @ 8:30 p.m. Sat., Aug. 8 @ 8:30 p.m.

http://www.fringefestival.org/2009/show/?id=975

"I sometimes wonder if it's me that's being made love to. I feel like I'm being harpooned by some raging monk in the act of receiving God."  Emily Jessup, Altered States.   

I saw Ken Russell’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's novel in 1982 with a man who aspired to be Eddie Jessup.  I married him anyway.  When phillip andrew bennett low gets on the stage, I have flashbacks. 

This is an artist with a passion for Arthurian legend, who connects deeply – and I suspect quite personally - to the themes inherent in these texts: loyalty and betrayal, free will and destiny.  The quest that is at once choice and compulsion. The burden of trying – and failing – to live up to a moral standard that preserves the social order.  The uneasy harnessing of violence in its service.  What it means to be worthy of love.  And of allegiance. 

To set Arthurian themes in the context of the first Gulf War is intriguing – though I cannot say I understand more about the nature of either leaving the theater.  Nor am I sure I want low to push it.  A connection between Kennedy and Camelot – that I can stomach. 

I like to think at the Fringe.  I like to be challenged by the material.  I am grateful to anyone who sees fit to bring myth, legend, literature to the stage, and can get an audience to come out and watch it instead of sitting glued in front of the oxymoron that is Reality Television.  I may, in fact, be one of the few people in the universe who wants to see low do more work with the Gnostic gospels.  The piece I saw at Spirit in the House two years ago blew me away. I not only want to experience it again.  I want others to experience it.  I want others to understand why they should want to experience it.

The energy low pours into the esoteric, the unabashed love of brain food, his palpable, intense love of language – we need that.  He is clearly a genius.  But he pummels us with it.  Like Emily Jessup, I sometimes wonder why I am there.  Virtuoso performance does not draw you in.  It calls attention to itself.

I want to see low’s work with complex, difficult material become more accessible. Paradoxically, this means I want both more and less of him in the performance.  I want it to be less of a demonstration of how intelligent he is – we already know - and more an effort to engage the audience with the text.  To do this he has to care enough about that audience to move them through his own experience of it so they, too, get to feel that energy, that sense of connection, that intense love.  I am tired of being a voyeur.  And he is capable of more.  Of creating that altered state - in which both the individual and the community are fully present – which is the bard’s Holy Grail.  Whether or not he is a Rockstar.

Aug. 8th, 2009

Lily Was Right. Thank Goodness.

Katherine Glover

A Cynic Tells Love Stories

Augsburg Main Stage

2211 Riverside Ave., Minneapolis

Fri., Jul. 31 @ 10:00 p.m.., Sat. Aug. 1 @ 1:00 p.m. Sun., Aug. 2 @ 8:30 p.m., Thu., Aug. 6 @ 5:30 p.m. Sat., Aug. 8 @ 7:00 p.m. 

No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.  Lily Tomlin.

When the meltdown of my marriage began, I turned first to bibliotherapy.  By this I mean the “Relationships” section of Barnes and Noble. (Actually, with some premonition of my future economic state, I browsed at Barnes and Noble, wrote down the titles, and then surreptitiously took them out of the pubic library.) Phillip Blumstein and Pepper Schwartz’s Peer Marriage. John Gottman’s Why Marriages Succeed or Fail.  Peter Kramer’s “Should I Leave?  I was trying to work out the issues, trying on ideas.  It was all just theoretical. Ashton Applewaite’s Cutting Loose.  Constance Ahron’s The Good Divorce. Isolina Ricci’s Mom’s House, Dad’s House.  My library card knew what was happening before I did. 

“What is more important, passion or compatibility?” Katherine Glover asks in “A Cynic Tells Love Stories.”  I hear the question, coming from a woman whose parents divorced when she was three, and wonder if my own daughter, whose parents divorced when she was seventeen, asks herself the same question. Or if, like me, she sees this as a false dichotomy. 

False dichotomies make wonderful jumping off points, however.  By the end of the hour, Glover’s stories have addressed, in one way or another, all the necessary conditions for love:  Attraction.  Desire.  Trust.  Mutuality.  Respect.  Acceptance.  Commitment.  And a strong enough sense of self in each partner that both intimacy and autonomy are possible.  She does this in a way that is both smart and funny, without being sardonic.   Neither insight nor imagination is sacrificed to the god of Irony.

Gottman claims a lasting marriage is not about compatibility in the matchmaker’s sense at all – compatibility of interests, personality types, values, religious beliefs. If compatibility is necessary in any respect, it is in a couple’s style of handling conflict. Most of us have been trained to believe that a particular style of communication and compromise – validation - is required.  But Gottman’s research demonstrates that volatile couples – the passionate – have every bit as much a chance of achieving stability as those who avoid conflict altogether because they simply don’t see it as worth the trouble. Of course whether a lasting marriage is a healthy marriage is a different question altogether. 

“A good marriage,” someone once told me, “is one in which you are more yourselves together than apart.”  Is it cynicism to wonder how long any one relationship can really bear this burden? Why Marriages Succeed or Fail succeeded in describing my own dilemma precisely. I could see exactly how things had begun to go wrong. But it failed to convince me I could change anything. Like most people, we had waited too long. By the time criticism has turned to contempt, the damage has already been done. 

And yet there are couples who avoid this.  Whose relationships not only last, but stay healthy.  Is it because they manage to remain peers, to have an equal balance of power in the relationship? Equality is a straightforward concept; equity, less so, especially when children enter the picture. Do same sex couples have an advantage over heterosexual couples in this regard, as Blumstein and Schwartz suggest, because they organize their lives, and the roles they play, in ways that are essentially more egalitarian? I used to ask this of my gay friends on occasion.  Eventually I got tired of the uncontrollable laughter.

The story of Glover’s own brief marriage is told beautifully, with candor and compassion, and not a drop of self-pity. It made my heart ache.  In a good way.  In the end it is this story, which convinces me she is not, after all, a cynic.  Anyone who can see with such clarity, who can recreate each detail of a relationship – not without pain, perhaps, but in a conscious effort to move beyond bitterness - is not jaded – or closeminded - enough to qualify.  Nor does my daughter have to be. Stories like this are one of the reasons I see nurturing creativity as a moral imperative. 

Aug. 6th, 2009

Recovery Act

Curt Lund and  Laura Bidgood - What Happened? Productions
Slow Jobs:  Servicing America for $12 an Hour
U of M Rarig Center, Arena Stage
330 21st Avenue S. Minneapolis, MN

Friday, July 31; 8:30pm Sunday, August 2; 4:00pm Tuesday, August 4; 5:30pm Wednesday, August 5; 10:00pm Saturday, August 8; 8:30.  http://fringefestival.org/2009/show/?id=1105

In 2000, my daughter Maggie, then in the 8th grade, took a barrage of career aptitude tests. They were same ones I had taken the year before during my midlife career crisis, after spending ten years in the automotive industry, writing abstracts of technical articles for Ford Motor Company – a decade of my work life I prepared for by obtaining a doctorate in Victorian religious literature.  There is an art to titling the thesis, just as there is an art to titling a Fringe show.  Mine was “Remythologizing the Bible:  Fantasy and the Revelatory Hermeneutic of George MacDonald.” In the era of deconstruction, speech act theory, and dime-a-dozen doctorates, not exactly an academic hit. I had not taken career aptitude tests in the eighth grade.  I had taken Home Ec. 

How do these things happen?  Why do we end up where we do?

When her results came back, I asked Maggie what those tests said she should be when she grew up.  She did not hesitate for a moment.  “A Nobel Prize-winning author.”  You do not have to be a product of the Repository for Germinal Choice to aim high.  We were unable to find any colleges where she could major in Nobel Prize Winning.  But both her father and I believe that a strong liberal arts education is necessary to the development of critical thought and the exercise of imagination. These qualities create favorable conditions for finding right livelihood. That, at least, was an opportunity we could provide.

This May she graduated from Hamline – Phi Beta Kappa, with a double major in history and religious studies and an honors thesis with the impressive title “A’isha and Fatima:  Matriarchs and Sectarian Identity in Medieval Islamic Literature.”  The hits just keep on coming. She was the Multifaith Alliance Coordinator at Hamline from 2005 to 2009, and the Inaugural Steven and Kathi Austin Mahle Scholar for Progressive Christian Thought.  She won the Eliza M. Drew Award in History, the Senior Religion Major Award, the Alfred D. and Hazel Stedman Writing Award and the Louis Parish Award for Service to Religious Life, the latter two years in a row.  Am I proud?  Not a little. She spent her junior year abroad in Ghana, has three years of Japanese under her belt, a year of Spanish, and a smattering of Twi. She’s also a crackerjack web designer and an aspiring artist with a show opening up at Cosmic’s Coffee on Snelling in St. Paul Friday.

And unemployed.  And living in my home.  Yes, I can send you her resume. 

At the moment she is interviewing for jobs teaching English in Seoul.  Hamline has good ESL connections.  Apparently half the 2009 graduating class is heading for Korea, because there are NO JOBS here. They have national health insurance.  She is learning Korean. I never thought I’d see the day when I would have to send my daughter to a foreign country to improve her standard of living. Stay away from the border, I tell her.  If Bill has to bring you back, I will be very upset. 

How do these things happen?  How do we end up where we do? 

I am glad Curt Lund and Laura Bidgood have ended up here. Their show is a Recovery Act of its own. Go see it.  Not only are they funny and intelligent, thus fitting my Thinking Woman’s Fringe filter, but they clearly enjoy working together. Two people who have known each other since childhood and are still a creative inspiration to one another – this is a rare and wondrous thing.  Worth growing up in North Dakota for?  I’m guessing yes.

I don’t know Laura well (though I did once know a Loretta), but from our production of Saving Pagan Babies together with Ann Reay and Loren Niemi, at the Spirit in the House Festival in February, I know it is easy to enjoy working with Curt. He is an openhearted, unpretentious artist who manages to integrate that vocation into his day job as Marketing Director for the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. I am pretty sure he is hiding tights and a spandex suit somewhere. (We already know he has a cape.) Because that’s my idea of a superhero. It should definitely go into his – ahem – donor profile. Such qualities are a lot more important being six feet tall with blond hair, blue eyes and good muscle tone. 

Or, for that matter, winning a Nobel Prize.  Even at the Repository for Germinal Choice.

Aug. 5th, 2009

Take; eat.

Lane McKiernan
Food Shelf Follies
Playwright's Center
2301 Franklin Ave. E., Minneapolis


Fri., Jul. 31 @ 10:00 p.m., Sat., Aug. 1 @ 5:30 p.m., [A] Sun., Aug. 2 @ 1:00 p.m. Thu., Aug. 6 @ 7:00 p.m., Sun., Aug. 9 @ 5:30 p.m.

http://www.fringefestival.org/2009/show/?id=1078 

“I do not have any difficulty believing the Host is Christ’s body,” said my Roman Catholic friend.  “What I have trouble believing is that it is bread.”  Apparently, however, transubstantiation is a fragile process.  Because according to the Vatican, whether real bread or wafer, the priest can't make Jesus without gluten. 

Orders are orders.

My son had a teacher in the fourth grade, at Percy Priest Elementary School in Green Hills, Tennessee, who was a veteran of the first Gulf War.  Mr. Chase.  He was a former Green Beret.  Mr. Chase’s kids lined up differently in the hall from other kids.  They had more homework every night than other kids.  And they won all the contests on Field Day.  Had it been permitted, I think Mr. Chase might have had his students dig their own latrines.  Aidan simultaneously loved and feared Mr. Chase – both wanted his approval, and resented his discipline.   For a young man, however, Mr. Chase was sick a lot.  Gulf War Syndrome, we were told.  Chemical exposure.  Although he came home without obvious wounds, his immune system was shot.  He took medication for this, but it made him sleepy.  During the school year, if he was feeling well enough, he often reduced the dosage, something that was not recommended.  But a soldier needs to be alert.  So does a fourth grade teacher. 

Even if it means disobeying orders.

Several years after we left Tennessee, we heard Mr. Chase had died.  Not from Gulf War Syndrome, exactly.  From food poisoning.  He had eaten a rare steak, and the steak had contained e-coli.  Not a strain that would bother anyone else.  But toxic to him. 

On my way home from a meeting today, I had to stop at the grocery store.   I hadn’t had time to plan the week’s meals; I just knew I was out of a lot of what is normally considered healthy food.  (It should go without saying that this includes dark chocolate and whole bean coffee.)  I ended up in the grocery section of Super Target.  Several people have recently sent me that list known as the “dirty dozen” –fruits and vegetables whose pesticide content remains dangerously high, even after they are washed. So I went first to the organic produce counter.  What was there was small and mean looking, and expensive.  Most of it had been flown in from Mexico or South America.  I found organic chocolate, but none of it was fair trade.  There was organic, fair trade, whole bean coffee, but Eight-o-Clock was two dollars a pound cheaper.  And who was I trying to kid by paying a premium for “cruelty-free” meat?  Did the certification process include an interview with the Meat? 

After forty-five minutes of hemming and hawing, trying to determine the least damaging, most ethical and economical way of feeding myself, I finally said to hell with it, threw in my cart whatever looked good, and vowed to do better next time.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to do this.  Lane McKiernan is one of those people.  A chemical exposure has made him allergic to a number of foods that you and I can still find nourishing – or at least nontoxic.  Finding foods that do not sicken him – learning to cook without gluten or wheat, avoiding the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup - has been a difficult process, made even harder by periods of unemployment.  At one food shelf, when he tries to return things he knows he cannot eat so that someone else can benefit from them, the worker takes everything back.  “If you were really in need you would eat what we gave you.”  Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.  When your body itself becomes the albatross, what then do you do? 

Lane is not only chemically sensitive but transgender, and weaves this reality into the story with a refreshing matter-of-factness.  There are no identity politics here:  only a real person, with real needs.  He tells his story quietly, without rancor.  I have never heard anyone speak of working in a minimum wage, food service industry job with such obvious pleasure, even vocation; his description of early mornings at the bakery reminded me of Brother Lawrence, practicing the Presence of God.  Had you asked Brother Lawrence whether he thought gluten necessary for this, I think you would have gotten the answer such a question deserves.

You might think that Lane's show would be a preachy, uncomfortable experience.  Instead it is full of beautiful moments, both in the interludes of music and juggling by Walken Schweigert and Katie Burgess, and in the narrative itself.  There are kind people as well as the insensitive, unskilled in withholding judgment.  Lane presents them without comment.  That is life.  And this is advocacy at its finest, a call for justice which draws people in rather than shuts them out.  Anger is reserved for a system that fails the poor and the disabled, and for the elected officials who balance the budget on the backs of those least able to make their voices heard. 

And even anger with the system, and those who represent it, is tempered with humor.  When a social services bureaucrat accuses Lane of trying to get benefits with a fake ID because the gender on it is wrong, his bewildered response -  “I didn’t know whether to be upset at the accusation of fraud or pleased that I finally passed.”-  gently ushers me into his world and gives me a hook to hang my hat on.  It is the courage to laugh at such experiences that saves a person from despair – and feeds a community’s capacity for compassion.   Because in the end, we must all give.  And take.  And eat.   

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