Sunday, October 31, 2021

Road Trip: One Amazing Thing

I started writing a post titled “Human beings do amazing things,” and I was telling you all about the amazing things encountered on this trip: art, museum exhibits, architecture, theater, food. But there was just too much. It got boring: This great thing, that great thing, oh and another great thing.

So I’m just going to tell you about one thing. Who knew that the Gettysburg Museum & Visitor Center would float to the top of my list?

I had my qualms about the whole stop in Gettysburg, thinking it might be a chronicle of this general and that battle and those maneuvers. I’m tired of the militarization of American history; our chapters go from war to war: Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, etc etc. What if instead our chapters went from invention to invention or economy to economy, peace to peace? What would things look like if most of our monuments were all about peacekeepers, good Samaritans, educators, farmers?

There were 51,000 casualties in three days at Gettysburg. This is no victory celebration site; this is a cemetery. By the end, the Civil War killed more Americans than any other war: 620,000 people.

Gettysburg is a museum of War – of the toll it takes

of the people who die

of the people who have to bury them

of the equipment they have to carry

of the equipment they don’t have

of the heat

of their heavy uniforms

of the photographers and journalists who witness their deaths

of the weight of decisions to make and mistakes that are made

of canteens collected and water not found
of regret and despair

of the whims of chance and who had the higher ground and who they couldn’t see in the dark

of medics and disease and amputations

of the women left behind and the families splintered.

of freedom fought for and yet freedom undelivered.

It’s all arranged chronologically, by the three days of the battle. We walk those three days. It’s a brilliantly designed museum. We feel those three days.

Sometimes you learn things by slowly absorbing them, bit by bit. And then, every now and then, you get a direct infusion to the brain. The Gettysburg Museum is a 2 x 4 to the head and heart: War is hell; freedom is worth fighting for; equality is not done.

At the end of the museum, there’s a continuously-running film that ends with the 50-year reunion at Gettysburg. President Wilson invited white veterans of both sides, and a famous handshake between white Union and Confederate soldiers took place. Black soldiers were relegated to setting up tents and cleaning latrines.

All those dead people, and this is where we are.

I read further and the story of the racism of the 1913 centennial is even worse. In 1963, at the 100th anniversary, President Johnson gave his Gettysburg address:

“The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’”

That was in 1963, but still equality is not done.

The next day, we did the outdoor tour of Gettysburg. You can hire a guide or you can follow along in your car and listen to Ranger Gwinn describe the sites on your smart phone.

Little light interlude because this is all so heavy:

I was very happy because Ranger Gwinn does a wonderful job at each site, but mostly: I got make-your-own waffles for breakfast! All through this trip, the hotel breakfasts have been reduced to grab-and-go breakfasts because of Covid. I love make-your-own waffles, but I have only been able to stare longingly at the dormant waffle makers. Not in Gettysburg! Waffles for breakfast!

We went on to Washington, D.C, where white flags at the Washington Monument memorialize American Covid deaths – 700,327 when we were there. As far as the eye could see. We’d passed the Civil War milestone.

No, Gettysburg was not a depressing element of our trip, but it was thoughtful, sobering, and unforgettable.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Road Trip First Stop: Logistics

When I take my urban infusion months, I live in a place. I become a resident, not a tourist. This trip was different (and not just because Tim was with me); it was a sightseeing trip. We stayed in hotels, not apartments. We ate out; we didn’t cook. I didn’t get a library card; Tim never unpacked his suitcase. We didn’t become “regulars” anywhere.

Becoming a resident means some days you just hang out. If the African-American History Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, that’s okay because you’ll still be here on Wednesday; you don’t have to kill yourself to fit it in on Sunday.

We were going to be gone two months. We couldn’t do it. We cut it short. Tim said I could always stay on and do my “month,” but I’m tired. I want to lie in my own bed, sleep and wake on my own schedule. I want to do nothing for as many days as I feel like it, walk around the house in just a T-shirt. I am pooped. This New Yorker cartoon says it all.


By the end of this trip, I was traveling bench-to-bench. Time to go home, the bench at the end of the rainbow.

I did learn a few things. That’ll be today’s post. Then I’ll get to the good stuff.

Things I learned schlepping four bags across the country:

  1. Never schlep four bags across the country. If you’re going to camp, go on a camping trip and bring a duffel of camping supplies. If you’re going to stay in hotels, bring a bag with clothes and stuff. Do not even think of bringing both at the same time.

  2. If you’re going to schlep four bags, do it once. Don’t rent a car, take a plane, another car, switch to a train, take a taxi, back to a plane, onto an air train. With hotels in between. With staircases, streets, long hallways, and curbs in between.

Things I learned staying in hotels:

  1. The people who write reviews of hotels online are very crabby people who seem to run into a lot of stained sheets, hair on pillows, worn-out carpet, and nasty check-in staff. I stayed in some of those places, and I liked them just fine (except for one, but I should have known better). Some places were even great. I’m going to give them 10s to offset all the crabby people.

  2. Towels multiply. You start out with two of each towel. You leave them hanging up to use again, but when the room is serviced, there are now three washcloths and four big towels. By the time a week is out, there are zillions of towels. At least they aren’t pillows.

  3. The pillow situation is out of control. Why would any bed require six pillows – plus decorative ones! – and no place to move them so you can actually sleep? I haven’t had to clear out a bed like that since Tim evicted my stuffed animals years ago.

  4. I need to buy new towels. Hotel towels are fluffy and white and they absorb water. While I like the color of my towels at home – and have liked them for many, many years – I’ve learned that towels are not supposed to be threadbare in places. Unless you’re outfitting a hotel for a crabby hotel review.

Things I’ve learned about hot places:

  1. The only reason to go to a hot place is to swim and loll around a pool or ocean. Otherwise, hot places are just hot. Hot, hot, hot.

  2. If a hot place comes with beige-colored terrain, it is just a hot, hot, beige place. Avoid in the future.

Things I’ve learned about places with mask mandates:

  1. Life is good! Things are open, people feel happy and comfortable! People walk around, pause before a doorway, reach into their pockets for their masks, put them on, and enter. Occasionally, they have to show a vaccination card, but that just means something wished-for is finally able to open (whether it’s live theater or a restaurant). It’s no big deal! (Thank you state of New Mexico, District of Columbia, and New York City!)

  2. You cannot imagine how nuts the rest of the country thinks Alaskans are right now. Anti-mask lunatics in Alaska are spreading disease at crisis levels because – wait for this – they think it’s unbearable to put a little mask on. And in the process, they have to trivialize the murders of the Holocaust by comparing that little mask to genocide? Really? Theirs are not protests, they’re tantrums. With consequences for all of us.
But I got to vacation in Adult Land – good stuff next post!

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Lucky in so many ways

We’d spent the day at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, seeing things I’d never seen before – cliff dwellings – and camping in a terrific campground. But now we were off to Taos via Los Alamos. But as we drove into Los Alamos, I saw an even bigger sight: white tents! White tents mean farmers markets or craft fairs or art shows. “Tim, stop the car! And, oh, look! There’s a bagel place.”

Anchorage has lost its real-bagel places. The only one left makes bread and shapes it into circles and calls them bagels, but they’re not. I wanted a real bagel, a Ruby K’s Bagel Café bagel. I got two. Tim and I sat outside at their tables, loved the bagels and how pleasant it all seemed, and we were on our way to Taos.

 Somewhere along the way, the road did a little twisty thing along the edge of a mountain. There were those scary sharp arrow signs in a row – not even the curvy arrows: “Tim, slow down, you don’t know what’s ahead. You’re going too fast if the curve keeps curving. There are edges here!”


Yes, it’s my edge problem. My we’re-up-high-and-there’s-an-edge-to-the-drop problem. But it was brief and we were through. And then, halfway to Taos, I spotted a roadside stand. Roadside stands are right up there with white tents. “Stop the car!”

So I jumped out of the car, reached into the back seat for my fanny pack, and it wasn’t there! Where was my fanny pack! Did it slide forward off the seat? Had I shoved it into my daypack? No, the crushing realization loomed: I’d left it somewhere. The bagel place. I’d looped it over the chair outside.

 Cue the mindless blathering: “It has everything in it. Both our credit cards so now neither of them can be used. It has my vaccination card. It has that iPhone you gave me that I haven’t set up or charged. How can I be so stupid?

I remembered the dozen times I’ve left that fanny pack in movie theaters. I remembered the time I left it by the side of the road while fixing a flat in Costa Rica and, even though I realized it in seconds, with the one-way streets we had to go around the block and by the time we did, the fanny pack was gone and our credit card was buying pizza and candy and costume jewelry. “I have just totally fucked up. I have to stop this. I have to tie that thing around my waist no matter how stupid it looks. I have to never do this again.”

Tim turned the car around. The GPS lady went crazy: “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” Tim said, “Call the restaurant.”

“How do I turn off the GPS lady so I can Google the restaurant? “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” How do I make her stop? “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.”

I dug out the receipt from the restaurant. It had a phone number on it. “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” How do I stop her so I can phone???

And, of course, all the while, I’m blathering about what a fuck up I am, how I have to stop leaving this stupid fanny pack in places. Tim is calmly driving back. GPS lady is yelling at us. Somehow, I get her to go away. I phone the restaurant. No one answers. Their mailbox is full.

I remember there was a Starbucks next door. I manage to Google “Starbucks Los Alamos.” There are two. One seems right. I tell the man that I can’t reach Ruby’s, that I have left my fanny pack outside, does he have a number for Ruby, can he check? He says he’ll go outside and look. It’s not there. Ruby is closed and doesn’t reopen till 8 a.m.

Tim says, “We’ll get a room in Los Alamos tonight.”

I Google “Los Alamos Police Department.” My hands are shaking so bad that I’m Googling Los Alanow Polive and Lps Alampa Polive and everything else till I finally get it right. (You realize I’m still blathering about being a fuck-up and how am I going to get this fanny pack purse carry thing right.)

I tell the dispatcher I’m a tourist and we were driving to Taos when I realized I’d left my fanny pack at Ruby K’s and maybe somebody turned it in but I don’t know how to reach Ruby and they’re closed but maybe she can find out how to phone Ruby’s owner? She says she’ll call me back.

More blather, more hysteria. Tim calmly driving. We get to the scary road part with curves and edges, and I whisper to Tim, “You remember this part means slowing down.” He does.

We get to Ruby K’s. The door says they closed at 2 p.m. A young girl is sitting outside.

“How long have you been here? Did you see a fanny pack on this chair?”

“I just got here. But the door is open. They’re inside.”

The door is open? I walk in. I say, “I left my fanny pack,” and without a word, the guy hands it to me.

The dispatcher calls to say she reached Ruby’s, and I tell her I’m holding the fanny pack. I go next door to thank the Starbucks guy and tell him it worked out.

I tell Tim I am going to write about this, about all the wonderful people who helped out. He asks, “Will I be the hero of this story?” I tell him yes, yes, YES! We get in the car. We drive through the scary, curvy part yet again. I don’t say a word. We get to Taos.

When I get out of the car, when we stop, I count and say out loud: “I am putting my fanny pack down, my sunglasses, my mask. Three things. When I leave, I have to pick up three things.” Maybe this will work.

The next day, we stop for a picnic. I count my things. As I’m packing up, I say, “Someone put the spoon away with the peanut butter still on it.”

Tim says, “The same someone who didn’t leave his fanny pack in Los Alamos.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Worrywart Goes on a Road Trip

I’ve felt fear, I’ve felt angst, I’ve felt panic, I’ve worried. I’ve been a scared little rabbit, a scaredy cat, and a wimp. I’ve even detailed the finer points between fear and worry in a blog called “Not a scaredy-cat – a worrywart.”

Yes, I’m occasionally brave, land on my feet, am tough as nails. But not right now. Right now, I’m planning a road trip into Covid Land USA: the Lower 48. (Well, actually, Alaska is a worse Covid Land. The whole U.S. is Covid Land.)

Tim and I just returned from a 3-day ferry ride on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Tustumena to Dutch Harbor. The trip had been canceled on us for the last two attempts over the years, so this was Our Chance. We were also going to spend an additional three days in Dutch Harbor.

These were my pre-trip planning concerns:

  • Will I barf for three days of seasickness?
  • Will the Scopolamine patch behind my ear be enough to not barf? Do I need (as advised by friends) anti-nausea drugs given to chemotherapy patients?
  • Where will I barf if we don’t have a private bathroom in the stateroom?
  • What about traveling in a state with only 50+% vaccination rate … and an assertive non-masking contingent? And what about tourists?
  • What’s the hospital capacity if I get sick?
  • Oh, no – we’re coming back on a small plane?!? How will I keep from barfing on a small plane?

Okay, that IS a lot about barfing. I have, in my life, been known as the Barf Queen. I have barfed on many a ship, so it’s not some idle fantasy. But – amazingly and wonderfully – the ocean was calm and peaceful, the weather glorious, and the plane ride smooth. No cell coverage and no wi-fi just increased the relaxation. The landscapes were beautiful, the hikes through World War II sites fascinating, and the burger at Norwegian Rats Saloon the best in my life. Hooray!

The passengers: unmasked, unconcerned, and too close for comfort. Oddly, I hadn’t worried about Covid onboard the ferry because these were the published rules: AMHS currently requires passengers and employees to wear masks inside, but the CDC order makes refusal to wear a face covering a violation of federal law. But there was NO enforcement at all, even when four people had to be put off at King Cove for testing positive. The seating deck where many hung out in close quarters was a frightening petri dish I never entered. They advertised a safe environment and then didn't deliver.

That was the trial run for Barbara Takes a Road Trip. Obviously, barfing is no longer a concern, but Covid is. As in:
  • The Delta variant is running amok!
  • Hospital ICUs are full! If anything else goes wrong, we can’t get in.
  • What if everything around us closes down and seeing new stuff – the reason we’re headed to the Lower 48 at all – becomes impossible?
  • There are 170,000 NEW cases!
  • What if we get a positive test and are stuck in some hotel somewhere for ten days? Ordering in pizza?
  • Even being vaccinated, we could still be spreaders.
  • And almost on a par misery-wise: It’s 90° down there! Yikes, it’s more than 90°! How do people live???

Okay, I can really worry myself into a corner, but I’ve already had one trip fall apart around me when Philadelphia closed down. So packing for this trip became a stop-and-go activity; we’re going, we’re not, we’re going, we’re not.

But then Connie told me the New Mexico State Fair was happening in Albuquerque. I love state fairs! When I checked, I saw that they require full vaccination or a recent test to enter! Hooray! New Mexico, here we come!

But yes, I still have a Plan B. Wherever we are, we can just come home. We have no reservations, no commitments – just the open road.

Hello, open road.

Monday, September 6, 2021

How do I know you're you?

I was watching an old YouTube clip of musicians doing an impromptu street concert in New York City.

Then, at :46, I spotted my father in the crowd!

My father died in 1980. I haven’t “seen” him for 41 years, but this man had his build, his eyes, nose, white hair. He was even wearing clothes my father would have worn, clothes my mother would have picked out for him; he was in a leisure suit. (So it would have been before the time I asked why he was dressed like a pimp, and he glared at my mother and never wore it again.)

But it really wasn’t my father. (I’m pretty sure.) For one thing, my mother wasn’t next to him in the crowd. There is no way my father would have been in that situation – an impromptu street concert! – or remained in that situation – without my mother, and she wasn’t there. (I’m pretty sure.)

So there’s this duplicate Dad, and I know it’s not him. (I’m pretty sure.) So it leaves me wondering: what is it that makes someone someone? What is it that would make me sure that man in the movie was my father?

When I was pregnant, I read that mothers could find and identify their babies by their smell. After Sophie was born, I spent a lot of time sniffing her, memorizing her. My postpartum existential worries included whether or not I could pick her out of a crowd of babies.

I’ve read about animals and birds that throw an intruder baby out of their nest, that they can tell if it’s not one of theirs. Yet, in reading The Lost Family by Libby Copeland, a wonderful book about DNA tests, there was one terrifying photo of a cartful of babies in a Manhattan maternity hospital. The babies were collected from the mothers – without little name bracelets! – and then redistributed after baths. Apparently, a big, switched-at-birth mix-up occurred. Aiiieeee!

Well, now, I would know my daughter anywhere. When she was in a play in costume and whirled around the stage, I’d just hunt for the blond ponytail … and end up tracking Seline, who also had a blond ponytail. Seline’s parents had the same problem. And recently, in a photo she shared of her friends all dressed up at a wedding, I asked, “Who’s the one in the middle?” and it was my own daughter.

So what makes us us? How do we recognize each other?

When I would visit my parents after a long time away, I would search the airport as I disembarked with a certain bit of panic pumping my heart: would I know them? Sometimes they’d look different, they’d aged, and I’d hunt for their “them-ness.”

Okay, this may be complicated by my own prosopagnosia, facial blindness. My brain has trouble processing faces into memory unless I can link it with posture, gait, expression, hair style, voice, etc. Unfortunately, my worst case involved a boss: I would show up every Monday after a weekend off and introduce myself to the “stranger” in the office. Sometimes I just stay home because it’s too stressful to run into people I’m supposed to recognize.

One benefit of Covid and mask-wearing is that finally, I can ask people who they are without risking social gaffes. I used to cover my cluelessness by blaming it on sunglasses, bike helmets, hair styles, poor lighting, or anything else I could claim…. Now I just blame it on the mask.

In the midst of my mother’s dementia, she’d often fake it, offer exuberant hellos to friends when she had no idea who they were. So that’s a memory thing; she couldn’t remember them. But I remember my father, and in photos from my childhood, I know that’s him. Is it because I was there, I know the situation, the environment, or is there something I see?

And would I be able to see it and recognize it 41 years later if he showed up in a video on YouTube?

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Silver Lining #2

As we sit around in that halfway state of not-a-pandemic/still-a-pandemic, I still have about a zillion negatives, and they clearly outweigh the positives for both the world and the sufferers, BUT I can stretch myself to actually put a word to one more silver lining.


Did I actually write that? Did I actually put the death of live theater in a positive column?

Yes, because theater didn’t die. It transformed. Which is not saying that I don’t miss live theater – I do! – but I discovered a new way to enjoy it: Livestreamed or On Demand or Archived or however else theaters figured out how to get it to audiences.

Right away, by April 2020, I was watching London theater at home with National Theatre at Home and PBS Great Performances. By July, everyone was watching Hamilton on their TVs. And by October, I was watching theater from Los Angeles, from Oregon, and even from Isabella Rossellini’s farm on Long Island. Sometimes at crazy hours to catch a London livestream.

But I missed other people. Other people as in “let’s go see a play, let’s go out afterwards.” As in spontaneous applause, ovations, reactions. Now I know that I was missing “collective effervescence” (by the same guy who taught us about “languishing”).

So, in a rare Covid moment of energy and initiative, I emailed a few friends to watch theater with me. We’d be no more than seven – to save us from Zoom overlaps and interruptions – and talk for no more than an hour – to save us from Zoom fatigue. We’d watch a play in our own living rooms, but we’d talk about it afterwards on Zoom (with my sister hosting).

We started with Phyllida Lloyd’s The Tempest, and it blew our minds: all women – in prison! – even filmed with GoPros so we were there, on stage! From St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn – how had I missed them during my months in New York?

In the beginning, theaters were focusing on one-actor plays: easier to film, less Covid issues. So we saw some terrific one-person shows. Mary was so enthralled with Sara Porkalob’s Dragon Mama that she wants to search her out in Seattle.  And all of us think Anne O’Riordan’s performance in Irish Rep’s Ghosting topped the charts. We’re still talking about it.

We didn’t forget Shakespeare either. We saw two Julius Caesars: one all-women (from Phyllida Lloyd again) and one with standard casts. Marla thought a play about the ravages of testosterone needed men, I thought having all women emphasized the relationships, and we discovered Riki had taken courses in Shakespeare.
Fat Ham was Hamlet with a Black cast at a backyard BBQ; the play-within-a-play was a game of charades! But then the PBS Romeo and Juliet left me thinking: I hadn’t remembered Juliet’s mother being so caustic. When I checked the actual play – and Mimi is usually the one with those on hand – I discovered that by giving Lord Capulet’s lines to Lady Capulet, it really brought forth a whole new mother/daughter tension.

Sherri took notes … and changed the way I watched theater. I used to watch, enjoy, wonder about, talk about for a bit, and that was it. But once I started really watching, knowing I’d have to discuss, knowing I’d have to remember who was who and who did what, my appreciation grew. Chris says the whole experience opened her eyes to theater. We all loved The Approach, but we all had to watch it twice because it was so … meaty. And the three women, in discussing their play afterwards, said the intimacy of their conversations was actually more profound with a camera instead of having to project to a 500-person audience. How interesting!
So many different approaches to audiences, too! Every Brilliant Thing gave his audience parts, had them participating with his lists. And The Last 5 Years was a love affair in song: he started with meeting her and she started with their break-up, and their scenes moved chronologically either backwards or forwards. How creative; how heartbreaking!

The big question: What’s the difference between theater and a movie if the theater is filmed? Is it confinement to a stage, a set? We’re not sure – still debating – so I guess we have to keep watching. So far, we’ve seen 22 performances together, and I’ve watched another 34 on my own. Theater did not die during Covid!

We’re now meeting in person – all vaccinated – for our discussions. Not everyone knew each other beforehand, but now we do, and our connection helped me through darker months. Yes, we’re eager for the return of live theater; but I’m so grateful to the actors, the companies, the playwrights, and the techs who tackled a whole new medium and kept their art alive. Some days, they kept me alive, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

I Got To Be in Pictures!

I’m in a movie! A real movie with a director and cameraman and “action” and “rolling.” And a line person and locations and extras and multiple takes. This is my newest New Thing in a while!

It’s called Next to North, and it’s the brainchild of Rebecca Casselman. It’s the story of an Alaska woman returning to Alaska to heal from a Lower 48 divorce. I play GAT (Great Aunt Tonka):

Late 60s Woman

She is called Tonka because she gave Tori a Tonka truck when she was little. Gat is fun-spirited, always bringing wonder and laughter to the family. She lives out in the bush with her man Joe, only coming into town for supplies every few weeks. She is visiting to lend support to Tori and love on her great-great nieces. She likes to crack jokes and forgets to have a filter when in ‘society.’
Boy, that’s a real character stretch!

It all started because I ran into my friend Jane while hiking, and she mentioned being in some indie films. Jane and I both worked at the library, but we also did theater acting. Next thing I knew, Jane told me to call Rebecca, with whom I Zoom-auditioned, and I got the part!

Jane, Linda, and I know each other from the theater world – acting on stage. Acting where you learn your lines in the script and your character develops from one scene to another. Where your lines go in order.

“In order” is just not what movie making is about.

So sometimes, I’d be in a T-shirt for a summer scene, but afterwards I’d be in long sleeves for a prior fall scene. But that’s not the big adjustment.

Let’s say I’m saying two sentences to the two adorable great-great nieces: “I don’t live here, remember? I live out in the Bush with Joe.” So, theater actor that I am, I think I’m going to say them and hug the girls and work my emotions for leave-taking and the rest of my lines.

But someone yells cut and Darius the cameraman moves over my shoulder or over the girls’ shoulders or from the kitchen. And we do it again. And someone coughs and we do it again. And the director and cameraman confer and we do it again. Forget that I have three more sentences that are supposed to come right after with emotional content.

In theater, you have to remember that every audience is seeing the play for their first time, so you have to be fresh with every repeat performance. Here, you have to be fresh with every repeat line. And recover where you are for the next line.

So what you think they’re getting is a chopped-up, fragmented mess of lines and script. Except Darius tells me that the average shot is only seven seconds long, that I should check on my next TV show.

Oh, wow, he’s right! A man running: two seconds on his shoes, one second on a passing window, two seconds on his sweating face, one second on his looking over his shoulder, two seconds on what’s behind him, two seconds on him long-distance, etc. etc. But somehow our brain puts it all together seamlessly.

I have new respect for the editor of movies.

And for what they call the Continuity Person.

One day, Linda and I are in an autumn card-playing scene. Then, for a few days, we’re in the summer. Then we’re back to the night of the card-playing, but I think Linda is in the wrong shirt. After grappling with our Third Third memory capacities, Linda goes home to her laundry pile and returns to the set with the right shirt. We’re pretty sure.

Never mind where the tea cups were placed!

It had been quite a while since I’d acted. And suddenly, there I was with a group of actors again. You share a stage and a script and a schedule in a collaborative work of art. Everyone wishes everyone well because you share this production and you want it to succeed and you need everyone to succeed.

Movieland gives you a chance to inhabit a different world, to take a break from this one. You share lots of waiting around time – as yourself – in between the role you’re adopting. There’s something about putting on a role deliberately: because then it’s clear when you take it off. In Real Life, that’s not always clear. But for a time, with acting, you take a break from yourself, too. What a relief.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Notched Up and Flammable

Back in June, I read an article in my Head Butler newsletter from Jesse Kornbluth. He described a book, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. The passages he quotes highlight the ordinary insults/belittling/denigration African Americans face living in our society. But he said the book was like poetry, so I put it on hold at my library.

I started and finished it yesterday. It's short.

Part I of the book is bits of what white people will actually say to black people. Horrible things. But all very believable.

Who said that? She said what? What did he just do? Did she really just say that? He said what? What did she do? Did I hear what I think I heard?

Part II of the book is about Serena Williams and what she has had to put up with as a strong, black woman in the white world of tennis. Rankine describes the bad calls against Serena by tennis umpires – five of them in the 2004 U.S. Open alone.

By now, I’m enraged. I like and admire Serena Williams, but I don’t follow tennis, so I didn’t know any of the bad calls, public ridicule, etc etc. This is all new to me, and I’m in a lather. How dare they treat her like that! How dare they think her anger is uncalled for!

I am sputtering with fury, fueled with rage, so I go online to Goodreads to register that I’m “currently reading” the book.

Huh? Goodreads shows that I’ve already marked the book as “read” back in 2017. And it only has three stars.

My First Reaction
Somebody has hacked my Goodreads account! Someone is adding books to my “read” list that I haven’t read. How have they gotten my password? And they’re throwing in fake star reviews, too; this book is clearly four stars. This is terrible!

Tim, witnessing both my Serena rage and the uproar over my hacked book list, mutters something about how it wasn’t, after all, my bank account.

But this is my book list! So I inspect other books recorded for 2017: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Yes, I read those. How deep has the hacking gone?

Ah, but back in 2017, I also kept a separate, non-Internet list of books I’d read. I can check against that. And there it is: I read Citizen: An American Lyric in May of 2017.

My Second Reaction
Dementia has set in, and I am one step away from assisted living. How could I have read a book, had such a strong reaction, and have absolutely no memory of it?

I tell people I have never read Kafka, that it’s a hole in my literary history. And then, many years ago, while cleaning out my mother’s attic, I came across a paper I wrote comparing the writings of Nietzsche and Kafka. I was thorough: the bibliography was comprehensive. Yes, I know my Nietzsche well, but I have never, ever read any Kafka.

Wherever Kafka is, so is Citizen: An American Lyric.

I read the rest of the book, hoping I’ll come across an aha! moment of recognition. It doesn’t happen. What does happen is Part III and Part IV and Part V and Part VI of regular and consistent humiliations and deaths of unarmed black men and mistreatment and the squashing of anger because to be black and “Yes, and this is how you are a citizen. Come on. Let it go. Move on.” But all expressed … lyrically … so it hurts to see ugliness described beautifully.

My Third Reaction
It’s 2021 today, and 2017 must have been a long, long time ago. 2019 was a long time ago.

Like the rest of America, I’m notched up. Claudia Rankine says it herself, that these moments accumulate in the body: “I wanted the book, as much as the book could do this, to communicate that feeling. The feeling of saturation. Of being full up.”

Her book does that, but in 2021, I am already saturated. I am a tinderbox and just one more story of social injustice, of people wronged or ignored, of rights lost, and I ignite. I am just a spark away from outrage.

So is the rest of America.

My Fourth Reaction
I’m coordinating meetings with my senators in support of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Email me if you’re interested.)

There, that sounds reasonable and calm and restrained, right? Like I can conduct myself properly. You wouldn’t know the desperation I feel about things not getting better. I’m not running crazy through the streets, shouting on street corners, tearing my hair out. At least, not on the outside. (Trust me, I still am on the inside.)

My hope? That we all reach our own Fourth Reactions, whatever shape they take. We just need to do something.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Did this come in your email?

Do things look different?

Does this blog look different?

Is everything working the way it’s supposed to?

Just when I think things are stable and running smoothly, technology throws a wrench in the works. I write and illustrate the blog; then I post it. Then it gets to you and your email because you signed up. But Google did away with the sign-up thingie, so I had to find another.

It’s called If you’re reading this, then works. Hooray!

If you’re not reading this, I’m going to have a big conniption fit in the corner. I may even throw things. I’ll call my friend, Steve, who also switched over to for his blog. And maybe eventually, I’ll take deep breaths and calm down.

Whether it’s my car, my wristwatch, my scanner, or public restrooms, technology has confounded me.

It’s confounded you, too. I had to explain how to comment and share my posts after so much shared confusion.

Some of these posts go back to 2015 – technology is a problem that endures. Back then, I was still figuring out how to work an Apple TV remote.

I’m going on and on, assuming you’re here with me, that I made it into your inbox. Oh, and if you’re reading this on the website ( and not via email, you should see a great big box “To receive Our Third Thirds by email” with a big black “Subscribe” button. That’s compliments of It’s easy.

We hope.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Silver Linings

As the pandemic winds down – or so we think – leaving many dead, many long-sick, the rich richer and the poor poorer, and me with my social skills fractured; I have to admit to a silver lining. Doesn’t that sound callous? I think so. But some people might call it “looking on the bright side,” which is yet another example of my social confusion.

Anyhow, way back at the beginning, when I was in Philadelphia for my “urban infusion” month interrupted by Covid, my sister Elizabeth rescued me. She drove down from Massachusetts and retrieved me. As the reality of pandemic hit us, Elizabeth was especially nervous because she lives alone. I promised her that I would not let her feel unsupported; I would check in on her every week.

And I have.

And I even went the extra step: I included my brother, Larry.

My brother once said powerful glue held all of us together. And then, ten years ago, I stopped speaking to him. Oh, he was still cc’d on sibling emails, but no visits, no phone calls, no private emails, no contact. The glue was dissolved. The siblings were in disarray.

So disruptive was this wound that we kept it from my mother. My mother died feeling that her legacy – four kids who would stick together no matter what – was intact. It wasn’t. I spoke to my brother for the first time at her funeral. In between, I’d manage the “I can’t get away” excuse when the family gathered.

So what did he do? Never mind. To me, it was very, very big.

But I’d made a promise to Elizabeth and now it was Covid time, and there was Zoom. So the siblings – all four of us – started Zooming every Sunday: noon Alaska time, 1:00 California time, 4:00 Massachusetts time, and 10 p.m. Berlin time.


Every Sunday. Except when that was impossible, so then it was Monday. One friend called it “sacrosanct.” Yup. Every Sunday.

For two or more hours.

I suffer Zoom fatigue. No, I suffer Zoom hate. I can’t stand looking at faces in little boxes, sitting erect in front of my computer, having people talk over each other, etc etc. I have a Zoom limit of an hour (if I’m generous).

But I can Zoom with my siblings for HOURS. This is what we do: we laugh, we tease, we agree or disagree, we try not to give advice, we get tired, we prattle on meaninglessly, we comfort, we talk movies and books, we listen.

At one point, Larry held up a stapler. Immediately, Elizabeth held one up, too. “I got it from Mom; she got it from her office.” Someone else got theirs the same way. I held up mine: “I got it when I was little and it turns out it had a lifetime guarantee, so I got a new one about twenty years ago.” “Who gives a lifetime guarantee on staplers?” And off we went, proving to Larry that we could talk about anything.

Anytime Allison’s eyes start looking down, we know she’s researching something. She’s relentless. So sometimes, when we see that, we all “stop video.” She looks up to see us all gone. “Where is everybody?”

Once one of us pulled out the masks we got on a family vacation in New England. Back then, we had spent an uproarious time in the general store trying on masks, hooting and freaking out. Amazingly, now, each of us then disappeared off-screen and returned with our own masks – even in the same general store bags. We spent an hour, carrying on in masks, disguises, costumes.

After several months, I told my brother I forgave him.

I started with the sibling Zooms as a gift to Allison and Elizabeth, knowing that they needed all of us together, but I was wrong. These sibling Zooms are a gift to me.

Yes, I know all those sayings like, “Anger does more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than the object on which it is poured,” but I’d felt wronged.

How wrong I was. I might have called this post Pearl of Wisdom #3 except that I’m too slow a learner. I don’t feel very wise. I feel foolish and stubborn. I needed a 2x4 to the head; I needed a pandemic!

Life is short. Love is long. I love my siblings, all of them. Thank you, Covid. Thank you, Zoom.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Quest for New-ness #5

When I first started this blog, I was really intent on my Quest for New-ness. On my website, my New Thing label has 84 posts, more than any other. I described it this way:

If I don’t want to get stale in my Third Third, I need newness. I need jolts and shake-ups. Actually, my whole life has been about wanting and liking jolts and shake-ups, but the difference is that now I feel I need them to ward off any encroaching stagnation.

And that was even before the relentless staleness of Covid-19.

So here I am after days weeks months of same-old-same-old. But then we got vaccinated and Tim announced, “Off to Maui!” which jolted me so badly I had to hide for a while. But I emerged, boarded the plane, and traded Alaska snow and cold for Maui sun and heat.

This is the thing about sun and heat: you can lie down in it, you walk around in shorts and tank tops in it, you put sunscreen on in it. You maybe stay indoors during the hottest part of it, but mostly you are breathing air-that-has-not-been-in-four-walls – outside air! You do that for most of the day. It’s kind of miraculous.

But you still have to eat, you still have to acquire food and do something with it – cook it or order it or look at a menu about it. You still have to take showers and wash your hair. You still have to brush your teeth. You still have to put dirty clothes in the dirty-laundry bag.

You still have to wake up and go to sleep. You still have to decide what you’re going to do today: hike or beach or pool? You still have to get in a car that you’ll drive to wherever you might want to sightsee. The car will still need gas. If you read a book, you still have to open it and turn the pages.

Do you see where I’m going here? Most of our days repeat most of our days no matter where we are. And if you’re suffering from too much routine and the psychologists report an emotional state of “languishing,” then you just might not be getting the New-ness your spirit requires.

I grew up on Long Island, so I grew up on water. Beaches and pools. During those sticky, humid days, water was our sanity, our pleasure, and our thrill. I would body surf till my scalp was covered in sand, till I carried loads of sand in my swimsuit. The town pool was daily until my friends got driver’s licenses, then the beach became a daily after work option. I am better in water than on land.

And on Maui, the water is delightful. You can swim in it and play around in it, but it’s very shallow. The thing you can’t do is body surf in it. You just can’t grab a wave and let it take your body over a four-inch surf. That must be why everyone is holding a boogie board, which I don’t quite get: is it like a toy? A baby surfboard?

One of the new things on this trip was staying in a condo. We’d never done that. In this condo was a supply closet with beach chairs and beach mats, umbrellas and towels, flippers and wet suits. And boogie boards. It was like a personal summertime R.E.I.

So we took the boogie boards to the beach. Let me tell you about boogie boarding!

I stood out there, holding the board in front of me. I know my waves; I picked a good one at the right time, threw myself forward on the board.

And I flew!       I was a bullet, flying through the water or the air or whatever it was! 

I was on top of the whole world 

until the wave disappeared below me and dropped me down – free fall! – to the next wave which caught me and took me to shore

where the next wave positively drove me up the beach on two inches of water and sand.

Aaaiiieeee! It was incredible!

When the water went out, the board was buried in sand and I had to dig it out.

I woke up.

That’s it: my fog lifted and light emerged. It wasn’t the adrenaline rush of risk (I gave up terror after the Chilkoot Trail), and no fear was involved in this at all: we’re talking shallow shore breaks. It was the sheer delight of New-ness. A brand-new experience had entered my life, charged new neurons, ignored the same-old-same-old.

Finally, an 85th New Thing!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Elusiveness of Normal

I’m not sure I can be normal again.

I’m fully vaccinated, about to leave 29° snow behind for a vacation in Maui, and these are my thoughts: Should I take some calming medication before sitting on a crowded airplane with a mask on for five hours? This is a plane where everyone has had to have a negative Covid test within 72 hours, but that’s not it.

I’m not scared of Covid; I’m scared of realizing that normal is no longer possible.

I look back at the past year; I’ve made a family recipe art book, tackled art projects, organized an online theater-watching group, read a bazillion books. I even was incredibly excited about getting a chocolate-dipped ice cream pop!

But now, I wake up adrift. Plans don’t excite me. I’m sick of snow, sick of skiing, sick of Netflix, sick of cooking, sick of grocery store pickup ordering, sick of my computer. I started posting poetry on signs on my yard, and now I’m sick of poetry. Sometimes I actually don’t feel like reading, which is truly cataclysmic. Vaccination has been like spotting a finish line and totally sagging before you cross it.


We just restarted our athletic club membership so I could swim again … and I haven’t gone. I’m not worried about catching Covid at the club, not worried about germs. I’m worried that swimming won’t feel good.

Early on in my Third Third, I discovered the Big Three that were necessary for a happy Third Third:

Without teaching at the Alaska Literacy Program, without in-person classes with OLÉ, my days have become sort of adrift. My ability to adapt has petered out. The only schedule I have is on the computer: a writing class, author interviews, recorded theater. Only occasionally am I “of use.” My community is on Zoom.

Our daughter quit her first job, one she had loved. For the last year, I characterized our phone calls as her trying to convince herself she was happy with her job. She faced workplace issues complicated by working remotely, and she was valiant in framing things positively, but her heart was no longer in it. It became just too hard and she quit. Hooray! She radiates happiness now. I’m a big supporter of eliminating negative conditions quickly and decisively.

But the ones I’m in – the ones we’re all in – just aren’t quickly and decisively going away, and I’m losing the ability to convince myself that “X will be fun; let’s do X!” Or even “I feel like doing X.” Or even “X has to be done, suck it up and do it.” I don’t suck it up anymore; I just drift.

I know that my negative conditions don’t include illness or death, job loss, or eviction – as many people’s do – and I’m grateful for that. I know that the snow I’m sick of covers a yard I may appreciate when the snow melts. For goodness sake, I’m heading to Maui! (stop whining!) But I also know that the Big Three for a happy Third Third have been disrupted, and it will take time to re-create the Third Third that works for me.

We’ve had our first fully-vaccinated guests for dinner, been guests for the first time in someone else’s fully-vaccinated home. Both those times felt just like the old normal once we were in them. Really. But they took some psychic lifting to actually do them. They’re still not a new normal.

We may have landed in this pandemic suddenly, but I think we’re going to have to lift ourselves out of it with baby steps.


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