Uncontained and immortal beauty

Today is the 55th anniversary of my birth. I am well aware that this milestone is being eclipsed by an even more remarkable celestial event, but this post is not about that. It’s all about the reasons I started blogging six years ago at the beginning of my 50th year: Death, Nature, and the Meaning of It All. I thought it was pretty good even though it got exactly zero “likes”.  I had no followers back then. So I’m reblogging it.

scillagrace

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay on Nature in 1836:

“Nature never wears a mean appearance.  Neither does the wisest man extort all her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection.  Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit.  The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected all the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood…The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood….Standing on the bare ground, –my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes.  I become a transparent eye-ball.  I am nothing.  I see all.  The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God…I am the…

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The Grandparent Project: Part Fourteen

Happy Birthday Uncle David!

The Grandparent Project is my online photo history, linking my family in California to my children in the Midwest. Today, I’m posting photographs of our visit West for Christmas in 2004. My kids are 13, 15, 17 and 19. 

And because today is David’s birthday, I want to post some photos of special friends of his. Christmas time in San Francisco is cool and clear. Leaving the Midwest snow behind to play on the coast is a real treat. 

Hanging out with cousins is a treat, too. 

Two generations of siblings…

And one Grandalf to love them all!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ooh, Shiny!

“Hey, look! A plastic castle!”

No thank you. Plastic? Yuck. Man made? Not interested. 

My favorite diversions, distractions, and delightful detours are definitely of the flowers-and-butterflies variety.

Polygonia comma

Gray treefrog

Blue vervain

But to tell you the truth, these things are not merely beautiful bagatelles. These are the elements of a grand eco-system, the intrinsic parts of a working Universe. And so I am trying to be that disciplined, working person that focuses on protecting these habitats. They are not my distraction, then, they are my day plan. 

Ooh, Shiny!

The Grandparent Project: Part Thirteen

In July of 2003, Grandpa George celebrated his 70th birthday at the historic Benbow Inn in Garberville, California. This was one of his favorite places. He first took me there in 1985, when we were traveling to Oregon for my sister Sarah’s wedding with my 9-month-old daughter, Susan. I was quite impressed and loved feeling pampered. There was a decanter full of sherry in my room. That was the absolute clincher!

It is easy to see why he liked it so well. It’s just his style: elegant and close to nature. He spent the days hiking the redwood trails and the beach…And in the evening, he’d dress for cocktails and dinner. On his special day, the dining room packed us a picnic to take into the forest. How perfect to celebrate his life in the company of tall redwood trees, “Humbolt Fog Goats”, and the magnificent coast!  

My brother grew very fond of this place as well. It was one of the first places he vacationed with his wife. He has a pretty interesting story about that trip, too…..

Theater Lessons

This article appears in The Be Zine. To see the entire issue on theater, click HERE

What has Theater taught me? Ego indulgence and humility. Confidence and neurosis. Teamwork and competition. Empathy and retreat. Deception and honesty. The story of humanity in a microcosm. My story.

When I was a little kid, I learned that I could entertain and amuse my parents and my older sisters and get positive attention. As the youngest of four daughters, I was eager to exercise this talent to my advantage whenever my ego felt bereft. This helped me compensate for having fewer general skills and powers than my seniors. I couldn’t win at games or read or figure or run better than the rest, but I could sing and mime and look cute. I also was the only blonde, which helped.

When I was in second grade, I was very good at reading aloud “with expression”. I remember (and still have a written report about) my behavior when the class did a Reader’s Theater story about a snake. I told the teacher that I had a toy snake the class could use…provided that I got to read the lead role. Mrs. Richie declined my offer.

When I was in third grade, Miss White selected me to play Captain Hook in the musical Peter Pan. I was stunned. “I’m not a boy!” I protested. She told me privately that she thought I’d do a better job than any of the boys in the class. She could tell that I was a ham and would take risks to win attention and applause. And I did. In the final week of rehearsal, she gave me a monologue, a poem in rhyme that she would put into a particular scene if I could memorize it. I worked on it very hard. In the final performance, though, I skipped it altogether because I forgot where it was supposed to be inserted. To this day, I can rattle it off by heart. “Methinks I hear a spark, a gleam, a glimmer of a plan….”

The pirate theme lives on in my legacy.

When I was in seventh grade, I was double-cast as the lead in our pre-Bicentennial musical. I was the Spirit of ’75 for two performances (why the Music teacher and the Home Ec teacher chose this theme a year early is anyone’s guess). So was Kevin Bry. Yes, I played a man. Again. I vividly remember being in performance and feeling sort of bored with the dialogue the teachers had written to link together the songs the school chorus had rehearsed. So I decided to overact. “The sun still rises in the East….doesn’t it????!!” The audience roared. I think they were pretty bored, too.

When I was in High School, I took real Drama classes. I learned to dance, and I gained some confidence singing solos in the Concert Choir and the Jazz Choir. I became a lot more aware of my own vulnerability, too. I will never forget the Talent Show in my Junior year. I was in a leotard and character shoes, posed and ready to dance when the curtain went up. I was listening for our taped music to begin. And I heard nothing…until the audience started to howl and whistle. Suddenly, I felt naked and taunted. Then the music started, and I couldn’t concentrate on it. I was humiliated. My father and mother and boyfriend (who became my husband) were in the audience, hearing those students jeering at me. We all went out for ice cream afterward, and they tried to convince me that the performance wasn’t bad and the audience wasn’t being critical, but I just wanted to block the whole thing out of my memory forever. Obviously, I haven’t.

When I was in college, I was a Music major with Voice Performance as my Senior thesis. I auditioned for a part in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta as a Junior. I hate auditions. I tend to choke when I know that someone is out there in those dark seats judging me. I am awesome in rehearsal – prepared, alert, willing and tireless. I was working hard, getting better at performance in my Master Classes and feeling more and more that my teachers and colleagues were actually rooting for me. But not at an audition. I was nervous, my mouth was dry, and my voice wavered. I could see my choir teacher in the house, talking with the casting director. I am sure that Prof. Lamkin was telling him that I was a very good soprano despite my weak scale runs in Mabel’s aria. I managed to land a part in the chorus.

That’s me, third lady on the left.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with my B.A. in Music, I auditioned for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Worst audition EVER! Oh well. I found out that I was already pregnant. Got the role of Mother at age 22…and 24…and 26…and 28, and stayed off the stage for years. Meanwhile, my husband performed all over the country with a competitive Barbershop quartet and once at Carnegie Hall with the Robert Shaw Chorale Workshop. My children were on stage quite a bit, too. I was their coach. They were in all the school concerts and plays, took dance and music classes, and I watched and cheered and videotaped my heart out.

Then some neighbors invited me to help them start a Community Theater. I was tired of being in the background. I stepped up, and brought my oldest daughter with me. The next summer, I brought three of my children, my husband, and my mother-in-law as rehearsal accompanist. The next summer, it was just me, and my husband told me that he wouldn’t be able to solo parent while I was at rehearsal after this. Meanwhile, he was performing with the Chicago Master Singers and rehearsing every week. A few years later, my youngest daughter started taking theater classes with a group called CYT. The next summer, they did a community theater production, and I auditioned again and got cast. My oldest daughter played in the pit band. One of the performances was on my birthday, and the director brought me out on stage for the audience to sing for me during intermission. * shucks, folks! *

I ended up working for CYT and becoming their Operations Supervisor full time. In addition, I taught Voice classes and Musical Theater classes and Show Choir classes to kids aged 8-18 after work. All of my children and my husband participated at some point in the seven years I was employed there. I watched kids grow up in the theater, auditioning three times a year, growing in confidence and artistry, and questioning their identity every time.

“Who am I, anyway? Am I my résuméThat is a picture of a person I don’t know.” A Chorus Line 

Accessing emotions, improvising with another person’s energy – initiation, response, vulnerability, defense. Mime, mimicry, mannerisms, artifice and accents. Playing in the muck of human behavior. This is Theater. It can be devastating and edifying. You can lose yourself and find yourself or never know the difference.

I wonder if I should regret raising up a bunch of performers and encouraging them in this charade or if I should be proud to have modeled survival in the arena. I don’t know. It’s complex. We’re complex. And maybe that’s the entire lesson.

The Grandparent Project: Part Twelve

Welcome to the 12th installment of The Grandparent Project! This is an endeavor to revisit family memories with my relatives in California and my children in the Midwest by posting digital copies of my old snapshots and piecing together our shared history. It’s been a great adventure in itself as well as a reminder of the incredible journey we’ve already had. 

Today’s episode takes place in the year 2002 at Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Grandpa George was 69 years old and an avid hiker. My siblings and I can probably all agree that his model inspired us. I am glad to say that he may also have inspired my children. At the time of this visit, they were 17, 15, 13, and 11 and their cousin Cristina was 9. My mom and my husband were physically not up to hiking the trail we chose this time, so they stayed back at the condo (with Susan and Emily?) while the rest of us went to find Lake George. My father was always the leader, a very strong presence and authority and a keen map-reader. This was the first time I saw him falter in his sense of direction. What is now apparent is that he was beginning to come under the grip of Alzheimer’s disease. I am very glad to have pictures of him on this day. It was a gorgeous trek and fitting that it centered on a destination that shares his name. 

Some of us also went horseback riding on that trip…

We went through Yosemite National Park as well on the way back to the Bay Area. My husband and I had gone there on a date way back when I was still in High School. He picked me up at four in the morning and returned me to my parents’ house by midnight. I was thrilled to go, but it was a lot of driving. Returning to the park with my children two decades later, I couldn’t help feeling sad and disappointed at how much smog and congestion were visible. It makes sense that my California family avoids that particular area and chooses less well-known sites in the Sierras to hike.

I would love to arrange future family hikes in the Sierras. Let’s see how many of us can get out on the trail when we’re 69!

*Footnote photo – taken when we got back to the homestead in Los Gatos.  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Elemental

“Explore the classical elements of earth, air, water, and fire. How do you capture something invisible like air, or the movement of water? Or, more personally, is there a place you go to feel connected to the earth?”

Air, water and fire form a double rainbow touching Earth. 

Sitting on the ground beside a lake, the campfire behind him dancing in the air. 

Connected to the earth, from head to toe. 

Elemental