Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Then and Now...Enjoy!

Last year's ukulele camp!!

Today is the first day of ukulele camp. I love ukulele camp. We play from morning til night, and this year is a tribute to the 60’s. Ah, yes, my kind of music. At 4:00 this afternoon there is a mall concert and an hour long of playing the Beatles. I have waited for ukulele camp for a full year because I love it so much. I have the best hippie clothes and earrings! 

But, I am not there. With everything packed and neatly stacked by the front door, Carolyn called. You know the discussion. We decided not to go. 

My disappointment is just one of hundreds, of thousands across this world of ours. And as I sit writing, cancelations of events keep tumbling in across the Internet lines. One by one each event falls, much like a game of dominos. I am trying to wrap my head around this just like you. Each event is not just a cancelation or postponement, but a change in our lives. Our work, our travel, our joy, our sorrows are all put to the test right now. 

I am as sad as you are, and for now, it is hard to keep my tears from spilling across my laptop as I write. I don’t know how to adjust to all of this so I am not going to try and be a politician or a medical specialist or as someone in charge.
No, I am just like you with a house to run, bills to pay, a community to support. What do we do now? I don’t know, really. 

One step at a time for most of us, right? By now we have all probably filled our shelves with the basics: Clorox, Nyquil, Tylenol, and toilet paper. (Really, what is that all about? Ha!) I actually have made those purchases. They are in a basket on the shelf. I did not get in any groceries, no, the cupboard is completely bare. (Traveling for two weeks and then ukulele camp!) I guess that is next on the agenda. Fill the shelves with a couple weeks of food is a good idea.

Okay, we have food and supplies. What’s next? I guess I would say we need to feed our soul in these times, and that might be more difficult. I have been thinking about this all week. How do we, as a society of movers and shakers, survive this free fall? The first thing is to keep our minds active. Thinking about all of this, all of the time, is not healthy. Turn off the news. Pick up a book…a lovely book. The libraries are all still open. Pop on in and get books. Hey while you are there, get some for the kids! I have a stack of books just waiting to be read so now is the time! Getting lost in a book is such a delicious way to live!!

When you are not reading, the next best thing it to head outside. We are so lucky it is springtime and not January. Open your windows to let the fresh air come in to wash away the winter dust, and then go outside. I have packets of early seeds such as spinach and kale that are just waiting to be planted. With shovel in hand, I will be planting. Dirt is good for the soul. And a note to my neighbors, I will be raking up the Autumn leaves. (They really are enriching to the soil!) When the weather warms up, I will get back to fence painting. No, really, I am. 

Take a spin around the block on your bike. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Send those kiddos outside to play. They must get outside to refresh their little brains too. It is spring in northern Indiana, and we are so grateful.

Now to the most important task ahead of us: let us take care of one another…our families, our neighbors, our communities. Be on call for special deliveries or a cheery wave out the window. Sit out on the stoop and watch the stars come out, or get up early and listen to the birds. They keep singing, and soon the peepers!
We can all get through this together. Our world is a little different right now, but it is still our world. Take the time to be quiet and listen. 

As for me, I will play my ukulele on the porch each evening. 

Above all, wash your hands!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Spending the day at the Angola Carnegie Library

Miss Jessica

The Angola Carnegie Library is quiet at 8:00 a.m. The silent sound of the furnace chugging mingles with the unread books. The sun is just beginning to crawl across the eastern horizon with a few slanting rays peaking in the windows. 

It is on this day that I hold court with all my Trine classes. Once a semester we take our satchels and books down the hill to the library to explore, and learn about our town library. Perhaps a little history lesson of Andrew Carnegie will be thrown in to the mix. (Who was Andrew Carnegie, they ask?)

Jessica Boyd, or as most children call her, Miss Jessica, is always willing, able and enthused to host this plethora of students into her sacred children’s space each semester. Jessica comes in early to unlock the doors, turn on the lights, and get the pets all settled. Today is National Pet Day so her dog is spending the day also!
I arrange the books I have gathered from yesterday’s foray into the stacks as I wait for the students. The early morning temperatures are barely into the teens so I expect them to drive the few blocks and still come in complaining (or just chatting) about the cold. I am not wrong. With planning the night before, the chairs are gathered and arranged in a circular fashion around the sacred books. The students come in, take seats, and Jessica gives her welcome speech. When she asks how many have been here before, there are just a couple of hands in each class. The two of us look at each other with a “tsk, tsk!”

When she is finished, I continue on with class in the warmth of the surrounding books. It is delightful to be here on this cold winter’s day. The day and the books spill around me like the winter’s sun. One class leaves…another class comes in.
Between the visits, I sit among the books and peruse. I often have the sinking feeling of so many books and so little time, but on this day, I am comforted by the thought I have read so many of these books. I read from Muir and Thoreau. I pick up Jan Brett and Maurice Sendak. And, for some reason, I pick up “The House at Pooh Corner” by A.A. Milne. 

As I read through the book, I note to myself how much this should be an adult novel. I find my favorite passage and find myself crying. “. . . what I like doing best is Nothing." "How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time. "Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.”

Doing nothing sounds so lovely, although it is something I do not do very often. I make a promise to myself to add that to my daily activities. 

During the next break of students, I look up more information on A.A. Milne, 1882-1956. Milne was a prolific writer, screenplay writer, novelist until the publication of “The House at Pooh Corner.” The book was such a great success that he was forever known as a children’s writer. Christopher Robin was actually based on his own son, Christopher Robin Milne. His own Christopher played with a stuffed piglet and tiger along with a pair of kangaroos. The Hundred Acre Woods was also based on Ashdown Forest which was close to his home.

Milne was a writer, a soldier, and an editor. He once wrote, “A writer wants something more than money for his work; he wants permanence.” With his Pooh stories, he certainly has attained that.

The students come and go. Jessica gives tours. I talk endlessly until the clock on the wall tells me it is time to let them go. “Have a great weekend,” I say, “perhaps try to do nothing?”

At the end of the day, I stack the books. Drew Hemlock will have the pleasure of finding homes for all of them tomorrow. I pack up my own bag, say my farewells to the Carnegie staff and head on home.

Work and activities including theatre and hosting Jonah for a week fill my hours, but perhaps I can sneak away for a bit myself and just do “nothing.” What could be lovelier on a cold winter’s day?
Why not try it?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day!

It is Valentine’s weekend. There are reminders all over this old house. Pale pink tulips adorn my dining room table. (They are a gift to myself!) Heart shaped cookies sit in the kitchen waiting for midnight? (Thank you, Libby!) Four empty bags of candy consumed by my Trine students. (Thank you for eating all the candy so I will not have to do it.) Photos of my children and grandchildren cover my refrigerator. They greet me with their smiling, sweet faces every time I head to the kitchen. Notes and cards from friends adorn my fireplace and piano. I think love abounds in this old house.

But let us take a stroll into the studio on this cold Saturday morning. I turn on the lights…yes, one is the old red shaggy lamp. My studio is the one room I can never keep clean. It is covered with writings, schoolwork, and bills (where did I put that electric bill?) Pens, tape, stapler, signs, banners (Let Women Vote), scrapbooks, ukulele music, and finally, the small heater. I plug it in on this bitterly cold day, take a seat and take another look.

For six months, my little studio has watched me work on the Madison show from packing up to leave for research, to coming home with notes and photos and books. Writing. Re-writing. Writing. Re-writing. Scripts printed and printed repeatedly.

John, from Madison, calls often asking me how I am doing, or did I find the shtick yet, or did I find anything new? I laugh and tell him to be patient. In November, I told you about the lost love letters I found. I think I am so incredibly lucky to uncover lost love letters. 

In addition to writing the show, it is my sole responsibility to wrap it around the best possible scenario. My choice for this show came via my new neighbor, Aimee Simons. Aimee and her husband, Nate, moved into my neighborhood last summer. I love having them here. Aimee is a professional concert flutist. (I must add not every neighborhood has their own flutist!) One day I had the best idea to invite Aimee into my show. Maybe yes? Maybe no? I think intrigue brought her in out of her own curiosity about what I do for a living. Perhaps my enthusiasm for the show kept her involved. Rehearsals have been lots more fun because of her!

Tomorrow is our show date! At 11 in the morning Elten, Carolyn, Kathy, Aimee and I will head to Indianapolis for the premiere. Carrying in props and costumes, we will head to the green room and then to the stage for our tech rehearsal with lights and sound. Finally…finally…I will sit alone in my shaft of light, as is my tradition. “Shhh…” they say, “you know, she is sitting in the shaft of light.” What happens in the shaft of light, you ask? Everything falls from my mind. Everything. As with most artists, this must happen. Nothing but the show. Because I am portraying the character of Mary Shrewsbury, I must become her. 

Mary lived in the Shrewsbury/Windle house for 75 years of her life leaving only to attend school in Maryland for a short time. She wanted to go back to become a teacher or go to Paris, but, as tragedies unfolded in that house, she never went back. She became the caretaker of the house as well as the caretaker of the stories.
In preparing for the role of Mary, I have read and re-read her journals, her letters, and her unanswered love letters. I have followed her into each room of the house and to the cemetery where the Shrewsbury family is buried. I have smiled at her joys, cried with her over her sorrows. And, as with all characters I become, they can never leave me. 

On this Valentine’s weekend, my studio echoes with the voices of Gene Stratton Porter, T.C. Steele, Mary Shelley, and so many obscure voices from the past. All had a story to tell. All had love letters or secrets of the heart.

Where to next, I wonder? When I come home and put Mary away, what new character will occupy my imagination? Perhaps I need a rest from all of this, but then again, Elizabeth Barrett Browning looms large on my horizon. So…is she next?

Did she not write, “How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways?”

Happy Valentine’s weekend, my friends. See you on the other side.