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.

Welcome to the Academy Awards!!

I love going to the movies, I really do. There is something spectacular about sitting side by side in the theatre and sharing the experience. I love listening to other folks laugh or cry just as I am doing, and then chatting with strangers in the bathroom afterwards. Quite magical actually.  
Now we are in the middle (or the end?) of the Oscar season and buzz. For the second year in a row, Carolyn and I are on the Oscar tilt-a-whirl. It started back in November when I cautiously approached the subject, “So, are we in? Another year?” Of course, we were in for another year and the race began.

My studio became (and is still) littered with articles about the movies from KPC to the New York Times to the Washington Post to anything else that provides us information. The best information is to go see the movies!

As a kid, I loved the movies even if I was a bit oblivious to the Oscars. My mom and dad took all of us out of school to see “The Sound of Music.” I remember thinking that the movie must be important to take us out of school, and we loved it! The day before I left for college, I took all my brothers and sisters to the Rialto in Fort Wayne to see “Heidi.” I guess it was my going away movie. In addition, the movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” became an important one for me. I watched it four times in one day at the theatre.

It is great having The Brokaw Movie House in town. It seems I spend lots of my free time there and always have a comment or two for Dave. Sometimes I think I am personally responsible for his movie choices, at the least the ones I want to see! (Thanks Dave!)

The Strand brought lots of color to our downtown also. I still miss hanging out there and listening to the stories even without going in to the movies. Once, I went to a midnight opening of a movie…I do not even remember now what it was. I was so excited to go to this event. I went alone so no one to chat to or keep me awake and I fell asleep curled up in one of the chairs. When I woke up, the theatre was dark, no one was in there, and it was quite creepy. Luckily, someone was still cleaning up in the lobby. I did not want to spend the night alone in The Strand!
Following the Oscar trail is always a challenge for us. We usually check in each morning to see what is where. Our first love is The Brokaw, but sometimes we have to follow the stars to Auburn, to Fort Wayne, to the Cinema Center, to the Video Store, to the library, and to Netflix and Amazon Prime. We still have the shorts and the animated films to see which will be tomorrow afternoon at the Tibbits in Coldwater. (We are really cutting it close here!)

You want my predictions, right? I will give you my predictions and my personal choices. I think our next job could be similar to Siskel and Ebert. We could call ourselves Homan and Powers! My predictions are based on viewing each film and choosing for myself. For best picture, I vote for “Little Women,” but that one will not win. The winner will be “1917.” I am voting for Renee Zellweger in “Judy” for best actress. She will win. Original screenplay goes to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” but I loved “Marriage Story.” Best director will be Sam Mendes. Best actor in a leading role will be Joaquin Phoenix, but my vote goes to Adam Driver. (Do you not love that man?) Best supporting actor will go to Anthony Hopkins. He was brilliant in “The Two Popes.” Best actress in a supporting role will be Laura Dern in “Marriage Story,” but wow, Kathy Bates was wonderful too.
I won’t go on and on about make up or costume design, unless you want me to? There were so many movies and my list is full.

Tomorrow night Carolyn and I will wear our fake diamonds and fancy dresses. Elten will make specialty cocktails and the party will commence. We have not decided on a prize for the winner yet, but we will.

Most of all, what a fun way to spend a cold winter…good friends, popcorn, and movies. Cheers!