Friday, October 28, 2011


For pragmatic reasons, I love the routine. I love the structure of it. I love knowing that my days are free. I know where I'm going at night. I know my life is kind of orderly. I just like that better.
Andrea Martin

I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours, a fixed salary, and very little original thinking to do.
Roald Dahl

I'm craving routine. I have very little of it, but that which I do have I cling to. I measure my cereal and coconut milk into the bowl each morning--a cup of each. I add an ounce of nuts--almonds or walnuts. And if I have a banana, I dice that up as well. I bless my food with the Christian Orthodox prayer for food, making the sign of the cross over my bowl as I murmur. And I eat.

From there on out, my days are utter chaos.

This isn't working so well for me.

In order to live in the realm of the imagination, which I need to do to complete works of fiction and to work as an actor, my daily life needs to be full of rest and routine. That's what I need, anyways. I'm sure not every writer and actor feels that way, but when you're throwing yourself into the fire for the hours you are doing the work of the imagination, it's nice to come out to a resting place, a known world, where rules and flavors are familiar, where people follow guidelines.

I think I'd be very happy working the early morning shift baking doughnuts. Baking screams for consistency.

One thing that isn't consistent is the academic calendar. It's full of ebbs of intense work followed by less intense work, followed by no work for weeks or even months on end. I currently work the academic calendar, and while the idea of being a creative working in academia seems a good idea--with the flexibility of schedule and summers and breaks free--there seems to be whole weeks that go by that don't allow one inch of room to jump into the imagination. This results in a spiritual death and looming depression for me.

Some of my colleagues seem to work well in the chaos, and they have ways of squeezing in their creative work, but I haven't found that yet.

I'm just now working on what my lunch routine will be. I want to find three lunches that I can rotate. Vegetables and protein. Protein and vegetables.

However, I will start a new routine tomorrow morning. From here on out, I will stop every day at 3 PM and write for 10 minutes, then I will sing for ten minutes, then I will write for another ten minutes, then I will memorize lines for ten minutes, then I will sing for another ten minutes. I will follow all this by staring off into space for the last ten minutes of the hour.

Please do not disturb signs will go up wherever I am at three pm on the dot starting tomorrow.

Please do not disturb.

This is a matter or utmost importance. My very life depends upon it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alone with Words

Tonight, I broke into that space I used to call "The Big Lonely" and started a creative writing project, one that's messy and uncertain. One in which the characters are apt to take up arms and turn against me and my best laid plans.

The difference between a larger writing project and a blog, written with a sense of immediacy in terms of completion and finding an audience is like the difference between dipping into warm inviting bathwater and plunging into the deep end of cold pool. Starting and sustaining a larger writing project hurts. It takes muscle. I may imagine that this blog will some day become a book, but I'm sitting down to write a book--I'm instead sitting down to write to a readership of perhaps a half dozen or dozen close friends who happen to take the time to look at it after I post it onto Facebook on any given day. But when I write a short story, a play, or--God forbid, a novel--I don't know if I'll have even one friendly reader or if the project will ever be completed.

Now, I write a few poems every week. These are not nearly as painful as a major fiction or playwriting project because I've trained myself for the last 22 years to turn out poems like breakfast scones--by the dozen. Sure, there were periods when I cared deeply about poetry and when it pained me, I'd say even gravely pained me. But after doing two years of a poem a day and then several random Aprils of a daily poem along with dailies through Advent and Lent, I kind of just found a way to crank them out, as if I was a kind of poetry factory. Are they good? On occasion, one will surprise me as such. And usually after not writing poems for awhile, they'll sound more fresh, as I wield some new vocabulary or romance in the making. But I've been cranking them out since the first of April--one a day that month and a few a week since then as part of this daily-hide-a-poem-in-a-plastic-egg art project I've managed to rope several other poets into doing with me. I have X-man to blame for that, as I'd posted randomly on Facebook, without giving it a second thought, "I'm going to put a poem in a plastic egg every day for a year and hide it somewhere in Merced," and X-man read it back to me and sort of challenged me to do, even participating wholeheartedly as poet and egg-hider the first several weeks. Even though I've forgiven him everything else (almost), I have yet to forgive him for abandoning me to this task that I never meant seriously. I even had to find a purveyor of plastic eggs during August when I ran out of the donated ones. And now I have devoted egg-hunters who loyally search for the eggs every night.

But I digress: poems aren't stories--they don't often have those pesky characters that get under your skin and take you for a ride, a ride that the length of is not up to you, but these imaginary so-called friends.

So, this afternoon, I plunged into the deep cold pool, and here I go--just five pages in to what is not meant to be more than a 30 page play as its a commissioned project--and I'm lost. I'm not good for socializing with real humans, I'm breathing Alma, Bessie, Charley, and Lester and their almond orchard. I'm making up melodies for the songs they sing to each other and I'm wondering if trees could talk, what would they say. . .(more on that another day). I have entered the fictional world landscape and you won't be able to get me out until the third week of December, which is soon enough, and my deadline for the script. So bear with me, I won't write about these people often, but they will likely pepper the blog for the next couple of months.

And here's the thing---I rarely give myself the time to take on projects such as this, but I absolutely and utterly feel more at home alone with words than almost anywhere in the world. The only other place I feel equally at home is on stage performing (as an actor or a bass player/singer or Sweetie Pie). I'm the luckiest person in the world when I'm alone with words, even when my main characters are running me ragged. (Usually they are dying, which is a generally depressing road to be on. On occasion, they are falling in love, but we'll see to it, since I've recently become cynical about love, that that doesn't happen in this particular writing project!)

To words, then! My wine!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Beautiful Revolution

"OK Amigos: Let's get one thing straight. The Occupy Wall Street protests ARE Peaceful. They are NOT dangerous. They are SAFE. I was there two nights ago when some skirmishes took place with police... a small isolated percentage of the group. This is not the point of the protests and the media will blow it up out of proportion.

The real story is that Zuccatti Park has become a revolutionary labor
atory for people to discuss and eventually act upon rebuilding society from the ground up. Please don't be afraid to come down and participate in these discussions or to demonstrate your own dissatisfaction with the economy, the government, and corporate greed because YOU are a stakeholder in the political process. (I know it's hard to feel this way sometimes).

THIS IS THE MOMENT. DON'T WATCH IT. LIVE IT. I hope to see more familiar faces at the next rally. Let's go together. But come down any time... there'll be a crowd waiting for you... xo" --Steve Ausbury

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty . . . And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." --Thomas Jefferson.

The development of weapons that only the government has possession has has been part of this country's undoing. As long as we, as citizens, could be on even footing with the military, we could've fought for our freedom again in these years of constriction. However, since we don't have that option with any survival, the revolutionaries of the 20th and 21st century have had to revolt with the genius and beauty of nonviolent demonstrations. Unfortunately, while protesters are nonviolent and unarmed, police forces are armed. With that knowledge, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "A man who won't die for something is not fit to live."

I love my life as much as the next person, but I find myself in a bind. I can no longer have the freedom to pursue my own happiness as is to be constitutional right, as I'm a slave to the banks and the medical industry. If, in the pursuit of happiness, I quit my current job that offers health insurance and, while a below median salary, a "livable" wage, I will be threatened with homelessness, and, well, death, as I live with a life-threatening illness that requires daily life-saving medication that is incredibly costly. Along with being personally bound, I work for the university system, a system in which the majority of students will exit with a bachelor's degree and at least $50,000 in debt, making them slaves to big banks, with not much facing them on the job front.

I cannot, in good conscious, not join the Occupy Movement.

Let me point out the fact I've avoided almost all things political for the past ten years or so. I'd been passionate about politics from the time my parents sat me down in front of the television when Richard Nixon resigned. When I was twelve, I read The Hundredth Monkey and planned protests against all things nuclear. That same year, I hosted a carnival to raise funds for endangered species. However, I also grew up feeling terrified of any person in authority. My need for justice usually resulting in my falling into tears any time I tried to stand up for myself.

A combination of intense fear of authority, and the normal distractions of puberty turned me away from politics for a long time. I voted but cared too intensely and so after the United States invaded Afghanistan, my anger rising to new heights, I just shut off my mind to all things political because I literally couldn't function with the emotions it brought up in me. I spent the next ten years without even owning a television and having very little access to a television.

I suppose I've had the grace to mature over the last ten years. For some reason, I haven't had an extreme emotional response to the country's extraordinary inequities. This puts me in the lovely position to act from a place of thoughtfulness and hopefully, grace, when it comes to taking action. I do not know what my role in this movement is meant to be. But I have a voice, I am a writer, and I train writers. And I write plays and produce theater and theater has often played a major role in political action. The Czech Republic was first led by a playwright, Vaclav Havel.

May this movement be one of beauty and grace, and above all, peace. May our arms be our words and our art and our love for our youth and each other. May our love for one another make us the custodians of economic and healthy equality. May this love rise stronger and live longer than greed and fear.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sweetie Pie

"Baking is not just following a recipe, it's so much more than that. Baking is the metaphysical transfer of love from the baker's soul, through the baker's hands, and into loved ones' hearts. Someone once asked me, "Why a bakery? What does it do for you?" I answered, "Because I get to make people happy. No matter how bad someone's day may be going, no matter what heartbreak they may have in life, I give them a piece of cake made with love and THEY SMILE." -- Dennis Hunter

I spent all day yesterday as my alter ego, Sweetie Pie, the baker and storyteller. Sweetie Pie made four appearances at the Los Banos Tomato Festival, baking, with the help of children who she called up from the audience, chocolate tomato cake. Sweetie Pie teaches science through baking.

I've never been happier than when I appear as Sweetie Pie, except maybe when I worked for a living as a baker. Now, I work as a university lecturer, and though it's respectable work, it doesn't light me up the way baking does. Nor does it give me the thrill that watching a small child break his or her first egg in a bowl does. I think if all I did every day was invite young children who have never broken eggs into a kitchen and watch their little hands work that magical maneuver, I'd never grow tired.

Well, I'd get tired. After a whole day as Sweetie Pie, I slept for twelve hours last night. I slept right through the church bells. And I expect to sleep a good night's sleep tonight.

If there's anything else I want to do before I die, it's to open a bakery. I've considered converting my van into a bakery food truck and painting it as Sweetie Pie's House of Butter--butter yellow bricks with a pink frosting roof.

Recently, I interviewed for a job at a bakery. I wasn't hired. I thought, Don't they know who I am? A writer for the Huffington Post named Sweetie Pie's apple pie one the six best in the country! Movie stars have said my muffins and scones are the best they've eaten! So, fine. I didn't get the job. I understand. I already have a full time job and there's plenty of people with way more flexible schedules who are probably a little less full of themselves about their baking skills. But believe me, when I get in front of the ingredients--the butter, flour, eggs, sugar, milk, and salt--I am humbled. I'm humbled by their beauty and the magic they are capable of. I'm humbled by the chance to work with my hands, to make baked goods from scratch in this country of boxed cake mixes. I'm humbled because, like the above-quote says, people are usually pretty happy when you put a muffin or a piece of cake in their hands.

When I lived in a small town and worked as the town baker, I sometimes left my muffins on random people's doorsteps. I think in a town like this, a bit too big and with too high a crime rate to trust an unmarked package on a doorstep, that I wouldn't be making anyone anything but paranoid if I did that here.

But baking is in my future, as Sweetie Pie. Baking is in my bones. I'm made to bake. Yesterday, I made a fresh buttercream frosting for the tomato cakes and I could've watched the subtle changes in the texture of the butter as I worked it over with mixer all day. I feel the thrill from my fingertips to my toes to the top of my head.

I just need a professional kitchen, the shine and cool of those stainless steel counters, my hand spreading flour over the surface, as I loosen the scone batter from the bowl and roll it out, section it and put it in the oven, letting my nose know when the tray needs to come out to cool, shelve, and be served.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” --Harriet Beecher Stowe

"I ran and ran and ran every day, and I acquired this sense of determination, this sense of spirit that I would never, never give up, no matter what else happened."
Wilma Rudolph

"Our task, of course, is to transmute the anger that is affliction into the anger that is determination to bring about change. I think, in fact, that one could give that as a definition of revolution."
Barbara Deming

I'm brewing a personal revolution. It's happening in my body.

Today between the first class I taught and the second two, I crawled under the desk in my office, cowering in fear. But I reached for help--I took my phone under the desk with me and called a loving friend who encouraged me. Then, when it was time for class to start, I crawled out from under my desk, and I could feel the muscles in my legs that are building from my running practice--I felt stronger, more aware of my body than I've allowed myself to be in the last few months.

For some reason, when X-man and I split, I turned off my connection to my body. That has not historically been my reaction to romantic heartbreak, but it happened to be this time. At the same time, a part of me--my brain--knew to keep acting as if I lived in a body. I kept feeding myself, I kept up my running practice, I kept doing yoga, I kept breathing. But another part of me wanted out, wanted out of my body, this dangerous place that lands me in emotionally precarious places when I let myself be moved by it and my natural desires.

But today, somehow, I'm deciding, with keen determination, to live, to stop walking on the precipice between life and death and to be here now, where I am, even if it is in sadness, even if I have longing and grief. I can choose to accept and love myself and my life, if even for today.

I didn't want to get out of bed today and it was a running day. I'm still at the beginning stages of my running training, so every training day is necessary. I'm building habit like a muscle. And somehow, to get on the trail when it was blustery, when I wanted to stay in bed, and then, to get to work, when I wanted to call in sick, and then, to get out from under my desk and go teach, when I wanted to stay under my desk staring at the metal underside of it, built in me a new resilience.

My resilience isn't a surprise to people who have known me for some time. I'm a champion survivor. I've survived life-threatening illnesses with grace and persistence. I've found when I face illness, I have the chance to see the generosity of the human race. I've been surrounded by community, and that community went a long way during a tough spell with my illness, in healing me.

These have been dark days. I thought that returning to my teaching routine would bring me back to life, but it has not. It seems that all the old things that used to give me reason and purpose, have fallen away. I don't feel that particular gratification in helping others the way I used to, as a teacher and in the community. It feels instead like I'm trudging through duty. Which is okay. This is okay. It's a kind of discipline, a kind of determination. I'm not giving up. I'm not giving up to staying under the covers, I'm not giving up eating, I'm not giving up taking care of myself, I'm not giving up eking out a day-to-day existence. My dishes are done. My lunch is made for tomorrow's work day. I'm in my pajamas. I'm going to give this body a rest, because it has more to do tomorrow.

Everything inside me is changing. And, as I wrote that sentence, in me was sparked a glimmer of excitement. Anything might happen. The tides are turning, I feel them turning, and I have to keep holding on until the new rolls in.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I just play to the people I can see. So it's almost like you are playing to the first few rows of the crowd. You can see the faces of the first hundred people, but then it becomes a blur as the crowds disappear over the hill.
Alvin Lee

Crowds are the most difficult thing for me these days because I have to walk with my head down and my eyes averted. There's still that part of me that wants to hold my head up, make eye contact and smile.
Cameron Diaz

Obviously, this aversion I've had to crowds has had nothing to do with fame. I don't know when I got it in my head I didn't like crowds and so stopped going to festivals or considering going to festivals. I might brave a major league ball game on occasion, but it had been years since I'd been to a concert or a musical festival or even a parade I wasn't in.

So, my brother and sister-in-law invited me to come to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco this year. I never even went to the festival when I lived in San Francisco, not even when Elvis Costello played it. However, this year, I thought it would be nice to meet my family there and dance with them and celebrate my 45th birthday a few days late listening to two of my favorite musicians, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch.

Well, my brother and sister-in-law cancelled, so on Friday I sat at home trying to decide if I'd stay in Merced, where I live, or go to San Francisco and go to the festival anyhow. I could get out of being in the crowds if I stayed at home, but by this time, I'd worked myself up to face that fear, to undo that idea about myself that I don't like crowds. What was I thinking, I don't like crowds? I practically grew up at Disneyland! Crowds are just people and you just deal with the people in front of you and it can be kind of fun, making friends with a stranger while you wait in line. And I love live music! I'm a musician! So I packed, arranged to go to the festival with my mother, and drove to San Francisco.

By the way, I hit no traffic coming into San Francisco at 4:30 PM on the Friday of the festival, and my mom and I planned our trip for the next day so we could get a good place on the lawn and a place to park. We wanted to see Hugh Laurie and I wanted to see Earle and Welch and between them we didn't know what we'd end up seeing, though we sketched it out.

So, my mom's husband sets up a blanket near the stage that Earle and Welch will be playing at toward the end of the day, and my mom and I set out to the stage where Hugh Laurie will be playing in a few hours. We stop by the T-shirt stand and while my mom's looking at T-shirts, Laurie walks right by me, close enough to touch. Of course, I don't touch him. I like famous people to have their privacy, but I was happy to see him.

While we're listening to Ricky Skaggs, who plays before Laurie, I text a friend who I was maybe going to see in Merced if I was going to be around on Sunday, to let him know I'm in San Francisco. He writes back asking if I'm at the festival. I say yes. And then a few minutes later, he texts me and says call his friend who's working there, he has backstage passes for me.

So after Laurie's act, my mom and I go meet her husband at the Banjo Stage, and I go wait for this friend of a friend near the backstage entrance of the Banjo Stage and soon am whisked away from the crowds into the grassy area behind the stage and pretty immediately Gillian Welch walks right by me and of course I'm starstruck. Anyhow, it was all awesome, and my friend's friend was very kind and talked to me about his work, the musicians, and I got to watch two of my favorite artists from a very special vantage point and got to eat dinner with the festival crew.

I would've been happy as a clam just being in the crowd, having turned that idea of not being a crowd-person around, and getting the chance to listen to awesome awesome music, but it was a little bonus both facing the crowd, then getting the reprieve from it, and being so close to the inner workings of the music. Thank you!