Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Weather

I woke to wind and the beautiful yellow leaves against the chill gray-white sky. Now the wind is keening at my office window, suggesting, "Lower the storm window,"* but in its own triple-throated language, and the sky is in a costume of blue. Rumor has it there's snow in the Chicagoland area. Earlier this week, raking in the sun, I hoped the Indian Summer would last for the trick-or-treat kids. Alas, no. It rained on the downtown treat fest Thursday, and tonight there's the usual Halloween freeze to expect, but I'll greet the brave ones at the door, the littlest ones, who come in the daylight. I've got my chocolate ready!

Scary things happen in threes: the car broke, the dishwasher broke, and the oven broke. The scary part is the expensiveness of replacement or repair. I don't at all mind 1) walking everywhere 2) washing dishes by hand 3) cooking on the stovetop (on the 2 1/2 working burners) and by crockpot. But, yes, we'll have to fix things. I miss roasting vegetables and baking cakes.

Likewise, here are three scary things up now at Escape Into Life: 1) a new book review of Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson 2) Cat-at-Strophe 3) In Cat Country (the cat poem features mentioned earlier here in the blog). The cat poems were chosen for October as the cat is often depicted as the witch's "familiar" (or attendant spirit in animal form) in connection with Halloween. And, yes, Kevin Nance, the photographer, says it's OK to post his photos here! These are all his. Thanks, Kevin!

And here is a poem with death in it, "After the Game," and also baseball, and also my brother, Jeff, who is here for a visit. The poem just came out--perfect timing (personal and World Series timing)--in Intentional Walk, an online literary magazine dedicated to sports. And I just dressed in Halloween colors, orange and black, to attend the area volleyball regionals last night. Congrats to NCHS, Regional champs, and lovely to see NCWHS girls play, too! My husband has coached so many area girls, we root for them all! (You can expect a volleyball poem to appear in Intentional Walk in a future issue!)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where I've Been

Where I've been: 1) raking in my yard 2) in cat country. In the recent gorgeous fall (Indian Summer) weather we've been having, I've been raking lots of yellow leaves to the curb, where a great leaf-sucking machine will suck them up for local composting. As the leaf truck hasn't actually arrived yet, I am soon to head back out to rake some more, as, you know, the leaves just keep falling until they're gone, the trees bare. For now, I share with you this lone yellow leaf on a green fence, called Loner, by Kevin Nance.

I hope it's OK to share it here, but I think so, as it is shared at Facebook, and you can find (and "Like") more of his work there, at Kevin Nance Photography and also at Escape Into Life at his own feature and in the current poetry feature, In Cat Country, with more poems with cats in them. Kevin Nance is a wonderful writer and journalist, too. "In Cat Country" is actually the title of one of the poems in the feature, by Julie Brooks Barbour, and it's got stray dogs in it, too, and black snakes, as well as feral cats. Plenty of surprises and a general eerie mood, set up by this stone lion, so check it out!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cats and Birds

Emily Dickinson loved birds,* and her sister, Lavinia, loved cats. That's a comic mini-conflict inside The Belle of Amherst, a one-woman play by William Luce. I did it as a senior thesis project at Kenyon College many years ago (I'm finally the right age to play the role!), and now there's a revival of it Off-Broadway, starring Joely Richardson, reviewed by Scott Klavan at Escape Into Life. Julie Harris played the role originally.

You can see production shots at the review and also this fabulous Death tarot card, starring Emily Dickinson, by Susan Yount.

This week and next, you can read poems about cats at EIL, too! We had the Dog Days this summer, poems about dogs, and now, in October, it's equal time for cats,** with cat art by Nicola Slattery. I'm calling the first installment of this mini-anthology Cat-at-Strophe, a horrific pun. You see the Halloweenish theme here. This lovely Slattery piece is actually titled Hallowed Cat! Lavinia would be pleased.

*  And also bees and butterflies.
**Birds are pretty ongoing in poetry.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Letters

I love letters. It’s been a while since I got any. These days the mailbox, like the inbox or the phone, gets mostly junk mail. I did just write a few letters, notes, really, short ones, to say thank you and get well. And I still write checks and mail my bills, using stamps. Today I am walking to the post office!

But I miss writing the long letter that sends love and news and personality to the recipient, that asks questions, hoping for an answer—by mail!—soon. I miss the little illustrations I used to add sometimes and the decorative marginal or closing flourishes. I miss getting such a letter back. Sigh…

I’ve just finished reading A Fire in the Mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell by Stephen and Robin Larsen that excerpts many letters as a way of delivering information and personality. Several are by Campbell, of course, to his wife and friends and family members. Others are about him, by these people and various students and colleagues and professional associates along the way. Biographers must already be having a harder time re-constructing a life, now that the age of letters is over.

Our EIL theatre reviewer, Scott Klavan, just got to see Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy in a revival of Love Letters, by A. R. Gurney, a play that recreates a relationship through years of letters. Generally, the actors simply sit and read the letters, which makes it easier for actors to do star turns in limited engagements, as in the current Broadway production. Burnett just replaced Mia Farrow, and other actors coming up include Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston, and Martin Sheen. Here is Scott’s review of the current production. (The art there and here is by Erika Kuhn, from a Moleskine journal project at Escape Into Life.)

And I yearn to direct and/or be in Dear Elizabeth, by Sarah Ruhl, a play based on the letters of the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

Today is expected to be the warmest day of the week, and I already see the sun poking out between the morning trees. Reading the end of A Fire in the Mind yesterday, I got a short note from Nature, in a way. The last chapter has a lot of letter excerpts, several recounting where the writers were when they first sensed Campbell’s death. Yes, those intuitions or premonitions or visitations…that, when confirmed by the facts, make it possible to construct the myth or narrative of one’s own life, or see one’s life as such a thing.

I was reading this testimonial by Lynne Kaufman: “I find that beyond all the brilliance and scholarship, when that fades, still as a man, he was shining. He was radiant, the aliveness of the world came through him. The vividness, the vivacity of it, the immediacy and warmth of him. The way the universe was alive for him, he could transmit that.”

It had been gray all day. As I read, the sun pushed through, gently, beginning at “He was radiant…,” and faded away again during the next two sentences. I like it when stuff like that happens. It’s just the sun, doing what it does, shining, and being covered by clouds, and me, doing what I do, reading, and reading the world for its endless signs of life. “This is my letter to the World,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “That never wrote to Me—” Or, in my case, That never always wrote to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whistling Mailman

Today I was awaiting some super-good news to befall a buddy in the way of a big performing arts award, and I couldn’t stand it, so I took my 2-mile walk to town to run a couple errands and do  some magical thinking and wishing and hoping and…(earworm?*) 

When I approached the bank (first errand), I heard but did not see the Whistling Mailman, but he put me in good cheer. At the library, it was 2-for-1 DVD day, so I got Infamous (the other Truman Capote film) and The Upside of Anger (Joan Allen!) for $1! At this point, I was pretty darn sure my pal would win his award!

Then I escaped death not once, but twice! For what to my wondering eyes and ears should appear, as I approached the parking garage, but the Whistling Mailman in his mail truck. He opened his window-door to say hello. I asked him how he was.

“I’m trying to stay out of the obits!”

“Me, too,” I said, confessing to the vague Internet Quiz Death paranoia.

He was sympathetic and almost whistled.

 “Don’t run over me with your truck,” I said, bravely walking in front of his government vehicle. He didn’t.

When I got to the corner, he was stopped at the crosswalk, looking down at the mail. His foot could slip off the brake, I thought, crossing with the light. It didn’t. He opened his window-door again, and we kept up the open-air conversation.

“Thanks for not killing me!” I called.

“What did it say? Death by government vehicle?” he called back.

I love our Whistling Mailman.

I won’t be whistling, though: “A whistling maid and a cackling hen / Always come to some bad end.” I’m glad I am able to cackle at my Internet Quiz Death, if still a bit haunted by it. After all, Jan Hooks and Elizabeth Peña just died. Sigh… Loved their work. At least I survived (spoiler alert!) past the age of the concierge from The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery!

But my wishful thinking did not make my pal get the award. Instead, he graciously congratulated another winner, and will move on to other things, and already has. “World tour!”

*Bacharachround Music: “Wishin’ and Hopin’” by Burt Bacharach (as sung by Dionne Warwick)(or as whistled by the Whistling Mailman)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Apparent Intention

I'm on p. 456 of A Fire in the Mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell. I continue to enjoy the coincidences and connections I am making while reading the book, and reading it at the right time in my life. His wife, Jean Erdman, who is still alive (98), is a dancer, choreographer, and theatre artist, and I feel connected to her (via birthday) and delighted that my life in theatre and writing has also taken me into the dance world. Since she created a dance theatre piece, called The Coach with Six Insides, based on Finnegan's Wake, I will probably have to read Finnegan's Wake someday! At least I can use Campbell's Skeleton Key to get inside it!

Anyhoo, on p. 456 is this, from a letter Campbell wrote to Erdman:

"It all puts me mind again of Schopenhauer's wonderful piece on An Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual: how the continuities of a lifetime seem, in the end, to have been plotted out by a novelist--all the accidents, apparently uncoordinated as they first occur, concurring finally toward the shaping of an order."

I've been attuned to that "apparent intention" lately, noticing it in my own life, and also hearing a lot about it in current culture, while having forgotten that it came from Schopenhauer, so I suppose he'll also have to go on my reading/re-reading list.... Surely I've read some excerpted Schopenhauer! And those he influenced. Sigh.... How will I ever read everything? Also I'd rather look at this dahlia.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Acting in the Rain

We finished up the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk, in its 20th year, with a wrap party at the McLean County Museum of History and a fond farewell to the retiring director, Judy Brown, to be succeeded by Rhys Lovell, who reprised his role this year as Hoss Radbourn, baseball player, and directed the scene I was in with Jeremy Stiller. We played Asahel and Mary Gridley, a sparring couple who look nothing like these two under their umbrella.

We did stand under umbrellas at times during the week, but cheerfully put them down and acted in the rain. And, briefly, in the snow! The very first Saturday was quite cold, and the earliest precipitation was white. While it soon dissolved into rain, it prompted Judy to recall the past and say, "I came in with snow and will go out with snow!" Judy also went out acting, doing a role she had played before, taking over as a sudden understudy for an actor taken ill. Bridgette returned, and all was well, but it made for some extra cemetery drama.

Today, on a rainy Blue Monday in the blog, I am playing catch-up again, with laundry, editing duties, general clean-up and organization, and possibly some poetry submission. I have finally read all the sweet cards from the cast of The Language Archive, which I was a bit too teary-eyed to peruse closely at the time, even though I was able to enjoy the gifts of fresh bread, kitchen towels, world music, marvelous scents via incense, and various wonderful doo-dads. I was comforted to see that the director of In the Next Room at ISU had the same problem. It's hard to let go of a production we love doing!

I guess it helps if it rains and snows on you, and you are on your feet for 6 hours a day, doing a performance 140 times in one week! But it was great fun!!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Twisted Cords

Oh, my, this is beautiful. Twisted Cord Flower. It's from Africa and Asia. Sometimes when I think of what I might still yearn for in life, it is to see the beauty of flora elsewhere in the world and to taste the fruits! I am reading A Fire in the Mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell by Stephen and Robin Larsen, and he is traveling right now--India, Burma, Thailand, and Hong Kong...and headed to Japan. I love that guy, and in the world of serendipity, I share a birthday with his dancer wife, Jean Erdman, and my theatre life took me to her Theatre of the Open Eye in New York, once upon a time!

Last night I got to see In the Next Room, by Sarah Ruhl, at Illinois State University. Also beautiful! What a funny, sweet, tender, melancholy play. Very well done. I think this is the last night, and I've urged my parents to go see it, and I urge you, too. Tonight, locally, or any time you have the chance. Boy, do I love that play!

By marvelous chance, the actor who played the doctor in In the Next Room was in the audience today at the Evergreen Cemetery Walk. I was able to tell him he was fantastic! I felt so honored and delighted to see him there! It was our second-to-last day, good weather, wonderful audiences. One of our actors was taken ill, and we wish her well and hope to see her back tomorrow, but, if she needs to rest, we're glad our fearless director, and 20-year veteran of the walk, Judy Brown, could take over the role!

Anemone, or wind flower!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fear Nothing

Fear nothing! Not even a photoshopped flower. Oh, I hope it is real. I have white bleeding hearts in my garden and would love to have some black ones!

Beautiful day in the cemetery today! Sunshine! Leaves! Acorns!

In poetry news, here is a review of Fear Nothing of the Future or the Past, by Angie Macri, newly posted at Escape Into Life.

And here's a new theatre review, by Scott Klavan, of The Killing of Sister George. I've never seen it. (And the dolls do scare me.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Today we finished a round of school groups at the Evergreen Cemetery walk just before the tornado sirens sounded!

There was no tornado. It was the Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. test of the system. But it was raining, so the possibility of a tornado was watery in the air! It rained on and off all morning, and the sun came out in the afternoon. It is very good to have finished your speech or scene before the sirens sound, or before the train comes through, or the airplane goes over. We have been very lucky! So have the squirrels. Each day, my scene partner lines up acorns to keep track of how many times we have done our scene (a jillion in all, but 6 or 7 per round), and every morning they are gone. Stolen. Buried.

The cemetery workers do a beautiful job of upkeep. When I arrived at our spot this afternoon, one of the men was there blowing the latest leaves out of the family plot. He said, "I've got to keep the leaves out of your living room."

And, oh, my, I love lunch. They feed us so well--home-made soups, restaurant specialties, and home-baked cookies. It takes a lot of energy to do our work. And it takes a lot of cookies to keep us going!

In other news, I have a new Poetry Cheerleader review up at Prick of the Spindle and two poems in the current issue of Nimrod. It reminds me what I do in life, when I am not in the cemetery.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Who I Am

Today was the first day of the annual cemetery walk, and it was 1) cold 2) fun 3) a grand day with great audiences 4) cold 5) exhausting and 6) slatternly, meaning that, while I worked very, very hard, I did not tidy up my house. It was 37 degrees when I left the house in my underthings (decent things that I wear under my bustle, etc.) and the high today was maybe 51 degrees. My costume is impossible to put on at home--many hooks and eyes + aforementioned bustle--and impossible to get out of at home, if husband is off coaching volleyball, so I have to make the appropriate arrangements! I play Mary Gridley, historically pictured here, with fan, braids, and bustle.

Mary was the first role I played in the cemetery walk, which, as you have probably gathered, takes place outdoors in the actual Evergreen Cemetery (where Dorothy Gage is buried, the model for Dorothy Gale of the The Wizard of Oz). Here is the pink dress (with possible bustle) I wore then, standing next to the Asahel Gridley monument in the family plot. (Pronounced ASH-el, but he was actually a bit of an as&*%le.)

And here is the gorgeous pale teal dress with bustle that I (or is that Glenn Close?) wear this year, doing a scene with Jeremy Stiller as Asahel. I wrote the script, titled "'Til Death do us (Finally) Reconcile," and it's a lot of fun to do. He is quite handsome, and I wear a copper snood, plus a black lace thingey on my head, so my hair doesn't fly off in the bitter cold wind, and olive green gloves. Did I mention that it was cold out there? Kudos to the marvelous audiences, all bundled up and full of energy and joy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October Fence

October begins with beauty!--blue sky, sunshine, breeze, the sweet scent of mown grass. And plenty of good news. And a bit of eeriness.

Nick McRae is the new poet up at Escape Into Life today, with eerie and wonderful art by Craig Hunter Parker. McRae's poems rhyme!

Sweet (as they say)! I have a poem in a new anthology: All of Us: Sweet: The First Five Years. I was very lucky to be among the poets in the first five years of Sweet, "a literary confection." The online magazine is here, and the anthology is here. And later in the year, I'll be in the Arsenic Lobster anthology, also sweet, with a touch of poison.

And this morning I was in the cemetery, rehearsing for this, the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk presented by the McLean County Museum of History and Illinois Voices Theatre. I'll be there all week, as Mary Gridley, who did not get along all that well with her husband, Asahel Gridley, when he'd been drinking....