i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Premature Evacuation

These are the beginning paragraphs for my December post on RealMental.

I work at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. As you may know, each year around Thanksgiving, a giant evergreen tree is trucked in and trussed up in time for the televised “Lighting of the Tree.” The tree is big. It’s so big that decorating it takes weeks. And scaffolding. Lots and lots of scaffolding.

Now, this is only my second Christmas in NYC, but I’ve already got my own ritual for this event. I, along with everyone who works in the building, evacuate at 3pm before the crowds gather to watch the tree get blown up and sung to by rock stars.

Occasionally, I get irritable in New York. Sometimes when I’m walking and people (confession, I call them tourons, but I don’t mean you) stop on the sidewalk and impede the flow of foot traffic, I clench my jaw and widen my eyes in exasperation as I pause and wait for a path through to make itself known. I walk quickly, but I don’t run over people—they more or less veer into my path, like cicadas bobbling into a windshield.

As I’ve said on Twitter, if you lack the spatial awareness to step aside when exiting a door, elevator, or escalator, you’re probably really bad in bed.

Occasionally, as I walk through the city, I’m glad for the jostling, because it makes me feel connected in a sea of well-dressed anonymity. At these times, I’m filled with the spirit of kum-ba-yah, and I’ll often find that I’m smiling to myself. It’s not forced, it just happens. Who knows what brings it on—maybe I had a really good doughnut that day—but I certainly prefer being at peace with humanity rather than being a steaming bowl of annoyed.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about managing mental illness, right? And, as I type this, it’s 8 days late according to my self-imposed monthly deadline. I’ve known I wanted to write about the holidays for at least a month, so why have I stalled?

Because I kind of hate the holidays.

And believe me, there are reasons.

This is a whole book, this here topic of me and the holidays.

It’s genetic.

No, really.

It started with my grandmother.

Okay. [Deep breath.]

My grandmother was a Jehovah’s Witness. She wasn’t born that way. She chose it. And she was one of the 144,000 who are actually going to join God in Heaven. Well, she’s there already. She died six years ago this month.

I hardly knew my grandmother. My few memories of her center around rare visits during which I watched her shove vitamins down her Siamese cat’s throat and slather enormous quantities of hand lotion on herself and anyone within arm’s reach. Once I turned age 12, these visits stopped. With a complete lack of irony, my mother said she didn’t want my grandmother to hurt me the way she had hurt her. There were a few feeble attempts at communication over the years, but that ended when I got a note from my grandmother saying how worried she was because I was going to burn in hell for going to college.

You may know that Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays. My mother grew up never celebrating her birthday or Christmas. This of course meant that the holidays assumed an importance to her that was…spectacular.

To read the rest of the post, click here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bean Sandwiches

These are the opening paragraphs for my November post on RealMental.


The other night I got to craving a bean sandwich.

Ever had one? Spread two slices of soft white bread with some mayonnaise. Sprinkle one slice with salt. Open a can of baked beans and carefully spoon a layer of beans on the other slice. Depending on how dry you like your bean sandwich, you might want to press the spoon against the inside of the can to drain the beans a little along the way. Place the other slice of bread on top. Cold beans taste better.

A bean sandwich can be a little bendy, so the tidiest thing to do is to eat it over a plate to catch the spillage. The stress of maneuvering a sandwich that’s dropping its beany innards onto a paper towel while you shove it in your mouth can result in a wolfing down of the sandwich.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

_____________________
To read the full article, click here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Reading of Sofonisba in NYC

Some of you DC readers may remember Michole Biancosino, Artistic Director of Project Y, back from her days in DC. She's in NYC now, and Project Y had a wonderful production last year that the NY Times reviewed.

Anyway, I've been a fan of Project Y since the beginning, because they explore dark and compelling oddities in their work.

So I'm really stoked that Michole and her company have decided to give SOFONISBA its first NYC reading! I'm still working on the play, but I feel that this script is the strongest I've ever written. It feels like all of the things I've been trying to teach myself for the last 4 years about building a play have finally come together.

So for those of you who can make it, it will be Sunday, November 15, at 7pm in Soho at Lilly O’Brien’s. As I understand it, it's a bar with some sort of performance area, and it's at 67 Murray Street @ West Broadway (close to the Chambers stop on the 1-2-3 and A-C lines; and the WTC stop on the E line).

Crumbs from the Table of Twitter

Hello, dear blog.

I spend all my social media energy on The Twitter. For those of you who are not on The Twitter (all two of you), I wanted to let you know what's going on and what you can look forward to here on this blog.

I've just rounded out my first full year in NYC, and I also just moved into my third apartment in Manhattan. (Because apparently that's what you do when you move to New York, you move again. And again. And again.)

Now I'm in a two-year lease in a beautiful studio on the Upper East Side. I have a view of trees in a courtyard, and enough closet space, and hardwood floors, and a giant tub. There's no stove, but I don't cook much anyways.

My last apartment was a nightmare--the ceiling collapsed, there were 16 or so leaks in the kitchen over the course of 8 months, I could hear a child crying for hours on end (yes, I called Child Services because I had a bad feeling in my gut), I heard horrible fights in the hallways, one of my neighbors' apartments was broken into, a cop killed someone on our block, there was a serial rapist for a while (ok that was 15 blocks away, but still), and dog doo on the sidewalk.

I tried politely to get out of the last month of my lease, considering all the leaks, mold and ceiling problems, but my old landlord wouldn't budge. Until I lawyered up, that is. Then they said sure, I could break the lease and still get my deposit back, IF I signed something that I would never sue them for anything. No problem. That's all I wanted in the first place.

So I took my returned deposit and bought a Burberry handbag at a 30% off sale. It's my first purse ever that costs more than $25, and it's kind of awesome.

Anyway, for $300 more a month, now I'm in a neighborhood where the women plastinate their faces, eat styrofoam because it's calorie-free and filling, and shop for $1,500 handbags.

You might think from the above paragraphs that I'm not fitting in here in NYC, but it's actually the first time as an adult that I've felt like I'm living where I belong. See, everything's extreme here--you have the best of everything and the worst of everything all jammed up together. So I'm blending in.

Today is my last full-time day at NBC. Starting Monday, I'll be working 20 hours a week. They were kind enough to give me a 40% raise--I won't be earning as much as before, but I'm pretty sure I'll be okay, especially since all the shopgirls in the Upper East Side boutiques are so snobby that I'm not even tempted to spend my money there.

The big change will be that I will now have time to dedicate to my writing. I feel like I'm in a great position now where I'm happy in my home, I'll be earning enough to get by (and that's all you really need, is enough), and I'll have precious time to write.

I've been meeting people all along this year, but now I'm actually starting to have conversations that are more focused on finding where my writing might make sense in terms of plays and blogging and maybe this memoir idea. I also want to try fiction and start doing some short video projects. So it's really a great thing that my hours will shift and I'll be able to devote concentrated time to fleshing these projects out.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading my This Is Not a Memoir posts. It's been a few weeks since I've posted to that thread, but rest assured, more is coming! I have sort of an endless amount to write. I'm really enjoying writing the posts, and it means so much to hear that they resonate with you guys. Thanks for the support on that.

Some of you may know that I've been giving talks and interviews about the arts and social media--I think most of them are on my home page if you're interested. I did one just the other day about how to find your artistic voice through blogging, and I'll post it as soon as I have a link.

Anyway, thanks for checking in.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

There's Always a Tell

These are the opening paragraphs of my first post for RealMental, which will go live later tonight or early tomorrow.


I’ve always wanted to go to Montana. Remember the film Legends of the Fall? Wrecks me every time. I manage to keep it together while Native Americans are displaced, Samuel dies, and love is abandoned. I start to tip when Tristan’s wife is killed, and I lose it completely when Susannah meets Tristan’s son Samuel. By the time Susannah cuts off her hair and shoots herself, I’m inconsolable, mostly because everyone has put such a pretty, stoic face on their pain.

The only thing saving me from being seduced by all this Grade A romanticized suffering is Tristan’s “good death” at the end, by bear-fight. It’s a fitting and rugged resolution, and it centers me again, reconciling me to all things inexorable, like death, sorrow, and bad sex.

We’re all heroes of our own movies. Some of us may self-dramatize more than others, but I think it’s fair to say we all, at times, present a reductive version of ourselves. Sometimes it’s for the benefit of others.

Often it’s because the truth overwhelms us.

________________
To read the full article, click here.

Whew

Since my last post, I moved to a new apartment, I fought (and apparently won, though I'll believe it when I get the check) an argument with my old landlord, and started putting steroid drops in my eyes because apparently I'm allergic to New York City.

I've also been eating a lot of cheese sandwiches and writing a long-ish blog post, my first in a series for RealMental, the beginning paragraphs of which I'll post in a few minutes here.

Thanks for all the wonderfully encouraging comments on the posts I'm tagging "This Is Not a Memoir."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"I Just Wanna Be Honest With You."

Some conversations you remember.

We were in the van, moving the last of his stuff to my place. I'd never lived with anyone I'd dated before. It had been a whirlwind, which, in retrospect, means, well, absolutely nothing. When we met, I was dating a Republican who was perhaps the nicest guy I'd ever dated--we just about niced each other to death. Deep down, we both knew it wasn't going anywhere, and when I pointed this out, he was so relieved that I'd finally called Time of Death that we both laughed before parting ways.

On Valentine's Day, I was at the theatre with a group of friends, Adam included, and all of a sudden I just knew that I adored him. We'd been teaching Shakespeare in the public schools for about six months--I was Juliet, he was my dad. He was a natural with the kids, had a great sense of humor, and a fierce understanding of classical theatre. Before I knew it, I was giving him a ride home and he was asking me to move to Vermont, have kids, and start a theatre.

Sounded great.

I don't know why I believed it, but I needed it. And I loved loving someone. He let me love him! And he loved me back! He delighted me and I was filled with the joy of doing things for him and his exceedingly hairy back. He offered to wax, but I said I didn't care about the fur because he was All Mine, and also because I knew he didn't mean it. He had struggled with depression, too, so he wasn't overwhelmed by my struggles. When I told him about my parents, he told me, "I will always take your side."

This was a whole new game.

I met his family; he met my mother. He and my father spoke on the phone, but he was waiting to propose until they spoke face-to-face. An engagement party was in the works, and we had moved almost all of his belongings into my apartment. We were in a borrowed van, on the final trip from his place to mine.

"You know I'm a big believer in honesty. And I just wanna be honest with you, that there's someone else who I think is The One. Someone I knew in college who I felt an instant connection with. And even though I didn't feel that with you right away, my feelings have grown, and I have feelings now."

"Someone you dated?"

"No. She was a lesbian. The minute I laid eyes on her I felt this instant connection."

"Do you, I mean...what are you saying?"

"I just wanna be honest with you."

I didn't know how to respond, so we unloaded his stuff, and I went to cat-sit overnight for a friend. What he had said festered, so I called him from the air mattress where I was not sleeping at all.


"In the interest of being totally honest back, I have a problem with what you told me today. What'd you think that'd accomplish?"

"I'm sorry. I just thought it was important not to have any secrets. Tell you what. I can call her--I mean, I can't call her now because it's 2am, but I can call her in the morning--and if she's not interested, you and I can still move forward."
I had no idea that love could be killed in an instant.

All of a sudden, the fact that he couldn't pay his share of the rent, the fact that he wouldn't put his stuff away in the apartment, the fact that he snored, the fact that I was super organized and did things for him that he couldn't do for himself, all of a sudden that didn't feel okay anymore.

So I did what I did when I needed a sounding board. I turned to my trusted friends, the people who knew me better than anyone else, and who also cared enough to not pull any punches.

I blogged.

I didn't need my blog readers to tell me my feelings were right or wrong, but I did need their reactions in order to gauge my own. I had learned to question my emotional responses to big events, because they were modeled on some fairly histrionic behavior. At the same time, I had an opposing tendency to discount my feelings completely, so I really had no True North on my pocket compass of healthy responses.

I laid it out. The whole story. Folks had been so excited for us both up until now. I wondered if the marrieds would tell me I was overreacting. I wondered if the men would take his side.

Every single reader said some variation of "Evacuate."

This was hard to hear. I wasn't yet healthy enough to parse apart why what Adam had said was so incredibly messed up. And I loved him. It was hard not to defend him.


Now, I get the sense from people that I front pretty well. People who knew me while I was at the worst of my depression were surprised to later learn what I had been going through. One of the biggest contributing factors to my depression was the childhood isolation, so once I worked through some basic social anxiety, I discovered that when I was around people I generally had a good time. They had no idea that I was crying on the way there and on the way home, or that my nights were filled with a nameless terror, or that just breathing was often painful because it meant I was still alive, when I wished I weren't.

Countless were the nights where, after crying for hours with no end in sight, I'd finally power up the laptop--and the second I started to share what I felt on my blog, I'd calm down. I was connected. Meanwhile, I juggled multiple jobs, and I wrote and produced plays. I got up each day because the thought of not doing so was so seductive it terrified me. No one knew the extent to which I was suffering, and so no one treated me any differently, and I have to think that was actually more helpful than had people coddled me.

But I noticed that, after the break-up, everyone started treating me Very Gently. I was a shell. My mother even let me stay with her while he moved his stuff out. People called to check on me, but I had no words. What was there to say?


I was in this numb state when I went to visit my father in July. After a lifetime of estrangement, we had reconnected a few years earlier, after he became a born-again Christian. He had proposed to his third wife, but she had insisted that he make things right with me before she'd marry him. Whatever his motivation, I was happy to finally have him in my life.

But now, I felt like I was collapsing in on myself. My father didn't know what to do--we had no established language for the difficult stuff, no shared experience or common history as a touchstone to deal with something like this. So I spent the entire visit with his wife. We walked on the beach and I poured out everything to her. She'd been through her own trials--this was her third marriage as well--and while she was coming at the issue from a Christian perspective that I didn't completely share, I appreciated her frankness and patience.


The thing about being depressed is, it's like trying to live your life while a bear trap is clamped on your arm. You're bleeding and broken and can't climb a ladder, but after a while, you become somewhat inured to the pain, and can even function fairly well. How often do you climb ladders, anyway? But you can't ever really forget that you're lugging around this bear trap, and anyone who spends any amount of time with you becomes aware of it too, because every second of every day you're trying to figure out how to get rid of the damn thing. You want to fix it yourself, but you don't know how, and no one else, understandably, wants to come too close, because after all, they can't fix it either. It takes a sturdy person to befriend someone who's in constant emotional pain.

I burned through a lot of friends.

Occasionally someone would come into my life--usually a stranger--and I'd get a deeper understanding of the causes of my suffering because of something simple they'd say. Near the end of my visit, she and I were lying on the beach.

"Some people have a hard life, but I gotta say, you've really been dealt a rotten hand, Calla Lily."

"I get so confused. I don't know why it's so hard all the time when I have so much good going on."

"Yep. Both your parents were abused, neither knew their father, they had no support. You were moved around, your poor mother was struggling just to survive, she didn't have any time for you or even herself, and your father was going through his own thing far away. So where did that leave you? You didn't even have a chance."

The compassion she showed not just to me but to my parents was more than I had ever offered myself.

"I wonder...I wonder if maybe one of the reasons I keep finding myself in these relationships is partly because my father didn't have anything to do with me, and so somehow I had to make that okay in my head because I needed to believe he loved me anyway. So I learned to love without getting anything back. And that's why I'm grateful for crumbs. Over and over."

"I think you're on to something."

Back in the house, my father had decided what I needed was a little curse-breaking. The Devil had a hold of me, and he had to be banished.

Now, I had not been raised going to church. My mother's mother was a Jehovah's Witness, and that had turned her off so much that she became interested in Tarot and reincarnation. I had grown up being trotted around to psychic healers my whole life, so I had an open mind. When Dad brought out a Bible and a bottle of holy water, I thought, What harm can it do? It was clear he was trying to help me. In retrospect, I wonder if he'd known all along what I'd just figured out on the beach. Was this his way of trying to undo the damage?

As we all sat there, heads bowed, holding hands, I wished that the curse-breaking would work, that it really would be that simple to erase my depression. When it came time for me to say something, to ask for divine intervention, I muttered a few feeble words and tried to believe.

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. That in September, I'd head to the MacDowell Colony to write, sleep, and cry for a month. That in October, I'd lose 18 pounds in 3 weeks from the depression. That finally in January I'd get help and find out that I had Major Depressive Disorder, Baseline Disthymia, Passive Suicidal Ideation, and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That most likely I'd been suffering from these things since childhood. Since my dad left. When I was almost four.

I had done a lot of work on myself before, but this round would take two years before I was out of the woods, re-wired and armed with new skills to manage the self-destructive habits of my brain. Two years of hard work, day by day, breath by breath. No meds, because I knew in my gut that what was needed was aggressive pruning of my belief system. Things had started off wrong, and it was up to me to unplug from everything I had known. With the help of good old-fashioned talk therapy, I came to learn how normal I really was.

Some conversations you remember. Others you deliberately forget.

Friday, September 11, 2009

What I'm Doing

For years, I've wanted to thread my experiences overcoming depression, disruption, and isolation into some sort of narrative. It's not that I think my story is that special, actually, I think my experiences are probably fairly common to those of us who came from divorced families.

When I started blogging 7 years ago, I was surprised that anyone understood what I was going through. Pretty soon I was posting a dozen times a day, a far cry from my current rate of about a dozen times a month. When my audience grew to over 1,000 hits a day, and a few agents came around, I wasn't clear on what the boundaries were, and so I did things like shut down my blog, delete posts, etc. Now that I've got things squared away, I'm blogging from a stronger place with a clear identity.

So I'm taking a stab at writing some things down informally here on my blog. I'm not thinking these specific posts will comprise a book--they're really just the beginning explorations of memories and events that were significant to me. Once I've gotten some out there, I'll be better able to decide on story and structure. But I know deep in my gut that my experiences are many people's experiences, and there's a wonderful power in shaping and sharing it.

I've tagged them all "This Is Not A Memoir." I appreciate feedback--it means a lot to know that what I'm doing here might resonate with someone. Email is great, but if you are so inclined to comment on the posts, that actually might help me show an agent or an editor the kind of interest that's out there for this.

Blogging helped me find my voice, and it helped me find people who were struggling with the same issues I was. The interaction with these countless people I've never even met has done more to shape who I've become as a person, and as a playwright, than anything else in my adult life.

In January 2007, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Baseline Disthymia, and Passive Suicidal Ideation, after decades of not knowing there was a name to the feelings I'd fought since I was four years old. Now that I've gotten help and am out of the woods, I can approach this project in a healthy way. I've never felt the need to hide any of this, and actually, starting next month, I'll be a regular contributor to RealMental.

There's just three posts so far, all from my childhood. Because it's time for a little absurdity, I'm next going to write about when my father and his third wife took me through a curse-breaking ritual with a bottle of holy water.

TWEETABLES: 1-Minute Play Festival This Weekend

If you're in NYC and looking for something fun to do this weekend, the 3rd Annual 1-Minute Play Festival is happening. I've got a different play going up each night.

Back in December 2007 I participated in the first 1-minute festie, and it was on that trip that I decided--and said out loud--that I wanted to move to New York within the next year.

It's at HERE Arts Center, 8:30pm both nights.

So How Many Pages of Apps Does *Your* iPhone Have?

Okay, so maybe I only have five pages of apps and you have twelve, but my apps can kick your apps' ass. Check it oh-you-tee.


I Constantly Use
  1. ExitStrategy
  2. Twitterfon Pro
  3. NPR News
  4. Yelp
  5. The Weather Channel
  6. Google Mobile App
  7. Flickr
  8. UpNext 3D NYC

I Often Use
  1. Translator
  2. OpenTable
  3. Twittelator
  4. NYTimes
  5. NYC Subway Map
  6. Wall Street Journal
  7. Facebook
  8. Thomson Reuters News Pro
  9. CrossWalk
  10. HopStop

Just Figuring Out But Really Stoked About

  1. iTalk
  2. i.TV
  3. BlogPress
  4. Skype
  5. textPlus
  6. iWant
  7. MiGhtyDocs
  8. Foursquare
Just Glad To Have
  1. Shakespeare
  2. Google Earth
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Shazam
  5. AIM
  6. Amazon
  7. Flixster
  8. iHandy Level
  9. Tumblr
  10. Lose It!
  11. wikiHow
  12. Kindle

FYI I got a lot of these from @Palafo via The Twitter. He actually links to these apps on his blog, so go there if you want info, 'cause I gots blogging to do.

Acorns Seemed Harmless at the Time

I love work. I love work so much I will make up jobs for myself if I’m not careful. When I was learning to read, I loved the flash cards that my mother had taped all over the house. I couldn't get enough. I especially loved getting the compound words right—toothbrush, bathtub. Starting early, I had an enormous ability to focus on one task and block everything out. I remember being in my high chair, making a low, steady hum while I slowly pushed peas across my plate into a pattern. I’d be terribly startled when I was interrupted.

It was with this singularity of focus that I attacked the acorns the year my father drove off in our car. I waddled around the backyard, squatting and gathering until my pink plastic wheelbarrow with the yellow handles could hold no more. I understood that the seed for a tree lived in each acorn, and also that the squirrels ate them.

I gathered them for the squirrels.

They thought I had stomach ulcers when I was four years old. I’m not sure who “they” were, or what my symptoms were, but I do remember visiting a lady once. My mother and I climbed a long, narrow flight of white stairs, past a window on the right. Once at the top, I was offered a tiny chair at a tiny table. The table had a clear plastic bear with a yellow cap on it, and I was told the bear was filled with honey. I didn’t know what honey was, but I was fascinated by the bear. My not touching it only increased my longing.

I had no idea why we were there, but my mother seemed relaxed. She sat just out of reach to my left, while the woman sat on the other side of the table and tried to start a conversation with me. I decided we must be on a visit, except…this woman was focused on me, which was unlike most visits my mother and I made. She kept trying to pull my attention from the bear. Suddenly, I understood that she and my mother wanted to know something, something only I would know. Only I didn’t know, I didn’t even understand the question. My ribcage tightened, my breath went shallow, and the place where the back of my neck joined the back of my head grew still. I didn’t know what to do, so I began nodding helpfully in response to her questions.

We didn’t stay long. No one was angry, but I sensed that I’d not been as helpful as they had hoped I’d be.

Around this time, water blisters started springing up on the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands. At night I’d scratch until I bled. The gloves and Neosporin wouldn't stay on. I treated my fingernails like the betrayals they were, tearing at their soft moons until I reached the nailbed, in the hopes that, since I couldn’t control the scratching, I could minimize their damage. Besides the water blisters, and the fingernails, there were bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia that made me cough ‘til my breath ran out; I’d sweat Vicks and Dimetapp in my great-grandmother’s quilt while my mother sweetly sang, “Rock-ity-ock-ity-ock-ity-ock.” When I grew too large to rock, and the hospital bills grew too large to pay, my mother grew impatient, and would snap at me if I sneezed.

My body was an enemy I failed to control. I lumbered around in white orthopedic boots for years to no avail. At some point it was discovered that I badly needed glasses. I couldn't swallow my green Drixoral pills, so my mother would crush them between two spoons and pour a little milk in, but still I'd sputter. When my mother started working, she began taking naps. She’d pin me with her leg to keep me safe while she slept, and I learned to smooth my breathing so I wouldn’t accidentally wake her. She’d hold me down on the floor and pinch my face with her long fingernails, telling me to stop crying, that she was cleaning my skin. Because of these lessons in not struggling, I didn’t protest when an allergist covered my back with pinpricks, only to find out I was a little bit allergic to a lot of things.

By far, my biggest failure was my inability to fall asleep. If I were happy, I’d softly sing to myself. Some nights, my mother would tiptoe in, stand over me, and then say, “I know you’re awake. Your breathing’s uneven and I can see your eyes moving around,” the flashlight making bright patterns through my eyelids. Left alone, I’d lie on my side at night and stare through the safety bars at the blurry nightlight that I knew was a witch, while Doggie protected me from whatever might sneak up on the other side. Doggie loved me, but he had no language, seeing as he was a stuffed dog, so I began to have imaginary conversations with a man I called Freud. I had no idea who Sigmund Freud was, but I’d watched cartoon characters lie on sofas and share their sorrows with a gray-bearded man named Freud who had all the answers but refused to share them. He’d listen long after my mother’s light clicked off.

Over my bed was a poster of a little girl in a field of daisies that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I took the poster seriously, wanting to wake up perfect each morning. I even tried to fall asleep with my hands folded in prayer under my chin, like in my picture books. I wanted to be a nun, though we weren’t Catholic, and I didn’t really know what a nun was. I only knew that I wanted to devote myself to perfection. Unfortunately, each day only brought more and more evidence that I was far from perfect. I couldn’t ever be small enough, and I fervently wished that I’d stop growing. I wanted, needed, to be invisible, and I never stopped trying.

So I began a series of negotiations and agreements with myself that lasted for over three decades. It was a methodical approach involving a series of If-Then statements, designed to improve my behavior through a logical process of elimination.

I was determined to succeed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

This Is Not a Memoir

The phone is huge, as if seen through a zoom lens. It’s the color of Silly Putty, and I like the pattern the numbers make on the dialpad beneath the handset cradle. It’s unclear why there are no numbers on the 1 key. Following a familiar trail, I dial what I’m pretty sure is the same pattern I've dialed before, 4s and 6s and 8s, and sure enough a polite voice answers.

I never learned her name. She sounded lonely, but I may have been projecting. The chats weren’t long, as I really didn’t have much to offer, seeing as I was only eight. I never told my mother about these phone calls, because I knew it was an odd thing to do.

Rewind one hour.

The bus drops me off down the street from the white, three-story building where we live. I poke my tongue in the space where my tooth once was, and set off for home. No stranger approaches, and I remember not to talk to any, though I probably wouldn’t have heard one over the slisk of my purple snowsuit. I climb the stairs to the third floor and let myself in. I’m careful with the key, because if I'm locked out, I'm locked out. We don’t know our neighbors.

She’s at work. I call her at Montgomery Ward, where she’s managing two departments, to tell her I made it home safe. I lay out a paper towel and fix myself a sandwich—Wonder bread with Kraft American cheese and Hellmann’s real mayonnaise. We’ve recently graduated to name brands from the food we used to get each week from the church basement down the street. Sometimes we even have bologna, and when we do, I peel the stringy side off of it.

Post-sandwich, in the hour or so before my babysitter arrives, I pull out the bottom drawer of my dresser and organize my comics. My parents bought the dresser in a fire sale in Atlanta when they were still married, before we moved to Maine. Or maybe I sing along to the Beatles, torn between wanting Paul to be my dad and wanting him to need me when I’m 64. Or maybe I count Barbie’s shoes. Or force doll clothes on the kitten while he’s still too small to defend himself.

The random phone-calling is for special.

Before I know it, my babysitter’s there, and we watch the Beverly Hillbillies embarrass themselves while we work on her gum-wrapper and pop-top chains. She agrees Paul's the cutest Beatle, but then pulls the rug out from under me by telling me the Beatles broke up years ago. This upsets me enormously. If she has homework, she lets me brush her hair while she works. She tells me what must be impossible, that she irons her long, blonde hair on an ironing board.

My mother comes home and the babysitter leaves. We’ll eat beans and franks, or maybe American chop suey and a salad. She asks me to wash the lettuce, which I think is very strange. Halfway through the meal, I learn that because I used Ivory Liquid, I’ve wasted a lot of her hard-earned money. We’ll fold laundry during commercials for “Little House on the Prairie,” and afterwards she asks what the moral of the story was. I have no idea, and eventually I’m crying so hard over my Jell-O that I can’t even make anything up.

Lights out. I try to fall asleep to the hum of the fan in my room, but I can’t take my eyes off the orange glow leaking under my bedroom door from the living room. I’m convinced it’s a fire, a very slow fire that burns in our living room each night. I listen for tell-tale crackles and remember that, when the time comes, I should feel the wood of the door and not touch the metal handle. I know which window is best for escaping, and I know where the rope ladder is for doing so. Despite all this knowledge, I’m rigid with fear. Then the light goes out.

Now I’m in the ocean, the same ocean that’s on my mother’s paperback book, Jaws. I wonder what I'll die from, drowning or the shark. And if it’s the shark, will I be swallowed whole and live like Jonah in an air pocket? Or will I be chewed up? And if I’m chewed up, what will it feel like and how much blood will there be? Then I’ll wonder what it feels like to die of natural causes. I’ll hold my breath, then let the air seep out ‘til it hurts, then keep myself from inhaling as long as possible.

Then the ants come. I’m in the desert, and the fire ants are climbing all over me, stinging or biting or whatever it is fire ants do to people who are tied to cartoon logs, and I know three things for sure: 1) that I am sweating, 2) that I'll most certainly die this very night, and 3) that death by fire ants will surely be the longest, most painful of all my possible eight-year-old deaths. When I finally fall asleep, I’m too tired to have nightmares.

In the morning, I lie about how well I slept, put on my glasses, eat my oatmeal, brush my teeth, and dress for school. I try to sneak a few small rips into my lace anklets. I want her to notice the holes and buy me more grown-up socks, but instead she just buys more frilly ones. Some days I get to wear my Brownie outfit, my beanie on top of my fuzzed-out, week-old braids that I insist on wearing to further my waking fantasy of living in a one-room house on a Kansas prairie. Anywhere but here, in this apartment with the green shag rug, the gold curtains, and the velour floral sofa.

This was the apartment where I learned she wouldn’t be marrying her boyfriend after all because he wanted to send me to a private school and she couldn’t bear that. This was the apartment where I learned that sharing how fun it was to call my dad's new wife “Mommy” was quite possibly the worst thing I could ever say to my mother. This was the apartment where she told me where babies came from, a story she clearly had rehearsed in advance, and which left me with an inability to ever look at a hot dog the same way again.

The last time I picked up the phone and dialed my secret friend, I either pressed the wrong numbers, or she wasn’t home, because no one answered. I was calling to tell her we were moving. This apartment was the fifth or so I'd lived in so far. There would be eight more before I graduated high school, ten years later.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Mother's Father's Wife Put a Curse on Me

My mother never met her father. She has a black-and-white photograph of him, handsome in a white suit, and a few cherished details that her mother doled out grudgingly, one of which she told me when I was 13.

We were in the car on an overlit Florida afternoon, and I had just gotten my first dental fillings. My mouth was still numb and I was saying "plum" over and over, enjoying sounding like an 80-year-old stroke victim while I picked at the stitching on my pink, thin-wale corduroys.

My mother had a knack for telling me stories I wished she wouldn't, mostly about my own birth and the consequences of it. Stories from the generations before my arrival were generally mythic in scope and fatalistic in tone. Who knows what it was that afternoon--the events of her own doomed love life, the nostalgic slant of sunlight through her Marlboro smoke, or the simple fact that I'd added the word "purple" to my loud, plummy litany--but out of the blue my mother decided to tell me the Story of the Curse.

The first part of the story, I already knew. It went like this. After my grandmother, Margaret, was told she couldn't marry the French penpal she'd fallen for in high school, she married her neighbor Ralph. They had a son. Then she met an older married man, an Albanian Jehovah's Witness, who allegedly raped her. Nine months later, my mother was born in Reno. Margaret was divorced the next day, and Ralph took his son, my mother's half-brother, back to Maine to be raised by his family.

My mother was supposed to have been adopted by a wealthy, childless couple who lived north of Los Angeles. Lawyers had drawn up the papers, but when the nurse said, "It's a little girl," my grandmother said, "I'm keeping her." She had had one son, stillborn, and had lost another in the divorce.

On this particular afternoon, the story took an occult turn. Shortly after my mother's birth, something strange started happening. Each morning, when my grandmother rose and went to my mother's crib, there was a long, black hair on my mother's infant self. Each night, my grandmother inspected my mother's crib, and each morning, a new hair would appear, as if it had been carefully placed across my mother in the night.

My grandmother feared this hair business was the manifestation of a curse. When my mother's father's wife learned her husband had been unfaithful, she found and cursed my grandmother, her unborn child, and her unborn child's child, that we should never know love. My grandmother consulted an expert in such matters, who recommended she take the next morning's hair and burn it while saying assertive, curse-breaking things. She did as she was told, and, sure enough, the long, black hairs stopped appearing.

I fingered the tiny, gold-thread swan on my Gloria Vanderbilt cords as I listened. I knew it. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. There was a reason Tommy Shoemaker had not loved me back in the 4th grade. There was a reason my father never answered my letters. We were all cursed, my grandmother, my mother and I. The fact that my grandmother and mother were both alone seemed proof that the curse existed, not proof that they sabotaged relationships.

Years later, once I'd learned about self-fulfilling prophecies, I tried to pooh-pooh this whole curse idea, but my own botched attempts at love seemed only to confirm its existence. I flung myself from crush to idealizing crush, like a frantic love monkey swinging from vine to vine over quicksand. I only have my profound social awkardness to thank, not morals or good judgment, for saving me from becoming an object lesson in teenage promiscuity. Line up twelve men in a row and I will unerringly choose the one whose mother kicked his teeth in, or who is addicted to narcotics, or whose father shot the family pet to punish the children.

To finally break the curse, I had to let go of the vine.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Follow-Up to the TCG Teleconference on Using Twitter to Build Audience

Some of you may know that last Thursday I gave an hour-long talk to 150 theaters on how to use Twitter to bring in new audience as part of Theatre Communications Group's Leadership Teleconference Series. The talk went great--I had a terrific time, TCG seemed pleased, and the response from participating theaters was overwhelmingly positive. LISTEN TO THE WHOLE TALK HERE. [Seems not to work in IE on Vista. I had to use Firefox.]

If you search Twitter for the hashtag #TCGCall, you can check out some of the comments people were tweeting during the call. I could have talked for another hour, easy-peasy, and there were a couple of questions that I couldn't get around to, so I thought I'd share some more info here.

Twitter is uniquely helpful to performing arts organizations because you can identify people in your ZIP Code who maybe don't even go to the theatre, but maybe they would if they felt welcomed, if they felt it would be fun or interesting or relevant to them. You can identify, reach out, and build relationships with people who can become invested in your mission. I don't have hard numbers (if you do, please share in the comments!), but I know that theaters are bringing in audience members via Twitter who are completely new to their organization.

Now, some questions.

@theatredude asked if a theatre should follow its own employees.
Every theatre has its own unique culture. I can't really see why you wouldn't follow everyone affiliated with your company. (If an employee would rather keep her tweetstream private, she can adjust her profile settings accordingly.) It's fun for followers to hear the back-and-forth when people share what they're excited about behind the scenes.

@leehenderson asked if the idea is to grow new audiences with Twitter.
Absolutely! That's one of the main differences between Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is about cultivating the audience you already have, while Twitter is about finding new people in your area who might come to your theatre for a Tweetup, see a show, and then become lifelong fans.

@htyweb offered that instead of searching for your name on Twitter to keep track of what people are saying about your theatre, you can set up automatic searches that will go right to your email. @htyweb mentions TweetBeep as one such tool.
I ran out of time on the talk, but indeed there are a slew of tools (called third-party clients, or apps) that you can use to manage your Twitter account. I'm not recommending any one of these tools over another--you should explore and make your own decisions.

For Your Desktop or Laptop

Tweetdeck is a downloadable third-party client that a lot of people use on their desktop computer. Also, I've heard a lot about Seesmic. It allows you to group your messages and the people you follow. It's helpful to use one of these if you plan on following hundreds or thousands of people. There will naturally be some people you want to make sure not to miss anything from.

HootSuite is one of many tools that allow you to track your company's Twitter account, DMs, @ replies, and even assign some of these things to specific people in your company. CoTweet is a similar product. These are useful if you want to have several people tweet on your company's behalf from one main account.

For Your SmartPhone

There are several apps you can download--Twitterfon, Twitterrific, Twittelator Pro, Tweetie, and Twitterberry to name a few.

To Track Statistics

You can use hit-counting clients like Statcounter to track how much traffic comes to your website from Twitter.

URL-shorteners

Out of all the URL-shorteners, many people favor bit.ly, because you can track how many times that URL is shared. Others are tiny.url, and tr.im.



Here's how I access Twitter:
During the work day, I'm at a desk, so I use the regular Twitter web interface. I have Twitterfon on my iPhone. (I keep meaning to upgrade to Twitterfon Pro.) Instead of using Tweetdeck to group tweets from certain people, I use Google Reader to collect RSS feeds of the Twitterers I follow who I don't want to miss a single tweet from, and then I can check out the tweets on my computer or iPhone when it suits me. I'm leery of using too many third-party apps that require sharing my Twitter password--the more you share your password, the more hackable your account is, and everyone has a different comfort zone with that.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments, or share success stories. Also, please pass around this information--the insights and ideas discussed on the recorded talk aren't limited to theater companies, but can be useful for other arts and nonprofit organizations.

One last thing. While I was flattered to be introduced as a "Social Media Expert," social media is evolving so rapidly, with so many discoveries still to be made, that I don't think anyone is an expert. Once you guys are comfortable on this new platform, you'll be able to teach me things! Let's keep sharing the information so we can make sure the performing arts get a strong foothold in this new arena.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So, the Other Day, I Got Some of This Free Money I've Been Hearing So Much About

Remember this? When I had to move out of my first NY apartment because my massage table was stolen, and I rented a van and a friend to move to the new place where the ceiling is now caving in?

Remember how I had to pay my pal with an American Express check because my NBC paychecks were not coming through week after week?

Remember how AmEx lowered my limit to $2K without telling me first even though I had never had a late payment in over 15 years, so that the check was declined because it would've been $24 whole dollars over?

Well, I simply vented here and haven't used the card since, because I pick my battles and my battles at the time were bigger than the declined check.

Well.

The other night, I received an apology from American Express, and a check for $160. Apologies are so much better when they involve money. I don't know if there was some sort of class action suit pending, or what, but American Express and I are now on speaking terms again.

I thought you should know.

I also thought you should know that sometimes really good, unexpected things can happen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

There's a joke in there about a bartending marriage counselor, I just know it.

Ooged out by this? Me, too.

Why.

Because:

1. As best I can tell, from the police reports and from my own common sense, both parties chose to escalate the conflict by power-tripping, a la: "You don't know who I am," "No, you don't know who I am."

2. No way Gates should have been arrested.

3. No way it would've happened were he white.

4. No way Obama should have said the police "acted stupidly."

5. The woman who called 911 wasn't calling in because Gates was black, she was calling in because she saw two men bust the front door open.

6. Now everyone's trying to justify their overreactions by turning it into a "teaching moment."

7. Gates is also turning it into an opportunity to promote his
upcoming PBS special
.

It's a case of 1) indignation being triggered, 2) ego insulted at being asked for identification, and 3) a self-justifying attempt to cover a childish reaction with a transparently self-aggrandizing one. I'm sorry, but you cannot be a scholar of African American studies and be shocked that racial profiling exists (though I'm not sure this is a case of "profiling" so much as out-and-out racism at the choice to arrest him [not the choice to investigate] [See #3. Also see "disingenuous."]).

For political and philosophical reasons, it's unwise for Obama to step in as bartending marriage counselor. And I'm tired of people treating it as if, "Well, yeah, maybe it's messed up, but something good might come of it." It's too staged and self-aware for anything authentic to come out of it, though I'm sure all parties will come out BFFs afterwards, having Learned A Lot. [Cue unicorns.] Ew. Fake fake fake. How about a rigorous examination of how entrenched and internalized racism is in America? How about discussing the implications of reparations?

Looking forward to reading the reviews about Thursday's jacked-up performance art Friday morning on The Twitter. I don't know about you, but me, I'll be at the @clarencethomas tweetup tomorrow night.

File Under: Nothing Like Alcohol and Publicity to Heal All Wounds.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

THURSDAY SLICE O' PIE: "The Europeans"

Last weekend I saw Howard Barker's "The Europeans" at Potomac Theatre Project with the fearless leader of Red Bull Theater, where I am Literary Manager. I don't think I'd seen any of Barker's work before. I like going into a play knowing as little about what I'm seeing as possible.

I don't review the plays I see on my blog for two reasons: 1) it's tacky; and, 2) my taste is such that it's rare for me to really thrill at something. But sometimes I like to write down my response, my impressions from seeing a piece of theater, and I found myself scribbling notes on the long subway ride home afterwards.

I ate the script up with a spork--the theatricality and juxtaposition of so many terrible hungers and giant issues were ridiculously stimulating. It made me want to learn more about Barker's Theatre of Catastrophe, I think he calls it. I love it when difficult things are jammed together in a play and nothing is easy.

Parts of the play are in verse. I haven't seen the text, so I don't know if it's laid out that way on the page, but there were bits of iambic pentameter that are unforgettable. To wit:

"Revenge must be upon the innocent."

"We often choose to live with those we hate."


And this juicy one, from when a character learns his stepmother has died:

"Dead? But I wasn't finished with her yet."


Wait. Go back. Did you see that?! Instead of an iamb for the first foot, it's a spondee! A spondee, people! "Dead? But... ." Two syllables, both stressed, and with a pause of such clean heft splitting its belly that it gave me chills.

This one was in answer to the question "How do we escape history?":

"We re-create its mayhem in our lives."


It came somewhere near the end, around when a main character forces a hapless footman to tell him a story. The footman delivers, but the listener takes over, and eventually rejects the narrative. I found this turn a fascinating microcosm of the issues this play explores: questions of control over self, over country, and over history through the telling and framing of events.

Back to that first, spectacularly trenchant one. "Revenge must be upon the innocent." Once it's uttered, you know the horrible price that will be paid later.

Oh, and there was a beautiful moment where a hanging happened on stage, and it was handled in the simplest, most brilliant way. One of those moments that can make you insanely jealous you didn't think it up first.

Oh, and my boss is in love with Nikolai Erdman's comedy "The Suicide," which I can't wait to read.

Monday, July 27, 2009

TWEETABLES: New Video

Some of you who follow me on The Twitter have probably already seen this, but here is another video version of my presentation at Jeff Pulver's #140 Character Conference on Twitter in June. The camera was closer in, but the ambient noise is cut, so it sounds like the audience sat in stony silence; they did laugh at my few jokes.

Justin Kahn was kind enough to record this. Check it out. [10 minutes]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

TWEETABLES: Maybe If I Blog About It, It Won't Come True

Everything's going beautifully in my life. This can mean one thing, and one thing only: I'm about to fall for someone who's completely wrong for me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CLICKWORTHY: Me Talking at #140 Conference

Martin Pratt was kind enough to forward a clip of me speaking at the #140 Conference. My talk was called "All the Web's a Stage: The arts as a shared experience on Twitter."

I start about two minutes in.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Love NY but The Twitter Makes Me Hot

I've been going non-stop since I got to NY at the end of last year.

Friday July 3 was that most rare and delicious of days, a Federal holiday. A chance to sleep in and get some personal things done. All I had to do was email some voice-over stuff by 3:30, and get a grant application postmarked. Easy peasy.

So.

I.

[9:00am]
Read the news on Twitter, then went to Rite Aid and bought a ream of paper, chips, and bottled tea. Came home and wrote futuristic news announcements* to be recorded in DC later in the day as voice-overs for pre-show and intermission at my DC Fringe show, "MAY 39th/40th." Also cancelled drywall guy because kitchen ceiling had started leaking again. (Long story.)

[11:30am]
Started grant application (proposal, budget, tax returns, cover letter, cover form, CV). Concurrently printed 90-page sample script and 4 pages of work-in-progress on ream of new paper.

So far so good.

[12:15pm]
Take a break and drop off laundry to be done. Ready by 5pm.

[1:30pm]
Still working on grant application. Knock at door. Super and plumber. Unexpected, but great that they are now on a mission to suss out why my kitchen ceiling is gushing like a cheerleader on prom night. I let them in and then ignore them because I'm in deadline mode.

[2:20pm]
Grant application printed, assembled, enveloped. Moved on to final script edits of "MAY 39th/40th."

[2:40pm]
Plumber and super are now AWOL, so I tell IJ** not to escape and I leave my apartment unlocked.

[2:45pm]
Catch a cab (there are never cabs where I live--This day is going SO well, I think to myself) 20 blocks to a wifi cafe so I can email the script and voiceover stuff before 3:30pm deadline.

[3:00pm]
Buy a fruit cup, open netbook, and repeatedly fail to send emails.

[3:04pm]
Learn from neighbor that wifi is turned off from 11am-4pm.

"Sh*t. I'm f*cked."

[3:04:03pm]
Contemplate finding a Starbucks and figuring out how to buy wifi access there, and decide instead to beg cafe owner to turn on wifi. "I took a cab, I bought your fruit, I have a deadline, I'm happy to pay."

[3:07pm]
Email script and voice-over goodies from wifi cafe. (Never underestimate the power of "Please.")

Now that I've got a little time (post office doesn't close 'til 5pm, right?), I answer emails, listen to a woman fight with her mom over Facebook, and eavesdrop on a middle-aged couple going down in flames during what appears to be their first date. The guy is silent, mostly. She: "Well, she sounds great! Why are you here, go be with her!" and, "My cycle is 21 days, not 28, so my eggs..."

I kid you not.

I Twitter the fruits of my eavesdropping, and restrain myself from posting a surreptitious picture. (Believe me, a picture would explain a lot.)

[4:00pm]
Pack up and walk the 10 blocks to the post office so I can get my grant application postmarked.

Have I mentioned it's a Federal holiday?

Sh*t. I'm f*cked. Again.

Now, in my defense, I thought since post offices are open on Saturdays, that meant that they'd only be closed on Saturday the 4th. As in, you know, the actual holiday? A quick scroll through Safari on my iPhone tells me that most post offices closed at noon on Friday, July 3rd.

This is when The Twitter made me want to marry it.

[4:22pm]
I put a call out on The Twitter.



"Emergency: post office is closed. Must get grant application postmarked today. Am way uptown 180th Street. Anyone know other post offices?"

[4:26pm]
Email Grant Lady, asking if it were possible for me to mail my application on Monday, saying I understand if not.

[4:32pm]
I have received no less than 20 replies, and I now know that the 34th street post office is open until 7pm. Score!

[4:45pm]
I show up at the laundromat 15 minutes early. My laundry is right there, I see it, waiting to be folded. I say I'll take it unfolded, I'm in a hurry. They do not understand English. They insist on folding it. I mean, insist. Like I ask four times, smiling and saying, no need to fold, in a hurry. (Even though I have 'til 7pm to get to 34th Street, I live a good 50 minutes away by subway, and I'm not thinking now is a good time to push my luck timing-wise.)

[4:50pm]
I give up and leave the laundromat.

[4:55pm]
I return to the laundromat when I realize they have all my cute jeans.

[4:57pm]
I am given my laundry. I tip $3 to dissuade them from thinking I'm a typical impatient gringa.

[5:10pm]
Cat still there. So is the ladder and mess in my kitchen. Try to find super so he can get his ladder, then give up. Shower. Dress. There is nothing like putting makeup on your face when you are sweating your balls off. Nothing like it. While putting on sneakers that will later give me blisters, realize the only thing I ate were chips and fruit.

[5:25pm]
Leave house, taking touch-up paint with me because you never know when you might meet one of those mythical single guys in New York City. On the way to the subway, notice silver shoes some huge guy on the street is wearing.

[5:35pm]
Guy holds elevator to train platform for me. Train comes right away. Get on, then nearly get off in the naughty sense because this is the first time I've been in air conditioning all day. Realize iPhone is out of juice.

[6:25pm]
Enter post office.

[6:35pm]
Mission accomplished!

[6:36pm]
Read email from Grant Lady saying no problem, I can mail the application on Monday.


[6:37pm]
Try to Twitter my good news and thank everyone, but 3G blows, so I buy a hot dog and give a homeless guy a dollar. Get on subway.

[7:00pm]
Arrive at fancy restaurant.

New York is great. I'm only this nuts because I'm trying to do so many things. Working 3 jobs, writing plays, and other things, so everything gets left to the last minute, and there's no room for surprises. But now all my deadlines are met, and it's just the 3 jobs for a bit. I certainly don't want to complain, because right now I know many people don't even have jobs, so I'm super lucky, having just moved to NYC, to have all the work I do.

That said, I really did feel I should have at least gotten some at the end of a day like that.

Thank you to all my Twitter friends who came to my rescue. I honestly don't know what I would have done, because I couldn't get any useful info about USPS offices on my iPhone, and I didn't even know about the 34th Street post office that has extended hours all the time. So if I get this grant, I'll take everyone who helped me out for drinks!


*E.g., "In other news, North American President Jane Hansel will travel to Japandia this week in a bid to strengthen diplomatic ties between North America and the emerging super-colony. Japandia’s newly elected Prime Minister, Matsuda Haiko, known by her colonists as 'The Iron Cherry Blossom,' said that she hopes the visit will 'repair the wounds of the past.'”

**Cat.

TWEETABLES: This is getting embarrassing.

More advance press for MAY 39th/40th:

Washington Post's "Going Out Gurus" came up with their Top 10 most promising shows from last Wednesday's Fringe Preview. Guess what made the cut.

The Washington Times did their roundup of shows to catch at Fringe, and we made that, too.

Get your tickets, my sweet yatches!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

TWEETABLES: More Advance Press and a Preview for MAY 39th/40th


We are totes lucking out with advance press.

MAY 39th/40th got a nice mention in the Washington Post today, complete with the above picture of James Finley and Lindsay Haynes. Jane Horwitz includes a mention of our most recent development, that of switching the characters' genders in MAY 40th at rehearsal on Saturday!

Also, tonight, if you're in DC, check out the kickoff Fringe party. It'll be the official opening press conference, and many shows will give snippets of their performances, including MAY 39th/40th. I can't go because I'm up here in NYC, but it's always a ton of fun!

We are already selling some tix, so if you know you wanna check it out, you can buy yours here.

And I'll keep updating this page with all sorts of good news about MAY 39th/40th.

We've also got some ink coming out in the Washington Times on Friday.

Other Advance Press:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TWEETABLES: Advance Press for MAY 39th/40th

We're getting some nice mentions for the DC Fringe production of MAY 39th/40th.

Check it Oh-You-Tee:

MAY 39th/40th, My Fabulous Sex Life, Titus X, et al. Set for Capital Fringe Festival
TheaterMania 6/22/09

MAY 39th/40th: Where Will You Be?
DC Performing Arts Examiner, 6/14/09

Rising Director Christy Denny
DC Performing Arts Examiner, 6/14/09

And here's our press release.

Now run and get your tickets!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWEETABLES: Hot. Super hot.

The New York Neo-Futurists will perform TwitterPlays written by Twitter followers this weekend. The TwitterPlays are part of PRIDE Meets the Street, Saturday, June 27 from 3pm to 7pm on 4th Street between 2nd Avenue & Bowery.

I've got at least one play in the mix. I'll be in DC at a rehearsal for my play MAY 39th/40th, so unfortunately I'll miss this! But you can go. I mean, if you live in NYC and all.

Go!

Monday, June 22, 2009

TWEETABLES: DC Fringe Tix on Sale!


1,000 years from now, dating in the city will still blow chunks. And playing doctor will be way more creepy.



Tickets for MAY 39th/40th are now on sale at DC Fringe!

The show opens July 11 and runs for 3 weekends. It's a small venue with only 5 performances, and we sold out in 2006 when the first version of MAY 39th was produced, so if you know you wanna see it, go ahead and get your tix here.

It's being produced by 11:11 Productions and directed by Christy Denny, an exciting up-and-coming director who just assistant-directed "Stunning" at Lincoln Center LTC3. The play features Lindsay Haynes (she was in my play, "Jupiter Zoom," for those of you who've been with me that long) and James Finley.

I won't be at every performance, because I'm based in NYC now, but let me know if you plan on going to the show, and please tell your friends in DC about it.


About the Plays

MAY 39th takes a voyeuristic ride through the morning after a first date in the year 3009: Sam gives Louisa everything she wants, and a few things she hadn't bargained for. In MAY 40th, Roya consents to a startling procedure when she asks Jim to heal her blindness. Both plays explore the lengths people will go to in the pursuit or avoidance of pain.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TWEETABLES: Graziella TV Webisode

Hey! The #140 Conference was super awesome. I gave a talk on how some performing arts organizations are using Twitter successfully. As a result, I was invited to chat on Graziella Barratta's web TV show. She's Ms. United States and she's super cool and passionate about the arts.

Check out the episode: Go to http://www.graziellatv.com/ and click on "Menu." Choose "Watch Movies," then choose the "Graziella TV 6/19/09" episode. The first part got cut off a little.

Monday, June 15, 2009

TWEETABLES: Out of the Office, Yo

In a few hours, the #140 Character Conference to explore how Twitter is affecting advertising, celebrity, and the media starts with a sweet happy hour for all of us "characters."

There are 140 of us (get it?), and I cannot WAIT to meet these people in 3-D.

On Wednesday at 4:50pm, I'll be giving a 10-minute talk called "ALL THE WEB'S A STAGE: The Arts As a Shared Experience on Twitter." I'm also producing two panels: "TWITTER + TV: Producing Content on Two Screens," and "White House Correspondency in the Age of Twitter."

You can watch all the presentations here.

Peace in your crease.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

THURSDAY SLICE O' PIE: Closing the Loop and Opening the Door

Was it really three weeks ago that we all were parsing apart the Primary Stages issue around their all-female season of plays?

Yes, yes it was.

I loved that, everywhere I went both in NY and in DC in the following days, people were eager to talk about this issue. I loved that so many people were coming here to read about it, and appreciated that people were commenting so thoughtfully. And I wanted to share more information about the issue. (Also, I'm looking forward to attending the seminar on Gender Disparity on June 22 sponsored by 59E59 and Primary Stages.)

But...

In those three weeks since, I've worked my 3 jobs, finished a script, travelled to DC for a reading, helped to produce 2 panels for a conference, worked one fundraiser, attended another, seen 6 shows, gone to Atlantic City, attended two professional networking events, worked on a grant application, prepped for a speaking engagement next week, and built the graphics for the web, press release, banner ad, and postcard for one of my summer shows.

(And I started an online dating profile. You know, because I have so much free time on my hands.)

But the real reason I've held back on posting further, was that I wanted to sit with my own feelings on this matter.

Obviously, I have strong, personal feelings about this. And I am always suspicious of strong, personal feelings. Not in a bad way--I think passion clues us in to what matters most to us--but in a skeptical way. As in, What's really going on here?

And I realized that what's really going on here is that I can't even pretend to be objective, and that I can't make a logical argument for why it is important to produce women playwrights. I actually think logic works against this idea, that an argument for parity, for numbers, somehow misses addressing the essential nature of what's askew in the first place.

And so I've decided to write about this topic solely from my own personal viewpoint, acknowledging the whole time that it is completely subjective, and influenced by many specifically personal events in my own life.

But I'm not doing that in this post, and it will take me a little while to gather those thoughts on paper.

But I will share some interesting after-events from the time this issue was raised three weeks ago:

Primary Stages responded to a follow-up email I sent asking what sort of response they were seeing in terms of subscription numbers. They said that there indeed was an impact, but they did not list specific numbers:

Since this string was posted, we have received more than a few inquiries about purchasing subscriptions for worthy female playwrights, and I certainly hope those numbers continue to grow. It has been, and continues to be, fulfilling for Primary Stages (as an organization and as individual staff members) to connect young playwrights with a community of supporters.

We often use the term "Primary Stages family" because we know it takes much more than our little staff to make theater happen. Thank you to all who are joining that family. We look forward to entering this milestone year with you.


Then, on June 3, a friend who supports Round House Theatre forwarded me this e-blast that RHT sent to their mailing list:

Round House Supports Women Playwrights

Round House Theatre has produced five plays on its Bethesda
main stage this season. Four of those plays were written by accomplished female playwrights. And though it's already June, you still have a chance to support this kind of work by attending our final production of the season — Melanie Marnich's new comedy A Sleeping Country, running through June 21.

Theatre stages are, in general, still dominated by the work of male playwrights. A recent study by the Dramatists Guild noted that only 11% of the plays produced in New York City were female-authored. Here at Round House, we're trying to change that. Just look at who came out to play this year: Karen Zacarías, Mary Hall Surface, Sarah Ruhl and currently Melanie Marnich. These are amongst the most talented and creative voices working in the theatre today - male or female.

But sometimes, we just need a little reminder. Supporting their work matters. A lot.

I could be wrong to assume a causal connection to the conversation we all were engaging in two weeks prior, but I'd like to think that this is an example of a theatre realizing that overtly supporting women playwrights, and telling their audience why it's important, can get people to the theater, and can make subscribers a little less squeamish.

The very same hour, I kid you not, I got an email from another DC friend. She had just gotten her Studio Theatre season brochure in the mail and was dismayed it features only male playwrights.

The fact that this friend noticed this underscores what I suspect is one of the disconnects between the genders about awareness of this issue. I know that every time I look at a table of contents in a magazine, or a theatre's season listing, when it's all men, it really stands out. And believe me, it happens a lot. (And often, when women are included, they are dolled-up or admired for a saucy, cultivated foul-mouthedness.) Each week I get an email from the New Yorker telling me what's waiting for me in my mailbox at home, and so many times the entire list of writers is men.

I caught part of the Tonys while I was in Atlantic City, and I was struck by how purposefully women seemed to be included, whether it were a wife brought on stage by a male Tony winner, or another award winner making sure to say that God of Carnage succeeds because of Reza's script, that the director and translator did not fix or improve it (I'm paraphrasing, but you know what I mean).

So I believe that, as often as I have seen male colleagues roll their eyes or disengage from this conversation (oh the sting of not being listened to), there are many more male colleagues (many of them married or with daughters at home) who care deeply about this issue. And I believe that progress will be exponential. Well, I hope so anyway.

And for those men who might want to understand more viscerally why this is such a huge issue for women, I recommend a specific book to read. It's a classic piece of writing that had an enormous impact on the conversation about women's issues when it was published in the 1970s, and it had an enormous impact on me when I read it decades later. It specifically speaks to the creation of art, and to the creation of art by women. It explores, succinctly and powerfully, the many reasons women are often silent, or are silenced. It's aptly called Silences, and it was written by Tillie Olsen, who passed away a few years ago.

It's around 300 pages, but if you just read the first section (there are three), which is about 50 pages, you'll see why it is such an important piece of writing. (And you'll probably be so fascinated that you'll continue reading.)

When I went to the MacDowell Colony, I went around my studio looking at all the names written on the wall of who had been there before me. Tillie Olsen was one of the names. I re-read Silences while I was there, and an artistic director of a theatre, who knew of my admiration for Olsen, suggested I write something up inspired by her work. I spent a few days inquiring about rights and got nowhere. I wrote Olsen a letter. She died shortly after.

I never wrote my piece on her, and I don't think I ever will. It's a fool's endeavor to try to re-work something that is already in its perfect form.

Monday, June 8, 2009

TWEETABLES: The Casino Edition

Spent the weekend in Atlantic City.

While my friend and his boyfriend played poker to the tune of several hundred dollars (and came out ahead, because they're smart like that), I napped, drank carrot juice, stared at the ocean, got a massage, and learned that straight men travel in packs.

Also? Some people are enormous.

Jumped into Monday with both feet. Killed myself during Pilates today. I have plans to carve out some blogging time for my playwrighty thoughts, as well as write a guest post on another blog about social media. Also, making revisions to MAY 39th/40th, which goes into rehearsal on the 21st. Also have to create the banner ad and postcard art for said play, and give feedback on the press release the producer wrote.

All I wanna do is nap, but I'm jacked up on a venti green tea lemonade, light ice, two pumps of classic.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

THURSDAY SLICE O' PIE: The 8-Minute Mile

I have goodness to share, including more follow-up from the Primary Stages/women playwrights discussion of last week. I also would love to share with you how I benefitted from a perfect storm of exhaustion from travelling to DC, finishing my play in the middle of the night (35 pages in 9 hours!), thinking about the PS issue, hearing my play read in DC (which is about a woman artist), and talking to a compassionate friend over the weekend. All these ingredients delivered a walloping epiphany of the first order Monday night at 2:30am.

Then I got on a bus a few hours later and slammed back into NY.

Since I am swamped with desk-jockey responsibilities today, that post will have to wait.

I do, however, have time for a quickie.

Okay.

Eight minutes.

It takes me eight minutes to get from the subway to my front door at night. And it's never boring. I don't know if it matters what I was wearing this particular night, but I will tell you it involved 3-inch high red boots and a super cool jacket. In order, I encountered:

  • A bug-eyed man who lurched toward me and grunted hello as he crossed my path as if he were a zombie after my brains.
  • Another man who asked for food.
  • Another man kissed me from afar and mumbled something as he walked behind me.
  • A pantsless man lying on the sidewalk, with people leaning over him.
  • Three teenage boys sitting on a stoop.

It was not until I got inside my apartment (aka my nap-cubby) that I realized I had been parading my Chipotle food bag through my Dominican neighborhood the whole time.

I seriously don't know how to blend.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

COMPS available for my reading in DC on Monday

Holla, DC friendlies.

Meant to do this 2 days ago, but it got set aside by the important Primary Stages discussion.

There's a special event this coming Monday in DC. It's a reading of a new play of mine that's based on the life of Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola. It's part of Washington Shakespeare Company's reading series at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The reading starts at 7pm, and will last 90 minutes, for those of you not wanting to stay out too late on a school/work night. There will be a talkback afterwards.

This is the same play that got an airing at the Kennedy Center last fall in a reading of the first 40 pages. It's more fully developed now, and I can't wait to hear it out loud. I am blessed to have an AMAZING cast and director. I'm very excited about this, and would love to see as many of my DC friends in the audience as possible.

SOFONISBA
by Callie Kimball
directed by Dorothy Neumann
with Heather Haney, Barbara Klein, Joseph Thornhill, and Sunshine Cappelletti as Sofonisba Anguissola

MON 5.25 7pm
National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005
202.783.5000 800.222.7270

$10 in advance, or pay-what-you-can at the door. Tickets may be purchased at www.boxofficetickets.com/wsc or 1.800.494.TIXS (8497).

IF YOU WOULD LIKE COMPS, please leave a comment here with the number of tickets you'd like and I will reserve them for you. Please please make sure if you reserve comps, that you make it to the reading! :-)

TO AUTOMATICALLY get notices of my events, please sign up for my mailing list. 26 emails in 2+ years, so it's not scary. :-)

Index of Posts Re: Primary Stages All-Female Season Response

For everyone's convenience:

The original post that drew so much attention, outlining an activist response to the news that some subscribers were refusing to renew subscriptions to Primary Stages because their '09-'10 season is three plays written by women. (http://tinyurl.com/pkajyd)

A response from Primary Stages verifying this assertion. (http://tinyurl.com/onxkvm)

A response filled with statistics sent by the original sender of the email that brought this to my attention. (http://tinyurl.com/p5gp98)

A phenomenally varied and long list of women playwrights that Adam Szymkowicz began in response to this, and to which people are adding dozens of names. (http://tinyurl.com/oc2vg3)

Submission statistics by gender from my work as Literary Manager for Red Bull Theater. (http://tinyurl.com/qv8qhc)

And, the shortest of all:

Why this issue is important to me. (http://tinyurl.com/pava66)

Why This Issue Is Important to Me

I am signed up for various news aggregates, and through them, I read about issues in the area of maternal mortality, mass rape, and fistula in developing countries.

Every.

Day.

And every day I am sickened and enraged; but above all, I feel helpless.

Every minute, a woman dies in childbirth or from complications of childbirth. That's 1,440 women each day. Dead.

An 8-year-old girl is living with fistula after being raped for two weeks by grown men.

In Liberia, Doctors Without Borders (as reported by Nicholas Kristof) states that, of 275 new sexual violence cases treated in the first four months of 2009, 61% of those sexually violent acts were committed on girls aged 12 and under. That's in four months alone. And those are just the cases that have been documented. By just one organization.

As anyone reading this blog probably knows, Lynn Nottage's play, "Ruined," produced by Manhattan Theatre Club, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The play, which Nottage researched in the Congo, tells the story of a group of women living in a brothel, and how they manage the effects of sexual violence as a consequence of war.

And that, dear readers, is where the intersection of art and social media grabs my attention the most: both art and social media, through artists and advocates, are tools through which we can, and must, give a voice to the voiceless.

We need to hear from women writers. In all fields. Playwriting and social media just happen to be my fields, and by finding and strengthening my voice in both, I begin to feel a little less helpless.

Statistics from My Work as Literary Manager

It occurred to me late last night, that as a Literary Manager, I have my own statistics I could count and share, since I keep a spreadsheet detailing all of the submissions we receive.

Of 118 submissions I've read in the last 6 months (when I came on board), 112 were written by playwrights whose names clearly indicated gender (or whose gender I happen to know).

Of those 112 scripts, 86 were by men, and 23 were by women.

Of the 86 written by men, I recommended 21 for a second read, and 2 for a must-read.

Of the 23 written by women, I recommended 9 for a second read, and 2 for a must-read.

I am horrible at ratio-figuring, but that's roughly 1 in 4 scripts by men that are of a quality I would recommend be considered for a production or reading, and roughly 1 in 2.5 scripts by women I would judge the same.

So the issue, at Red Bull Theater at least, is not one of quality, though we have an admittedly slim mission (Jacobean plays and adaptations of the same) that certainly has an impact on the gender of most of the playwrights we select.

If I meet you and you're a playwright, I'll pretty much always ask you to send me something, in case you happen to be working on an adaptation (that's rarely the case, but you never know what people are working on). (And if I forget to ask, please just send anyways, if you have something on-mission.)

The only part of my job where I am conscious of gender is in sourcing plays. I ask women to submit plays all the time, and yet I rarely get submissions from those same women. Or I'll hear of a female playwright whose work intrigues me, but the email link on their web page (if they even have a web page) is dead. I know that, as a playwright myself, I rarely feel like a script of my own is good enough to send out, and often I hear echoes of this from other women playwrights. I try to go the extra mile in encouraging women to submit, but once I am reading submissions, I am looking for the best material within the confines of our mission.

Those are my thoughts from that perspective.

List of Women Playwrights

Playwright Adam Szymkowicz began a thread on his blog in response to this issue, listing female playwrights whose work he would like to see produced more. He invited people to submit their own suggestions, and there are quite a few women on this list. Take a look.

Statistics on Women Playwrights

Welcome back, people.

I appreciate so many people visiting yesterday's post (561 page loads, 376 unique visitors), engaging in discussion, taking action by buying season subscriptions (!), and sharing their responses here. I can tell by the continued jump in blog traffic that this issue interests a great many people, and that alone is very heartening for those of us who care and are directly affected by this issue.

For those of you just joining us, yesterday I posted an email that had been forwarded to me, encouraging people to take action and support Primary Stages' all-female playwright season by buying a season subscription, even if you are out of town. I posted it here and on Twitter. In the afternoon, Primary Stages responded, verifying that some subscribers had said the reason they were not renewing their subscription was because their season was plays by women.

Many people expressed a healthy skepticism yesterday, wanting more specific sources and statistics on the issue. Late last night I heard from the person who wrote the initial email suggesting that buying a season subscription to Primary Stages in response subscribers not renewing due to the all-female bill. I have pasted her information in its entirety below.

In a separate post, I am sharing my own statistics on script submissions, broken down by gender, to Red Bull Theater, where I am Literary Manager.

==========================
From the Sender of the Original Email:

A report of some negative audience responses to Primary Stages' all-female authored 2009-2010 season was mentioned on the International Centre for Women Playwrights listserve on May 8, 2009. On the listserve, there was an informal request from ICWP members for brainstorming about ways we might suggest to help garner more support for the Primary Stages season.
The "buying of a 2009-2010 season subscription and donating it to an emerging New York female playwright" campaign was a female playwright's response.

Some current facts about female playwrights in the U.S.:

From 1660-1680, women playwrights accounted for only 7% of the plays produced in London.-Donkin, Ellen. Getting Into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776-1829. London: Routledge. Page 1

According to recent Dramatists Guild statistics, in 2007 & 2008, only “9-11%” of all productions in Regional, League of Resident Theatres [L.O.R.T.], and Off-Broadway theatres were written by women.- Garrison, Gary. “Numbers.” Dramatists Guild of America E-Flash. Newsletter to Members. 26 Feb. 2009.

Playwright Theresa Rebeck, in her 9 September 2008 essay for The Guardian entitled “Broadway’s Glass Ceiling” states that for the 2008/2009 New York theater season, plays penned by women constituted only 12.6% of the shows in New York venues. - Rebeck, Theresa. “Broadway’s Glass Ceiling.” 9 Sept. 2008. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2008/sep/09/broadwaysglassceiling
“One hundred years ago, in 1908-1909, according to Internet Broadway Database, nearly 13% of new straight plays on New York stages were by women.”- Jordan, Julia. “Women Playwrights: Equality in Production.” The Dramatist. Jan/Feb 2009. Vol. II, no. 3. 36-37.

Rebeck cites the 1908-1909 data specifically at “12.8%.” That means in the 2008-2009 season in New York, there were .2% less female-penned shows than in 1908, at the beginning of the 20th century.

This is even more surprising when considering other related statistics, such as in 2000, the U.S. Census reported that females comprised 51% of the U.S. population.- Spraggins, Reneé. “We the People: Women and Men in the United States.” Census 2000 Special Reports.” January 2005. http://www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/censr-20.pdf

And of course, it is worth noting that there are now thousands of female playwrights in the United States.

Women constitute 40% of the Dramatists Guild today; 2,230 females are members. - Garrison, Gary. “Numbers.” Dramatists Guild of America E-Flash. Newsletter to Members. 26 Feb. 2009

This 2,230 figure under-represents the actual number of female playwrights living in the United States, as many female playwrights cannot afford to be current members of the DG, and/or have not yet been “identified." So a conservative guess is there are 5,000 female playwrights or MORE in the United
States right now.