Theatre Writing

For almost three years, I’ve been writing theatre reviews for a media company. The work was compensated only in theatre tickets and the sense of satisfaction of seeing my words read by thousands of people. That has been more than enough for me.

News arrived at the very end of 2017 that my editor at the media company was being let go, and the media company downsizing. I’ve had to put off theatres who approached me about upcoming shows. The one show for which I had already lined up tickets was turned down without explanation by the replacement editor. Whether this all means the end of my work as a reviewer is still not clear, but chances are good that this is the end of the road for me at that media company.

Fortunately, I like change. I get bored *really* easily. It’s remarkable I’ve stayed married this long, but that is more of a reflection of how exciting life is with Tim. Typically, for non-work uses of my time, I prefer to try new things, go someplace I’ve never been before, learn something I never thought about.

Three years going to plays and writing reviews? Kinda shocking.

What I found out, though, is that I rather enjoy it. Getting to see all these stories told on big stages and small, with fancy sets or no sets at all, by professionals or volunteers or novices or–best of all–kids! Being a witness to those stories has been an overwhelming privilege. The vulnerability, the willingness to take risks, to stand up in front of people and say “Watch me! I’m doing something important and you should listen now!” catches my heart in my throat even now. What a remarkable thing to do, putting yourself on stage, sometimes in the shoes of another person, to tell a story that makes people think about the world and themselves in it. There’s magic in those moments, the suspension of life while we examine this one crucial thought.

But time and tide wait for no one. Change was inevitable. I’ve started a new freelance gig, and I’m down the path on a long-term educational goal, planning a return to post-graduate study in the next few years. The only constant in my life is writing; through all the jobs I’ve worked, the places I’ve lived, writing is my north star.

pexels-photo-391535.jpegI got into this gig on a lark, from a referral from someone I worked with for a whopping two weeks in Chicago. That connection turned into a delightful friendship with a like-minded woman, a professional writer making tracks and kicking ass. And it gave me the chance to get involved in the culture in Portland in ways I never would have thought of. I’ve met people and seen shows that have enriched and stimulated my life and my work. Because of that one connection, my life changed for good, and for the good. It’s been a helluva fun time, and I can’t express how grateful I am for the chance to do this.

And for those theatre readers who found me here on my personal blog, thank you, too. For welcoming me into the theatre scene in Portland, and for letting me witness your creations and share them with the world, and for passing my work around, giving me an audience I didn’t know I craved.

For now, I will be going to “Astoria: Part Two”, thanks to the gracious publicity maven at Portland Center Stage. Plus, there’s no way I’m missing one of the biggest shows in Portland, no matter what the editor in a distant city says.

Here’s my review for the first one.

As for the second one … well, watch this space.


Feelings Machines

I grew up in a family dominated by boys, a group as macho and male-centric as you can get. As the youngest of five, I held a particularly dismissed position, made worse by my gravitation toward music and literature. All my life, I’ve been told that having feelings is bad. Showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Vulnerability. Even outside my family, this is the prevailing message: a premium is placed on “stiff upper lip” and stoicism, something I’ve learned to feign effectively.

My mother was an artist and a musician, my father an avid reader and self-taught musicologist, my sister a fine artist. Art and music and literature were everywhere in our house, and yet the prevailing attitude was that feelings were meant to be feared or avoided, and certainly not discussed.

But I’ve learned in therapy that our bodies — all of our bodies, not just women, not just writers and musicians — are feelings machines. Our five senses provide input to our brains about the world. The senses provide data that we then have to interpret. Feelings are what happen when our brains interpret that data. It’s how we deal with that interpretation that defines who we are.FeelingsMachine

Some of us are “sensitive” people, and some have learned to lock away the process of interpreting this data so it doesn’t show. But all of us do it. Sensitive people may have a more finely honed lens through which we see; things are brighter or sharper, and the input is intense. When we express those impressions to other people, we’re told we are strange or weird. That the world couldn’t possibly look that way. I’ve heard that message my whole life.

Well, until I moved to Portland. Here, I’m rather tame.

Some of us learn to hide away those feelings, bury them until they become caustic and threaten an internal — and ultimately external — explosion. Some learn to control the feelings, only letting them out in the safety of relationships with healthy, loving others. Some wallow in feelings, overwhelmed and confused by the power of these feelings.

But feelings don’t just go away when we don’t want to deal with them, or because we think they’re bad. They get bigger and more chaotic when we ignore them, like Gremlins in water.

Some of us are compelled to put those feelings into music, art, words, photographs, dance, sculpture — where other, less-feeling-aware people can see them and marvel at our talent. Art teaches us to see the human spirit and art lovers bask in its beauty and ability to make us feel.

To make us feel.

Tell me again feelings are bad?

Shouldn’t we be celebrating our body’s ability to reveal the world to us? Shouldn’t we be teaching our children, instead of hiding feelings in shame, to understand what the feelings are telling us? Joy, wonder, frustration,– anger! Anger tells us something is wrong, yet we are told to quell that anger and be calm.

And certainly not to talk about it. Oh heavens no.

In denying the feeling, we’re denying the right to explore life on our own terms and in our own observation of the world. Feelings are clues to help us understand the experience of being alive. We ignore and squash and deny them to our peril.

When we recognize the feelings, when we take the time to know ourselves and listen to what our feelings are telling us, we have the opportunity to be really alive, to live honestly. This isn’t to say we must revel impulsively in every feeling that crops up, but to become aware, to take time to analyze what’s going on so we understand and can make informed decisions.

This process has, for me, improved my relationships. When I understand the feelings that occur when I interact with the world, I am more considerate of other people, more aware of how my behavior changes, and how I affect other people. I’m more aware, too, of the variability of the feelings of people around me, and want to ensure that people I work and live with feel comfortable and safe with me. Increasing my awareness of myself has sent ripples out into my little world, and I am happier because of it.

Our systems are designed to take in this input, process it, and use it to guide our path. When we refuse to process it, it piles up and gets unmanageable. But we have tools: meditation or prayer, exercise, yoga, playing or listening to music, producing art, writing, sitting quietly and watching the sun rise or set.

My tools, the activities I use for what we call “self-care”, are gardening, being in nature, singing, and writing. I spend some time every week doing all of these. Tim has other tools, including playing the guitar. Each of us has different tools to help us quiet the mind, to get us into a place of understanding feelings.

We celebrate artists for what they remind us about ourselves, but we can also investigate our own impulses and instincts, dig down to find out how *we* see the world, and share our own unique perspective on this experience.

We are feelings machines, built to take in and process all that life has to offer. It’s a beautiful kaleidoscope.

Taking Flight

To take flight.

It’s the goal of many of our endeavors. To master a skill or talent or job so that when we do it, we soar, effortless and powerful, self-sufficient, peerless.

Good musicians achieve this occasionally. Great ones do it regularly. Michael Jordan did it, and Wayne Gretzky. Swimmer Maritza McClendon just did it. Artists and chefs and scientists, authors and carpenters. Dancers fly. We can actually see it. Have you ever watched Misty Copeland?

It’s why we watch professional performances, why we marvel over their magical “play” and wonder how they did that. But their play (a term we use for musicians and athletes, but not for others) is a result of years of work, dedication, practice, concentration, study, experimentation, mistakes, re-dedication, competition with themselves — ourselves — to push, to leap, to attempt repeatedly to take off and stay aloft.

To Daedalus. Without the “flying too close to the sun” part.

It’s enough sometimes to get an inch off the ground. I’ve done it once or twice in the Brahms Ballade and the Khatchaturian Toccata. In writing, occasionally. I saw it last weekend at the Community Music Center Anniversary Recital, during the faculty performance. It’s stunning to see people you encounter every day transforming into a collective effort pushing skyward, the music creating an updraft, the chamber orchestra following. Like the house from “Up” affixed to a million balloons. The musicians stood, seemingly earthbound, connected to one another in tempo and rhythmic pulses and eye contact, but if you weren’t watching, if you took your gaze from them for a second, you would be sure they had taken off and were dancing far above, beckoning. Come with us, leave your gravity and fly, you can do it too!

And so, after watching in wonder, many of us head back to the practice room. To the desk, the lab, the palette, the workshop, the top of the key, back to our repetition and promise to the research and failed attempts, to the possibility of lifting off even an inch at a time. For the chance someday to not be earthbound. The feeling of liftoff, the tickle in the stomach, the butterflies so akin to falling in love or off a cliff, into danger, is the joy in life, the “ah-ha” moment, energy of danger and excitement and realization of our haunting dream. The elusive sense that we have touched that magic that skitters out of sight, around the corner, in our periphery.

And maybe that’s the point of Peter Pan. Not just retaining childhood innocence, but the belief in ourselves. Belief that if we never forget our magic, we can truly fly.


Maybe not like Peter and the Lost Boys, but in our way, in the manner we were designed for. I will never fly like Misty Copeland, but I can fly as I am; with words, or in E Major, or with my voice.

But I can’t stop trying. For those of us who keep falling in the attempt, we can’t stop trying. Because deep down, I know it’s possible. I won’t give up the attempt, even when I keep falling. And I see this is true for my scientist friends, and artists and actors, my musician friends and authors. For those of us who just can’t stop pursuing this crazy idea, even when it doesn’t look like we’re getting very far. We do it for one reason and one reason only.

For the persistent belief that, just for a moment, we can fly.