August 31, 2008

Memory Lane In A Real Rolodex

We had no rehearsal today, not tonight either. It is Sunday and Labor Day Weekend, and I was ready to work. Our local Mail Boxes ETC volunteered to post any cards, by real snail mail. An incredible luxury for a production with so little money. We send a giant thanks to owner Joe and workers Avery and Wendy for taking such good care of our copying, and mailing needs. They are more than a village in themselves.

So I got up early and poured down black coffee and took out my 10,000 card Rolodex and began to flip through. What a memory jog this is, because everyone has business cards, or hand written information and I haven’t looked through here in quite a while. I am email woman now, but so nice to send a real piece of mail that will arrive after Labor Day to inform folks that yes, the fall is upon us and the theater season has come with September.

I sat with a good felt tip pen and a hot cuppa and began at A. Perhaps a tad safe for a dyslexic to start at the top, but it works. I looked, flipped, wrote, pondered. And kept plowing through until a friend called at 3ish to say the pottery studio was open, but only to take pieces home. (Do you recall my insanity in attempting to craft all the opening night gifts for the cast? Well I am almost there.) So this was my break from writing out post cards, I rode to the studio, wrapped the pieces and came home to write more.

Some names made me remember things I should do, like Cyrus Vance, the younger, whose name I have been seeing float around or a bit as the heir apparent to the D.A. I know him from back in the day as his sister Amy and I worked together at the Department of Cultural Affairs, I want to invite him. In the K’s I happened upon John Kennedy Jr.'s card for George magazine and a private number, scribbled for his North Moore Street loft. This unleashed a spate of memorial cards: Max Roach, Dana and Chris Reeve and Wendy Wasserstein. I found Gabe Pressman’s home address, he was an old friend of my father’s, and sent him a card. I have the downtown Manhattan address for luminous writer Jamaica Kinkaid before she moved to Vermont, and a current address for her brother-in-law, writer, actor Wally Shawn.

I saw lots of moms from back at PS 234 and plenty of ex-boyfriends with whom I didn’t want to contact. I saw folks I knew hated me and others I felt adored me but somehow still we lost touch. Staying in touch is tough when you work like I did, many consulting jobs, little theater gigs, stock broking jobs or waiting tables. So many people flitter by and wave in and out of our lives.

I want to reach out to lots of people both because we need to fill seats, but also this is the very first time I am the protagonist in a piece I want to promote. Yes composer Doug wrote the music, but it was my idea and then I began putting the pieces together. Yes, now it is no longer mine at all, as my love of collaboration has taken over. Everyone chimes in with ideas and thoughts. The work seems to be growing, like a well-watched baby, some traits from the parents and some picked up on the street or school maybe some just sewn into the DNA of this particular opera.

Reading though all these names I kept seeing faces and hearing voices. I recalled a colleague who constantly held the insole of my foot during meetings when we worked with Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Henry Geldzahler. And although he was gay and I was a serial dater, we both made a pact that if we were alone by, (now what age was it?) that we would grow old together. Neither of us had to worry, but when I read his name I felt his hand on my arch, and the very surreptitious way he wound his fingers into my sandal as we discussed the arts budget for this great City. I sent him a card.

I have a pile of over 500 cards, most are both addressed and have a note on them. But about 100 are merely addressed, as I needed to get mobile for my day tomorrow. I thought I could sit in the back seat on the drive to take Henry back to Skidmore, scribbling while my tall men take the wheel and shotgun seats. Then by the time I am back to the city on Tuesday I will have done my post card labor, all on the day set aside to celebrate work.

August 30, 2008

The Flood

Last night I came home after a long slog in rehearsal. Some folks were missing and still we attempted to be very good sports; all to extraordinary results. A storm was brewing in the City stirred up by hurricane Faye, and the humidity hung like bags of wet wool. I was grumpy. I called my husband on my bike ride home, who informed me he had ordered Chinese as a treat for he and our son.

I was excited, “Hey what did you get me? I’m starving.” My loving husband, the man I adore, began to list the items he ordered. It was clear he and Henry had ordered and he was marketing the leftovers to me. I stopped him, “ So you didn’t actually get anything for me right? OK I’m on my way ” Click.

Oh I heard my voice, a horrible harridan knife-like sound. I hated the sharp, cranky bitch that shared my spirit. And she tends to rear her head more in tired, hungry situations; and this was one.

By the time I made it home and into the breezier loft, I was calm. I kissed my man, fixed a plate of Chinese and prepared to watch the US Open with my tennis-crazed husband, who had Tivoed all of it. I ate my chicken and broccoli and an egg roll. I sat back on the coach and swiftly began to doze; it was 11 p.m.

I transferred to the bedroom with tennis still pinging back and forth in my ears and the next thing in knew I heard rushing in and out of the bathroom. What was my son up to at 4 am.? On his second trip in I asked, “Everything OK? “

“No, water is pouring into my bedroom.”

I walked into his room, and there was a waterfall. We short-term problem solved with buckets and towels, called the upstairs neighbor, and I beat on the door of the family living on the top floor where the wife is 9 plus months pregnant and they have two others under the age of two; only the husband woke up in all the hub-bub.

Henry and neighbor Charlie, wrapped in his wife’s robe, ran up to the roof and Charlie pried the door open with a knife. A torrent of water poured onto us. We slammed the door and waded through knee-high water to find the drain. Once located Charlie fished around and lifted off a rag that had capped the drain; and the water loudly sucked down the pipe clearing the roof in moments.

We went back downstairs with Henry content that he had saved the day. He had once upon a time, declared his life’s ambition to be a rescue dog, and tonight he had a go at it.

The loft was chaos, water still pouring, towels everywhere, buckets full, and books thrown out of harms way, filled the living room. Well at least the Times’ photographer came today to take shots; it would have been a disaster now. Not yet 5 am. And I threw a load of sodden towels into the laundry and thought to fire up the pot roast I promised for a real Saturday supper.

In my extra time awake I returned to the job of being a mother and wife, jobs I fear I have abandoned for the last few weeks all eclipsed by the work of directing, producing and attempting to make an opera. Funny how in times of crisis, big or little, what I turn to is the old fashioned tasks that women have embraced or been assigned for eons. I cook and clean.

Laundry washing and pot roast bubbling I retired to google, and email and phone donors and invitees, compile the days lists and ride out on my bike to secure my list of props: 3 push brooms, 3 sky blue yoga mats and reams of white paper. I ride back and forth on the bike gathering, redistributing post cards as I check on the locations to see the stashes are still high. Then I head off to the rehearsal loft to be astounded.

The chorus in nearly complete, there is finally some percussion in the little orchestra though strangely the clarinet and cello are missing, but thus is the style of rehearsal we have to put up with as we are paying so very little that it requires participants to take on other jobs to pay rent. We understand, but I can’t wait until we hear and see everyone and everything playing, singing moving across the stage together. Still the choral sounds, shored up with piano, violin and percussion are thrilling.

I no longer think I was insane to attempt to do this, but I have to hold back my enthusiasm at wanting it to be ready and focus on the tasks at hand. We have such a long way to go before our invited dress rehearsal on September 10, our Gratitude Performance. More to come on that, but for now enough to say, that we are moving forward. For today I am heartened by arriving home to excited men waiting on mashed potatoes, salad and pot roast, I hear them smack and moan loving the dinner and I think, “They are easy right?” Some times even disasters just require towels, buckets and pot roast and the rest takes care of itself.

August 28, 2008

A Month From Tonight is the Last Night

I woke up this morning and blurted out to my poor, still asleep husband, “A month from tonight is the last night of the show and we haven’t even got it ready yet. How can something be over in a month that isn’t yet ready?“

“Okay, baby, how can you be seeing the end of something that hasn’t begun? Now that’s the real question.”

I don’t know, but it seemed huge to me. It made the project both loom and vanish, like a weird perspective drawing or one of those images that is a young woman if you view her one way, but then morphs into a hag, and all you do is focus on the dark, or the light space.

Of course all I can do is what I have been, putting one foot in front of the other, making long lists and ticking off as many items as I can. I spoke to a wonderful former colleague at the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs about help and or interest from the City in this project; composer Doug and I did a pod-cast in a smoke filled apartment where the occupants staunchly deny ever smoking, (whew we couldn’t live there we agreed) and I roasted a chicken, did laundry and made more phone calls. At dusk I headed off to rehearsal.

And it was at rehearsal, where the chorus chanted, the child intoned and the soprano emoted that I realized we had something extraordinary on our hands. It was magical; the sounds and interplay of voices, and I allowed myself to see it through the eyes of our lighting designer, who came to rehearsal for the first time last night. Burke Brown sat truly moved by what he heard in the dingy florescent light of a scuffed wood floor loft space on Great Jones Street.

We made something, even without the glorious artifice of light and the focus and import a real theater provides. Everyone played or sang and the simple truth was that there was passion and clarity.

I rode home to eat my chicken and see my family, and as I glided south on West Broadway, the swells in the toney cafes were much more silent. I passed the second restaurant where the blare of television was the news, not MTV or European soccer, instead it was Barack Obama. I heard his voice giving the acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention. It was syncopated because it lurched from bar to bar ebbing and flowing as I rode home, but it was clear “We must, I promise and I believe.”

I felt as if, perhaps, we in the rehearsal room had made a few of those promises and we going to keep them.

August 27, 2008

The Birthday Boy

Birthdays are sometimes harder, maybe deeper for the mom than the kid. Or am I imagining this in a hyper-exhausted, need emotional support kind of a bog and fog way?

My youngest kid is 20 today, and we haven’t been having an easy time. So does that make me feel older, less competent? Yes, it does. And I am steeped, working on a piece that takes place in my family's life nearly 7 years ago, right before September 11 happened, makes me reflect back on when and how it got so hard between me and my son.

I know that moms and boys need to have a real separation. I know that, but it is tough when I see it as a strident separation. I love this kid and feel as if time is passing so so fast. And yet I bet he thinks that time is slogging and he wants his real life to jump-start and begin, but instead it is another birthday during the dog days of August, when few friends are around. It is another end of summer waiting for school to start, or dreading its start. He is back to college on Monday and it feels very weird to me this time because we haven’t found our way back to each other.

Everyone fights, but this feels different, and so today when I saw the homeless woman on the corner, I saw me. When I saw the couple fighting in the super market, I saw me. I viewed myself in every negative, sad or difficult image of women that I passed as the day unfolded.

We went to dinner, my son and husband and I, our daughter is still in France. It was quiet. The men seem fine not really discussing the elephant in the room, meaning talking about sports, and repo guys, or heat, or the menu. And all the time I am screaming in my head, why is this so difficult, why isn’t it loving and kind. And my husband tells me it will change and he will come around, if I keep believing.

And so I do. I bring cupcakes, which melted into a box puddle and I had to steel myself to not cry at the table, as I felt they were the metaphor for my relationship with my Henry. Melting and not what it should be. Sweet but needing time to maybe pull together in the refrigerator. Is that what time does to relationships, a kind of re-forming.

I had to head to rehearsal and Henry was walking the same way. I started to walk with him, but he made it clear he was going onto the phone. I piled onto my bike and cried all the way to the rehearsal loft. I miss him.

Maybe it won’t always be this way, but for now it is and he heads off to college to be more of a man very soon. The music really transported me tonight, and every time the mother in the opera sings, “I’m worried about Henry, about the kids in school,” I think, yes I am still, still worried and still love him so much.

August 26, 2008

Today was a long week

When I clumped into rehearsal last night I said to Composer Doug, “Wow, this was a long week!”

He said, "Wicki, it’s Monday.”

“I mean today, today was a long week.”

I said it as if it were a perfect clarification for the way the day had gone.
Interviews at the crack of dawn, followed by a fun photo shoot, with both photographer and subject astride our steeds zooming on the cobblestones.

Followed by surliness at home, quick on the heels of the Times calling to do a story,
a run to radio station WBAI where posted on the wall are George Carlin’s immortal seven words you can’t say on radio. They seem so mild, now compared to what is on radio, television and coming out of my mouth regularly. You can hear the interview right here:

I had a benefit meeting; endless emails from lost cast members, questions, coffee, iced tea and caffeine in as many forms as they will deliver it to you. And when I arrived at rehearsal it seemed like a welcome sea of calm. There was Dominique, the gorgeous 19 year-old volunteer stage manager and prop person, who I thought had taken a powder and retreated into the land of SOHO retail, but there she was radiant, and with a notebook and ideas, ready to work.


I can’t say that enough as it astounds and heartens me. This bevy of volunteers coming in to save “The Little Opera That Could,” as one of the choristers' mom dubbed us.

Then Edisa floats in. NO she really floats; she is ten feet tall, also amazingly beautiful and with a spirit virtually imbuing her with a beatific halo. I love her energy and vision, it provides a clarity and a boost to my seat-of-the-pants approach to, I wanted to say this piece, but the truth is more like my entire life. I feel as if this work, this opera is all about opening all of us up to deep collaborations.

Often it seems as if we are without a boss, a head, a director, but in the end we all unite and I hope will ascend.

August 24, 2008

A Life Of Its Own

Yesterday at rehearsal it was the choristers, the group of kids who sing in the opening and closing of the opera. This group of kids who lends their voices to infuse this piece with an authenticity that cannot be artificially created by electronics or adults. The voice, the energy, the bobble-headed trueness of children is a sharp knife in the sometimes-doughy presence of grown-ups, as we are referred to by these pint-sized singers.

This opera was easy to cast and imagine as it is driven by truth. I was the mother in this piece, I am now the writer and director, but I know what actually happened and as much as possible I am trying to make it adhere to the reality of September 11 and the month following. I had children, I have them still, but they are big now. I went to my son’s school and there were also other children present. I took 11 of them home with me. We walked, ran and hunkered in the streets of TriBeCa and now the opera needs children to give voice to some of the simple things that occurred.

There are constant roll calls that these now choral kids sing, in rounds, or spoken, pitched semi-singing. We started with four kids; three dropped out, all from the same family. We promoted an eight-year-old girl, Madison, from background to a lead role, that of the son. Why not? Lisa the head of the Church Street School of Music and art knew of Cecelia Gaul, who sings in the chorus of Trinity Church and this new girl joined us. It turns out she is a friend of Madison’s, cool small world piece. Cecelia’s mother knows the choirmaster at Trinity Church I have met with Rob Ridgell and after Cecelia’s mom, Yachi, called Rob, the chorus spigot opened and the flow of kids began. Scarlet and Dante followed. (You can’t make up names and children this wonderful.)

Yesterday I began to see how this piece now has a life of its own. It has people who believe and love it who are no longer from my circle, although we now co-occupy spheres. I sat and watched as fathers tan from tennis, or pink from walks, watched their children perform and listened with a kind of awe that comes from marveling at their aplomb. “It that a rest and do I come in on the up beat?” This professionalism melts during the break to a jumping contest for the light strings and conductor Carl picks up on this competitiveness by creating a “pitch contest” at the end of the final movement.

All of this has nothing to do with me. Oh blessedly. This was my harebrained idea, but it has transitioned far from my initial vision. It is the child who is deciding that study and practice is a great thing rather than drudgery. Calling is leaping to its feet through the passion of a group of Downtown organizations, parents and their hugely talented children. It is being midwived by many, including a young composer and conductor, Carl Bettendorf who has taken on private coaching and helping at every turn. There are new musicians who have thrown their lot in with us and singers, who are practicing while walking the streets or, like Gretchen Garvin, sing while working in their store.

Calling has a life of its own, and I have fantasies and expectations for its future, just as I do with my children, but it also pushes me to view and love it in the present tense. For right now we have a group of nearly 20 people who have come together from Europe, across American, Canada and Asia to make this piece. Somehow the universe has plunked down a most diverse group in this show as if to shore up the idea that America, and the hope of the world is in the actuality of all of us, so different and yet so united working toward a common goal.

August 22, 2008

Being Perfect

In the midst of all this opera hubbub (what else can I call it) I stumbled into an email conversation with a young downtown mother, who is also a big time Conde Naste editor. She and I are connected through other friends and my daughter, who baby-sits for her. It began as an email in passing, HEY WHAT ABOUT NURSERY SCHOOL? And it segued into being a discussion about the desire of mothers, especially the over-educated, over-wrought, over-worked mothers’ desire to be perfect.

Perfect does not exist, unless it is in the Japanese notion of Wabi Sabi: beautiful ugly. Unless it is in the perfect notion of nature, where things have a moment of pitch perfection and then the leaves fall off, the peach over-ripens and we move to the next season. When did we begin to believe that mothering could be an undertaking where perfection, a no-faults expectation, could be expected or even sought?

My new email friend’s son is just a year old and already she feels she is not enough for him. My son turns 20 next week and he often tells me in vibrant, blue tones how I have failed. I have a litany in my head that ranges from when I zipped his neck in the snowsuit, to making him attend a reading seminar on his birthday before he began High School. I forced him to go to a free summer school program for under reading kids that extended into Saturdays during the fall and spring of second and third grades.

I have embarrassed him endlessly by introducing girls, by asking him to accompany me to theater events. I took him to the Broadway Show The Puppetry of the Penis when he was 13; he tells me he still has nightmares. I have yelled in public, I yell at home. I didn’t push him to be adventuresome in eating, I cooked special meals for everyone because I felt so bad that I had to leave his father and put him and his sister through all that. So I didn’t push enough. Even though we paid for him to live in Los Angles for his junior year of high school, found a tennis coach, a thing he said he wanted, he still feels as if we didn’t visit him enough. Now please remember that this is a very hard working family comprised of two freelancers, with little back-up. We struggle, but have fun doing it. So the fact that his stepdad and sister and I made visits out there, some of us more than once, seems huge to me. But in the end I do very little right.

It is not perfection and it is never enough. This summer he yelled at me, by email, saying I never gave him good advice. This was as he endured two weeks in the South of France. I KID YOU NOT. I have gotten him tutors, helped get him jobs, edited papers, found him a semester abroad in Scotland working at a castle, I have taken him to his driving test again and again and paid for classes. I paid for music lessons and fancy sneakers and I sit up with him on occasion eating Cheetoes after a night of beer drinking. After the LA year, he wanted to drive across country so I contrived to get a story so that the expenses would be off set, and we did drive across country and had a blast. At least I thought we did.

We do enjoy each other from time to time, but underlying it all is the raving notion that I am not perfect, I am so far from perfect and I see it in him. He is gruff and has not learned the dual art of apology and appreciation. I suppose, like my friend with her toddler son, I expect perfection from myself. And when I see my failure at that goal evaporate I am stung and stunned. In fact it happens every time.

I know I am occasionally judgmental and short tempered, but I have tried with all my gumption and power to love this kid, to shower affection on him and to see who he really is and love that, not who I want him to be. BUT . . . he comes home today and I know I will see again my terrible imperfection reflected in his eyes and words. Running away tonight to rehearsal will almost be a respite, a cowardly retreat I know.

August 19, 2008

How to conduct oneself

Yesterday was a lesson in old time values that one does not usually see bundled together and they are: Dentistry and Musical Conducting.

I went back to the dentist for what I thought was the completion of my dreaded root canal. Instead he got in there, cleaned the bad hole for the second time and lo and behold there was still--this man does not mince words--PUSS. He further went on to extol the virulent nature of the infection by graphically describing the fact that this infection, (as stubborn as its owner) had begun to eat away the bone in my jaw.

“Really, they don’t teach you a better way to say this stuff in dental school?” I moaned from inside a rubber dam with clamps and a sucky thing in my mouth. I also found out that both SHIT and FUCK couldn’t be said with your mouth wide open. -IT and -UCK are all you get, but that didn’t stop me form uttering them as he continued on his graphic tale of tooth aliens. Finally he filled in the hole with gross tasting medicine, told me not to chew there or even brush hard for 3 weeks and to take an antibiotic that might give me diarrhea so violent that if I let it continue could result in a colonic ulcer.

Oh my god, this man was clear. And still on course, I rode my bike home down Fifth Avenue from 50th Street, after stopping at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, how could I not, it's across the street. Is there a patron Saint of teeth? Is it George Washington?

It made me realize in brilliant relief that in another time, I would be on my way to dying from this tooth infection or would walk around in terrible pain with half a jaw. All so so scary.

I dutifully went downtown, got my dreaded prescription filled, and bought myself 15 bucks worth of sunflowers--not part of the recovery plan, but wildly necessary. I made the promised risotto, met with Liz the costume wonder and then rode to the first music rehearsal where the assistant conductor Carl Bettendorf was to preside.

OK WOW. Who knew that music was so precise and magical? I have been in the land of improvised for way too long. These musicians, clarinet, violin, cello and piano representing very American, Slovene /Swiss/ Australian and German backgrounds all sat together for the first time with flowing scores and Carl, who looks about 12, held sway, and they played. BEAUTIFULLY. I mean the music flowed out and they rarely stopped. They paused occasionally and discussed fermatas and notation. It was so impressive. Maybe more so in my fog of drugs and pain, but I was bowled over to see this young man, large and more than in charge.

Composer Doug sat fixing the main score, lead diva Nicole, the mother, asked to be cued for her part, which she read and sung silently nodding and noting all the while. After a full hour, no stops, no diversion, no dithering Carl called for a break. Which he sort of got, but he had so super-charged the musicians that most of them played their parts; sawing, blowing, plucking out the difficult sections only to resume with more gusto.

I begged to leave as this half way juncture, not because the proceedings didn’t mesmerize me, but rather I was fading and needed dinner and a bed. I got half of that wish and worked feverishly until early morning.

I woke up with visions not of sugar plums, but something better for now, visions of Carl in his baggy cargo pants standing in a bare loft space on Great Jones Street conducting musicians who played the notes that Doug and I have been dreaming of for years now. I was so full of gratitude and the belief that these amazing people will bring to fruition a project, an opera. And because music can be read, sung and recreated globally as its own language, I think we may be able to leave something that could ring in small corners for a while.

August 17, 2008

Spinning Wheel

It is nearly suppertime and I have passed most of the day sitting behind a wheel. No not driving, but spinning clay into bowls. For five hours I took slabs of clay, between two and four pounds and I spun them into bowls. Fat, flat, lifted feet, stuck to the ground... each unique, and I was in heaven.

In my head, there was no missing voice coach, no lack of funds, the clay slabs all got along. I didn’t think I should have nicer here, or more stringent there, I sat and I mesmerized myself. Each bowl for a different person. Do you, gentle readers, recall my insanity at deciding that I “needed” to make all the opening night gifts. Well I now have enough and there are even some extras thrown that may go to my son Henry’s campus apartment, if he stops mouthing off.

I worked on Calling this morning, I gathered, listed, and talked at length with composer Doug about schedules and how to copy music and distribute it, and when to meet to begin writing the next round of grant applications that are due the first of September. It still seems a little like fantasy baseball or knitting for a yet born baby. I know how these things happen, I have seen plays and dance and music evolve from idea to magic under the lights of a flickering stage. But I have never been the one who had the hair-brained idea and then rallied the troops. It feels so different.

At any moment I expect these troops of amazing artists and designers to turn on me, as if we were on a bad hike and rebel.
“We are not taking another step!” they will holler.
I will shrink back and cower, “Why, why?”
“Well, because you do not know what you are doing!”

Shall I say, “What’s your point?”
Or something a tad more philosophical, “Do any of us really know where we are going or what we are doing?”

That might throw them off the scent of fear for a day or two, but I know it will reappear.

All of this life thing for me, making pottery, being a mother, cooking, writing, producing, directing; I am aware there are books and methods that could. . .
NO can teach you how to do it, but then there are people like me who have to feel things or they can’t achieve it. At any rate today I made seven bowls and a big mug complete with handle for Henry, the converted Scottish tea drinker.
So that’s a good enough amount to make me feel productive.

Tomorrow is root canal, getting checks cut, that’s a kind of root canal too I guess.
And Rehearsal, writing grants and whatever else the gods of theater find amusing to toss our way.

August 16, 2008

Beyond The Brain We Know

It is Saturday, which means little when one is immersed close to drowning, in a project of passion. The work piles up and it has to be done. Calls must be made, parties planned, singers scheduled, invites printed, calls made to recalcitrant wine donors and tricky plans made to hang lights, and make dances in a theater space often unavailable for rehearsal at the same time as actors. It is a logistical nightmare, even with all the artistic stuff removed. Making an opera full of sound and fury and tiny set and major light and dance and props and found costumes. And I know you all get it.

But add to this my most insane decision to make all the opening night gifts from clay. This means going into the pottery studio on Chambers Street to throw on the wheel the bowls or cups, or pitchers or planters. Then these have to be trimmed, then fired once, then glazed and fired again. At any point, just like theater they can fall apart. Quit on you like a cast member or you budget. Explode in the fiery kiln or have the glaze run and stick and look more like an elementary school gift that only a mother can love.

So this morning I was going into the studio early. After all the phone calls to new singers, scheduling confabs and dropping off postcards at local markets and restaurants. I was going to sit at the wheel and spin and ruminate. Of course I had a list of all the other things I had to do, and silly as it may seems, calling my kids in France was on the list. I hadn’t wanted to hover so I haven’t called in a few days. I have my special super cheap, bought in a bodega, cardboard calling cards that require dialing many numbers, a skill I am particularly poor at, because my extreme dyslexia often messes me up mid-dial and have to start over. So I was waiting until later.

But I kept getting jangled in my head by my daughter. I do think of her often, but there is a certain buzz that is a real call. So I braved the multiple digits, had to redo twice since the first cards were used up. Tossed them and began again. I got her on the fifth ring and she was laughing. “Hey, it’s your mama.” She is still laughing, so I ask, “What’s up?”

“Well, I was thinking of you so so much and I thought I have to stop thinking about her because I can’t talk right now and I was trying to cancel the thoughts, like hanging up mid-dial, but I guess it didn’t work.”

This is no longer amazing is us. Perhaps others think it is bunkum, a lie, a good yarn to evince closeness, but it is a scientific as any other unproven fact. The earth still revolved around the sun even when folks said it didn’t. And many scientists have been exploring all the portions of our brain we don’t ever use and it just sits there waiting to be discovered and believed in. This is one of those parts. A way to communicate beyond words, and cheap paper phone cards and emails, and text messages and Hallmark cards. It is such a deep, and vibrant communication that even a quick touch where we laugh at being babe to make each other call is wonderful.

I know my son Henry has the ability to some extent, but he is happier believing that the earth is the center of the universe and doesn’t want to believe in magic, or communication beyond the phone or email. Sometimes he enjoys its wacky nature but mostly he wants, “Nothing but the facts, Mom.” I bet in his lifetime there will be scientific data to shore up why Willi and I can call across time lines and phone lines and reach other more clearly than if there was an email saying “Please call me.” That I can ignore, but the buzzing, unanswered shout-out from the south of France while climbing the steps of a cathedral is something I can’t and will never ignore.

August 15, 2008

A blur

A blur is all that remains of yesterday. I don’t know why more than other days? Was it the back-to-back meetings, the actual job interview, the rain-rain-rain and constant wetness seat, pants shirt and hair and the very depressing movie I saw, but it all coalesced into a blur of movement and strange stasis.

How does it occur that so much transpires and it all looks like a smear when I try to regard it in hindsight?

I met with a wonderful long time friend--I hesitate to write old friend, because we near being really old. This woman said she turns 60 this March and is planning a party in Machu Picchu, Peru. OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH I’d love to attend, but I need to find a job. So we sat on her roof and she let me vent about it all, as we both worked at LaMama on and off for over 30 years, probably now over 40 years.

From her, I went to a job interview. Changed clothes, lipstick the works. Interesting, maybe a reach, in the neighborhood, enough said. But I felt somewhat righteous. I had good ideas I tried to listen with my TWO EARS and use my ONE MOUTH half as much. Maybe I achieved that.

But when I stepped out into the sunshine, rain came later, there was Nicole, David Bouley’s wonderful wife, who always looks s if she is backlit, nearly angelic with a demeanor that sends clam to anyone in her sphere. I needed to see her as they are doing the nibbles for the opera benefit September 11. So there she was, and we had the meeting right on the sidewalk. This is why I love my neighborhood: the random encounters.

Went back home to take off the restrictive clothes AHHHHHHHHH Back on the bike to see
Boy Interrupted, a film by Hart and Dana Perry about the bipolar disease that contributed to their 15 year old son Evan’s suicide. Tough, wrenching, brutal and I so wanted to escape from it when it was over. I wanted to hug my family, who may be occasionally grumpy, even mean-spirited, but I adored the hot tempers and the out there expression that broils in my house, especially when compared to a buttoned-down wasp house, even one filled with tears. I really saw how great this film was, but beyond that, I longed to wallow in my wonderful family and thank them all for being so quirky and in my corner.

Evan’s funeral nearly three years ago took place in the midst of the worst thunder lightning, take-down-trees storm I have ever seen. Literally ripping trees down to block the road to his Grandmothers’ house, causing guests to walk through mud and arrive ravaged. When I exited the Cinema Village at 5pm in time for my rehearsal, of course the skies opened. I took refuge with a young Brit under an awning near NYU and gave her directions to her youth Hostel and then finally when it let up some I peddled off to Great Jones Street and rehearsal.

Composer Doug and I went through the entire score matching words to music and adding notes. It was exhilarating and it left me drained especially in the face of Boy Interrupted. I rode home to the loft, still in rain, and freezing from being wet for so long and came home to find fish, salad, goat cheese and chilled white wine. I was home free.

There was an email from my kids saying they were doing better. Oh there were also emails saying this one hates that one in the cast, the other is exhausted and terrified, and there still aren’t enough kids. Someone in the press can’t review us because the publisher BLAH BLAH, BLAH, and on and on and on. But that was the big blur.

I was home, dry now and sitting in a flannel nightie, nearly in tatters, but so lovely, eating a plate of spicy fish and salad made creamy with goat cheese. The baguette was soggy from the humidity, but I was dry and enjoyed my blur.

August 13, 2008

Unlucky 13

Usually I love the 13th of the month. In my mother’s family lots of kids were born on the 13th. I even opted to take my brokerage exam on Friday, January 13 when so few others wanted to, thus the date was available. I passed.

But today I seem to be falling prey to a concatenation of unlucky happenings. It was not enough that yesterday we had to whittle the set back to bare bones and I was heartened when the creative folks all pitched in to change and react with love and aplomb. That was tough.

This morning began with an email, from my soon to be 20 year-old son who is visiting his sister in the south of France. I had to talk him into it, forget why, but my heart jumped when I saw his name in the email box. Then I opened it. Let me leave out the swearing. But it said in short “You have never had a good idea and this was among the worst on your long bad list.”

Then I attempted to restart the day with a positive attitude by corralling the schedules, and meeting with the costume gal who is my new favorite neighbor, Liz Dougherty. I can see her loft from mine. I love to talk with her and she seems to really understand me and that buoys me up. So I waited for her to call. But in the meantime I receive an email from Composer Doug, with whom I had spent a great long time last night, matching words and music. FUCK it says in the subject matter. I open this one right away.

It turns out, the family whose 3 kids, count them, three kids out of a total of Four kids, in the opera, THREE KIDS are being pulled from the project; less than a month from opening. I call the mother who says, the kids need to practice choir at school. I say I can call the school and ask if perhaps opera practice with us can count. She says NO ONE CAN EVER CALL THE SCHOOL. Then she says the kids need weekends in the country. I say I am Gob-Smacked and perhaps they could have thought of this before coming to the first rehearsal, signing a letter of agreement and taking checks, albeit, tiny checks.

There is no resolve with her. She wishes me well, which in these kinds of situations really seems quite false. Good wishes I don’t need. I need a little boy and other kids who can sing. So I call the trusty Director of the Church Street School of Music and Art and nearly weep. Lisa Eklund-Flores and I have wept many times: over grants and life over music and talented kids, over September 11 and over cleaning and making parties. We have both run non-profits and know the joy and terror of that endeavor. Lisa was undaunted and began to list kids, what their skill set is and how to get them. I began to believe again and this may sound like Polly- Anna, but hell she lives inside me too; I thought, I’d much rather have downtown kids, and children associated with this school I so adore. So come on universe dish it out.
There are still 10 hours to go before the 13th is over.

Let’s see... we need to redo the schedule, and get champagne and goodies for the opening. We need costumes, we need to get the book reprinted and I need to get out in this summer air, which is a miracle.

And my kid, my son, the one who gave me guff and whose doppelganger in the show quit; ALL ON THE SAME DAY; well my son Henry can just venture forth and visit the beaches of the South of France and hate me when he gets home. The one who was about to play him can toddle off with his brothers into the sunset.

By this point in the day, I wish them all well.

And I may break my 30-day moratorium on alcohol. This day can count as thirty. And believe me I haven’t even gone into the 12 other crazy things unfolding.

I will hold off on all of that until after the drink, and the sunshine.

Til Tomorrow.

August 12, 2008

Keep Yur Friggin' Chin Up

Thirty days to go.

OK yeah, so I actually counted them putting one stubby finger on each day for August and September.

Last night was the first rehearsal and it did go well. Lots of energy and the incredible, really genius, Edisa Weeks whose calm, choreographic leadership is a rock and wings to all of us. We had kids and chorus and some leads and some musicians. Just the way I knew it would be when folks are not being paid to be present at your beck and call.

The good thing, and here is a silver-lining moment, about not having money to pay people, and they participate anyway, the great thing really, is that you know they are there because it is also a passion project for them.

We have all done money jobs, but Calling is now a labor of love for all of us. Not just Doug and his music, or Wicki and her wacky ideas and non-linear words, but the idea of recreating a community that thrives and soars. And that was the big take away lesson of September 11 Downtown. That we were all in it together and in order to rebuild, we had to be friends, neighbors and cohorts in a totally different way.

So yesterday we were turned down by more foundations and even Nintendo whose silly electronic Wiiiiiii machines Doug electronic wizard boy turned into hand bells or didgeridoos, amazing instruments of joy and celebration for our finale. But they turned us down. As if they are getting any better sponsorships idea. So the doors of money closed, and closed until there we were, alone with our $17,000 bucks in total to commission, mount, light and dance our way into folk’s hearts and minds. And we will not stop.

Oh please... sounds good right? As if I am Princess Pluck. Let’s see the back scene: couldn’t sleep last night because I knew I had to jettison more that 75% of the set, and I love the designer, one of my oldest friends. And I knew we would suck it up and move on and when the audience arrived it wouldn’t know that this minimalist design wasn’t exactly what we had in mind from the get-go. But I thrashed the night away, doing crossword puzzles and reading politics.

And this morning I made lists and was worried. But when I spoke to the force of nature who is our volunteer development director, Hattie Elliot, about the Benefit and my fears, and uncertainties, she pulled herself to a full maybe five feet and screamed at me, “You keep yur friggin' chin up!" I think she is maybe 26 years old, blond, fierce and how does one wimp out in the face of that force?

If she is undaunted, who I am to lose heart?

So chin up and out into the sunshine to copy schedules, and a contact sheets and letters of agreement and of course all for free at the local Mail Boxes Etc on Greenwich Street because the goodness doesn’t stop. Even if I sometimes forget.

August 11, 2008

The 11th Is Always A Bit Strange

It can’t be just me.

The 11th of the month is strange now. It has taken on a taint; maybe more so now that I am swimming in the shoals off the coast of this opera about the events of September 11 and beyond. So when the date pops into my consciousness, I see not only a bright blue day with cooling temperatures after a soaking summer storm, but I see the opening of our project zooming toward me, and I see the idea of September 11.

And it becomes important for me today, perhaps on every 11th to rededicate myself to doing work that fosters harmony, closeness to those I love, forgiveness of those I hate and a personal meditation on forward motion, meaning what we do as individuals, families, cities, countries and the world to move forward.
And to do it better.

It is paramount that we all continue to believe both that what we do is tiny and personal and still hold tight to the credence that, since we are all connected, what we do here has effects elsewhere. What is that called, The Butterfly Effect?

I was asked the other day in an interview, if I fantasized about the future life of this production on bigger stages. The reporter was enumerating places like the Met, Glimmerglass, Santa Fe Opera, and I stopped her. Don’t get me wrong, we, I have invited all those impresarios. I want them to see this piece in its poky nascence, but what I told the reporter is this.
“ Producing a first iteration of a play or opera, or musical and thinking about the glorious future is like going on a first date and imagining your grandchild. You miss the scary joy, and anticipation of being on that first date.
I don’t want to miss things.”

This reporter was a woman, so I know damn well, that she knows women are ALWAYS wondering, IS THIS THE ONE? But sometimes how we behave can calm down our incessant future vision.

I am attempting to be viscerally present while living in this next monumental month of my life and really the first month of Calling as an opera. Calling never had all its music before. We never had a cast to inject voice, movement and emotion to the notes Doug (composer) and I wrote in the quiet of our heads and rooms. We didn’t have Marty (set) or Burke (lights) to define and illuminate where all these words and songs took place and we didn’t have Edith (music director) to play gloriously, while we sat back to listen. We were lacking Edisa (movement) to take the realistic motions of crowds and workers and transform them into iconic artistry. In short we are now a team, we are the embodiment of synergy. The sum of us is exponentially stronger than we are alone in our rooms, with synthesizers, or keyboards and visions dancing in our heads.

August 10, 2008

Frozen in August

It is exactly one month until the opera; I so haphazardly wandered into, will open.
How does one wander into an opera project?

I wrote a book about September 11th, A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero; then two years ago I produced a fashion show (horrible incongruity I know, such is my life.) For the show I hired a young, most fabulous composer Doug Geers. After the show Doug and his virtuoso, violinist wife Maja asked me out to tea. I went. They inquired what I wanted to do next.
I blurted, “ I want to turn this book I wrote about 9/11 into an opera.”
They are an under spoken couple. “ Oh, let’s take a look at the book.” They sighed.

As I rode my trusty nearly 40-year-old Raleigh bike home from the meeting I had a spirited conversation inside my head.
“ I never knew you wanted to make an opera, you never tell me anything!!”
“ I thought you knew, after all you live inside here as well, do you pay attention to what I am thinking or are you too bludgeoned by the quotidian details of your stupid life to ever spend time with me, your interior life.”

My interior life won that battle, she was right I had been absorbed in editing a magazine, putting money away for college payments and falling in love with a garden, yet all this time my crazy imagination had been creating a secret opera. As soon as I was given a chance to talk about it, the idea blurt itself out, as if it had a life of its own.

And now it has a very real life, a web site, music, libretto and, a small, mostly volunteer team, growing astoundingly larger by the month, and now by the day. They are composing, designing, building and tinkering with this project, now entitled Calling: An Opera of Forgiveness. We open in the 99 seat LaMaMa First Floor Theater officially on September 12, but we have an invited dress rehearsal on September 10 and a benefit September 11. Today is the 10th of August and I am frozen in fear, even as the air around my shoulders reflects my inner body temperature. Heat surrounds me, but I am frozen.

Again there are two of me. The frozen, who is screaming,
Then there is the calm rational worker bee who is making lists, creating blasts, writing small, small checks and attempting to think of every detail from folding beds to foot lights. I pass out post cards and ask each person to take one and pass one on. As if this Luddite, viral distribution will achieve the full houses we so desperately need for funds and a future.

The warm air beckons and I have a stack of gorgeous postcards, designed by a young Russian designer ( Vikotria Televnyy) yes of course for free, that sit here and upbraid me, begging to be handed out.