May 2, 2012
I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but I gotta get this off my chest:
I hate clichés, buzz words and soundbytes. I love language – I love the best of what we as human beings are capable, and language is one of the most exceptional of those things.
My people have disabilities and intellectual and cognitive disabilities. My people are the homeless masses. My people are the “working poor.” My people are the poor players who strut and fret their hours upon the stage and then go home to cold water, empty refrigerators with the light out and no health care, because even those of us who belong to and pay dues to unions don’t have enough work weeks to qualify. My people are most people on the earth.
That said, I can’t stand the term “the ninety-nine percent.” I appreciate what it means, but I just can’t stand the term. It has already started losing its meaning. Let’s stay present, and let’s stay creative with our language. Let’s say what we mean.
The people who pick fruit and vegetables and transport them to market and put them on the shelves, the people who clean up after the rest of us, the people who tend to the sick (not most American doctors, mind you) and who take care of our children, the people who drive the buses and trains and process our baggage, the people who fix our broken plumbing and climb up on our roofs and patch them when it rains, the people who make our clothes and shoes and all the ridiculous junk we think we need – those people need support. And not just moral support. They need roofs over their own heads and food in their refrigerators and utilities to keep them warm in the winter and under a hundred in the summer. They need health care – not insurance. They need education and public transportation.
The wealthy who reap the benefits of the work done by all those people, the wealthy who use all these resources without ever thinking about them, the wealthy must support the infrastructure. And the infrastructure isn’t made of brick and mortar and lime. It’s made of flesh and blood.
To hell with single parents working three jobs!
Here’s to life and love and joy and happiness for all.
Here is to a fair and just society, and to all who work their hearts to the bone to make it become a reality.
March 6, 2012
Listening to President Obama’s news conference, I am reminded of the reason I think he’s the best president we’ve ever had.
I admit, that is pretty obnoxious an assertion from someone 52 years old who isn’t a scholar or history professor. I’m just an American peace activist who has a lot of theatre experience and who learns about history from her artivism projects.
I survived the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. Granted, I was born November of ’59 and Eisenhower left office January 20th just 14 months later. I wasn’t paying much attention to politics. When Kennedy was murdered, I was four years and two days old. I watched his funeral on television, his flag-draped coffin pulled by horses. I thought about my daddy dying, because I knew the president had little kids.
Johnson had no effect on me whatsoever. I lived in a tiny rural town in Arizona. The Voting Rights Act didn’t make my radar, nor did the Civil Rights Act three years later. I didn’t know when my father changed his party registration from (D) to (R), and I sure as hell didn’t know what it meant.
I was a fourteen year-old landed immigrant in Toronto when all hell broke loose in the months leading up to Nixon’s resignation. We had been there during the October Crisis in 1970 when the Front de libération du Québec kidnapped, strangled and stuffed in the trunk of a car Minister of Labour of the province of Quebec, Pierre Laporte. My family held its breath with the rest of Canada when Pierre Trudeau declared martial law and found the sonsofbitches responsible. There were some who thought Trudeau had gone too far, invoking the War Measures Act. There were those who challenged him, asked him just how far he was willing to go. My ten year-old eyes took in a leader with a look serious as a heart attack saying “Just watch me.” I thought about my dad and how we knew when he was angry.
I knew what the Canadians thought of Gerald Ford – the guy who gave Nixon the easy way out – and I knew my dad trusted and respected him. Jimmy Carter was inaugurated the year I graduated from high school. Reagan was elected on top of the Iran Hostage crisis and I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. I just thought Reagan was tough like my dad and that was a good thing. By the time Reagan ran for his second term, though, I had sort of grown up. I was a single mother, living in Nevada and working on special projects for a human services agency. I saw the dozens of seniors and working poor families who went in for “commodities” each month. I had never heard of such a thing. People signed a paper and took home a bag of groceries – a big block of cheese, some rice and I don’t remember what all else. People came in for help with utility bills. I started to wake up. I went with the woman who rain the JOIN program (the carcass that used to be CETA) to the Democratic convention. Blew my mind. I registered. I started working for Mondale. I started reading about Central America and US foreign policy and I turned into the peppery radical you know me to be today.
All of our presidents have been men. I wish I could say that doesn’t bother me, but it does. It bugs the hell out of me. It wouldn’t have mattered if Hillary had been the most brilliant, wise, compassionate, articulate of doves or the most fierce warmonger we’ve ever seen. She didn’t have a chance in hell. I knew it when she was running for the nomination and I worked for her campaign. It took women 50 years to get the vote after black men had achieved it. I knew Hillary would never beat Barack, and it made my bones hurt when I let myself think about it too hard. She was more qualified and she lost, because she is a woman. This is something we live with. It’s okay. We’re tougher than they ever dreamed and our time is coming bigger and brighter than ever.
Barack Obama is the best president we’ve ever had, and my dad hates him. Barack Hussein Obama is our president and he carries authority with grace. He does his job, and it’s a hard one, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t have a lot of time to play around with politics, but he plays the game better than just about anybody. He admits he has to compromise because that’s what leaders do when they run one branch of a three-branch government. He talks to us as if we have the ability to hear and think and process information. He’s bright and educated and elegant and colloquial and from Chicago. He is my president and I love him and he has a ton of flaws.
That’s not all, by a long shot. But it’s what I have time for today.
Waning Moon Reflections
July 28, 2010
As I begin working on Coming In Hot, which is our wonderful title for the play version of Powder, I know that I am, as I have so many times in the past, getting ready to challenge myself to a hard, hard task. This time it’s even more difficult than directing the suicide themed play, ‘ ‘Night, Mother,’ that I didn’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole, the subject matter was so terrifying to me (go figure that one!). This is more difficult than taking on ‘Steel Magnolias,’ that I thought was a great theme and a dreadful script. Both and others have always turned out to be satisfying adventures. But this one – women in the military – WHOOOSHHH! This one is really a challenge for me. As a pacifist and real anti-war, anti-military rhetoritician for nearly 30 years, I have never been known for my diplomacy around this subject, especially. Women in the military?!! GAYS in the military?!!! Why on earth would they… but then again… well…. whatever. Anybody dumb enough…. Et cetera.
But the way I work is to step into not just the shoes, but into the skin of the characters I play. I breathe for them. I speak FOR them. I stand up for them. Whoever they are. I can’t disagree with what they say, because I am charged with saying it for them. I need to build up the case inside of my own corporeal and non-corporeal self and mind their beating hearts. I know that my perspective will be changed by this experience. I fear it, but I won’t turn away from it.
As I read this nearly 18 months later, I feel as if I have evolved as a peace activist because of the experience of co-adapting, rehearsing and performing Coming In Hot. Going into the project, I was of the mind that all disputes between nations can be dealt with by non-violent means, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is my attitude about the people who choose to go into the military. My son sleeps tonight in Afghanistan, part of a Naval construction battalion. The reasons young Americans choose to enter the “service” are as diverse as are the different species of beetles on earth. And, like insects, they’re mostly misunderstood.
At this point, my “career” has taken a sharply divergent turn from its trajectory for nearly 40 years. I focused on my creative work as a way of making a case for the preservation of humanity. Today, I feel much less sure about the validity of that case and much more passionate about the notion of using the art as a conduit to meaningful discussion between adversaries. While we, the human species, are certainly a masterpiece of natural design, there is mounting evidence that we are the scourge – and maybe even the certain catalyst for the final destruction – of this magnificent planet.
Peace activism today isn’t so much about preserving our existence, but maybe about simple salvation. Maybe we don’t “deserve” to exist, but as one of us, I’d like the chance to turn that around. Maybe we can atone, make amends, and become a productive, creative force on Earth.
But first we need to be able to talk to each other. We need to listen and allow the notions of others to penetrate and be absorbed before we spew forth reactions. We must consider that, right or wrong, we’re always going to be surrounded by members of the human race with whom we disagree on fundamental points. All the time. Every day.
Tucson and all of Arizona, for that matter, is an ideal departure point for a civil discourse tour. The State is divided, tensions are high and every level of society is at war with the notion of “illegals” infiltrating the border. Senate Bill 1070 has rocked the foundation of the Sonoran Desert – the most diverse of all deserts – where bodies and empty plastic water bottles are scattered like nymphal cicada skins across the parched, unforgiving sand.
My hopes for the tour are, most persistently, that I’ll be able to survive my son’s deployment without going completely out of my mind.
Jews, Fags and Gypsies
January 27, 2009
“Let’s face it. Without Jews, fags and gypsies, there is no theatre.”
- Mel Brooks
Here’s to the theatre! Here’s to the haven for those who are, as Don McClean described Van Gogh, too beautiful for the world.
Here’s to the players, the crafters, the directors, the playwrights, the sainted lighting people, the prop gatherers and artisans, here’s to the people who market us, promote and support us! Here’s to the set designers, the painters, the costumers, stitchers, cutters, the weavers of elements that make up the divine experience that is transcendent, magical, irreplaceable, original, unique stage production!
Bless the theatre!
After the Fall
January 15, 2009
“You’re as sexy as I’d ever want a woman to be,” he said to me.
He told me I had sexy hands. Sexy feet. A sexy ass. Strong, long, sexy legs. Lovely green eyes. Beautiful, wonderful, thick hair. I was everything he wanted in a woman.
“Let me buy you a bathing suit,” he said, one Bloomingdales afternoon. “You go pick it out, and I’ll pay for it.”
Feeling shy and oddly self-conscious, I made my way to Ladies Swimwear and made a b-line for the sale rack. There was a size 8 black wrap around – my favorite style and color. I tried it on, and, much to my delight, it hung loosely around the waist and my little breasts didn’t fill the cups. So, I tried the 6 that fit like a glove.
I joined my sweetheart in house wares, where he had amassed an $800 inventory in bedding, towels, coffee maker and bathroom rugs, to which I added my suit – $100 on sale. He always insisted on paying for everything. It was all “ours,” of course. But he paid for it.
That evening at his mother’s Beverly Hills home, I slipped on the suit and slid into her generous lap pool. My skin and the suit washed by the clear, chlorinated, regulated, analyzed, filtered water, I was in heaven. Quiet, the stars above, the crickets chirping, faint echoes of conversations and dinner things and televisions.
“How’s the water?” My sweetheart stood at the edge of the pool, with his incredible smile and artist’s hands in his pockets.
“Aren’t you coming in?”
“Nah. My neck.”
“Ah. Yeah. That’s too bad. It’s glorious in here.”
“Are you gonna model that suit for me?”
“Sure,” I said.
He held up an extra large, white bath towel for me as I stepped out of the water and took a few turns around the courtyard, transcending my fear, invoking the techniques of my late modeling career.
“Do you ever buy colored bathing suits?”
I pulled the towel around me and said, “I like black suits.”
“You’d look great in a blue suit. Cerulean blue.”
And we went into the house.
Maybe if I had paid for it, it would have made a difference. Maybe if I’d worn a blue bathing suit – a suit blue as the sky on a hot, clear day – he’d still love me. Maybe he would have still wanted me, after the fall.
On Mental Illness, Grace and the New Year
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The year 2008 ends today. Tonight. It ends tonight at midnight.
Part of me wants to say ‘Good Riddance!’ and walk away, never to look back.
It was an agonizing year for the world, for the country, and for me personally. We watched people die in wars and we watched them starve to death, and we watched them, ravaged by AIDS, succumb to the illness, even today with medication to treat it but not available to so many millions of patients, elders and mothers, sons and fathers and babes in arms. We watched the Holy Land ripped to shreds again – shreds of the shreds of what there is left of it. We enter 2009 a planet at war with itself, the elements colliding, the ice caps melting, the oceans rising and yet clean, drinkable water becoming more and more scarce.
I started the year a mental patient, in and out of the psyche ward at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. I attempted suicide multiple times between December and March. My last brush with that stuff was in October. No plan, but the thoughts were there. Even so, my head feels clear and I feel good most of the time. These days, I actually feel GREAT, most of the time.
So how does one go from eating a bottle of Klonopin and waking up spitting mad and desperate in a locked ward to living in a beautiful place, on one’s own, on a Ph.D. fast-track and part of a vibrant, loving community?
Grace, first and foremost.
The grace of the cosmos, turning and turning in Yeat’s widening gyre, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, grace dances her dance and takes hold of the heart. It happens. The forces of despair and sadness don’t have to win, no matter how deep is our anguish, how completely abandoned we may feel.
In my case, grace emerged in the form of friends, siblings, my parents, my daughter and a couple of profoundly fine therapists, and in the form of some mighty medication.
Here’s an insight for all of the anti-Psychiatry zealots out there – There but for the grace of god go you. It’s easy, resting in the safety of your own sanity, or lost in your insanity to the point that compassion eludes you, to eschew mental illness as an illness at all, to reject the notion that there are real and prevalent chemical imbalances in our bodies that make it almost impossible to live in the world. Hormone imbalances ALONE cause intense personality changes and mood swings – look at the violent impact too much testosterone has on men. Look at the ravages women go through when we’re pre-menstrual, post-menstrual, peri-menopausal, menopausal and post-menopausal. Hormones are unfathomably powerful. Look at the devastating effects of too much or too little thyroid.
Healthy serotonin levels make the difference between suicidal, severely depressed and the ability to look out at the world and see love and beauty and joy and the capacity for peace on earth.
I take 60 mgs. each day of Celexa. That’s 20 mgs. more than what is usually considered the maximum dosage. But that’s what it took for me to feel better. I lived my life knowing something was terribly wrong with me, knowing that I was a terrible person, because I couldn’t hold my tongue or keep my temper. I cried so easily, so readily and so publicly, so many times, that I was sure I was ‘insane.’
During early 2008, while in the out-patient program at Kaiser Mental Health in LA, I finally got the help I really, REALLY needed. I was finally, FINALLY diagnosed – Borderline Personality Disorder, and severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Hate the sound of it.
But I hated the diagnoses I had previously been handed. Anorexic. Bulimic. Obsessive Compulsive. Rescuer. What do you do with that? You deal with the symptoms. You try to see that you’re emaciated and not fat, at 5’7” and 85 pounds. You stop yourself before you stick your finger down your throat after a healthy meal. Yeah. Right. Try stopping a freight train. I went through three years of Jungian Inner Child therapy, and that was incredibly helpful. A lot of the charge around my early memories of abuse, assault and verbal violence had dissipated. But I wasn’t out of the woods. At 35, I was still triggered unexpectedly by seemingly unrelated events.
Within two weeks of being on medication, I found my temper and triggers simply leveled out. I didn’t feel dull or witless, as I had feared. I had thought my personality would be flat and that I would lose my passionate edge. But that hasn’t happened.
It takes A LOT to make me angry nowadays. And, even then, I can feel anger without losing my temper.
Most of the time.
There have been some episodes, in the past year, when I have completely lost it. I’m no saint. I do try to be sane and fair. Sometimes I fight for myself, when I feel cornered and overwhelmed. I won’t be demonized in personal relationships. I’ll carry the can for my stuff, and I’ll even carry the collective can for my country’s hideous domestic and foreign policies. I’ll carry the can for mistakes I made being too young when I had children… I’ll carry the can up to a point and then I’ll just draw the damn line and say,
“GIVE ME A BREAK, DAMMIT!”
I won’t carry the can for you! Take responsibility for your stuff, your foibles, your character flaws, your weaknesses and I’ll do the same for mine. I’ll celebrate your human-ness and mine too! We can celebrate the impossible inherent flaws that make us all hopelessly human! We’re human! We’re perfectly imperfect human beings! We’re not rational, we’re not reasonable, we’re all over the map and we’re capable of the most magnificent things!
Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need lots of help. Sometimes we need pills just to function. May we do what we must to be healthy and strong. May we accept and love each other and stop judging each other’s journeys, including our journeys to health and mental wellness. May we love each other well.
Let’s tip a glass (sparkling apple cider, in my case) of something bubbly tonight and thank 2008 for all of the challenges and opportunities its tragedies have given us. Let’s look back with love and kiss the year goodbye.
And then, let’s turn to the little baby 2009 and bless it and love it and put only that which is healthy and useful and loving and GRACEFUL into it.
Happy. New. Year.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Our parents sang together when we were kids. We were all four oldest so little at the same time, that we fit in the bathtub all together and Daddy used to play the guitar and sing to us. Mommy sang harmony with him, she played the piano too, and they played together. I don’t know when we kids started singing. We just always did, and we started finding harmonies early on. My sister was a genius at finding and holding a third above or below, any time, anywhere. When there was too much melody, I would sing along with her, and our two voices sounded like one. When I was seven and she was eight, we performed at a Christmas fundraiser in Hayden, Arizona at the movie theatre. We held hands and she squeezed when it was time to start. We sang ‘Born Free.’ I don’t remember being nervous at all, and it seemed so natural that we would be performing. Sometimes the whole family performed together in public, but usually, we sang at home. I took up the guitar at ten years old, and my oldest brother picked it up right after me. Everybody ended up playing the guitar. My brothers (I’ve got four of them, total) play horns and keyboards and guitar and my sister plays piano and flute and guitar too. I just pretty much play guitar and sing, although I’ve been known to pick up a tambourine or kazoo now and then too.
Today, I come from a family that remains and grows more and more musical – last night I went with one of my younger brothers to a gig of our oldest brother. His guitar playing has been developing for 40 years now, and he is a master. He sings folk music we know and some we don’t know that he has discovered and dusted off, and some that he wrote himself. It’s a joy to be there and know I’m related to him and I’ve been playing and singing with him since we were babies.
Last week, I went with some women friends and experienced my younger brother playing with his Brazilian drum band. He sang a solo before thousands of people. He smiled from ear to ear as he belted out something incredibly bright and happy in Portuguese. The other dozen or so musicians sang behind him and drummed passionately. My brother raised his arms over his head and clapped to the beat, and the huge outdoor crowd joined him. When he wasn’t singing a solo, he was playing trumpet or drum – he plays with an abandonment that any performer would envy. His lack of self-consciousness is inspiring.
My sister is a soloist in the choir in Houston, and her kids are all musicians. Our other two brothers play and sing, in Seattle and Rochester, and my brother’s kids sing too. My kids all have great voices and my daughter plays guitar and sings wonderful, funky songs I’ve never heard. She is a joy to behold – she plays accordion too. She taught herself.
When life feels hard, I reach for a guitar and I play. I sing folk songs my Daddy taught us, or songs I learned from the radio – peace songs, nature songs, songs about trains and foxes and crawdads.
Music is my family.
On Fruit Salad and Love
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Hollywood just flat out gets it wrong. Maybe it’s because no life or love worth talking about can be taken in during a two-hour sit-down. Maybe it’s because the movies aren’t visceral enough, or theatre has gotten too embarrassing, or literature isn’t appreciated anymore. Maybe pornography has ruined it all. The fact is that Auntie Mame’s banquet is there for the tasting, but our buds have lost their ability to savor.
Life doles out gifts and challenges like so many plums on a hearty tree in a good year. Just when it seems that we’re out of fruit salad and looking at the dusty bottom of a once-brimming bowl, we spot a whole gaggle of juicy plums at the very top of the tree. They’re difficult to reach, but once harvested, so worth the effort.
Two years ago, my husband of 12 years unceremoniously dumped me in Los Angeles. He went back to Reno to marry his true love and impregnate her with their twin daughters. I am the mother of three grown children and a grandmother. I was never a candidate for the mother of his children and, frankly, I don’t think he ever considered me for that role. I think I was his training model. He traded up to the real thing, I guess. He was ten years younger than I and the most delicious visual candy I’d ever met in person. He has a pair of blue eyes that stopped me dead in my tracks the first time I met him. The rest is history, literally. It’s over and done with. I never thought I would survive the loss, but once I learned about the other woman, my love and respect for him simply evaporated. So much for unconditional love.
So much, as well, for my assholier-than-thou self-righteousness. I broke a heart to be with that husband, and broke another to be with the one before. I broke another after being dumped. I was an angry young woman, and a scary dragon lady at 47 dropped like a bad mango.
My anger was genuine and deep, and it expressed itself vociferously. However, that too evaporated once I was reunited with my first real love, an ex-professional baseball player who is now a painter living in Beverly Hills. Seeing him again, 15 months ago, was profoundly stirring. The experience of looking into his familiar dark brown eyes, with lashes like black corn silk, brought up nostalgic emotions I didn’t know I had. He and I shared memories older than my children, older than heartbreak, older than stretch marks or wrinkles or age spots. Remembering him young and athletic, goofy and anxious to know more about everything all the time made his mature warmth and quirky idiosyncrasies simply irresistible. We connected like honey and hot corn bread straight out of the oven.
During almost all of the subsequent months, we have lived under the same roof. We have shared a front door, refrigerator, and bed. The memory of the fleeting affair of our youth has long been absorbed into the day-to-day living memories that now envelop us and our relationship.
I have been euphoric, ecstatic, depressed, suicidal, angry, and in utter despair. We have loved each other richly and torn each other to shreds. We are broken-hearted, but we’re not broken. We love each other, but we can’t be together. Maybe someday.
I hope someday.
But I need to be, as Carly Simon said, “me first, by myself.” I need to feel what it is to be a single person, a grown woman without a life-partner. When I know what my blessings are, maybe I can share them.
A wise friend once told me: The Great Mother never forces anything into our hearts. She covers our hearts in her love and blessings, and when they break, she falls in. Whatever we hold sacred will be best absorbed by an unguarded, broken heart.
So I’m absorbing. Listening. Trying to get out of my way.
Love is good.
And so is the fruit salad that is life.
Just be sure to mind the pits.
Other Sites Featuring Jeanmarie’s Writing